Bob Letterman

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2013 (Gail) The Sayonara diorama

August 6th, 2013 by admin
Well, it’s birthday building time again. When I met Gail, my daughter, one of the things we had in common was our love of Japanese architecture. This year’s project will be a 1/35th scale Japanese Garden out of the Book, Sayonara, by James Michener , subsequently made into a movie. The main characters are Major Lloyd “Ace” Gruver (Marlon Brando), the son of a U.S. Army general, who is stationed at Itami Air Force Base near Kobe, Japan. He falls in love with a Japanese entertainer, Hana-ogi (Miiko Taka), who is a performer for a Takarazuka-like theater company, whom he meets through his enlisted crew chief, Airman Joe Kelly (Red Buttons).
Click on image to enlarge.

The garden will be made on one of the same bases that I made the Simpatico diorama on. It will have a very large gate entrance, a Japanese bridge and a Pagoda. It will have many kinds of bonsai trees, bushes and flowers. It will also have a lot of rocks, a waterfall and a large lake.

I plan on using the American Officer in the Masterbox kit, MB 3514.

I’ll convert him to a Korean War Air Force major. Then I managed to buy a Japanese Geisha in 1/35th from an obscure company in Japan. I’ll convert her to Hana-Ogi in a Japanese wedding dress, (All white), and they will be standing on the bridge.

Click on image to enlarge.

Here is a Japanese wedding kimono.

This will all be scratch except the two figures. One hell of a lot of landscaping. The terrain will be very hilly and rocky as Japanese gardens usually are. Here are some examples I am using for reference. Mine won’t be like any of these, just some ideas.

Click on image to enlarge.

Click on image to enlarge.

Till Next time.

I started the Sayonara diorama today.

I cut the base, laid out the garden and lake in pencil. Then I cut 3/4 inch plywood to shapes that will be the mainstay of the topography. The plywood I had left over from last years project, the corner curio cabinet.

Here is the basic layout. There will be a rocky bluff on the rear left corner that will have a waterfall going into the lake. The rear right hand corner will have a large Japanese Gate and a Stone tiled court inside the garden leading to a stone tile path that will run alongside the lake to the bridge. Click on image to enlarge.

A closeup of the gate/courtyard area. I’ll use miniature plaster tiles to make the courtyard and the path. Then I’ll use grout to fill in between.

The Bluff/Waterfall. This will be covered with plaster stone. I bought some stone molds years ago that I used to make the diorama, “Arrogance”. Here is an in progress photo of it being built. I’ll use those molds to create the stone bluff as well as stones throughout the diorama. Click on image to enlarge.

Here is the plywood bluff/waterfall.

The Bridge area. Click on image to enlarge.

The Island area. This will have a Japanese structure such as temple or pagoda.

The Path extension. Click on image to enlarge.

There will be rocks along the shore as well as protruding out of the water such as in this photo.

The Lake area. Click on image to enlarge.

Next, I’ll get all this glued down and start the landscaping topography with cardboard, matt board, plaster and Cell-u-clay.

Got some more done today.

I have to have a perfectly flat and smooth area to make the water. I have always used matt board with a slick finish. The silver area will be the lake. I will use various colors, shades of green and brown to paint the water, then make the waterfall and cover with several coats of polyurethane gloss, as I did in other dioramas, See below.

Click on image to enlarge.

So, the silver mattboard will resemble the canal water in the above photo.

The plywood mish mash may not look good here, but it will be covered with plaster rocks as well as real ones. In and around thos rocks will be filled in with Cell-u-Clay and will simulate dirt collected over eons of time with various plants and trees growing out of them. I made a tier with the plywood that will become the waterfall. I will use clear epoxy resin laid out on wax paper, then I’ll place it to conform to the tiers before it is completely cured. Then, I’ll use Cell-u-Clay to make the foam at the bottom of each drop, then paint it a greenish white.

Click on image to enlarge.

From the top.

Next, there will be a massive Gate such as the one below. I won’t make a replica, It will be my own design, but something similar.

Click on image to enlarge.

The Gate will have a court yard on either side, front and back. The front court yard will be made of some miniature bamboo. We used to have a medium sized box covered with this stuff and when Susan got tired of it and pitched it. I rescued it from the trash and pulled off all the bamboo. I know someday it would come in handy!


Click on image to enlarge.

The two front areas will be small islands in the lake. Mostly filled with trees and shrubs, the one on the left will also have a small pagoda.

There seems to be a custom to “Marry” twin rocks in Japan. I have seen several versions of this including one in the movie Sayonara. I’ll give these the same treatment.

Click on image to enlarge.

I’ll use cell-u-Clay to shape them to a likeness of the above photo. Then, some heavy string can be made to simulate the heavy rope to “Tie the Knot”.

I always like to have hidden things and meanings in my dioramas, so I did some research. It is common to have white vertical signs near the big gates, so I will have a Japanese sign with the following Japanese characters .

Click on image to enlarge.

Next step, cast the rocks and dry them in the oven. Susan always appreciates it when I do things like that. Then I will search places with small rocks and stones and glue all of them in place.

Till next time
August 22nd, 2013

Click on image to enlarge.

I started creating the rock formations on the bluff. I’ll be doing this for maybe another 3 or 4 days.

Years ago, I bought some rock molds from a model railroad shop. I made a diorama with them back in the mid 80s called Arrogance. That diorama is about as close to this one as I have ever done. See below.

Here are the tools you will need. First, the molds, (Available at most model railroad shop.) They require some sort of support, I use anything that I have available. This time Humbrol paint tins and some spare resin castings.

Then some Hydrocal, available at most hobby shops.

Or… as an option, plain old plaster of paris. Available at most hardware, lumber yards. I prefer the Hydrocal as it is lighter and has a slower drying time.

Some water and a measuring cup. A plaster scraper or Joint Knife.

A nylon bucket for mixing.

And a drill and a mixing blade. Available anywhere that sells house paint.

Then you mix the plaster or Hydrocal using a ratio of 2 cups plaster to one cup of cold water. Use the drill to mix it well, then pour into the molds and scrape off excess plaster.

I usually wait a couple of days to dry. If not, you can sneak them into the kitchen and bake in the oven for about 30 minutes @ about 200°.

Then de-mold the castings, be careful as they are delicate. Then I let them sit another day. After dry and much lighter than when cast, I use a razor saw and a straight edge to cut them. Breaking them with your hands is possible but very tricky. They never seem to want to break where you want them to. I use Elmer’s carpenters glue to attach them to the plywood forms. Once these are completely covered, I will use Cell-U-Clay to fill in between and where there are visible seams.

All those slivers you see here to the right of the bluff will be used on the waterfall cascade as in the second photo down.

August 23, 2013
Finally got the plaster rocks cast, cut and glued in place. The gaps you can see will be filled in with Cell-U-Clay. After the entire bluff is painted and weathered, the cell-u-clay will then be painted Matt 29 Light earth and will simulate the dirt formed on the rocks over the centuries and some will be growing grass, and shrubs and trees.

The waterfall was the most difficult to simulate as I wanted it to have multiple drops for the water that will come later. All these castings had to be cut with a razor saw and this stuff is oh so delicate. I wasted more than I used. Just the slightest move side to side when cutting and the entire piece shatters.

Overall, I am pleased with the way it turned out. Adding the Cell-U-Clay dirt will be a piece of cake.

A close up of the waterfall.

From the left side.

August 13, 2013

A short update. I have been putting in the courtyard and the pathway running from the courtyard, across the bridge and alongside the lake. I made it with 135th Construction Bn. sheet cobblestone with a basswood border on each side. I was originally going to use miniature bamboo strips, instead, I’ll use them inside the gate.

The bridge will run between the two sections of cobblestone. Click on image to enlarge.

Looking from the other end.

Here is an overview of the dio.

I originally intended to do a wood bridge and made several attempts, none of which I liked so, I’m instead going to make a masonry Bridge. I’ll use my old method of cardboard veneered with matt board and plaster, with arches supporting it. This looks very amateurish at this stage, but I wanted to show how it is done step by step.

Click on image to enlarge.

Click on image to enlarge.

OK, I’ve had Ken jones, the longtime editor of Military Modelling magazine and his wife Sandra for a two week visit from merry olde England, so haven’t had much bench time. I have finished the paper mache’ aspect of the dio. I use it to fill in the rock bluff and add the terrain to the land as well as the islands.

I am trying to capture the rocky terrain of typical Japanese Gardens. Here are a couple of examples. I don’t like to copy buildings and landscaping. I just use these for reference.

I began by filling in the bluff using Cell-u-Clay. During the process, I ran out and had to substitute Sculpt-a-mold. Basically the same thing, Cell-u-Clay is grey in color and has a longer drying time. Sculpt-a-mold is pure white and sets up very quickly. Not a lot of difference in the two products, I prefer Cell-U-Clay because of the longer working time.

Here is a long shot of the bluff.


The top of the left side of the bluff.

The right side of the bluff top.

Click on image to enlarge.

I buried a lot of rock in the terrain so you can only see the surface.

The waterfall turned out just as I wanted it.

Click on image to enlarge.

Here are some shots of the water surface, lots of rocks!

The island on the left of the dio.

Click on image to enlarge.

The hexagon cardboard will be a Japanese gazebo.

The Sculptamold dried in about an hour. The Celluclay applied yesterday is still wet. I’ll have to wait till it dries, then I’ll give the entire diorama a coat of a 50-50 mixture of Carpenter’s glue and water to seal it. When that is dry, I’ll begin painting the rocks first and then the dirt.

September 18, 2013

‘ve been working out the designs of the large gate that will dominate the diorama and the bridge, where the Major and his Japanese wife walk after their wedding. The gate will be inspired by the following two. The interior will be similar to the following in Tokyo.

The roof will be very similar to this one.

I have began getting the dimensions of the bottom portion of the gate. Inside, it will have columns and ahuge door with bamboo flooring.

The pedestal in the courtyard will be the base for a statue of a samurai warrior about 12th century.

Click on image to enlarge.

Another view.

I know this doesn’t look like much now but thought I would show you the steps to get where I’m going. Here is the beginning of a classic Japanese bridge.

One last shot. A closeup of what will be the interior of the gate.

September 13, 2013
Got some more done on the Gate. Partial roof, the walls have been veneered with matt board.

As you can see, I still have some filling, sanding and texturizing the walls with plaster to look like concrete. Also more of the roof panels to go on.

Click on image to enlarge.

A bit closer.

Finally I got the bridge started, a bit tedious because the posts have to be plumbed. The other side will be easier.

September 21, 2013

Just a quick update. Finished the gate roof. It should go quickly now. All the difficult work on the gate is behind me. I have also laid out the huge wooden gate with metal trim, I’ll photograph it tomorrow and post later.

October 7, 2013
Got some more done. I built the extensions that run from either side. Also the gate doors themselves. Also painted the base coats on the entire structure. I added a lot of details to the roof section and the thing that sorta looks like a dormer, but has no windows. It will have the black mesh like the extensions do across the bottom panel that is white.

Another angle. The columns and many other details are not as yet permanently affixed. I simply placed them into position for the photograph.

Click on image to enlarge.

Closeup of the dormer. The trim was made using plastic tube. I used a cutter to cut the tube into dozens of the same length and then attached them to the roof edge. This is a very common practice on the roofs of the temples and gates in Japan.

Another view.

A view of the unpainted doors of the gate.

Two views of the gate base coated. The flesh painted areas will become a dark red mahogany wood simulation. The front and roof of the dormer will be a bronze patina and the roof will be a grayish black color when finished. There will be some 18 ct. gold painted trim on the tips of the roof edges and here and there accentuating the flipped up roof corners. The gate doors will be mahogany wood with brass and metallic iron corners.

Another view.

Click on image to enlarge.

It is at a stage that looks a bit rough. Within a week or so, it will transform to something more pleasing to the eye. The cardboard showing at the bottom of the two extensions will slide into the slots on either side of the gate proper and will not be seen.

October 10, 2013

OK, got some more painted. As you can see, the flesh color was a base coat for the mahogany-like wood simulation. Many of the pieces are just placed in place and not trued or leveled. I am pretty pleased at how it is turning out. That isn’t meant as a brag, I just haven’t done anything like this before and so far, it is turning out better than I thought. At least it has a real Asian appearance.
all the black and white grid has been glued on, the columns have their first coat of maroon. I finished off the dormer with a bronze patina. What I have to watch is getting it colorful, but not to the point of being gaudy. The colors of Japanese architecture are more subtle than their other Asian counterparts.

Oh Yeah, I forgot to add this to the build post. Guess what I got in the mail today! The Samurai Warrior that will become a statue on the pedestal in front of the gate. He will get the patina treatment as did the dormer.

Click on image to enlarge.

Like this photo I took in Japan.

October 13, 2013
I was hoping to finish the Gate today and move on to the bridge. The paint, especially the artists oils aren’t cooperating. They need to sit for a couple of days until I can glue the columns, the sliding grid doors and the main doors to the gate.

Anyway, I took some photos at this stage. I think now you can have an idea what the gate will look like when finished. Here the columns have their final coat of maroon.

This is the pair of sliding doors that will go on both sides of the interior walls between the columns/

The interior walls where the columns and the sliding doors will go.

Oh yeah, The main doors to the gate still need a final coat of the artists oils to make them a deeper color and to “Paint” in the wood grain.

And the Andrea 54mm Samurai that will get the patina treatment and end up on top of the column in the courtyard.

Click on image to enlarge.

And now the Gate itself.

The painting of the roof shingles was very tedious. It began as flat black, then dry brushed with Humbrol matt 72 and matt 33, ( 2 parts Khaki drill and 1 part flat black). Then individual shingles were painted various shades of that mixture, then a light wash of raw umber and rectified turpentine, followed by outlining the shingles with a darker wash of the raw umber mixture.

Friday, November 8th, 2013

Well, time for another update. The Gate is finished except for a touchup here and there. I have added a Buddha and Pedestal in the center, have installed the columns permanently and put the sliding doors and double stairs on either side of the interior of the gate.

The Gate doors given the woodgrain treatment.

The interior of the gate.

One side.

Click on image to enlarge.

The other side.

From the center.

Then I made a gate, something like this reference photo.

Here is the model.

I finished building the Gazebo and have started weathering it. There are still two more processes to put the patina through to get the right “Look”. First, the build.

Then after the build is finished.

Click on image to enlarge.

Click on image to enlarge.

Another view.

The base coat.

And these last two photos is during the process of simulating a bronze patina on the rooftop. It will look much different when finished.

Another view.

Click on image to enlarge.

I’ve had more time than usual and was able to accomplish a lot!

First, I built the bridge. I’m getting short on time, the wooden version would have had a lot more work with not as much drama, so I switched to masonry. here is the basic form I started with.

Then detailed out.

Finished the gazebo.

And built a Japanese Garden Lantern. I set it there for the photograph only. It will go somewhere else.

I gave the entire diorama, stone and earth, a base coat. The rocks are panzer gray, camouflage gray and light earth.

Then, 3 days later, I gave it all a wash using raw umber Artist’s oil, thinned with rectified turpentine, applied with any large brush, then blotted most of it off with an old T-Shirt. here about a third of the bluff washed. (On the left).

Then all the way to the waterfall. Notice how the wash adds earth tones to the otherwise bluish cast of the rocks that looks so fake.

Here is the bluff completely washed. I’ll wait a couple of days, then begin dry brushing in the highlight colors. BTW, the wash appears much darker now then when it dries. It will lighten considerably. The red and black gate will straddle the path when glued in place later.

The courtyard base coated. It will get the same wash treatment as the bluff and groundwork.

Click on image to enlarge.

Finally, here is an overall shot of the diorama. I am always glad to get to this stage as it will really begin coming to life now.

Made a giant leap this post. Gotta make that deadline!

First, we have had a fig tree since 1998, 15 years. It has grown from a tiny little sapling in a tiny pot to this almost 100 pound tree. We even named it Howard way back in 2001 when we took a trip to the west coast with Dave Harper and Bill Chillstrum in the motor coach. We used to take it on trips and it would sit on the dash. All good things must come to an end. While we were away for a few days, we left Howard on our deck, it rained for three days straight and he was soaked. We did everything we could but he just didn’t make it. I stopped Susan from pitching it because I knew I would need a lot of small branches in this diorama to convert into trees. So…. Howard is gone, but he will be immortalized in the diorama Sayonara.

The last photo I took of the last post was this one.

I gave all the groundwork a wash of raw umber artist’s oil diluted with Rectified turpentine.

Every inch of the landscaping got the wash treatment, it pulls the diorama together. Buildings and nature begin to blend in tone over time as rain snow, sun and wind embed all surfaces with an earth tone that is perfectly replicated by raw umber. Without washing everything in the diorama, the buildings especially have an undesirable toy-like appearance. As you will see later, I even wash static grass.

Click on image to enlarge.

Click on image to enlarge.

Next, I did a lot of dry brushing on the stones. I used Khaki Drill, Matt white, a military tan for the dry brushing, using some artists oil burnt Sienna to add subtle reddish tones to the rocks as well.

Here is a photograph I found in a magazine that has the look of what I eventually want this to have. I’m not duplicating it, just the “Feel”.

Then, before I add the resin water, I painted the back wall of the waterfall with gloss clear. That gives it a wet look and later, it will enhance the water by having an appearance of being soaked by the waterfall. If you notice on the picture of the real waterfall, on either side, the very dark color is pretty close to what I have duplicated here.

Then I started applying the static grass to the bluff first.

Then throughout the diorama.

I also washed the cobblestone path with the Raw umber mixture.

Click on image to enlarge.

Finally, overall shots from the right and left. With the static grass, the topographic aspects of the diorama can be more readily seen, the swales and berms.

I have also began converting the two figures, and next up I will “wash” the static grass. It will make a big difference. Now it looks too much like Easter Egg basket grass. Then the dozens of trees, plants and flowers.

OK, I’m working like a crazy person, I don’t have but about 4 weeks left to finish this. Since last time, I’ve done a lot, but some of it is very subtle and won’t show a lot of difference. First, I “washed” the static grass. It eliminates that phony look like an Easter egg basket grass. Then after drying, I use a Humbrol flat yellow enamel to dry brush the grass. It makes it even more real. I just lightly drag the flat filbert brush across the top of the blades that are standing up. It’s very subtle, but gives it a bit more realism. You can see the finished static grass here plus I am beginning to “plant” the flowers. These are dried miniature flowers. They used to sell them at Michaels, but they have recently been bought out and everything they sell there that I bought has been discontinued. What used to be one of my most important stops for diorama materials is now worthless to me. I guess they know what they are doing. I started with the purple flowers.

Here are some more flowers, you can also see the effect of the processing of the static grass.

One more for good measure.

Click on image to enlarge.

As you can see, I bought a lot of the dried plants when they were available. Got a lot of work to do with the flowers.

Drilled the holes to mount the red gate that straddles the path. Also note I have painted the base coat on the lake. I used to use Humbrol Khaki, (Matt 26), I discovered I was out of it, so, I mixed Khaki drab, (159) with Matt 33, flat black 50-50. It’s exactly the same color. Later that will go through several treatments and hopefully, look like real water in a lake.

I began chopping up Howard, (Previous post), then I began drilling holes and inserting this dried vegetation material that comes from Holland. I bought a lot of this stuff back in 2000, and have since lost their address. Really cool stuff!

Here are the branches before being attached to the tree.

Once built, then I drill a hole the same size ad the trunk made from Howard, paint the entire tree flat black. Next, I will turn it into a bonsai using a pair of scissors. Then, using spray glue, (3M), I will spray each section and dip it into green dyed cork, which simulates leaves. (That will be in the next post. I’ll also dry brush the black trunk and branches with Humbrol matt 72, Khaki Drill. It gives the tree that natural look of a tannish black color. Here is the untrimmed black tree.

Click on image to enlarge.

I am also making a tedious evergreen tree using a real tree branch and some green dyed feather-like material.

Here is the material. I drill tiny holes in the branch, insert the material and superglue them in. Later, I will give it a matt yellow dry brushing for realism.

I also added some stairs on either side of the bridge entrance. A common practice on these steep moon bridges.

I’ll start weathering and trim painting the bridge shortly.

Finally, an overall shot from the left and then from the right.

Click on image to enlarge.

Till next time.

Been planting trees, shrubs and flowers all day long! I took these photos after knocking off for dinner tonight. Most will still get a wash, just as the static grass, to eliminate that phony appearance. You can still get an idea where it is all going though in these photos.

A bit blurred, but I stuck it in anyway.

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The bluff with bridge.

The bluff without bridge.

Another view.

The Gazebo with bonsai.

Another view.


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Even without the wash and some more weathering on the courtyard, this photo still looks convincing.

Coming down to the wire.

Well, finally finished it, even on time for Gail’s birthday on Sunday the 8th, however, the snow storms in Missouri forced a delay in my visit. I’ll be delivering it on Monday, December the 9th.

I did have to move right along. I had intended to do an sbs on converting the figures, especially the Officer in the Ike Jacket to Major Gruver, but didn’t get any in progress photos so, I’ll just start with some pics. I used epoxy putty to convert him, plus a head that kinda resembled Brando and a service cap from a resin figure. I made her wedding hat from lead foil trimmed with miniature flowers and fine wire for the needles. See below.

The sign hanging from the gate entrance has a secret message in Japanese that Only Gail and I know. Of course if you speak Japanese, you will also be in on the secret!

Click on image to enlarge.

A worms eye view of the bridge.

Cat Tails, Cat Tails, Cat Tails. These are Tech Star photo-etch brass.

A worm’s eye view of the gate.

Click on image to enlarge.

An overall shot from the right.

another from the left.

The Red Gate and bluff.

The “Married” Rocks in the lake.

A shot of the lake water near the bridge.

The right side lawn w/Bonsai

The lake path.

The Gazebo and Bonsai tree.

lead foil Lilly Pads.

Closeup of Cat Tails.

Long shot of the bridge.

The Samurai statue. Many of the statues I saw in Japan had a rusted metal base such as this one.

Left side of Gate Yard w/Bonsai and other plants/flowers.

The waterfall. I made it using clear caulking spread on wax paper and detailed with toothpicks. The foam is epoxy putty also detailed with toothpicks.

Click on image to enlarge.

A closeup of the figures.

Click on image to enlarge.

Overall from the left.

Closeup of the brass plates.

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Long shot from the right side.

The bridge and waterfall.

When I deliver it, I’ll take some pics of her and it in it’s new home and post when I return. I already told her, next year I’ll buy her a more conventional gift. That way I can work all year on Logistics and maybe, just maybe finish the damned thing!

All delivered once more. All my hand made gifts are beginning to fill up her house. I promised her a conventional gift next birthday. That will save her living space and maybe give me time to finish the big diorama.

She had me put the Sayonara diorama next to the Simpatico dio in her study where she works from home.

And, you can see the new additions to Simpatico in this photo.

OK, I’m gonna take the rest of the month off, then start back on Logistics right after New Years.