Tutorial: Rivers & Streams October 23, 2022 19:19

To support the launch of the Charlie Foxtrot Models "Rivers and Streams" I have produced the following step by step guide with kind permission from Geoff Lacy of Purple Lion Creations. 

I have been supplying Geoff with "River Ends" in this format for the past 4 years.

The following is a development where I have removed the bracers and integrated the separating strip into the river and stream beds. 

I visited Geoff a few times at his workshop and saw first hand how he produces top quality river sections. This guide is largely based on Geoff's method. 


The redesigned Rivers and Streams are supplied as 6 piece "Starter Sets" with individual pieces and expansion lengths supplied separately. 

Each set (and individual piece) is supplied with 4 ends and "magnet stops" held on a multi use frame. 

The first step (optional but recommended) takes approximately 3 minutes per 12" river strip. Using a craft knife, I chamfered the edge to approximately 1mm. The tapered edge reduces the step up to the riverbanks and blends better when on the table.  


Using a craft knife remove the river ends and "magnet stops" from the frame. DO NOT DISCARD THE FRAME. Bond the ends to the base using a wood work quality PVA. Use the square corner of the frame to ensure the ends are vertical. Set aside to dry and revisit in 10 minutes to ensure the ends are still vertical. Adjust before the glue fully sets. When dry slighlty chamfer the end pieces with a craft knife. 

When the ends have fully dried, glue on the magnet stops. They strengthen the joint and prevent the magnets being inserted too far. 

Using a hot glue gun, bond expanded polystyrene packaging pieces following the profile of the river bank. Expanded polystyrene may be substituted with off cuts of foamcore card. Trim the pacing pieces to size aiming to keep below the end profile.

The end piece frame has an appropriate curve along one edge. You can offer this up to see if you are "near enough". Some variation in height is to be encouraged. The end height is the most important: keep the polystyrene below the profile curve. 


 I mixed tile grout (tile adhesive or artex works equally well) with fine sawdust. 

The sawdust was added to bulk out the grout and reduce the cost per piece. I used a spoon to measure out 50/50 grout powder and sawdust. This was mixed before water was added. Ready mixed artex or tile grout may be used and sawdust can be added to this to make it go further. A drop of water may be needed to keep the mix moist enough to adhere to the polystyrene. 

I applied the grout / sawdust mix using an artist's palette knife. I found it quicker to work on one river bank at a tine and do the opposite edge once the first has dried. 

The curved profile on the frame may be used as required to check the height of the wet material and this can be adjusted before it dries.


When the banks are fully dry, the next stage is applying a coat of "Sculptamold" over the grout sawdust mix. This I did by spreading the mixture with a thumb and stippling with a wet stiff paintbrush. Final height adjustmant can be done and the banks can be smoothed or textured to suit your taste. 

 To add texture and "movement" to the river, I spread watered down filler using a stiff bristled paintbrush. Brush strokes were left in the filler in the direction of the water flow. 

 A closer image of the directional brush strokes along the river surface. 


After 10 minutes or so, the polyfilla had set and I then gave the piece two coats of emulsion paint. The paint used was "Johnstone's Wall & Ceiling paint Matt Mocha". 

Having painted the river bed I decided to add further texture as the previous textrue was too "linear". I loaded a soft brush and holding almost horizontal, rolled the brush side to side to generate a random effect. 


Using the paintbrush almost horizontal again and rolling the brush while dragging along the length of the river, I applied a watery mix of "Charred Brown" Vallejo Game Colour no. 72.045 mixed with 50% black. 

 Apply subsequent "blotchy" washes of the paint mix until you are happy with the depth of colour. Next I added a watery splash of Daler Rowney acrylic "Phthalo Blue". 


When the blue was dry, I coated the whole river bed with gloss varnish from a DIY store. In this image the varnish is still wet and shows how it was applied in a "blotchy" organic way. 

 The brown riverbanks were given a drybrush of earth brown and more varnish was applied. Keep layering up the gloss varnish until you are happy with the light reflection. 

The riverbanks were flocked with a static grass applicator. Gravel, tufts and flowers can be added to suit your table. 

Prior to gluing in your diameter 5mm magnets, check the ends are free from glue, dried paint or static grass. Ensure the holes are free of debris too. Use a craft knife to trim as required. This stage will ensure that the rivers butt up together without a gap. 



 Take a column of diameter 5mm thickness 3mm magnets and glue one into the left hand marked hole on the now empty frame. Reverse the magnet column and glue one into the right hand side hole. 

When gluing magnets into the rivers, offer up to the left hand side and if it attracts, glue the column of magnets one at a time in each left hand side hole. Reverse the column of magnets, check they are attracted to the right hand magnet on your frame and if so, glue in all right hand magnets. 

Retain the frame with the 2 magnets in for future expansions to your rivers and streams. If you decide to use different colours for the banks or water, make a note so you can match in later. 

Once I had completed my river sections, I cut expanded polystyrene into strips and lay them on the river bed before wrapping and storing in a really useful box. 

The expanded polystryene will help prevent the "special features" or tufts from getting flattened once the river sections are stacked. 

Further images will be added as I am currently working on other ideas for decorating the basic Rivers & Stream sections. 


After applying the grout / sawdust mix, check to see if there is any bowing as the filler material has the potential for some shrinkage as it dries.

Like the piece pictured, the majority will remain flat. Hold a steel rule to the underside to check the piece is flat and true.


Should a piece have a bow press thunbs into the underside while gently pulling either side. This will flatten the MDF (check true again with a straight edge). Do this check and adjustment prior to applying the sculptamold. 

This is my first attempt at texturing and painting the river bed. As previously metioned, I reapplied more watered down filler to remove the harsh lines in my original. The blue (in my opinion) I applied far too thickly and was not happy with the result. I simply painted over with a coat of Mocha emulsion to reset and tried again. Should you "over texture" the river bed, remember it is wood and can take a light sanding. 

I hope you find this tutorial useful and informative.