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Personally I wouldn't ever paint any lego, but I'm sure others have.
Look at some of the big show displays and see how they have coloured the ground. A lot of them just use green baseplates, but if you're looking for different colours you might still be better off hunting down different colour baseplates (they do come in a variety of ground-ish colours!), probably on bricklink - it might work out cheaper than laying plates on top of normal baseplates.
If you let people know what sort of ground you want you'll probably get some more creative ideas here!
Got to be plates...
I have thought that with the new Geonosian Cannon set, it would be great to buy lots of these and do a Geonosis arena moc with a stand packed with Geonosians.
Actually, you might know the answer to this (off topic sorry!), but who is the character on the arena balcony next to Count Dooku with the clicky voice who needs subtitles?, and has he been in any lego set? I am pretty certain the answer to the latter question is no.
Poggle the Lesser, Archduke of Geonosis.
This is when I know my expertise is truly in the Original Trilogy!