Friday, May 8, 2009

Model Railroad Scenery | How To Model Realistic Looking Rock Structures

And yet another article about model railroad scenery I contributed online:

If you've ever marveled at realistic looking rock scenery on model railroads and wondered how they were created, this article describes in detail how you too can easily achieve the same results.

Model Railroad Scenery
Rock structures are used to accent the landscape and add interest to the model railway layout

These are the items you will need:

· Newspaper
· Masking tape
· Plaster of Paris or Hydrocal plaster
· Acrylic paints in burnt umber, raw umber, raw sienna, white and slate grey colors
· Art paint brush and craft sponge brush
· Assorted items for shaping plaster, such as spatulas and plastic knives

The first step is deciding where that rock face, outcropping or rocky hill will be on your model railroad layout. Unless you're modeling a section of the Grand Canyon, bear in mind that rock structures usually emerge from areas of foliage and greenery. And it is precisely this contrast that makes the scene look interesting and real.

Before you proceed any further, cover any areas on your layout near the section you're planning to work on. Wet plaster drips and tends to get on everything no matter how careful you are.

Whenever I work with plaster, I tape over my railroad tracks with painter's masking tape and cover larger areas with cling wrap or aluminum foil. Aluminum foil is also great because, for this purpose, it's reusable.

Model Railroad Scenery
Using ClingWrap and blue 3M Painters Tape to protect the track from stray drips of wet plaster

Once you have decided on the placement of your rock scenery, make up several wads of small pieces of newspaper. On my HO scale layout I use sizes varying from 2 to 4 inches in length, in varying thicknesses. Use a size that you think is best for your layout scale. Larger wads will create bigger outcroppings on the rock face. Using masking tape, attach the wads of newspaper to the area where the rock outcroppings will be.

Cover the wads completely with the masking tape. Try to go for a layered arrangement that looks random and not man-made.

Model Railroad Scenery
Wads of newspaper will form rock outcroppings on the model railroad once covered with plaster and ground cover

Don't worry, it will look much better and come together with a very natural look after you complete the next few steps.

Mix up some Plaster of Paris or Hydrocal plaster following the instructions on the packaging. Hydrocal is very lightweight but considerably more expensive than Plaster of Paris.

Plaster sets quickly so mix up smaller quantities and work with it in small batches. Be sure to thoroughly rinse out the mixing container and spatula between batches as any dried residue plaster will interfere with how the new batch sets up.

Now comes the fun, albeit messy bit.

Using a spatula, apply plaster over the newspaper and masking tape wads. Remember to keep the texture random -- smooth in some areas, craggy in others. Use a plastic knife to add more detail to the rock face with vertical or horizontal striations. Notice how the newspaper wads beneath the surface give the rock a three-dimensional look.

Stand back, admire your handiwork and let the plaster dry overnight.

Adding color to our rock is the final step to complete scenic realism. I usually choose a combination of raw sienna, raw umber, burnt umber and slate grey acrylic paints. The colors should be diluted with water to a thin wash so that we are not actually painting the rock but staining it.

Using a paint brush or sponge brush, apply the washes in a random series of spots of burnt umber, raw umber and raw sienna. Go easy on the darker colors as they tend to dominate and, if overused, can make your scenery look somewhat somber. Then, apply a very dilute wash of slate grey over the whole rock face and over the other colors. The grey wash unifies the other color combinations into a very realistic look.

Finally, very sparingly dry brush undiluted white acrylic paint in areas for highlights and to create a sun-bleached effect.

Model Railroad Scenery
A shepherd watches over his flock of sheep from a rock outcropping. The rock was created by layering plaster over wads of  newspaper and then 'textured' by creating rock-like random patterns with a fork and a spatula. Shepherd and sheep figures are by Noch.

As you can see, it doesn't take exceptional artistic talent to create realistic looking rock on your model railroad layout. But use these ideas as a starting point and feel free to experiment with ideas of your own. Try different materials and coloring techniques. You'll be pleasantly surprised at what you may come with.

And don't forget, as scenic modelers we must constantly observe nature for an infinite supply of new ideas.

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