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Bottled Ship Builder

How to do water

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Hi Scott,

You can use the old tried and true technique of window putty mixed with oil paints. The latter has been used for at least 70-80 years. The putty however takes a really long time to dry. If you look at my Preussen build here on this site I use a different technique by carving individual pieces of wood, then using modelling paste and gel, then painting it with acrylics.

If you Google a few of the model railroader sites they have some awesome water techniques however our dilemma is getting the water into the bottle.

Edited by Chasseur
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There is a ton of different techniques.  My personal favorite is plastaline clay.  Its oil base so it stays maliable and melts at 150 fahrenheit.  I roll it out and cut a piece to go into the bottle then carfully roll it so it doesnt stick together and get it in.  From there I separate it and use long wires to flatten it in the bottom of the bottle and shape waves.  Once its in place I'll hold the bottle a burner on the stove for about ten to twenty seconds.  Just enough so the plastaline at the bottom next to the glass melts.  Then let it set and cool for a little while.  Once cool the sea stays in place. You can add wakes by either painting or using white plataline clay and pushing it into place.  

What I like about it is its less messy than putty with paint in it.  

Plumbers putty is also good.  

I've seen great things done with resin but I've never tried it.  

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Hi Scott,

I don’t think there is any best way to do sea. I’ve spent a fair bit of time out on blue water and I don’t think there are two places the same ever. At best it is a representation of the sea. If you look through the forum you will see a variety of ways, bare wood, painted wood, putty, Plasticine, resin, etc. Some have no sea, but put the SIB on a stand. Bob (shipbuilder) has excellent sea, but in a case, not a bottle. They all look good as a piece of art.

I think the best thing to do is try a couple, experiment, and use the one best suited to yourself.

I use Plasticine. Reasonably priced, non-toxic in a variety of colours that can be mixed to give the shade required. I tend to use blue, green, grey, black with white for foam. The ‘new’ formulation tends to colour hands, when softening it for use. I haven’t tried Daniel’s trick of melting it into place – might give it a go sometime. I use a variety of home made tools, left to right;

·         A bent nail in a garden cane with the head sanded smooth.

·         Bent Aluminium  Rod in a garden cane with the head sanded smooth

·         Bent Aluminium  Wire in a garden cane with the head sanded smooth

·         A length of wire coat hanger

·         An old stainless steel desert spoon with the edges cut away in a garden cane

·         A brass olive from a compression pipe joint with a piece of dowel tightly fitted in it, drilled through and mounted on a length of wire coat hanger – used as a roller

         Swab for cleaning the inside using acetone.



After the ‘sea’ is in, I shape the surface. Think about where you want the wind from – this will be the direction of the waves (usually). Also the height of the wave, if you want full sail, then don’t have Force 8 size waves, the masts would not take it in real life.

I shape the hull recess around the hull blank before any painting as the Plasticene will stick to it. With the blank hull in place, I put in the wake, dogbone, etc, caused by the hull, foam on the wave crests etc. Little bits of white Plasticene do for this. They can be smeared onto the wavetops and it doesn’t have to be even, there is no such thing at sea. In the example below, I have the wind coming from the port quarter. As I said, not totally realistic, but it sets the scene.


Then I take the hull out and finish the build. If there is any assembling to be done in the bottle I cover the sea with gauze, to keep things clean, assemble, remove the gauze and put the hull in the recess. A bit of final adjusting of the Plasticene to hold the SIB and that’s it.

Have fun experimenting



Edited by exwafoo
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  • 4 weeks later...

Good Day

I am new to the forum and pleased to have found it.

For models in and out of bottles l have covered my 'sea' with 4 or 5 coats of PVA white wood glue, allowing it to dry clear, between coats. This gives a realistic wet look, with depth to it.

Like commenters below I fiddled with oil paints but realised 30 odd years ago, life was not long enough and acrylic's the way to go. In bottles, I use plasticine for the sea, molten/softened by corking the bottle and immersing in hot water. Out of bottles, I carve the sea in jelutong. I use a router before carving, to accommodate the hull.

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  • 5 months later...
  • 11 months later...

Hi guys :

I haven't built a ship in a bottle for a few decades now and am just starting up again. In the past I always used Blue RTV silicone for my seas but as the years go by some of them develop a crystalline like substance that looks all the world like someone sprinkled a salt shaker in there. Aside from that there was the sometimes but not always fogging up of the bottle from off gasses. Pain in the but to clean up. Anyway I've decided to give the Plasticine method a go but I need some things clarified a bit .

Exwafoo, you say you put the hull blank into the Plasticine before you have painted it cause the clay sticks to it. Do you have problems with it not wanting to come out of it's recess?  So when you finish the build and place the hull in for the last time do you somehow glue it to the recess?? My concern is that once I start pulling on the strings to raise everything that the ship is liable to come out of it's seat??  That would certainly be a problem. Next I'd like to know if you don't bake it how long do you wait before you place the hull into this material for final assembly?? How long do you wait before you cork the bottle? Seems to me that without some air flow getting to the Plasticine, it would stay soft for a long time. What brand of Plasticine do you use??  Any advice would be greatly appreciated.

Attached is a 35 year old model with the crystalline salt like stuff growing on the sea.



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I use Plastaline a lot and I really like it but I think my method may be a bit different.  First I cut out a piece, flatten it and cut it to fit the bottle.  I don't fill the bottle very much with sea I've found maybe a half a centimeter is enough.  Once I have it cut out I put the ship on it and cut out a space for the hull.  Then I roll it up carefully and put it in the bottle and use some wire to unroll it.  I fit a hull blank to the hole in the clay at this point because it inevitably moved but the clay isn't hard to push back into place.  Once the clay is in place I hold the bottle over a hot range for thirty seconds.  Just enough so the bottom touching the glass looks wet.  Then I let it cool.  This gets the plastaline to stick to the bottle.   I then put the ship in.  I don't glue the ship down until I have the rigging secure.  I use coat hangers to hold things in place while I tighten lines. It's one of many methods and it works for me.  If your clay is thin though you can glue the ship down to the glass in the hole put into the clay.  I suggest using an epoxy for that.  I found a marine epoxy at Home Depot that dries white works well.  If I get it on the edges of the sea it's white and blends in with the sea foam anyway.  


I have naked plastaline before and one thing to watch out for is letting it sit to long.  The clay starts to separate leaving a white film on top.  This is why I went with the range method.  Just enough to keep it in place and not much more.  

Plastaline never dries so it looks good for a long time.  I have bottles going on six years that still look like the day I bottled them.  

Hobby Lobby or Michael's will have Plastaline.  I use Van Aken plastaline brand which is carried by most craft stores. 


As far as how long to wait before corking, once the clay is back to its mostly hardened state is good to go.  I wouldn't want to do much with it when the plastaline goes liquid any way. It runs like water when heated. I'd give it ten to fifteen minutes to cool.  

I hope that helps. 

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D. Siemens:

Thanks so much for the tips and yes that information will help me out for sure.

As a matter of fact I have a Dick Blick catalog right here as I have been an avid oil painter for years and use a number of their products pretty regularly.

The bottle I'm using this time is a triangular shaped pinch bottle having a convex bottom the sea will be deep around the edges and not so much so in the middle area. That should be interesting to build up in layers to a level sea. The last layer being made as you suggested in your replay. I like to have my sea made before I go ahead and do the build so I have my internal height measurements correct for the ships scale.

If I need to pick your brain a little more on this subject is there a way on the forum to contact you directly? As I am new to this site I haven't had a chance to navigate most of the the parameters yet.

Thanks again, Bruce

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There is.  You can private message me with the icon that looks like an envelope.  I get on the site on my phone a lot so I know its in the icon that is three horizontal lines in the top right.  You may have to look around a bit if your logging on from a computer. 

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Welcome to the forum Bruce. 

I too use Plastice modeling clay. I cut a little worm of blue and white. I twist together like a braid, the fold over and flatten and repeat like Damascus steel, until I get the color I want. Could be milky or total light blue. 

Then you slip it in the bottle and using tools, flatten it out. Make waves, touch in white caps if you feel the need.

A demo can be found on The Woodrights Shop on PBS television Season 26, episode 1. 




Edited by Jeff B
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My recent experiments have caused me to fall back on plumbers putty (window glazing would work also) colored with artist's grade oil paint. I would suggest Water Soluble type oil paints (Holbein and also Winsor and Newton make these) for easier clean up. They absorb into the putty relatively quickly and handles without mess in a day or two. Also one can mix a nice color with Ultramarine Blue and Viridian Green or other colors to match a nice sea. The base color of the putty is an off white which works well for waves. Plus it is a traditional way to produce a sea and I like sticking with traditional methods. I found a plumbers putty with a modern formulation for granite countertops that behaved quite nicely.

I tried a modeling clay product but I don't like the color of the blue - it's more a sky blue than a sea blue. I tried to color this with acrylic paint but instead of mixing into the clay, it sort of sits on top of it and it never dried (acrylic paint usually dried in twenty minutes but this stuff made a mess!). I do use the brown modeling clay for backgrounds however.

Guy Demarco's book has some good suggestions for making a sea and explains most of the methods that are mentioned in the previous post. Essential is to have a good stout rod of some sort to press the sea down and smooth it. Demarco suggest a bent knitting needle.

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Hi Bruce and welcome.

A method I use with plastiline is to form the hull as if you were going to make a full hulled model but the bottom part is only about 1/8th of an inch thick. It attaches to the upper hull with the two pin method normally used for a full hull. I then stick the bottom to the inside of the bottle with an epoxy and when set place the plastiline around it and form my sea. I then find that when I glue the top to the bottom piece that it is very rigid and well secured. I sometimes use the bottom of the base to put the name of the ship on. If I do it along the edge I can put the epoxy in the middle and it does not cover the name. I then usually stand the bottle on it´s end with a wad of tissue in the neck to dry out. I usually leave it a couple of days and then insert the rest of the ship into the bottle.

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I like your method here with the two part hull and think I'll give that a try. I"d prefer to have a solid stiff rigidly anchored ship before I start pulling strings because I like my strings pretty tight before I glue them off.

D. Siemens, you mentioned that you are holding the ship down in place with a wire as you are pulling strings tight. I'm thinking that this method has to be practiced a lot because in my mind I see myself pulling the ship all around and out of it's seat. Typically I have a dental ( my sorter-outer/ organizer) pick on a stick inside the bottle the whole time I am erecting the rigging and positioning the sails so another wire tool inside and I'm assuming being held down with pressure kind of seems really difficult. Wonder if you have made a video of how you do this or know of one, using this method??

Getting back to the sea material issue, I'm trying to sort out all the differing ways they are being used in this thread. First of all I was thinking that folks were making typos but now I'm realizing that there are actually a variety of these materials available and being used differently. Here's a list of what spellings I've seen so far for what I was thinking was the same thing. Plastice, Plastaline,Plasticine,Plasticene.

Today I ordered some Plastaline from Dick Blicks on D. Siemens recommendation. I also went to see what my local Michele's, store had and I found a clay by Craft Smart That's called Plastalina, a new spelling. The package says do not bake on it and the stuff is hard as hell in the package. I bought some to experiment with. Hopefully it will melt on the bottom over a burner and soften up by needing or putting in a baggy in some hot water so that I can spread it and work a sea up before it gets hard. 

The thing here, in my mind anyway, with all these different spellings is that these products are probably all patented. Each one has it's own particular chemical formulation with it's own particular properties. A rose is not necessarily a rose with this stuff. Looks like I'll be trashing a few bottles till I figure out what works best for my liking. It's enough to frost my scuppers.

Thanks everyone for your input, it's much appreciated. Bruce


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I agree it probably is a chemical patent and they are all different.  Definitely experiment and find what works for you.  

As far as the wire method.  I use coat hanger wire so its pretty stiff.  It does take some practice and patience.  I do have a photo I need to add to my current build log.  


Notice the wire is placed just before the mast and holds the ship down.  I'm holding the forestay line with the same hand I'm holding the wire with.  

I use my free hand to pull the line tight and work my tools.  First thing I do is tighten the line where I want it to check that every thing is working.  Second I loosen the line a little bit.  With a second wire I put a dab of super glue on the line right in front of the thread block or hole the line is being pulled through.  I pull that wire out and tighten the line.  Since I use super glue this takes about five seconds.  

Last, once the glue is dry I go back with a razor blade on the end of a wire and cut the line.  All of this is done with one hand on the wire holding the ship down and the other working the tools.  

The advantage is you can maneuver the ship to reach lines easier than you would if the ship was glued down.  Also on a catastrophic failure you can cut the rigging and pull the ship out with out breaking the bottle.   

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Yeah.  I'll move the ship all over the bottle in this process.  Gravity helps too.  Some times I turn the bottle upright and let the ship hang off of its lines.  Once all the lines are glued down and cut off then I maneuver the ship to the sea base.  Helps to have a piece of plastic wrap over the sea so you don't get putty on the yards or mast in the process.  

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Hi Bruce, All.

Plasticene. Gained fame when Aardman Animations used it to make the Wallace and Grommit characters. In the UK its trade name is now 'Newplast'. It comes in a variety of colours in 1kg blocks (which makes it expensive on shipping so I go to an art supply shop) however it does do a lot of SIBs. The block is about 12 x 2 x 1.5 inches in size and is made up from a number of ' round section rods/extrusions which can be peeled off as required. This is useful for mixing colour. eg, I take an inch of blue, and add, say, 1/4 inch of green and 1/8 inch of black. mix well.If this is the colour of the sea you want, that's the ratio to use. Adjust until happy. I only have blue, green, white and black. You do not need a lot of black to darken, its a very intense dye. Does not need baking, the heat of your hands softens it and it stiffens up when not being worked.

Assuming the bottle is going to be on its side, I choose the best side of the bottle, then I mark on the outside of the bottle the level I want, keeping the lower seam level with the top of the sea. This helps hide it and moves the other seam to just the other side of the top of the bottle so that it does not stand out as much.

I PVA a strip of paper with the ship's details, date of bottling, my details, etc on the inside bottom, with the print facing out. Once dry, the plasticene can go in. I use 'sausages' fed through the neck then flattened using whichever tool is best for the job. My new favourite is a length of stainless steel rod that detached from a badly made barbie grill, with one end bent at right angles, the ends having been ground flat and smooth. The glass can play tricks on your eye so have an occasional look through the neck as the plasticene goes in. Once the basic sea is in, then shape the waves, put the hull in, make the recess, add foam etc, and remove the hull. The plasticene never really hardens,  just stiffens up, so grips the hull nicely during trial fits, but releases easily enough to get the hull out again. I tend to work with split hulls so the bottom can stay in when finished.

I have started to coat the sea with slightly dilute PVA to give it a gloss shine. It takes a few coats.  I also glue the hull in as well.

I have always found holding the SIB in the bottle whilst working on it a bit of a  problem. I acquired an Amati SIB kit at our convention (I'll do a build log eventually), and it shows way of holding the SIB in the bottle that I'm going to try. It consts of a 'C' shaped piece of brass on the end of a rod. The 'C' is the shape of half the hull, from bow to stern, with the other half being thread from the far end of the 'C', through a hole at the fwd end and out of the neck, the whole being a type of lasso. It would allow the SIB to be held, manoeuvred, positioned and then released. Excuse bad drawing, but it should get the idea over.

Another method I saw on a video (can't remember which one) was to use a length of dowel between the SIB and the top of the inside of the bottle, basically just jamming it in place. (never tried this)

I've never noticed the plasticene causing any condensation.

I also found this link and I've been trying to work out if the stuff could be used in a bottle.

AK water gel

Have a good Easter break





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Dr. Morrison has a nice demo on The Curiousity Show on YouTube. Keyword search Ship in bottle. 

Also see The Woodwrights Shop. Season 26 ep.1 also found in YouTube. 

I like the ice cream stick method because plasticine really stays soft and flexible so the ship can pull out. Glued to a ice cream stick in the bottom of the bottle, the ship is firm. 

Fair winds,


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Exwafoo and Jeff B:

Thanks so much for your share on this topic. The neatest thing about this forum is that there is an abundant amount of knowledge flowing here. So often times with this art I've found myself out on a limb. So many experiments gone awry. It's been some 30 plus years since I've done this and I can't believe how many methods I never knew about before I'm finding here. Back in the eighties pretty much all I had to work with was knowledge from books published long ago. I've been reading all over this forum for the past two weeks and I still have a lot to discover.

Grateful for all your combined insights.


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  • 5 months later...

Hi Gordon,

Water transparency, or turbidity, depends on any number of factors such as depth, temperature, salinity,  light levels and direction, cloud cover, wind strength and direction, tide state, what the bottom is -sand, silt, mud or a mixture -  sediment and plankton levels and so on.  In my time at sea I only saw really clear water once and that was at the top of the Gulf of Aqaba where it was so clear that when the ship was at rest it looked as if it was hovering above the seabed, contrast that with the Yellow Sea of the coast of China near Shanghai that was so  loaded with sediment that it looked like it could be walked on. When I studied Oceanography, we were taught to use a Secchi Disk, a 12 inch diameter disk, painted in alternating black and white quarters to give a good contrast. This is lowered into the sea via a rope through the centre of the disk, a weight keeps the disk horizontal, and the depth where you loose sight of it  (measured by knots on the rope - the old low tech ways still work) gives the visibility at the surface. 

Most people tend to think of the the sea being blue so that's what is used in most art. It takes on the blue colour as the longer wavelength of red light is absorbed out the deeper you go, so that it is the blue that is returned for us to see.

So I think that what the sea looks like depends on where you plan to model the SIB, eg sunny Caribbean - a nice turquoise; North Atlantic on a sunny day - a deep blue, on a cloudy, windy day - grey green, and so on. Best advice is to look at photos and choose what you like best. Getting the sea right is hard, I don't think  I've managed yet, but a good representation does for what your audience will think the sea looks like.

I use plasticene because it is easy to use, non toxic, usable straight away (no drying), easily modelled, is reversible, that is, I can move it around if required during bottling.

All the best


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I did a hour long sail in Alabama this past summer and the captain of the small boat I was on talked about the changes in the sea color.  We actually passed by a section where the water went from a greenish brown to blue.  He said it had to do with differences in depth. It was odd to see such a clear distinction.  It would be a lot of fun to model the sea color according to where the ship sailed but would take a good amount of research. That's the fun of this hobby.  you can take an artist approach and just make it blue of a molders approach and color it according place. Both would look good. 

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