Project Number Nine
Admiral Makarov Diorama (1904)
Completed in December 2010
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
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,
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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,
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
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
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
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
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
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
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 I‘m 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
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
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
Here are the final photos of the Makarov diorama...
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that's between you and the
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