June 6, 2010

Terrain for Historicon - Part Eleven

Everything is finished except for the river! I'll present this in two posts because there are a lot of photos.

I used artists acrylics to paint the river. Water has no color of it's own so it's tough to know what to use. Bodies of water reflect what's around them so large bodies are often seen as blue because they reflect the sky. Rivers may also appear green, brown, or gray depending on the terrain, time of day, etc. I want my river for this layout to seem deep so I'm going to use very dark colors.

I work on short sections at a time, because it's important to blend as you go. The first step is to paint the river edges near the shore. I used green because my earth tones have a warm, almost yellow tone and the submerged land near the shore would appear green (yellow + blue = green). The flash reacts with wet paint in the photos and everything appears far brighter than it really is. I actually vary this first color, blending the green alternately with ocher or brown to add some variation.

My second color is a bright blue and I basically use this to blend the green toward the center of the river. The third color is a very deep blue and this is worked across the whole river. The wet paint on the edges blends to make a smooth, natural look. Finally I use black, starting in the center of the river, but I work it all the way to the edges. This mutes my other colors and again softens all of the blending.

It is difficult to describe the technique, but if you practice on a scrap piece of board, you'll soon have the hang of it. The main thing is to keep the center dark to give the illusion of depth.

Ok, nothing says 'water feature' like reeds along the bank! I'm going to model these with an old wisk broom, a pair of scissors, and my trusty glue gun. basically you pinch a cluster of bristles, cut them from the broom, and stick them into a dab of hot glue. You only have to hold them for a moment or two because hot glue dries extremely fast. These will be very strong when the glue dries and you can trim them back with scissors if they turn out a little too long. You can really go to town with this and turn the bank in a marsh, but for my purposes they are just for detail and I simply scattered a few for added effect.

Next time, we're going to do the last step and these things are (finally) finished!


  1. Clarrie - masterful stuff as usual. I'm surprised at the amount of black you used - I would have thought it would make it too dark but seeing the way you blended it smoothly to the green on the edges it has a really good effect, creating a nice deep unfordable river! I take it for shallower sections - suggesting a ford etc, - you use more earth colours and green?

    Excellent series BTW - looking forward to that book! ;-)


  2. What a wonderful tutorial. Thank you for sharing and taking the time.

  3. Doc, there's a method to my madness... the next step adds a thick layer of varnish over the river that will reflect the natural light around it. The dark color makes the varnish act much like a mirror. I'll post the final shot of the river tomorrow...