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Colouring ground

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  • Member since
    March, 2008
  • From: Ipswich, UK
  • 79 posts
Colouring ground
Posted by SBX on Tuesday, May 09, 2017 6:40 AM

Hi everyone. If you read some of my blog you will readily understand my question. I rarely get beyond the laying track and running trains point. However, I am better organised now and the current railroad should stay for some time. That means that I have to start scenicking.

I use 5mm foam core for my baseboard so I have this glaring white base to cover up.

SNE Close Up

Right, what is my first step? I am OK once the ground is down.I have no issues with getting on from there but I am stuck at the first jump.


  • Member since
    December, 2016
  • 49 posts
Posted by speedybee on Tuesday, May 09, 2017 10:35 AM

I don't have a tenth of the experience of most people here, but no one else has replied yet, so I figure I'll put in my two cents.

When you're sculpting scenery, you need to be able to have your ground level sometimes dip below track level. If your track is set directly on your baseboard, either your entire layout would have to be very flat, which would look strange unless you happen to be modelling Saskatchewan, or you will have lots of hills and low lying tracks, which would look prone to flash flooding.

Given the lack of roadbed in your photo, I assume that track is not secured to your foamcore base, and you're just laying out the track plan. When you are actually laying the roadbed and track, I suggest you first cut strips a few inches wide of 1" to 2" XPS foam insulation board. Then glue these strips to your base beneath your track, and glue your roadbed and track on top of these foam strips. With you track elevated off the baseboard, you're easily able to sculpt some little valleys and ditches below track level, and hills above track level.

For filling in the spaces between track, my preferred method is to crumple up newspaper balls into whatever shape I want the landscape to be and firmly tape it down to the baseboard. Then lay strips of plaster cloth on top of that to make a smooth rigid paintable surface. Then paint it with tan ish coloured paint, and add your ground foam etc from there.

Newspaper balls are by no means the only way of supporting your plaster cloth.... people also seem to like cardboard strips and other things. Really it doesn't matter what it is, as long as it supports the plaster cloth in the right shape while its drying.

Have fun!


  • Member since
    June, 2007
  • From: Northern Virginia
  • 4,709 posts
Posted by riogrande5761 on Tuesday, May 09, 2017 10:46 AM

Heh heh, my wife is British but now that she is here in the US for about 6 years, she admitted to me she stopped spelling color the British way!  There is hope for her yet!  Stick out tongue

I think it's a good idea to choose some basic earth color before putting the track down, so the layout looks a little nicer while the scenery is going in.  To that end I put down a sand earth tone for my desert Grande Junction themed D&RGW layout.  I suggest you go to your local hardware store and get some paint cards and bring them home and choose a latex color that give you a base color to paint the foam board or whatever.

Rio Grande.  The Action Road

  • Member since
    January, 2004
  • From: Canada, eh?
  • 7,340 posts
Posted by doctorwayne on Tuesday, May 09, 2017 11:47 AM

I picked up a gallon of the cheapest flat interior latex paint I could find, in a suitable dirt colour (unless you're modelling a specific area where the dirt is very distinctive in colour, there's no need to be too fussy).  Most of my scenery is patching plaster over aluminum window screen, and I found that thinning the paint about 40% with water helps to make it easier to apply (and makes it go further, too).  If you're painting extruded foam or, in your case, paper, do not thin the paint.
Here's an area that not too long ago looked like this...


...but with ground cover applied, and some trees added, the "dirt" isn't very visible at all (nor is the bridge in this photo)....

Even if you wish to represent bare dirt, the paint simply gets rid of whatever unusual colour is present, and allows you to add texture and additional colour - tile grout, in a suitable colour, over any dirt-coloured base will yield something that actually looks like dirt rather than painted foam or plaster.

I find that colours are truer when the "u" is included...after all, while English has roots in many languages, it is the English language, and words should be speled proplery. Smile, Wink & Grin

However, I must admit to using "aluminum" rather than aluminium, despite the fact that it was named by Sir Humphry Davy, an Englishman. Whistling Stick out tongue

Here's the same scene, with all of the trees and the bridge in place...

...and not much evidence of the dirt.


  • Member since
    May, 2004
  • 3,859 posts
Posted by 7j43k on Tuesday, May 09, 2017 12:05 PM

We Americans do put in that "u" when appropriate.  Note the sound of the word "velour".  And "contour".  Neither of which have the same end-sound as "color".  For some reason, the Brits and the French like to keep letters in words that aren't there anymore.  Oh, yes.  And New Englanders.

Say, who was it who invented "thru"?????????



  • Member since
    March, 2015
  • 858 posts
Posted by SouthPenn on Tuesday, May 09, 2017 1:16 PM

I have two shades of brown that I paint the base with before any track laying or scenery is installed. Some times I mix the two paints in a camouflage pattern. The pattern disappears when the scenery is added.

South Penn
  • Member since
    January, 2010
  • From: Chi-Town
  • 6,722 posts
Posted by zstripe on Tuesday, May 09, 2017 2:39 PM

You better do a test piece first.....I believe if You brush water based paint on the foam core, the paper will wrinkle. You may have to spray it on. I'm not certain, but it happens.

I believe a better choice would have been Homasote or sheet cork.

Good Luck! Big Smile



  • Member since
    December, 2001
  • From: AU
  • 453 posts
Posted by xdford on Wednesday, May 10, 2017 2:20 AM

I'll second Frank's issue with foamcore. I made a "concrete" platform from foamcore and it was steady until I painted one side the concrete colo(u)r (- I'm Australian and either spelling is accepted here!!) where the foam core swelled unevenly.

Perhaps a light coat  on both sides will assist it keep the foam core stable before applying scenery or gluing a layer of paper or skin of plaster impregnated gauze in your gaps first?  Perhaps experiment on a scrap piece and let us know how you go with it?

Good luck

Trevor for your interest!


  • Member since
    March, 2008
  • From: Ipswich, UK
  • 79 posts
Posted by SBX on Wednesday, May 10, 2017 10:09 AM

Well, thanks for all the comments. Some of them were like the old joke - "How do I get to Dublin. If I were you, I wouldn't start from here".

It was unlikely that I would tear the railroad up and re-lay with homosote (Sundeala board over here). I have very good reasons for using lightweight foam core - all to do with a body riddled with arthritis. (Read my blog at to find out why I do what I do).

Thanks to doctorwayne, I have bought some paint in the right colour. I didn't buy what you call latex and I call emulsion. I bought some paint that is for finishing woodwork. Itcovers the ground (and the blue layout lines) in one coat and I now have ground that is vaguely brownish, which is what I wanted. So far, there is no indication of any warping or lifting so I am happy and pleased with the help that I have received.

On my previous layout, which I took down recently because I couldn't stand up to work on it, I used sculptamold directly on the surface. I also used plaster impregnated bandage. Neither of these gave me any problems. The boards are pretty severely supported underneath with lots of cross members so that hepls, I think.

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