Preparatory to Christmas: Village Building

A bit early for the topic, but I like to plan ahead for stuff like this that’s going to take some time to do. So I’d like to rebuild my Christmas miniature village this year. I had one a few years back that was made of an assortment of off-the-shelf packaged bits, and it was pretty once done, but parts broke, and other parts have been lost. So this year I’d like to redo it, and do it up much fancier.

Problem is, there are some things I’m not entirely sure how to do, and other things where the logistics of conversion come into play, so I’ll address each one. Keep in mind I haven’t bought anything yet, so design is entirely up in the air – anything goes right now, so any suggestions will be considered.

Miniature LED street lights. Miniature chasing Christmas light strings. All that cool and fun stuff. I want to create a realistic scene here, and I will be able to get these sorts of things. The problem though is that most of this stuff is battery powered. This presents two problems: A) Batteries. I want nothing to do with batteries. I know there is a way to wire up a DC to AC converter, so what would I need to do this? From what I can tell they’re all 3v (2x 1.5v AA batteries in series) so I’m going to need an inverter of some sort. Being that I’ve never done this before (though I am familiar and comfortable with small electrical projects like this) I’d like to know what sort of thing would be best for this kind of operation. I am envisioning as many as half a dozen or more 3v battery-operated devices that will need to be converted to AC, so besides inversion, any way that this could be condensed to use one or two plugs would be great. I don’t know if that’s feasible or practical, but I thought I’d ask.

Replicating Winter
I don’t need falling snow, but I’d like to be able to create three things that look decently realistic: Snow, water, and slush. First, snow: I’d like to avoid the old standbys – cotton batting or flour – if possible, preferably something that can be made into an immobile mass. I suppose I could spray mounds of flour or starch with aerosol glue or something, but I’m exploring other options here. Second: Water. Puddles, mostly. What can be applied as a thin liquid so that it can pool and collect in various places, but dries clear and solid? Something cheap, preferably. I’m thinking something like an old Special Effects School 101 candy glass recipe, but that needs to be baked, which is impractical here. Something that can congeal and dry solid at room temperature would be good here, especially if it can be made less brittle than real candy glass. Third: Slush. No idea what to use here. This doesn’t have to dry clear – translucent gray will do here, and can even be mixed with whatever is used for snow, but it should be sculptable to create things like tire tracks and footprints before it dries.

Any suggestions here? Even beyond what I’ve come up with here – like I said, it’s a blank slate right now with only some general ideas for a few of the supplies that I’ll be needing, so anyone who has any ideas about what else I could do with, feel free to add your piece. :wink:

Powering the lighting is easy. Just get a decent sized “wall wart” transformer, and use it to run the LEDs. You may need to regulate the voltage, or use dropping resistors to set the correct current for your project. I’m sure someone at Radio Shack can help with this, if you aren’t comfortable with basic electronics.

As far as the snow goes, I’d take a trip to my local hobby shop, and see what the have in the model train section.

I seem to recall a few aerosol spray-snow sort of products that come in a can like spray paint. This seems like it could be either incredibly neat or astoundingly messy. I don’t know if they come out as fluffy as you might want, but might give a good effect for some surfaces.

A more permanent, but more textured material would be the various acrylic paint mediums that are available. I can vouch for Golden brand being awesome - check out their various gel and paste mediums:

Check out the pumice gels, they could work nicely for snow if you put some titanium white over it when it dries. You could even get fancy and do the palest bluish shadows under drifts or in footprints. It’s fine enough stuff that you could do footprints!

I see they have a new glossy self-leveling clear gel - it’d mix with regular old acrylic paint for tinting your slush gray, and would be much less toxic/fussy than the casting resin I’d suggest for the ice otherwise.

Of course acrylic paint is permanent so you’d be stuck with whatever configuration you created, and you’d have to be careful not to ‘glue’ your houses to the surface with the acrylic.

I hope you post photos in a few months!

A power bar or wall wart was assumed – I didn’t really want to merge them all down to two plugs, I just wanted to know if there’s a way to merge two or more leads to use one socket just in case there aren’t enough sockets to go around.

I’d considered and dismissed that for two reasons. One, it’s a bit phony-looking. Two, it dries very soft and brittle and flakes off pretty easily. I’m looking for something a bit more permanent.

Having read the rest of your post though I have to say I’m impressed by some of the products at Golden. Some of that stuff looks to be right up my alley! Especially the gel-based and pumice materials. Those would make perfect puddles and slush. The clear tar-like stuff would be useful for icicles, too!

For the snow, here’s what I’m thinking: The entire thing will probably be mounted on sculpted craft styrofoam. Where there will be fresh snow, I’m thinking some kind of powder-like paint – maybe the pumice paint, even – and then sprinkled with some sort of fine, nacreous material, something like silica sand, but finer, and more reflective. (Not the glass bead stuff, something that can split light waves like that fake snow you get in bags that reflects numerous colours of light like real snowflakes do.) I’m not sure what I can use though. Actually, now that I think about it, silica sand can be sprinkled over wet areas and then heated to melt to create a cool mottled ice look. (That’s how they make raised business cards)

I’ll definitely post pictures if/when I can pull this together. They’ll probably be posted in MPSIMS, given the subject matter though.

You can’t pair bare LEDs directly - they don’t share current very well. You CAN pair (or more) LEDs that have dropping resistors - this is called “running in parallel”. I’m not sure what LEDs you are planning on using - some LED “lamps” have dropping resistors already installed. These will specify a voltage range that they can run on. Bare LEDs will specify a maximum current that they can handle. Here is some not-too-complicated info on LEDs:

There are plenty of water-modelling products that are made for dioramas, model trains, etc. Some you just pour in place and they harden in hours; some require multiple thin applications.

Here is one example.

Check out embossing powder in the rubber stamp/ink pads section of the craft store - it sounds pretty much like silica sand. Some are iridescent IIRC. There are also ultrafine glitters, many with iridescence.

The very finest-ground stuff is a powder pigment called Pearl-Ex:

The photos make it look much more granular than it actually is; it’s actually about as fine and powdery as cornstarch and a little goes a VERY long way. One of the colors, or a combination of them, might have the effect you’re after.


Let’s move this over to Cafe Society, where those denizens can give you even more wonderful hints.


That stuff looks interesting. It’s worth a try anyway. :slight_smile:

Ooh, that would work. The opalescent stuff looks like it would work perfectly for a top-coat of snow layer. Thanks!

In another instance of It’s a Small Doper World, I design many of the little figurines for xmas villages (Lemax). Just thought I’d pop in and say Hi and keep building! Anything you’d love to see? I’m always trying to think of new ideas…