Friday, June 8, 2018

Rocky Desert Hills for Wargames Tutorial Part 2

Some intergalactic pilgrims wind their way through the finished hills.

In part 1 of this tutorial I documented the construction of my rocky hills. In part 2, I'll cover painting and detailing these arid lumps of weathered, igneous stone.


You can skip the dropper bottles of hobby colors for terrain painting. All of my paints and brushes came from the hardware/DIY store. I took a few samples of hobby colors painted on cardstock and asked them for paint samples to match.  I used:

  • Red/brown paint sample
  • Light brown/mocha paint sample
  • Bleached bone paint sample
  • Olive drab/gray spray paint
  • Dark gray spray paint
  • 2 inch wide paint brush (don't sweat this, just use something decent sized)
  • Grass tufts
  • PVA/white glue

Base Coat

A lot of terrain tutorials I've read over the years suggest a fairly basic drybrush scheme. For hills like this they might suggest a base of dark brown, followed by a drybrush of medium brown, then sand beige and finally a light drybrush of off white.

I found that including a wider palette of colors created a more realistic and natural color tone in my terrain pieces. Even though I intend these hills to be fairly light sand colored, I use a a number of darker colors in the undercoat that peek through the drybrushing hinting at deeper geologic structures, weathering and history.

To that end, I started with a thick base coat of red/brown paint. I used a stiff brush and worked into the deep cracks of the hills, to cover all of the material and help fix and loose pieces of sand.

After the undercoat was dry, I sprayed olive drab/gray sporadically across the hills, trying to hit areas that seemed particularly stone like and to cover bits that escaped the base coat.

I then used the dark gray spray to hit deep crevices or large chunks of stone. I was very conservative with the dark spray, only hitting about 10% of each hill.

Can you make out the dark gray splotches on the right side of the hill?

The mix of red, olive green and dark gray provides the variety of tones I wanted to peek through and contrast the light sand drybrushing to come.


Satisfied with the undercoat, I started drybrushing heavily with the mocha brown paint sample. I used a wide, stiff house paint brush and was pretty brutal to the terrain pieces at this point. If I happened to scrub off some sand at this point, all the better. I'd rather do paint touch ups on missing texture now than after bits got knocked off during play.

I drybrushed most heavily on the horizontal surfaces that would be bleached by the sun. Vertical surfaces received a lighter drybrush, allowing more of the gray and rust red to show through.

Next I mixed some of the bleached bone with the mocha and drybrushed again.

A final light drybrush of pure bone white to hit the edges of the stone work and it was done!


To add a hint of life to the hills I snuck in some withered desert grass tufts. I tried to find hidden crevices that might collect the scant water that falls on these arid hills and affixed the tufts with white/PVA glue.

Tweezers are pretty helpful here.


And that's it! This process took a while as I collected material and experimented with techniques, but overall these weren't very difficult to construct. I knocked together a few pieces of scatter terrain using the same steps and tie everything together. Looking forward to putting them into a game soon!


  1. Great post, very helpful. Now just have to get my arse in gear.

  2. Great stuff John! I want to see all these brilliant terrain pieces at a convention one day ☺

    1. I was just encouraging John to do this when we gamed together last weekend. Hopefully he'll put on a game at one of the HMGS shows in the future.

  3. Fabulous tutorial with outstanding results, thank you.

  4. This is so much awesome! Thanks for the tutorial.

  5. Fabulous. Really effective and an easy to follow tutorial. Ta!

  6. Came out looking great! I agree that things look better when you add in some more colors.
    Dry brushing is one of those techniques that really pays off with terrain making.

    Enjoy your awesome rocky rugged hills. 😀

  7. They look great - thanks for the tutorial. With this and your terrain boards I shall be busy for quite some time...

  8. Those are really nice looking! Well done