Port Aerie (Highgate)

Terrain by Scarab, Written by Scarab, Figs painted by Nobody

Tutorial Date 7/2/06

Well if you are anything like me you have already looked at all of the pictures before you began reading the article. You may have already come up with some questions concerning the piece, like "It’s okay, but it would be really cool if you had a ship hanging from the crane, Aaaarg!" Others may be, "How is this a practical piece of terrain, it takes up a good sized chunk of the corner of my playing board with very little playing area?" or "How am I suppose to recreate this and find the time to do so?" So let me try to enlighten you on what the premise is behind the piece. When I started playing Warmachine I saw this picture of a port city called "Highgate" and thought, "that is cool and I want to do something like that." I also play on a 4 foot by 8 foot board which allows me to play in the center with pieces like this on the edges of my board. I believe in playing the game but also having the experience as well. Throwing yourself into another world for a time, like when you go to a movie. This piece was never meant to be recreated as is. It was designed after a drawing using techniques that can be applied on smaller more playable pieces. Let us explore those options. We will look at cliffs, flat rocks and rivers and we will take them from this piece.

Techniques Used:
Cliffs, Rocks, Water Effects

First off are flat rocks or riverbanks and cliff faces. Cliffs can be as high as this piece or as small as the height of a fig for a more playable surface. I would like to show you how to create a cliff face or flat rocks with regular joint compound (Mud).

You will need to create the main structure on which you will be applying your Mud. This can be foam shapes or just a flat piece of ¼" Masonite like I use for my terrain bases.



There are a wide variety of things you can use this rock technique on. Some of which we will show pictures of in this article. Now you are ready to apply the mud. Find your tools and go to town. You will want your Mud to be at least ½" thick, but I wouldn’t go more than 2" thick. The more mud you use the longer it will take to dry. I used a fan to speed up the drying time. Your mud may develop cracks, which are okay and it gives it more character. You may also find that the thicker the Mud that your surface may be dry but as you carve it the interior is still wet. Thick mud can take days to dry.

Once the mud is dry you can begin carving. My first step for rock faces is to use an actual rock to rough up the surface and remove the just been puttied look. This also gives it the initial textured look I like for rocks. You may need to brush off the dust and flakes from time to time to see your progress.

Now you are ready to carve. You can use wood carving tools and craft knifes. When carving a large piece like this try and find pictures of real rocks. I used a picture I took in Southern Utah for this piece. I used the hill off to the right. I drew lines on the rock face to make sure my strata went in the same general direction.

Now using your carving tools you can begin to shape the piece. During your first step you are just worried about the over all appearance, not the fine detail.

The next step you apply smaller detail like chips and smaller strata lines.

The final step I make the cracks or add to the cracks that were created in the drying process and then add sand in places I think it would have settle due to the wind moving it around. You now have a riverbank to keep your water from running all over the place.

This is the same process I use carving cliffs. Now you can begin painting your rocks. I usually use four-colors minimum on my rocks. The darkest color is the wash (50/50 water and paint). I mix my wash in a cup and apply the paint.

Once it dries you can begin to drybrush the rest of your colors. Always go from darker to lighter. Make sure that every color you apply is lighter than the last. Sometimes it is smart to have test objects so you don’t try something on your piece and decide that it is not something you want. Sometime you can even add a slightly different color to your rocks. When I do darker rocks with grays I may add some brown here and there. Here are some examples.

One of the last steps in all of my projects is the placement of grasses and foliage so wait until everything else is done.

Now we start the river. We have made our rock shores with the mud and they are carved and painted. Do not apply and foliage to your piece yet. (If you want foliage in your water you need to know that Envirotex will wick up your foliage and ruin it. This is something you should practice with on smaller pieces first.) We want the river completely done before we do that. On the Highgate I glued some foam core with white glue to the edges to retain the resin. Before I applied the Envirotex I painted the bottom in a random color mix but making sure I was painting in the direction I wanted the river to flow.

Make sure everything is dry before you mix your resin. This resin also wicks a little so if your water line is to close to the top your resin will creep over the top of your bank. Make sure your mixing container is something you don’t want to keep. I use plastic cups for my mixing. I will have two different cups to make sure the mixing has two equal parts. I will color the resin before I mix the hardening agent. I use oil paint for my coloring. Always start with a little at a time because you can’t take away but you can always add. I did my color in a blue green making sure it remains fairly clear. Once I got my coloring right I then mixed a darker blue green mix of oil paint which I will use later for the streaks that are in the river. You can also mix dark greens as well. Now that I am all prepared, I mix in the hardening agent with a Popsicle stick with the resin. Mix it well. Now hopefully I guess correctly and I made enough. Once the mixture is complete mixed I pour the resin in the river bottom. Once it has all settled I want to make streaks in it. I use a Popsicle stick with a little oil paint on the end. I dip it in my river and run it in the direction the river is supposed to be flowing. I keep doing that with the same stick until I get the look I want. I will need to add more paint from time to time but again remember that you can’t take away so don’t do a lot all at once. Now for the waiting, your piece needs to dry. Make sure you have weights that can be placed on your terrain somewhere that will keep your piece flat as it dries. Mud and Envirotex will warp your piece as it dries if you let it.

Now your water is dry but looks smooth and shiny, not what we want. Where are the ripples I see in the picture? Let us begin. You will need some Acrylic Medium and a brush you can beat up a little bit, a size #2 or larger works for me. Now you apply your Medium and get it to look like the photo (bumpy). You may need to keep going back to it and working it until it doesn’t want to flatten out all the way. This is a little time consuming so make sure your not hungry or need to visit the outhouse or the Head as we Pirates say. Notice the foam core border and the edge of the dumbbell holding it down in the picture? Make sure your cat or your parrot is locked up so no hair, feathers or prints get on it.

Once your ripples are dry you can try to make water foam or leave it as is. Making water foam can be a little tricky. I used 5-minute epoxy and worked it in the direction of the river. After it was dry I dry brushed it lightly with white acrylic paint. Try this somewhere else first before working your piece so you feel comfortable because when it is dries there is no turning back. I used a toothpick to work it and move it. When you’re done you have a river that appears to be moving.

With these ideas you can make all kinds of useable playing pieces, small hills with cliffs, a river running through a terrain piece and so on. Good luck in your adventures and always remember to have fun, Aaarg!



1. Rocks

a. Joint Compound (or Mud you use on drywall to hide joints)

b. Wood carving tools

c. Craft Knife

d. ¼" Masonite for the base

e. Acrylic Paint

f. Sifted playground sand

g. White glue

h. Paintbrushes

i. Mud trowels

2. Water

a. Envirotex

b. Acrylic Medium

c. Acrylic Paint

d. Oil Paint

e. Toothpicks

f. Popsicle Sticks

h. Plastic Cups

g. Paintbrushes