Tuesday 19 November 2019

Adding plant effects to a model. Or, the grass is always greener on the other side of the Troggoth!

Now that the paint job on my Troggoth is progressing I’ve been able to implement something I’ve had planned from the start. That’s the addition of grass, moss and lichen to the rocks on the Troggoth’s back. I consider these sorts of additions to be ‘special effects’ and, done successfully, they can add extra layers of texture, detail and interest to a painted mini. The addition of plant effects to my Troggoth will also help to tie him in more closely with the environment and narrative I’m going to create on the base.

There were a couple of factors I had to take into consideration and the most important by far was scale. It’s all too easy to blow the scale of an effect by making it too big. This applies to drips and splashes as well as it does to vegetation and, if such additions are too big, they will look unrealistic and cartoony at best! As a rough guide I tend to make these effects half as small again as I think they will need to be. This usually works out about right but, if you feel you are going too small, remember it’s easier to add more later on than it is to remove it and start again.

The second factor is specific to adding plant effects to a model. Over the years I’ve decided that my plant effects look better if I combined several different types. This is based on observation as you nearly always find a mixture of plants growing together. Even a simple area of grass can contain a wide variety of species. On a miniature this approach will result in a more realistic effect creating a varied texture that adds a lot of interest!


In the case of my Troggoth I wanted the plants to look like they were growing in the cracks between the rocks on his back. The first step was to use grass tufts. However, grass tufts can often look a bit too dense when used straight out of the pack. What’s more even the smallest of the tufts were far too big for my purposes because I most definitely did not want to create a heavy mane of foliage.

I always pick through grass tufts removing any lose or oddly angled fibres to thin them out a little. In addition I usually cut my grass tufts down to the required size. These steps will create a more natural, less regular, appearance. A surgical scalpel was perfect for this as it enabled precision and control. There is no getting away from the fact that this sort of work is extremely fiddly but I think it’s well worth the effort!

The resulting micro tufts often comprise of only a few fibres but they are perfectly in-scale for use on the Troggoth’s back. To apply them I pick each tuft up using needle nosed tweezers and carefully dip the rooted end into Vallejo Matt Varnish. I then position them onto the model where the matt varnish will hold them into place. Do not leave the model unattended because the surface tension of the adhesive can sometimes pull such small items out of position. If this happens nudge the tufts back into position using the tip of a clean dry paintbrush.

I’ve found that Vallejo Matt Varnish is an excellent adhesive for fixing small, lightweight, elements onto a model. Once dry it has a clear matt finish that effectively disappears on a painted surface. Just as importantly, if things go wrong, the varnish can be removed, before it dries, with a clean damp paintbrush leaving no visible traces. I’ve used Vallejo Matt Varnish to fix grass tufts, laser cut leaves, cotton wool tufts and microbeads onto my models.

You can further enhance the natural appearance of grass tufts by adding individual stems made from old paintbrush bristles. This gives the effect of different varieties growing together and creates a more varied grass texture with different lengths. My preferred source for the bristles is an old natural bristle paintbrush. The ends of the worn bristles are tapered and sometimes split making them ideal for use as grass stems.

The bristles can be painted, stained or left natural depending on the look you want to create. I trim the bristles to length and then dip the root end into matt varnish. That end is then inserted down into the grass tuft creating the effect of a longer coarser stem growing up through the tuft. This is something I nearly always do when I’m using grass tufts.

Moss and Lichen

I think the grass looks good on my Troggoth but the addition of a little moss and lichen would greatly enhance it! The first part of this process was done using tiny wisps of sponge. These were picked off a piece of synthetic sponge using my tweezers and then torn into even smaller pieces. I did say this was fiddly!

The resulting wisps are VERY small but have a convincing plant texture. The next step is to paint them green and I did this by dabbing them with a paintbrush. Do not dunk the sponge wisps into your paint. You need all over coverage but must avoid saturating the sponge and filling in the cells. Allow the paint to dry thoroughly before moving on to the next step.

Once again I used the matt varnish as an adhesive. In this case I applied a small dot of varnish to the model and then fixed the sponge to that. As with the grass tufts, keep an eye on it as it dries.

The third type of plant texture is made using chinchilla sand. I made up a mix of the chinchilla sand, green paint and matt varnish. The varnish makes the mix bond together once dry and stops it crumbling off the model. This was applied, with a brush, into the crevices on the Troggoth’s back. Remember my warning about keeping effects in scale and only apply a tiny amount at a time. When I use this mix I am often quite literally pushing it around one grain at a time. Now that’s REALLY what I call fiddly, but it makes a difference!

Muddy Roots

I’ve also added grass, moss and lichen to the rock the Troggoth is holding. I want it to look as if it has just been picked up off the ground. To further enhance this effect I’ve added roots and soil to the underside of the rock. The roots are taken from some bamboo growing in my, overgrown, garden. I stuck the roots on to the rock with PVA glue because this has a stronger bond than the varnish.

When the PVA was dry I add my 'soil' mix of chinchilla sand, Scalecolour brown leather and a couple of drops of Valleyo Matt Varnish. The chinchilla sand is my current choice for making a fine texture paste. It has many similar qualities to baking soda not least its’ ability to absorb colour. So far it has proved to be more stable than baking soda so I’m beginning to use it more extensively. Only time will tell if it remains stable in the long term but it’s a risk I’m ready to take.

Once the soil mix was dry I glazed some dilute brown leather into the surrounding areas to blend the edges a little. I then added a few dollops of the soil mix to the roots to make them look as if they had just been pulled up.

For the time being I’m very happy with how the plant effects have worked out on my Troggoth. Once he is based up I may add a little more to him but I need to get an idea of the overall composition before I make a final decision.

At this point I want to say that in my view using ‘special effects’ on a miniature should be approached with some consideration and caution. Special effects can enhance a miniature by contrasting with the painted surfaces. They should only be used when and if their addition is appropriate to the miniature and not simply because they look ‘cool’.

Special effects will not make a weak paintjob better but, if used unsuccessfully, they could ruin a good paintjob. Having said that the successful use of these effects can bring a painted miniature up to a new level of technical skill and greatly enhance its atmosphere and narrative!


  1. These extra details make a whole lot of a difference, beautiful work!