Incredible Model-Making Tutorials from a Master Modeler

Art & Sculpture Craft & Design Paper Crafts
Incredible Model-Making Tutorials from a Master Modeler

As one of the commenters exclaims on David Neat’s blog of modeling tips: “I feel like I’ve just discovered the Holy Grail of modeling sites!” David’s simple, plain WordPress blog betrays the amount and quality of the content found there. David writes about and teaches model-making and this site gathers the materials from his books, courses, and lectures.

There is a ton of material here, on everything from technical drawing to materials and supplies for modeling, modeling techniques (from the most general to the very specific), and lots more. David even has a Lexicon section with terms used in model-making. Most of what’s covered concerns architectural models and models used in set decorating, but the techniques can be applied to any type of building and terrain modeling. I look at a lot of hobby modeling sites and rarely have I seen one with this much depth, rigor, and high-value content. I will definitely be spending a lot of time here in the future.

One of the more useful series on the site is found under the Methods -> Making Realistic Models menu. There you will find five lengthy modeling tutorials. Here is a tip/technique from each one, followed by a link to that tutorial.

Gluing Odd Shapes

Photo: Astrid Baerndal

Another way of setting things up, involving a different technique of gluing, is offered by the fact that thin liquids will be drawn into tight gaps (what’s known as capillary action). This means that difficult-to-glue pieces such as the curving sheet see here can be set up in the correct position and the glue introduced along the joint afterwards. Here, a thin plastic solvent is being used to glue styrene plastic, but thin superglue can also be used and this can also work with card.

Link: Main Construction

Spraymounting a Template Directly Onto the Workpiece

Photo: Astrid Baerndal

Foamed PVC can be drawn on with a pencil but I usually prefer to spraymount a printed drawing and cut through that, because it saves time if I need more. It’s also much easier to draw up the original at a larger scale such as 1:10 and reduce to 1:25 (40%). I use a very minimal amount of repositionable spraymount (3M blue can) so that, in the end, the paper can be peeled off the plastic. The photo above shows the three chair parts–back, seat and front legs–being cut out. It is worthwhile to note that I am cutting the inside parts of the form out first (i.e. working from the centre outwards). Keeping the form in the sheet until the last cut means that you always have more to hold onto while cutting. One drawback perhaps is that PVC can only be glued with superglue, which is not everyone’s favourite and doesn’t allow much repositioning.

Photo: Astrid Baerndal
Photo: Astrid Baerndal
Link: Fine Construction

Model-Making with Liquid


The main trick [to working with Polycell “Fine Surface” Polyfilla] is getting it into a suitable, squeezable, small plastic bottle with a fine nozzle. It isn’t difficult to find these. The one above was from a £shop and contained glitter-glue. I’ve had to mix the polyfilla thoroughly with a little water first in a small container, then fill a plastic syringe and use this to transfer it into the bottles. If not applied too thickly the polyfilla takes 1-2 hours on average to dry. I prefer using this polyfilla mix because it shrinks the least of the various materials I’ve tried. It also dries the quickest and if deeper relief is needed a second layer can be applied.

Link: Modelling and Shaping

Creating Special Texturing Tools


Even more specialised “impressing” tools can be made quite easily out of Super Sculpey. I modelled the one above to create a particular kind of cobblestone and baked it for the maximum time in the oven (rather than using a hot-air gun) to ensure that it was as hard as possible.

Link: Creating Surfaces

Painting Realistic Brick Colors

For this wall piece using Kapa-line foam, I have basecoated in a sandy mortar colour instead of a dark one, so that this will remain visible in the inscribed lines. I used thinned acrylic and worked it into the surface with a hogshair brush. This was followed by randomised touches of two more colours shown below. It already looks fairly convincing as brick, but more like brick which has been sand-blasted .. too clean and evenly coloured.
Link: Painting

If you’d like to get David’s pearls of model-making wisdom in a dead tree edition, check out his book, Model-Making: Materials and Methods.

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Gareth Branwyn is a freelance writer and the former Editorial Director of Maker Media. He is the author or editor of over a dozen books on technology, DIY, and geek culture. He is currently a contributor to Boing Boing, Wink Books, and Wink Fun. His free weekly-ish maker tips newsletter can be found at

View more articles by Gareth Branwyn


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