Sunday, May 19, 2013

The Port of Gierburg - Part 1: A Water Board

For years now I have been collecting and painting high quality resin buildings for some kind of medieval/fantasy gaming board. Now the project is taking shape and I have begun working on The Port of Gierburg. This first part describes how I made a water section usable not only for the port but also for piratey boarding actions.


Water effects are one of the more difficult techniques it seems. I have read a lot about all types of water effects for tabletop/modelling. There's a lot of talk about different resins, bubbles, stink, bending and breaking, etc. etc. Stu's reports did not neccessarily motivate me to tackle the issue either, despite the results looking great.
Because of all this uncertainty and difficulty regarding the water issue I kept on procrastinating for years. Then, recently, at a local artist supplies store here in Berlin (Modulor) I found a product called "Seefolie" (German, meaning "sea film" or "sea foil"), a water effect film by HEKI (3110 / Seefolie). It finally gave me an idea of how I could tackle the port section and so I got to work...


One sheet of sea foil is declared to measure 80 x 35 cm, but the edges are not perfectly cut so I had to manually cut the sheets in size. With these size constraints in mind I decided to start the project with one half of the typical wargaming board size of 4' x 4' (4' x 6' for bigger army games). So the port would take up an area of 120 x 60 cm. As I wanted to use as much of the sea foil as possible to fit three ships next to each other I divided the length of 120 cm up into two sections: a water section of 75 cm and one section for the docks with the remaining 45cm (both 60 cm wide).

Initially I planned the second 120 x 60 cm half of the board to incorporate the neccessary dock features such as as the walls on the edge and starirs leading down to the water. I then realized that I wouldn't want to dedicate such a huge part of the gaming board to the port. So I went with a more modular approach instead using two special 12 cm wide connector sections. They would allow me to again treat both the water board, the big 45 x 60 docks section as well as the big 120 x 60 main city board as independent sections that are connected by the docks.

First concept of the modules: Two 12cm wide "connector" pieces (Dock I and Extra) are placed between one half of the gaming board - the city section (imagine that at the top) - and another half comprising of the water board and a dock section (II)

Again realization struck: The Dock Section II would be a fully dedicated board with no possibility for re-use in a different set-up. Therefore the Extra section did not make much sense at all. This made me end up with the following more straight-forward approach for the modules.

The final concept for the port modules with two dock sections encapsulating the water board

Of course I could have just created one big port piece. But it was important to me to make the water section an independet piece. Like with the board as a whole I had multiple purposes for the water section in mind. Firstly, it is part of the port. But it can also function as a mini board for boarding action scenarios or other special set-ups in nautically themed games - I'm thinking pirates, of course!

Assembling the Board

My first attempt was using a 15 mm thick piece of Kapa cardboard. Unfortunately, after hand-painting it with a first layer of black, the board started to bend and became simply unusable. After reading this post by Mathias Horn (aka Samy) about his current Behind Omaha gaming board I decided to try MDF board as a base. On top of a 5 mm MDF board I glued a Selitron foam board using wood glue.

MDF board with Selitron foam board form the base of the water board

To prevent the edges - especially the corners - of the board from damage (and for better looks) I bought four cheap beech moulding strips, sized 2 x 10 x 1000 mm.

After everything was glued together it was painting next. Browsing the modulor webshop I found a spray colour that is suitable for styrofoam and other foam boards: Aero Design from Union Chemie GmbH. My very first terrain piece was a phallus shaped herdstone for my Warhammer Beastmen army. At that time there was no internet knowledge let alone any experience so I basecoated the styrofoam piece with standard Citadel spray colour - just to see it melt away. Since that moment I am extra cautious when it comes to colouring anything foam-based. So I bought one spray can and tested it on a small piece of Selitron. And: Lo and behold! It works.

The board after applying the first can
of bluegreen Aero Design

Aero Design spray cans:
suitable for styrofoam and other foams
In total I used up three 150ml spray cans to completely cover the board - not exactly a cheap solution but compared to hand painting it saves a lot of time. Plus, similar to air brushing you can achieve very nice effects. I used two different colours: A lighter petrol bluegreen and a dark blue. This allows to create a feeling of depth by having lighter and darker areas on the board. However, this effect is somewhat negated later when appliying the sea foil, which is not 100% transparent. When working with proper transparent resin for water this would be more effective.

Lastly I glued the sea foil on the board with superglue. Anticipating that the superglue would turn at least slightly white when hardened I spread the glue in lines so that they would create the impression of waves. Had I gone zigzag this would look very bad now.

Vallejo Foam & Snow
Looking for a way to create a nice wave effect I came across Vallejo's Foam & Snow product. A quick research on the internet brought up some positive reactions I ordered one bottle. I used it on my test piece and - even after it had completely dried - I was very surprised: The "foam" and "snow" effect little more than plain white colour. I don't know if I am using it wrong, but from what I can see this stuff is completely useless. I expected it to be of a harder consistency and being somewhat translucent when dry. I don't think I could tell the difference between this and plain white PLAKA colours.

The test piece with "foam" on the sea foil

However, I didn't want to give up on the waves. Since some of the dried superglue was already shining through the transparent sea film I made the bold move to apply more superglue - on top of the film. I only did a few experimental lines. You can see the result in the photos below.

The finished water board in its entirety

Close up of the water board. You can see the foil and lines of glue.


As a final verdict, I have very mixed feelings towards the sea foil. On one hand, it does create a surprisingly good looking effect and it is really easy to work with. On the other hand, the effect is not quite up to the standard that I try to achieve with how I paint my buildings and the rest of the board. This makes it even more important that I went with the modular approach. At some point I will definately get my hands all dirty and try the expensive and stinky resins which create the perfect water effect. Until then this board is what I need to keep going with building the port section. So for the moment it is probably just the right thing.

The most impotant lesson learned: Try out your materials before working with the final pieces. There were so many throwbacks and frustrations during the creation of this rather simple board, it is astounding.
  • The bending Kapa board was a waste in the end
  • The sea film wasn't properly cut so I had to manually cut it to shape. Unfortunately at that point I had already assumed that the declared sizes would fit and made my preparations for that, wrong, measures.
  • The sea film can be cut with a cutting knife but it's hard to achieve perfect results. Also, if you need two sheets for your water section (like me) the edge between the two sheets is somewhat annoying.
  • The Aero Design products were a positive surprise as I wasn't aware of foam friendly spray before. Unfortunately they run out very quickly and I had to buy another can twice, ending up with three cans for this not that huge water section.
  • At first I guessed the height of the board so the first four moulding strips I bought were 15mm wide - but I needed only 10 mm.
  • Vallejo Foam effect is utterly useless.
I feel like I even forgot one or two things. There were points where I just wanted to finish the damned thing. It definately wasn't that much fun. But now that it's done, it's okay. And it is fun to work on the surrounding dock sections of the port. So in the end it still was worth it.

Coming next in part 2: Dock Section I.


  1. Sehr schöne Beschreibung und das Ergebnis ist doch recht solide geworden. :)

    Den Preis für die Aero Design Sprays halte ich jedoch vollkommen in Ordnung - zumindest im Vergleich mit anderen Sprays, günstiger als mit Pinsel und Farbeimer kommt man da nie weg.

  2. Hallo Coppermind,

    ja, ich denke auch, dass die AeroDesign-Farben sich auf jeden Fall lohnen! Allein schon wegen der Arbeitserleichterung und den Airbrush-ähnlichen Möglichkeiten. Aber ich war auch durchaus überrascht, dass ich für eine solch relativ kleine Platte ganze drei Dosen verbrauchen musste. Dennoch werde ich sie mit Sicherheit das nächste Mal wieder verwenden. Und bei Grundfarben wie Schwarz und Weiß werden auf größere Dosen angeboten.


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