Some months ago I purchased a bag of toy insects from the Dollar Tree discount store by my house. In part because I have the mind of a small child. But also because I harbored hopes that I could turn these tiny malformed bits of plastic, which would only pass for real bugs if the insects had been tortured to death then tie-dyed and baked, into table-worthy miniatures. This is the tale.
Step 1: Mangle Some Grey Foam
In the past I’ve mentioned using interlocking foam tiles for wall and base material. The foam mat is firm enough to hold its shape, bonds with hot-glue, and is easily cut with an exacto blade. I used this as my foundation, socketing the insect legs into the foam and setting it with drops of hot-glue. This also helped to align the limbs. As you can see in the very first image, without a firm base the insects prefer to do a horrific boneless dance whenever they’re not being held in place.
The foam mat comes in 2′ x 2′ squares, usually for around 20 bucks for a 6-pack. For this project I used less than 6 inches of foam from my scrap-bin, which I cut into vague, rough rock-shapes.
Step 2: Prime and Paint Black
Because of the details in the ants’ antennae and mandibles, I chose to use a thin acrylic. The other bugs, being rather formless and sad where details are concerned, I primered and tarred black with great prejudice.
Just masking the garish neon colors was enough to give me hope to continue this project. Sort of.
Step 3: Dry Brush and Clear-coat
The real Step 3 involved whiskey, a beehive, and a crippling leg injury. But because I don’t want to encourage the recreation use of bee venom, I’ll skip to the dry-brushing.
If you’re unfamiliar with dry-brushing I suggest looking it up on Youtube. In short it involves dipping a broad brush in paint and rubbing the majority off on a towel, then jabbing at the model with the brush to get a light color-fade or shading effect.
I wanted the bodies of the insects to be simple and slightly understated, so I chose to dry-brush them with darker acrylic model paints. Each was given two to three layers of the same color with gradually lighter tones. The results were frankly creepy, and for the price of less than 25 cents per miniature (after the clearcoat) it was probably worth the initial investment.
Lastly I used a dull matte finish, which I bought at the hardware store for 4 bucks because I’m not a chump. The sheen is less wet than a satin or gloss, but more shiny than the expensive army-painters finish or dull-coats you’ll find at the gaming supply store.
I also found that most fantasy tabletops have stats for giant insects. Pathfinder and Dungeons and Dragons support practically every major family of creepy-crawly (which I understand is the scientific term) in the animal kingdom. All this means that I’ll finally get to live out my fantasy of forcing the players to reenact the terrifying bug scene from the 2005 remake of King Kong.