Tag Archives: dioramas

Playing with Dirt

As of last night, the arena base is finished! I’m moderately pleased with it. I think it would look better if the dirt covered the whole base (which wasn’t possible due to fence measurement requirements) and if I’d found a way to keep the cool little hoofprints I made in the dirt (alas, they were destroyed by the fixative). But for anyone who would like to use nice, free dirt in a diorama, here’s what I did.

First, I marked off the area I wanted with blue tape. If you’re doing the whole top of a base, you would only need to tape off the sides. I put toothpicks in the fence post holes to make sure no glue or dirt would clog them.

Then I slathered the area in modge podge, making sure to cover the whole surface thoroughly.

Using a sifter, I gently shook fine dirt onto the modge podge base. The dirt should be thoroughly sifted before this step so you don’t end up with big clods which are out of scale. Cover the base in a thick layer of dirt to make sure you haven’t missed anywhere.

Dump off the excess dirt. I would probably be better to do this outside than on the dining room table like I did.

The last step is to fixative the dirt in place. Leave the blue tape on for this step to avoid fixing dirt or dust in the wrong place and to keep the rest of the diorama uniform. For fixative, you’ll want something stronger than the stuff you use on horses. In this case, being gentle will get you nowhere because the dirt won’t stick. I use hairspray- the cheapest, nastiest stuff I can get. It smells awesome but it sure does the job. Use several coats. I finished my base with a coat of Matte fixative over the top to reduce any glossiness from the hair spray.

Here is the finished base with the arena fence (above) and the dressage fence (below). Sorry for the bad late-night photos- but you get the idea. Thank you to Caryn Peck of Mountain Home Models for the interchangeable fence concept.

I couldn’t resist adding my dressage letter and flower pots.

Christine asked what the dressage fence is made of. Here’s a close up:



It’s pretty simple- the rectangles are just 1/4″ square dowels cut to size with a hole drilled in them and a toothpick in the bottom for a peg. The chain is white 2mm oval cable chain from Amazon. The chain is glued into the two end fence posts and just slides through the middle two.

It sure is nice to have that crossed off my list. In fact, my to do list for the show is getting delightfully short. I have a halter to make (that’s this weekend) and some odds and ends, but nothing else major until packing day. Hurrah!

Sneeze, Cough, Craft

I am getting very sick of being sick- it’s been nearly a week now. I’m feeling a lot better overall, but it’s difficult to sleep because of my very sore throat and I am constantly coughing and letting out terrifying explosive sneezes. Blarg!

My arena base is finally somewhat presentable, and nearly finished. Here it is with the arena fence up:

The sandpaper is there because I wanted to see how it would look with some arena footing. I have decided, once it’s all painted, to add a fixed layer of dirt. And that is why this lovely Easter Sunday morning found me outside, digging in a cemetery. (There’s a wonderful old pioneer cemetery behind my apartment, and that’s where I found the nice dry dirt).

The dressage fence is done and I’m very pleased with it. And the two fences are nicely and easily interchangeable, which is great.

My other success today was making the perfect carrying case for my racehorse diorama, which I’m bringing to the show. I went to Goodwill and found an almost perfect container.


Happily, a little quality time with my dremel got rid of that annoying protuberance and some foam provided just the right amount of cushioning.


Rumble Strip and friends will travel in style and comfort, with no risk of smooshing.

Weekend Performance Progress

This is one of my few free weekends before the NW Expo, so I spent much of it working on the props I’ll need to tackle the performance division. And as per usual, I started with something ugly from Goodwill…

…And went from there. First there was a lot of measuring and cutting.

Luckily, I had help.

Then there was some sanding. And sanding, and sanding, and sanding. And glueing.

When I stopped late this afternoon, I had an arena panel fence, eight white poles, the start of a dressage fence (the little pieces on the left), and two partially painted cones.

I also have a nasty blood blister, because I am careless and clutzy and apparently you can’t cut a nail with a pair of old pliers. But I am not unfamiliar with bleeding for the sake of crafts. Whenever I’m crafting or baking, I pretty much assume that I will sustain some bodily harm. But it’s always worth it, and I have a good stash of band-aids at hand.

I won’t have any time for hobby stuff this week, but I’ll be back at it next weekend and step one will be painting over that terrifying child.

Miniature World – Victoria, British Columbia

I have been having so much fun sculpting this weekend that I haven’t yet blogged about last week’s trip to Victoria B.C. My husband needed to go for work, and I could easily (and cheaply) accompany him, but for some (stupid) reason I wavered. Until he told me about this:

That’s right, Victoria has a miniatures museum. I spent a wonderful long time there and took a whole bunch of photographs in a futile effort to capture the awesomeness of it all.  And I’ve uploaded the best ones for your perusal!

If you ever have a chance to check out miniature world, I definitely recommend it. It’s $13 (Canadian) but in my opinion well worth it, as long as you really have the time and patience to take it all in. Because there is a lot to see.

Click through to the gallery

Finally Finished!

Rumble Strip cross the finish line in the front in the Small Wonders Stakes at Aqueduct

Thank you to Long Road Home for recommending that I add dust. I think it really completes the scene! Thanks to Robyn, for the original bodies. To my husband for the lovely pictures. And to the cast and crew of Stargate: SG-1, for providing me hours of entertainment while I fiddled with tiny race horses.

After countless (let’s not count…) hours of work, my little diorama is done. I’m immensely pleased with how it turned out, and love to look at it sitting on my shelf. It was an extremely satisfying project and let’s me fulfill my dream of owning a Thoroughbred race horse named Rumble Strip.

Building a Race Course!

I am really excited to be getting so close to finished on my race horse diorama. I am also excited that I haven’t gotten too terribly distracted during the process (at least, not by other pony-projects). This post is a review of how I did the base, complete with tote board, finish line, rail fence, and footing.

First step was to find a suitable base. I was lucky to have one handy in my box of supplies. I got this secondhand, probably at a garage sale or thrift store. I always snag super-useful things like nice wood bases if I can find them on the cheap. These are often available in craft stores, but the cheap skate in me balks at paying $6-$10 for a piece of wood, however nicely shaped.

I used a dremel to make these holes. I don’t have a drill, and a dremel makes a decent substitute for small scale projects. You can see I had to get a little creative for my finish line hole the correct size.

I first planned the base out and drew guidelines with pencils. Planning the size of the rail fence and spacing between posts was crucial, since I needed to drill holes to “plant” the posts. Similarly, I measured out where I wanted each horse. Their acrylic rod supports will be similarly planted.

I decided to build the rail fence right onto the base instead of building it and then attaching it. I hope this will make it sturdier and my measurements will remain more accurate with less option for error. For each post I inserted my square wood dowel firmly into the hole and then measured to the correct height (see the pen mark). Then I pulled it out, cut it, and stuck it back in. Voila, posts!

Mini safety pins are invaluable for model tack and props. I only wish I had more of them.

To make the top of the rail fence I simply cut a piece of the correct length (and double checked the length). Then I carefully glued it to the posts, trying to keep them as straight as possible. Then I clipped them to keep them in position while the glue sets.

Making the finish line pole was a careful balance between creativity and realism. Most poles have some decoration on top, but some of the examples I found were too elaborate for the scale or simply unattractive or impractical. I looked a a bunch and then designed my own, while is simply a wooden pyramid that will be painted red and gold. I made it by using ever-smaller pieces of balsa wood stacked and sanded. That top piece was very pesky- it’s about 3 mm long and easy to drop or loose. Or inhale.

Along the bottom are marks to remind me how much of the pole will be buried in the base (bottom), and where the rail fence comes to. In between the two I mounted a flat piece of foot that mimics a finish line’s camera.

The rail fence has been glued into the base with wood glue. The tote board and finish line are propped there, and all three are painted white as a base.

Before gluing the finish line in, I painted on the itty bitty details. Meanwhile, the fence and base get more paint.

Tote board and finish line are attached, painting continues. It starting to look like a race track!

As with the finish line, I didn’t want to have to do tricksy detail on the tote board while it was glued vertically into the base. Once I made sure everything was the right size, I used that every-useful modge podge to attach the printed tote board picture to the wooden base.

Planting grass seed

Over the painted base I’m gluing footing. The “grass” I’m using is Woodland Scenics dark green turf (fine, not coarse). It’s messy and sort of annoying to work with, but has a lovely effect. I hadn’t used it since my last diorama and didn’t remember the technique. I tried laying down glue and then scattering the turf, which is pretty ineffectual. What worked for me was laying down more glue with more turf, and then pressing it down with my finger. It looked kind of bad at first, but remember that glue dries clear! In the picture at right, the bottom right corner is where I used my improved technique, and the other areas are where I tried to simply scatter the grass.

For added detail (and because I have a TON of faux shrubbery) I planted bushes along the edge of the track. I simply lay down tacky glue and pressed my formed bushes down firmly on top.

Voila! Bushes.

I need to wait a bit before I can put down the track footing, because I used apoxie to fit each horse’s acrylic rod to the dremeled hole and it needs to dry. The track will be done in much the same manner as the grass, only I’ll use sand or another “dirt” base. I still need to decide if I’ll be permanently attaching the horses to the base or not. That would mean finishing up jockeys and bridles. Coming right up!

Horse Racing: The Tote Board

My race horse project has been literally and figuratively on the shelf for a few weeks while I have been busy with work and other crafts. Today I finally got to work on the one aspect I wasn’t really looking forward to: the tote board.

I’d been putting it off mainly because I was having difficulty understanding exactly what should be on a tote board. There aren’t many pictures and those that are out there vary a lot. Plus, all the explanations of tote boards that I found were written for those interested in betting. So I ended up doing a lot of piecing together to design my micro sized version.

The tote board is the huge, digitalized sign that sits near the finish line at race tracks. The name is short for “totalizer,” which is the automated system that runs race track betting. The main information it provides is for betters, including the odds for each horse, the “pools,” race results and pay outs.

The odds for each horse fluctuate and more people bet, so the tote board will continually update until the odds are locked in at the beginning of the race. The pools are the amounts of money bet on each horse for each placing. For example:

In the above picture, the final odds for each horse is listed next to their entrant number across the top, left to right. Below that are the pools for each entrant in each placings and to the far left are the total pools for win, place, and show.

To clarify, horse number one is running at 7-1 odds in this race (the “to one” is implied). The total amount of money bet on him to win is $7022, with $3262 bet on him to place and $1728 bet on him to show.

This tote board also shows each horses odds. The numbers to the right may be pool totals. On the left is more information commonly seen on tote boards: the track conditions, time of day, post time, and time of race. Track condition can effect the race and specific horses significantly, so it’s an important thing to know. On different days the track may be fast, slow, muddy, sloppy, or even frozen. The count down to post time reminds bettors how much time they have left to get their bets in.

This photo shows one of the most important pieces of information on the board: the results and payouts. Results are usually listed up to fourth place, and the payouts for each placing listed. In the last race the winner was horse number 8, and a bet on him to win yielded $103 (an unusually high payout- he must have been a long shot). Notice that the board includes the race number (11) and also denotes that the results are Official. This means that any photo finish has been resolved, no jockey has claimed a foul, and no steward has raised an enquiry.

Along with the basic payouts, tote boards will often display probable payouts for exactas (a bet on the first two placings, in order), trifectas (win, place, and show, in order), quinellas (first two placings, any order). The board may also include the fractional times for the race (also known as “splits”). These usually include the times for a quarter mile, half mile, three fourths of a mile (6 furlongs), and a mile. The final time is also usually listed.

After doing the research to better understand the tote board, I designed my board with the information I wanted. I wanted track conditions, time and post time, listed odds, race number, and unofficial results (my horses will be positioned crossing the finish line).

Thanks to my husband (who jump started the design and provided technical support) I now have this:

Next step: print it out and mount it on wood. And build a little railing…