How to build your first diorama

What's become a yearly tradition amongst my Warhammer-friends is a Secret Santa called Secret Sanguinius. We paint a model for someone and exchange that at Warhammer World in early January. Last year I had Rob and painted an Arjac Rockfist.

This year I did something silly. I was assigned Tom, he got me into cycling a while back so I knew I had a theme. I'd been itching to do a diorama after watching PLASMO on YouTube. Here's how it turned out:

Completed from the front
The plan for the diorama

The idea was some bike model in a cycling kit out on a training ride. At this point I was planning on using the Space Marine on bike.

Eldar jetbike

I immediately scrapped the Space Marine idea because the Eldar bikes are beautiful. I took two bits of Styrofoam and glued them together. Then used the bike to mark out where the features would be and what foam I'd remove.

Hot wire applied to foam

Using a hot wire cutter I removed lots of foam. I tried to neaten the edged and failed horribly. This low density foam is a real pain to work with.

A few steps

This step is actually a few steps. I used balsa wood sheets to create a frame for the foam. That was a pain because the foam isn't really square. That's glued on with PVA. Then using a filler I add texture to the cliff face and sure up the gaps between the balsa and foam.

Then I made some rubble from left over foam just to break up the ground a little. At this point I decided the pipe with water drips might be a bit too much.

The most fiddly part was making the vehicle retention system (barrier) from balsa wood and some really thin plastic from a model railway shop. I'm really pleased with how these turned out.

The last step here is to put the flying base rod in the foam and dry fit the bike on top.

More texture!

Step 4 is more texture using sand and gravel. Very simple.

Time for paint

Now block in the colours. Brown dirt, ochre rocks, grey cliffs and black road. Then apply a brown was over almost everything.


Using some scale asphalt on the road in a similar way to sand and rocks. Painting the road markings really made it pop.

Adding some turf to the ground really starts to bring it to life, make sure that it's not entirely uniform.

The green plant on the cliff teases future steps.


Now it's time to go daft with plants. Use little tufts of static grass, the fake lichen from model railways, some dead tree looking things, and a huge beautiful premade tree.

Time for a bike

I had decided that I wanted to go for an EF Cycling rider which means a black bike with a little blended pink/purple. I could achieve the effect so went for a more Eldar pattern but still inspired by the bike.

The rider complete

The rider was much easier. Mostly pink on the jersey with an asymmetrical purple sploosh. The legs are based on the winter kit of leggings. EF helmets are pink which is easy, then I mirrored the white of gloves and shoes in the face plate.

Finally you attach the rider to the bike with some PVA and place it on the flying base.

I'm very pleased with the result here but I learnt quite a few things which I'm putting into practice on a diorama for the IS-2.

  • Take more care making the frame square.
  • Use filler and sand down the frame to give a much smoother and less visually noisy texture on the frame.
  • Use Sculptamold on top of the foam to create a hard but more natural texture.
  • Use real model water. I used PVA over many many layers and that dried distinctly cloudy. Don't be lazy, get a proper product to do water. Luckily the puddle is only a small portion of the diorama.

I hope this can help someone who want's to try their hand at making a diorama. I'll share more of the next one.

Show Comments