Diorama Techniques

Written by gryphon adams
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Diorama Techniques
Handmade scene of four men carrying a wrapped corpse on a stretcher (miniaturen image by Karsten Fischbach from Fotolia.com)

Creating a diorama puts a world on display. From school projects to museum exhibits, building realistic settings, scenery, figures and details bring the diorama's world to life. Learning techniques for constructing a diorama provides the keys to the projects success. Diorama artists incorporate lifelike materials, human and animal figures, replicas of plants, furniture and all the props needed to make a scene believable in the same way that theatre or film technicians build a set.

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Paper Mache Diorama

Paper mache provides an inexpensive and versatile way to create a diorama. In projects ranging from a child's first shoebox diorama to a detailed diorama in a museum, paper mache offers a flexible material for creating landscapes, objects and figures. For diorama use, you can make a thinner paper mache mixture to allow for more detail. Rather than the usual one-cup water to one-cup flour, use one and one-quarter cup water to one-cup flour.

For a large diorama, you can use chicken wire to form the shape of the terrain. With this method, the paper mache dries faster. Use wire cutters to cut the chicken wire to the desired size and shape it with your hands. Wear gloves to prevent cuts, and turn the cut edges under. You can use a staple gun to attach the chicken wire to a board. Build the texture of the land by adding strips of newspaper or paper towel dipped in paper mache mixture over the chicken wire structure.

Natural Materials Diorama

The use of items from nature adds a realistic element to the diorama. Add sticks for logs. Dry small ends of tree branches and clip them to the right size for shrubs and trees. Glue in rocks and sand for believable terrain. Construct a diorama from items you find in your yard or out in nature, or combine natural materials with other techniques. The Natural State website at knowitall.org suggests incorporating dried insects and plant material, using tinted acrylic paste for the ground and adding cotton wool for clouds to a painted sky.

Pebbles from a creek can be used for a fire ring in a diorama, bark from sticks works as tree bark, dried mosses add colour and texture to the landscape, dried grasses cut short and glued down make a meadow, clay applied over paper mache makes hills and adobe buildings look natural.

Miniatures Diorama

The availability of miniatures for fantasy games, party favours, dollhouses, toys and collectors provides a treasure for diorama artists. If the diorama is for a school project or completion, check the rules before adding any items that come ready made. For those creating dioramas without these restrictions, such as for creative expression or teaching purposes, the use of miniatures offers added realistic detail. You can obtain miniature pottery, baskets, tools, furniture, people, animals, insects, vehicles, tools and various kinds of hardware to enhance the diorama, such as pulleys and rope to create moving parts.

Depending on the diorama's scale, you may be able to incorporate jewellery items such as charms, chain and beads. Beads come in many materials, sizes and shapes, including fruit, scarabs, religious symbols, semi-precious stones and more. Toys, such as military accessories, fashion doll accessories, posing dolls, action figures and animals may fit your diorama.

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