Sunday, January 5, 2014

Jungle Rivers, Part 1

This is the look I wanted -- a muddy, greenish-brown jungle river
One of my purchases at Historicon 2013 was a handful of latex river pieces. Each piece was molded in blue rubber latex, about two feet long and roughly 1 1/2 to 2 inches across. Ripples and banks were molded on. They were very inexpensive, so I snagged four differently-shaped pieces, along with a road "Y-shaped" intersection that I figured could easily be painted to look like it was river, instead. My friends Jason and Keith also picked some up. Unfortunately, I completely forget the name of the vendor.

The pieces have been sitting in my closet since summer. I've been secretly hoping Jason or Keith would paint their purchases up first so that I could benefit from their ideas and experience. I've even dropped a few hints in the last couple months, but they remained firm in the battle of wills. Finally, I blinked and decided to go ahead and do mine. I would need them for my upcoming Pulp scenarios. So, it was time to be the trail blazer on how to get these prepped for the tabletop.

Keith said that the material is similar to that used in "Zuzzy" terrain mats and pieces. He'd read some tutorials on how to paint them up, and I found them online and studied them. My initial thoughts on what to do were confirmed there. I'd been planning on using layers of watered down acrylics. I figured acrylics, first of all, would be more flexible and bend with the latex. Second, I figured a series of layers would be less vulnerable to cracking or flaking off.

I also made the decision to cut the pieces in half. Storing one foot long river sections seemed a lot easier than ones twice that length, and should mean less bending and opportunities for damage or wear and tear. An added bonus was that on several pieces the midpoint was in effect a "bend" in the river. So, I could use these pieces to change the direction of the river on the tabletop. I hadn't purchased any angled pieces (I'm not even sure the vendor had them available). The pieces were all relatively straight, some with gentle bends back and forth. Cutting them in half provided me with angled pieces, if I desired.
The latex rubber river pieces were Tacky glued onto a felt base. You can see the bright blue color they come in in this picture.
The next decision I made was to glue the pieces on green felt. The latex seemed to flimsy to have no base at all. Plus, the material has a kind of rubber "grip." So, the bottoms might stick to the tops -- or at least to the flocking material I used on the banks. Felt would be a nice insulating bottom layer, giving it more stability and not sticking when finished pieces were stored stacked up on top of each other (as I anticipated I would). I could have gone with styrene for a rigid base, but figured it would be a royal pain to cut in bends to match the river banks. I also thought it might be easier to overlap pieces if they were made of thinner, softer material like felt.
The jungle pieces and Y-shape glued onto felt pieces and trimmed up
So, I flipped each piece over and squirted lines of Tacky glue liberally on the back. They were then placed flat on a piece of green felt. Once dry, I used sharp fabric scissors to trim the felt so there was only a 1/4 to 1/2 inch of felt along the banks. The river ends were trimmed flush. The ends were also cut at an angle, too, so that the pieces could be placed at angles to each other if I desired.
The base coat of slightly watered-down Ceramcoat "Bambi Brown"
I'd decided to paint these up as a muddy, green jungle river like in the photo at the top of this post. I had Googled some images of "Jungle River," and picked three that matched what I wanted. I then went through my paints and decided that I would use a combination of light browns and dull greens to achieve this color. My first instinct was to paint up a test piece. Then I remembered I would be doing a lot of watered down layers. I was afraid I'd have a hard time replicating the test piece, so took the plunge and decided to all 8 pieces and the Y-shape at once. I'd chosen Ceramcoat "Bambi Brown" as best matching the light, tannish brown that seemed to underlie the surface of the river. I mixed in maybe 10% water with the paint and brushed it on thickly. This part was easy, and fairly straight forward. The next stage -- layering of watered down paints -- would be the tricky part!

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