Stake Out – behind the scenes

Stake Out – behind the scenes

From concept to finish – the story of Stake Out

Believe it or not, but although I finished this diorama only recently, it all started as early as 2012 (!).  In fact the figure was already painted way back then, and it has been waiting patiently in one of my figure cabinets all these years.

Story and concept

But first things first. The story of the scene was that the viewer is watching a suspicious looking character across the street, that was apparently observing the building the viewer was in. Hence the title Stake Out.

The original idea was that this was to be captured in a shadow box, as it would offer some nice opportunities like targeted lighting and a forced perspective (where the viewer is looking down on the street).

Unfortunately, this was the main reason why the whole idea was put back on the shelf time and time again, because I couldn’t get it to work the way I wanted. I did however, find a way to enable that forced perspective by positioning the inner scene slightly tilted forward and the viewing window should not be traditionally from the front,  but placed in an angle towards the top. This would mean that the viewer would more or less look down into the scene.

Well, that sounds pretty good, right? Wrong. And you know why? The scene was set outdoors, obviously, and this resulted in “open” sides that needed to be filled in a logical way. This meant that simply painting the inner side walls black would be totally unrealistic. I had to find a way that the street would continue on either side by painting it or using photographs that happened to match.

Needless to say that the latter option was a dead end street (pun intended) as well, because what are the odds of finding suitable images?  The first option was also not viable, as I have no artistic talent for painting or drawing something like what was needed. One needs to be aware of his limitations.

The next four images perhaps give you a better idea of what I described before. The first image is actually more of an explanation why the second is very green 🙂 

Change of plans

Fast forward to 2020….in a flash of sanity I decided to disband the shadow box idea. This meant that I needed to alter some elements of the scene. The buildings, for example, would be needing roofs. I created the shingles by carving Evergreen strips in what seemed to be and endless job, but I think the result is well worth the effort.

These images show the buildings without and with the roof, after changing the idea from shadow box to a more traditional style diorama.  

I decided not to change the dimensions of the base as it seemed fine the way it was from the beginning. The only two significant changes I made in the new set up, was to make the base higher using HD foam, and as for the visual part,  I added a small section of a side walk opposite of the buildings which provided a better spot to place the already planned street light as well. This gave the scene more visual depth. Well…at least in my universe it does. But more about the base later.

The buildings were constructed of foamboard (foam sandwiched between layers of carton) and I used some architectural elements by Grandt Line, shutters from MiniArt and also scratch build some. I used different types of foam to add more details to the outside walls as well. The side wall of the building on the right, after being replaced because of the roof that was now added, was covered with fast drying wall filler and all buildings were “primed” first with Gesso (a primer for canvas painters). Next I primed them with GWS Chaos Black. Base colours were sprayed on with my airbrush using acrylics.

The images below show some of the described  details of the buidlings


In order to add a bit more visual interest, both houses received different colour tones. In a shadow box, this would have made less of a difference, but since the project turned into a traditional style diorama it became important. At least, in my opinion details like that make the difference between something good and something better.

Subsequent weathering was done with oils, enamels and acrylics. Each of them have their specific advantage and features, which can be used to obtain the desired effects.

The large commercial sign on one of the walls is a decal by Reality In Scale. A solid local gloss layer was applied first, and next I used good amounts of the good old Set & Sol. Call me old school, but I still believe in adding gloss first before adding decals in order to avoid silvering. Prove me wrong!

And this is what the buildings looked like after the weathering stage.

Home improvement excercises

I also decided to add interior to one room of one of the buildings, rather than taking the easy way out and only showing windows with curtains. 

I’m not a great fan of interiors when all you need is a building façade to get your message across. After all, I build models and dioramas, not doll houses.
Although I appreciate the extra efforts, not to mention time and expenses that modellers put into showing extra details when dioramas are viewed from the back, those endeavours usually end up with lots of sub stories that add little or nothing at all to the main story. But that’s just my opinion, of course.

Point in case: Did my “piano room” add anything to the story? Not as such, but like I said, only showing windows with closed shuttters or windows is a bit lame too. So there’s my excuse for doing the doll house routine 🙂 

Anyway, my spares box as well as MiniArt came to the rescue to make that interior section. And I should mention Margot’s beads collection that I raided to make the wall light and the lamp on the ceiling.  I constructed the whole room as a separate section that I could simply slide inside the building at D-Day. D-Day being the day everything would be glued in place on the base. 

Here are some in progress shots of my “home improvement” efforts.


On a side note; even after having made quite a few dioramas, I’m still surprised by the number of elements, details if you will, that need to be painted.

In my mind I’m making things simpler every project, but somehow I always get the feeling I’m fooling myself. Adding stuff last minute may contribute to that too, I guess.

Except for the violin case, these props were added along the way or last minute. Empty and broken bottles, and corks (!), the cat and the mouse and waste paper (coloured in tea). The second pic also shows some left over parts from the kit and other stuff I ended up not using after all.

Basic stuff

As mentioned before, the base was constructed of HD insulation foam and a top layer of blue HD foam that was scribed to simulate the cobble stone road. Again, Gesso was used as a protective layer before priming with acrylics. I was going to weather the street with oils and white spirit. Most chemical solutions will melt the foam, so a good protective layer is essential.

The side walk were completely made of Evergreen sheets and for the curbs I used Evergreen beams. It took me a while to get the right colour and tone for the side walk tiles, but they ended up nicely in the end. I approached painting the cobble stones as well as the side walk in a similar way. I sprayed them in one colour and then painted individual tiles and stones in different tones to create a better visual effect. It really adds to boost the overall impression, and it brings even dead stuff like stones to life.

I assumed that adding some waste and rubbish would also bring the street to life, so I added leaves, waste paper, small printed newspaper pages and empty cigarette packs, and more unidentifiable stuff in random places. Well,  actually not entirely random. I also took into account that the wind usually comes from one side, so lots of rubbish ends up in the same corners. Also, where our main character is doing his thing, I dropped cigarette butts.

I used very thin MDF strips to cover the sides of the base. I previously used Evergreen sheets for this job, but working with MDF has some advantages over polystyrene.

From left to right, the base in chronological order of construction and painting. 

Baby, you can drive my car

The Citroen is a Tamiya kit that received several colour schemes before I decided that every colour was fine, as long as it was black. A pretty simple build, 98% out of the box. I only added stretched sprue windshield wipers and a new windshield as well as all other windows were cut from thin transparent film, because the kit versions were pretty thick or I managed to screw them up over time for various reasons.

The black paint is actually Alclad Gloss Black Base covered with Alclad Aqua Gloss. Some buffing finished it off. The Chrome parts were “painted” with a Molotow silver marker after all other attempts to achieve a nice chrome finish with other paints failed miserably.

The car was completed by putting a photograph of a lady on the front seat. A detail that hardly anyone will notice in real life when watching the dio, but you know what it’s like: “I know it’s there”.
The picture is obviously of the “subject” that is under observation.

Figure that

As mentioned in the beginning, I finished this figure already in 2012, so besides dusting it off a bit,  no additional work was required as I was pretty happy with how it turned out. For the stats: it’s an ancient Verlinden figure that received an MK35 head, and it was painted in acrylics.

Assembly and wrapping up

One of the weirdest, or perhaps most exciting moments of building dioramas, at least to me,  is when the time comes to fix all elements in their final position, D-Day! You know that “once it’s glued it stays there” moment?

Following a logical sequence when fixing stuff into place sounds pretty obvious, but if you don’t take care and plan it properly you might find yourself twisting your hands and arms, if not your whole body, in order not to break off something in the process because it happens to be very much in the way of things.
However, in this case it all seemed to work pretty easy indeed. After all, I had many years to think it over, right ? Working from right to left everything was put into place. And there you go…..finally after such a long time I completed this project.

All that was left was to make some pretty pictures of the whole thing and the result of that endeavour can be viewed in my gallery.
Someone commented on Facebook that it had a good “film noir” feeling. I admit, ladies and gentlemen, that this put a big smile on my face.

Thanks for reading the lengthiest blogpost on this website so far. Hope you enjoyed it and please come back every now and then.

All about the base

All about the base

I recently promised you some background on my struggles with the base of my diorama My Worst Nightmare.

Therefore:  it’s all about the base

There is no higher purpose to this blog post other than that I hope that you can learn from my mistakes. It may save you some valuable bench time for your current or future projects.

Well, the title My Worst Nightmare is definitely applicable in many ways, but the base of this project has cost me some serious blood, sweat and tears, metaphorically anyway.

I have made various versions of the base and I would like to go through three of them in this blog. In the next three images you can see the version that was about to become the final one until something happened on the way to heaven. Actually the base was not the only part of this dio that went through various versions, the mast and the shark were also re-done several times. The only two elements to come out in one go were, surprisingly, the bicycle and the figure.  The devil is in the details and often not in the obvious. You can take my word for that.

Pic 1 shows the base with the shark  embedded. Pic 2 shows the freshly applied acrylic gel, still opaque, and on the third one the gel has turned translucent….and the remainder of the broken off mast. Bummer!
Can’t really remember what happened exactly, but I guess that a clumsy movement while painting or retouching details was the cause of that little unhappy accident

Perhaps equally important is that I didn’t like the final look of the base. The wave had become to dominantly present compared to the other elements and there were just too many small things that I didn’t like and last but not least,  the composition came out not exactly the way I wanted, mainly due to the position of the shark. The guy on the bike was looking way from the shark. FAIL!

So, all in all, it was back the drawing board.

I decided to make a less dominant wave this time. Less is more, as they say and it’s definitely true. The suggestion of something can be stronger than actually showing it in full. A new base was shaped from HD Styrodur (the yellow stuff!), and the main elements were added.

Next the base was covered with waterproof (water colour) paper. Besides the advantage that this does not dissolve in water, it also has a nice texture. In hindsight that particular property was of little use in this scale, roughly 1/35th. The texture more less disappeared under many layers of a lot of things, acrylic gel mainly.  The paper was shaped over the Styrodur with diluted white glue or wood adhesive:

and held in place at the edges with 6814891 pins until dry. 

Before the fun (read: painting) started I attached the main elements to the base and filled the edges with Magic Sculpt. 

Enter…the airbrush. I used my AB to paint the base with various blue and grey tones

Next, I applied a glossy coat with a product so secret that I don’t know what that was, actually. That’s a laborious way to say I forgot what I used. Best guess is that it was Johnsons Floor Polish, applied in 2-3 layers.  You can also still see the texture of the water colour paper here.

And then….the magic happened. Or perhaps I should say, was supposed to happen.

Entering stage right: Vallejo’s Water Texture Atlantico.

I applied this coloured acrylic gel as a start to colour the sea a bit brighter blue. As this gel becomes translucent once dry, the underlying airbrush job would still be visible.

But…..this stuff has a nasty side effect. I applied it with a brush, making sure to keep the direction of the strokes parallel and in one direction, in order to recreate the flow of the water. However, by doing this, the pigments (I suppose it has pigments to make it blue) are kind of squeezed by the bristles, basically leaving brush strokes. I checked with someone who has used this gel too, someone way more skilful than I am,  and he confirmed this is actually an issue with coloured acrylic gels.

This image:

shows the result after the acrylic had dried.
Needless to say that I was ready to pull my hair out, if I’d had any  😊

So, Water Texture Atlantico exits stage left….

After long and very confronting therapy, I decided to pick up this project again. Actually , and according to the dates on the images I took, this was next day.

All drama aside, I decided to be a man about it and started with base numero whatever. The original shark had disappeared into the same bin as the previous base(s), and Magic Sculpt,  Apoxy Sculpt, and a wee bit of Evergreen came to the rescue for another shark species. 

I also had to paint a new lifebuoy as the other one did not survive while being rescued from the other base. 

And again, a new base was made with HD Styrodur (the yellow stuff, remember?). Cut and sanded to shape. Gaps were filled with self-hardening clay and Magic Sculpt. The larger gaps were filled with clay as it’s a helluvalot cheaper than Magic Sculpt….. in case you wonder. 

I used the water colour paper again to create a smoother surface

 and did some happy airbrushing:

This time I covered the base with Acrylic Artists Gel Medium from the Rembrandt brand. Obviously the translucent drying type 

I repeated this process and added more local layers, alternating between the same gel and Vallejo Still Water. All of this to create depth in general and more volume to certain areas where I thought that this was needed. The final layer was created with brushed on and ever so carefully and slightly tainted Still Water (to add a bit more blue to the final look). After all these layers the original texture of the paper went AWOL. 

I tried to keep the blue tint of the water very moderate as I didn’t want to create a deep blue sea, because to me that would define the weather as very sunny, and if you look at the rest of the scene you will understand that a sunny atmosphere would be not very appropriate for this scene.  

So what else is left to say?  Well, I have no images to prove it, but trying to use two part epoxy resin for water on this kind of base is a bad idea too. Been there, done that.  I tried to add thin layers of the stuff, but of course this resin is supposed to level. Trust me….it does….always.

In hindsight I could have casted the wave from resin, but perhaps I was too lazy or even more likely, I just didn’t want to spend a lot of money on mould rubber and resin. Mind you, it would have become a serious block of resin. After I finished this project I did see some very interesting and stunning projects where the waves were cast indeed. But like I said…….that was after I finished this one.

I started this project January 2015, according to the data of my pictures. I finished it four years and one month after I started it, according to the same data. The wave being the part of the project that made me hesitate time and time again to finish it and just put it aside to work on otther projects.

The moral of this story? Stop whining and just do it! 😊

Happy modelling.




New diorama added: Stake Out

New diorama added: Stake Out

I have added images of my latest diorama to my gallery, entitled Stake Out!

You can find the images of the finished dio in my gallery

In due time I will add a blog post with some in progress shots and tell you a bit about how you can turn an initial idea around and still come up with something pretty decent 🙂

Untill then I need keep my  promise and add some additional info on another diorama, My Worst Nightmare.

Enjoy viewing Stories in Miniature!


Major update of our website

Major update of our website

It would go a bit far to say that this is part of our New Year’s resolutions, but after a long hiatus , it was high time to refresh our website.

Lack of time has been the main reason why we haven’t kept this website up to date. As organizers of SMC and the 11th World Model Expo we have had , and still have, a lot to chew and to deal with given the current circumstances. Let’s not mention the “C-word” here. 🙂

While we had to delay the WorldModel Expo again with another year, to 1-2-3 July 2022, we hope that later in 2021, we can run our (sort of) annual event SMC again on 16-17 October.
And although the world looks to be in an even bigger crises than before, we keep our fingers crossed and have started preparing for SMC 2021.
Better to be safe than sorry.

As for the core business, scale modelling and figure painting, we have been busy. Well….Margot anyway. I’m a wee bit slower when it comes to finishing stuff.
Anyway, as a result Margot’s gallery especially is very much refreshed and now counts 18 projects, of which 75% is from the past 20 months.
My gallery has a bit less new projects, and two of them are dioramas, or should I say vignettes?

The gallery overview has received a make-over too. You can browse through a so called carrousel of thumbnails.
Clicking on a thumbnail will take you to the page of that particular project and you can find a nice selection of images of that project. The good thing is that the carrousel runs automatically. You only have to drop your thumb or click on the image when you see something pass that you like to see more of 🙂 .
We hope that you appreciate the new set up.

And now?
Well, the next post here won’t take as long as this one did. Promise!

I will post some additional background about my diorama My Worst Nightmare shortly, for those interested in how I struggled with the final concept.
Speaking of struggling: I have also picked up a very old shelf queen that will also get the Blog treatment, as I think the developement from it’s original concept to the (almost) finished project shows some interesting insights. Mainly to myself, actually, but more on that later.

Enjoy viewing Stories in Miniature!

Margot and Robert

My Worst Nightmare…. revisited

My Worst Nightmare…. revisited


Revisited indeed. It never took me so long to complete a project. And honestly, it isn’t even finished now.
Not that I didn’t finish other stuff in the meantime, figures mainly, but still. This project has been on a stand still most of the time over a period of 3 (!) years. Life’s all about priorities, I guess .

Anyway, I am finally pretty close to finishing off this project. Nearly all elements are painted, and done.
Here’s the man-in –distress. Sort of completely sculpted.

And here’s the unpainted and temporarily assembled set up of the guy on his bike. Click on the images to enlarge!

And the man’s head in close up:

And here’s the painted version of it all. Still have to work a bit on the guys trousers and shoes and then start gluing the remaining parts together.

And then, the biggest challenge still to overcome…the wave. The water needs the most attention still: it needs more painting, mainly white foam and most of all, it needs more coats of acrylic gel. The top of the wave also needs additional work as it’s in a premature state right now.

Some of the accessories, painted and ready to go.

Obviously the shark needs to be properly embedded in the sea, and I am stil in doubt where the pelican will go.

To be continued……soon! (really)

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