Wednesday, September 23, 2020

Saturday, September 12, 2020

Super Tree Tip and a Country Road

A pasture scene almost ready for static grass and foreground trees.

Super trees, marketed by Scenic Express, are perhaps the best looking tree armatures on the market today - at least if the goal is a tree covered hillsides. The weakest part of the Super Tree is the slender trunk compared to the rest of the tree. Planting them in mass effectively minimizes that limitation. Of course, the scene will benefit immensely from some true foreground trees. I have a couple of ways to construct this that I may cover in a future blog post. 

But there's one other issue with Super trees that I haven't seen addressed in any of the videos, articles, or other tips I've seen published about using them. 

Look carefully at the top of most of the armatures and you'll notice a "crown" at the very peak of the tree. Look at the dark orange tree in the center of the image below:

Typically there's a gap between the top of the main "mass" of the tree and this little extra crown shaped branch. While it's acceptable sometimes it's usually something that doesn't look much like the growth pattern of a real tree, and therefore makes it obvious that this is a Super tree and not an oak, maple, elm, or whatever.

The easiest solution is to nip off the crown. I usually do this after the tree is planted. I simply look over the trees, identify the odd-shaped or unusually large "crowns" and snip them off the tree. 

Only about 70% or so of the material in any average Super Tree box is really usable. But don't throw the bits and pieces and oddly curved armatures away - they're useful for making those foreground trees. 

Dirt Roads

I've been experimenting with using sanded tile grout for a dirt or gravel road. This is a mixture of a dark and light tan, as well as a medium gray. I simply applied it to the surface of the layout, smoothed it with a putty knife, and then misted it with water mixed with alcohol. This is the first layer to build up the basic road. I need to go back and add a second finish coat - at the that time I'll add some planks to between the rails to create a road crossing. 

Tuesday, September 1, 2020

Snapping Into Focus

The unpainted foam is a dead giveaway that the scenery isn't finished in the junction corner. 
But there are enough of the basic elements in place that I can tell the scene 
will meet my original vision for this area.

All model railroads start with a vision. Then there's the construction - when saws, drills, plywood, screws, and wires replace all other aspects of the hobby. This phase can be disheartening, and seemingly never-ending when a large layout is involved. The more artistic side of the hobby is put aside in an effort to get the railroad operating. 

Sometimes the modeler tells all who will listen he is so interested in operation that he's having too much fun to build scenery. Frankly, I think it's often not a lack of interest but . instead their enthusiasm for more construction - of any kind - has sucked the fun out of the project and they simply don't have the heart to press on. 

But someone once wrote that scenery is the "the most critical 1/16th of an inch." After all it's what everyone sees in the end. But it's too often the last thing that's done - which is why so many railroads never make it past the plywood pacific stage. 

The background hills are nothing more than painted foam with some ground up leaves added as a forest floor texture. Next step will be to plant the trees. The trees will be fairly dense on the hillside in the center - mostly to mask the unnatural steepness of the slope. But I need make sure the trees don't completely hide the backdrop painting. 

But for those who feel that scenery is at least as important as operation know there's a magical moment - when the layout starts to look less like a "train table" and more like the railroad scene we first envisioned. It snaps into focus. And it often occurs before the scene is "finished."

It's been a busier last few weeks than I had planned - a trip out of town and a couple of intense work projects made more onerous by the current remote working environment have left me feeling like a hollow shell by the time the dinner bell rings. But I have managed to get some puttering done in the basement. I didn't have the heart to install (more) Tortoises. Perhaps I was looking for a project where I, and anyone else, can immediately see that progress has been made. I'll get back to the Tortoise installation chore, but in the meantime I've gotten most of the base scenery landforms roughed in for the junction scene. I even managed to get a car shed and ball signal built up to protect the junction. Was there ever a ball signal at Sheldon Junction? I don't know. I've never seen any proof that there was. I've also never seen proof there wasn't. But a ball signal between a branchline and a shortline hardly seems to out of place and frankly seems a necessity. For the record the ball signal and car shed are a BEST Trains kit. An easy couple of evening build. 

When did your vision for your railroad, or even car, locomotive, or structure build first start to realize your vision? In other words, when did it snap into focus? 

Here's a higher view of the in-progress scene. I find it's easier to complete the scenery on the far side of the track before starting on the foreground scenery. 

Saturday, August 22, 2020

Concrete Texture

Progress continues in the basement, but some limited summertime activities and a distraction (more on that below) have kept me away from any long duration model railroad work sessions. 

I did, however, manage to get the implement dealer completed, mostly in preparation for a clinic I'm called "Researching and Scratchbuilding Tips for Prototype Structures" at an online RPM meet later today. I wanted to finish the building for the clinic, which I did, but the bigger challenge was taking what was a long clinic (last time I presented this live it ran 55 minutes), adding more information to it, and then editing it down to fit the 30 minute time slot. I think I'm in good shape - but I did remove some of the "here's two or three ways you can do this step" - limiting the talk to what I actually did. 

Just after dusk. Obviously some light discipline is called for!

We'll see how that works out. I'm doing the same clinic for our local NMRA division later in the year (October, as I recall). So at least I'll get one more use out of it. I think the idea of 30 minute clinic slots is particularly good - frankly I think it should be used when (or if) we get back to having live meets and conventions. I've sat through a lot of clinics over the years that would have benefitted from some harsh editing!

 On to the main topic for today's post. When I built the implement dealer I added a poured concrete foundation made from .040" plain sheet styrene. I did sand the surface of the styrene prior to painting in order to get it to look like something other than smooth plastic. I painted it and thought it looked okay - until I took some test photos of the building, Those foundation walls were missing any texture.

I have AK Interactive's Concrete (they make an identical material for asphalt, the only difference is the color). It's basically some sort of joint compound-like stuff with a gritty texture added. And, while the texture is great for larger scales, or even HO scale pavement if you apply it carefully and smooth it well - it's really meant for larger scales such as 1/32nd military models and the like. In HO it looks just a little too chunky to make a convincing concrete wall.

I showed the AK Interactive stuff to my wife (leaving out how much I'd paid for a tiny tub of this stuff!) and explained the chunky problem. She dug through her art supplies and handed me acontainer of "Ceramic Stucco Medium" - basically matte gel medium with some fine, gritty material added. The difference was this gritty material was much finer than the AK Interactive stuff. 

After I taped off the clapboard sections of the walls to avoid any overspill, I dabbed this stuff right out of the jar (you can thin it and color it with acrylic paints, in fact that's what it's made for) along the base of the styrene. In this case, I didn't color it, or even paint it. It dries to nice "almost new" concrete color out of the jar. It has a decent working time - so I had lots of time to spread it smooth with an artists spatula. 

I found it naturally formed some uneven spots in various places - looking exactly like a poured concrete wall. If you were modeling a stucco building you could easily use this to create a look of failing stucco with the underlying brick showing through. Or, if you wanted it to look like patched concrete you could let an initial application dry, and then add a second partial coat in a different color.

Before the next step I suggest letting it dry completely - preferably 24 hours or so. When it dried it looked just a little too heavy - but some light sanding to just knock the surface down, followed by a couple of applications of Pan Pastels gave some variation to the color and helped smooth the surface just a little. One more tip - if you're going to color it add the paint to the material before you apply it. I don't think "surface painting" this after it's dried would be as effective. 

All in all I'm pretty pleased with the final result:

About that distraction - over the last couple of weeks of evenings I've been painting some 28mm Revolutionary War (American War of Independence to any Brits out there!) figures. Years ago I was heavily into wargaming - even did some re-enacting way, way back when. I was never into "winning" war games - but I did always enjoy researching the uniforms and painting figures to represent them. I haven't done any miniature figure painting for many, many, years - but out of the blue a few weeks ago I dug out a couple of old boxes of figures and decided to paint them. I quickly found I'm really out of practice. 

But here's a very much in progress shot of a British Regiment - the various figures shown are representative of the Center (also called Line, or "Hat"), Grenadier, and Light Companies of His Majesty's 63rd Regiment of Foot. 

Wednesday, July 29, 2020

Wordless Wednesday #230

J. Delano photo, Sept 1941, Sheldon Springs, Vermont, Library of Congress

Monday, July 27, 2020

Video Layout Update #7

I just posted a video layout update to my "CVSNE" YouTube channel. 

You can find the video HERE

Saturday, July 25, 2020

Backdrop Painting - and some fancy art terms

I've added some additional color, highlights, and texture to the trees and fields in this section of backdrop. At this point I really need to move on from this - sometimes you can overdo a painting - and in trying to tweak just one more thing it quickly turns to "mud." 
In a response to an earlier comment, I mentioned the concept of "maniera lavata" - an Italian term for what is often called "underpainting." 
On my previous layout I tried painting the colorful fall trees first, but the resulting trees lacked depth. And when I'd try adding the darker colors as shadows on top of the colors the whole thing often got away from me. Too many colors on top of other colors resulting in a dark, dead, lifeless, mess. Lighter colors applied over the darker underpainting really helps solve his problem. 
The other issue I've had in the past is getting the tonal values and colors somewhat consistent across the backdrop. A solution to this issue is to pick a color palette and stick with it throughout. I'm using eight colors on the backdrop - which seems like a lot, but that includes a couple of grays, two greens, and the base scenery and sky colors. Every color is mixed from some combination of those eight basic colors. 
Another key to avoiding an inconsistent look to the backdrop leads us to our second fancy Italian art term in this blog post, "Alla Prima." This translates to "at first attempt." It indicates an approach where a picture is completed by painting on the entire surface of the canvas all at one time, instead of fully completing a specific section, say a corner, of a painting before moving on to the next corner. Alla Prima results in pictures from the Impressionist school of painters. Okay, enough art lesson for today.  
In this case I'm not actually completing the entire painting in one step, so it's not truly alla prima, but I am completing all the underpainting, highlighting , etc.. of the backdrop one wall at a time, trying to keep the entire thing somewhat "loose."  

Here's the next section showing the initial underpainting:

The hills and fields are represent he shadow and branch structure of the trees,
 as well as the basis for the fields. I'm careful to leave some background sky
 color visible through the base coat of trees. A solid wall of dark brown will look like exactly that. For the fields, I add a base color of my scenery "tan" and then add streaks of burnt umber to create some highlights and shadows.