Wednesday, 25 June 2014

Basing the Phyllion way - a Step by Step

A couple of people have commented on my basing for my Sudan collection and Belgian over on LAF asked if I could whip up a tutorial. I claim absolutely no expertise in the myriad ways that one might base miniatures - my method has evolved from very basic goblin green and flock of the 1990s into a rather  time-consuming process. But it works for me. 

First things, I always paint the bases first. I just cannot get on with doing things the other way around - I inevitably splatter the painted miniature in sand/glue/paint and get frustrated that they need a touch-up. I do acknowledge that others do wonderful things painting minis first and then basing them, particularly multi-based figures, vignettes or Impetus stands. I'll do it for gun crews or anything else where painting the miniatures unbased is a no-brainer, but not for the rank and file. This is one of the main reasons I use single basing and sabot trays for most of my forces.

This is my process, using some bases of animals to illustrate. Optional steps are marked with a '*'. 

Step 1 - Stick mini to the base

A bit of an obvious one. I use pva glue rather than superglue now, partly on Simon Miller's 'recommendation' and partly as my base sizes and shapes have evolved over the years, so the chances of me wanting to re-base things is fairly high. Superglue is the bane of rebasing. In fact, this chap is being requisitioned as a goatherd so is being re-based with his flock.

Wait a good few hours for the white glue to dry. 

Step 2 - A bit of filler*

I often lay down some filler to make a smoother gradient between the plastic/mdf base and miniatures' integral base. I've found this is particularly important when:
-the miniature has a particularly thick integral base
-I'm using a finer grade of sand, which I do for desert bases
-I've made a scenic or multi-layered base

This doesn't take long and if the miniature isn't painted, you don't need to worry too much about neatness - errors can just be nudged off with a scalpel. 
Leave to dry a few hours. 

Step 3 - Choose your sand

As well as using different base colours and foliage for different forces/collections and to represent different regions, I don't always use the same grade of sand. My current repertoire has two main mixed grades: 
-sieved sharp sand, dried out in the oven, with some small rocks from the sieved sand added (lower left)
-a medium hobby talus with some of the same small rocks added

My Sudan miniatures use a sprinkling of the medium talus but mostly the fine sand. For a temperate climate, I usually use the talus with just a little sand. 

I've also got a box of small rocks and a box of small pieces of washed garden slate, so I can manually add different kinds of rocks. 

Step 4 - Rocks and sprinkled talus 

Slather the base in white glue. Place rocks small or larger as  appropriate - I try to make sure 1 in 3 infantrymen and most larger bases have some on to add interest. Then take a pinch of the talus and sprinkle it on. I find this adds greater texture than just using sand and doing it in two stages ensures a good distribution. Just mixing the grades of sand would make the tub settle into layers and you wouldn't get the same end result.

Step 5 - Give it a dunk

Immediately after and while the white glue is still wet, dunk the base into the sand. Leave it in the tub for a few minutes so the glue can set a little. Then fish the base out and brush off any offending sand from the miniatures' feet and legs (the back of a scalpel is good for this) and run a finger around the base edge to give a nice even finish. Leave to dry fully.

Step 6 - Dunk it again*

Repeat step 5, particularly if here are any bare areas, or you skipped step 2 and the integral base is noticeable. Leave to dry.

Step 7 - Scenic cement*

This stuff has its critics, but I quite like it. I drop it on using a pipette to seal the sand together. I've found it works wonders at minimising the amount lost while painting. What I found infuriating before I added this stage was that if I was basing and painting something at the same time, my work area would get covered in loose sand. Using scenic cement means almost none comes off.

I've marked it optional as  you could just hide any bare areas with flock or tufts. 

Step 8 - Basecoat

The edges get a coat of white (an old GW Basecoat paint that I use for almost nothing else), particularly for minis based on 2ps. Then I do two coats of watered Vallejo Earth. Watering it down is essential to let it run into the crevices and two coats means you get a more consistent colour. These take a while to dry out fully

Step 9 - Highlights

After two highlights

Fully highlighted - alas the feet!

Highlights are Vallejo Earth mixed with Vallejo Buff - about 3 highlights all the way to buff. Dry brush these on, being sure to highlight between the minis' legs (no worries about mistakes - they usually aren't painted yet). I keep the lightest highlights around the edge of the base, to give a shadow effect under the miniatures. The grade of sand will be significant for the result - with finer sand you get a much lighter effect as the highlights are more prominent.

The final highlight, usually done last after the miniature is painted is buff with a touch of white added - doing it last tidies up any mistakes from painting the miniature.

Step 10 - Paint the miniature

Not covered by this tutorial!

Step 11 - Flock and Tufts

This is the go-to selection for my Sudan miniatures - three MiniNatur tufts in two sizes and three colours, plus some 'African grass' static grass from an eBay seller. The latter is a bit more savannah than dead grass that I wanted but adds a bit of colour so I've stuck with it.

Sudan being quite arid, I probably use too much static grass and tufts on the bases. But I find each minis needs something to set the base off. I tend to put 1-2 patches on each base, using a mixture of the above. I quite like adding tufts beside or on top of the static grass areas to soften them or use pairs of tufts together. Placement-wise, look for areas where there are mistakes (not enough sand or over-heavy highlights), or where plants might naturally grow - coming out beside rocks and crevices etc. Cavalry and other larger bases usually get 3 larger areas, each made up of multiple tufts or tufts on the static grass.

The Final Result

Here we are - a native goatherd and his flock:

Hopefully some of you have found this useful!


  1. Great tutorial and similar to what I do (however no where near your expert standard) - that goat herder is a gem!!. Cheers

    1. Thanks Carlo - you were the inspiration for this one as he's going on my random events table :-)

  2. Also similar to my method, although I paint the bases at the same time as the figure. I'm interested in the pva glue technique. One concern I would have is strength of bond. I use small magnets on the bases of my figures for ease of transporting in a metal tin. The magnets are quite strong and I wonder if the pva would last if figures were being lifted from the tin repeatedly? Great tutorial though!

    1. I should also clarify that I mean PVA glue for the figure. I do of course use PVA for the sand ;-)

    2. I've wondered about that but haven't had a problem so far. I suppose you've the pva bong then the extra layers of filler, pva (twice), scenic cement all making a fairly solid piece.

      If your magnets are large and rare earth, I might be concerned though

  3. I've always admired your basing and interestingly likewise look to paint the base first - it just seems to spur me on to finish the miniature in question. Great tutorial, thank you/

    1. Thanks Michael, glad you liked it

  4. Great post Phil.
    Good to see the Sudan coming along nicely.

    1. I'm declaring the project 'ready enough' with a couple of bits on the paint table. So I willschedule a test scenario at the club soon

  5. Well done, a great looking vignette and a vey nice tuto!


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