The variety of scenic accessories available is huge. There are many
products available to the modeller to recreate the scenery required for
his layout. I have been asked to put together a review of some of the
products I have found to be particularly good along with some of the
technique I tend to use. There are obviously too many scenic products on
the market for an article of this size to encompass all of them, however
if you have found something which you have found to be particularly good
which is not mentioned below or you have a new method of making scenery
then why not put together a short article on it with some photos and
details so that other modellers may be able to use it too?
First things first: plan ahead
Before starting your layout or scenic’s decisions need to be made on
location, time of year, what was going on time wise, what sort of people
are there? This should all be thought out at the planning stage as some
of this will be unable to be changed at a later point. You also want to
have some consistency about the products you buy before filling up your
basket with products you may not be able to use later.
Different rock types
Before starting your scenic project is essential to have a photograph of
the locale you are trying to recreate. Rock is an area where many
layouts fall down badly as they have been created with no thought about
what naturally occurring rock looks like never mind what rock is in that
area. Some modellers tend to use some materials which are not a good
representation of real rock types and what often can make it worse is
that they are presented in a manner that does not naturally occur. In
the British Isles we have a wide cross section of rock types which
varies as you go across the country from South East to North West. If
you want accuracy then you need to know what type of rocks are present
in the area you are modelling if rock is to be a prominent feature as
rock types weather in very different ways.
Sandstone will decay along its strata to give a linear weathering
pattern as can be seen in the picture below.
Limestone varies according to which type it is. Carboniferous Limestone
will weather along strata lines too and can be seen in some spectacular
formations such as these in the pictures below in Wales.
Granite weathers in a more random way as it is not formed from an
accumulation of sediment like Sandstone and Limestone. Granite is the
crystallised remains of a large molten rock pool which has set as one
big massive entity. The picture below shows a Granite glacial valley in
Granite also erodes to make formations such as Tors like the one in the
The amount of rock types in Britain is very extensive and I would
recommend that research is done prior to commencing a layout as there
are some very unfeasible rock strata on layouts. I am not trying to be
critical here just to give you a warning that this is one of the most
likely areas where you can go wrong. There are many resources on the web
which you can use to find out rock types and what they look like. The
BGS is one such site and is in the resources at the end of this article.
There are a few methods of preparing your ground. The favourites are
paper mache or plaster over chicken wire or polystyrene. There are other
combinations of the above and other methods too. My preference is for
plaster over polystyrene. I also use plaster soaked, ripped up rags as
well as straight plaster. Plaster soaked rags can also make a good rock
strata if folded correctly and washes applied. These can give a very
good copy of folded rock strata.
I used to use paper mache however this is a far longer and more tedious
process than using plaster. It also takes a long time to dry. Then there
is also the fact that you have newspaper print coming through to the
surface rather than a plain white surface to start painting on. Also
plaster is good for modelling rock with whereas paper mache is not good
for this purpose.
I prefer polystyrene foam to chicken wire too as chicken wire is
horrible stuff to work with. It is strong and robust however so may be
worth considering for layouts that are transported a fair bit.
Polystyrene is messy to carve however a vacuum cleaner soon sorts the
mess out. I either pour plaster on to the polystyrene surface or use
plaster soaked cloth depending on the degree of incline I am making. For
steep slopes plaster soaked cloth is better. In some cases I also apply
plaster with various tools to make rock strata.
The plaster is applied in different ways depending on how close it is to
setting. For soaking cloth it must be very liquid in order for it to
penetrate the fibres. Once the plaster is close to setting it will be
useless for soaking rags in. To apply to flat surfaces it can be poured
at a relatively liquid state, however this is something that will
require judgement. If it is likely to flow off the edge of your work
area then wait till it is starting to become more solid. For application
to vertical surfaces it will need to be fairly close to setting. In
terms of what to apply it with a variety of tools and your hands can be
used. For flatter landscapes I jut pour it on and smooth it over with my
hands or a tool like a fork or spatula. For rocky cliffs I use an old
fork and a pallette knife or old wall paper scraper. Once dry I go over
it with a wire brush to etch strata if I am modelling a rock type which
has linear strata. The wire brush should only be brushed in the
direction your rock strata is going. Be careful how you do this as stain
and washes will accumulate in the grooves made and accentuate them. It
might be worth practising this before trying this on your layout.
E.G. if you were trying to model the strata in the picture below you
would draw the wire brush across horizontally.
Rubber rock moulds as shown below are available from Woodland Scenics. I
have used and still do use these regularly however you do need to vary
your rock strata as using the same moulded pieces over and over again
looks a bit obvious and unnatural.
I find that liquid plaster is best for modelling smooth landscapes as it
will pour and shape into smooth flattish formations whereas almost set
plaster is best for rocky ourcrops as it starts to become grainy and
I have also started making use of Gyprock plasterboard for cuttings and
sheer cliffs. This has a high Gypsum content and makes a good
representation of blasted rock when carved appropriately. I peel the
paper skin from one side and give it a good going over with a large
screwdriver and a wire brush. The results give a good representation of
a blasted rock cutting or shear cliff as can be seen in the following
Several sheets can be put together to show a weathered rock strata as
can be seen in this picture.
After the base layer
Below is an example of how the layers are built up. I tend to do small
sections at a time so I can focus on a specific area in detail. The
scene section I am doing here is the beginning a Highland scene. The
base layer is shown below with a first coat of brown paint and an
initial coat of coloured wash on the rockky bits. I usually do this
fairly roughly as you shouldn’t see this at all at the end. It is more
about sealing the plaster and having something which looks earthy in the
event you miss a bit with the subsequent layers.
For the flatter areas which will be covered with grass I will paint
these with an earthy brown colour to start with. I tend to use Tamiya
acrylic paints for this. For rock areas I will apply a series of stains,
the colour of which depends on what rock I am trying to represent. I
collect old coffee and jam jars and use them to mix up stains and
washes. Where I know I am going to be doing a large area I mix up a
large quantity as it is often difficult to match stains precisely later.
I use Humbrol enamels as a basis for washes and stain diluted with turps.
I’m not that keen on acrylics in general for painting plastic although I
do use them for painting track and plaster which will be ground cover.
My first coat for the rocky areas is a turps based stain for the base
coat. I tend to apply this quite liberally so as it will get in
everywhere and accumulate in certain areas to accentuate them. The
picture below shows the first coat of wash applied to the areas which
will be rocks.
For subsequent coats I tend to use water based washes.
If you are using water based washes for the secondary coats it is best
to do this on a warm day or in a heated room as you want the plaster to
dry quickly and not absorb any water. I tend to use several layers of
washes to build up the weathered look. I have a large container of stain
wash sitting around in my layout room from which I apply coats every
time I am out there to build up the layers. The next picture shows the
scene with some water based wash applied.
Basic ground cover materials
Once you have your painted plaster, foam or paper mache base you need to
cover it to make it look like a landscape. There are several layers of
topography which need to be applied and like nature, you start at the
bottom and work up. Grasses come first, then bushes and trees. I start
with the finer scatter materials as shown in the picture below.
I start by spreading PVA across the surface I want covered and then
liberally sprinkle the first fine scatter across it. I then sprinkle
smaller amounts of different coloured and coarser material on top of
that. I use a PVA water mix similar to that for ballasting where I have
large clumps of material I want to stick together.
On top of this I add various types of Silflor which I tear into small
pieces before applying. The scene shown below is supposed to be from the
Scottish Highlands so the purple Silflor represents Purple Heather which
is typical of the Highlands in Summer.
After the ground level greenery has been applied, next comes the bushes
and trees to give a more three dimensional appearance. In the following
scene I have put the Sea Moss Birch trees at the front as they have a
better finish and the ready made plastic one at the back so it is not so
In many scenes I would apply flowers, people animals etc to finish off
the scene however in the Scottish Highlands there aren’t that many
flowers in moorland/highland areas other than Heather which are that
noticeable so I will probably leave this section of the scene here. I
will include ferns at some later point but they have been on order for
some time now and show no sign of turning up. I will apply some flowers
to the lower trackside areas which still have to be finished off after
ballasting has been done. Deer are an option I may add at a later point
although it is never good to cram in too much. Once the surrounding
sections of this scene are done I will decide if it needs anything
further other than some birds. So at this point the following picture is
the finished scene. The MDF board will be painted black at a later time
which will help bring out the scene a bit more.
I will look at the application of scenic material again closer up in a
bit more detail. First I start off with the base layer of plaster which
I have taken right up to the sides of the cuttings. I have included a
cast plaster piece as an outcrop which are common in Scotland. The
plaster has been shaped using an old fork. I find a fork a useful tool
for applying plaster as it can give you edges and strata if you want or
if you turn it on its side, allow you to spread the wet plaster. You
don’t want perfectly flat plaster as this defeats the purpose of
creating three dimensional ground in the first place.
The next step is to paint and stain the plaster. Base the colour you use
on the soil type prevalent in the area you are modelling. In moorland
areas the soil can be a bit grey so I am using a mix of brown and grey
in the picture below. Note I have covered the rail tracks with some
plastic sheeting to protect it during the scenic process.
The next step is to coat the painted plaster with PVA glue. Some people
choose to dilute it a bit with water however I use it straight. I do
this in sections as shown in the below picture.
I then dust on a fair bit of the first coat of flock as a base layer as
you can see below.
Then in the next picture I have added some different coloured and sized
The next picture shows the area I am working on covered with flock.
Then some Silflor and some gorse bushes. The Gorse bushes are made from
Busch foliage material which nicely coheres in clumps. I then drop
diluted PVA glue onto them in much the same way as ballast is set. The
scenic area is then left to dry.
When the Gorse bushes are dry yellow paint is lightly dabbed on to show
the gorse flowering as seen below.
In the following picture smaller trees are added next.
Finally we add larger trees which are shown the below picture to finish
This is the basic process I follow however there are other way of
achieving the same end. What is just as important is the quality of the
scenic materials you use in your scenery. Below are some of the
materials I have used which I have found to be good. There are a vast
quantity of scenic materials on the market; far too many for the scope
of an article like this, however please feel free to add your own
recommendations so that other modellers may discover new products.
There are a wide variety of scatter materials available in all sorts of
colours and sizes for representing grass. These can be varied and
combined in accordance with whatever season or climate you are trying to
represent. I have found the Noch ones to be my preferred ones however
Woodland Scenic’s are also good. I try to use a combination of colours
and sizes but avoid the larger sized material as it starts to look too
much like shredded foam as it gets larger. This picture below shows very
fine grained flock on the base layer.
Other grass options are:
The Noch Grass master
This is a handy tool which works on the principle of attracting
electrically charged flock particles to make them stand up. It works to
good effect and can create a very good grass effect. The initial outlay
is expensive however the tool can be reused over and over again. If you
have an extensive grass area this is certainly worth considering. I do
not have one of these however I certainly can see the benefit if you
intended to model a large grassy area. However if your grass area is
small then it may be more economical to consider buying grass tufts or
Silflor grass mats instead.
There are a wide variety of grass mats of varying quality which can be
good for instant lawns. These are available from Noch and Woodland
Scenics amongst others. I don’t tend to use these anymore as some can
appear a bit synthetic. These do not look very natural when used over a
large area, especially if it’s flat (i.e. straight onto a baseboard). I
find these are best when cut into small sized bit for use as a back yard
lawn. They would also do for sports grounds or other manicured grass.
This is now my first choice of grass material although it still does
require a bit of thought about how you are going to use it. You can get
a big mat and cover a given area however I find unless you are doing a
mountain pasture or a field where the grass is of uniform colour and
length it is best to mix and match from different sheets of Silflor to
capture the variety of grasses and weeds in any given environment. The
following picture has different colours and lengths of Silflor applied
I find the summer moor grass mat is very good for Heather if ripped into
small pieces and placed on a highland scene. The summer pasture is a bit
long however that will allow you to trim it sporadically so that it
looks more natural. If you buy the short stuff you will not be able to
do this. Clumps are available in a variety of sizes and colour however I
tend to make my own from small fragments of Silflor. The picture below
shows two types of Silflor spread in clumps on a base of different
scatters. The Silflor then has Busch flowers added as a finishing touch.
I use the Woodland Scenics field grass. This comes in several varieties
as can be seen in the following picture.
It is laborious work but the finished work pays off. You have to get the
"grass" in small bunches and snip them into appropriate sized lengths
(about .5cm -1cm) to put on your layout with glue. I initially used
contact adhesive, which is normally the best method to attach it. The
problem I had was that I was attaching reeds right next to water made
from epoxy resin. The cyanoacrylate caused the epoxy resin to have a
white coating which was not good. For this reason I started to use PVA
which does not have this effect. The problem with PVA is that takes a
while to set so the reeds had to be positioned so that the were
supported by a previous set of reeds. This, needless to say, took a long
time. The results are good and can be seen below.
I also used the Anita Décor bulrushes which are sold as cactus by
International Models. These are pretty good as large water rushes and I
have used them in the bottom picture below to obscure the area between a
backdrop and the river. These would also do as pot plants or as cactus
on a layout. What I would bring to any prospective users attention is
that they do actually seem to be small cactus type plants and have small
fibres which get stuck in your fingers like fibre glass. My fingers were
nipping a bit after I used them. They do look very good though so maybe
wear gloves if you intend to use them?
There are a tremendous range of model trees available in both ready made
and kit form. I have listed suppliers at the bottom of the page as the
list is extensive. Before starting, identify what trees are in the area
you are modelling and then look for those. Not all tree types are readily
available. I have spent some time looking for Scots Pine and have not had
much luck yet. Veissmann have it in their catalogue however I have not
found anyone who stocks it. In terms of ready made trees there is a wide
variety and it comes down to how much you want to pay. Some have good
trunks but poor foliage such as the one in the following picture.
Some have reasonable foliage
and poor trunks as can be seen below.
Which ever you choose you
may have to do some modification to get it to look the way you want. Most
foliage is made from foam. The finer foam it is usually acceptable however
when it comes to the large foam it actually looks like large chunks of
foam stuck to a tree; this isn’t acceptable. Some foliage not only looks
like foam but is also an unrealistically bright colour. Look closely at
any foliage on a model tree before you buy.
Home made trees can be made from twisted electrical wire and added
foliage. Some of these can be very good. However if not made well they can
just as easily look like twisted wire with plaster and paint on them. The
basic method is covered in full elsewhere (follow links at the bottom of
the page) but in short you make the basic shape from the wire. Cover that
with plaster or modelling clay and paint it. To this frame the foliage is
then attached. Looking a bit like this one in the picture below.
If you are prepared to pay
more, some model scenic’s companies do a higher grade range of model tree.
Noch do a nice Apple Tree or alternatively if you’re modelling Spring then
there is a Cherry blossom. Be careful about how you use trees like these
as they define the time of year you are modelling. You couldn’t have both
these trees in the same scene as one if from Autumn (following picture)
and one Spring (bottom following picture).
Tree kits can be bought and
are usually more economical. This is advantageous for those who need a lot
of trees e.g. those modelling the Swiss Alps or Black Forest. Some kits
have a plastic trunk which needs to be twisted and then foliage added. My
current favourite are the trees made from Sea Moss and Anita Decor
foliage. These are available from International Models in a package called
Forest in a Flash which gives you all you need to start off with for the
reasonable sum of fourteen quid. Sea moss is very similar to a defoliated
tree. If you are modelling winter you could spray the trees with an
appropriate bark colour and stop right there; maybe adding some model snow
to the upper sides of the branches. For other seasons you want leaves and
one of the best foliage products I have encountered to date is that made
by Anita Décor. International Models do a package called “Forest in a
Flash” which contains all you need to make trees. The package includes a
fair quantity of Sea moss, a bag of Anita Décor Foliage and some glue.
These are easy to make, all that is involved is to immerse the tree frames
in the liquid glue for thirty seconds and then cover with the foliage.
The following picture shows the freshly made trees.
Here they are hanging up to
dry in the following picture.
The picture below shows them
on the layout.
This following picture
compares Sea moss trees with a ready made Birch tree.
The only down side to Sea
Moss is that it limits the species of trees that you can make from it.
There are, however, other colours of Anita Décor foliage which you can use
to vary it a bit.
If you can find any other twigs or sprigs from a naturally occurring plant
such as Heather or Sage Brush you can also cover this with foliage once
dried to make model trees. Another technique used for larger trees is to
get a twig the size of the tree you want and to then glue Sea Moss
branches with attached foliage to it. This way you can get huge Oak trees
just like in real life!
With all ready made trees and tree kits, have a good look at the trunk and
foliage before buying to see if it reproduces what you want, and if it
doesn’t how much work does it involve to modify it. There are a lot of
products out there the quality of which varies considerably. Your local
model shop may stock products by some of the big scenic’s manufacturers.
Take your time to browse and get an idea of what is available. Use a wide
variety to recreate the wide variety of trees that are there in nature.
If you’re in the market for Fir trees then you may well be modelling
Switzerland or Bavaria in which case you are going to need them in large
quantities. I have seen some really poor Fir trees which were
correspondingly cheap. Some trees can be very cheap but the quality can be
dire. Be careful to have a good look at any tree product before you buy.
However decent Fir trees are not expensive if you make them from kits.
I’ve found that Heki kits aren’t bad for Pine trees and are very good
price wise. The picture below shows what you get in the kit, a bottle of
PVA glue and a bag of flock along with the appropriate number of pine tree
They are of the twisted wire
(bottlebrush method) variety but look fine once made. All they really need
is something like plaster or modelling clay to cover the bare wire trunk
and a bit of paint, preferably prior to putting the foliage on. The
biggest difficulty I found was flicking yourself and your surrounds with
PVA glue as you apply it to the green “branches”, so be careful where you
do this. These can be bought in various sizes of kits at varying prices
however they are good value. I found with the smaller sized tree kits that
you are left with a fair amount of extra foliage and that on the larger
kits you can be cutting it a bit fine. It may be an idea to get a cross
section of sizes of tree to counter this. The foliage is quite good colour
and size wise.
One thing which is frequently missed on layouts are bushes. The most
commonly available bush scenic items are those packs of lichen which all
the model shops have. Selected pieces of this can be good when modified
and painted in some parts however when dumped wholesale onto a layout with
no modification they can look also look terrible. I have tried to remove
as much of this stuff from my layout as I can; the exception being those
infrequent occasions when it looks ok.
I made some gorse bushes using Busch foliage material. The results can be
seen in the picture below. I have found the Busch foliage to be quite
good, although it is better for some things than others.
I have found that the Sea
Moss is great for custom made bushes as you can break off bits to the size
that you want from the larger tree sized pieces. This also enables you to
use the broken bits that invariably occur in transit. As with the trees
they can be made in differing colours to match the area you are modelling.
Silflor Ivy is very good. Bit dear at five quid a pack so I have used it a
bit sparingly at the front of the layout. I am very impressed with this
though. It has leaves and vines which look pretty authentic, although the
foliage could be a bit thicker. The following pictures show the Silflor
ivy on the layout.
Previously I had used
scatter material however the results were poor compared with the Silflor
Ivy. Having said that the scatter does look good as moss which covers damp
walls on many cuttings and walls. The picture below shows coarse flock
material from Woodland Scenics glued straight onto a rock cutting.
Using figures in set scenes can really add a lot of interest to your
layout. Preiser are the best known and have the widest range although
other figures are available from Busch, Bachmann, Hornby, Langley and
Faller. The Langley figures are made from white metal and require
painting. The other manufacturers make ready made figures from plastic
which just require positioning on your layout. These are more expensive
but more accurate representations and for most of us; probably better
painted. Preiser figures can be bought painted or unpainted. Unpainted
figures are far cheaper and for those skilled with a brush, these can make
a significant saving. The following pictures show a combination of Hornby,
Langley and Preiser figures.
The real world has plenty of birds in it. They are everywhere regardless
of whether you are in a city or the country. I grew up in a seaside town
where the sound of seagulls was constant. These need to be included as do
Ducks, Crows Pigeons etc. It’s just one more item of detail that needs to
be included to complete the picture. I have used a combination of Langley
(The larger Seagulls) and Preiser (assorted Seagulls, Crows, Pigeons and
Birds of prey) birds which are demonstrated in the following pictures.
Whether it’s the countryside or the backyard there are likely to be some
animals around: Cats and Dogs for urban scenes or Cows and Sheep for the
countryside. For wilder areas Deer, Foxes and Rabbits would be
appropriate. Squirrels would be good for both. Langley do good set of
British country animals in OO which are made from white metal. These
require painting but look good once done. If you require something better
quality then Preiser will have similar animals in their range.
If it’s supposed to be Spring then there should be plenty of flowers
about. Make sure these are everywhere and consistent with your location.
In my layout the countryside is mainly forested with grassland so flowers
that fit with that are required.
I used some Busch daisies to enhance things a bit. You get 120 in a
packet, both yellow and white. I got two packets which I initially thought
was too much however once you start adding them to meadows and so on they
soon get used up.
The list of flowers and
plants available in kit form is extensive. Most well known flowers are
available such as Tulips, Crocuses, Roses and so on. You can also find
vegetables such as Lettuce, Pumpkins amongst others to put in gardens or
Use of wood
Wooden strips cut to scale sizes is available from many model shops for
use in building model ships. This can be utilized for many purposes around
the layout including crossings, buildings wagon loads etc. It also looks a
lot more authentic than plastic painted to look like wood.
I have also started making level crossings out of wood. I have quite a lot
of wooden strips from the days when I used to make wooden boats. Wooden
strips were cut to size, stained and then glued into place as can be seen
in the pictures below.
This list is by no means
definitive nor intended to be encyclopaedic and is intended to be a
summary of items which I have found to be particularly good . I have not
touched on backdrops, buildings or many other aspects of model rail
accessories and scenery as to do so would extend this article too far. If
you have any items or products which you believe are good and of interest
to other modellers then please submit an article to Model Rail Forum Admin