Saturday 5 October 2013

Book Review: How to Build Dioramas

After a road trip and hobby-free long weekend spent in Portland, Oregon, I came away with a few new paints and models (zero sales tax!) and a used book or two from a dark corner of the very large Powell's Books. Of particular note was a title by Sheperd Paine titled How to Build Dioramas: Aircraft, Armour, Ship and Figure Models.

With my Know No Fear Diorama in full swing I was keen to learn diorama modelling techniques from the perspective of a military modeller, and a quick flick through revealed many gems, both from a design, preparation and execution perspective. The inner sleeve detailed some of the author's exploits from over 40 years ago, and this edition was reprinted in 2000, but I found over 90% of the subject material was applicable to any diorama whether it be historical, fantasy or science fiction.

Starting with the basics, from setting a "scene that tells a story" to "the skills you'll need", Paine goes to great lengths to ensure you get the best from every scene you create, from positioning of the models, as above, to directing the viewer's eyes by facing the models in the same direction or toward points of interest. There are numerous example dioramas throughout the book, each taken from a historical perspective or reference, through planning, models placement to final painting and finishing touches, providing great re-readability and examples of techniques not necessarily covered in more general chapters.

Given weathering has been a particular interest of mine lately, I found an entire chapter devoted to this topic to be first on my 'must read' list once I arrived home. From washes, dry-brushing, masking and air brush techniques to specific methods for aircraft, tanks and ships, I now have near endless ideas for future projects, for both diorama creation and general modelling. Working primarily with oils, Pain also devotes a few paragraphs to acrylics noting "applying a series of carefully controlled glazes" to be the best method, rather than blending, when shading. Another tie in with some of my recent experiments!

I won't share too much of the book with you, but above you can see another of the author's highlighted points showing a great tip for all painters. You may already be doing this sub-consciously, but it's nice to remember the distance most viewers will be looking at your model (arm's length) and the distance most critics will be looking (up close!). It has been certainly beneficial to take a step back and look at the whole model on my panting desk, rather than fuss over the particular details of a weapon or logo. It goes without saying that there are many more of these great tips in every chapter.

Toward the end of the book there is an interesting chapter on the use of shadow boxes, which force both perspective and light source upon the viewer. Having never contemplated the use of a shadow box myself, I was even more enthralled by the use of mirrors to create a ghostly effect seen above in a Shakespearean diorama. It certainly elevates the diorama from tabletop or display cabinet fancy to a quite presentable art installation hanging on a wall or set into a shelf. Neat stuff.

Overall this is a great addition to my growing library, and a great way to introduce some fresh techniques and perspective to my usually single source reference material. After a refreshing mini break from the hobby, it's back to the 31st Millennium next week for some updates to my Know No Fear Diorama. Thanks for dropping by!

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