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Scenic Cement Makes Mud

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Scenic Cement Makes Mud
Posted by mr moto on Saturday, January 30, 2016 9:08 PM

I'm a Southwestern modeler with a bit of a dilemma.  I've been trying to create dry, dusty landscape with various types of dirts collected from my environment.  However, everytime I find a color I like my gluing process changes the color significantly.  I've tried dirt, decomposed granite, the powdery remains of sandstone and the results are the same.  Once I apply the wetting agent ( I've tried alcohol and "wet water" ) everything turns dark brown.  Then when I apply the glue, either Woodland Scenics Scenic Cement or a 50/50 mix of water and white glue ( with the drops of detergent ) it just seems to seal in that dark brown color.  Now I have a scenic area that looks like dark wet earth rather than dry dusty desert.  I see pictures of layouts with nice tan land.  How are they doing that?

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Posted by RR_Mel on Saturday, January 30, 2016 9:40 PM

I use Arizona Rock & Mineral for dirt, gravel, asphalt and ballast.  The white glue doesn’t change the color of their material.
Click on “Shop” and scroll down.
I use #1230 Tan Granite Base Powder for mountain dirt roads, mixed 8 water to 1 Elmer’s All Purpose White Glue.  That makes a good paste that is easily applied and when dry looks like real dirt.  The asphalt can be sanded after it dries to look like real asphalt roads.
Modeling the early to mid 1950s SP in HO scale since 1951
My Model Railroad   
Bakersfield, California
I'm beginning to realize that aging is not for wimps.
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Posted by Grampys Trains on Saturday, January 30, 2016 10:51 PM

Mr. Moto, when I started doing scenery, I found the same problem with ground cover. I found that putting down a layer of white glue, and sprinkling ground cover onto the wet glue and letting it dry worked for me. Maybe that might work for your dirt.

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Posted by wp8thsub on Sunday, January 31, 2016 1:17 AM

Sounds like you're using materials that are naturally too dark for their intended use.  Many natural materials look lighter before application due to the effects of fine dust.  Once you apply wetting agents and glue, the dust disappears and the appearance gets darker.

In addition, some materials can soak up glue and change color due to their natural porosity.  Harder stuff, like sand, doesn't absorb much glue and the color doesn't change as much.

One way to counter the problem is to select natural rock and dirt that's significantly lighter than the final effect you want.  Anticipate it will darken and plan accordingly.

Another thing you can do is to paint the dirt once it's glued down.  Much of the natural dirt and rock in this scene has been painted with dry-brushed acrylic.  You can retain the texture but adjust the color.  An airbrush can be useful for painting large areas.

Rob Spangler

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Posted by Alantrains on Sunday, January 31, 2016 3:56 AM

I have exactly the same problem Mr Moto,

even with sand it looks wet after I glue it down. But the other day I was watching a video on youtube by Luke Towan and he advised using dusting powders after gluing the dirt down to lighten the colour and to get that dry earth etc look. I haven't tried it yet, but it sounds like a good answer and you don't have to remove what you've already done.

good luck and I look forward to any other answers.


Alan Jones in Sunny Queensland (Oz)


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Posted by trevorsmith3489 on Sunday, January 31, 2016 5:02 AM

I use white aquarium sand glued down with PVA.

The glue is a 25%glue/75% water mix with a few drops of washing up liquid applied with an eye dropper. The ground is wetted with a misting of water and IPA applied with a used perfume mister courtesy of my wife. 


If the colour nees to be darker or a different shade, I use cheap childrens poster paint mixed with water and sprayed on the surface with an airbrush - or the mister

Example here



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Posted by John Busby on Sunday, January 31, 2016 5:58 AM

Hi all

Well something is amiss here I would sugest it lies with the choice of matierials,

and them not being washed and dried before hand so the real colour can be seen

So a too dark matierial is being used to begin with.

If the ground looks wet then too much glue is in the mix or way to much is being applied.

PVA glue using the right techneques can be also used for water hence possibly the wet look.

Try a different much lighter coloured natural matierials and less glue mix at a time to hold it down if you have to mist it a couple of times to get enough to stick that doesn't matter.

You are going to have to experement with matierals there preperation and use, particularly when using natural ones and don't over do the glue mix.

regards John

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Posted by NVSRR on Sunday, January 31, 2016 8:35 AM

Did you try matte medium instead of white glue?     It mixes the same as white glue 50/50. But matte medium is used instead of white glue.   Also those luke towan vids have many good ideas

A pessimist sees a dark tunnel

An optimist sees the light at the end of the tunnel

A realist sees a frieght train

An engineer sees three idiots standing on the tracks stairing blankly in space

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Posted by mr moto on Sunday, January 31, 2016 10:10 AM

Thanks for the suggestions.  I've been trying all this on sample pieces of scenery, not directly on the layout.  Past mistakes have taught me something.  Will try experimenting with a wider range of materials and will check out the Luke Towan videos.

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Posted by jecorbett on Sunday, January 31, 2016 10:30 AM

Just an idea. Try fine sand. You can buy fine grain silica sand or use play sand. I got mine at Lowe's. It to is a very fine grain. I used it to create a beach scene and I was very happy with the results. I was afraid using 1:1 scale sand wouldn't work in HO but you really don't see the individual grains once it is glued in place. I used wet water and thinned glue just like a would for any other ground cover. The sand darkened only slightly. For your purpose you might want to darken it even more. I wanted the sand near the water's edge to look wet and I was able to capture that with thinned brown acrylic wash. You could experiment to get the right shade. I wish I could show you a picture but my USB connection to my camera got damaged.

When I was shopping around for sand I saw a number of online retailers who sold silica sand in various shades. It's more expensive than the play sand but you could probably find a shade that works for you.

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Posted by trainnut1250 on Sunday, January 31, 2016 10:51 AM

What you describe is a common problem when applying ground cover.

the standard fixes are:

Mix in a lighter color to the dark color so the dirt dries a lighter shade. This will work better if the colorant is a powder that blends thoroughly with the ground cover material. I use a fine grey powder sifted from rocks I collect.

Sand the dried dirt to bring up a dusty look. This works quite well and is another of my "go to" techniques.

Sift a dry dirt layer on top of a light glue coat. Apply the final glue coat sparingly and then sift the last dirt coat on until the glue is not soaking through the surface.

weathering powders can be applied to help lighten a color as well.

Wait for the glue to dry thoroughly - The final color comes up when the dirt/ground cover is completely dry - usually at least 48 hours in my neck of the woods.

with a little experimentation, I'm sure you can develop a technique that will give you the look you want


have fun,


see stuff at: the Willoughby Line Site

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Posted by tomikawaTT on Sunday, January 31, 2016 11:01 AM

If you have been collecting local material to use in landscaping, you have to remember that EVERYTHING looks lighter in natural sunlight.

You might try sifting out the fine dust beforehand (with a thrift store sieve, please.  Your wife wouldn't appreciate having her cake-making tools all dusty.)  Then sprinkle it over the freshly glued surface as the last step in landscaping.

I have the opposite situation.  On a hot, hazy (95F, 95%) day in late summer in the Central Japan Alps nothing is dry, except the hiker's mouth.

Chuck (Modeling soggy Central Japan in September, 1964 - in the dessicated desert)

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Posted by BATMAN on Sunday, January 31, 2016 11:59 AM

In my never ending job of remodeling bathrooms in the house I have aquired a good selction of tile grout and various kinds of thinset. These make great ground cover as they are so fine in texture. I also use a lot of natural products from the great outdoors. I first paint on glue to the surface and just sprinkle the "whatever" down.

Like you I found the colour changed once on the layout. My solution was having many spray bottles of different washes handy. Not only did this help with subtle changes in colour, it also help to stick any remaining loose bits down. I have also been known to use the airbrush for some more finer or major colour changes.

There is definetly a learning curve in ground cover, as the real stuff looks so different all over the planet. We strive to get the look we want on our own layouts and sometimes we really have to work at it. But then isn't that why we are in the hobby? It would be boring if it was easy.

Good luck.Smile


It's not the age honey, it's the mileage.

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Posted by mr moto on Saturday, February 13, 2016 8:35 PM

Thanks for the hints and ideas.  I am now ready to sell all of my possessions and follow Luke Towan around as an apprentice.  Tried the grout mix in, 50/50 with my decomposed granite and it looks way better.  Now to work on rocks!

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Posted by wickman on Saturday, February 13, 2016 9:25 PM

I might also suggest don't use  the 25% glue 75% water right away.  I make  my own  scenic  cement  and when I  make it  about the same  proportion  as you I make  it in  a gallon jug  and let it  sit  after  giving a shake and after as long as it takes for the top  half to  clear almost looking clear clear I pour the clear into my spray bottles until its down  to the glue  and I then refill the jug again  with  water and without adding  more glue give another  good shake and place on the shelf to clear again. 

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