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Craftsman Special

Easy Scenery Tips and Techniques

Easy Scenery Tips and Techniques

Easy Scenery Tips & Techniques

Part 1: Let's Make a Scene

by George Riley/photos as noted

1: Let's Make a Scene
2: Working with Static Grass
3: Ground Cover Basics
4: Backdrops Made Easy
5: Add Realism to Your Rails

The hobby of model railroading is dedicated to constructing operating miniature scale models. The major difference that sets this hobby apart from the others is that the ultimate goal is to operate our railroad models in a realistic, animated scale recreation of the environment. In many ways this addition of the scenic component to our modeling allows the railroad hobby to be so engaging. It is also the part which many hesistate from trying.

The topic of model scenery construction is vast and dynamic. Since most of us get started with a small, usually flat layout, the focus of this supplement will concentrate on tips that use some of the many new and easy to use products for adding ground cover along with some of the basic details to develop a fully sceniced layout or diorama display.

It seems that getting started with scenery poses one of the most common road blocks to enjoying the hobby. Most often this is caused by some misconceptions regarding model landscape construction. First, one doesn’t have to be an artist. Since nearly all of the popular scenery products follow an established color palette with complete instructions as to their proper application, there is little room for error. Secondly, many hobbyists believe the materials are messy to use and techniques take years to master. A simple shop vac will handle any mess, and you’ll be pleasantly surprised to discover how easy the techniques to create realistic scenery can be.

Starting Out Small
The best way to learn about making scenery is to start small and develop the necessary techniques in a manageable size before trying to completely scenic your entire layout. One of the best ways that one can get started is to build small scenes that can later be incorporated in to a larger layout. This is a great way to learn how to use and apply the various products and decide which methods you like best. A flag stop station for a future O scale trolley layout is used to demonstrate the following step by step example...

Easy Scenery Tips & Techniques

Step 1: Begin by sealing and painting a piece of 1/8” thick birch plywood sized to fit the space where the scene will ultimately be installed. Our base was primed then painted with Floquil tan spray spatter paint to provide a base for the next level of scenery. Small pieces of birch plywood are available at most hobby and craft shops. Once the paint is dry position any building or larger details on the base. When a satisfactory placement has been decided, mark the position of these components.

Easy Scenery Tips & Techniques

Step 2: Since the station needed a raised platform, one was built in place using strip wood from our wood stores and the decking provided in the station kit. The support timbers were glued and clamped to the base. Once this was dry, earth was added over the base over a coat of scenery cement. A light spray of water was applied over the earth and allowed to dry.

Easy Scenery Tips & Techniques

Step 3: Static grass and gravel are added over the earth to add additional layers of texture to the base (See page S13 for more detailed information on how to apply static grass). Once this layer is dry the station building is placed in position. A tie pile made from stained and distressed 3/16” bass strip wood is added off to the side. Often a modeler can easily make some of the added details from their parts box.

Easy Scenery Tips & Techniques

Step 4: At this stage the additional foliage and details can be added. A mixture of proprietary detail parts and prefinished figures are rounded out with the addition of a scratch built ball signal assembled from some string, Grandt Line HO scale 60” sheaves and strip wood.

One easy way to make pre-painted figures stand out is to add shading and highlights. Work a transparent coat of Payne’s gray oil paint into the folds and crevices with a stiff brush. Using cotton swabs and a soft cloth wipe off the excess paint and allow to dry. To finish off the figure, dry brush with a light gray acrylic craft paint.

Easy Scenery Tips & Techniques

Step 5: The last step in finishing the station scene was to dry brush and weather some of the details. The dry brush technique was used to highlight the gravel and ground cover as well. One of the best ways to date a scene is by adding vehicles from the correct era. A Model A Ford was parked on the drive next to the station setting the time frame in the 1930s. With very little time and effort, we have created a new realistic scene for our models.

We’ve only touched the surface in this brief introduction. The only limit is your own imagination. Read on for more great scenery projects! —George Riley

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Easy Scenery Tips & Techniques

Part 2: Working with Static Grass

by George Riley/photos as noted

1: Let's Make a Scene
2: Working with Static Grass
3: Ground Cover Basics
4: Backdrops Made Easy
5: Add Realism to Your Rails

Landscaping on your model railroad will really come alive when you use static grass as part of your ground cover. Not only is it easy to apply but it adds an additional layer of texture to the foreground. While static grass can be applied loose over a layer of scenic cement, superior results will be achieved by using an applicator tool. This tool sets up a static charge that causes the grass fibers to “stand up” adding another dimension of realism.

Step 1: Paint the area to be covered with an earth colored paint. Once dry, apply earth over the base by sifting loose material onto a coat of thinned scenic cement. Over spray the scenic material with water mixed with a couple drops of dish washing detergent. This will allow the glue to spread through the earth to assure a complete bond. A mixture of 75% glue with 25% water and a few drops of dish detergent or other wetting agent applied over the scene will hold the earth in place.

Easy Scenery Tips & Techniques

Step 2: Since the grass applicator works by generating a static charge to be effective it will need to be grounded to the layout. The easiest way to assure a positive ground is to drill a small hole at the edge of where the grass will be placed and insert a small screw to act as a grounding attachment. Once the glue has dried the screw is easily removed leaving a small unnoticeable hole that can easily be covered with a plant or other detail.

Easy Scenery Tips & Techniques

Step 3: Spread the scenic cement mixture over the area that is to be covered with static grass. Mask off any areas that are not going to be covered with static grass. This will make cleaning up later much easier. Shake the applicator to lightly sprinkle the grass material into the glue. Make several passes to build up the grass for the desired coverage. Once satisfied lightly wet the grass with a misting of water. Allow to completely dry.

Easy Scenery Tips & Techniques

Step 4: Vacuum up any loose grass from the area recently covered and lightly spray the area with an inexpensive pump hair spray (see photo at the beginning of this section). This is easy obtained at most dollar stores and does not need to be the top of the line product. Now... Who’s going to mow all this grass?

Building Scenery with Paul Scoles

Take your scenery to the next level!
Order Building Scenery with Paul Scoles today!

Easy Scenery Tips & Techniques

Part 3: Ground Cover Basics

by George Riley/photos as noted

1: Let's Make a Scene
2: Working with Static Grass
3: Ground Cover Basics
4: Backdrops Made Easy
5: Add Realism to Your Rails

No one item brings a model railroad or diorama to life than the addition of realistic and detailed ground cover. Regardless of the type of terrain, this relatively inexpensive step of the building process will do more to create the overall look of realism and scale fidelity to one’s own modeling. Happily, with the wide availability of scenery products, one doesn’t have to be an artist to create both attractive and believable scenery.

No one item brings a model railroad layout or diorama to life than the addition of realistic and detailed ground cover. Regardless of the type of terrain your railroad operates through, this relatively inexpensive step of the building process will do more to create the overall look of realism and scale fidelity to one’s modeling. Happily, with the wide availability of scenery products, one doesn’t have to be an artist to create both attractive and believable scenery.

Easy Scenery Tips & Techniques

Adding ground cover consists of a series of steps where consecutive layers of color and texture are added to a scene. Frequently, the finished look of a scene begins once the bench work is completed but before the first section of track is laid. This begins by laying out the structures and scenic features over the general track plan to gauge both the spacing and design. Once satisfied, the track and basic terrain can be laid in place.

The first layer of the ground cover process is accomplished by sealing and painting the competed terrain base. This not only will provide consistent color should some of the later scenery items be chipped by handling but will also serve as a good base for scenery adhesives to adhere. An inexpensive earth tinted interior latex house paint works well for this application. In addition to this base color we frequently use a spray spatter paint to add additional texture to the scenery base. These are available branded as Floquil Diorama Sprays from hobby retailers or in larger spray cans branded for several manufacturers from the local home improvement or hardware store.

Easy Scenery Tips & Techniques

With the base paint dry, the next stage is to add a layer of earth to this base. There are a number of options available to the modeler to use. These range from dried and screened real soil to various colors of finely ground foam. This is a matter of choice and availability for the builder. The loose earth is held in place by a coat of diluted scenery cement. Once the earth is applied over the glue, wet it with mist of water in a spray bottle, capillary action will draw the glue through out the layer of earth.

With the earth layer dry, it is time to move on to the next step but first one needs to choose a season. While most modelers’ choose the height of summer, the wide array of seasonal scenery products currently available will allow for layouts to be effectively sceniced to represent every location and season. By working with an autumn palette of these products small HO scale ‘Branchville’ switching layout is set in the mid-Atlantic region in late autumn – early winter.

Easy Scenery Tips & Techniques

With the season chosen, the next layer to be added is the low ground cover. For smaller scales, ground foam will work convincingly to achieve the proper appearance; however, in HO and larger scales this look is better captured using static grass products. Various heights and colors of static grasses and grass tufts were used to create Branchville’s fall fields. Mix dark and light colors as well as greens, browns and tans to effectively capture the proper look.

In addition to the low ground cover, ballast, cinders and loose gravel are now added to the track work, lots and road ways. Mix colors, sizes and textures to achieve maximum realism. The forest floor covered with deadfall and decades of fallen leaves is one often overlooked scenic element. This can easily be replicated by applying a layer of ‘chopped leaves’ and small twigs to the forested areas.

Easy Scenery Tips & Techniques

Once dry, all of the elements were tied together with a dry brushed coat of light tan acrylic paint. This technique helps blend the colors of our base scenery and provides artificial highlights. At this stage in development the landscape should begin to look almost finished. The addition of shrubs, bushes and trees will bring the scene to completion. Saplings which are common along rights of way and highways are frequently overlooked in model form. These can easily be replicated using premade “foliage branches” placed in random groups on the layout.

Brushes and shrubs are added using various proprietary as well as hand made items. These include, but are not limited to golden rods, field grasses and dried vines. There is a wide array of ready made trees available that replicate many seasonal types and species. In addition to the bare trees, we were able to create some late fall trees using commercially available tree armatures with loosely applied poly fiber covered with a thin layer of brown and dark orange coarse foam.

Easy Scenery Tips & Techniques

The last stage involves adding vehicles, people and placing buildings on the finished landscape. A simple backdrop is also added to enhance the perception of size and depth to our 2’ by 4’ layout (See page S10 for more information about how to make easy and convincing backdrops for your layout). Nicely planned and executed scenery not only provides a realistic environment for our models but also enhances even proprietary models straight from the box.

Building Scenery with Paul Scoles

Take your scenery to the next level!
Order Building Scenery with Paul Scoles today!

 

Easy Scenery Tips & Techniques

Part 4: Backdrops Made Easy

by George Riley/photos as noted

1: Let's Make a Scene
2: Working with Static Grass
3: Ground Cover Basics
4: Backdrops Made Easy
5: Add Realism to Your Rails

One of the easiest ways to make a layout seem larger is to add a back drop. The back drop can be mounted at the rear of the bench work along the wall or can divide a layout into different scenes by acting as a scenic divider. Nearly any type of material that accepts paint ranging from can be used.

Permanently mounted scenes for home layouts can be successfully completed with primed and painted sheet rock, while portable pikes and modules have used nearly every type of material. Popular materials range from Masonite or large sheets of styrene to sealed and primed plywood. Many modelers shy away from adding a back scene to their layouts since they feel that a convincing one requires some kind of artistic ability. Nothing can be further from the truth. The first thing to remember when building a back drop is to keep it simple.

Blue Sky:  The best way to get started is to choose a light blue and medium blue paint. Apply the light blue color from the horizon line to about a third of the way up on the back scene. Feather in the medium blue increasing the hue as the paint is applied near the top of the scene. For small jobs spray cans available from the craft store make quick work of coloring the sky, for larger jobs tinted cans of flat latex indoor house paint will cover a large area easily and inexpensively. Once the blue sky is dry, one may stop at this stage or press on and add additional features to the scene.

Easy Scenery Tips & Techniques

A Little Nebulous:  While a sunny clear blue sky is great for rail fanning or taking a road trip, clouds inevitably show up on the horizon. Clouds can easily be added either free hand or using cloud templates using a spray can of flat white or white primer. The secret for successful clouds is to lightly apply paint to let the blue sky show through rather than try to get full coverage.

Easy Scenery Tips & Techniques

Purple Mountains: The illusion of far-off mountains is easily added in much the same manner as the clouds. Choose a light purplish blue color just a shade darker than the medium blue sky color. Either mask off the outline of the mountains with painter’s tape and newsprint or use templates. As with the clouds, lightly spray the mountain color so that the sky color shows through to add depth and shading to the mountains.

Easy Scenery Tips & Techniques

Smoke and Mirrors: One frequently used technique to trick the eye and make a layout appear larger is to use a mirror mounted on the back drop. For safety and ease of handling we recommend using acrylic mirror material. Frame the mirror with abutments, buildings or a bridge to blend it into the scene. Mirrors are more convincing if they are installed perpendicular to the scene that will be reflected.

Easy Scenery Tips & Techniques

The Third Dimension: Careful blending in low relief structures and scenery against the back drop will create the illusion of distance and depth. Photographs of buildings mounted on black foam core are quick and easy additions that will allow the modeler to create a convincing urban scene. Rock casting, clumps of foam and small trees affixed to a back scene are equally effective way to add perspective to a rural or mountainous scene.

Building Scenery with Paul Scoles

Take your scenery to the next level!
Order Building Scenery with Paul Scoles today!

 

Easy Scenery Tips & Techniques

Part 5: Add Realism to Your Rails

by George Riley/photos as noted

1: Let's Make a Scene
2: Working with Static Grass
3: Ground Cover Basics
4: Backdrops Made Easy
5: Add Realism to Your Rails

One the most often overlooked scenic detailing projects is the painting and weathering of track work. This project is not only easy, but also quick and inexpensive as well. The small amount of time that is spent on this project will yield dramatic results, even making sectional and flexible track look like a finely detailed model.

Step 1: Prepare the roadbed area. This is as easy as painting the track base in an earth or gray color. If raised road bed is being used make sure to paint it as well. Often spray spatter paint available from either a hobby shop or home improvement store will help add a layer of realism and finish to the right of way. Once the paint is completely dry, install the track to the layout or display base.

Easy Scenery Tips & Techniques

Step 2: Mask off the track from the surrounding scenery and paint a flat dark brown color. Spraying the paint from either an aerosol can or airbrush is usually the easiest and quickest way to apply the paint, however, the track can also be painted with a brush with good results. You should allow the base color paint to completely dry before moving on to the next step.

Easy Scenery Tips & Techniques

Step 3: Next we mask off the rails and tie plates to paint them a rusty brown. Since an airbrush was used to apply the paint to this HO scale project, 1/2” masking tape was laid down to mask off the ties. The choice of color is up to you, as main line rails take on a some what greasy dark brown cast rather than the bright rusty rails found in sidings and branch lines. Use photos of the real thing as a guide.

Easy Scenery Tips & Techniques

Step 4: With the track painted the next stage is to add ballast. Apply a mask along the tracks and run a bead of scenery cement along the outside edge of the ties. This will assure a good bond for the ballast along the outer edges of the track work. Next add ballast to the track working it into place with a firm brush.

Easy Scenery Tips & Techniques

Step 5: Wet the entire track area with a fine misting spray bottle, then apply a thinned mixture of scenery cement one drop at a time over the ballast. Allow 24 hours for the glue to dry completely before moving on to the next step.

Easy Scenery Tips & Techniques

Step 6: Mix up a 50/50 wash of black acrylic paint and water and liberally apply to the ballast. This wash will darken the crevices in the ballast to add shadow and depth to the road bed.

Easy Scenery Tips & Techniques

Step 7: At this stage highlights are added by dry-brushing the entire right of way with light colored acrylic craft paint. Highlighting brings out the details of the ties as well as the surrounding ballast. Once the highlights are dry, clean the paint off the top of the rails and remove any excess ballast from the sides of the rails and in the flange ways (opposite top). Working in small sections will allow you to detail many miles of track on your layout!

Building Scenery with Paul Scoles

Take your scenery to the next level!
Order Building Scenery with Paul Scoles today!

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