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Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Hill Making Tutorial

By Luke Melia

War gaming hills.  They are an integral part of the terrain features on all of our tables no matter what system we play.  Hills also provide depth to tables, block line of site and provide cover from enemy fire.  When people have asked me over the years what types of terrain they should make first for their tables, I always say "hills" without question.  There are a lot of different techniques for making hills and there is, by no means, a right or a wrong way of making them.  Terrain is a very personal thing for me.  Ultimately you have to be happy with the way any piece of terrain looks on your table.  To that end, I would remind everyone that this is the way I like to build hills an it works well for me.   If you have some alternate methods please feel free to share on our forum. 

I am going to show you a couple of different types of hills and rocky outcroppings that I have been working on.
You start with pin (or blue) insulating foam. You as several choices in the thickness of the board.  This will determine how tall your hills will be.  I chose two inch thick so I would get more height, specifically for the rocky outcroppings.  I use a jig saw to cut out the rough shape of the hill then use a Styrofoam cutter that you can purchase from any hobby or craft store to shape the hill into the shape I like.
This is about $6.00 at home depot.  I add a little water, about half a cup, to it to give a move liquid consistency which I have found is easier to work with.  Spread it all over the hill and be sure to create a lot of text on it.  Grooves and ridges are good and will provide great detail later on.

This is not going to be smooth.  I use varying sizes of spackle applicators to get different size grooves.

After it dries I go over it one more time with more spackle to hit any areas that were thin and give it more texture.

Sometimes to get an additional textured look I will add ballast to the spackle while it is still wet.  You can also add sand.  It's up to you and what you like.

For paint, cheap is your friend. 

I vary the next steps a little depending on what I am doing.  When I have added ballast or sand I paint over the ballast first with the brown.  This ensures that the ballast will not fall off later.  If it comes off you will see white chips all over ruining the hill.

No ballast and I just paint where I envision the rocky bits are going to go.  I paint black then while it is still wet, go over with a little of the gray spray primer.

I use a lighter color (again cheap) gray and go over the spray painted parts.  I am going to say this several times throughout this tutorial, multiple layers of colors give you a sense of depth and realism.

Quarter inch brush dabbing the color on randomly.  It doesn't have to cover ever last spot.  This helps with the coloration.  It makes no sense to just paint completely over each spot.  Just like in nature, different colors represent the different exposure to wind, rain and sun along with different types of rock that become exposed.

While the grey is still wet I pour some magic mud on the paint and roughly go over the area with a brush.  I ended up going over this twice.  This is going to darken up the area twice. What we are looking for is color variation.  This adds depth which is critical to getting a good, realistic look for the stone.  I use a quarter inch brush and dab the color around.

Let it dry and you should end up with multiple shades on the stone.

Here comes the wash again.  Make sure the paint is dry because this time we are using it as it is normally intended, to shade and blacken in crevices..  Spread it around to get the depth of color again.  Getting into the cracks and crevices giving great shading.

The next step is dry brushing with white.  You want to highlight any of the ridges and grooves that we made when the spackle first went on.  You will also end up highlighting some of the ballast as well.  As much or as little as you feel works for you.

Add more brown to the non grey areas.

I have a flocking mixture I use which is made up of Woodland Scenics Medium Turn and Burnt Grass Static Grass.  Spread it on relatively thin at first so you can see some of the brown (soil) underneath.  Then shake off the extra.  instead of a nice smooth hill top surface you will see small ridges and irregularities, just like in real life.  It is very difficult to see from the camera's perspective.

Next I sprinkle some straight static grass randomly over the same area I just flocked. Why you may ask?  Again, multiple shades of color give depth and a level of realism,

I deliberately did not get grass everywhere.  This leaves a look of some run off or exposed soil.  These areas I dry brushed with a light tan.

Couple of different styles.  I like a couple of these rocky outcroppings here and there on the table.  The height of these hills and outcroppings work especially well in 28mm.

I went for more dirty and with no static grass.
Another example using all the methods above.  This is one inch foam.  After everything is finished I coat the hills with Matte Medium.  This is a hardening agent which will keep your grass from coming off with extended use and is an absolute must. This also helps keep chipping down to a minimum. If you like you can add a few tufts here and there.

Without any static grass added on top and no rocky bits showing.  I like variety so I can change up the looks of the tables.

I hope you found this article informative.  Please follow me on twitter @WWPDLuke and our site @WWPDPodcast for more gaming updates and posts.


Mark G said...

If you are going to transport your hills, it's helpful if they have a MDF base. Just cut the base with a jigsaw on an angle. Then rough cut foam to fit. Glue down the foam to the base. Press overnight. Then go with the cutter to smooth the edge of the hill to the edge of the MDF. Since the MDF is wider than the foam, it helps prevent dings.

Jeremy Walker said...

Nice! Ideas you might try on your next hills:


1.Use large chunks of bark to make rocky faces - blend them seamlessly into the foam with your spackle.

2.try creating less steep hills - to test steepness, place a model on the hill. If it falls over, it's too steep!

3. Echoing the previous comment, use a MDF or similar base to preveny the edges of tue foam from snapping off.

4. After the spackle coat, but before painting, give the hill a coat of PVA (white) glue and sprinkle on different gradients of dirt, sand, dawdust, crushed eggshells, small stones etc. Focusing the larger stuff in the crevasses.

5. Try adding various heights to your hills to give them variety.


1. Base coating in black then brown is a great idea. Before going into drybrushing, try mixing in different tones like orangey brown or red or grey to give tonal variety.

2. When drybrushing, use circular strokes to avoid streaking.

3. Try to avoid using white to highlight. It gives a really chalky, fakey look. Unless youre painting chalk cliffs, then go for it!

4. Try doing your drybrushijg then ise washes like black, deep green and dar brown to shade. Tends to turn out better. You can always go back and touch up the highlights if yoi need to!

Thats all my ideas. I probably won't check back here, so message me at if you have any questions.

Good luck!

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