Creating Really Realistic Dollhouse Stone

When last we spoke, we’d just created our base. If you haven’t done that yet, on your project, you should. Don’t move on to color, and I speak from (hard) personal experience, here, until EVERY SINGLE ELEMENT in your scene has been cut, sanded, and dry fitted. For a room box or other scene, like this one, that means everything. For a larger project, like an actual dollhouse, that means doing things in batches–i.e. exterior, then room by room.

The first step, as far as applying color, is to create a base coat. Since nature is pretty green and so are most shades of marble, we’re likewise starting with some green. The colors I’m using are from Abeilung 502: dead flesh and faded white. You can use whatever colors you want, and you certainly don’t have to use oils! I would, however, whether you’re going lighter or darker recommend using a similar tone range. The difference between lively, realistic results and…not that comes down, in large part, to our basecoat(s).

As always, I mixed my colors on the canvas rather than on the palette. This, to me, encourages the kind of natural variations we see in stone. We want them to be SUBTLE. Strong stylistic statements come–much–later. I also, and I recommend this too, did all my base coats at the same time. While we’re representing different materials, we’re also shooting for a unified whole at the end.

Because I’m using oils, here, my next step was to put everything aside for a week to dry. You don’t need such an extensive dry time with acrylics, but I’d still recommend about 24 hours. And please, please don’t use craft paint! Liquitex, or really any artist’s (tube) acrylics don’t cost much more and will, ultimately, net much better results. How do I know? Well, fans of the old blog (Glorious Twelfth, as hosted by Blogger) probably remember that I used to use a LOT of craft paint.

The next step, after this, is a wash! I recommend Vallejo, and for this project I used gris obscuro (dark gray). Basically, I brushed it on and then sponged most of it off with a wet sea sponge. You don’t HAVE to use a sea sponge, you can use anything! Sea sponges, however, give me that randomness I want.

Then, in those areas that’d naturally be grimier, such as around and under the water line, I applied a second coat.

For the next step after this, it’s really, REALLY important that everything be dry. You can break out your heat gun (I use a Wagner) if you’re impatient, or let your piece(s) dry overnight. As we have an eight year old who we now homeschool, I have plenty of non-art time built into my schedule!

The next step is to darken things down even further!

I’m using “smoke” and “black.” Good dupes for these, in case you can’t find (or don’t want to buy!) these pencils are Winsor & Newton watercolors in Payne’s gray and Mars black. Our goal, here, is to create both depth and shadow.

Because I painted the brick first (which I recommend, despite the order of these tutorials), I can create continuity by extending the pigment into the grout lines. Later on, when I add the actual grout color, I can blend it in. I started with smoke, and in fact applied several layers of smoke, before I finished with black. Black should ONLY be used as an accent in those areas, which are deepest and most disgusting.

I applied the pigment using a 3/0 round, then blended it out with a filbert. The size (and shape) of the blending brush you’ll want to use depends on the ultimate effect you’re trying to achieve. What I do is, after applying the pigment, dip the filbert in the TINIEST bit of water, brush it off, and then feather. This is…time consuming, especially since I achieve depth by repeating it several times. The darker you want to go, the more coats you do. What I like to do is feather each coat down to almost nothing, allowing for a slow accretion of pigment that reflects the actual, outside my window weathering process.

The completed step 3 looks…dark.

Now…it’s time for the dead layer. I talk more about the function of each step here, but basically a “dead layer” is an application of our lightest color in those areas which’ll eventually be highlighted. In portraiture, that usually means titanium white and with the purpose of defining our light source. Here, we’ll be using a LifeColor pigment, light stone, to deepen the illusion of texture.

I’m a big fan of many thin coats versus one thick one. What we want to do, here, is dry brush our pigment on and by dry brush I mean DRY BRUSH. It’s a LOT easier to add pigment than it is to remove it! The slower you go, the better your results are going to be. I usually do between 3–5 passes, allowing ample dry time between, until I’m satisfied that I’m where I want to be.

Something to keep in mind, as you’re going through this step, is that your lightest areas will serve as the ultimate canvas for your color washes. Where you want color later, apply your dead layer now. Your darkest areas, at least if you’re doing this (or a similar) project, are where you’ll showcase your grimier elements. For me, that means moss and etc.

And, through the magic of the internet, presto! I’m keeping things quite a bit darker on this arch than I am on the stairs, In real life, the stairs would be a) sun bleached to some extent and, b) in constant use. They wouldn’t develop the kind of “ogre under the bridge” look as stone that’s mostly underwater and, even when not underwater, shaded from the sun. Weathering, to work, has to make sense.

So, things are starting to look pretty good but also pretty…bland.

Let’s add color!

You can find the complete supply list for these first phases of the project here. These are, of course, simply reflective of my personal preference; there’s no reason your stone couldn’t be purple! Realism, presumably, exists in fantasy realms also. More globally, though, whatever type of scene you’re representing, the “right” color palette is the one that excites you.

A word of caution, though: DO NOT EMBARK ON THESE FINAL STEPS UNLESS AND UNTIL YOUR PIECE IS COMPLETELY DRY. Otherwise you’ll end up with a disappointing, muddled mess. Some miniaturists like to isolate each step in whatever process they’re using with a coat of spray fix; I mostly don’t. Again, “right” is what works for you.

This is more paint than you’ll need.

Dry brushing such thin paint is hard, but doable!

Keep going, and I mean at a snail’s pace, until you’re pleased with the results. You’ll notice in some of these pictures that my other pieces are in the background, and that’s because I like to check my current work against my previous work. I don’t want the stone to match, that’s not realistic, but I DO want it to look like it all came from the same quarry!

What do you think? Spray fix (brushing varnish on, at this point, would just smear things) is coming, but only after I bring the surrounding brick up to speed. Does this look like stone, to you?

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