Trains.com

Subscriber & Member Login

Login, or register today to interact in our online community, comment on articles, receive our newsletter, manage your account online and more!

Building Flat Scenery

1681 views
15 replies
1 rating 2 rating 3 rating 4 rating 5 rating
  • Member since
    February 2012
  • 85 posts
Posted by mthobbies on Wednesday, June 16, 2021 2:30 PM

Keep in mind the "scaleness" of your flat ground. A 1/4" depression in the landscape is really like 3 feet in HO. Take that into account. If your "flat" areas are too bumpy they will look out of scale.

I think small flat areas of just plywood or foam are acceptable. Just cover it with real dirt and you're done. The natural settling of the dirt provides just enough irregularity that the bare plywood looks realistic, but not so dramatic that it looks like a motocross track. A little coarse ground foam here and there and it's perfect.

 

Matt

  • Member since
    December 2008
  • From: Heart of Georgia
  • 4,476 posts
Posted by Doughless on Saturday, June 12, 2021 11:06 AM

Thanks for all of the replies.  Plenty of good suggestions.

Yes, I lay out most of the buildings, which are mock ups from previous layouts, and also paint in the roads and parking lots.

I'll probably go with plaster cloth over small pieces of cardstock, build up the cloth in places and the ground cover too.  Other places I will lay the ground cover directly on the plywood. 

- Douglas

  • Member since
    December 2004
  • From: Bedford, MA, USA
  • 19,952 posts
Posted by MisterBeasley on Friday, June 11, 2021 11:39 AM

I use 2 inches if pink foam for the base level of my layout.  That's flat.  But, I don't think flat looks particularly natural, so I first take scraps of leftover foam and make small hills, and I also carve out small depressions.  I glue down the foam.

Next, I add plaster cloth over the foam features.  This smoothes out the rough foam contours.  Over that, I spread a thin slurry of gypsolite, mixed with brown craft paint.  This gives a "dirt" cover which is gritty, again, a more natural texture.  The next step is to paint a camouflage pattern with a wash of green craft paint.  I usually add ground foam for shrubbery next, and finish it up with static grass.  Depressions and trackside ditches sometimes get filled with Envirotex.

It takes an iron man to play with a toy iron horse. 

  • Member since
    February 2005
  • From: Vancouver Island, BC
  • 22,709 posts
Posted by selector on Friday, June 11, 2021 11:23 AM

Countertops are flat...if not exactly level.  But, terrain is almost never 'flat', or level.

When I want a little natural relief, and not just a green flat surface that has been painted and some ground foam planted, I make the relief simply by sprinkling real dirt into slight rises.  It's easy then to glue it the same way you'd do ballast material, but sprinkle a couple or three types of ground foam to make it look like natural terrain.

You can see it at the base of the tree at left:

Or here, on another layout:

 

  • Member since
    July 2006
  • From: west coast
  • 6,419 posts
Posted by rrebell on Friday, June 11, 2021 9:45 AM

Scenery is a lot of work and to make it look real it is layer upon layer and as a clue, each area you do, the first layer is the least important and they get more important as you build. My way of doing scenery normally  is plaster cloth, zip texturing, low grasses (fine foam) and so on but on my last layout I had an existing plywood yard to add, used paint instead of zip texturing and built up the rest, you could not tell one from the other.

  • Member since
    March 2002
  • From: Milwaukee WI (Fox Point)
  • 10,908 posts
Posted by dknelson on Friday, June 11, 2021 9:16 AM

Some areas seem "flat" when you drive over them, but if you walk or bicycle you realize they aren't flat at all, just very gentle undulations.  Admittedly gentle undulations can make placing structures a bit of a challenge but here is what I did to capture "flat-ish but not flat" areas.  On the plywood table top I would glue randomly very thin pieces of foam, mostly things I had shaved away (not literally - I mean using a hot wire tool)  from larger pieces while doing other scenery work, and saved.  But even pieces of cardboard here and there would serve the same purpose.  Then I used plaster cloth to create the ground level and the randomly placed little rises smooth out in that way.  You can create small ridges such as you see in some residential neighborhoods where everybody's front lawn has a small hump they have to mow, that sort of thing.  

My own feeling is that except for somewhere like the Bonneville Salt Flats it is more realistic to avoid perfect flatness.  Some variety, no matter how slight, is realistic, particularly when you also want to replicate ditches and drainage neaer the track and road sides

Dave Nelson

  • Member since
    October 2020
  • 1,512 posts
Posted by NorthBrit on Friday, June 11, 2021 6:46 AM

On my layout, Leeds Sovereign Street & Clarence Dock,  the scenery is flat.   No hills or tunnels.   Albeit  it is a UK based themed layout  I first decided what I wanted regarding buildings and features.  I wanted a canal, a farmhouse, a scrap yard, a timber merchants, a small industrial park.

 

Basically by placing them where I wanted,  the spaces in between were covered in trees and bushes.

The canal and boat.   The boar 'hugs' against the backscene.   The grass  is a grass mat with crumpled paper underneath to give undulations.   'Fifty shades of scatter'  sprinkled on the grassmat.

 

Nature in her element when left unattended.  Trees and bushes in any available space.

 

 

As for Florida landscape.   See what you see  either being there or in pictures.  See what you see  and not what you thought you saw.

 

David

 

To the world you are someone.    To someone you are the world

I cannot afford the luxury of a negative thought

  • Member since
    September 2004
  • From: Dearborn Station
  • 21,507 posts
Posted by richhotrain on Friday, June 11, 2021 6:30 AM

Doughless

Do you simply sprinkle ground cover over the plywood?

But flat terrain isn't really plywood flat everywhere.

Do you start by spreading something like a thin layer of sculptamold over the whole scene, then shape in little indulations.  That seems like a lot of work.

Do you lay down the roads and parking lots first, slowly eliminating the amount of open scenery needed?

I'm looking for Florida-ish scenery, so there is a lot of flat. 

I model the Chicago area which is pretty flat as flat goes. One thing to note is that you are likely looking down at your layout, so in real life a lot of detail is less perceptible from increasing heights. Small undulations are no longer noticeable.

What I do for expanses of grassy areas is to simply sprinkle ground cover directly onto the plywood after first installing roads, parking lots, etc. I use Woodland Scenics Coarse Turf for this purpose. I begin with a full cover of Medium Green. Then, I selectively add Light Green and Dark Green for contrast.

Here is an example.

Rich

Flat-Landscape.jpg

Alton Junction

  • Member since
    July 2006
  • From: Bradford, Ontario
  • 13,191 posts
Posted by hon30critter on Friday, June 11, 2021 5:53 AM

My layout is mostly flat. There will be a river scene that will be cut into the 2" foam, and there will be a couple of hills on the outer edges, but the rest will be 'flat'. However, it is my intention to make as much of the flat area as unflat (is that a word?) as possible.

The center of the layout will be a city scene which will be flat, but outside of that there will be lots of space where small undulations in the landscape can be worked in. They may not be very high or very large, but they will add texture and depth to the 'flat' areas, or so I hope.

Cheers!!

Dave

I'm just a dude with a bad back having a lot of fun with model trains, and finally building a layout!

  • Member since
    February 2001
  • From: Wyoming, where men are men, and sheep are nervous!
  • 2,834 posts
Posted by Pruitt on Thursday, June 10, 2021 10:04 PM

I'm nowhere near done with my flat area scenery, but here's how I'm doing the flat areas of my main yard and nearby fields. This may give you an idea of how to proceed, or how NOT to proceed, depending on how it looks to you.

My scenery base is styrofoam (so far). I learned the hard way (there's a thread on the problems I had here somewhere) that plaster of paris, which is what I use as a scenery base, doesn't stick to the smooth pink styrofoam, so I rough it up (the styrofoam, not the plaster) with a surform tool first:

Then I cover any gaps between the subroadbed and styrofoam. I used paper drywall joint tape because I had it on hand. Then I mix a batch of plaster of paris to a consisitency about like pancake batter and just paint it on. I also tint the plaster with powdered dry tempera paint so it won't be stark white if it chips:

And then I sift on a tempera powder / plaster of paris powder mix and soak it with water. The plaster actrs as an ahesive and makes the tempera "dirt" stick to the surface:

Then comes all the detail scenery, which I haven't got to yet except for track ballasting. 

In the area outside the yard, I'm going to put down static grass, spread out some oregano (it's a fall scene, so coarsely ground oregano looks a lot like dead / dying vegetation), and add some other texture elements unevenly throughout the scene.

In the yard will be some weeds and grasses, with a lot of bare dirt between the tracks and around the buildings where there's no ballast. I'll use a lot of weathering powders and darkish stains to give the area an overall grimy appearance.

At least that's my plan. How well it will work remains to be seen...

  • Member since
    January 2010
  • 2,591 posts
Posted by peahrens on Thursday, June 10, 2021 9:14 PM

My layout is cookie cutter plywood with some added hills and many flat areas.  It's towards the congested side, so the non-structure, non-roads, non-ballast areas are not really that extensive.

After adding hills, tunnel, structures and road, I did ballast before adding the finer scenery elements, for both hills and flat areas.  I applied Sculptamold on the flat areas as I had on the hills, to add a bit of base texture.  That got painted a ground color.  Then I applied fine ground foam colors, then coarse ground foam, then bushes, etc.  I was pretty satisfied with that sequence.  Enough added texture and color variation distracts a bit from the severe flatness of the base IMO.

Just try a section and adjust as you go.

 20200424_090128 by Paul Ahrens, on Flickr

 

Paul

Modeling HO with a transition era UP bent

  • Member since
    May 2021
  • 6 posts
Posted by dennis461 on Thursday, June 10, 2021 9:04 PM

It is not flat. Cut corrugated cardboard into kidney shapes. Glue them down, stack a few. Sprinkle with caulk and grass

 

  • Member since
    September 2014
  • From: 10,430’ (3,179 m)
  • 1,546 posts
Posted by jjdamnit on Thursday, June 10, 2021 6:48 PM

Hello All,

On our recent trip to Chicago, we visited the Museum of Science and Industry.

They have a HO model railroad exhibit.

It represents the modern-day line from Chicago to Seattle with the current BNSF livery.

To represent the vastness of the plains states they used squares of carpet with different patterns, textures, and colors to represent the different crop fields.

Many of these carpet sections seemed to be painted in patterns to enhance the effect.

Or, so I thought...

When my wife looked at that section of the exhibit she said, "Oh, look they didn't finish the 'scenery' in those patches."

A gentle reminder of "artistic license" produced an affirming, "Ah!"

The points you brought up are all valid methods.

Don't be afraid to experiment with the different methods on a small scale.

Hope this helps.

"Uhh...I didn’t know it was 'impossible' I just made it work...sorry"

  • Member since
    December 2015
  • From: Shenandoah Valley
  • 8,226 posts
Posted by BigDaddy on Thursday, June 10, 2021 5:25 PM

Doughless
Do you start by spreading something like a thin layer of sculptamold over the whole scene, then shape in little indulations. That seems like a lot of work.

If you are happy with flat just go with ground foam/static grass.

if not the plywood isn't going to grow hills by itself.  If you want roads and parking lots, decide now.  The same with any buildings you want to add.  

You don't have to cover everything with sculptamold, you can form hills in certain locations. 

If you are foam guy, you can glue and shape some foam hills to the plywood.

Henry

COB Potomac & Northern

Shenandoah Valley

  • Member since
    May 2004
  • 6,643 posts
Posted by 7j43k on Thursday, June 10, 2021 5:24 PM

Doughless

 

Do you start by spreading something like a thin layer of sculptamold over the whole scene, then shape in little indulations.  That seems like a lot of work.

That's what I did.  Except that I used joint compound.  You're going to have to deal with every square inch of surface, anyway.  Some'll take longer, of course.

Do you lay down the roads and parking lots first, slowly eliminating the amount of open scenery needed?

My parking lot is asphalt.  I used a piece of styrene, painted.  Generally, detailing in a parking lot can best be represented by paint.  On the styrene.

My "road" is a dirt road paralleling the tracks.  So I added some tire "grooving".  Not enough, perhaps.

I DID plop the parking styrene in place, and work the dirt up to it.  The dirt road happened as I spread stuff around.  Note that you can sand and scrape dried joint compound very easily--it's pleasant to work with.  But not very strong.

I'm looking for Florida-ish scenery, so there is a lot of flat.

Looking at how to get started.

 

 
What can help is to study and replicate a particular area.  Then you're just trying to copy what you see, instead of having to invent it all in your head.
 
Ed
  • Member since
    December 2008
  • From: Heart of Georgia
  • 4,476 posts
Building Flat Scenery
Posted by Doughless on Thursday, June 10, 2021 4:43 PM

How do you do this?  The answer may seem obvious to some, but I'm stumped as to how to get started.

I've built two layout in the past, and the hills and verticle scenery seemed easier to understand, and I've built that.  The flat portions I never finished, having simply painted the plywood a series of greens, tans, and grays as a way to get some color down before the real scenery was built.

Do you simply sprinkle ground cover over the plywood?

But flat terrain isn't really plywood flat everywhere.

Do you start by spreading something like a thin layer of sculptamold over the whole scene, then shape in little indulations.  That seems like a lot of work.

Do you lay down the roads and parking lots first, slowly eliminating the amount of open scenery needed?

I'm looking for Florida-ish scenery, so there is a lot of flat.

Looking at how to get started.

- Douglas

Subscriber & Member Login

Login, or register today to interact in our online community, comment on articles, receive our newsletter, manage your account online and more!

Users Online

There are no community member online

Search the Community

ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
Model Railroader Newsletter See all
Sign up for our FREE e-newsletter and get model railroad news in your inbox!