How to… Make a Beach Mat

No, not one of those mats you have to drag to the beach, rather a mat that brings the beach into your living room! Or at least a reasonable facsimile you can put tiny figures on.

For a long time I’ve been collecting scenarios involving amphibious operations. Some may remember my attempt at scratch building a medieval cog, which still has to see action. Recently, I’ve also painted up two longboats for the British Marines, as there have been a couple of interesting landing operations during the British campaign on St Domingue.

After experimenting with the ‘caulking technique’ by making roads and wood bases, I finally plucked up all my courage and prepared to make a proper gaming mat. Thankfully, K. took pity on me and volunteered to help.

I wanted the mat to be about 80x110cm, 80cm being the width of our gaming table. There were to be three sections: One with ‘normal’ earth ground, that is ground that would go with all my other terrain, one strip of beach and one strip of water.

Like last time, I used a piece of felt as a base. I fixed the felt unto a large board (the back side of the boards I made for playing X-Wing) and put it into a room we wouldn’t use for a couple of days, as the acrylic emits nauseous vapours when drying.

The caulking mass for the earth ground and the beach was prepared from four cartridges of caulking acrylic, mixed with sand and brown paint. I applied it generously with my hands (using disposable gloves!), trying to achieve a rough surface structure for the earth ground and a smooth one on the beach section.

When this was finished, I prepared another mass of caulking acrylic, which I mixed with blue paint for the sea section. Applying it again with my hands, I tried to recreate a wavy water effect with my fingers. In hindsight, I should have used less caulking mass – especially on the edges, the layer of acrylic is very thick. I just hope it won’t break when the mat is rolled up for storage.

We made the mat just before going away for a week, so when we returned, it had dried properly.

The mat before drybrushing
The mat before drybrushing

After cutting off the edges, I drybrushed the earth ground with an off-white (Terminatus Stone, which I use on all my figure bases). The beach was drybrushed in several layers of desert yellow and sand colour, while the water got a light drybrush of white to create the effect of surf. Finally, I used PVA glue to apply patches of static grass to the earth section.

pic2
After drybrushing and applying static grass.

 

pic3

I’ve been quite apprehensive about making a gaming mat until now, as I’m a bit averse to messy work, and from what I read the caulking technique can be very messy. To my surprise, it wasn’t really – perhaps because my mat is rather small. Apart from the drying time, the whole procedure was also quite quick – I don’t think it took more than half an hour to prepare the caulking mass and cover the mat, and it took perhaps three painting sessions to drybrush the mat and apply the grass. Furthermore, it is a cheap project: One cartridge of caulking acrylic is about 1 Euro where I live, and I used five where four would have been sufficient. The most expensive component was the felt (at about 15 Euros), but I had positive experiences when I used it for the roads and didn’t want to experiment with another surface for this project. I guess other cheaper textiles would also work.

So I might make another one some day – I really want one with earth ground altogether. I’m sure there are things I can do better next time. Perhaps I’ll use less acrylic, I think a thinner layer would be sufficient and would perhaps be better for storage. What do you think? Any hints or advises?

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