7TP got stuck

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background to the diorama
Some of you might already have seen this project in my build log, but I thought it worth collecting it into a feature, as for me, the greatest help has always been the well detailed feature articles that appear on Armorama.

So what was on my mind? The scene takes place in Poland, in the fall of '39. A Polish 7TP light tank gets stuck while crossing a small river, close to a wooden bridge. The vehicle was abandoned after a failed rescue mission, and the advancing German troops eventually pass by the stricken vehicle as they cross the bridge on foot.

What led me to the idea? There were two givens. The 7TP tank, for me a memorable old build, was resurrected and updated from its ruins. Then there was a German NCO figure I got from one of my friends. That was the core that needed to be expanded into a full diorama. Among my 7TP references, I found a picture of a twin turreted 7TP tank stuck next to a wooden bridge during an excercise around 1936. So I just have to step it forwards three years into those sad September days, and I have found the time and the place "where we set our scene".

First of all, I created the plans (first time Iíve ever done that, but it was worth every second), at 1/35 scale, from three angles: top, side and front view. Fortunately I am used to working with vectorgraphic software, so I was able to do this relatively quickly, but of course even without this tool, you could just draw it on paper. I strongly recommend it, as it reveals a lot of composition issues which can be resolved while still on paper.

Regarding composition, I do recommend Black Star's small book about Dioramas, it suggests following some simple rules which really help to bring a diorama to life. [Note: details of all the publications mentioned are given at the end.]

bridge building
The first phase of the build was creating the bridge. I used a rounded hard wood for the pillars, the traverse beams are a semi-hard (pine) wood, while the other elements were made from very soft balsa. It was all cemented together with white glue. I added some damage to the pillars and the beams with an X-acto knife. The pillars were fixed to the traverses with metal staples. I only managed to find one picture on the net about the method for fixing these parts, and it showed it done this way, but in my build log, colleague Brobruís comment was positive and reassured me that it is a common method used for building such small bridges in Poland. I then added the side rails using some photoetched bolts from the spares box.

Another good point was raised in the build log by Deathdork, who suggested the indentations for nail holes on the deck as well, not just on the rails. A great idea, as after weathering, these details came out really well, and with the distressing of the deck by knife blade, the aged and used look of the bridge was enhanced.

With the bridge done, I started on the basics of the groundwork. I used Styrofoam and silicon glue, the type used to seal a bathtub, which worked well on the foam.

The next stage was the stone base for the bridgehead. I used air-hardening clay, following the method of Laszlo Adoba, as described in his fantastic Let's Build Diorama book. For those who are not familiar with the technique, here are the basics.

First I put a relatively thick layer of clay onto the Styrofoam, attached with white glue. Then with a small screwdriver I engraved the shapes of the stones into the clay. In the next step, I brushed it with very thinned down white glue, and then attached a lot of small pieces of tissue paper on to the still wet clay. Then I re-embossed the outlines of the stones with the screwdriver. The photos will make clear what I mean.

For the next step I put several layers of cheap tissue paper onto the Styrofoam base. The first layer was fixed with white glue highly diluted with warm water, and the subsequent layers with wallpaper glue, which is lot cheaper than white glue. The surface was getting smoother with each successive layer, but I had to add more and more layers to some parts, to make sure the edges of the Styrofoam were hidden.

To have some fun while this technical building work was going on, I started to weather the bridge. The method was as follows: the first layer was extremely thinned black acrylic paint, which was then dry brushed with several shades of beige and grey Vallejo acrylics. The bridge pillars received a brownish shade, with the bottom part painted green to simulate the growth of some algae. I added MIG brown wash to enhance the cracks and fissures on the deck. The bridgehead had an overall blueish-grey shade, and then the stones were given some different shades, followed by a dry brushing with light grey. For the bottom of the bridgehead, I ground down some balsa wood with sand paper, and the resulting dust was mixed with white glue and green colour. This mixture was then painted on to the surface by brush to represent moss, the sawdust providing some texture. Overall I tried to use as many shades as possible during the painting, to keep the surfaces looking varied and alive.

After the base received the final layer of tissue paper, it was painted with white glue, then some fine grained earth was sifted over it. The earth was collected from a nearby field following a lot of rain; the gully beds contained a lot of very fine grained powder, which I dried on newspaper, and it proved to be a useful material. On the road, the earth was smoothed over with a wet brush, and when it dried the surface cracked, similar to the effect seen following a drought.

landscape gardening
The grass and foliage was made from several materials, including real moss sprayed with matt lacquer to preserve it; I used the same method for my first diorama about four years ago, and the moss hasnít changed in that time, neither in colour nor shape. White glue was used to fix it in place. There is also some Icelandic lichen, which again is very long lasting. I also collected some young blades of grass and put them into glycerine (which can be bought in a pharmacy) for a day. It was mixed in with some Jís Work paper grass, to help break up the latterís rather artificial look.

The stem of the sedge was made from sprue, stretched over a flame. The leaves were cut from paper, painted with green watercolour paint, then shaded with darker green oil paint. The leaves were fixed to the stem with cyanoacrylate glue.

The ivy was a real challenge. I combined a piece of grass root with Jís Work paper ivy, which I didnít want to use on its own for the same reasons mentioned above: I cut all the leaves off and fixed them one by one on to the grass root using cyanoacrylate glue and tweezers. You had to see the face of my wife, when she saw itÖ This took me about two weeks, and some silver hairÖ

The long dry stems were made from the hairs of an old paint brush (one I had used to paint the walls of my flat) and I mixed semolina, sawdust, white glue and light brown pigment, then attached this wet mix with a paintbrush. After it dried, it was painted with MIG dark wash, resulting in some nice shadows on the tiny surfaces.

Where there was no plant cover, I sprinkled some artificial grass as used by train modellers, an autumn mix, so there are several colours that fit in with the September scene.
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About the Author

About Istvan Szavai (Peelou75)

I have started modelling when I was a kid. As it was in the communist era, the subjects were very limited... After a very long pause I was back to my favourite hobby in 2007. I prefer 1/35 scale AFV-s, regardless of nationality. I'm working at an advertising agency in Budapest, I have a beatiful dau...


Istvan, Really well done diorama. I especially like the use of the resurrected 7-TP. That is a really nice way to add an older kit into a new work.
APR 19, 2013 - 02:58 PM
Nice one Istvan! I like the water and generally the idea behind this dio. Superb!
APR 19, 2013 - 06:07 PM
Came out great! Kudos! Deathdork
APR 20, 2013 - 05:48 PM
Very well done with the diorama and I particularly like the black & white picture.
APR 20, 2013 - 06:29 PM
APR 22, 2013 - 09:02 AM
Istvan, something you didn't talk about is the graphic you applied to the end piece of the box that the scene is built into - how was that done? Is it just a stencil, hand cut with a knife then sprayed? Matthew
APR 22, 2013 - 09:58 AM
Thanks guys for your nice comments, and I also would like to thank Matthews great work on editing the feature Yes, Matthew, I have used a stencil, cut from vinyl (I'm lucky, at my workplace we have such cutting machine) airbrushed with light tone. I tried to achieve some kind of "Banksy style graffiti" feel, so I did not fully sprayed the dark base over.
APR 22, 2013 - 10:00 PM
Ah, that explains it - I was thinking it looked a bit too good for a hand-cut stencil! Thanks.
APR 23, 2013 - 12:35 AM
Great dio and theme....enjoyed reading the explanation.
APR 27, 2013 - 03:41 AM
Hello Istvan, your diorama look very good, I like it. I like Polish accent your work. ;-) Well done. Paweł
JUL 13, 2013 - 03:40 AM