Hmmm, What Do We Have Here?
Tutorial Date 4/9/06
When Klepto originally asked me to make an Umbral Cairn for him as described on page 205 of Escalation, my original thoughts were to design it to look like Cryx-meets-antiquity. But as I thought about what it was and its role in the Warmachine universe, I imagined myself as a member of a group of explorers wandering some god-forsaken tract of Immoren and stumbling across these ruins. At that moment I wanted my reaction to be more of an excited "Hmmm, what do we have here!?!" and less of an "Oh crap!" like an insect that strayed too close to a bug zapper. So I decided to approach the design from a mystery-meets-antiquity angle and thought about those things that meet these requirements in our world—The Druids and Stonehenge, the pyramids of ancient Egypt, the Mayans and their great civilization, etc. The following is what I came up with…
Celuclay, Eggshell Vines, Use of a Scroll Saw
What you need to complete this project:
Thick sheet styrene
Thin sheet styrene
1/8" Plexiglas at least 30" x 10"
Picture wire (approx. 5 feet)
The shells of 24 eggs
1/4" Copper tube (approx. 12 inches)
Flock or static grass
Step 1: Cut six irregular-sized bases (roughly the size of a CD) and one large base approximately 12" x 12" (exact size is not critical). I used 1/8" styrene but Masonite or similar material will also work. Use the Dremil to bevel the edges.
Step 2: Transfer the following templates onto the Plexiglas. You will need six of the obelisks and one dais. Use a scroll saw to cut them out (if you are adventurous you could use a jeweler’s saw, but that sounds like way too much work to me).
Obelisk Template This is a .pdf file, so if you need Adobe Acrobat Read click here
Dias Template A .pdf file again
Step 3: Assemble four sides of the obelisks (do not attach top yet).
Step 4: I didn’t want the obelisks to appear hollow so I lined the inside surfaces with thin styrene so I cut the styrene to fit the inside surface of obelisks and glued it into place. Remember the old adage—"Measure twice and cut once." You want them to fit well as gaps will really show off on the finished piece.
Step 5: Measure top, cut thin styrene and attach. Remember to subtract 1/8" from each side so it will fit properly. You want it to fit snugly like a plug.
Top of Obelisk
Step 6: Fill gaps in the joints with modeler’s putty and allow to dry.
Step 7: Prime the obelisks black and allow to dry.
Step 8: Sand the joints to remove excess putty. I did this by placing the obelisk on a flat sheet of sand paper and sanded it using a wide circular motion. I did this to not only remove the extra putty, but to give the rest of the piece a bit of "tooth" for the paint to adhere to without flaking off later.
Step 9: Repeat Steps 6 and 8 if necessary.
Step 10: Weather the obelisk by using a Dremil to grind off the hard edges. You can also weather the dais at this point.
Step 11: Glue each obelisk to a small base.
Step 12: Make the vines by cutting the picture wire into varying lengths between 2-1/5" and 5".
Step 13: Unbraid the wire leaving about 1" at the bottom for the trunk.
Step 14: Twist the strands together to make the branches as shown in the example below. Twisting the trunks for two vines together may make a large vine. Set a couple aside for the dais base.
Step 15: Use glue gun to attach to obelisk and base. I used generous dollops of hot glue so the "leaves" would have a little extra dimension in places.
Step 16: Apply white glue to the surface of the base, cover with dirt and allow to dry.
Step 17: Crush the eggshells into little bits. Use white glue to attach eggshells around the vines.
My 5-year old daughter Jenzen handled the egg crushing like a pro. If you have a child or younger sibling that wants to be involved with your projects, let them help with steps like this one. Make sure they wash their hands afterwards (who knows where those eggs have been!). Also, ask them what they think about your project as it progresses. It will help them believe that their opinion is valuable to you.
Step 18: Undercoat the entire piece with black and allow to dry.
Step 19: Trace the dais onto the center of the large base so you will know where to put the supports.
Step 20: Cut the copper tube into 1/2" lengths (you will need 12 of these) and affix to base in a symmetrical fashion. These are going to be the armatures for the supports for the dais.
Step 21: Apply Celuclay to base and allow to dry. I used this stage to place a couple of large rocks onto the piece.
Step 22: Make the supports out of green stuff by sculpting them around the copper tube armatures from Step 20 and allow to cure. I forgot to shot a shot of this step but the supports can be seen in the photo on Step 24.
As you do each support, place the dais over the top to make sure the entire support is concealed beneath. By pushing down on the dais on the newly sculpted support you can ensure that they are all the same height and that when the time comes to attach the dais it will have a flat surface to lay upon.
Jenzen discovered the wonders of green stuff by sculpting two snowmen and an angel. Very nice!
Step 23: Cover the entire surface of the dais with white glue and cover with dirt.
Step 24: Attach vines, eggshells and broken dais pieces to large base.
Step 25: Prime the entire surface black. The dais in the photo has just been placed to show position only. It will not be glued into place until the base is painted.
Step 26: Paint dirt bases of the obelisks and dais with Americana Burnt Umber
My wife Natalie is starting to come around to this painted dirt thing.
Step 27: Heavy dry brush base with Vallejo Model Color Flat Earth #983
Step 28: Dry brush base with Vallejo Model Color Stone #104
Step 29: Paint obelisks, dais and supports Vallejo Model Color Neutral Gray #160
Step 30: Dry brush with Vallejo Model Color Pale Greyblue #153
Step 31: Pick out vines with Vallejo Model Color Burnt Umber #148
Step 32: Dry brush with Vallejo Model Color Flat Earth #983
Step 33: Paint leaves with Vallejo Model Color German Field Green #103
Step 34: Dry brush with Vallejo Model Color USA Uniform #084
Step 35: Dry brush with Vallejo Model Color Olive Green #082
Step 36: Glue dais to base
Step 37: Apply two coats of glossy seal allowing each to dry before reapplying.
Step 38: Apply two coats of flat seal allowing each to dry before reapplying. This may seem like a lot of seal but I really want to protect those eggshells from wear and tear.
Step 39: Load up a brush with a 50-50 mixture of white glue and water and randomly paint the mixture onto the base.
Step 40: Cover glue mixture with flock/static grass and allow to dry.
There you go, a semi-challenging terrain piece you can wow your friends with at your next game.
Afterthoughts: The unbraiding and re-braiding of the picture wire was tedious but made for a nice effect.
I got the eggshell idea from Scarab and Ra and was excited to use it. It seemed the more I crushed the shells the better they looked. If I had it to do again I would apply a second layer of shells in places over the original layer of shells.
I am willing to field any questions you may have about this and any other pieces I have done on this site. You may contact me directly at