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British Valentine Diorama wins award SCMA model competition

Updated: May 19, 2022

Yes, I won my first modeling award! Still so happy about it.

Goal: Capturing a vignette of my Grandad whilst fighting in the desert.

Gabes Gap diorama of the Dragons infantry tank bursting through the barbed wire followed by the 7th Green Howards senior infantry of the 50th Northumbrian Division (Grandad)

This is what I did for my first tank diorama

The kit I started with was a used British Valentine Mk.III Infantry Tank Dragon 1:35

First I like clean flashing and spru marks using my hobby's knife and files. There were some gaps that were filled using Green Stuff to fill some of the gaps. At this stage I wanted to add some battle damage which I achieved using my knife to cut some "nicks" into the armor and slowly heating up parts with a candle to add dents. BE careful to not over do it and burn your model. Take the model on and off the candle, testing each time. Rather than the risk of overheating and melting.

Man old kits not stored in climate-controlled environments can become brittle, it was such a battle to assemble this kit. Much to my disappointment of using a used kit, there were some pieces missing - the headlights! The solution was really beating up and weathering the front of the tank to show evidence that they were taken out throughout battle.

Prepping for painting

I cleaned the parts, blew them over with an air compressor. I have dogs so it's inevitable to get one or two dog hairs on everything. The turret was super glued onto a cup and the bottom of the tank to another cup. This worked out amazing having this cup as a handle to maneuver the model around and paint all the areas. Later the model broke free easily from the cup, no damage. The glue I used was Gorilla super glue.

Then to paint, after watching several airbrush tutorials. I decided to try the panel painting technique of priming your model black then highlighting areas in white followed by several thin coats of the base color. Have to say at first I thought it was alot of effort, but being new to airbrushing I wanted to practice many techniques.

Ok weathering. First time doing hardcore weathering and wish I did things differently. (which I did for my oil barrel later on) I did the best I could with a sponge dabbing it into dark brown and highlighting edges, followed by some dry brushing adding dust. To protect the paint job the model was sealed by spraying 2 coats of Rust-Oleum matt gloss. Now for Tamiya Panel wash. Again first time using it, it's amazing how it flows into all the recessed parts and collects around rivets making them pop. Upon reflection, I went too heavy with my new love of panel wash and didn't clean enough up with enamel thinner.

I like to research what I am building so that I can appreciate the details and its heritage. It's like painting a picture of someone and seeing all the details, getting to know them more stroke by stroke. Also buying a book is a great source of images, technical know-how from a validated source, and a great excuse to collect. Always refer to images, start and end with good reference images! Adding to this is the best youtube channels is.....

Valentine tank paint job complete!

Tracks suck!

Especially from this old brittle kit. The tracks come in individual links that you have to painstakingly have to glue together without them coming apart once you wrap them around the wheels. Later I realize that you can buy rubber and metal tracks separately that work much better. The tamiya kit (which is much nicer in detail and fitting) already has the rubber tracks included. I followed this tutorial as best I could to weather the tracks Nightshift modeling channel by Martin Kovac. This is an amazing channel, he is such a talented armor modeler. I have watched many of his videos.

Once the tracks were attached. Its time to move on to the figure! My first 1:35 figure but I used to paint/play Warhammer way back in the day in the 1990's. So I applied what I knew as a kid combined with many youtube videos that didn't exist back then. NightShift has another great tutorial that attracted me due to his results and the way he was able to achieve his skin tones by using only 3 paints. The surprise of the episode is using blue paint for morning shade stubble, which has results that will speak for itself. There are plenty of other videos online with even more advanced techniques but this is the one I chose to follow nd start my figure painting journey.

Figure Painting! Miniature Noob In Action

The results of my first figure. I am as we say "pretty chuffed" with the results. It takes a lot of thin layers gradually painting smaller layers with lighter colors. I painted the whole figure just to practice knowing that most of him will be covered in the tank.

Placing the commander in the tank was a bear. I ended up placing a small ruler inside the take opening. Placed the figure to the height that I wanted, made sure his hands interacted, and held the tank, to create a more realistic look. Then I would hold the figure against the ruler and pull them both out held together. Using the ruler I was able to measure the height of the gap between the commander's feet and the bottom of the tank. You can use anything you would like to fill the gap as a spacer. Just remember to put it into the tank before you attach the turret! In my case, I constructed a cardboard box and added hot glue to it. Finishing by attaching the turret then placing the figure onto the glue spot.

WW2 Dessert Diorama time!

Moving onto the base, I found a bunch of diorama photos and historical photos to use as references to create my own scene. Images showed how the anti-tank ditches were excavated by machines and men, and how the dessert was not just sand it was really rocky, with subtle colors changes.

A great video to reference is from Youtube Hiking Tunisia ww2 Mareth line by Scafidi Travels

I wanted the tank to be viewed at an angle as if navigating through the rough terrain of the Gabes Gap anti-tank ditch. Using the tank as a reference I placed it on the foam and started to draw in the features to understand the overall size. The base was then cut from 3 layers of 1" insolation foam from lowes.

I then drew on the scenic landscape on the top and sides with a marker. Once happy I used my retractable knife to cut away the layers. You can be rough about this because you are about to slap on some SCULPTAMLD. I kept placing the tank on the foam to make sure it sat seated on the base. I don't like how some dioramas the tank looks like it is floating and not a part of the scene. Sticking the insulation foam together I used a broken toothpick and tacky glue to stick the layers together and let it dry for a few hours.

Creating dessert diorama texture

Now on to the messy fun part mixing up come SCULTAMLD and applying it with a lollipop stick. I used the stick to the sculpt in the antitank ditch walls. Tank tranks were created by pressing the tank firmly into the moist SCULTAMLD. At this stage, I also pressed in some larger boulders (stones from my yard). Once happy I simply let it dry for a few hours in the sun. After drying you can scrape or file more features into it, it's great stuff.

Now it's time to add your sand and stones. I painted it generously with Modge Podge. Sprinkled fine sand from Hobby lobby and some landscape gravel. Then spray your base with my own mixed of 1 part matt Modge Podge 3 parts water 3 parts dish soap.

I didn't cover the tracks so that they wouldn't be lost under texturizing but highlighted with paints and washes.

Before painting spackle was applied to the side of the diorama and sanded smooth.

Now it's dessert diorama painting time. I covered the whole thing in cheap craft paint using an old big brush I mixed my own medium to dark brown. Go darker than lighter so that you can see easily if you missed any spots. This takes a while to cover the whole thing, be sure to look at it from different angles, to ensure you don't have any white spots after you have done all the other weatherings steps.

To highlight I sprayed a light coat of paint using my airbrush. I also placed the tank of the diorama and hit it with some of the spray also. That way it has the same dust effects and color as the base.

The scenic gravel stone was individually painted slightly differently since they would naturally be different colors. I started with a mixture and painted random gravel stones. Modifying the mixture as I painted the random stones. This step takes time but is super relaxing and rewarding to see how natural it looks. Large stones were dry brushed with the same spay color to represent the dust of the desert.

Touched up with some cheap art black paint she was done....

But I wasn't done there.

I couldn't put my finger on it. What did it need? I had the SCMA model show in less than a week and really wanted to win. I am competitive but winning an award meant that I was a recognized talent in the critical eyes of judges. Modeling is intimating with the amount of detail one can add to create realism. It's truly endless. Scale modelers never say they are finished because you can always add more!

So I reached out for help via one of my favorite modeling facebook groups WW2 Diorama Art who gave me feedback that I really wanted. How else are you going to learn?

  • Add barbwire to show the tank clearing the way

  • Add war debris in the ditch (oil drum)

  • Add foliage as the dessert wasn't all rock and sand

  • Add infantry following behind - my goal from the start

  • My tank wash was a little heavy

I was taken aback by the engagement, positivity, and feedback that I got from asking for help and constructive criticism. This fired me up to make these changes but time was running out before the show.

Hand made barbwire

After searching online I couldn't find the solution I was looking for so I decided to make my own! . Following this Easy Realistic Scale Barbwire video

The challenge was finding the gauge of wire and spacing of the barbs to match the 1:35 scale. I cut up a few old cables to test two gauges and spacing. I found the spacing perfect using wire strippers instead of players and using a small gauge wire. Before cutting the loops I bent them into different angles to bring some irregularity. To get the right height in the barbwire fence, I wrapped it around a chapstick and compressed it so it would hold its new form. Otherwise it expanded way beyond the height I wanted.

Make more than you think! It's like buying bags of gravel you think you have enough but it doesn't go far.

For the finishing touch, I added a fence post (stick from my yard) drilled a hole near a large rock and filled it with PVA.

Desert Grass Dirorama

After studying some photos, the foliage of the desert where shrubs that have been blasted by wind and often found between rocks for protection. Lichen was a perfect substrate to represent these twisted, noted, and prickly shrubs. Tiny clumps of lichen were torn off into little bush shapes with a stem. I used pva to stick them to the base between rocks.

Oil Drum north Africa style

I was very excited to use my new Vallejo rust, strain and streaking set I got for Christmas. It came with a manual which was very useful. The drum is from a Tamiya Allied vehicles accessory set. That I then heated up with a candle and started to dent the drum. I wanted it to look like it was beaten and knocked over, becoming crushed on the rock below. I primed the model by brushing on German black brown , followed by a light spraying of white to highlight the more exposed areas. I didn't want the oil drum to be "lost" in the diorama base or too eye-catching but to complement the base and tanlk. So I sprayed several thin layers of my own mixture of Khaki drab and Green Ochre. Using the kits steps, I used a sponge and tweeasers to apply the dark to light color chipping. Dust effects were added by using art pastels and fixing it with hair spray.

The Final Result!

I am blown away by the final result. Seeing so many amazing dioramas online, the quality and the craftsmanship is intimidating. But I broke this project down into steps not letting this overwhelm me and keeping my end goal in mind.

It's been an amazing journey, studying a bunch of youtube tutorials, searching for reference images and reading many books. It's defenatly a step up from my Airfix days when I was 11.


I was very nervous placing my model in between other people's amazing creations, doubting that I had a chance. I had to quickly write down the description and note the things I had done. Looking at others, who have done this before had printouts and images sharing all the extra details that might be overlooked.

It was so rewarding seeing other people take pictures and talk about my creation. But the judges made me nervous getting up close with their magnifying glasses and flashlights.

I am trying to not get my hopes but I just badly want an award to feel recognized for my skills and efforts. As the awards went out my hopes diminished until they called my name! I WON an award! I couldn't stop smiling, over the moon. It was all worth it! The late nights, lots of patients, and standing by the quality I wanted to achieve.

Keep in touch and follow our family history project on our facebook group

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