DIY Cave Walls – Cheap

I am all for recycling and using and what is considered trash in fun craft projects.. I feel I need to point out that in my craft based professions (costume design and construction and RPG & LARP Accessories) I do not use trash but for making terrain which can be costly and other family crafts, I am all for using old packaging and cardboard, empty toilet roll tubes, lids and caps of bottles.

I will be uploading a series of DIY tutorials for making all sorts of D&D terrain using simple items that most people have on a daily/ weekly basis. The negative side is I now have 2 recycle bins – 1 outside for things I don’t think I can use and then ones in my workroom for anything I think might make the base of a cool terrain piece for our battlemaps.. David now has to check with me before throwing anything away!!

As my upcoming campaign is set in a maze of caverns, I thought i would start with cave walls.

The best option I have found so far is as follows, but it is your world – experiment!

You will need:

  • Polystyrene packing blocks and sheets – any size and dimensions really
  • Craft knife
  • metal ruler
  • Pencil
  • PVA glue
  • Selection of acrylic paints of your choice of colours. Suggest black and white but you can add some greens and browns if you want more variation than greys and to add more interest. For todays I am just using black and white but I shall upload some with a bit of variation in the future.
  • cardboard scrap
  • paintbrushes – one for a wash and then a flatter brush for dry brushing
  • containers for water, paint etc

Take your polystyrene blocks and break them into straight wall sections, curved wall sections, boulders and staligmites… interesting shapes and sizes. Or specific layouts to your campaign.. as my caverns are a huge maze and i want to re use these pieces in other campaigns I really just went for it with all sizes and shapes. I wanted to make modular pieces to position around a drawn map on our wipe clean battlemap. I did not want to build the walls of each cavern in one piece as then I would need a huge amount of individual whole walls and storage would be an issue.

Once you have your strips or larger blocks for curved walls, start cutting into 3 sides with the tip of your craft knife, literally flicking the individual round polystyrene balls out to create your shapes.. leave one flat side as this will sit on your map. Once you have removed the unwanted of the two flat sides you do not need to use your craft knife.. at some points I just rubbed the edges to brush away the loose balls.

Yes , you will make a mess and you will create static for the polystyrene to stick to.. Good to have your hoover with nozzle attachment close by!

I have made a huge box full as I had a lot of blocks to use but when you have your desired sections, give them one last rub with fingers to remove loose balls.

The first stage of painting was a black acrylic. Water it down not quite to a wash , you will need it a little more substantial to coat but you want it wet enough to seep into the groves without masking them and hiding the detail.. If you find you have watered it down too much, do not worry , simply have a wet or dry palette with a bit of the black and every so often when you need more coverage dip your paintbrush into the the palette paint then into the watered wash and continue painting wall, just really spread out any thicker areas of paint.

Let this dry.

I usually would do this in a dedicated painting area of my workshop but David wanted to get involved so we had a day watching LOTR and set up our big table in the living room. It is important to protect your work area and table. we used bin liners to cover the table and then old flat back cardboard boxes and cutting mats and i had my wipe clean apron as I am very messy with paints and latex gloves to protect my nails!

Drying time can vary, if it is a sunny day without a breeze, you can put them outside to speed things up. Or help it along with a hair dryer. Or just be patient!

Once dry we used a dark grey with just a little water and covered the pieces. Spreading the paint out but not forcing it into all the grooves.

Unfortunately this stage needs to dry!

Next I made a lighter grey. Using a flat brush I loaded it with a little of the grey mix then brushed onto my scrap cardboard until the brush was not too loaded and more dry. I then gently dragged the brush over the wall surface. Being careful to not reload the brush until it was completely empty/dry and making sure I did not push the paint into the grooves. Just a quick light movement all over to catch the more raised areas.

I repeated this 2 more times, letting each layer dry in between The first repeat was a very light grey and finally a white. Each time i made sure the brush was a little dryer . You can do this as many times as you like and throw in any other colour you feel but end of white. Do not worry if you feel it looks too white as the end process is a black wash and so you want it to become quite light as it will be toned down with the wash.

Once dry take a watery black wash and gently dab starting at the top, letting the wash run down. Don’t rub the surface with the paint brush just gently place it letting the pain run. Any pooling you do not want take the corner of a sheet of kitchen roll and soak up excess.

Once dry you can seal it with a coat of slightly watered down pva or mod podge. Then build your map! A quick example shown below but I still have a huge box of walls to paint!!! Keep an eye on our various campaigns to see them in use and in particular my campaign later in the summer.

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