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Electrostatic grass unreveiled

Producing electro-static grass looks very easy: Build yourself an electro-static device or spend a small fortune on a ready to use one, spread on glue, dump fibers into the apparatus and shake them out again.

However for realistic results you need to do quite a lot more.

Recipe for long unkempt grass

Actually you don't need an electrostat at all, you can produce quite good results without one as long as the fibers you use are limited in length. The grass on this photo on the left was entirely produced with such a plastic laboratory bottle as shown on the right hand photo.

summer tools

Basically the long tube is enough to charge the fibers electrically and the airspeed helps to shoot them into the glue. It is just that the electrostat works lots faster and that allows you to do more tricks. The electrostat that shows on the right hand photo is built according to the scheme on this link: http://www.finescale.org/finescale.org/Begrasung.html The cup is made with some convenient PVC tubing from the DIY store, the handle is plasticard.
Glue is important, normal white glue is less suitable because this builts a skin in several minutes which is difficult to penetrate for the fibers. Glue for wallpaper is much better but takes relative long to dry and may shrink. Good results are made with Clou which seems to be more latex based but also the special stuff from Grass Master behaves very well. Important is that you mix the glue with some paint to adapt it to the ground surface. If you don't do this then you will probably be left with a shiny base layer that shimmers between the fibers when dry. I use ordinary water colours for this in natural colours such as olive or raw umber.

Selection of fibers

A major cause for unrealistic results is using a single type of fiber. The second is using pre-mixed colours straight from the bag that are way-off real life. Fibers can be found in many lengths and colours. Lengths vary from 1mm to 6 mm or even longer, colours come in any fantasy from blackish brown to fluorescent green and 'ready to use' blends with hard red, yellow and dark green. Most of these fibers can be used for effects but rarily as they come. I find that I get the best results using the lighter uncoloured types and produce my own blend with these on the fly. The main working fiber that I use is the 3 mm uncoloured pale brown 'wintergarten' from Heki, this is a curved fiber. This 100 gram bags lasts over a square meter and there is still about one-third left. This colour is good for anything from dry grass to sap green fields. For long grass at road and track sides the 6 mm 'wild gras' also from Heki is OK. This is a blend from yellow and light green fibers straight fibers. In most cases this is further blended with yellow golden fibers (Berka?) and/or matted green fibers from Polak. The Polak (www.polakmodel.com) range has more useful colours in light and pale green in various lengths. Together with their other products this manufacturer currently has the most useful range of colour blends and products. I find the range of Silhouette miniNatur with its mainly hard glossy and unnatural colours not useful.
One of the more important things to do is not to use a full tub of new fibers but start with a mix of recovered fibers and fresh additions. The recovered fibers offer a better blend and don't show any tendency to form clumps. Therefore recovering spilled fibers is a must. The vacuum cleaner forms one of your best modelling tools. A piece of cloth wrapped over the hose hold in place with a piece of tape allows you to pick up the fibers and recollect them into a set of tubs for recycling.
Occasionally I adapt the colours by mixing a tub with yellowish fibers and some Dylan fabric paint for special effects. These can be planted by hand as bushes or used to align edges such as streams or hedges.

Colouring and effects

Realism is enhanced by careful blending of fibers and varying the length used in different areas. This can be done in several ways. The basic colour should be a pale yellowish green that can be brought to colour using the airbrush. That way you can control the colour and blend them carefully with rest of the landscape. Colouring can be done best by acrylic inks and water colours gouaches. Unfortunatly the ready to use range for airbrush of liquid acrylic colour inks from Winsor & Newton was discontinued, this was a very useful range, unsoluable to water once dry. I normally blend these with the Talens ranges of gouaches. Main colours are the natural colours such as olive, raw umber, ochre, sap green, transparent yellow and green etc. Occasionally you may need gloss cote for further effects to emphasize the colours or produce a glossy stain.
Effects of bushes and lumps of grass can be arrived at by different methods. Lumps of grass in the same colour can be easily made by embedding foam flocks into the glue. The fibers simply follow the ground surface and stick out. Another method is by first planting darker/longer bushes by first applying drops of glue with a small brush and applying the fibers. After drying the rest of the surrounding grass can be filled in. Alternatively you first may produce the clumps and bushes as separate items on piece of plastic. After drying these can be pried loose, manipulated with scissors and planted by hand into the still wet glue. The later method is easier and allows often better control. Colour control with sharper edges can be arrived at by using paper masks with holes to airbrush through in order to protect the surrounding area.
Using the wet in wet technique allows you the vary the colour blend and length of fibers as you progress in a certain direction. Simply add more glue to a new area and vary the blend as you work on. Alternative to wet in wet is allowing the glue to dry before you go on. This way you can create sharp edges with different lengths or colour. This latter method is particularly useful when you need to plant hedges or poles as boundary between different fields. Varying the edges a bit by breaking up straight lines is often more pleasing to the eye.
Wind effects can be made by using the vacuum cleaner. As long as the paint is still wet the fibers can be given a certain direction by pulling the vacuum cleaner along them. Together with a glossy stain sprayed from a single direction this can give nice effects.

Photographic examples

clumps of grass
Effects of clumps planted in wet glue, sharp edge of short and longer grass.

clumps of grass
Planting dark green clumps beforehand in drops of glue, the bushes tend to be wide and need further treatment by vacuum cleaner and brush.

filling up
Filling in the space between the clumps can be messy, here the glue is still wet. When dry the vacuum cleaner will pick-up the loose stuff and leave a cleaner look, a brush can help to lift the loose fibers.

clumps of grass
Production of clumps by growing them off the layout on a piece of plastic foil. You cannot discern but it actually is a piece of a thin plastic bag stuck on a piece of plasticard.

clumps of grass
Here we see the green mix of glue with a minor amount of olive water colour, embedded are the foam flocks for making clumps. The track is protected against loose fibers and over-coating with the airbrush. The area without glue is later treated further by the wet in wet technique.

varying blend
Wet in wet technique. On the right hand we can still see through the first blend whereas on the left hand we see the full filling by the next blend with more brownish shorter fibers.

varying blend
Wet in wet technique. A new area is treated with glue while the earlier is still wet.

before painting after painting
Before and after treating with the airbrush. The air brush blends all the colours into a pleasing result. The airbrush can be used when the glue is still wet allowing you to work on in different colours when applying the wet in wet technique. Unfortunately the lighting conditions did vary a bit between taking these photos, mostly natural dutch light I am afraid.

copyright: Henk Oversloot
date: 25 july 2010