Part 1 – Building the Barn

When it comes to scratch building dioramas, I highly recommend that you start with what inspires you. Don’t get too hung up on making your model look exactly like your source picture. What you really want to do is capture the essence of it.

For mine, I chose a barn in the countryside near where I live. Every time I go to visit my friend, I drive past it. And as each year passes with gravity and the elements of our good Canadian climate winning the battle, I love it more. It’s dilapidated and endearing. Like something out of one of the Bill Peet books I grew up reading.

Since I’m a graphic designer, I took the picture, separated the sides, printed them off and made a little paper model to the scale I wanted to work at . Feel free to do this if you are so inclined, but what works just as well is to either make a paper model first with the basic shape of the barn, or draw it out on paper for each side so you get the scale right.

The Frame

I used small wooden craft squares from the dollar store and scrap wood I had left from other projects to build the framework. The wood was then cut to size by holding it up to the paper model and marking where to cut based on that. You can also do this by printing off your photo to the size you want your barn and laying the wood on the photo to mark where to cut. I used an x-acto knife and a scroll saw, and then secured the pieces together with hot glue. Be careful not to have any of the glue left on an area that needs to be painted. You’ll regret not scraping it off when you had the chance. For this stage, you don’t need to worry about that though, since the framework will all be covered by the time you are done.

The Siding

Next, you’ll need to cut up lots of tiny little slats for the barn board. Don’t forget to check that you are cutting them to the scale you decide to work at for your diorama.

Plot out where you want the windows and gaping holes (if you are making a derelict barn like I did) so you don’t end up gluing the barn board over top of them. After I added my slats, I decided that I wanted some extra holes for the hay to poke out of, so I took my electric carving tool to remove some of the wood. It was definitely more work this way, so be better than I was and plan it out first.

The barn I used for inspiration was bowing out at the front, so I built up the base framework first using extra pieces of wood. I shaved the sides down so it sloped out, but you can also add some glue beside the extra wood and shape it so it’s not a sharp drop down to the original frame.

I built layers away from each other for added dimension (see the photo above) by

gluing on the lower layer, adding a spacer, and then gluing on the top layer.

Over the next few posts, I’ll go over how to paint it, make the roof, add greenery and terrain, and make the silo.

How to Make a Miniature Barn and Silo

Part 2 – Painting the Barn

The barn is now ready for painting! Don’t worry about the roof yet, as that will be added on after. If you have an airbrush, now is the time to break that out. It will save you so much time! For those of you without one, there’s always paintbrushes. You will want to coat the barn in a dark brown first. I started with raw umber, but you can adjust the colours depending on the look you are going for. What I will show here is a weathered barn board.

Since some of the holes in the barn will allow the viewer to look inside, I opted to paint the inside with raw umber as well. If that’s not the case with yours, you can save yourself this step. I was also over-eager and painted the full roof, but you really just need to get the edges since the rest will be covered up by the corrugated tin roof.

Once the dark layer has dried, it’s time to dry brush on a lighter colour. Make sure the paint isn’t wet on your brush, or it will go on too thickly. Add some to your brush and then dab it on a piece of wood until you are getting a light dusting of the lighter colour. For this colour, I used white with a little bit of the raw umber. Use varying levels as you paint it on so that nothing looks uniform.

To add a bit of colour to the wood, add a very light wash of dioxazine purple for a muted warmth. Lighten it with white first (until you get roughly the colour shown on the barn roof in the picture above) and add water so it doesn’t go on too thickly. Don’t paint over all of the wood – use random brushstrokes, always in the direction of the wood slats. After the purple dries, go over the barn again with another dry brushing of the white and raw umber from the previous step. Do this sparingly. The idea is to show the highlights of the wood.

For the concrete base of the barn, take the white paint and bit of raw umber, and using the tip of your paintbrush, dab it over the area. Don’t mix the white and umber very well – swirl it together a little so that your paintbrush picks up a mix of them with each dab and creates a more random look. Make sure to use more of the raw umber for shadowed areas and more of the white for areas that will catch the sun.

How to Make a Miniature Barn and Silo

Part 3 – Making the Roof

I picked up some disposable tin trays from the dollar store and ordered a tube squeezer from Amazon. Both came to less than $20. If you don’t want to purchase a tube squeezer to create the corrugated ribbing, I have seen people successfully create the same effect by pressing the tin firmly over a wire. It take a much longer time to do it this way, and the results aren’t as even.

Cut the tin into strips a bit less than the tube squeezer width (it will never go through perfectly straight without the help of magic). I made mine about 2.5-2.75″ wide by 5.5-6″ long. Test one strip out to make sure it is long enough to cover the area you are working with, since the process of adding the ribs will make it shorter than your initial piece.

Lay the strips on your barn so they overlap and so the grooves run downwards. Cut the pieces to size so the full roof is covered.

Once you have everything cut, you will want to paint each section with a grey and metallic silver base to cover up the shininess of the material. Let it dry.

After it dries, go over it with light washes of a rusty metallic mix. I used burnt umber, metallic copper, alizarin crimson and Naples yellow deep. Don’t paint a full layer of the rust. Instead, go over the roof pieces with multiple layers of random, light strokes. Let them dry each time before going on to the next layer.

With a couple of layers of the rust painted on, it’s time to dirty it up a bit with some green. Make a mix of hunter green, metallic copper and alizarin crimson for this layer, and like the previous layers, use random, light brush strokes. Don’t cover the full area. This will give the feel of nature taking over.

After the green layer dries, go back over the panels at least one more time with the rust colour until you achieve the brightness you are looking for.

After the paint is fully dry, use a hot glue gun to secure the panels onto the barn. Start from the bottom and work your way up. At the top, make sure you leave enough to fold over to make sure the peak is covered.

The paint can chip off quite easily at this point, so cover it with a matte UV varnish for protection. The varnish can be purchased from an art or crafts store. Give it two coats, waiting 24 hours between coats so that it fully dries.

How to Make a Miniature Barn and Silo

Part 4 – Adding Climbing Vines and Making Hay Bales

I wanted some shrubs / ivy climbing up the sides of the barn, so I used light green and autumn mix lichen from Woodland Scenics (can be purchased from Amazon).

It comes bunched up, but you can carefully pry it apart to give it extra height and width, and hot glue it around the barn walls and creeping onto the roof.

For the hay bales, I used a roll of jute twine, cut up into pieces about 3mm wide. For the inside of the hay bales, cut up small rectangles from floral foam (I bought these at the dollar store). If you have time and patience, you can use regular white glue to spread over all of the sides of the foam blocks, but I used hot glue for speed. Use a hot glue gun with a low temperature setting or it will melt the foam. Roll the glued sides in your pile of cut-up jute twine.

Once all of the blocks are covered, take a utility knife and cut two small grooves on the top of each. This will allow the hemp straps to sit into the hay a little. Cut the straps about 4″ longer than needed, line them up on the front and cross them over to the back. While holding it in place, add a dab of glue to the middle of the back and pull both ends of the strap snugly across the glue until it dries. The excess can then be trimmed off.

Set aside a bunch of the hay bales to stack outside of the barn, and then glue the rest inside on the upper levels, wherever there is a window or hole showing through to the inside. Finish it off by taking some of the left over hay that wasn’t used on the bales and gluing it so it sticks out of the holes.

How to Make a Miniature Barn and Silo

Part 5 – The Silo

Now that the barn is done, it’s time for the silo. I neglected to take pictures of the under layer, but it was built using popsicle sticks and a 1/4″ thick round piece of wood for the base. I cut the round piece out of scrap wood I had laying around, and used a scroll saw to do it.

If you have a carving tool that allows you to rough up the top rim after gluing the silo together, that is the easiest way. If you don’t, plan out your pieces and cut some jagged sections out of the popsicle sticks before gluing them. Once ready, a hot glue gun is the easiest way.

End off by coating the full silo in air dry clay or plaster and leave to harden.

Once the silo is fully dry, take a carving tool, knife, or whatever you have to make grooves and scratches in the silo, and get to work. Try not to have all of the scratches and dents too even or all the same size. Also, don’t forget to rough up the top as well.

If you want the same colouring as the silo I made, roughly mix a combination of raw umber, white, and Naples yellow. Don’t mix them well, as you want a combination of the paints on your brush for more random colouring. Add water for light washes and to create a more uneven look, waiting until each layer dries before applying the next.

Once you have the colour you want and the paint has dried, take a watered down white with a bit of raw umber onto your brush (just a little – don’t over do it), and brush it lightly against a second brush, a couple of inches above your silo. This will create a speckled spray of paint to add to the feeling of texture.

How to Make a Miniature Barn and Silo

Part 6 – The Terrain

You will need to cut a base out of wood or high density foam. I used a piece of scrap wood I had laying around. Paint it a dark brown on all sides. When it dries, position your barn and silo where you want it on the board, and glue it into place.

You will now need to add whatever kind of terrain you want. For mine, I had already prepared sawdust painted in varying shades of brown and green, dried out moss and blended up sponges that I had painted green. If you don’t feel up to making your own materials, you can always buy underbrush ground cover, fine turf and clump foliage from Amazon, or use ground-up materials you find outside.

Start with a covering of your brown material for the dirt. Mix about five parts water to one part white glue in a spritzer bottle, and spray all of the ground material until it is soaking wet. Leave it to dry.

Once dry, add your green materials for grasses and plant material and do the same thing. If you have larger pieces for shrubs, hedges or trees, you will need a hot glue gun, super glue, or white glue, depending on your preference and patience level. Let it dry between each layer.

The last layer for the terrain is made up of painted sponges. I used a combination of pink, blue and yellow sponges for variety in the colour. Cut them into medium sized chunks and add them to the blender. Pour enough water to cover the sponge pieces and blend until they are quite small. Pour off the excess water but don’t squeeze out the sponge pieces until after you mix green paint in. Once everything is soaked in green, squeeze the excess paint and water out, and put them on newspapers to dry. I ended up blending it a second time, since I found the clumps weren’t small enough the first time.

Once dry, you can sprinkle it around the grassy areas and pile it up next to the barn and silo until you are happy with how it looks. Take a mix of 5 parts water to 1 part glue again, and using a spritzer bottle, spray all of the sponge pieces until they are really wet. Leave to dry. Repeat the gluing if there are any loose sections. Once all of the terrain is secure, you are done!

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