Tutorial: Plants & Vegetation

Adding Foliage, Grass, & Assorted Plantlife
[Page 2 of 4]

Real life elephant grasses and the paper we'll make them out of.
Parchment paper works very well as the basis for tall, wide bladed grasses.
ne of the most readily available materials useful for making foliage is often overlooked: paper. It's rather cheap, easy to work with, and thin. The only disadvantage is its fraility, though even this can be tempered with a little Zap-a-Gap or white glue. In this section of the tutorial, we're going to lay down some basic techniques that will let us do some pretty fun types of foliage.

For this, I'll be using 24lb fine parchment paper. It's a bit overkill, but I already had a pack of it, it takes paint very well without shredding or warping, and it's pretty sturdy stuff. Regular paper is perfectly fine; just make sure it doesn't have lines (such as notebook paper). Avoid recycled paper as it shreds too easily when painted.

Elephant Grass
The first paper project will be very simple. We'll be making both generic blades of wide grass as well as large leaves, useful not only as elephant grass, but also for cattails, papyrus, reeds, and a host of other plants.

The paper partly painted.
A work in progress shot of leaves and grass being painted onto the paper. Both sides have been painted.
The first stage, perhaps obviously, is to paint the parchment an appropriate shade. Both sides will need to be painted, though one side might only need be done very basically. For grasses, I streak the paint from darker green to pale, keeping all strokes in the direction of the blades and covering a wide swatch of the parchment. These streaks will lend a plant-like texture to our grass. This is more easily illustrated in the accompanying image.

You'll note that the image also has a bit of parchment with leaves in progress. While both leaves and grass are essentially only different by shape and colour, there are still some differences in the creation process. Grass is a lot faster and you can afford to be a bit sloppy; leaves require a bit more finesse. Use a fine pencil to outline the general teardrop shape of a leaf then colour it in with your favourite shade of green, basecoating, shading, and then highlighting as you would any painted element. I go another step further and add veins in a lighter shade as well as small speckles to add variety. Depending on how crazy you want to get with detail, you can leave off the veins and speckles, or take things a step further by doing the same to your grass parchment.

Whether leaf or grass, let the parchment dry fully before cutting -- it's much harder to cut up wet parchment than it is to cut it when dry. We'll come back to the leaves later on, so let's focus on finishing up the elephant grass.

Before cutting, decide on what scale the grass should be. Mostly this is a case of estimation. The elephant grass in this example is a little less than two millimeters (2mm) wide, which is honestly a touch exaggerated for even thickets of swamp plants at 28mm scale. It's all about the look, though, and this size works for my tastes. You can of course vary the size to suit your own ideas.

Showing how to cut the strips.
Cut the grass paper into strips by slicing through the middle of the paper. Snipping the margins last will ensure you have a place to hold the paper steady while cutting.
I start by using a sharp hobby knife to slice the parchment into strips, careful to avoid cutting all the way through the paper. This gives me a place to hold things steady and helps prevent fraying and tearing. Once the entire painted area has been "stripped" like this, I'll snip the individual bits free with a pair of scissors.

At this point, you'll have another decision about size to make: how long will your blades need to be? This entirely depends on what you plan to do with them, but I find 20mm to be plenty long enough for most purposes. Lay the strip onto a cutting pad and carefully taper the ends to a point with a sharp hobby knife (or just trim it with scissors if the piece isn't too small to do this comfortably).

The edges will show some of the parchment's original colour after being cut. You can fix this at this stage with a little paint, but I prefer to do this very last so I can also correct any other colour issues that arise from gluing and curling the paper bits.

Giving the grass a natural curve.
After trimming the strips to a point, moisten and wrap them around a pencil to give them a natural curve.
Now we're closing in on the really fun part. Wrap one of your blades of grass around a pencil or brush. This will impart a natural curl; you may find it helpful to moisten your finger with water and gently touch the grass as its wrapped around the pencil if it doesn't hold its new shape well enough. Go through your entire pile of grass blades this way, giving most only a slight curl and a few quite severe curls, and again let them dry fully before moving onto the next step.

Remember the brass rod of tiny diameter (0.20) mentioned in the parts list? It's time to use some of that to create stems for our grass so that we can easily mount them on a base. Pick one of your grass blades, push the wide end against the rod, and give it a pinch to wrap just the bottom around the rod. If you've done this correctly, most of the grass blade will still be curled while the base will have a U-shape down the middle. With a tiny dab of Zap-A-Gap is an excellent super glue used for miniatures and modeling. For particularly small parts, put some Zap-A-Gap on a space piece of plastic and, using tweezers, dip the small part into the glue -- it's a lot more accurate than using the tip of the bottle.Zap-A-Gap, attach the blade to the rod, set it aside to dry, and then move onto the next.
Preparing the individual leaves to be mounted into a base.
In the simplest terms, the blade of grass is first pinched, a small diameter rod glued in place, painted to match the leaf, and then inserted into a base.

Once more, we'll set the grass aside to dry fully before moving on, but we're almost there. All that needs to be done is to touch up the edges of blades where the parchment shows through and to paint the stem an appropriately matching shade of green. Don't worry if the stem doesn't match perfectly -- most of it will be hidden inside a hole in the base.

The only difficult part about this is dealing with many tiny pieces of paper. If you have a spare piece of foam or cork, you can poke the grass blades into this to keep them from getting lost. Once you've mastered the process of making grass -- and really, it won't take very long at all -- you're ready to start putting this to use on more complex plant life.

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