Spend any time around ToadChapel and you know I’m plum crazy about the fungus. I like the way mushrooms look and I like learning about them, so I photograph them, I draw them, and I use them extensively in my miniature projects. I’ve developed techniques for creating a variety of mushroom shapes suitable for 28mm, 54mm, or larger scale mini scenes, and I’m happy to share my approach with you. Depending upon how you paint these, you could produce many actual mushroom species and an unlimited number of fictional fungi.
These mushrooms are sturdy and small enough to use on gaming bases, especially if you place them intelligently, but they’re delicate enough to add a lot of dazzling detail to display pieces. Read on to learn how to work some minuscule mushrooms into your next modeling project.
It all starts with…
Green Stuff. Kneadatite. The tacky, sometimes infuriating two-part epoxy putty that we all know and love. I recommend buying it from a source other than Games Workshop, as their product is many times more expensive than identical putty marketed to a less specific audience.
I always cut out the section of putty where the two halves meet. Sometimes it starts to cure in there and leaves hard little gribblies. You need only a very little for mushroom making. You will get bored of the process or the putty will dry before you exhaust the amount you prepare!
My first and perhaps best tip for the creation of GS mushrooms is to create stems & caps separately and assemble them once the putty is hard. They’re not fragile and will break off long before they simply break. Producing the pieces separately is way more efficient and allows for greater morphological detail.
To create our mushrooms we’ll start by making some stems. Easiest thing ever. Roll out some snakes with your putty, thin as you can get them. Allow/create curves of various intensity, allow alternation of fatter & thinner portions, and when you think you’re done, make it thinner. You’ll want curves to give your mushrooms character or nestle better into a piece of scenery or terrain. And the sections where the diameter of the snake changes can be used to create slightly bulbous stems. The amount I have made above will last a long time!
Now for the caps. This is where the personality of the fungi comes out. Let’s start by making some some basic button-shapes caps.
You need a small amount of putty. Like, an insanely small amount. This is about as big as you want. Remember that you’re not sculpting anything complicated, so don’t be scared of how tiny these things are. You’ll get the hang of it and you’ll be shrinking them down to nano-scale before you know it.
Then just sort of mush it onto the head of a toothpick. I usually fluff & straighten the margins with my fingernail, but you can also leave them more wapperjawed. Sometimes mushrooms are like that. If you want some slightly wider caps, trim off the very end of the toothpick with your hobby knife on it makes a broader, but not deeper depression.
Then just make a bunch. It’s really nice to make more than you think you’ll use so that you have plenty to choose from, and more for later. It’s all about economy of labor. Ok, let’s make some different kinds!
It’s super easy to make some nice broad caps. Just take a tiny blob and smooth it onto something super smooth, maybe something metal or ceramic. I don’t use oil or anything to help them come free, because I would want to wash that off before painting and think that scrubbing them would be almost impossible. When the caps are cured, slow easy pressure with a fingernail will pop them off without damaging them. Make a backstop with your hand as you do this or a few might go zipping off across the room on you!
Morels are a fun and easily identifiable species to sculpt. They grow around Pittsburgh, where I live, and I like to hunt for them in the Spring. I start sculpting them by wrapping Green Stuff around a tiny wire. With this I can get a more elongated shape than the toothpick. It still gives enough support for the next step.
Poke in some holes and shape the cap to your liking.
Morels display all sorts of weird shapes, so sort of let the putty guide you rather than forcing it into a particular shape. By the way, the mushrooms above were harvested by my friend Bruno, whose woodworking skills have helped my projects along for years!
Ok, so much for mushrooms with a distinct stem & cap. What about a couple of other species? Chanterelles are another choice edible mushroom that grow in my area. They don’t have distinct caps, but rather stems that widen into irregular, often cup-shaped tops.
To make my chanterelles (or black trumpets) as small as possible, I start by sharpening a toothpick. You can see the difference between a modified and a stock toothpick. While it’s a tiny change, it makes a significant difference at the scale required.
Roll a little oblong flop of putty onto the sharpened toothpick. You need it pretty far down onto the point, so you may have to wrestle it for a bit to get it centered.
Next, roll, twist, and smush the putty into a chanterelle. It’s basically a lumpy little funnel. I use the back side of a hobby knife to tighten up edges. Create a thinning tail off the end of the toothpick. Most of this will be cut off once the Green Stuff is set.
You can cut grooves along the side if you like, but I do not think it does anything for the final product.
That’s chanterelles, but what about turkeytails, one of my very favorite mushrooms to find, photograph, and draw?
Well… just smoosh some interesting, mostly flat shapes around, then deposit them edge-on onto a smooth surface to harden. These are easy, especially if you look at some real life references in your local forest or park. The challenge is simply in getting your fingers to manipulate such incredibly small bits of sticky putty. I dip my fingertips in water to help the situation.
Boom, that’s it, now you have a bunch of tiny mushroom parts drying on toothpicks and stuff. Let them harden.
Once cured, it’s time to assemble them for painting. Stem sections are cut with a hobby knife and glued to something slender and disposable that will sit flat. I just use some scrap wood.
The trick is gluing it securely without making a mess. I squirt a blob of superglue onto a coin, then dip the very tip of the stems into the superglue. I grasp them using silicone tweezers. They’re completely essential tools! You’ll need a steady hand to keep the stems still while the glue sets, or you could brush a bit of accelerator onto the stick.
Once the stems are in place, start putting caps onto them. I use a toothpick to apply superglue to the tips of the stalks, then balance the caps on top. The button type mushrooms are nice, because the hole created by the toothpick helps to seat the stem. The flat caps you need to check from several angles to make sure they’re centered and oriented properly. Pull the wires out of the morels, and good luck. If they get too squirrelly, you can trim the bottom of the cap flat to create a better surface to glue onto. Trim the chanterelles to offer a tiny flat bottom surface for gluing. The turkeytails are easy: they have a built in flat edge for securing to the painting stick and their final location.
Ok, paint ‘em! You can use real mushrooms for inspiration or let your imagination run wild. The forms I’ve described above can accommodate a lot of species. You can use bright color and high contrast, as they’re small enough that they won’t attract too much attention. Alternatively, muted, natural colors can create inconspicuous beauties that will reward careful scrutiny.
Once painted, your mushrooms can be sliced off with a hobby knife. I always cushion them with a paper towel as I do so. You don’t want them shooting off and getting lost. And there you go, you’re ready to load up your next model scene with a bunch of tiny mushrooms.
All of these mushrooms (37!) were used in a base I’ve built for a little miniature project. If you want to see them in place and looking lovely, check out them out here!