Terrain in Bottles

For as long as I can remember, I've fancied making a model railway layout.  I'd still like to do it but I don't have the space for one and after 40+ years I've kind of given up on that idea.  It's not like I'm into trains enough to "play" with such a layout even if I made one.  Consequently most of the terrain I have made has been for wargames and dioramas... but once again there's always been the issue of what to do with it after I've made it.

Some time back, maybe a couple of years ago now, somebody posted a link on TG to some images of a bridge... in a bottle... and I thought: that's the way to go: terrain in bottles.  Of course it still has to go somewhere when I've made it, however, unlike table top terrain and dioramas that are very difficult to pack and post,  terrain in a bottle... well the delicate stuff is already protected inside the bottle.  Add into the equation that a good number of our jewellery customers (we specialise in pagan themes) are into faeries, unicorns, and other mythical stuff... well there has to be a market for fantasy terrain in bottles, amongst our existing customer base, doesn't there?  


[Image: 15891295378_33c77d1d98.jpg]

The image shows some of the bottles I've collected for this purpose.  The green coloured bottle (front left) was found at an antique shop and has a unicorn standing in it.  The bottle front right is one of two I picked up at a car boot sale (French vinegar bottles I was told) and has a Hasslefree "Bad Fairy" figure in it.  As you can see, there's plenty of room in both for grass, shrubs, etc.

The two bottles at the back are a 1.5 litre gin bottle and a flagon that contained scrumpy cider... which I actually bought for the bottle and was obliged to drink the contents in order to use it.  Oh the sacrifices that we make for our art.

Books & Info

I picked up a copy of "Making Ships In Bottles" by Leon Labistour, at a car boot sale.  It's not especially relevant but I was intrigued and inspired by a couple of pages at the front, illustrating the construction of a handful of tools for working inside a bottle.

In spare moments I've also been looking on-line at every potentially relevant subject I could think of from the construction of a terrarium to the tools used for keyhole surgery.  Alas you can't buy said tools on eBay... but then again: maybe that's a good thing.  DIY keyhole surgery... I don't think so.  Wink

Step 1: Groundwork

Ships in bottles traditionally sit in a sea made from glazing putty to which dyes have been added for colour, this needs to be introduced into the bottle, shaped, including having an indentation made using a duplicate hull, and then left to dry.  Ultimately the ship will be glued into the indentation.

I'm not inclined to use household putty for terrain in bottles.

Most of the ships in bottles that I've seen (and that's quite a lot now) sit in a relatively thin sliver of putty... that should dry relatively quickly without cracking.  The thicker amounts of "groundwork" that I think are needed for terrain in a bottle will take ages to dry and, I suspect, likely crack in the process.  I'm inclined to use something else... but what?

The difficulty is that in most cases it's going to need to be a dark earthy colour, perhaps even black.  I have, in the past added acrylic paint to plaster in an effort to colour it... and it took a lot of paint to overcome the white of the plaster... I don't think you could ever get it black.

I have spare, less attractive, bottles and jars with which to experiment.

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This sounds really fun.  I look forward to seeing your work.

Does your terrain need to be based on something hard?

I wonder about using a stiff plastacine type clay to make your land shapes, then covering that with a few layers of glue then texture/flock.

I'm not sure what all you have in mind or how 3-D you want your base layers to be, so I can only make general suggestions at the moment.

Good luck.  Smile


You could use a material like Sculpey that could be shaped in the bottle as deep or 3-D as you needed, then you could warm the entire bottle in the oven to set the Sculpey permanently hard.  The temperatures needed to set the Sculpey should be no problem for regular glass.  (275 °F (130 °C) for 15 minutes per 1/4 in (6 mm) thickness.)
General Observation
The square bottle offers maximum build area with minimal thickness of underlying ground. But, the round bottles, you are wanting to fill them up to about 1/3rd diameter with "the ground"?

Assorted Ideas
Maybe that glazing putty mixed with a heavy dose of black ink is the answer. Does it pour like resins do? Could you smear a thin layer part way up the sides and have it stick? A thinnish coat in the sides, fill interior with whatever.

Those resins people use for water might work to fill most of the below ground zone. Just do what they advise not doing when trying to represent water. Put in a bunch of black. Do a resin pour. From outside the below ground areas look jet black.  That is the effect the display figure painters and diorama builders go for when they do a tall custom base.  

Another thought would be enamel paint.  Pour it in slow via a tube. Let it set up for awhile. Siphon away the excess paint using the tube...hopefully the inside of the glass is coated black or brown up to a certain level. Infill with other materials. But this  sounds finicky.

Have I guessed correctly about the look you want for the areas below the turf?

I got lucky last night and remembered that the original model I mentioned was of a bridge.  Searching "bridge bottle" as opposed to "terrain bottle" allowed me to find it on Google:


Here's an image to save you having to follow the link:

[Image: FinalFinishedBottle1.jpg]

From this it should be pretty obvious why resins or anything else that pours are not really viable options.  I suggested plaster but plaster doesn't have to pour... however there is the colour issue.

I see from the article (not I've found it again) that the guy used "Apoxie Sculpt".  Not cheap  456g (1lb) will cost me 20.69 UKP on eBay.  I like that it's black.

However I'm liking ableman33's suggestion of using polymer clay.  16.94 UKP on eBay for the same weight as the Apoxie, and again: I can get black.  I'm seeing the longer (practically indefinite) working time as a bonus and as ableman33 says: 130°C isn't going to be an issue for the glass...  provided that I don't shock it (by doing something like taking it out of the hot oven and putting it onto a cold surface).  I work with glass in our jewellery making and I need temperatures in excess of 600°C to do anything with glass.  130°C isn't going to be an issue.

In both cases, Apoxie or Sculpey, it should be noted that a commonly used technique with these clays is to form them around something e.g. a ball of scrunched up aluminium foil.  This reduces weight and cost of materials used.  I don't see a weight reduction as a benefit here, but I'm thinking that if, as pendrake suggested, I line the relevant areas of the bottle with Sculpey, fire it, add plaster where I can, let it set and dry it, and then add Sculpey over the top... well then I think I'll be getting the best in terms of colour, workability, material cost, and weight.

Time for an experiment methinks.  Smile
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I'm very interested in how this turns out. I thought about 2mm scale terrain in a bottle. Would be an interesting mantelpiece decoration.

I've tried my hand at ships in bottles. I was making decent progress, but got distracted by larger boats. I keep thinking of giving it another shot, though.
Unicorns — Faeries — Pagans
An idea for bottle number one. Three standing stones, a fourth toppled stone, a little faery model sitting or standing on top of that stone and that unicorn figure you posted in the earlier picture galloping past. Reaper minis makes some nice, small faeries.


Some pagan runes, knot work or whorl designs would not go amiss applied to the stones.

Debra and I have had a good look through the stuff at Reaper and we now have about $400 worth in our shopping cart.  Alas we don't have $400 at the moment so I'm going to work with what I've got and see how our customers react.

[Image: 15967984478_6b4711df0d.jpg]

I took this photo to give you a better look at what I'm thinking:

I'm thinking that the fairy would look good on something like this piece that I displayed on the old site:

[Image: 15968504528_03c3324701_z.jpg]

I won't be able to get Hirst Arts blocks through the neck of the vinegar bottle... so it's a toss up between finding something bigger or building from individual "stones".

The "large" unicorn that I showed you previously is shown standing next to a figure that you may recognize from my Wizards Tower review (I sold the tower but kept the figures).  I think the will work together... but I need to find a suitable bottle as I don't have anything that will accommodate them.

Which brings me to the three unicorns and the square shaped bottle because I think they would make for a nice group, grazing in a woodland glade... and will make for a good first terrain in bottle project given that it has a relatively wide neck that the figures will go through in one piece... along with anything else I want to put in there.

BTW: black fimo has now arrived and it looks like 350g would be enough for something like the bridge in a bottle... though obviously it'll go further if "padded" with foil or something.
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@ Andy -

It looks like your second image is not displaying properly. You might want to check the link.
(12-31-2014, 09:16 AM)ableman33 Wrote: It looks like your second image is not displaying properly.  You might want to check the link.

I tried linking direct to the old TG.  Seemed fine on my computer but wasn't working on Debra's either.  I've uploaded to Flickr and linked to that so hopefully you see it now.
(12-31-2014, 10:07 AM)AndySlater Wrote:
(12-31-2014, 09:16 AM)ableman33 Wrote: It looks like your second image is not displaying properly.  You might want to check the link.

I tried linking direct to the old TG.  Seemed fine on my computer but wasn't working on Debra's either.  I've uploaded to Flickr and linked to that so hopefully you see it now.

I thought I successfully linked to a photo on the old TG in some post around here. Hmm.

Have you begun making any specialized tools? Like extremely long tweezers? Or maybe a tiny shovel / scoop on a long cocktail skewer handle?

I did succeed at linking something from the old forum, it was my retired avatar image:

[Image: 18.gif]

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