Back to Basics #1
Welcome to the Back to Basics series, a series of articles design for the newer hobbyist. Unlike some of the other members of the Out of the Basement (OOTB) club, I am not a spectacular tactician or crazy good painter. While there are many beginner articles out on the web, I am going to be focusing on some of the stuff people tend to forget about or skip over in their articles. Things like basing basics, choosing a basic colour pallet, beginner sculpting and narrowing the hobby focus. Throughout this series, I will be referencing specific company brands (Games Workshop, Vallejo, Woodland Scenics, etc.) because I am familiar with their product and they are easy to find. Some of the products may not work for you and some may not always be the best choice, it is based on my personal preference.
For today’s article, I am going to focus on one of the more neglected aspects of the hobby, miniature basing. While there has been a shift in recent years towards more elaborate bases and pre-sculpted bases, a lot of players still go with the paint the edge, flock it and then put the model on top approach. What is presented here is going to go a bit more in-depth into what looks good and to challenge the usual thought process. Before going too far we need to look at what makes a good base. For some it is a really cool sculpture or design on it painted really well, for others they enjoy really elaborate bases that are themselves works of art.
For today, we are going to stick to a few basic principles. The first is that of the 3 element design, the idea that lesser is better but one is not enough. Following this train of thought, 3 things are necessary: a base flock (generally grass or sand but could be snow, crackle material or something more exotic), a piece of scenery (general a bush or tall grass but could be a plant, vines, barbed wire, etc.) and an unusual element (for basics, could be a mushroom, some snow, a patch of rock, etc.). The second is the idea of a cohesive force, that the basing is consistent throughout your army. In large scale games like 9th Age, Age of Sigmar or Warhammer 40000 you can take this a step further and make each squad have the same basic elements but put together slightly differently. Let’s move onto an example where each part will be demonstrated alongside a picture.
First and most importantly, clean off your base. This means trimming off any residual sprue material with an Exacto knife and if resin, washing with some soap and water to remove any release agent. Once that is done, verify that the model will fit on the supplied base (Malifaux miniatures are known to be slightly off scale with the base) or if it will need to be modified to make the model fit. If the base needs to be adjust some ideas could be to extend it with a rock overhang (grab a pebble or some shale from the garden), a wooden platform like a deck of a ship or house (popsicle sticks work great) or even another model (there are some great terrain kits with ruined statues, broken barricades, etc.). Quick note: Some people glue models to bases before painting and some do it after painting. In either case, make sure to remove the model before putting down basing material or you will end up with feet/appendages sunk into your grass or snow (it generally looks pretty bad).
Below is a cleaned 40 mm square base for 9th Age.
Depending on the game, the next step is to determine what colour to paint your base. Most flat bases look better when the edges are coloured to match your army (i.e., desert theme give it a brown/yellow edge, winter theme a pale blue or white). Many games with sunken bases (like Malifaux or Warmachine/Hordes) tend to leave the outer edge its natural colour or paint just the halfway line (Warmachine/Hordes).
In the example below, the base was painted with Earth by Vallejo as it is an undead themed force.
We then move onto the prime basing material. This will be the majority of the surface of your base and should be consistent throughout your force. Woodland Scenics offers many different colours of flock that comes in large bins for a very reasonable price (10-15$). Decide on what will work best for your army and what might clash (skeletons in snow for instance is not a great combination). Using super glue vs. white glue is a choice for basing that depends on the level of effort you want to put into each base and if you think you are going to change your scheme at some point. Superglue is faster (but can be messier and lead to stuck fingers if you aren’t careful) and grips tighter but is very hard to remove if you want to change schemes. White glue requires two layers, putting the glue on then the floc and finally spraying it with some very watered white glue to seal it. If you don’t seal the white glue, it tends to fall off during play/transport. In the photo below, black floc was mixed with a mid tone green floc to produce the basing material seen. I apply a small amount of super glue to the base then dip it into a box of the floc, going over any missed spots a second time.
Pictured Below: the flock and the base layer of flocking.
Now that we have our base layer, use the model to determine what areas are going to be covered with feet/tails, body. When you know what areas need to be kept clear, we can move onto the second element of our base, the scenery. For this stage, I like to use bushes from Gale Force 9 but it could be some small grass tuffs from Army Painter or larger rubble from GW. Take a piece of your scenery and place it on the base, does it look good? Does it clash? Once you find something that works and fits your theme, apply a small dab of super glue (I would recommend against white glue here as it can cloud up and look bad as well as not stick properly) to the bottom and place it on the base. Depending on the base size, you can put multiple pieces around the base but be careful not to make it look too busy. If you cover up more than half the available space this way, it tends to look bad by the time the model is placed on the base.
Below I have added a few small bushes from GF9 to accent the base.
Next is the last layer and the most fun, the ornament or unusual item. Here is where it pays to get creative. You can sculpt small coins out of green stuff (blue/yellow kneadite), add in some icicles to your snow base, some tombstones to your undead or some small snake models to your jungle themed army. The more unusual the addition, the neater it is but remember that this is just an accent piece and should not totally distract from the overall model. I once knew a guy who spent many hours painting tartan pants on his models and everyone was so distracted by the long grass on the base (a rarity at the time) that that was all they commented on.
Below I have added in 3 mushrooms made of green stuff on the top of a pin (painted Rhinox Hide brown from GW with dots of Bleached Bone) to add some flavour to my base.
When it is all done, add the model(s) onto the base and position them so the front is clear. Nothing worse than having a beautiful model on a great base and realizing it is facing 45 degrees and you don’t know which way is front and which way is back.
Below is the finished bat swarm for 9th Age. You’ll notice that because of the flying stands (which I cover with flock), it is a slightly different base than the ones in previous photos.
The last piece of advice is to be conscious of the different scales games are played at. Because of this, Flames of War (a 10 mm game) might have some awesome bushes but they will look bad next to a 25 mm model (Malifaux or GW’s 25 mm Heroic scale) and vice versa, that bush meant for Age of Sigmar now looks like a tree at 10 mm scale. I hope this article has given you some ideas and challenged you to up your basing game from just basic static grass or floc. If you have any ideas for future articles, just post them in the comments.
Craig has been an avid tabletop gamer for 15 years. He primarily plays 9th Age (VC, UD) and Malifaux (Outcasts) but dabbles in Infinity, Star Wars Armada and Dystopian Wars. Craig also enjoys playing Dungeons and Dragons, Magic the Gathering and many board games.