Papermodeling Principles

Until I met g0rb on CMoN, I had never heard of papermodeling. Chris Venter, as he is known outside the hobby community, is a regular visitor to the Work In Progress forum on Cool Mini, where he astounds us with his amazing vehicles built from cut paper and other found materials. I have been very impressed by his attention to detail, creativity, and commitment to improvement. Chris is definitely an artist to watch as he continues to evolve and develop as a modeller and sculptor.  I asked him to share some reflections on his papermodelling.  As you’ll see, his approach to papercraft bears on other aspects of the miniature hobby, and on the creative process itself.


Papercuts – or, How I Get from Cereal Box to War Machine

Over the last year or so I’ve fallen in love with scratchbuilding models. My weapon of choice is paper.

A detailed Warhammer 40k Landraider made from paper.

Land Raider, 2018


Paper modelling, a form of scratchbuilding, is as old as the hills. Styrene is the new kid on the block.

And in scratchbuilding, the same principles apply, no matter what the material. I think my M.O. is not so different from many scratchbuilders out there. However much of it is intuitive. This article is a bit of introspection on my part, about how I approach this hobby, and less about the technical details of cutting and gluing paper.

First, join a forum

“Hang on there g0rby, you aren’t going to tell me how to build a model?!?”

“Then how do I even get started?!?”
Great question. The answer deserves article on its own.

In lieu of that, my first tip would be to join a forum. or are both well-known forums. Here is a Beginner’s Toolbox post on Papermodelers, with a list of equipment that will be helpful when starting. There are other tips & techniques sections too.

Papermodelers also has a large selection of downloadable free models (if I recall correctly, you have to be a registered user to download the ones hosted directly on the site). Here is an entire thread dedicated to WH40k models. Everything from Space Marine, to Ork, to T’au. The majority of these are good quality and easy enough to build.

Get some inspiration

In my experience papermodelling is a much less organised arena than, say, minitiaure painting. As there are no large companies involved, with no money to be made or spent, there is not a lot of advertising. Therefore, no major organised competitions.
And the few true “masters” around don’t get the attention they deserve.

But they are there when you look for them:

Once you’ve got some inspiration, and you’ve built a model or two, you can start thinking about how to change that model into something unique, something that is yours.

Think in terms of layers

Like building a house, start with a sturdy foundation. Then add strong supporting shapes, and finally the finer, more fragile details.

For me, this means using thicker chipboard for the main shapes of the model. Think boxes and tubes. Then add parts cut from thinner chipboard or (as I like to do) cereal boxes to refine the shapes. Finally add the details using index card. I do sometimes use regular printer paper too, but I keep this to a minimum because I want others (even my kids) to be able to pick up the models without fear of breaking them…

The hull of a 40k Fire Raptor cut from paper.

The layered hull of the Fire Raptor

Don’t stop at paper

Yes, there are purists who believe it is a sin to add anything but virgin paper to a papermodel. And it can be liberating to impose an artificial constraint on a creative project to produce some lateral thinking.

Paper Viper model made without extra materials.

My “purist” Viper build. This relies on the printed texture to create detail.

But building something out of paper is already hard enough, so I make it easier by using whatever I can find. A short list of my favourite non-paper “cheating” materials:

  1. toothpicks
  2. skewers
  3. drinking straws
  4. cotton swabs
  5. decorative beads
  6. electrical wire

Notice that these have a circular/tubular shape. These are of course the hardest to pull off with paper…


A hinged hatch made using electrical wire, with the tip of a pen cap to add some interest

The trick here is to see past the material you are using, and focus on the shapes you are producing. All the recognisable bits that look so out of place now will disappear and become a textured canvas for your paint, once it is covered with primer.


An engine exhaust, showing the use of layering, electrical wire and craft beads for detail

Another cheat I like to use is to model intricate shapes out of greenstuff or apoxie sculpt. And If I need more than one copy I’ll whip up a mold and use either sculpey (for press molds) or resin (for two part molds).

Greenstuff is used to complete a miniature light fixture.

A headlight made from an LED, some thin wire and greenstuff. This was made into a simple push-mold in order to make multiple copies

Another example: I wanted detailed individual tracks on my Land Raider build, but the thought of cutting out over three hundred teeny tiny paper shapes, over and over, and gluing them together gave me a headache. So I built 8 of them instead, stuck them to a piece of board and made a mold out of this master model. Then I cast as many copies as I needed using casting stone.


Casting copies of the paper track master in casting stone

Tracks (2)

Assembling the tracks on the Land Raider

I learned a lot in this process, plus they came out looking pretty neat.

Personalize YOUR model

This is scratchbuilding after all. Don’t be afraid to modify a part or even completely redesign it. For intricate paper shapes, I’ll use a 3D software like openSCAD to design the part, and then unfold it into a paper template with Pepakura. This takes a lot of trial and error, but the result can be pretty satisfying.

VTOL fan

Assembled VTOL fan next to it’s unfolded paper template

Swivelling Fan

A finished swivelling fan, mounted on the wingtip

On the same topic: don’t be afraid to take your work in a different direction, especially when building a pre-existing model. While I respect the incredibly talented people that build the millionth studio accurate version of the 5-foot New Hope Falcon, that kind of slavish copying is not for me.

Fire Raptor Hull

I thought the original Fire Raptor’s top hull could do with more than just two fat pipes sticking out of it

Another example: the template from which I built the Land Raider had lascannons, and I wanted more chunky looking weaponry, so I chose to design and scratchbuild a pair of twin-linked multi-meltas instead.

Scratchbuild multi-meltas on the Landraider

Scratchbuilt meltas on the Land Raider, with skull icons I made out of Sculpey

An example where the template I am building from is a bit lack-lustre in execution: the engine intakes are a bit bland. So I built my own using references.

Engine Intake.png

Scratchbuilt engine intake on the Fire Raptor, next to the simple one from the template

As with miniature painting, it is sometimes hard to know when to stop and call it done. But as long as it is enjoyable, I don’t see the problem with redesigning that mult-melta for the third time…

Research, research, research

As those who know will tell you, if you want to know how to paint realistic rust, go and find pictures of actual rust. Many of those pictures. And refer back to them constantly!

I have over a hundred reference images of Fire Raptors in various stages of construction and painting which I scraped from places like Pinterest and Google Images. These include shots from the construction manual that a kind soul posted online. They help me visualise what a particular part of the model has to look like before I even start cutting out the individual paper parts, let alone folding and glueing them together.

During construction, every now and then I will take a photo of my work in progress, and compare it to a reference photo by overlaying them in software. This gives me immediate feedback of overall proportions, especially in a complicated multi-part build.

Don’t be afraid to experiment

This is just paper, after all. If the part doesn’t work out, bunch it up in a ball, and throw it in the bin. You can even burn it, if it spins your windmill.

I scratchbuilt an interior for my Raptor. I didn’t know if it would turn out ok. If it turned out bad I could always just glue the hatches shut. No-one would ever know 🙂


Scratchbuilt interior. I don’t think I’ll be gluing this shut

I hope this sheds some light on my approach to model building. If you have any questions, please post them below. I’d be more than happy to hear from you!




Of course I asked Chris for some personal background, too.  Here’s what he said.

My family is filled with creative types. My mother was technically adept and creatively expressive in anything she tried her hand at. She taught me to teach myself. A true Jack (Jill?) of all trades, she could do anything from leather working to computer programming.

On my dad’s side, my grandfather had a knack for scratchbuilding. He built a wooden scale replica of the Drommedaris (the ship with which Jan van Riebeeck sailed from Holland to the Cape of Good Hope in 1652) using only a pocketknife. My grandmother made the sails. He passed away when I was only a year old, and I remember as a kid looking at this ship, thinking about the skilled man who built this detailed model out of almost nothing.


The Drommedaris, built by my grandfather with a pocket knife

So it is no wonder I have this scratchbuilding itch.

As a kid I read almost every sci-fi book I could find. There were lots of trips to the library. Influences include Isaac Asimov, Anne McCaffrey and later Greg Bear and Iain M. Banks. Of course, TV shows like Robotech and Star Trek were a favourite, including more obscure ones like X Bomber and Interster. Although I watched Star Wars much later than anyone else I knew, I was hooked immediately.

While in school I started doing pottery, which I basically used as an excuse to make anything but pots. I loved working with clay. I still can’t believe the teacher there let me build the stuff I did. My best guess is that she just realised that I had my own path to tread.

Wherever I went I had a sketchpad with me, and I would draw incessantly, trying to recreate the wonderful ships and characters from the books & shows I enjoyed. I never really picked up scale model building, finding it very limiting. Instead, Lego filled the model building void

I’m trying to pass this on, literally and figuratively: my kids are now playing with the same bag of Lego pieces that I grew up with. The misconception in creative arts is, in my opinion, that you are either born with it or not. I think there is both nature and nurture involved, it is just the relative amounts of each that is different amongst individual artists. I hope to give my kids the gift of crafting.

2 thoughts on “Papermodeling Principles”

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