Basing How To

Basing Minis: the Bonsai Method 
This certainly isn't the fastest method for basing minis, but I like taking my time and being able to pay attention to the composition while doing this, hence the name. A good base really makes a mini stand out. Using the same materials and colours for my bases as I use on my terrain ties everything together nicely on the table.

Step One: Tape the Edges.
This is entirely optional but doing this lets me work quickly later and gives a nice clean edge, that I like, to the base. Another bonus is that it's good practice for working with tape, something anyone interested in airbrushes should be doing. If neither of these appeal to you, don't bother. I've seen plenty of very good looking bases that were textured right down to the bottom of the base.  

All this requires is some suitable painter's masking tape cut into thin strips and wrapped around each base. Here I'm using Tamiya brand masking tape which is thin, flexible and very low tack.

Step Two: Diggin' Some Dirt.
I'm going to use Acrylic Matte Gel to provide a good solid adhesive layer for my basing materials. Matte gel is great stuff and easy to use, but it has a smoooth texture and I need to fix that. Since these figures are standing on the ground, my goal here is to give the matte gel a texture that looks a bit like earth. So for this next step I'm going to mix up some dirt coloured to match my terrain. This is something that I keep on hand for a variety of terrain work, using it wherever I need to add convincing dirt or mud.

Woodland Scenics Fine Turf is a good product with a great texture, but I'm not crazy about the colour that the 'Earth' mix comes in.

Fortunately it is neutral enough that it will readily take the colour from pigments.

Adding a small scoop of Vallejo Dark Red Ochre pigment to the Fine Turf gives a very convincing colour, texture and 'dustiness'.

Step Three: Tint & Texture some Acrylic Matte Gel.
I use Golden Acrylics High Solid Matte Gel. You can find this or a similar product at your local art or craft supply shop. A small 8oz./250ml. pot of this stuff will last a long time. Matte gel dries clear and very matte with a stiff but flexible texture.
Scoop out a small amount of gel and tint it with a suitable acrylic paint.

Then texture it with some of the Woodland Scenics 'Dirt'


Adjust the colour, adding pigment...

and a drop or two of ink; here Antelope Brown from Daler Rowney.

Finally, thin the mixture down to a brushable consistency by adding water, matte medium, or by using 'Wash Mix' as featured in the USMC painting tutorial, above. This mix will be painted onto each base, so it can't be too thick!

Here you can see everything that goes into the tinted-textured gel. The white dropper bottle contains Wash Mix, ready to go at all times.

You can tint Matte Gel with whatever acrylic paints & inks you like. Texture can be added in a variety of ways, including very fine sand.

I really like the soft texture of the Fine Turf; it is easy to work with in the steps that follow and is easy to clean up. Sand is less accommodating, but free.

Step Four: Commence Preparations for Rumbling...
With the textured gel ready, it's time to clear the deck and get ready to bonsai some bases.

Here I have laid out a collection of static grass, bits of Woodland Scenics foliage & ballast, dried loose-leaf tea, grass-tufts, rocks and fine sand (these last two previously tinted with inks or thinned down acrylic paints) and some Fine Turf coloured with pigment.
All of these need to be ready to be applied as each figure is done.
A small tumbler of water (top-right), for cleaning out brushes, is a must. Several small dishes, bowls or aluminum tart pans will be necessary. Tools include tweezers for placing larger bits of decoration and two brushes; one for applying the textured gel and another kept clean for washing off any gel that strays too far onto a mini.

Step Five: Don't Hesitate. Decorate.
Think in terms of three. Divide the base into three areas, basing them on the posture and motion of the mini. Use those three areas to enhance the action or theme of the mini or the force the mini belongs to.

If you haven't already, you should consider starting a collection of interesting, suitably sized material for decorating your bases!
Carefully brush a layer of textured gel onto the base of the mini. A good coat will cover the small cast-on base attached to the mini & provide lots of good sticking material for the decoration to come.

In the above example, tweezers were used to add a small patch of static grass, then the mini was turned upside down and given a tap on the bottom of the base with the back of the tweezers to set the static grass upright. A stone was chosen and placed. A small bit of Woodland Scenics foliage was added, first dipping the bottom of the 'bush' carefully into the pot of textured gel and then adding this element to the base. This ensures a good bond for the flexible foliage.

A couple of pairs of decent tweezers are invaluable for all kinds of hobby work, but they really shine when doing this kind of quick decoration.

Other items can be added in the same manner, alone or in combination. Reinforce fragile elements with a bit of textured gel before adding them to the base. Don't be shy to stick items edgewise onto the base, enhancing their height or angle.

Step Six: Cover Me!
Lastly I stand the mini in a small dish and pour (or spoon) over enough tinted very fine sand to cover the base completely. The mini is then set aside until I have done several more bases, usually about five, before it's time to turn the mini upside down and rap its bottom to dislodge any loose sand into the dish. The mini is once more set aside & the loose sand is returned to the 'main-stash'.

 Over time my little jar of tinted sand has acquired some nice character from bits of static grass, foliage and whatnot added to it from various basing sessions. 

Whenever I use this mix it always adds interesting variety to each base.

 When all the bases are done for that session, I carefully remove the tape from each mini. I don't want to pull off the tape right away. It's better to wait a while to give the textured gel a chance to set-up somewhat.

You might find you need to touch-up the paint around some of the bases. After handling each base so much during painting, the black paint I use on the sides sometimes has a hard time sticking to the base.

So, there you have it, in detail.

I hope there is something here to inspire or inform your next basing session, regardless of the scale or the period of mini you prefer to paint!

As always, have fun with it,