Wargaming Tradecraft: Creating the Mountain King's River


Creating the Mountain King's River

In the last post on my Elemental King, I discussed building the Mountain King's base. Today, you can read a comprehensive tutorial on how I created the water on his base. I'll admit: I'm pretty proud of this one. It turned out beautifully and the ripples I made in the water seem spot on.

Included are some money saving tips and details on a slight hiccup, which you'll have to read the post to find out about.

Test, Test, Test (and Water Effects Overview)

Like painting OSL, this work is daunting - there's no going back. Once you start, you're committed. I'm covering about an inch of the Mountain King's in water effect, so I had to make sure it works out.

I somehow missed taking a picture of the 9ish Gretchin I tested on, but the following outlines what I tried and my conclusions for each. I've used Pouring Medium and Plastic Cement before, which you can read about.

  • Liquitex Pouring Medium
    • Used it before, dries clear, self leveling, excellent quality and reasonably priced. Can varnish over top to modify the gloss.
    • Downside is it takes a LONG time to fully clear.. like months and I was trying to finish on time for Massive Voodoo's contest.
    • Has to be poured in thin layers.
  • Testors Plastic Cement
    • I've also used this before, dries clear, dries quick and looks great.
    • This stuff loses volume and pulls at edges while it dries, so the surface of the water doesn't level nicely. It's also expensive. Because it's thicker, doesn't fill gaps too well.
    • Doesn't have to be poured thin, but will lose uneven volume if you pour it thick.
  • Liquitex String Gel
    • Works pretty much the same way as Pouring Medium, except thicker and not great with gaps.
    • Has to be poured in thin layers.
  • Amazing Clear Cast (Resin)
    • Dries like hard clear plastic and very firm.
    • Generates heat during the curing process, but didn't appear to damage anything in the test.
    • I was worried about the heat damaging the border so I used clay, which frosted the edges.
    • Dried yellowish, despite being sold as their clear option.
    • Can pour it in one thick layer, unlike other water effects.
    • * All resins generate heat during the curing process, be careful.
  • Woodland Scenics Realistic Water (Secret Weapon Miniatures Water)
    • I found this to work just as well as Pouring Medium, dries clearer fairly fast, great price and designed specifically for this kind of work.
    • Has to be poured in very thin layers.
    • Not compatible with other mediums like varnish and gels. (More on that later.)
    • Questionable performance over the long term and the test mutated on me while packed away. (More on that later.)
I went with the Woodland Scenics Realistic Water

Woodland Scenics on the left, which started perfectly round with a flat top, with a diameter matching the base.
Clear Cast in the middle and right. Tried, without luck, to polish the edges.

Determine the Height of the Water

I looked for the lowest point above the base, which was the middle of the log. I marked just below that point on a toothpick, so the log would stick out of the water.

I then compared that height to other places to get an idea of where the water would fill up to.

This toothpick becomes a guide for how wide to cut the border of the base that'll keep the realistic water in place.

Create the Border of the Base

To hold in the water effect, you'll need a mold. The best thing I found was overhead paper. You can find it at office supply stores and buy a couple sheets from their copy center instead of a whole pack.

I carefully cut 2 strips of (clear) overhead paper long enough to wrap around the each side of the base from the log to the king's loincloth. I cut the width to the height marked on the toothpick in the previous step. I also cut each side to get as close to the terrain features as possible.

The best way I found to glue it in was to first glue one side. Once it's dry, it becomes easy to glue and wrap the paper around the base.

After, fill in the rest of the sand around the edge.

Gap Filling

Being that the surfaces the overhead paper is coming up against are very curvy, it was difficult to get it right up against the edge. So, I used my sculptable Heavy Gel to both fill the gaps and make it look like water is splashing out.

* I'm getting ahead of myself, but notice how the gel where I poured the Realistic Water has turned white. Science is crazy... and annoying. But you can cut it out with an X-acto and re-gel it up afterward.

Estimating how much Water Effect is Needed

To plan ahead, if maybe you're working on a large project, figure out how much effect you need by filling the watery area with rice. (The smaller the better.) Rice is great because it's not messy, it's cheap, easy to pour out afterward and the shape means there's not much wasted space between each piece, so it gives you a good approximation of how much liquid is needed.

Once you've filled the area, pour out the rice and use a measuring cup / bowl to figure out roughly how much water you need.

Find a Level Surface

You'll want to find a flat surface. If you cut both strips the same width, then when you fill the base with water, you should be able to fill up to the top of one strip and on the other side have the water come up to the top.

You'll have to make sure that the water effect dries on a level surface.

Levels are cheap tools containing a tube of liquid and an air bubble. In the center of the tube are two lines spaced wide enough apart to contain the bubble. When you place a level on something, the bubble stays in the middle or moves to the higher side. Test the surface both vertically and horizontally (demonstrated with the King here) to make sure it's completely level and either find something else to dry on or raise the side.

Woodland Scenics - Realistic Water

I settled on Woodland Scenics - Realistic Water, commonly used with larger tabletop displays and available at hobby stores that tend to focus on model railroad type stuff. To use this stuff:

  1. Pour a 1/8" thick layer at a time
  2. Waiting 24 hours for it to cure between each layer.

It also loses volume (shrinks) as it dries. This means to plan ahead, you'll need extra and it's going to take a long time to pour anything of any real thickness. (Though to be fair, I poured some layers thicker.)

Also, while wet, this stuff reacts with sculpting gel, causing the gel to turn white. There's no problem with placing the gel on the dried water effect.

* Fun fact, this is the same product as Secret Weapon Miniatures Realistic Water. Secret Weapons Miniatures just bottles it in droppers and raises the price by 400%.

Woodland Scenics - $24 for 16oz
Secret Weapons - $3 for 1/2oz * 32 = $96 for 16oz

So if you want to save a little money and are adding water to more than a few bases, buy it from the source. (Any company is entitled to their profit, but this is a big markup.)


You'll usually end up with bubbles using any water effect and it's up to you if you're fine with that. It's easy enough to use a sharp tool to pop them. In theory, you could also use a needle to inject air bubbles in.

Sand, Floating, Swimming and other Suspended Objects

Since the king is stomping around in the water, this would kick up sand and mud. So, between each layer, I scooped a little sand and spread it around, more around his feet.

This also demonstrates that if you wanted to suspend other objects in water, like fish, add them after a few layers of poured water. I wouldn't glue them in... but maybe use something from above to hold it in place until the first layer dries and holds it.

You can see here more of the extra sand and rocks I've tossed between layers to use for blending.

Layers are Barely Noticeable

The picture here shows a green circle around one of the layers with sand. It's hard to see, but there's a tiny line of sand there. Point is: It's hard to see.


The following photos simply show me pouring the water effects and how layering it doesn't show any lines - it just blends.

Once again, you're supposed to pour it 1/8" at a time, but some of the layers I did thicker.

Watch for Bleeding

Some things, like this fake moss, are dyed and will bleed their colours when dipped in water AND water effects. I'd tested ahead of time and wanted the bleed, as it creates a little murky colour around the moss.

To avoid it, wash the ink out of the moss first, then use it.
Cleaning up Overfill

On my last layer, I poured wayyy too much water effect in. So much that it filled higher than the edge of the border and surface tension is literally the only thing preventing all that from spilling all over the place.

Since I was worried, I wanted to bring that back down to the top of the overhead paper.
  1. VERY carefully, dip the corner of some paper towel in the center (away from the edge) of the water effect.
  2. Patiently, allow the liquid to be absorbed.
  3. Pull the towel out and use another corner to absorb more.
    Since water effect is thicker than water, a paper towel won't absorb as much. If you just stick it in to suck up more, you might spill.

Creating Waves and Ripples

Using the Liquitex Heavy Sculpting Gel I used on my Pyre Troll, I created a bunch of large "splashes" where the legs of the king meet the surface of the water. I've also created some bigger waves around the edge of the water. Keep the following in mind:
  • Anything making a large impact on the water:
    • If it just happened, will have larger splashing and less ripples.
    • If it happened a bit ago, will have more / larger rippling and less splashing. 
  • Anything making a small impact on the water:
    • Creates small ripples.
The sculpting gel appears white before it dries clear. The outside dries first, the inside can take a couple weeks to fully clear up.

Creating Ripples

Using the same gel, I've taken a tiny bit on one of my sculpting tools and "drawn" small curves that originate from objects in the water. The ripples are a little bigger closer to the legs and fist and become smaller, weaker and uneven at the edges. (Click the following pics to see the ripples larger.)

Now, on a larger scale, you can see the ripples before they dry.

Problems, 4 months later

Haven't had many chances to game lately, so at some point in the last month, something happened to the water. You can see how clear it is in the photos above, so just look below. I'm torn. I really liked the clear look of normal water, but a few friends have pointed out that this creates a more authentic "murky" churned up river look.

It does warn not to seal the top, which in testing caused gloss varnish to dry funny, but I certainly didn't seal it with the gel. I used super-glue to glue everything in place, but it was well dried before I poured the liquid effects. I always keep my army case indoors in our usually cool basement, never leave it in the car and don't think it'd've gotten too hot. So, despite testing ahead of time, it's hard to plan for unknowns months down the road. (Like testing to see if the white glue you use  for terrain will yellow over time.)

My worry now is that it's going to get worse and I'm going to have to do some kind of crazy repair. AKA, carve it all out and pour some other kind of gel in :(

"Final" Photos

I've tossed quotes there since I took these photos before the murkiness set in. Have to say though, I'm very proud how this water turned out. The riverbed looks great, the splashing is spot on, the ripples look amazing... have a look for yourself.

Take a look at my Step by Step page for the entire Hordebloods project.

Here you will find each model broken down into links showing each step:
Concept, Works in Progress, (for both modelling and painting) and Final Shots

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