The base is the frame of miniatures.
It’s always thus, and as such the base sets the mood and enhances the miniatures and the narrative you want to show. The base is the narrator where the miniature is the character of the story.Backdrop
Keeping this in mind, I wanted the base and backdrop to communicate as strongly as possible the concept of an illustration. I needed the backdrop to convey that essence of illustration, that the models could not: the material and the loose-handed nature of scribbled shapes. You can get a long way towards that with crosshatching and shadows on the miniatures, but no matter what you do, you cannot make the miniatures have fuzzy and loose outlines.
This is where watercolours enter the process! I did several tests with harsh contrast and darker effects in the background, but what I really needed was an airy and unclear background that expressed both epic scales and the rough nature of illustration compared to the sharp edges and high level of detail on the miniatures.
Most of the background was painted using W&N watercolours to get the broad strokes in place. Schmincke Aero Colour inks were used with in a fine-tipped quill to draw the white highlights that would build coherence with the miniatures. The same inks were used to draw the crowds, banner-bearers, and more walking libraries, in the background. This was done to build even more coherence, so that the backdrop and the miniatures would not be two different entities. I chose the kind of paper with a line texture in it to bring associations to the rough paper they used in early printing, and for the lines in the paper to echo the letters printed in books.
I kept the torn upper edge of the paper to create more of a sketching pad feel to underline the immediate nature of the watercolours, and to create a more interesting silhouette of the diorama.
The base of the diorama was built up in stones to make an even clearer transition between the paper illustration and miniatures. Several different ideas were planned ranging from mosaic, herringbone pavement to dirt, grass and smaller pieces of terrain to echo the pillars in the background.In the end, I settled for just simple tiles, as they would be the material that would best translate from paper to sculpture.
I used Juweela bricks to form the larger sections, and after testing some different putties and mediums, settled for Aves Apoxie Sculpt for the stones that needed to fade into the paper. Apoxie Sculpt can be thinned quite well with water and that makes it far easier to make stones that gradually grow into the paper texture.
The stones were painted with some different whites and darker washes, and stippling to get a realistic effect. Stones were then scribbled onto the naked paper, using inks in quill, and the same effect were applied to some of the sculpted stones to better fade the two together. This creates a seamless transition the same way you would do when feathering two colours together.
The plinth was kept very simple. It was painted black using charcoal and some texture paint to break up the surface a bit, and remove the perfect shapes that would otherwise draw attention. The paper is supported using a piece of heat-formed 2mm plastic, purely for the integral strength.
Thoughts for another time
Given more time, there are a few things I would have done differently. Most importantly the angle between the backdrop and the base should have been different. The current one is about 80 degrees, where as it should have been more like 60. That would have created more of a staircase effect with the surface of the stones being level and leading up into the backdrop.
I would then have faded the stones into the background transforming the stepping effect into an illustration of the same pavement, that the crowds would then be standing on. The crowds would then be less obscured by the miniatures and the miniatures painted to match the background would be easier to see. This would also create a better sense of a mural including the whole diorama, instead of the backdrop/base feel it has now. This would also create an easier transition from base to backdrop, something that I feel is somewhat lacking now.