How to build a church

by Tim Chipping

This article shows how one of the club's leading scenery builders - Tim Chipping - built and painted an 18th Century Mexican church.

We use this building in our Legends of the Old West games and are sure you'll agree that it makes a fantastic centrepiece. - Lee Lowe

While watching the Magnificent Seven (again) recently, I thought what a great piece of scenery the church in the village would make for use in games of Legends of the Old West.

The scale of the model was calculated from the size of the door in relation to the size of the figures used in the game. Once I'd drawn a few door sizes down on paper and stood figures against them to gauge what would look right, I settled on the final dimensions and the rest of the model grew from there. Scale is really a matter of compromise because if the building is truly to scale then it would not be practical for a number of reasons: it would probably take up too much space on the gaming board and there would be storage and possibly transporting issues also.

The model was constructed from MDF and glued together using PVA glue. The roofing tiles were cut out from stiff picture-mounting card and again were glued in place using PVA. The church walls and base were textured by brushing on PVA glue and the covering with sand. Surface textures will have a direct effect on painting techniques. The application of PVA and sand to the walls, therefore, gave me a great surface for dry brushing. I also decided there would be a couple of places on the walls where the stucco had fallen off to expose the adobe work. Using a scriber, I engraved the block work pattern into the MDF. This is also how I created the stone slabs on the front steps.

When I have large areas of scenery to paint such as buildings or gaming boards, I will use the cheapest DIY store own brand vinyl matt emulsion I can find. A 2.5 litre pot will cost around £10-£15 and will last a fair while. There are some amazingly horrible colours one would never put on the walls at home but are excellent for painting muddy fields, rocks, buildings, etc. I always have matt black and mix this with other colours to obtain various darker shades. The base coat for the Mexican church, for example, was a lovely shade of brown mixed with black. I quite often mix a quantity of a colour in a jam jar so I do not have to keep remixing during a project.

Because this building is set in an arid, semi-desert type of terrain I undercoated the church in a dark brown as I felt this base colour would be sympathetic with the surrounding landscape and also give the model an underlying warmth.

First coat - Main colour

White paint was applied haphazardly with the intention of having some areas whiter than others (where the undercoat was left more visible). This is the first stage in achieving a weathered look.

Second coat

After the first coat had dried, another coat of white was applied so that intact stucco look white. The edges of the main blocks of white were dry brushed and blended into the areas I wanted to appear more weathered.


Once the second coat was dry, areas where the undercoat showed through were dry brushed a dirty white to appear like weathered and flaking stucco.

Tidying up

After finishing the main building, I touched up with brown undercoat areas on the base and rear roof which had unavoidably been painted white.

Steps and adobe blocks

The steps were first heavily dry brushed a mid shade of brown followed by a lighter dry brushed highlight. The grooves engraved into the steps, being unaffected by the dry brushing, remain the dark brown base colour thus give the appearance of stone slabs. The exposed adobe blocks were treated in the same way using the colours from each stage of painting the base.

Roof tiles

A mid-shade was painted down each vertical row of tiles leaving a little of the undercoat showing on each tile edge. Once the coat was dry a lighter shade was painted down each vertical row of tiles leaving a little of the mid-shade showing on each tile edge. To give some variation in appearance, I loaded the paintbrush with differing amounts of paint ranging from fairly well loaded to semi dry brushing.


The base was painted with a dark shade first coat and, after allowing this to dry, was then semi dry brushed a mid shade. Lastly, after this second coat had dried, a highlight was drybrushed on to give the appearance of dust and sand.

The final touches to the model were painting details like the door and window bars, again using 3 or 4 shades of colour from base through to highlight, dry brushing the lighter shades onto the model.

Just got the rest of the village to make now!!