Updated: Feb 16, 2020
Written by Sarah-Anne
While brick may not be the first surface texture that comes to mind when creating tabletop scenery it can be used in a myriad of worlds - from Victorian row houses to post-apocalyptic diners - and is a great way to add variety to your tabletop terrain.
foamcore sheets (with paper backing removed), or foam insulation
Mod Podge, tinted with black acrylic paint
off-white (base layer, grout)
terracotta brown/red oxide
dark brown (for accent bricks)
tan (for weathering)
brown acrylic ink wash
PVA glue (optional, for adding vines or plant overgrowth)
assorted flocking (optional, for adding vines or plant overgrowth)
assorted sized flat-head paint brushes
ball of aluminium foil (for creating brick 'texture')
pencil or marker (for tracing out design)
small sculpting tools or cocktail toothpick (for carving design)
Trace your design our onto the foam using the pencil or marker (avoid permanent markers as the solvents in the ink can melt the foam). Note: for the purposes of this tutorial I completely forgot this step and went right into carving. But if you're unsure of what brick pattern you want to go with, I strongly advise you to sketch it out before you start carving! While brick is usually pretty uniform in its overall design, look at images of existing buildings for inspiration. There are actually many different styles of brick layouts that can give your pattern interest, and help to evoke the sense of where you building would be from. Is this a Victorian mansion, or a dilapidated storefront in the 20th century? Is the building well cared for, or part of the zombie apocalypse? These questions can help to give your finished product character, especially when you keep in mind that its often the imperfections and variance in design that will make your brick look realistic.
Once you've settled on your pattern, begin carving out the gaps between the individual bricks. Though small carving tools can be found at your Local Gaming Store such as Jacks on Queen, a cocktail toothpick (the larger kind) can be an excellent replacement if you don't have any handy at home. Note: while a ballpoint pen is the preferred replacement for stone carving tools, this makes the grout lines in brick too wide and unrealistic for brick. When carving the long, horizontal, brick lines keep your tool/toothpick at a very shallow angle to the foam. This prevents the foam from tearing while allowing you to create deeper, straighter lines.
If creating older/damaged bricks, make sure to add in cracks; making them form a diagonal pattern works well and can be achieved by both going along existing grout lines (but making the crack portions deeper) and long the face of the occasional brick. Note: if using foam insulation, it may be necessary to first cut along your rock pattern with a hobby knife before making the grout lines with your sculpting tool or toothpick.
Now for the magic that turns these from obvious pieces of foam into brick! Grab a length of kitchen aluminium foil and roll it into a tight ball. Roll the ball of foil along the surface, being careful to change directions and amount of pressure applied so you don't end up with obvious patterns. By pressing into individual bricks while applying more pressure, you can create further variance in the overall surface depth, which will give your washes and highlighting techniques more opportunity to stand out.
Once you're happy with the look of your bricks, now it's time to protect the delicate foam from the wear and tear of repeated gaming. Apply a thin layer of Mod Podge (tinted with black acrylic paint), being careful to get it into all the crevices of the foam, while not obscuring any of the finer details in the brick texture. Allow to dry completely (best if left overnight to cure fully) before proceeding with your painting.
Cover the entire surface of the bricks with your base/grout shade. At this step the most important thing to remember is to thin your paints down with water before applying. It is not necessary to have the paint as watery as an ink wash, but if left as it comes out of the bottle, all the work to create that amazing brick texture will be lost. Wait for the paint to dry completely (including in the deeper grout lines) before proceeding to the next stage.
With your main brick colour, dab a small amount of paint onto your paintbrush and then keeping the bristles at a 30 degree angle to the foam, gently brush along the surface. The idea is to only grab the very top levels of each brick face, avoiding the grout lines and recesses made by the ball of foil. This technique falls somewhere between dry-brushing and colour blocking as you want your paintbrush to have more paint on it than you would if truly dry-brushing, but you're also not looking to give the face of each brick full, even coverage.
Once your base brick layer is fully dry you can apply the accent brown colour. Pick up a few of the bricks in a random pattern (the percentage of overall bricks painted is personal preference) and paint them out in the dark brown. Let dry completely before moving on to the ink wash.
Dilute the brown ink wash considerably; you are looking to dull the off-white and brick colours, but still keep the grout lines obviously lighter. Give the entire surface a quick, even wash. Allow ink wash to dry completely (including the gaps between the bricks) before moving on to the next step.
While you could certainly leave the bricks as-is at this point, but adding home highlights or directional-lighting will add even more realism. Using the tan (or same off-white as the grout), apply a small amount of paint to the brush and then remove most of it onto some kitchen paper towel. Gently drag the brush back and forth (in all directions) applying a fine layer to only the outer edges of each brick. The key is to keep the effect subtle - a little truly goes a long way when you are using this dry-brushing technique. You can always add another layer if it's not as light as you'd like, but it is very difficult (and would involve going through several steps again) to take some of the highlights away.
Once you've deemed your bricks compete, don't forget that all-important matte sealant! Not only will it remove the not-so-realistic shine of the ink wash (unless you want your bricks to look wet, but that is a topic for another time!), but will preserve the longevity of your terrain. A good rule to follow is to apply three thin coats, giving time for the sealant to dry fully in between applications.
And there you have it, realistic-looking bricks! Try experimenting with different base and accent colours to represent different brick styles; looking at images of real brick can help give lots of inspiration. If you'd like to take the weathering one step further, add some vines and plant overgrowth to the brick surface. Simply paint on lines of PVA glue (keeping to the grout lines helps to make the effect more believable) and sprinkle on your flocking of choice!