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Custom Finishing Your Commercial Foam Rock Base

Trufitt, Rock Bases

When beginning a project that requires a base, I always try and find a commercially available base before creating my own custom base. This saves me lots of time, and in doing so, saves me money.

Most of the bases that are made by suppliers, are manufactured in foam. Usually, foam variety table and floor bases have a bottom board pre-installed that allows the base to sit flat when the piece is complete. Sometimes, foam bases have shelves in specific areas of the base where the mannikin leg rods or wires are to be secured. For this same reason, almost all wall hung foam bases have a wooden shelf inside of the piece.

When I use a commercially manufactured base, I first determine where the mannikin rods or wire will go into the surface of the base. You can either mark the spots with a pen, or simply press the actual rods or wires down into the base. When you do this, you will create the guides you will need to drill the holes. Once this is done, I drill my rod holes and then set the mannikin into place onto the base, pushing the rods or wires through the drilled holes.

With a floor or table base, I then take a countersink bit and countersink the underside of the base where the holes come through. This allows the nuts and washers to be applied to the leg rods of your mannikin.

Once everything looks good for position, with the mannikin still sitting on the base, I remove any extra threaded rod that is not needed. If the mannikin being mounted uses wire, I cut a groove into the board so that the wire is easily bent over and stapled into the groove.

It’s a good idea to pre-drill your base before you do any finish work. Make sure the base is going to fit the mannikin and that your attachment points will be secure. If you are using a wall hung base, the same techniques are used for marking and pre-drilling through the pre-installed board (shelf) within the base. Also, you will need to determine the distance down through the foam to the board. Take that measurement, and on the backboard, cut a hole through that will be underneath the installed shelf. You will need to cut a hole large enough so that you can dig out the foam under the shelf and then will be able to apply the nuts and washers easily. This access hole will not be visible when the wall mount is complete.

Once you have the base so it will accept the mannikin with ease, you can proceed with your finish work and create a unique base.

Most foam bases have some sort of a seam or seams. These will need to be cleaned up. I take a fine toothed file and simply file down the seam until it is smooth. Then, I mix up some plaster and add a small amount of matching tempera. When you add water to this, the plaster should result in a matching color mix. Take a damp cloth and wipe this over the seams and then texture the area as needed to match the texture of the foam rock. Once this dries, you are ready to complete your finish work.

When finishing up a foam rock base, some artists like to apply a catalyst resin and then throw on some sand, thus creating a fairly smooth looking base. When you do this, apply a resin that is catalyzed fairly hot and after you apply your sand, simply dump off the excess. If needed, apply more resin on specific spots, re-apply sand, shake off and finally let cure. You can find sand in many different colors and even different types. If you want to have stumps, sticks, or any hard wooden products on your finished base, install them before you apply the resin and sand.

A simple route to take is to use a texture-type paint, such as Fleck Stone, which is a spray system that offers a variety of textured looks. Some artists even like to use an airbrush and paint finish colors and highlights to achieve the final look. Another way is to cover your commercial foam rock with a thin layer of rock mix, while using tempera paint to colorize the mix. This method is very durable when it completely dries and cures. It makes a super looking texture and can be smooth or rough, depending on what you like. Rock mix comes in three different textures and works very easily.

I believe that the most important part of using a commercially manufactured foam base is to understand that it probably isn’t ready “right out of the box.” Experiment a little with some easy finishing techniques and your commercial base can take on a look that both you and your customer will really like. Commercial bases save you time and money and a lot of headaches! Good luck on your next base project.