New: The Dioramas Exhibit at Palais de Tokyo in Paris

Our good friend Gloria Groom, curator of European art at the Art Institute of Chicago, hipped us to a cool exhibit on dioramas Palais de Tokyo in Paris that opened on June 14 and ran until September 10. The links below give a fascinating look at the work on display, most of which was life-size, but inspiring nonetheless to us miniaturists! Visit the Web site here.

French Dioramas.jpeg

Two new links of interest as of December 2016:

Dioramas and Vignettes,tips and techniques
A great Facebook page maintained by John Reid

International Guild of Miniature Artisans
More dollhouse-oriented, but lots of inspirational work!


Materials for Box Diorama Makers


By Jim DeRogatis and Darryl Audette

 Evan Designs Model Trains Software

This is an excellent site for buying pre-wired LEDs and the accessories required to use them. One of the challenges of using LEDs instead of incandescent lights is learning the electronics necessary to match them with the right resistors. Evan sells LEDs in three sizes (1.8mm, 3mm, and 5mm) and numerous different colors (warm white best for duplicating sunlight, cool white for night scenes), as well as a great micro-chip that can be used for ultra-tight spaces (candles, instrument panels, etc.). All come pre-wired with the proper resistors, running on 6 to 15 volts, ready to hook up to a transformer (which the company also sells, along with wiring and other accessories, all priced comparably to Radio Shack and of better quality). I have used these LEDs in all of my boxes, as well as the restoration projects we did on several of Shep Paine’s classic dioramas. The owners also are incredibly friendly and helpful, eager to answer any questions, and service is ultra-fast and reliable. (J.D.)


LED strip lights from Menards

On certain occasions, in boxes where fluorescent strip lights might have been used in the past, the experienced box diorama maker will yearn for a more reliable and more compact LED strip light. I’ve searched for one for years, online and in the stores, and this is the only one I’ve found that comes with warm white lighting (much better for almost all applications, especially sunlight, as the cool white lights look very artificial in scale). Menards is a Midwestern hardware store chain, and these lights are great but seem to be exclusive to them. They come in 12-inch or 16-inch lengths, and we used several of them to restore Shep Paine’s Gundeck of the HMS Victory box, as noted in this article. (J.D.)


Full Compass (for light filters)

This site, geared toward DJs and musicians, has an extensive line of theatrical filters and gels, which are very useful for adding colored lighting effects, as Shep Paine has written in his books. Unfortunately, I have found that gels do not work very well with LEDs, only with incandescent bulbs and some fluorescents (you can, however, paint LEDs with acrylic or enamel paint for different effects, or to cut their intensity). In any event, this is a great place to buy gels if you need them. (J.D.) 



Digital Lighting Systems, Inc.

Another downside of LEDs for the box diorama maker (and this is the last one, I swear!) is that they cannot be dimmed with a simple rheostat like incandescents (of course, neither can fluorescents). LEDs require a special pulse-modulation dimmer (don’t ask me what that is, I just know it’s true) if you want to be able to control or alter the level of light at different times. (If you just want to set the light at a certain level, you can buy a transformer that gives more or less light, using anything from 6 to 20 volts.) While several Chinese companies sell cheap LED hobby dimmers on eBay, I’ve tried several and found them notoriously unreliable. The dimmers from this company are quite a bit more pricey, but they are solidly built and 100-percent reliable. (J.D.)

And yet another source for LEDs: Global Green Lighting, Inc.

This link was submitted by modeler Michael Berger, who writes: Global Green Lighting Inc (there is more than one company with a similar name) at has flexible LED strip lighting in 4 different whites (cool white, pure white, neutral white and warm white) -- I mix and match these (except for the cool white which is a blue white) to get the effect I want. You can cut the strips into segments with as few as 3 lights per segment, which is great for smaller boxes or for mixing and matching different color temperatures. They used to sell small AC to DC converters, but I do not see these among their power supplies any more -- they also sell dimmers. The folks there are very helpful, and are willing to sell relatively small strips of lights.



Blue Point Engineering

Excellent Web site devoted to robot/animatronic hobbyists, with many gizmos potentially useful to the box diorama builder. I used one of their customizable digital soundboards to provide sound to my diorama Pour l’ Empereuras chronicled in this article. (J.D.)




Fiber Optic Products, Inc.

My favorite site for buying fiber optics, another great tool for getting light in very tight spaces (instrument panels, etc.), and indispensible for creating starscapes. They even have a pre-wired LED unit available that is perfect for the latter. (J.D.)


All Electronics

For everything surplus electronic! (D.A.)


U.S. Brass Shop

My favorite sources for nameplates, especially the brass lettering on a black background. Service is ultra-fast, very reliable, and reasonably priced. (J.D.)




Aves Epoxy Putty

My current favorite sculpting medium, replacing that old reliable, A+B, but just as strong (and ready to be sanded or carved when cured) yet much more easy to feather out with their thinner or plain old tap water.(J.D.)


A+B Epoxy Putty

The standard for a generation of modelers, and still very useful for many applications, especially groundwork or scenery.


Kneadtite/Duro Putty

Much more rubbery or elastic than either Aves or A+B, mixing this in equal proportions with either gives the best qualities of both for fine facial features sculpting or clothing, as amply evidenced by the great Bill Horan, who mastered this trick and shared it with the rest of us.


Reaper Paints

My absolute current favorite as an acrylics painter, though I also use a wide variety of Vallejo and Andrea paints as well. (J.D.)

ASW Express

Discount art supplies available online. Join the mailing list for great daily bargains, including great discounts from time to time on the expensive but essential Winsor Newton Series 7 miniature brushes.

ABE Books


Two great sources for tracking down those hard-to-find, out-of-print books. (D.A.)

American Science and Surplus

THE shadowbox link, made famous by Shep as THE place to find all things shadowbox (electronics, motors, lighting, and all manner of weird gizmology). (D.A.)

Background Info 

Pepper’s Ghost

This is the name the theatrical world has used since Victorian times for the using a mirror or a piece of glass to project a ghostly image in a scene, a la my diorama Retreat from Moscow or Shep Paine’s Ghost of Hamlet’s Father or Son of the Morning Star. The link above is to an article on the technique, and here are two YouTube tutorials on it as well. 

Natural-History Dioramas

Darryl: I have long been a fan of great taxidermy and life-size natural-history dioramas, and I believe there is a lot that miniaturists can learn from this field. Here are some links to some of my favorites.

Betsy Thorsteinson is one of the finest natural museum diorama artists in the world. I had the opportunity to work with her when I was in my twenties, at the Manitoba Museum of Man and Nature.

Clarence Tillenius is the master of natural history museum dioramas. He did most of the dioramas at the Manitoba Museum of Man and Nature, the Canadian National Museum, and the Milwaukee Public Museum. I also had the good fortune to work with him when he taught drawing classes in Winnipeg, and I helped him with some of the Manitoba Museum dioramas, mixing resins and painting thousands of pine needles on trees.

Here is another article on Clarence Tillenius and Walter Pelzer, one of my childhood heroes, and an expert taxidermist. The two did many natural history dioramas together, especially at the Milwaukee Public Museum.


Clubs and Organizations

The Military Miniature Society of Illinois

The Miniature Figure Collectors of America

Southern California Area Historical Miniature Society

The Atlanta Military Figure Society

The Artist Preservation Group

The Lone Star Military Miniature Society

Historical Miniature Society of Northeastern Oklahoma

The National Capital Model Soldier Society

Long Island Historical Miniature Collectors Society


Forums and Publications



Figure International magazine