Tag Archives: shadowbox

Keeping your dioramas dust-free

The vast majority of dioramas consist of a base with no background or enclosure. While this type of diorama is the easiest and quickest to build, it’s also the least practical. With nothing to cover it, that ubiquitous household villain known as dust will make its presence known all too soon. Even if you keep your windows closed, your diorama will soon be covered in dust. 

Now depending on the contents of your diorama, dusting it may be a minor nuisance or a major undertaking. Dusting a 1:12 scale contemporary car will be easier than dusting a 1:72 scale forest scene. 

As you begin the task of dusting, you’ll find yourself bringing home every type of cleaning rag carried by your hardware store or supermarket. Then you’ll start experimenting with various cleaning liquids, from window cleaners to vinegar and dish detergent. At some point you may inadvertantly damage your diorama and be faced with a repair job. 

If you forego frequent dusting, you’ll find that the dust becomes even more difficult to eradicate. It almost seems to turn sticky if you leave it too long. The longer you wait, the thicker it gets, and the harder the job becomes when you finally get around to it. 

There’s a simple solution to this, and it’s called the box diorama (also known as a shadowbox). This is a diorama which adds walls and a ‘roof’ to the base (at least one wall is transparent, for obvious reasons). The walls and roof prevent any dust from getting onto your diorama, guaranteeing that it will continue to look as good as the day you finished it. Any dust that accumulates on the outside of the diorama can be cleaned off in seconds, the same as windows or a countertop.  

To be completely dust free, the box diorama should be completely sealed. Any open spaces will allow dust to get in. It doesn’t have to be airtight, but it should be covered on each side and devoid of gaps. 

The simplest way to start is with a commercially available display case. This type of case consists of a clear acrylic cover which attaches to an opaque base. While a box diorama usually has a background photo or painting on the rear wall, this isn’t absolutely necessary, and you can always add it later. If you can’t find a commercially available display case that you like, you can make your own. Whether you opt for a pre-made display case or a custom version, your diorama will be beautifully dust free. 

If you like to build dioramas and want to learn more about how to optimize the visual impact of your work, you might like my book, Diorama Design. It’s available in both ebook and print formats at Amazon.

-Ivar

Spinner Over Police HQ (1:24)

I wanted to show the Spinner in flight—it’s much more graceful with the wheels tucked out of sight. I also wanted to capture the night-time ambience which was integral to Blade Runner.

To meet these requirements, I used the box diorama format described in my previous post. The box started out as a wooden picture frame. I extended the sides with basswood panels to provide more depth. The Spinner is supported from behind by a U-shaped arm mounted to the base of the box. The Duratrans backdrop is back-lit with an LED strip.

-Ivar

The box diorama: supercharging the diorama

The typical diorama uses a flat board as the structural base. This configuration has a number of limitations. It doesn’t usually include a background, which means the artist is constrained to working on only one surface when recreating a scene, lessening the overall verisimilitude. Another drawback is that this configuration requires premium real estate when displayed—either a book shelf or an empty stretch of wall where it can be attached with brackets, usually at waist level. This can be an issue when space is limited.

Enter the box diorama, sometimes called a shadow box. Leveraging multiple surfaces, it offers the artist complete control over background elements as well as lighting. There is also more control over what the viewer sees, since the box can only be viewed from the front. This makes it easy to add hidden supports to display aircraft in flight. And since the box diorama is usually displayed at eye level, it takes up no more space than a painting.

When I decided to create a showcase for my Spinner model from the film Blade Runner, it was clear that the box diorama was the way to go. In the film, the Spinner was shown only at night, which showed off its dazzling lights to maximum effect, and made its medium blue paint scheme appear dark blue. I wanted to capture both these elements.

My next post will feature the completed Spinner Over Police HQ box diorama. Stay tuned!

-Ivar