getting down and dirty
“Mud, mud mud”, as Harry Patch – the “Last Fighting Tommy” – is alleged to have muttered upon after revisiting the old battlefields of World War One in his senior years. To the soldiers of The Great War - and the Second World War, for that matter – one of the most persistent and intractable realities of war in many theatres was the omnipresence of mud. Thick, cloying and wet, it made soldier’s life a misery, sticking to every surface and bogging down advances into a grinding slog against the elements.
In the world of miniature wargaming, mud bases provide a characterful way of adding detail to a miniature, and can be used for sci-fi, historical or fantasy miniatures depending on the setting. To make mud bases you’ll need the following:
- PVA Glue
- Fine gravel/ sand
- All-purpose filler (either ready mixed or powder)
- Acrylic craft paints (brown/black)
- matt varnish
There really is no ‘method’ as such to making mud. First, get your filler and mix it with the fine gravel in a container you don’t mind getting dirty. Since you’ll be diluting it with PVA glue and paint, it’s best to put a bit more gravel than filler to help keep the mud’s texture, though it really is just a matter of eye-balling it. You can get fine gravel cheaply by going to pet stores or even buying big bags of kid’s play sand from a DIY store. Then mix in a bit of PVA and the paint. Since the white colour of the filler and the PVA will lighten the brown, add a few blobs of black to it until you’re happy. Then simply apply the mixture to your miniature’s base.
When the miniature is dry, you’ll need to give your mud base a layer of matt varnish (aerosol or paint-on are both fine). The reason for this is that many types of filler (particularly premixed) have tiny particles of something in them that makes them ‘sparkle’ under certain light conditions, which can ruin the effect somewhat. Varnishing removes this problem and also helps protect the model. It is recommended to avoid gloss varnish; sadly, rather than providing a convincing ‘wet mud’ appearance, it ends up making the base look overly shiny and unconvincing.
The benefit of this method is that it’s insanely cheap; each item listed should cost no more than a few pounds at most and allows you to make tubs of the stuff. If you want to liven your bases up a bit more, you can cut up wooden coffee stirrers and glue them onto the base to represent duckboards. Alternatively, you can snip off chunks of sprue and attach them to the base as well. Depending on how you paint them, they can either represent twisted hunks of metal, concrete debris or rocks. If you go down either route it’s recommended that you glue all features to your base before applying the mud texture.
Some mud bases made by us. Black paint wasn't used on the far left base, making a much lighter tone.