Monday, July 17, 2017

African Shantytown Huts

Congolese paratroopers patrol a shantytown looking for signs of insurgents
"That's My USAid - Congo Chaos" at Drums at the Rapids, this May, I felt something was missing from my table. It looked okay, but needed some more pizzazz. I decided that it was that there just wasn't enough stuff on the table. In particular, it needed more buildings. This was supposed to be a town, and 4 stone buildings around the square, a scattering of tribal huts, and ruined concrete wall sections just wasn't urban enough. On my vacation overseas this summer, I saw shantytowns on the edges of the big cities. The poor scraped together whatever building material they could to construct a small hut. That was what this town needed!
Paper mache buildings from Michaels craft store that form the shell of the buildings
 I like to use the paper mache boxes that Michaels craft store sells as the shells of my buildings. I stocked up on 9 of their 2.5" square boxes (1.25" tall). I cut black plastic styrene to just a bit larger size as bases, and epoxied them to the bases. Then I opened up my supply drawers to see what kind of building material I had on hand. I had two sheets of styrene material that looked like corrugated tin, but felt it was too small a scale. It would look good for 15mm or smaller, but you couldn't see the 3-dimensional aspect well. Luckily, my local Hobbyland carried JTT Plastic Pattern Sheets. I picked up a package of O-Scale Corrugated Siding (#97403) and it looked perfect. Since it is styrene plastic, I would only have to score and snap it to cut the pieces to size.
The assembled materials for the huts
However, I didn't want it to be just tin. Every third world country I've visited, I've noticed the shacks are very composite -- they use virtually everything handy. So, I also pulled out my package of tiny wooden craft sticks, as I call them. They would look like good wooden slats. I also had a package of mini-dowels, which would look like bundles of sticks. In addition, I had successfully used burlap material as thatch before on my 28mm Jungle Huts. So, I pulled that out. I also knew I could create a good earth surface by simply painting the sides with white glue and then sprinkling on Woodland Scenics Turf. Once spray primed it gives a rough, wood or mud surface effect.
Gluing the wood craft sticks into place on a precut piece of cardstock sized for the wall, then attached as one
 Then I took a sheet of scratch paper and drew 9 rectangles, each with four sections, to represent the four sides of each hut. I plotted out how many sides would be tin, wood slats, stick bundles, earth, and for the heck of it, I decided to make one side of two buildings wooden palletes created from the craft sticks. This would give a composite look, or more ramshackle appearance. What's more, some of the tin would have grooves going vertically, and others horizontally. To make attaching these to the sides of the paper mache boxes easier, I cut thin cardstock pieces that matched the sides perfectly. I glued the craft sticks and mini-dowels to these directly, and then would attach these wall sections to the box sides as complete wall sides. Paper mache boxes are not truly level and square, so I used paper clips or binder clips to hold the wall sections in place while they dried. This worked like a dream, and before long, I had all four sides of all 9 buildings glued in place. I would used extra craft sticks to cover any gaps between the sides.
Wood wall sections ready - note the tin and burlap are glued directly to the wall surface
 Next, I had to create the roofs. I wanted most to be tin, but I made one of thatch for variety. This was easy. I cut squares of bass wood and glued either the tin or burlap to them. A smaller balsa wood square was glued to the underside sized to set just inside the box to keep the roof in place. To give the tin a more ramshackle appearance, I placed 2-3 tin patches to cover sections, and then used stones to look like they were holding the tin down. I've seen this over and over abroad. I guess nails are expensive, but big heavy rocks do the job well enough to hold a tin roof down. I also placed tin patches on various other wall sides to make it look like holes had to be covered in buildings in a stopgap way as they opened. I made sure to make tin patches on tin surfaces have the corrugation going the opposite way (vertical vs. horizontal), to make it stand out more.
Dirt/mud wall is done by applying white glue & turf directly to the paper mache
 The final step before painting was to spray the roofs and buildings with acrylic black spray paint. I then go over this with a 50/50 mixture of glue and water to make sure all crevices are fully blackened and that I have a good surface for painting. I found it went easier to do all of each type of surface at once. So, I did the dirt walls first, next the thatch, then the wood slabs and stick bundles, and finally the tin. I had Googled photos of African tin roofs and saw that they are a variety of colors -- most heavily rusted. This was the most time-consuming part of creation -- painting the tin. I gave each a base coat, a lighter dry brush in that tone, and finally streaked them with rust. I actually pulled up images of rusting corrugated tin to better understand how it looks. The rust itself was done in a 3-tone pattern. From outside in, I used Autumn Brown, Raw Sienna, and Georgia Clay in my Ceramcoat craft paints.
A more ramshackle appearance is given by attaching tin patches or boards nailed to sections
Next was the biggest pain -- painting the rocks! In hindsight, I should have applied the rocks after the tin. I could then have simply used natural rocks, or at least tallus of some sort with a wash over it. So, I pulled out various shades of browns and grays, then gave each a base coat and dry brush. I let it dry overnight. When I came back in the morning, I looked at the huts. I thought, "Too bright!" It looked more like a Caribbean village than an African shantytown. So, I mixed up a dark black wash and applied it over all of the tin surfaces. Bingo! This really brought it back down to a crumbling shantytown feel.
Mercenaries keep an eye out for ambush as they patrol the "low rent" district
 What's more, these went together VERY quickly. I started them on a Saturday and was finished Wednesday afternoon. There WERE a couple long days in there working on them, yes. However, I knew my deadline for the convention I was attending that coming weekend. We were leaving Thursday morning, so they had to be done Thursday. And so they were! I love the way they came out and will likely do more in two-building groups (to allow laundry lines and other scenic items to be placed on the bases).
UN peacekeepers looking for signs of trouble


  1. Great tutorial and workable..thanx.

  2. Excellent work !
    Good choice for the paper box.


  3. beautiful. I live in South America. They look the part perfectly.