In this tutorial, I will try to describe the different step I go through while making a vignette box, that people started to call « Grillet box ». Check the hashtag #grilletbox on instagram.
I first wanted to make a video for this tutorial, as other people have started doing so, and I thought that it was a boat I should take too! But after a few failed attempts, and some time trying to figure out how to make a interesting video, that looks and sounds good, I finally realised that it’s not something I can do at the moment. Maybe later though, who knows?
So here’s a good old fashioned written tutorial that hopefully will give you an idea of my thought process when making such a project.
Last warning about that: I will not go through the techniques that I use here – I will make other tutorials for that. It will really be about the problems that can raise during such a project and how to anticipe or solve them.
At least, that’s the plan.
While failing at making the video tutorial, I realised that I could probably divise a box project in 8 different steps, that are:
- 1. Have an idea
- 2. Find a suitable box
- 3. Make a few sketches
- 4. Build the shapes
- 5. Decorate
- 6. Texture
- 7. Paint
- 8. Last details
This is a simplification though, and i’m often bouncing between each steps in different orders when confronted to a problem that needs solving, or when I have a new and better idea that will change things that will be done or that have already been done.
This is the box that I ended up making for this tutorial. I sadly can’t upload videos or gifs on my website, but you can find a small animation of the opening of the box on my instagram.
Have and idea
For this box I wanted to go back to Mordheim, to get in the mood for a long term project of mine, that I started in the end of 2018. It was intended for the Mordheim 2019 event before realising that it would be impossible to bring all the way to Helsinki with my small arms. Hopefully I will be able to finish it one day.
I also wanted to play again with clear resin to make a watery area. I used it on a box board from early 2021, and always looked with admiration the work of Neil101 on Yggdrassillium and of Alexander Lunde on his many awesome projects, where they both made fantastic looking wet areas.
Finding a suitable box
I’ve been hoarding boxes for years now, often coming back from thrift shop with several ones of different sizes, so I just had to choose one from my stash. I chose it so it would be big enough to have room to play with multiple areas – in opposition to small ones where I only have the space for one thing really – and small enough so it would not be a project that would take me months to finish.
Make a few sketches
I grabbed my copy of the Mordheim book to go through the brilliant illustrations to get in the mood and started making a few quick sketches, with the box in front of me. I keep a human size miniature next to me for the whole project, to check the proportions.
While sketching, I quickly decided to include a moving wall. Mostly because I love playing with boxes that fold and unfold, and also because taking a picture of a miniature inside the box would look better with an added dimension. Otherwise, it mostly looks like two 2D decorated planes stuck together.
Also, because I want to add a water area, and because the deepest areas of a box are where we will be able to fit most of the things, I will use the box upside down, big side up and small side down, where the water area will be.
But because of being upside down, the weight of the box would be off. So my plan was to add stone structure in the future water area, that would be just under the moving wall. I would add magnets where they meet to hopefully keep the box balanced that way.
After making some more sketches, I note the measurement of the box inside the box, so it’s easy to access. During the project, I often sketch an idea directly in the box. It gives me a better idea of the proportions, of what I need to cut and how, and how things might work or not when closing the box, to be sure that nothing gets broken.
Build the shapes
Before I can properly create a Mordheim environment, I need to have a clear idea of the basic volumes. In such a box, it also means how these volumes will work together when closing the box (how the elements in one side of the box will meet the elements on the other side of it) to be sure that everything can fit inside, and how the mobile pieces would work with all that.
At this stage, knowing what you want inside the box really helps. I wanted the moving wall, and thought that i needed the stone structure in the future water area to balance the box. I wanted to have a small piece of a ruined house, because I like the urban aspect of Mordheim. And I also wanted to add a small wooden bridge in the water – I like bridges, I like water, leave me alone.
So with this in mind, and the sketches helping to try to have a picture in my mind of how the box will work when opened and closed, I realised that the stone structure i wanted to put in the water would be high enough to go inside the other part of the box when closed, enough to complicate the place where I wanted to have the moving wall. Sketches helping again, instead of simply gluing a hinged wall to the inside of the box like my plan initially was, I decided to attach the wall to a column, that would be the hinged connection to the box. This way, when closed, a gap is create inside the box, in the inside of the column when the box is opened, that would be big enough to make room for the stone structure.
When I was building the wall and the column with it, without really thinking about it, I gave them the full height of the box. When checking if everything was fitting inside the box, it came in my mind that if the column and the wall were the full height of the box, it would be complicated for me, later, to use the grim textures that I like putting everywhere, while also being able to actually move the wall and the column. Surely the texture would get in the way, scratching the paint and tearing down other parts of the texture in a heartbreaking noise.
So I divided the column in three smaller parts, glueing one on the ceiling of the box, and another one on the floor. The moving bit would only be the main body of the column with the wall attached to it. A consequence of that would be to create a gap between the two sides of the box when being opened, but I figured that it was an ok sacrifice to make to be sure that the rest goes smoothly.
I started making the actually stone structure, first making pieces too small, then making it not tall enough, and realising after that that it would not be working how I want that way – I don’t really remember what the issue was. Maybe it just didn’t look good enough.
So rather than starting it again immediately, I started to build the shapes of the house the inside of the box. The shape of it would have an influence on how the wall would work. Mostly, it would dictate the length and thickness of the wall. I built the shapes, and realised that the details I would later add to it might also get in the way of the wall. The plan was that, when the box would be closed, the wall would hug the house, the closer the better to take the less space possible. This is a case where I was building two different elements of the box at the same time, and decorating them progressively, to make sure that everything would still work.
When it was done, the biggest shapes were mostly done. And while checking how things works, I realised that my my plan to have a magnet make the box balanced was a little bit optimistic. The box was too heavy to be hold by just one small magnet. So I decide to add a chain on the inside, so the open box would be fixed at 90°.
I also added a small less invading moving wall, on a smaller column on the opposite of the first one, mostly to add another layer when taking pictures of a miniature inside the opened box. But because my mind is a mess and the step list is just a rough simplification, it’s actually one of the first element I built in the box, before everything else. That smaller column was a big element that I wanted there and didn’t need to move, so I started with it. The small moving part became a problem later, and I had to make it smaller in order for the box to close with the elements I added later.
Once it’s done, that the shape of the house is set, and the moving wall glued, and the stone structure works, it’s mostly a ping pong game between decorating an element, checking if the box can still be closed without breaking anything, and figuring when things need to be decorated or painted before gluing them.
I would advise to wait for a while, and work on a different aspect of the box, before gluing an element. You might see later a problem that would have been trickier to solve if things where already glued. That being said, I often glue things too soon and have to fix that after. It happens. Mistakes are being made, hopefully lessons are being learned!
Small side note: I talk about decorating an element. This is in my mind a step of creating a piece of scenery. First you make the rough shapes, and then you decorate them. A big cube with paint on it would just be a big cube. But with windows, a roof, bricks, floors and textures, it becomes a house. In the same way, I see the box as different layers of shapes and layers of decoration. and making complicated folding elements, I need to make sure that the bigger shapes work together before I start decorating anything.
And thinking about it, it’s actually how I draw too. Build the big shapes, the anatomy, the pose, and then add the stuff, the details. I might be beating a dead horse with this tutorial? (I learned this expression at GW, and it’s horrifying! Thanks Sam!)
I decorated the box by adding wooden planks for the floors, some broken architectural elements in the place that will be the water area. I’m taking some time to think about what I could add. There will probably be chains on the big door, because it’s a good way to say that there is something on the other side.
After that, the fun part comes, and I went wild with texture. Maybe a bit to much, I thought at the time? As it turns out, I was too excited for this part of the box – and for the water area – and started texturing before I realised that I forgot to add the brick walls inside the water area. That was a goof.
Nothing crazy here, it’s usually the step that I enjoy the less, and I try my best not to ruin everything. I always end up with this feeling though, but learned that it goes away with time.
At this stage I usually add parchment seals and skulls that I paint on the side. I also made small posters using the old town cryer publications from years ago. I sculpted on the side a disgusting thing that I wanted to hide under the wooden bridge. The last step was to pour down the resin to make the water.
At this point, the box should be done! I painted the outside of it to hide the original flowers that were roughly painted on top by the previous owner – sorry about that. I then took some pictures of it, had fun making the stop motion animation, put some models in it to see how everything fits together. I usually also open and close it many times in a row to be sure that I made no mistakes. The chain got a bit stiff with the paint, and scared me when it went between the two sides of the box without me noticing, and I panicked because I thought I made a terrible mistake. But it was alright!
So this was my proto-tutorial about my thought process when making a box. I hope my broken english made sense, and that there was something useful for you to make your own box in the future. I’m also hoping that this was a first tutorial, and that the next ones will be more grounded in the techniques and tools I use. But if you have any questions or suggestions of things you’d want me to cover in a next tutorial, or things that need clarifications in this one, please let me know! I’m very stuck in my head most of the time, and this was an exercise in trying to rationalise an instinctive process.
If you want to support me and my work, or if you’d like to have an original box – including this one at the time of the publication – a drawing or something else that might appear there, please check out my online shop on Etsy! I also have prints available on Society6.
Thank you for the minutes of your life you decided to spend reading this tutorial, and I hope the world will be kind with you.
Nicky – March 2022