Ground Work Basing Materials

Any well done diorama or vignette needs great ground work as a foundation. The success or failure of a project can, in my opinion, hinge on the environment in which the subject is placed. The detail of the setting must match the detail and hard work put into the models and figures.
There are many different items you can purchase aftermarket to enhance your diorama base work. Kamizukuri for instance has an outstanding line of photo etch paper products to replicate almost any foliage you would need. If you're a bit frugal, like me, there are alternatives to spending a lot of money and still creating a fine diorama.

Lets start from the bottom and work our way up...


To begin with, you'll need the base itself. Simply cutting a section of plywood and laying your ground work on top of that won't do. It looks hideous. Purchasing cheap wooden plaques like these from the local crafts shop is a great start. For a few bucks you have an artful looking base. Note: You can also use picture frames to make your base.

Don't be confused here, I don't actually use peanut butter in my models. That is meant for eating. However, the lids make for fantastic little bases for smaller vignettes, particularly if you're into miniatures like Warhammer. Its a great way to recycle as well! Look for other grocery items to use. I've been known to use Nutella lids, whey protein jar lids, peach jar lids, among others. Here is an example of a jar lid base.

Ground Work:

Otherwise known as Paper-face Foam Board, foam core board is a great medium to replicate some ground features. I have used it for several purposes, namely to replicate the concrete pads on a flight line base, but it can also be used as a buffer between the base wood and the celluclay which I'll cover later on...

If you want some elevation in your scene, I recommend using foam - in this case, Oasis floral foam. It is dense enough to cut easily but also depresses to take shape very well. You can build your celluclay on top of this.

From that same craft shop, or even online, you can purchase the one item I can't live without when it comes to creating a base: Celluclay.
It is paper mache, so just mix the powdery substance with water and it turns into a clay-like consistency in seconds. With this, you can build up your ground work and mold it like clay. While its wet you can stick plants or other items into it that will be fixed in place once it dries. Generally, drying time is about 24 hours. You can also add acrylic paint to the mixture to give it some color.

Rocks and Rubble:

If you have a cat than this item should be readily available. Cat litter is a great way to replicate small scale rocks and pebbles that will appear almost every where in nature. I don't recommend rifling through the litter pan...clean litter is best. If you're not into this method at all, you can always dig up stones from your yard.

If you need to make larger rocks protruding from your ground work, I like to use tree bark. I've used oak before to a great effect. It isn't as heavy as a real stone and adheres to the base well with glue, which makes it easier to work with. It also takes paint well and can be drilled into easily should you need to mount something to it. Here is an example of using tree bark for large rocks.

You don't need that much of it, but sheet rock (drywall) is a great way to replicate rubble. If you have some extra lying about, as I do, just break off a section and smash it up with a hammer. Voila! Rubble, as seen in this example.

Cork is another fine way to replicate rubble or concrete. It tears easily, and in scale takes on the same texture as stone. Paint sticks to it tremendously as does glue. And similar to bark, it can easily be drilled into. It is also interchangeable with the foam core detailed above.


This is really where your preference will take over. In some cases, purchasing after market items will look better on your base, but like I said, if you're not into spending money you can achieve some nice results with these items.

Dill weed. Found in your grocer's seasoning aisle, or in my case, my wife's spice rack. It replicates grass to a T, especially in larger scale dioramas. Mix it with a bit of static grass and it looks even better in my opinion. Just put some white glue on your base and sprinkle this on generously.

For taller grass, I usually use old paint brush bristles. Ones like these can go for less than a dollar at the local craft shop. Just cut tufts off and secure them to the base with white glue and you're good to go. They can also be painted whatever color of grass you choose.

Caspia is one of my favorite discoveries. Again, available at the craft shop or local flower shop, its a dried flower that looks like a tree. So much so that in some cases I'll just clip off a length and stick it into the base with little alteration. When used in conjunction with twigs or roots to represent the tree trunk, its spot on as you can see in my tutorial on How to Make Trees.




All of these herbs can be used quite effectively to replicate leaves on bushes or trees. Marjoram is particularly nice at replicating fallen leaves during the autumn season. If you use them, your diorama will smell more like a pizza shop than a model...But they do work!

I've used all of these items to a certain degree of success, and I hope they will serve you in a similar manner! If I find more interesting things to share, I will do so. Likewise, if you've got one for me, feel free to let me know and I'll add it!
Thanks for reading.
Happy modeling!