Building a Diorama from Scratch
Materials and Tools
The scene we’ll be working on is not complex, although it does involve a lot of detail. This may seem like a contradiction, but in reality, if we view the entire project as a group of smaller projects, none of them are actually difficult. Each mini-project may have a few steps, and unique tricks may come into play, but there is no magic incantations, no secret formulas, nor ‘rocket-science’ math. Best of all, the overall cost for this entire project runs easily under $100. We are going to build a scene comprised of the following materials:
- A plywood laminate base, measuring 12” x 24” x ¾” purchased at a local lumberyard;
- Hard Styrofoam™ to provide elevation of the street scene above the canal waterline;
- Cast plaster for streets, sidewalks, and bridge elements;
- Mattboard often called “artists board”, found at any craft shop
- Basswood strip in a variety of sizes, used for both structural support and artistic detail
- Door and window elements from the spare parts box or molded with RTV and resin
While much of the work on this project could be done with common household tools, I recommend that you will save both time and money in the long run if you invest in a few selective hobbyist tools. If this is a “one-time” project, then perhaps you can borrow a few from friends, and buy just the minimum. Tools used in this project include:
- Razor Saw – for making longer cuts in plaster and wood
- Xacto Knife (#11 blade) - for fine detail cutting – keep several new blades on hand!
- Rotary Motor Tool – the most valuable tool in the studio
- White Glue – or other “safe for Styrofoam” household glue
- Glue Gel (Fabritac) – for joining irregular surfaces and multiple materials
- Cyano-acrylic glue (“superglue”) – for fine detail work
- Right Angle guide – to insure stability and accuracy in your measurements
- Metal Ruler – to insure straight cuts on marks and lines
- Sanding paper and blocks – to shape and smooth wood and plaster cuts
- Craft Scissors – for cutting thin papers and trimming up in general
- Marking pencils and felt-tip markers never an oil-based ink pen or ball point!
- Fabric tape – number of uses
- Tissue paper – for creating “cloth textures” on a smooth surface
- Interior wall spackle – great for filling in the cracks and seams in your buildings
- Concrete patch paste –a wonderful scale substitute for “stucco” or mortar
- Hobby paints – discussed in greater depth in the next section
- Hobby brushes – ranging from 0/0 to 5/0
- Alcohol or Turpenol thinner - to clean brushes and thin paint for washes and stains.
- Breathing filter and goggles… the dust from this project can be overwhelming at times!
- Hobby Tweezers or Needle-nose Pliers – to handle some of the tiny parts while gluing