As many hobbyists will tell you basing is key to good looking minis. This is because we spend most of our time looking down at minis from an angle, which makes the base is a big part of what we see. Meaning any level of paint job can be elevated (or detracted from) by the way the model is based.
When I base my minis I like to add some height to them. Adding height to a model makes it look more imposing on the tabletop. Height also translates to depth as you're looking down so it make the whole model look more three dimensional than it would if it were mounded on a flat base.
This leads me to the first part of my basing technique, which isn't something I see a lot of elsewhere, the MDF blank. Rather than base directly onto the plastic base that comes with the miniature I base onto a smaller MDF 'upper' base that is later attached on top of the plastic 'lower' base;
I'm using these 'upper' bases for a couple of reasons beyond the aforementioned height. Firstly the MDF makes it easy to pin the miniature to the base, something that I find vital in gaming. It also effectively doubles the thickness of the base making the whole piece easier to handle and reducing the need to handle the mini itself.
I use 3mm thick MDF bases with diameters of; 25, 30 and 40mm which fit on top of the plastic; 30, 40 and 50mm bases respectively. You can buy these from various places, including Sarrisa in the UK.
I'm now going to go step by step through basing a mini, I'll be using the 'overgrown scrapyard' version of my technique I've used on my; Hoffman, Ramos and Mei Feng crews. There are photos of some other variations on this them at the end of the article.
To start with I assemble the miniature I'm going to mount on the base. In this case a Rail Worker;
You need the miniature to work out where it's going to stand on the base, there's no point building a base the model wont stand on. Next I grab a chunk of cork tile, you can buy more than you'll ever need from most DIY stores very cheaply. It's also worth having some cork chips laying about to use as boulders;
I cut a rough section of tile and glue it to the base (laminated side down) along with some bit's of plastic cog and strip styrene. The objective here is to get the core structure of the base in place to make sure everything fits. The cork provides some basic terrain, very little ground is really flat. You can layer the cork if you need more height.
There are a lot of places to buy plastic cogs, I get mine from Technobots. Strip Styrene or Plastruct is available from most model railway stores, this is designed for model making and is great for representing girders and pipes. I use superglue for all the gluing on my bases, which speeds up the process no end.
Next I chip away at the cork to distress it's surface and make it more natural looking. I use a pointed sculpting tool for this but a needle file works just as well;
Now I add some more details, using some small watch parts (you can buy small bags of these) and bit of cheap jewelry chain before finally gluing sand to any exposed parts of the MDF;
Don't worry too much about any parts that don't look good, you can cover these later. It's also important not to over think the placement of the parts. As long as the mini will fit on the base it's probably going to be fine.
With this done we're now ready to start painting. I start with a good coat of Army Painter Leather Brown spray. This is good for a base coat and I like the fact you can get exactly the same shade in a brush on paint, which makes correcting later mistakes much easier.
Once the spray has dried I give the sand a heavy wash of Vallejo black ink mixed with 1:1:1 with water and acrylic thinner. While this is still wet I paint the edge of the base black. I let this dry before dry brushing the sand Vallejo Heavy Kakhi and then lighter with Dead Flesh;
Next I dry brush the cork section heavily with Vallejo Cold Grey and then lighter with Stonewall Grey.
Then the metal parts are stippled and dry brushed with a dark metal, in my case Vallejo Gunmetal Metal. The idea here is to make metal show on exposed edges and in random patches on flat surfaces, like dirt has been partly warn away to reveal the metal underneath.
This takes us to the end of the painting stage;
Now it's time to add the plant life. One of the key things when using any scatter on a model it to use multiple types. The more types you use the more natural the base will look. I use four kinds; Small chunks of Woodland Scenics light and dark green clump foliage and miniNature (Silflor) grass tufts; spring and two colour summer. I use more of the light that the dark in both cases.
Grass tufts are very much the 'in thing' in basing right now, and they really are amazingly easy to use. Just grab a few from the packet and glue them into place. My tip is to use more than one variety and also try to mix the lengths. The temptation is always to go for big long ones, but mixing it up and using very short ones to very the effect helps make things look more natural.
Scatter the plant life as much as you can around the base and aim to almost overlap the different kinds so they look like they're growing into each other. I also use the foliage to cover and parts of the base that don't look as good, which is great for covering mistakes made earlier in the process.
You can also 'creep' the clump up and over raised cogs pipes and girders, Do this by gluing little chunks in a irregular lines up the surface. Always avoid using large chunks of clump foliage, about 3mm cubed at the very maximum. Lots of small bits of clump are better than one big one.
That's it, the base is more or less done now. All that's left is to touch up the black edge of the base, attach the miniature to the base, and then fix the whole thing it to the lower plastic base;
I tend to use a few blobs of green stuff backed up with super glue to attach the bases together.
The same basic techniques can be used with items other than cogs. This lets you theme different crews whilst keeping a coherent basing scheme;
I hope this was useful. If anyone has has any questions please just ask! :)