Basing your minis

Grantosaur over on Twitter asked a really interesting question about upping his basing game, and I found it a really difficult question to answer!  Why?  Because as a hobby we’ve moved to tutorials on doing specific effects like ice or lava, and don’t really talk about the basics of basing any more.

I thought it might be worth taking a look through my own ideas about basing in a bit more detail, and see if that helps at all!   This next discussion assumes we’re starting with blank bases, not custom bases with lots of detail already!

For me, basing seems to involve several distinct stages:

  1. I tend to add any bigger chunks of terrain designed to elevate the models.  
  2. I add texture.
  3. I add any additional detail pieces.  
  4. Next comes painting.
  5. Finally we add any final effects

Elevating the model


I have to admit, I fairly often skip this stage entirely, myself.   For heroes and leaders, it can look very effective to raise up a model.  It can also be useful for older models which are smaller than current equivalents to be raised up and get a bit more presence.

Obviously, this stage can get as complex as you like.  You might use a big chunk of a broken vehicle, build a plasticard set of stairs, or use any of hundreds of big bits of resin or plastic terrain.  

The two classic options that are easily accessible tend to be cork boards, broken and built up as rocks, and bits of slate.  If you are building several layers, especially if you have a heavier metal model going on top, I thoroughly recommend pinning cork into place!  Slate bases look really effective too, and can add a nice heft to the base of minis that can otherwise tend to tip.  Both can be picked up cheaply – cork coasters or tiles from hobby stores are cheap, and often also available in bigger options for army basing at DIY stores.  Slate can often be found really cheaply in DIY stores in the garden section as opposed to small expensive packs from hobby stores.

A good video guide for cork bases can be found here

A good video guide to slate bases can be found here


Adding Texture


As we enter the second stage, I think its important to mention that you shouldn’t be too rigid on the order you do things here.  You might want to paint some pieces that will be obscured later in the process right away, or you might want to skip step one entirely for rank and file troops!  That’s all absolutely fine.  

Adding texture is a really important step, though.  Unless you have a completely styled resin base, you’ll also certainly want to ensure that the ground feels like a real surface of some kind.  There are a myriad of ways to achieve this, and I don’t think any one way is better than another.  The important thing is to be consistent through a particular force.

One of the simplest  and classic ways to add texture is to add sand to the base,  using PVA glue to fix it into place.  You can mix up the texture by having a range of sizes of sand and tiny stones, and it’s very accessible.  Cheap sand from a  DIY store is easy to find.  I started basing models this way back in Rogue Trader.  You can then paint it to match the environment with a base colour, drybrush and wash, and it can be quite convincing earth or desert with ease.

Many of the GW texture paints mimic this effect with granules inside a paint, like Stirling Battlemire.  Its a fantastic time saver, though comparatively more expensive.  It looks genuinely good for churned earth.

Other texture paints go for another effect to simulate cracked, dry earth, using a technique often called crackle.  Essentially the thick paint contracts as it dries, exposing the layer underneath.  It looks fantastic for dry cracked earth, and for red martian ground you’d have to go a long way to beat the Martian Ironcrust look. To get the best effect, you need to remember to paint the base first, though, as it’ll be revealed through the cracks, or repaint the whole thing afterwards!  There are many hobby suppliers of crackle medium allowing you to mix up this effect with your own choice of colours to get an effect just as you like it, but it often doesn’t work very well or gives too fine an effect.  It can be worth paying more for a pretty guaranteed success with the GW technicals.

Another good way of adding bigger, more complex textures like cobblestones or roads is to use green stuff and sculpt the texture onto the base.  If, like me, you lack all sculpting skills, you can cheat with a press mould or rolling pin!  Greenstuffworld has loads of options to roll onto green stuff that you can then pop onto a base for a perfect texture.  Fantastic and cheap alternative to resin bases for a whole army, and lets you use different parts of the mold for variations over the different bases.   

Of course, you can combine these – have a sculpted paving stone surrounded by earth made from sand and PVA!  The combinations are endless, but your aren’t generally aiming for a masterwork here – the important thing is just adding that texture to make the base feel genuine.


Adding Details


Now, it’s a fine line when it comes to adding extra details to the base.  Too busy, and the base will draw attention away from the model.  Too sparse, and it can end up looking like you haven’t paid any attention to it.  Often a model will already come with some detail under a foot already, so you may not want to worry about it.

However, adding a skull onto the ground, a lost weapon, a piece of a rivals iconography, it can add just another little note of excellence.  One thing I loved on the dreadnought bases, for example, was the shell cases that looks like the default assault cannon had been firing and firing.  Nothing huge, nothing to take attention away from the main model, but a lovely little detail to sell the whole narrative of the piece.

Skulls are a fantastic default option, work for both fantasy and sci-fi, and are everywhere.  The 40k hero bases come with loads of them.  The 40k basing kit comes with loads of them.  Every pack of marines or guard tends to have spare helmets, serving much the same purpose.  An easy touch that makes the base just feel a little bit special and unique.

My rough guide tends to be add one detail piece onto a base up to 32mm.  Add 2 for 40mm bases, and add an extra piece for heroes (remembering to count any details underfoot on the model in there).  Of course, that’s just a loose guide.  Feel free not to follow it.  Honestly, for rank and file troops like Imperial Guard?  I might not add any.  But the occasional detail here and there does make a difference.


Painting


So now we have a base, maybe with some rocks made of cork or slate to give some height, with texture on the base designed to give a particular effect, whether that’s cracked ice, church tiles or churned earth.  We’ve got a few little details, like maybe a skull or a dropped gun, or a dribbly candle.

Now we need to pull it all together and paint it.  If you are doing this separately to your model, remember to take your models colours into account.  You want the base to generally harmonise with the colours on the models and be a little muted.  Too sharp a contrast can draw the focus onto the base and off the model, and generally that’s the last thing you want, outside of a dedicated diorama.


Final Effects


When you finish painting, the base still won’t look quite done, generally.  You’ll want to add a final effect like grass or snow, or maybe some UV resin for a water effect if the bases are set in a swamp.  A simple, easy way of getting great results is gluing the prepared tufts you can buy from a range of different vendors like GW and Army Painter onto the base.

Static grass or flock can look quite good and be quite quick.  Apply glue, cover the base, shake off the excess.  To get the most out of static grass, though, you do really need to run it though a static generator to get the blades pointing up rather than being glued any which way.  Its much much more effective, and you can pick static grass applicators up from Amazon. Its also bloody easy to give yourself a shock!

Another extra point beyond straight grass tufts is to apply the similar tufts with flowers.  Applied sparingly through a force, they give another source of detail and colour without being overwhelming.

Snow effects can look absolutely amazing if applied right, and UV resins for water effects can be absolutely spectacular.  That’s not always a good thing – remember, the base should be designed as the foil to the main miniature – not the star.  In addition, applying them over a full army can be very time consuming and involved – it can be worth saving them for specific models or heroes to help mark them out.


Varnish?


I like to apply a spray varnish at this point, to help lock the base in place and keep it safe when you glue the main model onto it!  That’s not for everyone, and if you’ve used shiny effects on the base, you’ll need to regloss the dull matt varnish effect.


Final Notes


It really helps to have a solid theme in mind while basing.  It doesn’t need to be exact, but if you set out to have all your Sisters of Battle look like they are within a Convent, then you can tie it all together.  Greenstuffworld temple tiles give texture to the base, you could use cork tiles to make steps that you cover with the greenstuff for the heroes, add dribbly candles for details, and paint in drab rock colours with the occasional gold inlay detail.    There’s loads of room to work with individual models, but you’ll tie your entire force together.

I often simply go with just matching my Realm of Battle board.  Churned earth, static grass, skull details, it all goes perfectly with the board I tend to play on, and makes it consistent between armies for keeping the theme between allied imperial forces.

The theme doesn’t really matter so much as the consistency, and that it should add a little interest without detracting from the models.  But over an entire army, those bases are determining a lot of the overall look!  Its worth spending the time to do them right.