Tuesday 30 August 2011

Dark Elf Diorama – rethinking the design!

For some time I’ve had a nagging feeling that something isn’t quite right with the base for my Dark Elf diorama. Coming back from my summer holiday and looking at it with fresh eyes I became certain that I needed to have a rethink.
This isn’t all that unusual for me to be honest as I employ a special technique called ‘making it up as I go along’ this means that although I start out with a plan I often change things as I develop my ideas. But this time I decided on a total reworking of the base.
There are several things that I wanted to address.
  • The overall size of the base/diorama is too big. I want a much smaller/tighter composition.
  • The tone of the piece is wrong. I’m pleased with all the individual elements but at the moment the diorama has too much of a woodland/fantasy feel to it. I want something that has more of a sinister Dark Eldar/SciFi feel
  • The largest of the monolith I’d sculpted has started to warp and developed a silly looking bend.
I’ve put a lot of work into the base and wanted to salvage as much as possible but at the same time it’s no use persevering with a design if it isn’t working for you. It was time for a little brute force and a lot of nerve!
I removed the monoliths from the base. That sounds nice and easy doesn’t it? The process involved a lot of pulling, wiggling (the model not me) and even a bit of snapping! After all that and some fairly harsh language the monoliths were liberated from the base with minimal damage to either. Next I removed all the Dark Elf skulls and totems, which was a fairly easy matter as I have only fixed these lightweight pieces into place with PVA glue. 
The Old base is now stripped of all the dark Eldar elements and I have to say I prefer it that way. With just a little repair work I think I will have a rather nice forest/ruins themed base for a fantasy subject but that will be a job for another day.

It’s time to start work on the new Dark Elf Diorama base ... more about that very soon.


  1. I like your technique "making it up as I go along"^^. Is that a picture of the ols base you're not happy about? It looks pretty awsome but I guess you must have in your head an idea of what you exactly want. Looking forward to some more.

  2. Yes this is a picture of the old base after I'd striped off all the Dark Eldar bits. In it's self I'm really pleased with it and will be using it for a future project. It just isn't right for what I want to do with the Dark Eldar.

  3. Hey Dave,

    I have been painting my first army of mini’s: Chaos Bloodletters (Lots and lots of red paint). I started painting after reading hours and hours of tutorials, guides, and blogs (including yours). So far, the results are not bad. I am going for a clean looking model as opposed to a intricate model. I am practicing my blending technique on swords and my dry brushing technique on bases.

    I am having a lot of difficulty with my paint. Specifically, I am having a hard time 1) thinning my paints, 2) mixing paints, 3) choosing paints that compliment each other. My paint thinning problem is by far the worst of the three. I am using Vallejo Game Color paints and I am mixing them with water. I started thinning them down heavily at first to a 1:3 ratio (one drop paint, three drops water) .I found that the paint was too watery and I couldn’t control it. It was drying on the model very fast and there wasn’t enough paint getting onto the model. When I added more paint to the brush and tried to use more, it was then too watery and ran out of control.

    When I went to 1:2, it was a little better, but I found that my darker colors were overwhelming my lights. And with 1:1, it’s not bad, but the paint doesn’t “flow” off the brush as easily and I mess up my model by putting more pressure on the brush.

    And I am having an absolute terrible time with washes. I am using a black wash over a bloody red base coat and it is coming out blotchy on the model.

    While I can probably fix #2 and #3 with practice, I can’t fix #1 without trial and error. How do you thin your paints so well that you can blend your intricate work together so well? Do you wet blend or dry blend or combination of both?

    Sorry for the long winded explanation, but I am having a hard time explaining my paint thinning problem. (Plus, I am an attorney in the USA and get paid by the word, lol)

    Any help would be appreciated. Thanks.


  4. Hi Tim,

    I wouldn’t feel too bad about your experience, as this is something all painters go through. As you have guessed it takes a lot of trial & error to get used to how paint will (or will not) behave. All the info available online from tutorials and the like is a fantastic resource but at the end of the day you will figure out your own best way of doing things.

    I don’t use wet blends myself as I find them difficult to control and to a lesser degree much the same goes for washes. I prefer to use a layered technique of applying paint. This involves building up a highlight or shadow with successive translucent layers of diluted colour. This is quite a slow process but it can give beautifully smooth and subtle results.

    How much I dilute my paint will depend upon the colours I’m working with. I just tend to do this by feel rather than having a set formula. I’m aiming for a consistency where I can paint on a thin even coat of colour. Shading/colour change is achieved by building up many subtle layers.

    If you want to experiment with wet blending you might find that adding a drying retarder to your paint mix will help by giving you more working time.

    I’ve found that if I’m using a wash comprising of paint diluted with water the pigment in a wash can migrate as it dries out giving a very patchy finish. Inks can give a better result although I’d probably still dilute them.

    It sounds to me like you might be trying for too dramatic a wash effect in one hit. Rather than going in with a black wash on red I’d recommend starting off with a red/ black mix and building up the intensity with several washes, each a bit darker than the one before. The washes need to be totally dry before you add the next and each darker wash should cover slightly less of the recessed areas than the one before. You can finish up with a black wash to emphasize deep shadows at the end.

    I’ve always found that there will need to be a bit of tidying up with the base colour once the washes are dry.

    I hope this is helpful rather than just adding to the babble of contrasting advice out there. The best Advice I can give is just stick at it. All miniature painters go through difficult periods no matter how experienced they are. It’s by struggling through these challenges and figuring out the solutions that we become better painters.

    Good Luck.