Scratchbuilt 1/72 Desert Village Diorama

Here’s how I put together the ground work for my ISM GB desert village diorama. It’s mostly made from pink insulation foam, polyfilla and sand so is really cheap to make. I wanted to be able to use it for both modern and WW2 vehicles after the GB so it’s in a generic north african / middle east style with inspiration taken from a number of sources.


  • Insulation foam.
    You want extruded polystyrene not expanded. Either pink or the slightly denser blue foam will do. I buy mine from local building merchants and online. I started with a 6cm thick block of pink foam and carved most of the base from that.
  • Polyfilla.
    Ready mixed polyfilla in a tub. I water it down in the tub and apply it with a 1 inch throwaway household paint brush. Keep an eye out for stray brush bristles.
  • Sand.
    Budgy sand from my local pet store. It’s finer than regular play sand and has the odd bit of broken seashell in it. You can easily sieve those out if you don’t want them.
  • Gravel, flocks n foliage.
    I have built up quite an extensive stock of gravels and flocks, most are decanted into sealable tubs. For this dio, I used cat litter, tiny gravel pieces and sand. The foliage is a mix of offcuts of defoliated sea foam trees and static grass clumps. I sprayed the clumps using the same paint as the ground work to blend them in.

The Build

I started out with a block of 6cm insulation foam, and tried various layouts of the main components before setting on this slighly oblique view of the base. As the scratchbuild buildings are just fronts, the viewing angles for this diorama are limited.

Once I was happy with the positioning, I marked the locations of the buildings and carved out some rough rocks using a sharp craft knife. Using a dull blade will rip the foam (handy sometimes, but here I need it crisp). Rocks such as this are common in many of the north Africa photo’s so there’s plenty of reference material.

I continued to refine the rocks and road surface with the knife and finally gave the whole piece a going over with a rough piece of stone pressed into the foam. Keep altering which part of the stone is being used to imprint the texture, duplicate impressions stand out a mile.

Time to put some colour on the ground. When I’m painting groundwork, I literally start from the ground up. Rocks first, a preshade undercoat of black. Note, this is straight onto the foam, no undercoat and no polyfilla. The foam picks up the rock textures without any additional help.

The rest of the groundwork was sprayed in a dark sand and modulated with a few patches of lighter and darker areas to break it up a little.

Time to attach the buildings. White glue and polyfilla is used to hide the joins.

Next I sprinkled various grades of sand and grit using it to hide the joins and add interest to corners.

As this is a desert village, there’s not much call for vegetation. I started with some sea foam offcuts and removed most of their foliage. Static grass clumps sprayed to match the ground work were then pushed into corners.

I let it thoroughly dry. Now i used acrylic washes to add tonal variation to the rocks and sand. A dark wash over the rocks really brought out the detail nicely.

Finally, weathering pigments were brushed around to simulate dirt built up and again to give a little tonal variation.

I also extended the washes and pigments to the building to help tie them into the scene.

Now all that was left was to paint up some figures for the GB and take a few photographs.

Works for modern vehicles too 🙂

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6 thoughts on “Scratchbuilt 1/72 Desert Village Diorama

  1. I followed you from the terrain builders facebook site. I just read you shack and dessert village diorama items. I especially liked the use of a rock to make the foam for the dessert look appropriate. Simple but very effective. The shack I followed in part for the basing, but mostly for the thatch and was surprised at how simple that trick appears to be as well. I may actually try it. The detailing of various sand, grit and flocks to detail the base seems an art form I am just working on, but that you have mastered. Thank you for your well written easy to follow guide.

    1. Hi Mrs. Chato and thanks! 🙂

      I can’t remember where I picked up the technique for the thatch. I’ve tried a couple of other materials such as kitchen scourers too. This only really works for ‘rough’ thatch though. The neat and tidy ‘middle england’ thatch style would need another approach.

      I spend a lot of time outside (my other hobby is wild camping and bushcraft) and take lots of reference photos to get the look of my flocks right. It’s the only way to get a feel for what looks natural or not.

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