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  • Kyle, it's very difficult to see where the railroad ends and the backdrop begins...the artwork is fantastic. Any hints on your technique and methods? Thanks for sharing.

    Horton M.


    • This is a link to my Youtube video on painting mountains and valleys:

      I have a couple of other backdrop painting videos on my Youtube site including how to paint California Foothills and Pine Trees by Dave Biondi.


      • Thanx James,

        Thanx Horton,

        I shall try to give ya'll some info on how I did my backdrop. After studying John Allen and others, I realized that they were not just making a backdrop. but were in effect creating a 'place'. A place where you can actually imagine yourself being. After that, I just follow the rules if you will, 1. Keep the horizon at or above eye level if possible, 2. Paint or draw all distant objects and clouds first. 3.Work your way forward, using vanishing point perspective. You can read all about it online, google vanishing point.

        I use pastels, (chalk) both plain and oil. You can buy them at any Hobby Lobby or Michaels, or any art supply store. This is only my second backdrop. The first was done in acrylics. The fact is I have never painted anything before, or done anything with pastels. I could always draw pretty good, so I decided to try a backdrop. My first attempt got good reviews, but I never was really happy with it completely, and so I continued to work at it, changing little bits here and there until 5 years later I said well I guess it looks done. This time I decided to use pastels just on a whim. I quickly found out that unlike paint, if I didn't like some thing, I could just wipe it away for the most part, or a little soap and water spray and it went away almost completely. I did use acrylics to paint the sky and the basic shapes of the mountains. Darker browns in front, lighter the farther back in the distance. From there I just made it up as I went along. I drew in what might look good, and either kept it or scrapped it. Next I added details, shadows, rocks etc. By the way it is VERY important to determine your light source direction (which way the sun is shining from) before you start. I might also add that the Master...JOHN ALLEN always seriously recommended that you have your layout lighting in completely before starting on your backdrop; as this will help to keep the shadows you paint into the backdrop from the sun, most effective.. Also never place objects, bldgs, trees, etc. in spots where they cast shadows on your backdrop. This alone is one of the biggest boo,boos, when it comes to the presentation of your piece of art, YOUR LAYOUT. Even the most exquisite backdrop can be reduced in effectiveness by the unfortunate shadow on the sky. One other offering if I may, step back and view your work from a distance every once in a while, it'll quite possibly help you place yourself in the layout. After all that's the whole idea, BE IN YOUR LAYOUT. Also there's no right or wrong way, it's your railroad. Oh yeah,...HAVE FUN (it's the best thing to have)

        Good luck, hope it helps



        • Many layout backdrops rise above the horizon, depicting distance mountains or nearer hills. One area that is often an exception is roads that run into a backdrop. They sometimes rise slightly as far as the edge of the 3D scenery and then disappear behind a downward slope, sometimes to appear again on the background, farther away before disappearing again in the distance.

          Recently I photographed a shallow house built overhanging a steep drop off and liked the effect of the entire background dipping below the edge of the scene for a change, like a model road dipping down before meeting the backdrop. you might find that perspective interesting as well.

          Modeling a similarly shallow structure a short distance in front of a backdrop can help eliminate weird perspective problems and shadows encountered when flats or structures sit flush against a backdrop.

          Here is the shallow house head on. The scene behind it is a fair distance away and incorporates part of a village that otherwise might not fit in your available space. Uplighting behind and below the 3D scenery can eliminate building shadows.

          Here are a couple side views of the shallow house. The drop off continues again behind the fence in the backyard. None of that needs to be modeled yet a photo backdrop set a couple inches behind the house could create the illusion of fair distance.

          On the other hand, reversing the point of view to the back of the shallow house, a completely different backdrop scene can be created using forced perspective smaller building facades sitting atop the ridge, visible sandwiched between shallow structures at the bottom and a sky backdrop.


          • Note also the old pedestrian railing with metal supports and a square rail laid on its corner. I recall them from 40+ years ago but I don't think I could find one remaining around here.


            • jbvb, Good eye noticing that railing! I have a few other photos of it, both along the edge of that ridge above, and also along a stretch of road right against the edge of the river. There several of the split iron rods holding up the railing are completely eaten through from the brackish water. What I also find interesting is the scarf joints for the wood rail seem to be randomly along its lenght, none of them supported by the rods, so many are sagging. I think these railings are held up more my habit than material