I've had a number of people write, either in comments or through email, asking me to describe my basing process. That's tough to do, because I haven't ever followed just one method for all periods. I use many of the techniques throughout, though, so this example is pretty typical of my basing methods. Here, then, is my most recent basing project, a Field of Glory republican Roman army.
I took these pictures in my work space. The lighting is ideal for painting but poor for photography. Still, I think these pictures can give you a good idea of what I'm doing.
I paint my figures on popsicle sticks, six 15mm figures to a stick. I leave the figures on there until I'm ready to base. The wood cutting board cost me $3 at Wal-Mart. I use it for most of my basing projects. Any sloppy paint or glue that gets on the bottom of the stands won't cause them to adhere to wood, but it would cause them to adhere to paper. The bases are all from Litko. I used to cut my own bases from basswood, but once I tried Litko bases, I gave that up. I could never get the measurements exact enough, and my corners were never quite square. I use wood glue to attach the figures to the bases.
Litko stains the sides of their bases, I guess so you can leave them unpainted, but I like to paint the base sides to match my basing scheme. Unfortunately, the stain makes paint smear right off. To remove the stain, I just rub the sides with a damp paper towel. You can see the stained bases on the left and the wiped bases on the right.
I put quite a bit of glue on each base, but I'm very careful not to let the glue drip down the sides. Any buildup of glue will keep the bases from laying together properly, and after all, I bought Litko bases just so the bases will line up.
The reason for all that glue? I like the individual figure bases to blend into the base, and a healthy amount of wood glue will help them do that. We've got to be careful, though, that the glue doesn't get on the figures' feet and obscure their detail. Smoothing out the glue ensures that it will keep the right level. This technique won't eliminate the little pedestal under each figure, but it will give it smooth sides and less height.
I use a toothpick to carefully spread out the wood glue. The idea is to get little pillows covering each base. The glue should go nearly to the sides without going over them.
I base by unit, taking all the figures off their sticks at once, organizing them by pose, and then arranging them on the wood glue. Usually I use a hobby knife and press down on each figure's base to ensure a tight fit with the wooden base. Once the whole army is glued to its bases, I set the project aside for a day and allow the wood glue to cure. It took me just over an hour to prep the bases and get all the figures off their sticks and on their bases.
Once the glue has cured, I move on to flocking the bases. First I paint the base sides to match my basing scheme. These Romans are destined for service in the Second Punic War. I want bases that will look right for Italy, Spain, and North Africa, so I'll be using a light dirt flock. Delta's "Brown Velvet" is a great paint, tacky and opaque. I paint the sides of each base, wipe the bottom of the base on paper to remove any excess paint, and set the base aside to dry. I usually try to overlap the top of the base a little, just to be sure that I'm covering the entire side. It took me twelve minutes to paint the base sides and wipe the bottoms clean.
I have a few different flocking materials that I use. My 28mm ancients get Noch Brown Ballast. My 15mm Napoleonics get Woodland Scenics Earth Blend ground foam rubber. For these 15mm Romans, I'm using WS's fine brown ballast.
Here's where my approach differs from everyone else's. I don't paint the base then use white glue to attach my ballast. Instead I skip a step and use the paint itself to attach the ballast. Delta paints are tacky enough to get a good grip on the ballast. I really slop the paint on each base, making sure that the paint is still wet when I finish.
With the paint still wet, I swirl the stand in my bowl of flocking material.
This method lets me flock my army very quickly. I finished all these bases in 25 minutes. The Delta Ceramcoat paint adheres the flock to the bases just as well as white glue.
The paint gets the ballast on the bases, but it can't make it stay. It won't stay with white glue alone, either. To seal the ballast on the base, I make a wash from four parts water and one part Elmer's Glue-All. The wash is thin enough to fill the crevices in the ballast, but thick enough to seal the ballast very well.
I load a broad brush with the glue wash and hold it to the ballast, letting the flock soak up the glue. If I get some of the wash on the figure or the base side, I just leave it. The wash dries so thin and clear that it won't even show up.
As you can see here, I get quite a bit of wash on each base. It looks awful now, but you won't even see it once it dries.
Click on the picture for a larger image. The bases have dried, and you can't see even a trace of the glue. But that ballast is now sealed on the bases fairly firmly. If you try to rub it off, you can (with difficulty), but it won't come off just from being handled. It took me ten minutes to apply the wash to the entire army. Once again I let the army dry overnight.
The glue wash leaves the brown ballast a little darker than its natural color. Essentially, the ballast still looks wet, even though it isn't. I like to drybrush a very light color over the brown to bring out the ballast's relief and really make it look like dirt or sand.
The base on the left has been drybrushed. The base on the right has not. It's tough to see a big difference from this photograph, but it's very striking. If you look at the stands in my 15mm Carthaginian army, you'll be able to see the effect under better lighting.
Drybrushing the entire army took 15 minutes, time that really pays off by making the dirt look more realistic. You can skip this step if you like, but I think the effect is a good return on the time invested. Click on the picture to get a larger image in which you can see the drybrushing effect.
The last step in basing is to spruce up the plain dirt with some vegetation. Again, I want these figures to look right for a Mediterranean battlefield, so I won't be using any lush green static grass. Instead I'll add some scrub brush and rocks. I'm using Woodland Scenics' clump foliage in three different colors (light green, medium green, and burnt grass) and talus. I'll affix the scatter with tacky glue.
Here's the clump foliage as it comes out of the bag. Woodland Scenics makes this stuff as leaves for trees, but each clump is nearly as large as my bases.
I carefully shred the clump into much smaller little balls. Each of these will make a convincing looking bush.
I use tweezers to attach the scatter. Each piece is too tiny to pick up with my fingers.
I carefully arrange the scatter on each base. It's easy to overdo it and add too much scatter; a small amount is all you need. We're just trying to accent the dirt, not overpower it. You can see the white tacky glue here, but it dries clear. The clear glue has a slight sheen, but the Dullcote spray (see last step) will get rid of that. Prepping and attaching the scatter took 45 minutes. It's time consuming, but I think it's worth it.
Actually, it's not quite finished. The bases themselves are done, but to protect the figures I like to apply a spray gloss lacquer. It goes on pretty thick, but it doesn't obscure any of the figures' detail. I don't like glossy figures, so once the lacquer dries, I spray the stands with Testors' Dullcote. It's too cold today to spray paint (19F and falling), so I'll set these aside until we have some warmer weather.
So that's my basing process. If it seems complex and time consuming, well, I guess it is. But the bases really contribute to the army's appearance on the table. I spent over two weeks painting these figures, putting in about 60 hours of brush work. Basing this army took me two hours and 50 minutes. Would it have been quicker just to stick the figures on painted plasticard? Sure. But if I were just concerned with speed, I wouldn't bother to paint the figures so well. I'd just slop on the paint and call it good. Miniatures wargaming is primarily a visual hobby. And yet I see far too many beautifully painted figures let down by plain bases.
Making decent looking bases took 5% of the total painting time and cost about $20 in bases and materials. That's the best hobby use of time and money I can think of.