Tuesday, January 26, 2021

Coloring Rocks & Roads

I think I may have mentioned before that I'm a little intimidated by doing scenery. And, like some (many? most?) model railroaders, there are typically two ways to confront such intimidation - well, other than Just Doing It: You either throw money at it (in extreme cases, hiring someone to do it for you), or you research it (to death). The first leaves you lighter of cash, and still bankrupt of skill. The second typically results in Analysis Paralysis.

Now, being the sort that actually WOULD like to develop some scenery skills (and having a wee bit o' the Scots in my blood), I tend heavily toward Option 2 - to wit:

Um, yeah. And this is just a fraction of my collection of "scenery research" (I won't bother posting all the dozens of YouTube videos I've collected...).

But thankfully, lately, I've come to the realization that I'm not getting any younger and if I want to develop any scenery skill, I have to (yikes!) dive right in . . .

So, starting at the end of 2019 and going (a bit) through 2020 (a rare "COVID consolation") and propelling into the new year, I've been getting some scenery done. Overall, I've been pleased with the results, no matter how glacially slow they've been to accomplish. But as I sometimes say: "Redoing scenery doesn't waste time, obsessing over trying to do it perfectly the first time - and thus never getting around to it - wastes time." So, dive right in? Why not?

Consequently, last week I dove right in to coloring rocks. I said then that I wasn't sure where I came up with such a simple technique - literally, simple as 1-2-3. But since then I remembered where I'd gotten the inspiration - so in the spirit of giving proper credit where due . ..

. . . thank you to Mr. Lou Sassi (and, yes, I have the first edition of this book too...)

Right there on page 42 he describes the technique of coloring rock using just 3 washes made from tube acrylic paints (raw sienna, raw umber, mars black) to color rocks made from foam putty. Well, I didn't have the right tube acrylics on-hand, and my rocks were made from plaster rock molds. So I adapted Sassi's technique using inexpensive craft paints. Click here for the step-by-step.

After practicing on extra rock castings last week, I decided to tackle the rock castings I "sprinkled" on the Sculptamold icing . . .

All I did was apply the same 3-wash technique to the rocks I'd put in place on the layout.

And this technique especially shines when you haven't used ground goop. You can just slap the washes on - you don't have to worry about "painting outside the lines" and getting the wash on the area around the rocks. You'll just paint your dirt-colored paint right up to them and cover the paint with ground foam. If all goes according to plan, the rocks will look property "planted."

You may or may not notice that the series of photos - while they may look the same - are actually views of the castings after I added each color.

The difference certainly isn't readily apparent, but the overall effect is undeniable. There's definitely an undeniable variety of color along and within the different textures. And the washes allow the different layers of color to come through.

And it's a versatile technique as well. The rock above for some reason came out too brown/orange compared to the other rocks - and the rocks closest by, were much darker . . .

So I simply added another layer (and then another) of the diluted black wash and got the result above.

Keep adding washes of color until you get the effect you're after. Having reference photos on-hand definitely helps.

Another "bonus" of coloring the rocks in place - and not being super neat about it - is that the rock coloring covers any white that the "earth paint" might otherwise miss.

Edited to add: Washes applied to unsealed plaster need to be sealed afterwards for two primary reasons - 1) if left unsealed, the washes will fade over time, and 2) since you'll likely be applying scenery materials afterwards (as well as spraying glues & other liquids around) you don't that affecting your coloring.

Once the rocks were done, I turned my attention to coloring the road. One thing I'm finding VERY helpful in reducing the anxiety and stress of doing scenery is to do littles tests and practices on scrap. That way, nothing at all is "at stake" and I'm free to make mistakes where it doesn't matter. That worked out REALLY well with practicing rock coloring on scrap castings, so I decided to do something similar with the road coloring.

I'm sure glad I did.

This road in East Berlin - one of the first I did - came out particularly well so it's become my model for all subsequent roads. Believe it or not, though, the base color of this road was Apple Barrel "Pewter Gray" (from a $.50 bottle of craft paint).

When I tested that color on a sample of my road material though, it came out looking really dark for some reason. See what I mean by doing tests ahead of time on a piece of scrap?

As a result of this test, I ended up using Apple Barrel's "Country Gray" for the concrete pad at Hartford Rayon - as well as Belamose Road itself.

I'm using foam core, with the paper removed, to make my concrete roads/parking lot here. It was easy enough to add expansion joints (20' scale squares), but for some reason, this particular foam came out with a very strange textured effect.

This is how it looked when the paint dried. Since it looked a bit rough for my taste - and since it was already hot-glued in place - I added another thick coat of paint to fill it in some.

That definitely toned down the texture, but you can still see it.

But I actually think it looks appropriate - one of those "happy accidents" that you sometime come across in the hobby. I think once I weather this lot with chalks and such, it's just going to look like a really worn, industrial lot. And that's the look I was hoping for - it just didn't happen the way I was expecting.

And maybe that's an important lesson I need to learn when doing scenery. Not only can you do it over, you sometimes end up with unanticipated results that end up turning out even better than what you planned. And that can be a pretty fun thing to experience - provided you don't let analysis paralysis keep you from even getting started.

I'm sure I'll hit additional - and different - roadblocks as I continue building my scenery skills. But at least I've started and can attest to the fact that the journey is almost - if not at least - as fun as the destination. That's a relatively foreign concept to a left-brained hobbyist like me, but I'm learning to use the other/artistic side of my brain more and more.

And getting into the "right mind" is probably Step 1 toward enjoying - and eventually getting better - at doing scenery. Hopefully, if you haven't already, you'll try it too.

Sunday, January 24, 2021

Scuptamold Icing with Rock Sprinkles

Last time, I'd just finished the "terraforming" at Dividend - mostly cardboard lattice overlaid with plaster cloth, with foam board profile boards. My next step would typically be to cover the plaster cloth with "ground goop" and, while it was still wet, either sprinkle ground foam on top of it or go directly to applying static grass. But ground goop, being basically a mix of Sculptamold or Celluclay, glue, and paint (click here for details), can be pretty messy. That's usually not a problem - but since I have a cut here, I need to use some rock castings and the goop might mess them up.

Now, if I was as talented as my friend Bill (see his work above - between Goff Brook and Rocky Hill), I could have just carved the rock faces right into the ground goop and called it a day. But, not being as talented, I figured I'd take a more controlled and traditional approach.

So, instead of ground goop, I decided to use rock castings, pressed into plain white Sculptamold, and color and paint everything later. 

First step was to grab some rock castings and start playing around with positioning them. Confession: these were all castings I inherited and didn't even cast myself.

The method is to place the castings until they look "right" then "glue" them in with Sculptamold. But, as you can see in the pics above - even with rasping down the foam - things still look really off and not at all like I imagine an actual rock cut would look.

But I kept experimenting with different castings and discovered that the larger ones looked better. But I did have to "backfill" behind the taller ones with more Sculptamold. You can start to see the results of that filling-in above. Just like icing a cake - but with a fairly thick layer of "icing." BONUS: The varying heights of the castings created a much more natural, irregular look to the top of the cut. It no longer looks quite so even and "perfect."

As I mentioned earlier, I attached the castings by adding some Sculptamold to the foamboard (it would actually have been easier to trowel it onto the back of the castings themselves), and then pressed them into the Sculptamold, allowing it to ooze out a little bit between the castings. Carving that "ooze" later visually ties it all together - especially after you color everything "rock color."

I actually practiced this technique on the side of the cut facing away from the aisle. Figuring folks wouldn't normally see it, it seemed a good place to make whatever mistakes I was going to make. Fortunately, this process is just about fool proof (insert joke here - as even I can do it...)

Seeing how nice the cut was turning out, I decided to add some more random rock outcroppings, just like I'm used to seeing around here. I am modeling New England, after all.

There's really no science to this (and if there actually is, let me know in the comments). Based on my hikes, rock outcroppings are pretty random and all over the place. So I just placed some rock castings randomly around the scene.

I did, however, try to place them where they looked "right" and fit best.

But of course it's no surprise that they never fit perfectly - and have to be affixed to the scenic form anyway. So, I mixed another small batch of Sculptamold and used that as glue/mortar to place the rock outcroppings "into" the terrain.

This is the first time I've ever dealt with rock castings to any great extent. Although I did use a few of them near the Mattabesset River in East Berlin, they were already colored and ready to use. It was just a matter of pressing them into my ground goop.

But there was no way I was going to try and color the rock faces in the cut ahead of time, before placing them. I figured (rightly, as it turns out) that it'd be much easier to blend the rock faces together if I colored everything at the same time - castings and "ooze" in between. So that being the case, at least so far, doing the rock "sprinkles" in amongst plain white Sculptamold "icing" is a much less stressful, reversible, and cleaner technique.

Next step will be to color the rocks - in place, right there on the layout - and then use earth color paint (the paint I would normally mix with the Sculptamold to make the ground goop) to paint all the white and right up to the rocks. Add ground foam onto the wet paint, then static grass, then . . .

Well, I don't want to get too far ahead of myself. Before starting all that, I want to make doubly sure that I don't need to place any more rocks. And I also need to make sure that the terrain contours are exactly where I want them.

Oh - and before adding ground foam and static grass, I really should do the photo backdrop so I can have at least a chance of matching the colors. And that means PhotoShop, which means I'm staring down another big challenge. Methinks I wait too long between PhotoShop sessions - I always seem to have to relearn it Every Single Time I use it.

But there are a few other things I can procrastinate with need to do before I get to that. I hope you continue to enjoy following along - and even better if you actually learn something new or are inspired to get to work on your own layout. If so, I hope you'll let us know in the comments.

Till next time!

Wednesday, January 20, 2021

Throwback Thursday: Terraforming at Dividend

Well, it's only a "Throwback Thursday" because we have to go "way back" to New Year's Day/weekend for the content of today's post. But good news! This also means the blog is slowly - but surely - catching up to Real Time . . .

I needed to add a scenic divider between Dividend and Cromwell, and thankfully, this area on the prototype suits itself to the task nicely. While the Valley Line follows the Connecticut River most of the way, just south of Dividend it turns inland (or, rather, the river runs further to the east) and goes up and over the ruling grade on the line. So a hill here - and a cut - is perfectly appropriate and plausible (though, admittedly, I'm not following a specific prototype scene).

The area from Dividend to Rocky Hill proper, while hilly, also has some less hilly spots of farmland. So I wanted to be sure to replicate that as well (and removed some hills - and even lowered the backdrop - to make that task easier) - especially since that would also allow me to include a small house, complete with brown rayon weathering.*

So follow along in the captions as I describe how I got started . . .

My terraforming technique has typically consisted of standard cardboard webbing, plastercloth, and ground goop. But I'd never modeled a cut before, so wanted a bit more control. After fussing with foamboard layering, I decided on a hybrid approach - use foamboard on edge as profile boards, and glue the webbing to that.

Actually, you can see yet a third technique the photo above - wadded up newspaper, held down by masking tape. Scenery support doesn't have to be pretty - it just has to give you the contours you want.

And here's a 4th method - just foamboard, carved to shape. This technique is especially useful for flat(ish) areas, like around where the house and garage will be (you can see the outlines I traced).

Here, I'm adding some 3/16" foamcore (with the paper peeled off) to make a concrete road. I frankly don't remember why I added it on top of the yellow foam board, since the yellow board has a realistic texture. Maybe I needed to backfill to raise the road level? I did sand it to taper it down to merge as seamlessly as possible.

Speaking of roads, on the prototype, Belamose Ave comes downhill from the Middlesex Turnpike to Hartford Rayon. So it does on my layout as well - although admittedly my model of it has a much more pronounced curve. But it works with my space. In the photo above, I've hot-glued some supports for the road. 

And here's the road in place. You might be able to make out that there's a farmhouse at the left end of the backdrop mockup. The idea would be that the road goes "into" the backdrop and past the front of that house.

Getting back to the cut, I used my rasp to round off the edges of the foam board to make a more natural contour.

Rasping foam makes SUCH a mess! This is from just a little area. I'm so glad I'm not trying to rasp down multiple layers of foam to create this hill!

While this is a nice overview of the progress so far, it's not so great at showing the reason for showing this view - which is to show the cardboard strips and masking tape support from Belamose Ave down to the "field" level.

And here's what all that support is for - adding plaster cloth for the (semi)final terrain contour. The final final contours will be provided by either a layer of Sculptamold, ground goop, or both.

So far, none of these steps are difficult or require any special tools or talent. The main challenge, at least for me, is to figure out where exactly you want the contours, how high, and what "footprint." If you're a prototype modeler, trying to replicate a prototype scene, that can be a little challenging (unless you're following a photo). But for the most part this step of the process is pretty easy and gives you a big bang of progress for the time spent.

While I'm happy with how this is looking, the cut looks a little too - I dunno - "even"? "Perfect"? Not sure, but it definitely needs something - probably more variety in the contour along the top edges.

But at this point, I'd run out of time for the weekend - and wanted to take some time to step back, sleep on it, and see what - if any - changes/additions I might want to make.

Over all though, it's just nice to be making some progress on this scene. It's definitely coming along! Next time, I'll tackle adding rock castings to the cut so it actually looks like a cut through an actual hill. I've never done anything like that before, so be sure to follow along and see if I learn anything new!
* * *
*I'll try to explain further at some point, but suffice it to say here that John Wallace specifically recalls white-painted houses near Hartford Rayon always having a dusting of brown on them - a byproduct of the emissions from the rayon manufacturing process. Replicating that in this scene preserves that memory and gives me an opportunity to share that story. It's sharing little historic details like this that's such a big part of the reason I'm a prototype modeler.