Setting the Scene

Black Lion Crossing EM Gauge Geoff Kent

Last week I had the privilege of a call from Roy Jackson asking for a few of my thoughts. A brave man. So I gave him a few of them and then we got on with the matter in hand. Geoff Kent, one of the UK’s most accomplished modellers is taking his new EM gauge layout ‘Black Lion Crossing’ to Expo EM Autumn in Manchester this weekend. One of the tasks that Roy and Geoff wanted to cover before the show was the basic colouring of the back scene. Geoff will be known to many for his mastery of the plasticard medium and the back scene is no exception. Roy wanted me to take a look and see if there was any assistance I could offer based on my interest in the visual presentation of models, so prior to returning home to see the results of the latest equine/daughter/A&E mashup, myself and Roy had an hour or so working over the back scene.

Geoff has chosen plasticard for the back scene core material which is unusual, its about 30thou thickness and has a useful rigidity to it making it almost free standing but flexible enough for curved contours. The potential disadvantage was that it had a gloss finish to it. So the overall starting point was a backscene comprised of about seven 3ft x 18 inch sections, some of which were curved both concave and convex. Roy had started the ball rolling with the acquisition of a 40 gallon drum of Matt Dulux ‘First Dawn’, which is an excellent pale blue and a selection of paint rollers. The next task was how to apply it consistently across the length and height of the work area. The shiny gloss surface of the faces of the back scene were our first challenge. In anticipation of this I brought some fine wet and dry paper 2500 grade, and Halfords plastic acrylic primer in large spray cans. I’d got an idea from previous test pieces I’ve done and having seen Chris Nevard’s results on his  forest-of-dean-colliery layout ‘Fountain Colliery’. We worked on a test piece initially, the last thing we needed was to launch into it and end up having to correct a poor looking back drop. This had to complement Geoff’s modelling but recede so as not to overpower the foreground, and colour balance it too. The First Dawn colour chosen by Roy was an excellent starting point, the shade complementing the colour pallet Geoff had used on the layout, but it needed variation in it and toning so that it wasn’t a simple block colour.

Black Lion Crossing by Geoff Kent

The test piece Roy and I did is seen above, or rather the finished item is, we initially tested on the reverse of this piece. So the basic technique we derived was to cut the face of the plastic with the wet and dry paper. The fine grade of paper means the surface cuts are very very fine scratches and give a satin finish to the face of the plastic rather than the smooth gloss. I was conscious that if the Dulux was painted direct there would be a real risk of it flaking under any flexing so we needed a ‘key’ to start with. The surface can be worked really quickly and once I was happy with a good coverage of surface with the wet and dry I wiped it clean. The next task was to use the Halfords white and mist that across the whole of the surface facing the scenic part of the layout. Once dry, (accelerated with a hair dryer) I started with a very light covering of the First Dawn by roller. The roller I use is one of the cloth ‘mop’ type rollers rather than the regular shape foam roller. Starting at the top of each panel I worked in multiple directions, almost dry brushing it on to the plastic. The blue of a sky is deeper overhead, so this already starts giving a subtle grading reducing in colour density towards the horizon. Roy had already removed the adjoining panel from the layout and that was prepped in the same manner with the roller being run along the edge of the panel to minimise any white vertical lines that could occur at a join. The joint was worked on next with both panels aligned on a work bench. Starting at the top and crossing the join in multiple directions again gives a natural blended coverage around the join. With the roller you can’t guarantee you won’t get roller marks in the paint coverage and we did get some, but for me they are easier to manage with a roller than with a brush, particularly with theses fast drying paints applied in very thin coats. We were fortunate the technique worked pretty well from the start, and to cover any roller marks I used the Halfords white misted in varying density to give a milky blue sky effect. This was always done starting from the bottom and working upwards, the reverse of the blue application and for the same reason, the denser blue needing to be at the top of the back scene rather than horizon level. The join lines were also misted to give a diffused edge to them, to disguise any vertical join line, the white also acts as a matting agent reducing any potential glare from the surface. We managed to get the back scene ‘blued’ in a couple of hours, and it does work giving a nice subdued sky behind the layout, and throwing a small amount of blue light back into the layout scene under the lighting rather than the harsher white of plain plastic. Geoff’s layout is undoubtedly going to be one of the ‘must see’ layouts of the next few years, and this weekend its at its first showing, if you’re in the Manchester area this weekend, go and see it at ExpoEM Autumn www.emgs.org it’ll be worth the trip!

Having spent a bit of time helping Roy my thoughts turned to Shelfie 2 and its presentation. One element is that there’ll be plenty of trees, and to get a feel for the forested look I started to work the ground contours and tree lines using Woodland Scenics tree armatures.

The armatures are easy to work and give a very quick fix for seeing the potential of the forested areas. They also give a very stark winter appearance, which is really appealing. I may take a step past Autumn which was my original idea and into winter, the feedback I’ve had from a number of friends has been encouraging to give it a try, and the work of modellers like Mike Confalone model-railroad-hobbyist  really push the buttons for inspiration, as does the starkness of OTCM’s industrial leanings otcmstoating-bank

Well that’s enough from me. I need to look at some wood, instead of A&E head injury reports ….

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One Response to Setting the Scene

  1. otcm says:

    Go for it Paul, winter is one of those seasons that offers so much visual interest yet is almost entirely overlooked by Railway modellers (yet is considerably more popular for military modellers) – we won’t even charge you for the inspiration!

    We will be behind Portchullin at the weekend so will say hello if you are there…

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