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.

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