Visual Planning and Practical Process

For me the two most enjoyable aspects of the hobby of railway modelling are locomotive building and layout planning and execution. I would draw a distinction between layout planning and execution and actually building the models for populating a layout: one is the dreaming and imagining, the other is cutting and forcing materials into a shape that resembles a specific model. I like building models but not half as much as dreaming about building them and admiring my own work after having finished them.

Planning for a new layout is always bound to be an exciting stage in the development process because in these early stages everything is possibilities and opportunities. You can try out new ideas and ensure that you don’t make the same mistakes you made on the last layout: why repeat old mistakes when there are so many new ones to make?

I’ve now reached the stage in the development of Morpeth MkII where all the track is laid, the wiring is complete and trains are running. I’ve made a commitment to exhibit this new layout in a couple of years so it’s now time to get on with filling in the gaps around the track bed and developing all the “off-stage” elements that will need to be completed before the layout is ready to be shown publicly. As an aid to this process I felt now would be a good time to share a couple of shots of the layout section I’m going to work on first to provide a base-line for what changes I’ll be making. Over the coming months I’ll endeavour to provide you, my readers, with an explanation of the my thinking as I go about completing this first step in the scenic development of the layout. I use the term “the first step” very deliberately for a very simple reason: when Morpeth first goes in front of the public it will not be finished, it will just be in its first stage of scenic development. This is a fancy way of saying that it’ll have a basic scenic shell with a few buildings. However it will not be finished: I’ve owned Queens Wharf for 8 years and I’m still changing the scenery. Why should this new layout be any different?

So what are the planning considerations for the scenic development of Morpeth MkII?

– I know from past experience that I need variety to help keep my motivation up so I’ve decided that I will work on one section of the layout at a time. Each section is 2050mmX680mm in size so these are not exactly what I would describe as “small” scenic segments. My plan is to install a basic scenic shell and have all the main models (buildings etc) in place before moving onto the next section.

– I’ve deliberately decided to start with the module that might be described as the most straightforward scenically: the section of the layout which has the 60′ turntable on it. This part of the layout, being dominated by the turntable model, automatically has the other loco servicing facilities as a given – coal stage, water crane and water tank.

– While this segment of the layout will be crowded with line side infrastructure models, it also has the one section of real estate of any size that is yet to have a specific model assigned to it. I’ve considered a number of different scenarios for what model might end up on this piece of unoccupied ground, including leaving it empty. The main contenders are: a small church, a weigh-bridge scene and a derelict house. I’ve decided that the best course of action is to not make a decision at this stage, construct and install some of the models to go in this area and then make a decision when I can examine the site in the context of the other models.

– The track to scenery ratio on this layout is relatively high so my main consideration in planning the scenery is to ensure that the scenery complements the trains and provides a visual context to the track. I want this layout to be recognisable as Australia and, more specifically, as New South Wales. In spite of its riverside location various shades of yellow will be the dominant colour on this layout. As on QW, the fascia colour will also provide the base colour for the scenery.

– The unifying “narrative” of this layout will be of a small railway yard and wharf dominated by the industrial purpose for its existence: a place where the railway meets water transport. The equipment, buildings and infrastructure will be industrial, utilitarian and look like it is worked hard. The dominant materials will be brick, wood and that great Australian standby, corrugated iron.

I spent today starting to paint the layout’s backdrops. I have a very specific set of steps I go through to paint a backdrop: it may not produce the most artistic or realisitic backdrop in the world but it works for me and it’s cheap. I’ll post a few photos of the layout I took prior to starting to paint my backdrops to provide an explicit contrast of the visual impact a reasonable backdrop has on the scene. It’s the first step because I want to start placing models in the scene soon and it’s simply not practical to do this before the backdrop is painted.

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