FAQ - Scenery
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Frequently Asked Questions


What is static grass?

Static grass is generic term for very fine fibers applied to an area on a model railroad. Sometimes the fibers themselves are called "flocking".

The fibers are spread with an electrostatic charge on them which makes them stand on end. A similar effect to rubbing your hair with a ballon so it wants to stand on end.

I purchased a Noch Grassmaster static grass applicator and have been making some test patches with it. An article appeared in Model Railroader magazine demonstrating the use of this tool.

Patches of static grass demonstrating how the fibers stand on end as a result of the electrostatic charge in them.

How did you paint the Oakhill area backdrops?

I've been using latex house paint for the backdrops with two exceptions. I chose the latex paint because it is a LOT cheaper than artist acrylics. However, I find then when doing the green tree layers I need to use two coats to get coverage The two coats aren't all bad because they allow me to adjust the intensity of the green so it's not a solid color (trees aren't a solid color).

The sequence I use is

  • Paint the wall with a sky color paint - you'll need to experiment to see which color looks best in your room under your lighting. So people use two colors of blue with the darker blue above and the paler blue below and blend them together while they're wet. This gives a bit of the look of the hazy horizon while overhead the sky is much bluer.
  • I use an airbrush loaded with white paint to put in a layer of clouds.

    Sometimes I use a second pass with the airbrush containing a very light gray to give the clouds a little more definition. Be very uneven with the airbrushing. Dodge around a lot. Don't linger in one place.

    I used "Golden" brand Titanium White airbrush colors for the white. It's a LOT less expensive than Poly Scale. If you can't find it at a local art store Dick Blick has it online.

  • I paint the distant hill layer leaving some hits as to trees, clear cuts, etc. The further away the less detail is visible.
    This may require two coats of latex house paint. Sorry I don't know what color it is. Get lots of paint chips and experiment. You might also try taking a photograph of a proto scene to the paint store. However the colors will likely look different under the train room lighting than they do in the store or outdoors or in your living room etc. Final arbitration of color needs to be in the train room.

    How high should this be? Well it depends on whether you've got really tall mountains or stubby ones, whether they're nearer or further away, and whether you want it to look righ from the layout surface or when standing in the aisle looking down on it.


  • I paint a rearward layer of trees using a paler/lightin shade of green latex house paint. This needs two coats. I paint smaller tree details in this layer (because the trees are further away.
  • I paint a series of tree trunks using some darker artist acrylic colors (black and brown lightened with white). The trunks aren't detailed.
    It's hard to see 'em in the above picture but they are showing through the dark 'middle distance' trees. The trunks don;t need to be works of art. Just some more or less vertical slashes of trunk color work. I'm just looking for a hint of a tree trunks.
  • I paint the middle distance trees using a darker green that I try to pick to be close, but lighter/paler than the color of the actual trees that will be sitting infront of the backdrop.

    This takes two coats. Mess with it a bit. Don't attempt to get perfectly even coverage. Some areas are lighter, some are darker. This gives the illusion of detail in the trees.

    These trees should be considerably taller than the distant tree row behind them.

You can use these layers. Or you could add a layer. Or leave out a layer. I just kind of slap the paint on. For the distant hills I used a 1 1/2" brush. For the trees I used a 1/2" and a 3/4" brush.

What you see in these pictures is my 3rd attempt at color selection. It's better than I expected but certainly not as good/detailed as a photo mural. It also takes a lot of time to put all those layers up! Once in place guard the backdrop with your life (mask it religiously when wroking on forehground scenery. It is a major paint to make repairs to it!

Hope this helps,

Do you use Sculptamold?

I used Sculptamold on my previous layout. This stuff is sold in art supply stores and some hobby shops also stock it.

I found that Scuptamold was fairly easy to spread and smooth. It seemed to cling fairly well to pink foam and when dry it was crack resistant enough that I could drill it. I could mix some tempra powder with it to take away the awful white color.

It appears to be some kind of plaster mixed with a lot of threads (perhaps cotton?). The threads seem to act as rebar when it's dry and keep it from cracking.

However, when applied in layers thicker than about 1/8" I found it was taking nearly forever to dry (it dries rather than 'sets' like plaster). I often wound up putting a fan on top of the layout to blow on it and it still took a long time to dry.

Sculptamold drying on the previous BC&SJ.

Now I use a mixture of US Gypsun No.1 casting plaster and vermiculite (I got the idea of using vermiculite from Joe Fugate's scenery dvd). This mixture is strong, fairly light, and I can apply any thickness I desire without effecting the setting time (fairly rapid). But I don't carve rocks in this stuff. I cover rock faces to be carved with plaster unmixed with vermiculite for that.

Do you cast rocks or carve them?

So far on my current BC&SJ all my rocks are carved. But on my previous two layouts I cast the rocks using (mostly) homemade rock molds.

Carved rocks on my current layout.

Cast rocks on my 4x8 layout.

I learned to carve rocks through trial and error after watching Kelly Newtons demonstration (in the Great Model Railroads - Utah Colorado Western video) and watching Joe Fugate's demonstration in his scenery DVD.

So far all my rock carving has been of places where men blasted out rocks to make a place for track to go or for a rock quarry.

I found the small Woodland Scenics rock molds to be useful for casting small rocks such as those that might be found poking up here or there in a meadow or in a creekbed. Their larger molds are too stiff for me. I made my own molds by painting Mountains in Minutes latex on some interesting rocks I found (several layers, then some linen for strength, then a few more layers). I made extensive use of these on my old 4x8 BC&SJ. It had something like 130 rock castings on it (but no rock carving). Paul Scoles has good demonstration of casting rocks in place on his scenery DVDs.

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