Scenery is not difficult if you break it down into small steps. Look at each part of building scenery as a separate project. These small projects are easily combined to create the overall effect. Remember, if you are having trouble accomplishing anything in model railroading, consult other modelers when you meet them at the hobby shop, local model railroad club or on prototype outings.
Backdrops can add great dimension to a model railroad. They fill in the background when taking pictures of your models and add realism to the scene. Take the time to finish the walls behind your layout. Corners of the room should be rounded at a 12″ to 18″ radius. I used masonite sheets on the wall and am disappointed with the joints. Excellent results can be achieved using picture-matting material. Smooth the edges where they join the walls with plaster joint filling compound. Keep in mind that we are only using paint on the walls. If you move your layout, it is a simple job to paint the walls back the way they were before the layout was started.
Paint the walls with a sky blue latex paint. If you wish, blend the blue with white as you approach the horizon. Any uneven paint mix will look like wispy clouds when it all dries. Clouds should now be applied if desired. The dry paint roller technique can be used to “dry brush” the image to the backdrop. Another method is to cut a random edge on a piece of card stock, hold it above the top edge of the desired cloud location close to the wall and spray flat white paint from 8-12″away. Highlight the lower edges of the clouds with grey to give them dimension.
Once you have the roadbed installed, you can start roughing in for the scenery. I suggest that you complete the trackwork in areas that will be difficult to access later. Those areas are tunnels, rock cuts or places that are a long reach. You may choose to complete all trackwork in a section before attempting scenery.
Start by cutting corrugated cardboard to form gussets that can be stapled to the cross members of the benchwork. Using a utility knife, cut these gussets to the general desired shape of your scenery.
Slice some corrugated into strips about an inch wide. Lay these horizontally across the gussets and fasten in place with tape, hot glue or staples.
Once the mockups are complete, the base hardshell can be started. Hydrocal is a very hard and quick drying plaster. It has tremendous strength when placed over the corrugated base forms. There is much discussion about using brown paper towels to dip into the plaster. In my opinion, leave the towels in the men’s washroom where you found them. Look for some very heavy brown kraft paper as we used to find in abundance in grocery bags.
The heavy kraft paper, when crumpled, will retain some of the crinkles that the washroom paper towels will not do. Tear the paper into 6″ squares in preparation to dipping in the hydrocal. Mix a small amount of hydrocal into a thick soupy consistency. Pre-wet the paper squares so as to not absorb all of the moisture from the hydrocal. Dip the paper into the soup so as to get both sides completely covered. Experience will tell you the right mix. You want it to cover the paper well without running off. Lay the plaster coated paper on the cardboard mockup with a small overlap and allow to cure. Work in small areas so that the hydrocal doesn’t set up in the mixing bowl.
Another method of doing the hardshell is to use plaster impregnated cloth. The cloth material is available at most hobby shops in roll form and can be cut to size, dipped in water and laid directly over the scenery forms. This method has the advantage of being a lot less messy than hydrocal. My observations are that the plaster cloth does not have quite the strength of hydrocal however, the ease of use may be very attractive to modellers.
After hardening overnight, check for good coverage and sufficient strength. You will be surprised how strong this single layer is. If required, reinforce areas as necessary. Be sure to spray water on the dried hydrocal before adding a second layer. If not, the dried hydrocal will suck the water out of the wet plaster. A single layer is usually enough being as you will be adding rock castings and a layer of finishing plaster.
The easiest and fastest method of making rock faces is using latex rubber rock molds. I made about three dozen molds by applying multiple layers of liquid latex rubber to both natural rock surfaces and soft coal. If you wish, you can laminate cheesecloth between the middle layers while making the molds. I prefer to leave this step out and keep the molds very flexible. Make some molds fairly large for ease and speed of installation. Molds 6″ x 8″ are quite satisfactory.
Mix a batch of Plaster of Paris in a bowl. Pour the plaster into the mold, allow to sit momentarily, then apply directly to the pre-wetted hydrocal surface. Have a friend help you with this stage and you need plenty of hands to hold the molds in place until the plaster starts to set. Space the castings such that in the next application, you can overlap these castings with the next set. Peel the molds off the plaster as soon as it sets enough. Quickly clean up the edges of the casting with a knife or sculpting spatula. Now, go back and fill in between with more castings. Once this layer is done, brush Plaster of Paris into the gaps to make a nice joint. A water jet from a spray bottle is a good way to blend this brushed on mixture with the rock castings. The water jet splatters the plaster and makes it look like rubble.
Touch up all joints with your modelling knife so that the crevice lines cross the fill between castings. Ensure all surfaces are covered with a layer of Plaster of Paris before colouring is done.
Hardshell – cont’d….
Once all the plaster has had plenty of time to dry, the fun of bringing your masterpiece to life begins. I refer to the colouring of the castings. Oil based colours are one option, however, I used artist acrylic paints on my layout. I mixed spray bottles of Burnt Sienna, Burnt Umber, Raw Sienna, Raw Umber and Payne’s Gray.
Rolling Hills and Flat Surfaces
Rolling hills and flat surfaces are the fastest areas of scenery to complete. Use the rock molds to install rock outcroppings or boulders as desired. Plaster can be painted before application of texturing but is not totally necessary. Start by scattering pebbles and shale that will represent large stones and coarse gravel. Fill in all areas with play sand to form the finished contour. Use the sand to fill in unwanted hollows and to form humps and bumps in the scenery. Liberal amounts of wetted water should be applied along with the water and white glue mix. It is important to ensure the glue penetrates all of the sand especially in the areas where it is deep. Use a second application on areas that are not well secured.
If you stop right here, you will have a very presentable finished appearance. Further detailing can be done by adding tall grasses, shrubs, bushes and trees to complete the scene.