Monday, October 12, 2015

Flexible Terrain Mat

Well I finally did it. I made my own flexible terrain mat.  Some of you have read Tobi's blog post on making a  Flexible Terrain Mat.  If you haven't it's worth the trip over there.  I've had the canvas and some of the materials for about 6 months or so, I was lacking time and space in the garage to set this up and do it.  I was inspired by Tobi's mat to try my own but the only thing about his post was the lack of details on HOW he did it.  For example he doesn't specify how much water he mixed into the sand and paint.  
So to give this a whirl I bought a small piece of artist canvas and the supplies and decided to take the plunge.

The bare white canvas. Tobi drilled screws or something like that into his table to hold the canvas down and to stop it from shrinking.  First time out I just used some clamps to hold it place.  The work space is 4'x4'.

I stopped by the local Ace Hardware and picked up 50lbs of Play ground sand for $5.  Again no real proportions were given so I just poured some in remembering my scenery building days from theatre and a little bit of sand goes a long way. 

The acrylic latex caulk.  Inexpensive ones.  I did notice that some of the caulk had silicon in it so I avoided that type.

The paint! Again at the local Ace they had these quart sized cans that had been returned and my 9 yr old daughter helped me pick out two different colors we thought would work out.

The rest of the supplies. Gloves (very needed), water, underbrush foliage, static grass and fine turf.  Also a strainer and a pencil which you can't see.

The two buckets of paint, sand and caulk and water.  I used all three tubes of caulk about 1 1/2 in each bucket. I poured in the water and then realized I had too much water. What should have turned out to be a paste like substance was more like a thick soup. I added a little more paint to the mix.  I put on the gloves and mixed it all together. This took the longest amount of time.  The caulk does not break up easily in paint, sand, water mixture.  I'm thinking for the next one I will pick up an used hand held mixer at Goodwill and use that instead.

So I smeared the mixture onto the canvas.  The darker color was a lot more runny and I feared it wouldn't work.  I was also unsure how smooth the mixture should be on the canvas. I tried a few times to smooth it out but it only made it worse. Again all of this was applied by hand. No brushes or putty knives etc..

Now the flocking. Note to anyone who decides to do this. When opening up one of Woodland Scenics big bottles of Fine Turf, make sure you have opened up the shaker side first before you turn the thing over.  See that big dark patch, yep the spoon side was open. Oh well as Bob Ross would say, "A happy accident".

These three pictures show the different colors of static grass I used and the little bit of clump foliage.  To apply this I dumped some of the grass into my strainer and then used the pencil to stir it out so it would clump up and would fall where it wanted too.  It worked really well.

So I let this dry for 24 hours.  The following day after work I grabbed my bottle of Woodland Scenics Scenic Cement with the spray top and sprayed down the whole mat.

Again another 24 hours rolled along and when I got home from work everything was nice and dry.  I took the clamps off and there was very little shrinkage of the canvas.  I picked up one side to see how much flocking would come off and the barest amount fell off.  So far so good.  

I trimmed the excess canvas off of the sides and then asked my wife and daughter to come and give their opinion.  Essentially I wasn't sure which colored side I liked better.  I'm leaning towards the lighter side.  My daughter liked the lighter side but wife liked the darker side.

Which side do you like? I asking this seriously so when I do the larger 8'x4' canvas I will get only one color this time. I don't think I should go darker as it would hide the flocking but I could be wrong. Might need to do another test piece. 

When I was all done, I rolled the thing up and unrolled it and nothing fell off.

I learned a few things with this piece. 
1. less water!! 
2. need something else to mix it all together with.
3. For the bigger canvas, bolting it down will be better than the clamps. They took up too much room.
4. Instead of applying the static grass in separate waves blend them all and then sprinkle it on.  Will give a better more realistic look. 


  1. Thanks for the tutorial. I'd seen Tobi's blog about it and was recently inspired to make a seamat for myself using the same sort of method (less sand and flock of course). I blogged it too (here: Cheers WW

  2. That is cracking work Victor, excellent!

  3. Hi Victor

    Maxine and I like both finishes and would be happy to play on either. However as you asked for a preference we say the one on the right. The reason being that it is a lighter colour and will make the troops look better, rather like a light coloured base throws light onto the figures.

    I may have missed the reason, why did you avoid the tubes with silicone in? I thought that might give you 'flexibility' when working the cover into the cloth.

    Great job.

    1. I went with the caulk that Tobi recommended on his sight. After seeing how long it took to mix the paint/sand and caulk I would tend to think that the silicon based caulk would take longer to mix.

  4. Thanks for showing the process. Looking at what you've got there at the moment, I'd go with the darker colour. To me, the variations in the lighter side look too stark. The darker side - you can see the variations in colour, but they're blended nicely. I'll be interested to see what you go with in the end.

  5. Very nicely constructed, sir!. Since I don't want my painted troops 'lost' in the color of the battleground, I will put my $$ down on a blend of the two color schemes; varying the lights and darks a smidgen as you go along creating the terrain. Again, great job.

    1. I will have to try blending them. Might be difficult with the consistency of the paint mixture.

    2. Try stippling one color into the edge of the other. Then use a palette knife, paint stick, etc., or a wet/damp cloth/ or a cotton glove (wet) on your hand(s) and mix (or all of the above); then blend and smooth the goop the way you like it with glove, rag, brush wet/damp with water.

      By this time you should be becoming a sculptor-artist-landscaper!

  6. All things considered, I'll stick with my felt and spray paint scheme, but I do think your trial run came out looking very well. I think areas of both light and dark sounds good to me. If left to one of the other I'd favor darker. Unlike the appearance in person, when taking pictures I find that a light background messes up the color balance with my digital camera. Might want to try taking some trial picks on both sides and see what you think there.

  7. Very nice indeed! I've been debating on whether to start something like this. I might give it a whirl.

  8. Excellent instructions and awesome work. I posted a link to this on my blog. Keep up the great work. Also I am added to my blog list.

  9. Love this tutorial, but you commit the same sin of omission as Tobi: no proportions for mixing the paint, water, sand, and sealant! Any chance of you providing some rough estimates for somebody who is an utter neophyte at this? (Okay, you did say 1.5 tubes, but how much water and paint?).


    1. Hi Joe,
      Okay proportions are tough. Like you said Tobi didn't add any to his blog so I went with what he said about the texture of the goop. I know this won't help at all but when I added the paint, the caulk and the sand it was very thick. It really needs to be runny paste. The measuring glass of water is 4 cups of water. I slowly started to add it until it looked right.

    2. Also look at the second mat I did:
      It has a better proportion of the mix I used.

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