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Gorby

Any advice on using real soil in dioramas please.

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I have an excellent diorama book. It suggests using real soil (dried, sieved and ground up) but as it's it's organic (as in 'containing living matter' rather than 'safe for hippies to eat') will it smell when the living stuff becomes non living stuff.

Would it help to heat/cook it first?

Would there be a problem using static grass on top of it?

It is better to sprinkle the soil onto a bed of PVA, or mix it with PVA and apply it as a paste?

 

I intend to do some experimenting, but there's no point me reinventing the wheel if someone already has the answer.

 

Any advice on this subject will be very welcome.

 

Thanks for looking – Gorby.

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51 minutes ago, Graham Boak said:

Yes it should be "cooked" first, if only on health grounds.  I presume that was meant to be included in the "dried".  You might find an answer in one of the model railway books, or a helpful website such as http://www.rmweb.co.uk/community/

Thanks Graham, that's a very interesting site that will hopefully answer a lot more questions I have about dioramas. I've only found reference to real soil on this thread so far (on static grass). To quote a member called 'Giles':

 

Absolutely. However, a note on the soil....
I take garden soil, and dry it thoroughly (usually by baking!) and then remove all the stones and small roots etc - by sieving and also by hand - and then crush the soil to dust, using a steel/brass bar/rolling pin. This then gives you 'scale soil'. 
I always apply it (generously) via a tea-strainer, and then hoover (with tights reclaiming system) back the excess. It will appear dark whilst wet, but then dry back lighter. I tend to use slightly watered down PVA for convenience, but there's nothing in it.

The other thing to remember, is ash.... Bonfires coming up..... Collect jars of different colours of ash! Brilliant for this sort of thing, paths, ballast etc.etc.....
 

 

I've just got myself a coffee and intend to spend the rest of the afternoon reading through the 'Scenery, Structures & Transport section. 

:thanks:

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On 27/09/2018 at 14:39, Mancunian airman said:

I would be interested in the answer as well as I progress with my diorama . . . .

If you're interested, I've just posted the results of my tests here.

 

 

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I have always used real soil as base layer on model railway and diorama.  Heating is the easiest way to dry out.  Consider using open flat tray on BBQ rather than inside in the oven to avoid any smell/fumes in the house.  Definitely sieve to get weeds, roots and larger stones out but please DON'T sieve it to death as it will just end up looking like commercial scenery products where everything is universal colour and size with no character.  I lay by, lightly spraying wet water (a few drops of detergent in spray bottle) over surface then sprinkling on soil before adding a little more water spray then flood on very watered down PVA or matt medium.   Here's a couple of examples from my 1/35th scale layout.

 

   model013-2.jpg

 

model078.jpg

Edited by dcrfan

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2 hours ago, dcrfan said:

please DON'T sieve it to death as it will just end up looking like commercial scenery products where everything is universal colour and size with no character.

Good point. I did keep the the stuff that didn't sieve, so I could strategically add them later. When I cooked the soil I used foil containers and it seemed to heat it well enough. There was very little smell, Mrs Gorby would have very helpfully have pointed it out if if it had.

Excellent dioramas. Are they 1/35?

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Glad you have kept some 'character' 😀  The diorama is actually a military themed 1/35th scale railway layout with Rhodesian armoured trains, vehicles and aircraft.  

Spoiler

 

 

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10 hours ago, John said:

f you haven't seen it before check out this lad's work - superb:

That is incredible stuff. Just had a quick look at it, when I get some time.... well, when I get some time that link is going to eat it.

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I've used soil as a base for dioramas/display bases for some time now - it really is the perfect material. Not only plentiful and free, it's a perfect material for easily formed into rough, fine, or right down to powder like natural scaled down texture, and forms a good solid finish after sprinkling on a layer of thinned sprayed PVA, then perfect for airbrushing an improved shade. Static grass goes over this finish with no issues.

 

I've generally sorted/sieved it to remove stones and plant material, but that's all, and it doesn't seem to deteriorate over time.

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The good thing about soil is it’s very, very cheap. The bad thing is it might not look like soil when you use it. Advice above about not “over sieving” is good, but that all depends on what sort of surface you are looking for and what scale you are working in. Also remember you can add pigments to change its colour.

 

Regarding application I use it in one of two ways: wet or dry. The dry method involves preparing the surface and then undercoating. The soil will give the final colour and texture. Once the surface has been prepared, apply a thin layer of PVA or scenery scatter glue and place the soil where required. You can also apply the soil dry and glue it down by spraying with a very well diluted water/PVA mix (with a drip of detergent to break its surface tension). Once dry, vacuum it up and re-use. Recoat as required.

 

The wet method is also very simple, just mix the soil with PVA and cheap acrylic paint and paint it on. Again, once dry remove any loose pieces but these are likely to be very clumpy and not reusable. Again, recoat as required, wet or dry. 

 

The finished surface can then be grassed, dry brushed, weathered or washed etc.

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Thanks @Piltdown Man. The 'over sieving' was definitely good advice. I'm currently doing a 1/48 dio and have used the the experiments I did into good use and am quite please with the result - so far. Might be another month or so before it's ready for the RFI section. I'm surprised how 'rock hard' it is when it's completely dried, I was originally concerned that it may be easily damage and if it would stick to the base, but I shouldn't have worried.

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Forgive me for finding this entire thread rather amusing. Amusing, but not uneducational, mind you.

The reason I find it amusing is because of what soil is, what it's being used for and how, in a model-making context.

 

Soil is mostly mineral, ie particles of rock, with varying amounts of organics, ie, the decaying remains of life, and some actual living organisms and water.
Obviously, one doesn't want living organisms in their diorama - bacteria, fungus, insect eggs, seeds, spores, blue whales (the latter coming with more water than averyage) so a blast with the microwave will do the job of removing water and killing all of these organisms, except the blue whale, which is unlikely to fit inside said oven.

Whatever, all remaining organics will be a medium for new life and will resume their decay at some point.

So, basically, you want the mineral content of soil, but not the organics.

 

All of this discussion about how therefore to treat soil, heat it, seive it, throw it in a pot of water to skim off the rubbish, etc, whilst all very good, is a bit OTT in my opinion.

 

Get some MINERALS, of the various grades, and crush and mix them together. Sand, fine grit, ashes from a coal or wood fire, chimney soot, crushed brick/breezeblocks/rubber, cement etc are all readily available and cheap/free. Of course, possibly the best mineral to use is Plaster of Paris, which can provide ANY grade of particle, from dust up to boulders, depending on how you treat it.

 

Badder


 

 

 

Edited by Badder
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Interesting advice @Badder.

 

Having now used real soil, I was very pleasantly surprised to find how easy it was to use and of course, because it is soil, it ends up looking like soil without the need to colour or paint it and if I need more, there is a few tons of it readily available in the garden.

I found that heating it in oven to be preferable as it seemed to burn off the organics and also dried it to a course powder making it easy to sieve, the next time I won't sieve it as fine as I did on this occasion. If there is any thing left to decay, it is now locked forever in rock-hard PVA and after a month and a half since I first used it, there is no smell at all and no sign of decay. Just as well there wasn't anyone around to see me sniffing my dio.

 

I would recommend using real soil to anyone, I will definitely be using it again.

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1 hour ago, Gorby said:

Interesting advice @Badder.

 

Having now used real soil, I was very pleasantly surprised to find how easy it was to use and of course, because it is soil, it ends up looking like soil without the need to colour or paint it and if I need more, there is a few tons of it readily available in the garden.

I found that heating it in oven to be preferable as it seemed to burn off the organics and also dried it to a course powder making it easy to sieve, the next time I won't sieve it as fine as I did on this occasion. If there is any thing left to decay, it is now locked forever in rock-hard PVA and after a month and a half since I first used it, there is no smell at all and no sign of decay. Just as well there wasn't anyone around to see me sniffing my dio.

 

I would recommend using real soil to anyone, I will definitely be using it again.

Don't get me wrong Gorby, I've nothing against using real soil It just seems a bit convoluted to me, having to dig it up, clean out the larger organics (especially in autumn) and then bake it. Personally, I don't like the idea of killing lots of little creatures and their eggs as well, and I don't think many wives/partners would like the idea of such things (AND WORSE.... we're talking possible contamination with animal faeces, parasites, diseases and industrial chemicals and posions etc) being baked in the oven.

Assuming that these issues are not a problem, then fine.

 

But one last thing to consider is those people who live in concrete jungles and have no quick access to soil. In some ciities of the world there are people who only ever see soil when they have an organic carrot delivered to them in their on-line shopping! For them then, things like plaster of paris, sand, grit etc would be the best option.

 

Rearguards

Badder

Badder

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3 hours ago, Badder said:

Don't get me wrong Gorby, I've nothing against using real soil It just seems a bit convoluted to me, having to dig it up, clean out the larger organics (especially in autumn) and then bake it. Personally, I don't like the idea of killing lots of little creatures and their eggs as well, and I don't think many wives/partners would like the idea of such things (AND WORSE.... we're talking possible contamination with animal faeces, parasites, diseases and industrial chemicals and posions etc) being baked in the oven.

Assuming that these issues are not a problem, then fine.

 

But one last thing to consider is those people who live in concrete jungles and have no quick access to soil. In some ciities of the world there are people who only ever see soil when they have an organic carrot delivered to them in their on-line shopping! For them then, things like plaster of paris, sand, grit etc would be the best option.

 

I hate killing things as well, so I can pretty much guarantee that no living thing got harmed in this process – other than microscopic ones and it's difficult to feel empathy for something you can't see.

 

It's odd, because I would consider trying to make something look like soil was more convoluted than using soil. I'm not saying that you shouldn't use your method, I'm just saying that that using soil is a very viable alternative.

 

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I have

3 hours ago, Gorby said:

It's odd, because I would consider trying to make something look like soil was more convoluted than using soil. I'm not saying that you shouldn't use your method, I'm just saying that that using soil is a very viable alternative.

Hi Gorby,

I have a dozen or so sealable 50g tabacco pouches, each containing different mineral samples. I have different grades and colours of sand from beaches I've coincidentally visited;  sand, grits, brick dust, cement dust, and some ground-up rubber, all from fly-tips, just to mention a few. I also have Japanese 'Grit Paints' - acrylic based texture paints that resemble various things like tarmac, concrete, snow, moss, and of course mud. But Plaster of Paris - either fresh from the bag, or recycled from old casts by scraping or crushing - is the most versatile substance for making mud IMHO.

Apart from the grit paints and the ground rubber, all of the aforementioned minerals are constituents of soil anyway, in some ratio or another - so real soil and 'homemade' soil are pretty much the same thing, the only difference being the lack of organics in the homemade stuff.  But then, you'll never get real soil to look damp, loamy' and rich once you've  baked the organics and evaporated the water. For that you'll need to add colours and varnishes etc. 

So whilst real soil is usually readily available, and does have a place in our hobby, I still argue that the processes required for readying it for use are more involved than mixing some minerals with vanrish and/or paint, especially if you live on the 40th floor of a skysraper in Tokyo and the nearest patch of bare mud is 15 miles away, requiring a ride on the Bullet train.

😀

 

Rearguards,

Badder

 

 

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15 hours ago, Badder said:

But then, you'll never get real soil to look damp, loamy' and rich once you've  baked the organics and evaporated the water. For that you'll need to add colours and varnishes etc.

 

Personally I'm very please with the damp loamy appearance of the end result:

iCugxW_tc7jd6K4We0LnN2mXrE1yZLUUwZgBbwo_

 

This is without adding any colour or varnish. It looks natural to me anyway.

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18 hours ago, Gorby said:

This is without adding any colour or varnish. It looks natural to me anyway

That does look most excellent, but then I never said real soil wouldn't look good! 

To me, that looks like soil you might find in an area where the underlying rock is chalk/limestone. It's relatively light, (in both colour and consistency) and it looks to be well-drained. (But it looks like that because you've baked the moisture out of it)

 

There a lots of different types of soil though, and not all of them are so easy to recreate

If you wanted a rich, dark, and loamy soil, like that found in a deciduous woodland, or under an ancient hedgerow, a peat bog, or well-composted rose bed, you might dig some up from just such a place. But when you bake it in the oven the organics will dry out, shrink and change colour. The minerals too, will lighten in colour and the whole lot will turn from satin/gloss to matt.  (We all know that things, sparkle and shine and look darker when they are wet - tarmac in the rain, the hair on your head (I assume you have hair on your head.😁)

So, you'd have to do something to your baked soil, ie, replace the lost moisture with a 'fake' moisture such as gloss/satin varnish (recreating that shine/sparkle and darkening the soil at the same time) with the option of also darkening it/replacing the lost colour with paint/pigments.

 

Again, I hope you understand that I am in no way criticising the use of real soil. I'm just saying that if you and I wanted to make a rich, dark and loamy soil, we'd both have to replace the lost moisture, the darker colour, and the shine and sparkle to our 'base mix'. I wouldn't have to go through the sieving and baking processes though.

 

Rearguards,

Badder

 

 

Edited by Badder

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While the bags are well oversize for modelling, I believe you can still get sterilised topsoil in garden centres.  You can certainly get topsoil.  Why buy it when it's free in the garden?  Cos someone else has already done the sieving etc and it thus tends to be quite fine already.

 

As for fixing any form of loose base material - at least in small areas - I can recommend the AK Interactive Sand and Gravel Fixer, dripped on from a pipette.  It spreads on contact, dries completely clear and sheen-less and really does hold.

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On 11/19/2018 at 8:45 AM, Badder said:

So whilst real soil is usually readily available, and does have a place in our hobby, I still argue that the processes required for readying it for use are more involved than mixing some minerals with vanrish and/or paint, especially if you live on the 40th floor of a skysraper in Tokyo and the nearest patch of bare mud is 15 miles away, requiring a ride on the Bullet train.

😀

 

Rearguards,

Badder

 

 

What better excuse to ride the Buller Train than to go 15 miles to gather soil🤣

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