Christmas Village Mountain Display

Upgraded From Cardboard Boxes to Carved EPS Foam

by Jonathan Copelin


In the past I have used cardboard boxes and snow blanket to build the “landscape” for my miniature villages. However, for the last couple of years carved polystyrene has become my favorite due to its ability to hold the weight of the porcelain buildings and because of the realistic effects that can be created using some snow powder, moss, a little lighting and of course, imagination!

Christmas Village

Whilst I was searching the internet for some inspiration to get started on my project for 2016 I came across Hot Wire Foam Factory. After watching a few of the videos of their tools in use, I went ahead and purchased the 3-in-1 kit as I liked the idea of the clean cut and no mess! Once it arrived in the post I practiced on some old blocks of polystyrene.  At that time, I was quite pleased with the resulting effect of carving with a saw but after trying out the Hot Wire Foam Factory tools for myself I could not wait to get carving my next village landscape. The number of effects that you can create by simply changing the speed and angle of the cut whilst moving the wire is astonishing.

Rather than purchase some new polystyrene I re-used the polystyrene block from my 2015 village which I originally carved using a saw. The original polystyrene had some damage to it, exposing rough areas which were blended in using the Hot Wire Sculpting Tool. I used the Hot Knife tool to make some holes and recesses for all the cables and battery boxes to hide in.

Some of the off cuts were stuck to the top edges along the back to add some height to what was previously just a straight corner edge. This gave a more natural look to the finished village. I used PVA glue and tooth picks to hold the pieces in place and wire cutters to snip the exposed ends of the tooth picks once the glue had dried. The whole block of polystyrene was then painted with a grey children’s acrylic paint made by mixing a tiny bit of black with a lot of white. The exact shade of each mix is not critical as this is a snow scene and any “bands” are easily hidden by the snow powder and scenery. I do use a dark shade inside the nooks and crannies so the grey does not show through as much.

Christmas village
Mountain Sculpting techniques

Once the paint had dried, I got the two village pieces in place. This year I used the Santa’s tree house and the village with moving Santa and reindeer. From there I put the fences in place, using toothpicks glued to the fence to create half-inch posts to anchor it by pushing them into the polystyrene. The larger trees and arches were put in place and then the light sets put on. I used garden wire bent into “U” shapes to make staples to hold the wire down where needed – I find making the legs 1-inch long and pointing outward are best.

The reindeer moss was added, using wire “staples” with 2-inch legs this time. All the smaller trees were also added into the scene. At this stage, I find myself telling a little story to myself – probably caught this off Bob Ross who’s painting program I used to watch as a child – to give everything a home in the village. As I position the trees and bushes, paths and clearings start to emerge which the people can be added to later. I always have all the accessories nearby so I can make sure everyone is included in my “story”. Painted gravel is useful to break up flat areas around bushes and create borders to paths etc. I used snow-spray from a can to help define the surface of the cliffs and paths by covering with snow. It takes a couple of coats to get the desired effect.

Department 56 villages
Model Villages

department 56
Model village techniques

With all the trees and bushes in place, I gather up all the props I want to use and start positioning them in the scene – this is where telling a story in your head as you are building comes in handy. For instance, children running along a path and children grabbing their parent’s attention by pointing towards Santa who is handing out presents. I try to keep animals away from the people, as they would in real life and give them a home in the background in little wooded areas.

Department 56 village
Department 56

department 56 village

Telling a story as you build the village is what makes them magical and shows through in the finished product. Nothing is never just “put there”, it has its own story. What I try to do is recreate the world in my little story, a photo if you like of what was happening at that instant. And of course, I then have lots of fun photographing everyone and everything in the village!

Once everything is in place I start sprinkling the snow over the high areas and cliff areas, making some areas thicker where drifts build up. It takes longer, but doing it pinch-by-pinch give you more control over where the snow falls than simply shaking the bag over the village. Again – it’s all in the story telling! Tell yourself, “where did the wind blow the snow” and “where did the snow melt as people walk along the path”.

d56 village

department 56
Department 56 model village

Thank you so much for reading and happy carving!



Suggested tools/materials for this project:

3-in-1 Pro Kit • Foam Fusion • All Purpose Foam Coat