Basing is a part of the mini that many of us would really rather wasn't necessary, while others see it as an opportunity to create a whole miniature world right there on the base. As a commission painter I have developed a really basic technique which i apply to all minis I paint as a standard part of the job and effectively for free as the price for painting is the same with or without the basing. Its simple, relatively quick and can be done by anyone. In fact on large jobs I actually subcontract this out to my teenage daughter who can do as good a job as me and although I pay her (minimum wage obviously!) I can use the time to do actual painting.
In short its easy and pretty effective.
Basics - The materials I use are builders sand and cheap emulsion paint for the majority. Sharp sand is the grittier version of builders sand used for laying block paving. It has a bit more of a gritty texture than builders sand and is good for 28mm figures. Builders sand is also fine for 28mm and better for 15mm.
Don't try paving sand or play sand they are way too fine and you end up with a sort of sand icing with no texture. All these are available for a couple of quid from any DIY outlet for a bag which lasts years. Similarly the emulsion I paint the bases with is from Wilko's and is the cheapest available. A tester pot will last for quite a while but as I need to be able to match bases from commissions months or years apart for the same customer I buy the larger pots of 2.5 or 5 Litres which again last forever. Don't be put off by the names just look for one which is brown (or green if you prefer). The one I use is a warmish brown called Nutmeg Spice, as opposed to Nutmeg Fruit or Nutmeg Vegetable. In any event it's brown.
Added to this you need PVA glue, a couple of drybrush colours of your choice and some matt varnish.
First you take some pva glue and coat the base avoiding the figures feet and any other low dangling items ( insert own innuendo here). This can be a thinnish coat and certainly don't spread it like jam. I normally have the figure attached to the base before basing both by choice and in many cases they are already attached such as Game of Thrones minis. Then wiggle it in very dry sand. NEVER use damp sand. I have an old metal baking dish which i use to dry the sand from the bag in the oven when the wife is out. Also once you're done open the windows for a bit as the sand smells a bit when "cooking" on a low heat and its a dead giveaway....lessons. Knock loose sand off and run your finger around the edge to get rid of any Klingon.
Wait until your figures are dry (i sit them on a radiator) then its step two. Matt varnish the whole mini and the sand with the airbrush. If its not dry this is a bad thing to do as the pressure cause the sand to displace everywhere and stick to everything including the mini. Again hard lessons. The reason for this is that when applying the paint in the next step the water element can reactivate the PVA and cause sand to fall off in patches. The matt varnish doesn't protect 100% but helps alot.
Again wait until dry then apply your emulsion. I mix the thick house paint with the homemade alcohol based airbrush thinner I make and this acts to thin while keeper the colour instead of watering down but water can be used just a bit more sparingly. Once dried its drybrush time. I use Vallejo Desert Yellow followed by a Vallejo creamy buff colour and the benefit of gritty sand comes to the fore here as immediately you get a nice textured base.
Next its tuft time, I tried making my own but they were rubbish so I buy them in bulk off Ebay in 3 colours, Light Green, Dark Green and Brown. Also some flower tufts. I also use static grass on the rank and file as its cheaper with Tufts for sergeants and above! Different flower colours can differentiate identical figures.
Lastly I paint around the edge using Matt black primer. I always have several bottles where the primer is just past its best by and the latex(?) is starting to jam the airbrush too regularly which are demoted to this job.
As I said at the start this is my standard all in basing howvwer it can be varied when necessary as in my Game of Thrones commissions wherein Geography and climate play a part.
So far in the course of my painting work i have painted Lannisters, Tulleys, Boltons, Starks, Nightswatch and Freefolk and have maintained a sort of Geographical colour and basing scheme.
The Lannisters are on fairly verdant bases with spring coloured flock. as I imagine the Lannister lands to be relatively temperate and fertile.
the Tulleys ditto but with green tufts and darker flock as they have river valleys which will have water meadows and darker grass.
. Boltons have an Autumny theme to go with the browns and blacks of their clothing with fallen leaves and lighter autumn tufts.
As we head North into Stark territory the colours get cooler with grey-blue dominant and there are small patches of snow on the base and a few browner tufts mixed into the dry tufts possibly heather,
Nightswatch more snow with only brown tufts. Getting harsh here with Heather and a chill in the air.
and finally Freefolk on dark bases with lots of snow. In fact mostly snow on most bases. If i was going further north I would do character bases on more Icy bases such as the final base picture which shows Rasputina and friends who is an Ice queen !
I look forward to painting and basing future Ice and Fire stuff as the basing range can only increase from the Steppes of the Dothraki through the flower bases of the Tyrells to the deserts of Dorne.
I hope this may have helped some people to base quicker, cheaper and more effectively.