In my initial days of model railroading I found building scenery to be a tricky task. While my buildings, trains and vessels in my Wrightsville Port layout looked pretty realistic despite their small size, the scenery behind it always lacked finesse. However, I always overlooked it and moved on, because in my eyes, the nature was just a filler – ‘you just have to put something in there so that it doesn’t look blank.’ It’s only after long years of association with the hobby and after seeing the work of many master model makers that I realize how wrong I actually was! Replicating nature convincingly is possibly the most important differentiator of any miniature art wherever nature is in scope, whether just a single tree in a vignette, or a room full of scenic section in a model railroad. But it always looks so darn difficult! So, how do you achieve that real life look in a model scene?
Well, as I started getting my hands dirty a couple of years ago, I realized it is much easier than what I perceived for all these years. So much so, that I think this is the thing that everyone should start with when starting to make miniatures – it’s less expensive, takes considerably less time than any other type of scenery (like city, town, war, destruction etc.), easy to master and faster to gain confidence. I wish I could go back in time so that I could start making scenery 10 years ago!
There are many parts of nature that you can think of making a miniature of – river, jungle, plainland, hills… for our purposes today, I’ll talk about a plain scene focussing on a single tree. You see, when it comes to miniature art, it comes down to variety.
Keeping all that in mind, we have to start somewhere, eh? Let’s get started where I wish I had. Simple Scenery. With the help of a video, I coverd some such basics. So, here we go: whilst getting started, let me tell you what are the most important steps to keep in mind.
- Base and Large rocks/installations to make the area look more realistic
- Groundcover/grass, small shrubs, fallen leaves etc.
- Small trees/ correct foliage
Let’s talk about these one by one taking my small display diorama as an example.
- Base and installations
First, we need to choose a base. Something hard, firm and to some extent water-resistant. I chose a piece of MDF with 8mm thickness. 8”x8”. I now had to decide where I was going to pace the major landscaping installations to best highlight my tree.
I decided on a piece of rock from the area, which even in small scale didn’t look out of place. I affixed that in one of the corners before getting started with the first level of dirt.
- Ground and Dirt
I’ve come to realise that there’s nothing better to simulate dirt than the real thing. All I needed to care about is the variety of it. There had to be piles of dirt in different colours as well as different sizes of grains.
The gorund is made by using air-drying modelling clay (I used coloured ones) and crushed layers of paperprints. These easy techniques provided the plain board some texture, unevenness of terrain and made sure my rock doesn’t seem to be floating on thin air. Then comes the affixing of loose dirt to make it soil. I had to make sure which coloured ones go where and how to make it look authentic for the next step, the ground cover.
This is where the diorama starts getting life, almost literally. We add static grass, some fallen leaves (again I used real leaves of the colours I wanted and ground them up), shrubs and then the most important part, multi coloured Noch leaves.
The static grass goes on first, followed by ground dry leaves. I have done extensive research on howthe ground cover looks and what is primarily in it, e.g. sand, dirt, dry twigs, a few greenish yellow leaves and not to mention grass – free isolated strands although rare, are present, mostly in clumps as they tend to stick to denim. Oh, did I not mention the whole foraging and dirt-researching times are also termed by the commoners as “dog-walking”.
Shrubbery is very important; we must be careful with it’s plavement. Unless we’re going for a model of a manicured lawn, which I was not, I had to make sure there was enough, and they make the diorama look a little… real. A little natural, if you catch my drift.
The ground leaves are added in various places according to their colours and sizes so that they bring out colour and texture.
This is about the time when you place your display tree on the diorama and check how it all looks. Because there is still time now to be adding smaller, more insignificant trees, a few little rocks, if you fancy and check the cohesiveness of the scene.
If there is something that doesn’t fit, now is the time to remove/alter it. because this is the final step, finishing, and changing anything on a finished model with ruin it. trust, me I know!
Once you’ve placed all of them in a place you desire, I’d suggest sealing it to place with hairspray.
I want to make a special mention of Noch leaves – they can bring about a feeling of completion when applied sparingly and correctly. I used several colours from their fall/ winter collection of leaves, and used them to add an extra dimension to certain areas. An ‘oomph’ if you will. They make for excellent eye catching and will definitely add that little something extra that you didn’t quite know you needed.
Take a look at the video to see these in action and how in no time, with a few trials and errors, you’d soon be able to build model scenery like a pro!
As you can clearly see in the video, how very important following these directions are and in that order. I hope you take something important away from the blog post, along with the video.
If you have any questions, feel free to ask, and make sure you subscribe to the blog as well as the YouTube channel so that you are notified on the next instalment. Treemaking!