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Author Previous Topic: Chuck Diljaks Wyoming Valley Railroad Topic Next Topic: Laser cut layout modules in North America
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Premium Member

Posted - 02/01/2005 :  3:11:04 PM  Show Profile  Reply with Quote
Originally posted by MP Rich

Did you see the bit in Model Railroader about using styrene sheets for backdrop? He has a different supply or a different banker than I do. Richard

There was an article in MR a few years back about using styrene sheets for backdrops. Is that the one you're talking about? Or is it a new one? (I don't have the new MR yet.)

I recall looking looking at that article and thinking the same thing, Richard. It looked like a lot of money involved there. To each his own, I guess.

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Posted - 02/01/2005 :  3:12:28 PM  Show Profile  Reply with Quote
Richard , I even heard of someone using sheet metal ! So hows about a '56 Buick fender for your backdrop ??....real conversation piece . LoL .


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Engine Wiper

Posted - 02/01/2005 :  3:17:27 PM  Show Profile  Visit jerryglow's Homepage  Reply with Quote
Originally posted by teejay

Richard , I even heard of someone using sheet metal ! So hows about a '56 Buick fender for your backdrop ??....real conversation piece . LoL .


Maybe Mike could find a way to use it as a basis for a mountain instead of the pile of plaster on his early layout

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MP Rich

Posted - 02/01/2005 :  10:52:32 PM  Show Profile  Reply with Quote
The fender idea, I will pass on, thank you. I have used aluminum flashing at one time for backdrop material. Worked great for going around corners and not too bad on price. The biggie was that I was never able to work out enough ways to get it stable so that I could work on/around it without it going into gyrations and bending. Once hit with anything like wood it left a dent that was way bad.
I'm thinking that the Masonite will work well enough IF the drywall mud ever gets solid enough to sand. Due to going out and around a pipe, I have one place that is going to be 1/2-3/4 inch deep so I want to try the patching plaster there. I'm hoping that much plaster will resist any cracking. Bad planning on my part to make a seam there but that's what I do a lot. Fix last night work today. If I don't have time to do it right the first time, how do I ever find time to do it over? Richard

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MP Rich

Posted - 02/01/2005 :  11:00:22 PM  Show Profile  Reply with Quote
Mike, the bit about styrene sheets is in this March 2005 MR. Terry Thompson, editor has a list of things he would do again or different on the next layout. Several good points there. Several I don't find fitting my situations but ideas to draw on if the need is there. He mentions using Tamiya acrylic paint on rails as it is easy to wipe off with ammonia based window cleaner. Is that a Tamiya trait or would all acrylic do the same? Richard

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Premium Member

Posted - 02/01/2005 :  11:40:00 PM  Show Profile  Reply with Quote
Originally posted by MP Rich

He mentions using Tamiya acrylic paint on rails as it is easy to wipe off with ammonia based window cleaner. Is that a Tamiya trait or would all acrylic do the same? Richard

Richard, I think that will work with any acrylic paint. I have read several times in the past that Windex-type window cleaners make good acrylic paint thinners and brush cleaners. Two or three years ago Finescale Modeler ran an article on air brush maintenance, and one of the recommended cleaners was Windex (or any ammonia based cleaner). Windshield washer fluid should also work well for cleaning paint from rails as it's also commonly used to thin acrylic paints.

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Posted - 03/28/2005 :  4:45:22 PM  Show Profile  Reply with Quote
Hi All,

There's been some backdrop discussion recently in various forums and threads. So, I thought I'd toss in my two cents worth. As some of you may recall I was asked by some cronies to document the construction of my current layout, so I have quite a few tutorial type photo studies.

While I have gone the fullpainted backdrop route on previous layouts, my current space is so-o-o-o small (less than 10' x 10') that I felt a full backdrop would overwhelm the layout itself. So I opted for a "minimalist" approach. Here's how I did it.

I started by painting the sky background directly on the wall using plain ol' flat latex wall paint. I started with white on all four walls. The two layout walls then start with blue at the ceiling working about 1/3 the way down, before starting to blend the blue with more white. Voila! Basic sky fading to white "haze" on the horizon.

In all the painted backdrops I'ved done, I’ve never been able to effectively model or paint those distinctive “Georgia pines.” On a 1998 trip to Georgia, I accidentally snapped a stand of pines that I later felt would be perfect for a backdrop. The photo shows, clockwise from left, the original photo, the photocopy, enlarged to 8.5” x 11” at Kinko’s, and the photocopy trimmed as close as possible to the foliage line. I make both original and mirror image copies to allow for a “continuous” tree line.

Here is the backdrop in process, showing the two stacks of original and mirror images of the trees. I used 3M® “Super 77®” brand spray adhesive to spray the back of the photo on a piece of scrap styrofoam, as well as a very light spray on the wall. Starting in the corner, I aligned the original or mirror image of each piece against the previously glued piece and press into place. It’s important to get the seams aligned as closely as possible or even with a bit of overlap to prevent the white wall from showing. Being paper, however, there is always a little bit of white visible, so I used a deep green marking pen to hide the lines. To increase the illusion of distance while working out from the corner, I increased the height of each photo just a smidge, creating a subtle forced perspective effect.

Here is the finished backdrop. Notice how on the left side the trees extend some 3” beyond the end of the layout to the corner. This makes the transition from layout to bare walls not quite so abrupt. Notice also that the amount of white at the bottom of the photos increases moving from the corner outward. This is the perspective effect noted above. The white will later be hidden using fences, foliage and structures. The limitation of the “photo-on-wall” technique is that, while a great space saver, it does not create a vast scenic panorama. However, when combined with the white “atmospheric haze” painted on the walls, it does successfully “suggest” the world beyond the layout. And, yes, you can see the outline of the window I sealed up to get more wall space.

There are eight million stories about making backdrops . . . this is just one of them.


Edited by - leeflan on 03/28/2005 5:00:15 PM

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Posted - 05/08/2005 :  07:18:19 AM  Show Profile  Visit quarryman's Homepage  Reply with Quote
Progress is being made on a new backdrop for the Piedmont & East Blue Ridge. This backdrop is the replacement for the one that was covered so extensively by my evil twin Dryfork earlier in this forum.

This 10 foot section of backdrop is a test for a few new techniques I am incorporating into my routine. I picked them up from instructional materials produced by a landscape artist in Kansas City named Hugh Greer. Hugh has an excellent understanding of how color and value in a painting create mood and a sense of space. And, since he was an architectural illustrator for many years, he explains how to get the job done fast.

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Premium Member

Posted - 05/08/2005 :  07:22:03 AM  Show Profile  Reply with Quote
Mark, it is looking great!

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George D

Premium Member

Posted - 05/08/2005 :  09:32:07 AM  Show Profile  Reply with Quote
I just picked up on this topic and found a lot of good information here. Now if I can only figure out how to apply it to the backdrop on my module.

Mark, your first backdrop looked fine to me. If I had achieved those results, I would have stopped there. The second iteration looks great. I'll be watching your progress. If you ever have the urge to do a big backdrop, you're welcome to come down to the club and do some work.


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Posted - 05/08/2005 :  1:22:50 PM  Show Profile  Visit quarryman's Homepage  Reply with Quote
Originally posted by George D

Mark, your first backdrop looked fine to me.


George, it was good to meet you at the club a few weeks back, and I hope you had an enjoyable vacation.

Thanks for the kind words re: the old backdrop. Initially, I was planning on keeping it, but three things helped me decide to put up a new one:

1-The old backdrop was pieced over the windows in the layout room. The new backdrop will cross over the windows unbroken.
2-The switch from HO to On30 seemed to me to imply that the layout viewer's viewing angle of the layout would be half as high and half as far away. So, I wanted the scenery on the new backdrop to be closer and simpler. The nearest hillside completely blocks the view.
3-I like to paint. My friends suggest I should just paint the track and all the structures on the backdrop and be done with it. Even though I know an overly developed backdrop is little more than a distraction, I can't help it! It comes out the way it comes out!

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Premium Member

Posted - 08/19/2005 :  08:51:32 AM  Show Profile  Reply with Quote
Okay - I read through this thread yesterday looking for cloud painting ideas. I may have missed what I was looking for - so if I did please point me in the right direction.

Here's the problem: I have a section of the shelf layout that I am building that is just 4" deep but the backdrop is 16" high. Most of my building flats won't be more then 4, maybe 8, inches tall in this area so that leaves lots of sky.

My point is that my clouds should look good. Any hints?

Joe <><

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Crew Chief

Premium Member

Posted - 08/19/2005 :  1:17:05 PM  Show Profile  Reply with Quote
Painting clouds (warning: a bit long. Okay, really long)

Okay, I have been intending to write up a clinic on this for some time now but I just never seem to get around to it. Let me see if I can do a brain dump and see if anyone finds any of this useful…

First of let me explain that I live in the region of the USA known as the Pacific Northwest. For those of you unfamiliar with this area, it is the northwestern corner of the lower 48 states in the USA, the area around Seattle, Washington. I point this out because our climate out here is a bit damp – 96 inches annual rainfall in some areas is normal. What this all means is that I have a lot of experience looking at clouds

Painting Clouds
After looking at a lot of clouds I wanted to come up with a way to paint them so that they had nice soft edges and an easy way to blend the colors. I wanted to use a spray can because they are fast and easy. I go to thinking that if you could spray (or airbrush) through some kind of cotton fiber that it would give you a good, irregular pattern and prevent you from over spraying. I thought of polyfiber (used in fish aquarium filters) and then I discovered batting (used in quilt making – available in fabric stores and some craft stores). Here is how it works:

1 yard of ½ inch white batting
1 can flat white spray paint
2-4 cans of flat spray paint in varying shades of gray. Make sure one is very light and they all get gradually darker. It s best if they are all pretty light. A little dark goes a LONG way.
Rubber/Latex glove

Prep you backdrop by painting the sky blue and let dry.
Prep the batting by cutting it into four squares approx 18 inches by 18 inches (essentially cut your 1 yard piece into quarters)
Take each square of batting and separate it into two layers. Batting is like layers of fibers. ½ inch batting is like layers of fibers stacked until they are ½ inch thick. Peel each square into two layers – each approx ¼ inch thick.
You should bow have 8 squares of batting approx 18 inches square and ¼ inch thick.

Next, take each square and gently pull it to open up holes in the batting. Do not tear it completely apart. Make some holes large and some holes small. Have some close together and some far apart. Until you get the hang of using them I do not recommend making any holes larger that 2-3 inches. Also, you might consider only tearing one or two squares at first to you can try painting and get the hang of how they work. This may affect how you want to tear your remaining squares.

Step 1. If you are right handed put the rubber glove on your left hand (you WILL paint your hand, just accept that - hence the glove). Take one of your squares and, using the gloved hand, hold the square against your backdrop. Locate the holes in the approx location where you want your cloud. Using short bursts and holding the can back 12 inches from the wall, spray white paint across the whole torn in the batting. This will take a little practice to get the desired effect. You need to balance how much paint you spray each time with the distance you hold the can from the wall. You will also see that if the hole in your batting is mall that very little paint actually makes it to the wall.

Okay, at this point you have a one or two little white spots on the wall.

Step 2. Rotate your square up to 90 degrees and hold it against the wall again in nearly the same place. If the holes overlap the area you already painted it doesn’t matter. If it is slightly higher or lower it doesn’t matter. Once repositioned shoot some more white paint.

Repeat this process until you get a few rough clouds. It may take many repetitions but doing it this will give you a good irregular shape and nice soft edges.
Also, note how when you spray through the material some places you get just a wisp of paint while around the edges of the holes you tore you get pretty well defined edges. Try to make sure that the areas representing the bottom of your clouds are well defined while the tops are more soft and wispy.

Step 3. After the white has dried it is time to add some shadow. Remember that shadows appear on the bottom of clouds. The thicker the cloud, the darker the shadow. I recommend starting with very light gray and then darkening it to taste after you get a feel for the results. I found a tiny bit of dark goes a VERY LONG way.

Once again using one of the batting squares spray small amounts of light gray along the bottom edges of your clouds. I recommend tearing long skinny holes in the batting for this step and when you position them for painting, make sure the tear runs horizontally. Also try using 2 or three colors of gray.

Step 4. Take your white paint, holding the can at least 12 inches from the wall and MOVING QUICKLY from side to side, spray a very light dusting of white across you finished clouds. The goal here to only add a dusting of paint, it should be barely visible. You’ll find that the grays and over all color texture really pops when you do this.

That’s it. I recommend practicing on some cardboard to get the hang of this. Unfortunately I do not have finished photos of examples. I have a couple test shots that show general clouds but they do not show good examples of individual clouds. Here they are:

These two are more of a "sky texture". Some folks feel your backdrop should not be too detailed or it distracts from the models. This textures fills in the sky behind the scene without providing a lot of distracting detail. Unfortunately I did not paint any horizon for this test.

Another example of the same thing:

One item of note, if you plan on painting a LOT of clouds (white) and very little sky (blue) as in the two previous pictures, it is easier to paint your backdrop white and then spray on the blue patches through the cloth batting.

I have read many peoples advice saying that you shouldn't paint rain or storms. I have always wondered why. I think it is because it is so difficult to make it look real. Here in Seattle I have plenty of experience looking at rainy scenery. This photo is a test. The mountains and horizon were very crudely painted simply to give me something to paint over. I was more interested in the misty/rainy cloud effect. Over all I am pleased with it. I may try it on a diorama in the future...

Some thoughts about clouds in general:
I am sure most of you have looked at clouds painted on backdrops and thought to yourself “that just doesn’t look good…” This is generally because a lot of folks paint some blue sky and though on a couple white blobs of paint for clouds. Some add a few gray streaks for shadows but they do not add them in the right place and they do not blend the colors so they end up with distinct stripes of color. Both look wrong to the eye. When I compare real clouds with those I see painted on many backdrops there are three key characteristics that I feel are most important in order for any painted clouds to look right: cloud density, shadows and edge texture.

Cloud density
This means how “full is your sky?” Think about the effect you want. Do you want a few high, wispy looking white clouds? A bunch of fluffy, full bodied white clouds? A general covering of clouds? A storm?

This is important to consider because it affects the second key factor –shadows.

When you paint clouds you start with plain white and then add shadows to give them a three dimensional look. The color you use and the amount of shadow you add is based on how dense you want your cloud cover to appear. If your clouds are intended to be high and wispy then there will be very little shadows. Use a VERY light gray and only add a touch of it randomly across all the clouds. Less is more in this case.

The darker the gray you use the darker the shadow will appear, thus the thicker the cloud will appear. Remember in real life a cloud is dark on underside because it is so dense and thick that sunlight cannot penetrate it. This manifests itself as a shadow on the underside of the cloud. The thicker the cloud the more gray it appears. Thunderheads can be thousands of feet thick that is why they appear as black clouds to those of us on the ground looking up at them.

Remember when adding shadows on any type of cloud – Shadows are always on the UNDERSIDE if the cloud. This is difficult to explain without a photo but I will try – if you add a shadow along the left edge of one cloud, this implies that the “sun” is shining from the upper right. Make sure that any other shadows you add to other clouds also highlight the left edge of those clouds. This way the “sun” will always appear to be coming from the same direction. If you add shadows to the left edges of some clouds and the right edges of others you eye will pick up on it and the clouds won’t look “right”. NEVER put gray on the tops of a cloud. It completely destroys the illusion.

Edge texture
Rule one: Clouds never have straight, smooth edges – unless you are looking at the contrail from a jet…

Rule two: Clouds are a blend of colors – generally white with a number of gray shades. The key here is BLEND.

The reason I chose batting because it allowed me to have soft edges. This prevented smooth edges and made it easier for me to blend the colors.

Well, in my usualy fashion this ended up being quite long winded. If you have managed to stick it out this long I say "thank you" and hope some find this useful. If anyone gives this a try I would be VERY interested to see your results. We have tried it here on one persons layout and they were happy with the results (I think )

Dave K in NB

Edited by - rrkreitler on 08/19/2005 1:32:09 PM

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Premium Member

Posted - 08/19/2005 :  1:59:06 PM  Show Profile  Reply with Quote
Great idea Dave. If all goes well I may be trying this tomorrow. The batting is a good idea because you are right - it is the edges that always look "off" to me. I think I have some batting floating around from a window seat I built not too long ago.

Joe <><

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Tabooma County Rwy

Posted - 08/20/2005 :  12:30:03 PM  Show Profile  Reply with Quote
Joe, as Dave had mentioned yesterday in his post on spray painting clouds through "batting", that technique was tried on a local layout. That would be mine. So, I shot a few pictures last night and here they are.

My backdrop is painted on a the back side of a continuous piece of vinyl floor covering - that way there are no seams. I painted it Sherwin Williams Universe Blue, then added the clouds per Dave's method. The rest of the backdrop painting is by my friend and fellow Tabooma-ite, Jerry Kelso. This section of the layout is the "expansion" and is under construction.

[imf]http://www.railroad-line.com/forum/data/tabooma county rwy/2005820122648_DSCN0453.JPG

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