How do I get started?

Great question, random-question-asking person! Many of us grew up this way, but others eventually want to learn. If you haven't already started down the noble and virtuous path of the Holy Crafter, you may need a few tips to get you started. With a few smart choices and a gentle push, you will be hot gluing popsicle sticks into Victorian manors in no time!

#1. Pick a medium.

This may be a difficult decision, especially if you don’t know where you are going already. In the miniatures and terrain world, you could choose between all sorts of mediums such as cardboard, wood, foam board, Styrofoam, plaster, resin, or even paper. There are even other levels beyond that for the large terrain piece builders, especially those who do models of towns and railroads. Take your time and watch some videos on YouTube to see what seems to meet your skill level and interest.

In my opinion, cardboard is the easiest to start with although it can sometimes be clunky and still looks like cardboard if you don't add heavy detailing. Wood gives wonderful structure and warmth, but the larger pieces are hard to manage and usually only look like wood. Foam board and Styrofoam can be some of the most versatile pieces to build with and they give a lot of volume while still being very light, but they are super messy and sometimes unruly to work with. Plaster and resin make super-fine detailed pieces, but they are very cumbersome, heavy, expensive, and take a long time to cure. Paper is the easiest thing to find and print, but it’s very blocky and very fragile.

#2. Start small.

Find a small work space and commit to only using that area to begin with. Keep space economy in mind and only build with what you need for now. You may change your mind after a few weeks of tinkering around and it is much harder to downsize than you think once you really get the ball rolling. If it can’t fold up, fit in the drawer, or be stacked neatly under the table, it may not be worth getting into at the start.

Limit yourself to assembling on the basic few things you need. For example, you may not need to buy 5 different shades of every color, when the basic ROY G BIV and a little black and white is all you need. A metal ruler, a cutting surface, a fine point permanent marker, an X-Acto knife, and a hot glue gun are good basic starting tools. For painting, I would also get a small mason jar for water, something plastic to smear your paint on (disposable), and a couple of CHEAP sets of paint brushes. Upgrades come later as you grow.

#3. Use what you have.

If you have a resource for free supplies at work or at school for cardboard or Styrofoam, then use that! There is no need to buy industrial strength cardboard from a store when you can make what you need instead. For example, maybe you need double layer cardboard for a project. In that case, you can glue cardboard together in sheets. Or, if you need larger pieces of Styrofoam, base the smaller pieces on foam board and it will provide a larger space with a solid base.

I am not advocating dumpster diving per se, but one person's trash can be another crafter's treasure. It's amazing how you can turn junk into something cool. I will cover this in much greater detail in and upcoming video but sometimes you can actually draw inspiration from the uneven or imperfect pieces you discover. Any business that sells goods will have at least some resource for paper and cardboard recycling. Heck, even some larger pieces of plastic are a huge gold mine of possibilities! I have found a few Styrofoam pieces that deeply influenced the structure that I was building, which really added to the backstory and personality of the finished product.

#4. Grow intentionally.

Once you have a few extra dollars that you can spend on crafting, it is best not to blow it all on the fanciest gear or the widest selection of resources. Often times you will find that you grow naturally, but sometimes in unexpected ways. For example, I began using mostly foam board and I even started to create a bit of a "style" for myself. However, I wasn't entirely satisfied with some of the results, especially the paint saturation. From there I worked more with cardboard and wooden craft sticks. I liked the structures and I liked the look of it, but I almost accidentally fell into using Styrofoam.

For a time, I was getting very excited about using Hydrostone to build some stone and dungeon-like architecture. Hydrostone is of the hardest and strongest of all gypsum cements, used in statuary castings requiring extremely hard surfaces. It is a much harder plaster than say plaster of Paris. I got a few silicone molds and began making a few pieces, but now I have an unruly 50 pound bag of plaster in my house. Plus, the mess that is made in the mixing and curing process takes up a large space in my kitchen each time I want to use it. I am thrilled with the quality of the pieces that I have made, but in retrospect, I might have waited until I had a much larger workspace before getting into the Hydrostone.

Take your time as you evolve and only get what you need for now. Odds are in your favor that the money and hassle that you save now, will be more valuable to than not having to buy more later. As a matter of fact, with a short bit of research, you can even find better deals over time! More to come on money saving tricks in the future!

#5. Practice.

There is nothing to it, but to do it! Seriously, that's a big thing. It may be daunting to dive deeply into a project, but practicing and constantly creating will hone your skill in making your vision into a reality. You can plan all you like (which DOES help save time and allow you the ability to really play with your design) but you won't get experience without just diving into it.

It isn't a case of use makes mastery, although your skills with paint and glue, blade and crimp, will be elevated. It is more a case of use makes artistry. You'll develop techniques to express emotion and energy, to play with color and form. Happy accidents will lead to wonderful a-ha! moments which let you grow even more. You may build a more sophisticated style overtime, but you will still look back fondly on some of your first projects as being informative, if not transformative.

#6. Consider storage.

After you get into a groove, be thinking about what you are going to do with all of your pieces, as well as your scraps. If space is limited and you ever want to find things again after you put them away, it is easier to organize first and rearrange later. Trust me! I have had a dozen open totes all at once, swapping things around and making more space. It would have been an impossible task, had I not already pre-planned a little bit.

Stackable and lockable storage is a great way to get organized. You can keep similar finished pieces together, crafting supplies sectioned apart but stored together, and these kinds of totes can also help to keep everything safe from damage when being moved around. I use large 1 foot square totes for some of my larger pieces, as well as for my foliage and landscape supplies. I use medium totes for finished furniture pieces, miniatures, and other random features. I even use smaller containers for the smaller and more intricate pieces. Half of the totes have soft foam liners that I cut, just to keep things from rolling or getting scratched up to badly.

#7. Beware hoarding tendencies.

Lastly, crafters like us sometimes have the propensity to collect things. Like Pokémon cards? Yes, but sometimes we take it to the extreme. Crafters will collect so many craft supplies that we run out of space and begin to hoard scraps of everything. It's clean refuse, sure but after a while, it's just trash. Recycle it!!!

If it doesn't fit in your storage solutions, toss it. If you don't have something specific you want to build with it within the next 2-3 months, it is probably best to not even bring it home. I would also suggest that every 1-2 months, you should do some thorough housekeeping and discard as much as you can. This will keep you lean and mean, but more importantly, clean! Now you can sort through the rubble that remains for that perfect sliver of cardboard that will make such an excellent building front.

Happy Crafting!