Admiral Makarov diorama

Completed in December 2010.
Primarily paper and clay.
1/35th scale.

Having thoroughly enjoyed building a lighthouse diorama recently, I decided that I wanted to make another diorama. Since I never do anything the easy way, I'm going to make one as complicated and difficult as I can. I will return to a nautical theme for this one, as that's my forte. The inspiration for this diorama came from an incident during the 1904 Russo-Japanese War, where the Russian pre-dreadnought Petropavlovsk struck a mine and sank off the coast of China. The dead included Admiral Stepan Makarov, a virtual celebrity in European military circles. Witnesses stated that they saw the Admiral and his aides standing on the deck as the ship slipped beneath the ways, seemingly making no effort to escape. This incident, though surely apocryphal, only added to the legend of Makarov. It was also glorified in several contemporary woodblock prints and ink and paper newspaper accounts, all of which give me inspiration and motivation.

I am going to attempt to make a diorama showing Admiral Makarov's last moments, on the sinking Petropavlovsk. In my mind I'm seeing a slice of the deck and some fittings, maybe a gun or a funnel, and the Admiral and maybe some other figures center stage as the waters lap at his feet. As to how I'll do this, who knows?

This, by the way, is Admiral Stepan Makarov...

And this is the Russian pre-dreadnought Petropavlovsk...

And this is the location of the incident on March 31, 1904, off Port Arthur, China (the red dot)...

Makarov Build Day One:

Day one! Ok, first off I need some measurements. For no other reason that it's handy and easy to remember, and the perfect size for my kitchen table work area, I am going with 8.5x11 inch, a standard sheet of typing paper size. It needs to be fairly sturdy, so I went out to the hulk of the Rossiya, currently under salvage from her untimely demise last week. Tearing off the 5mm thick foam board decks, I made a floor and four walls from this recycled material. The "back wall" will be 3 inches tall and the other three just 2 inches, this will allow some extra space for a backdrop of sorts for my diorama. Cut them with a box knife as they were too thick for my exacto knife. I built the diorama box with glue and tape and it looks pretty good.

That done I need to think about what I want to represent. My goal is a slice of a ship that's almost sunk, so it needs to be at an angle to the surface, and in two directions. The Petropavlovsk sank bow-first from a mine hit on the starboard side, so I want to have the deck angle down from left to right and also down from back to front. Since this deck piece will be holding a lot of weight by the end, I cut it out of the 5mm foam board (salvaged from the Rossiya again). Not a hard operation, but it did require several attempts to get the angles right. I stacked and glued scrap cardboard under the raised end to support the angle, but I didn't glue the deck piece down yet. Nor have I glued any of the side pieces down yet, as I'm sure I'll have to tweak them as I go along. So the whole thing is pretty rough looking now.

Ok, now that the basic structure is done I can move on to the details. I should note that I'm building this diorama at 1/35th scale, meaning that a 6 foot tall man will be around 2 inches tall modeled. So that means that my diorama will show a section of deck that's about 30 feet long by about 20 feet wide at one end, tapering down to about 6 feet wide at the other end. This section will be a slice of the starboard bow quarter of the ship, showing the main deck and the edge of the hull. The "back wall" of the diorama will be a portion of the ship's superstructure, which will probably rise above the level of the walls (maybe). So I have to build this as I would any other ship model, but just a portion of it. First up I cut out a piece of paper the right size as a workbench and drew on where I wanted my elements. I think I need a section of superstructure (the front corner of the bridge) and maybe a slice of the forward main gun turret (maybe not, though, the angle is wrong). Using my plans for the Petropavlovsk, I can see that the bridge corner is about 9 feet tall, scaling down to 3 inches, with a bend back to the centerline. This is cut out of 5mm foam board (more Rossiya salvage). There are two portholes and a hatchway on this section (plus a ladder on the bend), so I need to mark those and cut out the holes with my exact knife (not easy in material so thick). All this will be clad in cardstock eventually, which is easier to paint and detail.

The two porthole rims will be decorative snap fasteners (thanks mom!) and the hatch door will be cardstock probably. To get the sizes right I make a little 2 inch (1/35th scale) guy, isn't he cute?

Ok, I need to do the planked deck now. I marked out another workbench piece out of cardstock and penciled where the wooden area would be. I then painted this with Coffee Latte, the closest I could find to what period Russian warship decks looked. After several coats of Coffee Latte I weathered the deck a bit with some dry brushes of Burnt Umber and Bark Brown. These old coal-fired ships had notoriously stained and dirty wooden decks, they were just impossible to keep clean, especially at sea. Now the actual planks. I'm going to use a graphite pencil to simulate the pitch between the planks, a quick and pretty effective method. The average size of a plank was 12 inches, which scales down to about a third of an inch in 1/35th, so there will be a fair number of planks here. A ruler and a pencil sharpener were needed. Note that along the edge of the deck there was a thin strip of metal that the railing stanchions were attached to, and that around the edge of the bridge wing there was also a strip of metal, so neither of these areas will be planked. Once the lines were on, I smudged them in to weather the deck more, and the final look is pretty good, if 2-D (if I ever do this again, I might try wooden planks again). Then cut it out, painted on the Medium Gray deck edge, and glued the entire thing down on my foam board base. This will be the canvas for my diorama, so to speak.

On to the bridge corner, which I already roughed out of foam board. The plating is cardstock as usual, with the hatch and portholes cut out. I also made a coaming around the hatch and put three very thin strips vertically to represent the weld lines, which show up prominently on period photos of the ship. The tops and back of the wall are a particular challenge as they are canted at an angle. I need first to determine how high the diorama will be, I don't want it too tall or it will look weird, but not too short either. I think in the end I'll just follow the natural line of the roof of the bridge section back and build up the back wall of the diorama frame accordingly.

Next up is the hatch, or more correctly a watertight door, which I'm going to model hanging open (assume it was left open in the rush to abandon ship, and the tilt of the sinking would keep it open). Cut out of heavy cardstock with some bits for the handle dogs (these doors didn't have spin wheels or the like). A spot of goldish paint for the handles and hinges and we're done. Since the door is open you can see "inside", I have to make it look real. A couple stand-ups of cardstock and some light gray paint and you have a hallway leading from the doorway. The inside of the door will also be this lighter gray (it should be white, as that's what they painted the interior surfaces of their ships, but I'm going with a sooty, dirty gray).

Once glued on the foam board, I can paint the wall Medium Gray, which is historical. The Petropavlovsk started the Russo-Japanese War in Victorian black and white, but was repainted dull gray to help her blend in with the dreary coastline of the Yellow Sea. Normally a warship like this, especially one that was flagship for the Admiral, would be kept in good shape. But by the time of her loss, the Petropavlovsk had been blockaded in Port Arthur for six months, bereft of adequate maintenance facilities, so I assume there would be some rust stains on exposed surfaces, and specifically washing down from the porthole and around the bottom of the hatch, as well as some from the top edge where the water would run off the ledge. These are just a couple colors of paint mixed with my finger and pulled gently down the wall. Just need to put in some clear plastic for the porthole glass, but I think I'm done with the back wall for now...

At the bend on the bridge corner is a 11 foot high ventilation funnel, bringing fresh air down to the interior spaces below deck. To make this a 2 and a half inch funnel, I rolled paper up, glued it, and cut it off at an angle, then flipped it over and glued it down tight. A coat of Medium Gray for the outside, but some anti-corrosion Dark Red for the inside, plus some rust streaking, and she's done.

And I think I'm done for a bit. The weekend is coming and I've got no more free time until Monday. See you then!

Makarov Day Two Day two! Time to put more stuff on the deck. To the left of the hatch is a single 75mm 50 caliber Model 1892 Canet gun, known in Western service as a "Three incher" or "Twelve pounder". This is a hand-cranked, manually-operated, open site-aimed cannon that was primarily used to fend of torpedo boat attacks (it was too small for much of anything else). There were a large number of them on the Petropavlovsk, and towards the stern (off to the left off the diorama) there would have been several more spaced out along the deck (along with guns of larger and smaller calibers). It's 12 feet long in real life and a smidge over 4 inches long on the model. I built it out of rolled paper, a lollipop stick, some egg carton bits and lots of glue. Painted it Medium Gray with some brass parts and then weathered with my rust color.

The barrel/breech assembly sits on a simple unprotected pedestal mount, bolted directly to the wooden deck (there's a layer of steel under the wood, of course, which the bolts would have anchored in. Built out of paper and foam and the like, with hand wheels cut out of paper and bolts dabbed on with a Sharpie. Then both parts were glued together and set aside to dry firmly.

The final product...just in need some better aiming sites (maybe). I wish I had some real brass or iron paint, that would look better here. The barrel is also a tad bit too large for scale, but I don't think anyone but me would notice...

Ten minutes after I put it down, however, it occurred to me that the barrel just didn't look right. Too big a diameter on the rifled end, I determined eventually, and so I cut off the last two inches and inserted another rolled tube that is maybe 50% smaller around. A more pronounced muzzle brake and a fresh coat of paint and it's all better (again).

Now, this gun needs shells, which were hand-loaded one at a time into the breech. The actual magazine was inside the superstructure and dedicated crewmen would lug the 2 foot long, 11 pound shells two or three at a time from the magazine, down the corridor, out that watertight door I made, and to the gun (and repeat...). There was, however, a box containing "ready rounds" mounted against the wall directly behind the gun. This cabinet held about two dozen shells for immediate use (things happen fast in war).

The shells themselves are just lollipop stick segments, shaved to a point at one end with my exacto knife, and painted tan with red warheads (from what I can read, it was red for armor-piercing and blue for high-explosive, though that varied). I'm going to model it with the door hanging open and the tilt of the ship as she sinks making the shells slide out off the shelves and klatter to the deck.

That done, to the right of the hatch, along the edge of the deck, is a set of davots holding a lifeboat. The davots were mounted right through the wooden deck, easy to show. Now, since the blast went off just forward of this area, though down below the waterline, I can assume that a considerable amount of explosive energy came this way, even if in the shape of a column of water, pile driven upwards by the mine going off. So, it's not illogical to say that the relatively fragile wooden lifeboat hanging out over the side of the ship and flimsy davots and thin ropes, might have been damaged. So, I'm modeling the davots broken off by the force of the blast. One will just be a stub, but the other is a bit taller, and part of the pulley system for raising and lowering the lifeboat will remain. I'll wrap some cable around this later, have it artfully drape around the deck.

Between the left wall and the gun is a largish bollard, a pair of thick metal cylinders about three feet high that were used as anchors for decklines when tying of the ship in port. These are just paper tubes painted gray, with lots of rust. Now for the railing, which will run all the way across the deck edge. It's a two strand affair, with four foot high stanchions. Most of the photos I can find of the Petropavlovsk show that the bridge railings were metal cable, but the lower deck railings (like we have here) were just thickly braided rope. This is good as I have some thick twine that will show the uneven waves and kinks of a real rope railing well. The stanchions are just toothpicks glued into holes poked with a pushpin and painted gray. They are an inch and a quarter high in this scale.

And now it's time to glue everything down, mostly because I'm impatient and I need to get the spacing right. Once it all was down, I can see that I measured pretty good (surprise!) and the only visible mistake is that there needs to be more room between the gun and the davots (not that I have any to spare here). Looks pretty good!

Now I can add the railing lines. They are black linen line, superglued to the toothpicks, which was a bigger headache than anticipated. I purposely slacked the lines a bit, as the photos show, and mottled the colors a bit with some gray and black paint. I then went back and put a line of paint over the tops of the stanchions to simulate the eyebolts that the ropes ran through. All in all pretty nice effect. To the right, the railings are cut, as I assume the falling davots would crush them, and I'll add some loose railing while adding the water later.

All for today, but first I'll lay the deck in the diorama box to see how it fits (very well...). I trimmed down the sides of the diorama box, down to the presumed water level, and I hope this works. I still have to add the back wall and the top of the bridge wing, plus some detail work on the edges, but I'd say the deck is about 95% done at this point.

Makarov Build Day Three:

Day three! Well, as of today a week has passed and I'm well on the way to getting this puppy done. The two hardest parts remain, however, and I'm stressing about how they will turn out. What I need to make next are the human figures, including Admiral Makarov himself. Only then can I figure out a way to make water, and then I can tie all my elements together.

But first...I need to finish the diorama box. The back wall and top of the bridge corner need to be "filled in and blocked out". I took some "artistic license" and angled the roofline straight back, and built up the back wall of the diorama base to match. A thick coat of Medium Gray helps tie in all the angles. Sadly, I didn't glue the two layers of cardstock together as well as I should and there is some bubbling on the roof (I don't think it's that noticeable, I just have the eye for mistakes).

Next I "plated" the outside of the diorama box with cardstock to give myself a smooth, unbroken surface to paint. That went pretty well and the Gloss Black makes for a nice frame. Again, though, next time I'll find a good picture frame to hollow out like I did with the lighthouse, it's just so much easier to find something pre-made.

Ok, with the canvas done, so to speak, it's now time to think about the human figures. I should note that I've never in my life tried to scratch build a human figure before, so this is all new to me. I'm going to use oven-bake modeling clay over a wire skeleton, briefly. First of all some measurements. An average 6 foot tall man is 72 inches tall, which is 1829 millimeters, which, at my 1/35th scale, will model out at 52 millimeters, or a hair over 2 inches, tall. Two inches tall and maybe an inch wide is not very big, really, so this will be a challenge. In fact, I am fully prepared to make a dozen crappy figures before I finally figure out how to make one good one. Experimentation is the only way I'll learn this hobby... My first task is to make a wire skeleton to the correct proportions, which turned out to be more of a headache than I expected. I used simple 16 gauge copper wire, which is strong enough but also easy to bend. After a couple false starts and mutant mistakes, I figured it out and produced five wire skeletons (armatures, really) that look pretty good. It occurred to me pretty quickly that, while I've been looking at humans all my life, I never really paid attention to how to make one out of wire...

My clay is original Sculpey, a ecru colored clay that I bought at Wal-Mart for under five bucks. I have zero experience with modeling clay, except for maybe Play- Do with Matt and Ben, but I don't recall ever using anything that you bake in the oven like Sculpey. As a test, I whipped up a spare wire skeleton and lumped out a rough human figure in the clay. I fiddled around with a toothpick and a spoon, trying to form clothing folds and buttons and the like. Following the directions on the package, I stuck it in the oven and baked it. It turned out just as expected, rough but well-detailed for the five minutes I spent on it.

Using this tester, I spent some time experimenting with ways to sand, carve, paint and mangle baked clay figures. I eventually named him Boris, my first crewman, and I took good care of him (after I tore off one leg and scraped his head tiny, that is). But my goal was met, I figured out how to make detailed human figures.

All for today. Thanksgiving is in a few days, so I'm going to be short of free time until early next week, so I'll start working on the real figures then.

Makarov Build Day Four:

Day four! After a busy weekend I finally have some free time to start on the figures. I'm going to start with the diorama's centerpiece, the Admiral himself. Admiral Makarov's demise became legendary almost immediately, regardless of the paucity of confirmable facts. The Western (and even the Japanese) media loved a sensational story (1904 was really no different in that way from 2010...) and leapt on the romantic idea of this famous leader going down with his ship in heroic defiance of his enemies. Contemporary newspaper illustrations show pretty much the scene I've modeled, the Admiral standing resolutely on deck as the waters rush up at him, and altogether fitting end for such a brave and powerful man. The actual truth, of course, is that none of the actual survivors of the Petropavlovsk could definitively state that they saw the Admiral at all at the time of the sinking. The ship sank so quickly, in just a few minutes, and the loss of life was so catastrophic (85% of the crew perished), that it's highly unlikely that the Admiral would have even had the time to make such a dramatic exit. But still, I do love a good story, so I'm going to give Makarov his hero moment.

Uniforms are historical for the Imperial Russian Navy in the winter months of 1904, with the ordinary seamen wearing dark blue tops with white collars and dark gray pants, and officers (including the Admiral) wearing black coats over white shirts and near black pants. The Admiral's coat also had pronounced golden epaulets and cords and a chest full of shiny medals.

I'm going to put the Admiral center stage, standing up straight against the tilting of the deck (like a real man!), back tall and firm, head and eyes gazing out across the horizon, knees bent slightly, one leg in front of the other, one hand on the breach block handle of the cannon to steady himself, the other arm raised up to the sky, his saber scabbard held up like the True Cross in acceptance of his ascension into Heaven as the waters froth around his boots. I'm going to cry...

You surely noticed that I left the head off. This was because, after several failed attempts, it was clear that it would be easier to make the head separate and then attach it (via superglue) after its own baking cycle. This way I can model the Admiral's virile, manly flowing beard and his peaked officer's cap. Sadly, I suck at facial features, so it look me an hour and a dozen start-overs to finally get something that even slightly resembles a human face. This will require some more study, I'm going to have to pay better attention to peoples' faces from now on.

To take a break from heads and faces (need to do some more research), I want to move on to another human figure. I'd like you now to meet Ivan, a young man in the employ of the Tsar's Navy. Ivan was running towards the amidships lifeboat stations a minute ago when he slipped on the rapidly tilting deck and nearly slid off the ship into the sea. Luckily, he caught himself on the railing and was able to hang on precariously. Unluckily for him, however, he quickly realized that 13,000 tons of steel were able to roll over on top of him and drag him down into the depths of the Yellow Sea. Frozen in fear, Ivan could do little but hold on to the railing with white knuckles as the ship plunged into the icy cold waters...

Since Ivan will be half in and half out of the water, I'm going to cut him off at the waist and fix him against the side of the hull to the left of the cannon, holding on to the railing with one hand, the other pawing desperately at the deck. As with the Admiral, I'll model Ivan's head separately.

Next up is poor Mikhail, who, while rushing to the Admiral's side, slipped on the wet, tilting deck and tumbled to his side. Even as he realized that he's not getting off this ship alive, he's pretty darned impressed with the Admiral's calm and defiant stand against mortality. Of course, Mikhail does wish now that he hadn't volunteered for duty aboard the Petropavlovsk last year, as he'd much rather be slogging vodka and eating borsht back home in Moscow than counting his last minutes here in the freezing waters of Asia.

Next is doomed Josef, who is quite upset at having been thrown clear of the ship by the initial explosion, only to realize that there'd be no rescue from this terrible day. He'd be even more pissed if he knew that Admiral Makarov, the man he has idolized for so long, was directly responsible for his untimely demise by recklessly ordering the Petropavlovsk to steam through an area that his flotilla commanders warned him might be heavily mined by the Japanese. Josef's immediate concerns are that he's being sucked under by the whirlpool suction of the ship sinking and that he never got a chance to spend that twenty rubles he won playing cards last night in the wardroom.

And lastly I want to put on the far right the top of one of the lifeboat davots that was ripped off by the mine explosion. The modeling clay allows me to make a curved pole much, much easier than ever before (much easier than wrapping paper around a bent piece of wire). This pole end has a pulley still attached, and the rope is tangled in amongst the wreckage of the deck.

Remember Boris, my first mutant figure? Well, never one to waste material, I've decided to have Boris floating dead, his body wrapped up in the broken davot and ropes. I just cut off his wire pieces and repainted him a bit and you can't even tell he was never fully formed.

All of my figures...

Ok, water time. I've decided to use simple acrylic silicone caulk, which dries crystal clear and has a workable surface texture while wet. I've never used caulk for anything before, so this will be a challenge. The caulk was just a couple bucks at Wal- Mart and the gun I borrowed, so this is by far the cheapest way to make water I know of (I hope). Because it dries clear, I need to paint the "bottom" of the diorama. I used a variety of blues, from cobalt to turquoise, and blended them together to what I think the Yellow Sea might look like (the lighter areas are where the water is moving faster and aerating more). I also blended in a border of the hull color, assuming that the curving hull would show through the water at the edge.

And here are all my people on the deck and in the water in roughly the locations where they will end up (still might move them a bit).... Applying the surprisingly sticky caulk in thin layers proved pretty frustrating in the beginning, but got easier as I added more, smoothing it out and pushing it into cracks and corners with a plastic spoon and a wooden stick was hard and I ended up using my fingers more than anything. I was able to make waves somewhat, but Im sure they will need some tweaking once the caulk has dried. I also sloshed it up over the deck to simulate the sinking of the ship, with more on the left side obviously. This didn't look as good as I had envisioned in my mind, but still not too bad for a first effort. While the caulk was still wet, I squished my swimmers in the water and made splashes around them, same with the broken lifeboat davot and all that. At the last minute I decided I needed more flotsam/wreckage in the water so I made up a couple of busted deck planks and put them in the water. I also realized in this process that my cant to the left wasn't as deep as I had originally thought and I had to add much more caulk water to the left corner than I anticipate (no worries).

And now I just have to wait for the caulk to thoroughly dry, which might take hours if not days. As it's 3am, I'm going to bed and hope for a pleasant surprise tomorrow... I'll let you know!

Makarov Build Day Five:

Day five! Well, many days have passed since I squirted in my caulk water and I've finally got some free time to finish this diorama up. I was pleasantly surprised at how much the dried caulk did indeed look like water, and ticked at myself for not making a better effort to make realistic waves and crests before it dried. Clearly, the caulk method is the way forward, but more care needs to be taken in the prep stages. I didn't have to do much more here, just tweak the water the right color, by dry brushing blues and whites onto the wave tips and the crests, as well as deeper into the troughs. Overall I think it looks pretty well for a first attempt, and I have hopes to try water again in a future diorama project.

New materials purchased for this project...

1 bottle of gold paint $1.97
1 bottle of flesh paint $1.97
1 bottle of linen paint $1.97
1 tube of caulk $5.47
1 pack of Sculpey clay $5.97
Total cost of project... $17.35

Total time spent on this project...a bit over two weeks total time, and only four days of actual labor. Not bad!

Here are the final photos of the Makarov diorama...

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