Model Building
September 24, 2009 5:00 PM   Subscribe

First time building a landscape model on taskboard. Tips and advice?

I have to build a landscape model for a class of mine using taskboard and other small objects that can pass as monochromatic miniatures of real life structures/nature such as water, stones, etc.

We have free range on what we want to use (toothpicks, cardboard, etc.) and I would like to lean towards the cheaper, yet still durable and presentable side of things. My design includes a mosaic fountain, planters, trees, a stage, and a lawn.

Do you have any tips/warnings (as in, you shouldn't do so-and-so) about model building? Thanks in advance!

(Also, I am planning to use a glue gun to stick everything together).
posted by pulled_levers to Media & Arts (3 answers total)
Best answer: Ready for huge answer...

What scale is your model? Depending on how small your pieces are, a glue gun might be intolerably stringy and burny. I wouldn't use it on anything smaller than a model the size of my desk.

I spent a lot of college time building 1/8" and 1/4" scale models of set designs, and used white glue (Sobo or Tacky Glue) almost exclusively, though some things required a superglue (Zap-a-Gap was my favorite brand because of the precision applicator). You'll be surprised at how very little glue is required to get things to stick. I'd put a little puddle of white glue on a scrap of cardboard and use a toothpick or scrap of paper to thinly paint it onto a surface. Straight out of the bottle is about 10x too much- the glue acts as a lubricant between the joints for a long time before it dries enough to actually stick. For difficult angles, impale with straight pins or T-pins to help support the glue joint while it dries.

Since it's a monochromatic model, my favorite model building material is manila file folders. They are as stiff as lightweight illustration board and cost 1/10th the price. Also have a sort of warm color that people seem to like. For a floor/base, I'd use foamcore.

If your lawn has to be contoured or hilly, you can carve a sheet of styrofoam. Just remember that if you spray paint styrofoam it will melt in some toxic ways.

Trees/grass/foliage: check out model train suppliers and even the dollhouse section of Michaels for bags of foliage fuzz you can spray paint white. glue bits to twigs to make trees.

Stones: carve bits of styrofoam. Glue with white glue.

Water: some model train stores still sell sodium silicate (water glass) but it's becoming really hard to find. I recommend 15-minute epoxy- mix up a big batch and spread it out in your water area. After 5 minutes, don't even think about touching it- it will start to look yucky.

My top general tips:
-tiny bits of glue.
-Wash your hands a lot, or you'll find yourself smudging and sticking to things. Insanely frustrating after hours of tedious work.
-Invest in blades! Buy a 100-pack of xacto blades- this might easily be the most expensive part of your model. Throw them away after only a few feet of cutting, or as soon as you feel resistance when cutting or see any rough edges. Wrap discarded blades in masking tape so you or your janitor don't slice yourself when taking out the trash.

Hope this all is helpful and not too overwhelming. MeMail me if there are any more specific questions I could help you with!
posted by alight at 6:15 PM on September 24, 2009 [3 favorites]

alight has generally great answers. Also:

- Olfa brand knives are much more comfortable for cutting stuff like foamcore and cardboard.
- get a steel-edged ruler for cutting.
- line up your eye above the line of the ruler (in a vertical plane) and keep your hand at the same attitude throughout the cut.
- always make sure that fingers are out of the way before cutting. every time.
- for foamcore, cut once through the top layer and a bit of foam, once more through the rest of the foam, and one more time through the bottom layer of paper. This helps prevent jaggy looking crap.
- basswood is a versatile material but any wood will have a grain that you need to be aware of in cutting.
- birch plywood looks a lot like basswood and makes a good base.
- wood comes in various grades, make sure you get the good stuff.
- baby's breath is a light wood-colored dried plant that makes good trees.
- loufa can be cut into shapes for shrubs and other vegetation. Not my fav material but still useful.
- use jeweler's tools for detail work.
- always work in a well-ventilated area with several diffuse light sources.
- try to make things look right (correct scale and so on) but don't try too hard to make things look real, you can't do it and it makes the model worse instead of better. This is especially true of organic stuff like water, trees and so on.
- white glue / craft glue works great on porous stuff (wood, vegetable matter, paper) and not so well on plastic (styrene, styrofoam, acetate). use superglue sparingly and always test on scrap first because it can fog transparent plastic and melt some others.

have fun!
posted by Chris4d at 12:56 PM on September 28, 2009

ok, one more: a finished model looks and feels 100% better if it has a sturdy, weighty base. I worked at a model shop where we used chunks of solid-core doors as model bases; the thickness and solid wood made the models much more substantial and expensive-feeling, and they last longer that way too. I presume you're in a landscape architecture program? if you'll be presenting this work to instructors who will be handling it, they'll immediately notice the difference.
posted by Chris4d at 1:00 PM on September 28, 2009

« Older How do I make an Antivirus Pro 2010/Protection...   |   Where to buy bulk dry goods? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.