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How to use plastic plants to make gaming terrain


Full table Introductory picture

Close up Introductory picture

Plastic plants come in many different sizes shapes and colors, and are an excellent material to use when making gaming terrain. They are very commonly used in aquariums, flower arrangements, and holiday decorations, just to name a few sources. If used properly they can make very convincing looking gaming terrain, (especially if you are playing a science fiction game). All of the following examples are for use with 28mm scaled miniatures, but can frequently be used with other scales with only minor adjustments.

There are many different ways to use plastic plants, and how you choose to present them can make a huge difference in how they appear. Some of these techniques work well with some plants, and not well with others, so choose wisely. When selecting plants to use; anything with small enough leaves will work. I like to use the plants I find at craft stores the most since they are usually really cheap. Aquarium plants are also excellent to use, but are usually more expensive. You are really only limited by your creativity (and your budget).

If your plants don’t look realistic, then fix them by painting or flocking them whenever necessary. I like to make my plants in at least three sizes, and make lots of the little ones. A small plant doesn’t get in the way very often when playing a game, but it adds a lot visually to the game. A real forest has plants in all stages of the life cycle, so having your plants in several different sizes is crucial to making it look realistic.

Creating a plant is in a lot of ways like converting a miniature. You can cut parts off of one plant and combine them with ones from another to create something uniquely your own. I have a “bits box” full of plant pieces that I use parts from whenever needed. The plant in the picture below is one of the plants I made by combining parts from two different plants.

Krylon Fusion

The first mistake that some people make is not bothering to paint the plants. Plastic plants are made of a very shiny soft plastic that most paints won’t stick to very well. However several major paint manufactures now make a spray paint specially formulated to bond to this type of plastic. If you use one of these fusion types of paint (like in the above picture) as a primer then you shouldn’t have any problems painting them with your regular paint. This type of paint can be found in the hardware section of many stores, and is frequently marketed as being for use on plastic outdoor furniture. Look for the words “bonds to plastic” or something similar on the label.

Flocked vegetation

Some plants won’t look good even when painted, because the scale of the leaves is just too big. However flocking them can frequently change that. Make sure that you consider this when selecting your plants, because a flocked leaf looks very different from a painted leaf. The comparison picture above does a good job of showing how important the flock you use is in the appearance of the plant. By using a fine flock (Like the one in the center) on my trees, I have given them an “almost, but not quite Earth” look. If I had used a courser grade of flock, (like the one on the right) then the trees would look good on a historical gaming table. You have to ask yourself when selecting plants to use “If I covered this leaf in flock, will it make it look appropriate for the scale I want?”

Making the smaller plants

 how you choose to present

The one on the left (In the picture above) is what I call a blanket mounting. It works well when your plants are basically two dimensional and need a lot of them to look like a real plant. However, it is generally only good for making very low plants. The second one is a dispersed setting and works well when the leaves are big. The third one is a closely grouped setting and probably my favorite one to use. It’s a good one to use when there are few or very small leaves. The last one is a radial one and is a good way to make larger plants like trees, or when the leaves are the only usable part of the plant.

 Plastic Plant #1

I made these plants using something I call scaling-down. Unless you are making a corn field or something similar you don’t want all of your plants to be the same size, it just doesn’t look natural. Basically any time you cut a plant shorter you are scaling down. It also is very useful for extending your supply of plants since the clippings can also be used. Since this plant had such large leaves I decided to use a dispersed setting when basing them. That means that the stalks of individual plants are spread out across the base with space intentionally left between each one.

 Plastic Plant #2

 scaling-up

To make this plant I used a closely grouped setting meaning that all stalks were attached In groups using one single attachment point on the base. For this one I used a technique I call scaling-up. Since I wanted the larger plants to be taller than the original piece I simply mounted them up on a pedestal (in this case a coffee stirrer). The pedestal was then concealed with concentric rows of decreasing sizes, and then painted.

Aquarium  Plant#3

Closely grouped plant assembly

This closely grouped plant (pictured above) was made by simply cutting the full sized plant into smaller sections. To make a taller version, simply cut one less section of the main stock. To make a shorter version cut one more, and reduce the number of leafs at the base.

Aquarium  Plant#4

Aquarium Plant#5

Radial assembly method

These two plants (pictured above) are examples of the radial method used while mounted on a pedestal. In these examples a straw with holes punched in it, and cheap plastic beads with hot glue were used. Pedestals can either be made to look like the trunk of a plant, or be completely concealed by the vegetation around them.

Flocked Plant#6

 radial  method

This plant (pictured above) is very convenient since it came already flocked. You don’t have to do any painting and you also get the added bonus of a different textur of plant from the painted ones. The usable portion of this plant is actually in very small pieces so I used a radial mounting technique for it. I cut it up and used just the tips and the lower leaves. I made a low plant this time so no pedestal was used and the leaves were glued directly to the base. The leaves were glued on in stacked rings with each ring getting a progressively higher angle, till the final one is sticking strait up in the air. The number of rings used and the number of leaves used per ring depends on the size of plant being made. In this case I can also vary the size of the leaf by varying how much of the tip is cut off.

Making the larger plants

 Large Plants

plastic Plant #7

 use an armature

If you are going to make larger plants you will need to use an armature. In this case I used copper wire to form the armature but many other materials can also be used. In its simplest form it can be just a single wire, like the example on the left. The other two are a little bit more complex since they used seven wires each, but not much. Start by bending out and twisting together the wires on the bottom to form the roots and to give you a good surface to glue onto. Depending on how tight your wire bundle is, you may have to temporarily hold it together with some tape or glue. Then spread out the wires on the top to form the branches. The one in the center is intended to be used with the ring method of attaching and the one on the right is for the tip method.

 attachment rings

Many plastic plants come with attachment rings that can be used like the one in the center of this picture. Simply alternate between vegetation pieces and spacers till you have reached the desired height and then insert a half piece vertically into the top spacer. I used small straws (coffee stirrers) for the spacers but beads or even coiled wire can do the same thing.

 tipping

Sometimes you won’t have a ring to work with just a stem. In those cases I do what I call tipping. Start by punching a small hole through the side of a coffee stirrer, and then insert the stem into it. These small “bushes” were made by two pieces being stuck into the side and one in the top. Depending on the plants you are working with, you may only need the one in the top or possibly as many as five. The number and placement of the plastic plant fronds that you use will have a very profound effect on the look of the finished plant.

I wanted a very open and airy look to these trees, so I used a very minimal number of both attachment points and fronds on each tip. By increasing the number of either or both of these, I could easily have achieved a much more “full” look. The armature was covered using window caulk since it is desirable for the finished trees to still have a fair amount of flex in them. Make sure that you use the “paintable” type of caulk, or you will have problems later. Its very sticky when first applied, so I let it sit for an hour or two before smoothing and shaping. After the caulk dried the tree was then painted and a layer of flock was applied using PVA glue.

 comparison shot of the two different methods side by side

In the above picture the tree on the left was made using the ring method, and the one on the right was made using the tip method. Both methods give very similar results, and very complex trees can easily be made using ether one (or even both) of the methods.

Vegetation will never be the center piece of a gaming table, but it can sure make a table look a lot better!

Credits & Acknowledgements

Author, technique, and Photos: Vet Sgt
Grammatical assistance, and Technical assistance: AndtSlater
Proofreading and Editing: AndtSlater and asdel
Technical assistance: Terragenesis

Thanks for all of the assistance, you have given me in writing this!




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