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"Making rock terrain texture with acrylic gesso and washes" Topic

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992 hits since 27 Apr 2017
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Baranovich27 Apr 2017 12:47 p.m. PST

Having made numerous rock and stone terrain over the years, one thing that I had never been able to achieve is that ultra-realistic look you see in model railroading layouts cliffs and rocks.

This is one of those things that somehow always went under my radar, I always admired how amazing it looked when I would see a model railroad layout but never actually thought about how it might be done!

After finally doing some research and watching some videos on Youtube, I learned that to do rocks and cliffs with that really real-looking texture and color you actually make the rocks a base color of WHITE. Model railroaders paint their layouts of rocks and cliffs in white and actually use that as their base color so to speak.

Don't ask me why but in all my years of making wargaming terrain this had never occurred to me! The basic idea is that you start with a white undercoat. Many modelers achieve that with acrylic gesso, applied over either one of those plaster cliff or rock molds that you can cast, or like I'm doing here with a base material of pink insulation foam.

The other thing that had never occurred to me is that you DON'T actually paint a full-strength color by hand on the rock surfaces. You either use an airbrush to lightly apply color over the white, or you do what I'm going to do which is use a brown or black wash directly over the white gesso.

The reason I mention all of this is that for me this feels like a counter-intuitive way to make rock terrain! My first instinct is to always paint my foam a base color of gray or brown and then drybrush white over that.

But in reality, you cannot achieve that high-level realism of model railroading rocks by painting and drybrushing, at least not in most cases. The wash over the white color is what seems to achieve this look.




Eventually I'm going to do a larger dwarven terrain piece for fantasy wargames using this technique, but for now I thought I'd just practice with some simple rock formation.

Some pics of my progress:


nevinsrip Sponsoring Member of TMP28 Apr 2017 1:21 a.m. PST

My friend, jog on over to the Woodlands Scenics page and see how they do it using liquid pigments.
Gesso is defeating what you are trying to do. Gesso seals the plaster and stops the pigments from soaking into the plaster.
Which is what you want.

A huge waste of time, Gesso and effort.

Check this out.


You can make spectacular looking rocks with 3 spray bottles,
WS pigments and some tap water.

Watch the video.

Baranovich29 Apr 2017 7:49 a.m. PST


I understand the technique you link to in your post, however I think I was misunderstood in my original post.

I learned this technique from this fellow on Youtube, Terranscapes.

He uses acrylic gesso over plaster rock mold casts and then applies a wash of paint mixed with alcohol over the white color which achieves a super-realistic rock coloring look.

I really don't think the goal of putting a wash over gesso is to get the wash to absorb into the actual gesso. The gesso being white serves as a neutral base that doesn't compete with whatever colors you put over it. The white also acts as a transparent buffer when you apply a thin wash over it. The final color of the rock is the actual wash color with the white underneath showing through the wash.

It's not about soaking into the plaster, it's about transparency on the surface, which is very difficult to achieve that look if you try to say paint the rock face gray and then drybrush white over it. You just can't achieve that unique look.

Here is the video that shows him using the gesso over the plaster casts:

YouTube link

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