Make Simple Ponds or Miniature Water Features
A simple dollhouse pond can be set into a landscaped garden or used for a stand-alone vignette. Realistic water models in dollhouse scale or other scales are not difficult to make, and this tutorial will provide some easy tips.
The pond in this article was built using E-Z Water from Woodland Scenics. E-Z water sets up much faster and is easier for beginners to work with than two-part epoxy resin or casting resin.
To make a miniature pond you will need a foam base, made either from dry floral arrangement foam (sold in blocks at florists and craft stores) or high-density insulation board or insulation foam from the DIY home store. The foam is used as a base.
You'll also need gesso or a thick acrylic paint medium to seal the foam surface and a range of acrylic paints to color the bottom of your pool and ground.
And finally, you'll need small stones and sand or fine gravel, as well as bits of artificial plants or other items to decorate your pond.
Start by setting up the base of your miniature pond in a small disposable aluminum pie pan. If you prefer a different shape you can either break up the cast when it is finished, or you can make a free-form shape from aluminum foil.
If you use aluminum foil, you'll want to have the "walls" of your enclosure at least 1 inch high to prevent the E-Z Water from escaping.
E-Z Water also comes in the form of small plastic pellets which must be melted and poured onto a heat resistant base. If you use pellets, melt them over a stove burner on medium heat. Use a dry, disposable container, as the pan cannot be cleaned after use (although it can be reused to melt more E-Z Water).
If you are going to use E-Z Water pellets, check that all the items which will come in contact with the E-Z water will withstand hot water.
Tips on Working With E-Z Water
There are some things you must avoid when working with E-Z Water.
First, check that everything you are pouring the melted plastic over will retain its shape. Second, make sure all your materials are sealed so that air bubbles will not escape into the E-Z Water. Wood and other materials with air pockets will create bubbles in the material which cannot be removed. Paint wood pieces and similar materials to seal them before encasing them in E-Z Water.
Third, pour the E-Z Water in a thin stream, so it has time to fill around larger rocks, allowing any air beneath them to escape.
For a better water effect, melt enough pellets to complete a 1/8 inch deep pour across all your materials each time you pour a new layer.
You can color E-Z Water with very small amounts of powdered dye. Never use E-Z Water with water or other liquids, as dangerous spattering may result.
Still or Rippled Surfaces
If you make sure your pour of melted E-Z water covers the entire mold container evenly, and your mold container is resting on a flat surface, your final pour will have the smooth surface of still water.
If you want to have ripples, there are two ways of achieving them. You can blow ripples across the surface of the E-Z Water by melting the surface carefully with a heat gun (a hair dryer will not get hot enough).
You can also create ripples using a craft knife. Cut a line where you want the ripple to be, then melt the line gently with a heat gun.
Removing the Cast
When you have finished your final pour of melted E-Z Water, allow the mold to rest until it is fully hardened. Your finished cast should slip easily out of the mold.
When you are planning your pond, you should give some thought to how deep you want it to appear. If you use light sand on the bottom the pool will appear quite shallow. If you don't set any sand onto the base of the mold, you can later use acrylic paint to create the effect of deeper water.
Do not use decorative materials as a base for casts of E-Z Water if you want to have deep rather than shallow water effects.
Make a Foam Base
This step applies to any type of model pool or pond, regardless of whether you pour, cast, or layer it.
Carefully trace around the base of a piece of foam, marking where you'll carve out a recess. Make sure your layers of foam are deep enough to carve out the base. If you have thin layers of foam, it is often easier to carve out successive layers, then glue the final shape together when you have trimmed out the centers to hold the miniature pond.
E-Z Water is fairly brittle when set, so if you prefer, you can break apart your molded water to make irregular sections for smaller ponds or puddles.
Carve out a Recessed Space in Foam
To carve recessed spaces into foam, use a polymer clay blade to outline the shape you want, then cut the shape into squares. Use the flexible polymer clay blade to remove these squares, then use a craft knife to trim the interior of your recess.
If you want an easier method, use florist's foam, which cuts very easily. You can use the flat end of the polymer clay knife to flatten the bottom of the recess. When working with dry floral foam, make sure you work somewhere that dust is not a problem
Test Fit Your Cast 'Water'
When you have carved out your foam base so that it will hold your chosen mold shape, test fit your mold into the recess.
You need your water section to fit slightly below or just at the surface of your 'ground.'
If you wish, glue foam sections to your foam base to create different heights for plantings or a more natural effect, or plan them and carve them out as you shape your base.
Coat Your Foam Terrain to Prepare to Landscape
Next, you will need to coat the foam so that you can paint and landscape it. The best materials for this are gesso available from art stores, or Rosco Foamcoat, which is available from theatrical and film scenery suppliers.
Plaster or unsanded grout will also work although they make a heavier, thicker surface. Gesso is the easiest to use and can be purchased in fairly small amounts for miniature projects. Rosco Foamcoat only comes in gallon sized or larger containers but is good if you have a large area you want to prepare.
Let your base coat dry thoroughly.
Coloring to Create the Effect of Deeper Water
If you want to avoid using poured resins or plastics for 'water' effects this is where you begin to build a layered pool with an acrylic sheet water surface. Cut your acrylic sheet so that it extends roughly 1/4 inch beyond the edges of your pool bed on all sides.
If you didn't add a gravel or sand base to your miniature pool, you can give it the effect of deeper water by painting the bottom of your pool or stream bed in several colors, using darker tones where you want the water effect to be deeper.
Paint the upper surface areas of your miniature landscape a basic soil color to match the landscaping materials you intend to use.
When you have colored your pool and arranged your bottom landscape for a layered pool, glue the acrylic sheet across the top, by applying glue to the edges of the pool then setting the acrylic sheet into the glue.
Adjusting Your Water Color
Once you have the base of your water feature colored, test the pool in the base to see if the water is the color you want it to be. If not, there are several ways you can adjust the color.
If you are using clear glass for the top of your miniature pool, you can bake many of these stains on glass using your kitchen oven to set the paints permanently. The paints cling to flat surfaces very well, even if they are not baked in place.
Another way to color E-Z Water which has set is to mix watercolor paint into clear acrylic floor polish to tint it and flow the floor polish over the hardened 'water'.
Allow the tinted floor polish to dry thoroughly in a dust free environment.
If you want to mimic fast flowing water, use thick acrylic paint mediums, tinted or clear, and stroke them to create the effect of flowing and foaming water, allow the medium to dry, then add touches of white paint to create whitewater.
How to Fit Your Model Pool Into a Miniature Landscape
Insert your cast water section into the recess in your foam base, or set the acrylic sheet to go across your pond feature. Apply a layer of PVA (white or craft) glue to the edges of the pool and glue your landscaping material so it just barely overlaps the pool edges.
Different materials will give very different effects. Sand on the bank does not look natural unless the layer of water is very shallow. Then the sand can be blended into a beach. Although they may give a good visual effect, avoid using coffee grounds since they can attract insects. Various railway landscaping ballasts and other materials can be used as well.
Finishing the Landscape
As you have used a foam base for your practice miniature pool, you can easily adjust your landscaping with plants of various heights. Experiment with using tall plants as focal points to draw your eye away from the flat surface of your water feature.
Scatter disguising features naturally across the scene rather than clumping them on top of your mistakes. It will make your errors harder to distinguish.
When you have most of your details in place, add any final details, like a coating of acrylic floor wax to make the water surface look fresh and clear. With all your experimenting, it is easy to scratch the top surface of your water. A few strokes of clear gloss acrylic medium or acrylic polish, and you can correct the surface shine easily.
Enjoy experimenting with small and large water features, paying attention to natural water features when you find them, and incorporating what you notice into your scale models.