Yellow Landscape Base

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You might wonder why I use a yellow colour as my scenery base. Just because you know in your head that dirt is brown doesn't mean you should paint your landscape brown. Yellow is the base colour of the Australian landscape and brown just makes your whole landscape look too dark and drab. That's my theory anyway.

You might wonder why I use a yellow colour as my scenery base. Just because you know in your head that dirt is brown doesn’t mean you should paint your landscape brown. Yellow is the base colour of the Australian landscape and brown just makes your whole landscape look too dark and drab. That’s my theory anyway.

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At One With Nature

I told the better half that I’d been planting trees today and she immediately asked if this included the mandarin sapling I’d purchased about 6 months ago for the back yard. I replied that the trees I’d been planting were very low maintenance, that their leaves would never block the gutters nor their roots cause the footpath to heave up. She repeated the question and I had to admit that the trees I’d been planting were on the layout. I told her that it had only been six months and that I didn’t like to rush a job. She rolled her eyes at me 🙂

Over the last couple of weekends I’ve been filling the gaps on the second of Morpeth’s three scenic modules with extruded foam. I’m yet to be convinced that laying track directly onto foam is a good long-term proposition, especially on an exhibition layout, however I find the foam is a wonderful product for use as a scenic base. I spent last weekend happily cutting and shaping the foam and gluing it into the thin gaps between the edges of the layout and the ply track bed. I also had to fill the gaps in and around the station building. I had most of this in place last weekend with only small gaps to fill. Once I have the foam in place I then covered it in a layer of plain paper towel that has been cut into small squares and dipped in a 50/50 mix of water and white glue. I make the paper towel pieces about 25mm square (approx 1″) and pat these into place with a cheap artists paint brush. I left these to dry during the week and finished off this job yesterday (Saturday).

Today I gave the all the new landforms a coat of acrylic house paint that is a rich ochre yellow. I can’t remember the exact name of this colour but the most recent can of the paint was colour matched from a sample I took to the local hardware store from a tin I purchased ten years ago (at least). I like yellow as a base colour and this is also used as the colour of the fascia so the colour is continuous right across the layout. After lunch I laid down a layer of white glue that was thinned very slightly with water and over this I sprinkled my base layer of Woodland Scenics Earth Blend ground foam with a tiny dash of dark green mixed in. This was given a very light spritz of water with a dash of dish washing detergent in it and then left to dry. This gives me just a basic ground cover that I will fuss and fiddle with over the next couple of weekends. I’ll also start laying down some ballast during this time.

At the end of the day as I sat and contemplated my labours – and to avoid thinking about not planting that bloody citrus tree – I unpacked some store-bought trees I’d had delivered a few weeks ago and plonked these at various locations around the station. I can’t stand making trees so, as the only alternative is to buy them, I need to make the most of the ones I’ve purchased as they’re very pricey, a lot more expensive than that mandarin anyway. Unlike nature, you have to think about where you’re going to place your model trees and I’ve found there are a couple of basic rules about this that work for me. The first one is that I always place them in groups consisting of odd numbers and, as I’m trying to get few to go a long way, this means that they will tend to sit on their own or in groups of three. I can’t afford forests of five in one spot! 🙂 Secondly I find that model trees always tend to have a good “side”, so I turn them around a number of times till I find the side I think is their most attractive “face”. Finally trees rarely sit on their own in a flat landscape devoid of detail. For this reason I start by laying down a base colour, then I add low shrubs, creepers and weeds and then I shrub up the landscape with a higher layer of bushes and small trees. To be completely honest it doesn’t really matter if any of this understorey looks anything much like the real thing as long as it looks bushy. The only critical part is that the larger trees look something like those that exist in the real world you are trying to model. In this case I need trees that look vaguely like gums. These are not the redwood forests of California, it’s the central coast of NSW! The trees in the photos are from Auscision and designed for the HO market but my backdrops are relatively low so they can’t be all that high anyway. The Auscision trees are a bit weedy and undernourished but they blend ok and I have some really nice Trackside trees that I’m also going to blend into this part of the landscape. These should make the general treescape look a whole lot more authentic.

Chalk and Cheese Backdrops

Things have been progressing nicely on the layout over the last few weeks in between Christmas, trips away and family visits. I spent today with a couple of friends who came around to work with me on applying photo backdrops on two layouts: mine and a QR outline layout being built by a friend north of Brisbane. A little ironic then that the backdrops being applied to both layouts use photos of the Victorian bush! 🙂 The backdrops supplied by Kieren Haskell worked out brilliantly and Morpeth now sports these new printed backdrops on two of the layout’s three scenic modules. The third is waiting for some basic preparation and painting to be completed before it can have the backdrop applied.

Some learning points that Peter, Phil and I worked out as we applied the backdrops were:

– You need to make sure that the surface that the backdrop is to be applied to is as smooth and clean as possible. All the surfaces we applied the backdrops to had already been painted so we worked on making sure that paint bumps, brush bristles and chips embedded in the paint were sanded out first. After we sanded we worked to ensure that the surface was scrupulously clean and that surrounding work surfaces were also clean. Any chips and bumps that are on the backing board surface will be seen through the photo backdrop.

– As we were working with long rolls of self adhesive backdrop we needed to carefully plan out our method of attack for applying them. We discussed the jobs each of us would have and spent a lot of time drawing lines and checking what was and wasn’t square. In my experience you should start with the assumption that nothing is square, including in this case the edges and ends of the printed backdrops. It is no use fussing for half an hour drawing a long straight line that is exactly 90 degrees to the end of the backing board which you intend to use as a datum line to lay down your backdrop, only to discover that the photo backdrop itself has been cut slightly off square.

– The backdrops we were applying today are a bit like thick contact. The rear of each roll (which in my case were just under 2m long) is self adhesive and has a thick backing sheet that is peeled off as applied. There is no give in these backdrops and very little if any adjustment as you apply them, so you have to make sure you have the leading edge positioned correctly before committing. Once you start (and if you’ve got the lining up pretty close to the mark) you work your way down the backdrop smoothing out the wrinkles and any air bubbles as you go. You can back up a bit by pulling the section you’ve just laid up again but there is a limitation to this. We didn’t have any sort of roller or other tools to help us but our hands seemed to work fine.

– We applied the backdrops in full as a first step and didn’t trim them until we’d laid the entire roll. We were lucky with my layout because I could remove the simple mdf backing boards from my modules. This allowed us to apply the backdrops flat on a work table I have in my train room. After preparing the surfaces, all we had to do was draw a datum line, draw a cross line that was at right angles to this and start applying the backdrop. After this I put a new blade into a scalpel, turned the board over on the work table and ran the blade along the back side of the backdrop. The other layout we worked on was in the form of shadow boxes and this made getting in to the surface of the backing boards a bit more challenging but things worked out ok. I would suggest that you need to do something about your backdrops earlier rather than later. The longer you leave it in the development process the more difficult it becomes. This applies to using photo backdrops or painted ones.

– Gaps between the backing boards are the only real downside to using these photo backdrops that I can see. A small (2mm) gap between the backboards on my modules was hardly noticeable when they were painted. This gap now sticks out like the proverbial. I can’t see a way of easily overcoming this problem but what I’ve learned from this is that I need to make sure that my backboards mate up properly before applying the photo backdrops. I need to darken the edges of the boards with some suitable paint so that this gap isn’t as noticeable but it will still be there and is going to bug me no end.

In spite of the challenges of applying these backdrops the difference between my painted efforts and the printed end product is like chalk and cheese. The depth added to the scene is truly spectacular and I was very lucky in that the colour match between my 3D scenery and the hues in the backdrop were a great match. I have no hesitation in recommending using photo backdrops: they provide an extremely effective return on your investment of hobby dollars.

The Scales Fall From My Eyes

In Oct I attended the AMRA’s exhibition in Sydney and saw Arakoola’s new backdrops for the first time. I shared some of the photos of the layout on this blog just after the exhibition. After the exhibition I settled down to working on my layout and didn’t take a great deal of notice of the backdrops on Morpeth: I didn’t go through any sort of epiphany in regard to my painted backdrops in spite of how impressed I was by Arakoola’s. I was happy with my painted efforts and anyway, Arakoola’s photo backdrops were over there in a box marked “new and scary” and my painted ones were over here in a separate box labelled “comfortable and familiar”. I never consciously compared them in my mind. After today I can understand why: I didn’t want to acknowledge what I should have from the start, that photo backdrops add enormously to the realism of a layout in a way that my paltry painted efforts fail to match.

This afternoon I had a friend drop by with some parts of a Queensland outline layout he’s working on in 1:48. We looked at what he’s doing and chatted about the track plan and then he got out a couple of 2mx450mm photo backscenes he’d purchased from Haskell Backscenes. We held them in place on his module and talked about how they looked and the simple truth is that they looked very good indeed. They are a high quality photo print on what appears to be a heavy, self adhesive backing. Just peel and stick! Then I made a fatal error by asking my friend if we could drape one of the backscenes over the backboard behind my station building:

Bugger!

I’m not exactly sure why I hadn’t seriously considered the use of photo backdrops in the past, possibly it was a combination of expense, not being sure how to disguise the seams on my very flat layout and fear of the new. Whatever the reasons I simply can’t ignore the impact simply draping one of these backdrops had on my layout. The difference was like chalk and cheese. I now have to find a way to use these backdrops on my layout and retrofit them to the section I have already completed.

Such is life….

Final Touches

This weekend I attended the Aus7 Modellers Group O-Scale Modellers Forum in Sydney. This event is held every 6 months and is usually a good chance to catch up with friends and hear some interesting talks. I’ve posted a link below to a YouTube video that shows some of the highlights of the event. Not the least of these is seeing the pilot model of the PSM 1:43.5 C38 class moving on a test track. This was the first time anyone has seen the models move, including the owner of PSM!

While I was at the Forum I made some judicious purchases: judicious mainly because I only had a small backpack with me and couldn’t carry all that much back on the plane. I managed to get my hands on a new rolling stock kit and I also came across a couple of new (to me) MiniNatur scenic mats and flowers on the Model Railroad Craftsman stand. I’ve become quite addicted to using these scenic products over the last few months and I rarely let a chance to purchase a couple pass me by.

While I’m still using Woodland Scenics fine scenic scatter material as a base layer for my scenery, I’ve really spread my wings on the layers that sit on top of this base on my new layout. After the base layer is down and dry I’ve been working on small sections of landscape to gradually build up layers of texture and colour to give a far more varied effect than I’ve ever achieved before. This scenic development really started a couple of years ago when I purchased some packets of HO scale MiniNatur scenic tufts from a website in the US. These days you can buy this stuff in a range of colours and “scales” on dozens of websites in Australia and overseas. I used these tufts on Queens Wharf and I really liked the effect. This is a different, and probably more expensive, way of achieving vertical strands of “grass” to that of the well-known static electricity method, but it really works well for me becasue I like the control it gives me over the application of the tufts. I’ve never been able to get a satisfactory result using the electric applicators I’ve tried and I find they produce a texture that is a bit to consistent for my taste. Each to their own I suppose.

The method I’ve been using is to essentially gather a selection of scenic products in a range of colours that I like and feel are appropriate for the tidal river location I’m trying to replicate. I tend to go for yellows, browns and slightly olive greens over the bright, vivid greens often favoured by some European manufacturers. Several years ago, when I still made my own trees, I had purchased quite a number of packets of Woodland Scenics foliage mat. Later I came to prefer Heiki Flor foliage over the Woodland Scenics variety, so I’ve been left with a number of packs of the Woodlands products. I’ve found that these make great vines and creepers that can be very usefully blended into the landscape. Of the more recent products I’ve come to rely on, in addition to the grass “tufts” I mentioned earlier, I’ve found a range of texture mats from a companies like Polak and Mini-Natur are really excellent. I don’t use these mats as they come: I cut them up and bury them into the landscape so you can’t see the edge of the base of the mat.

Aside from the purchased gum trees from Auscision that I’ve been using, mainly because I can order them on the internet and they are readily available, I’ve found that the most useful tree product I use is the Busch Naturbaume Tree kit (#6801). In the past I’ve picked this product up from the Model Railroad Craftsman. Most recently I purchased a box of this through Ebay all the way from Germany. It is this product, which I think is called seagrass in some places, that you can see as little shrubs and stunted bushes in all the photos I’ve been posting recently. I trim and clean up the armatures when I get them out of the box, give them a quick squirt of spray adhesive and then sprinkle on some Woodland Scenics earth blend and green scatter to give them a bit of “bulk”. If anything could be said to have transformed my scenic modelling over the last few years then this Busch product is probably most responsible. Until I picked up my first box of seagrass I hadn’t really managed to achieve a result that I was very happy with.

I’ve also found a bit of space for some very slight touches of colour in my recent scenic modelling. MiniNatur make a range of flowers in both strands and clumps which I’ve incorporated into my scenes. I really like these splashes of colour and my most recent purchase yesterday was of some clumps of lilac coloured flowering weeds which I’m pretending is Pattersons Curse.

As much as I admire the modelling of those who conjure up images of the deep, dark forest or of high mountain passes, what I model is far more mundane. I want to conjure the image of an overgrown cow pasture or a piece of waste ground that runs alongside the line out to Morpeth. There aren’t too many dramatic cliff faces or waterfalls in the landscape I choose to model. However I don’t see that as any reason not to pour a bit of effort and time into making the scenes I’m modelling interesting and varied. There can be beauty and interest in the every day and the common, you just have to be able to see it and believe it is worth modelling. That’s what I mean by a Japanese aesthetic: to lavish as much care and attention on the small and everyday as on the dramatic and eye catching.