Your right there on the mess factor and the time to dry. I have been doing most of my hills/land forms in paper mache. Takes a couple of days to dry in the shed, but it gives good results as well as being somewhat economical.
Maybe try the chicken wire with wet newspaper overlaid in strips and painted when still wet,sprinkle saw dust and highlight with dry brushing. Cheap and effective as well as being hard wearing Paul. Drying time is no more than over night.
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