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A scenic workshop

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David Holman

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Re the recent thread on scenics, I thought I’d offer my own take on the subject & show you what I do. In fact, there is very little innovation in my work, more a case of pointing towards what I have learned from others. For me, there are three key names – Barry Norman, Tony Hill and Gordon Gravett. The books illustrated are in effect the bibles of scenic modelling. Barry’s came first, in 1985, following the launch of Petherick on the exhibition circuit. This was an EM gauge layout, set in Cornwall and at the time revolutionised what we did with scenic and [should have anyway] spelled the death knell of dyed sawdust, in favour of lint and plumbers hemp, among other things. Next came Tony’s book in 1995, which made the most of the newer materials available from Woodlands and the like – mainly scatter foams, plus stuff like teddy bear fur – while Gordon’s work is the most recent and takes advantage of the latest static grass machines, while refining earlier techniques in the search of ever greater realism.

Lesson number one should therefore be to get hold of one or all of these books, for each of them makes realistic scenery achievable by anyone with a bit of time and some careful observation.


All the books cover how to build scenic foundations, but to be honest, almost anything will do, as long as whatever shapes your landscape is covered by a mixture of filler, PVA glue and browny grey poster paint. Flat baseboards can be built up with card, card, polystyrene tiles or whatever. Papier mache works ok, though make sure surfaces are sealed first, or the moisture can cause warping. Open top boards can use chicken wire, cardboard weave etc. Either way, the PVA/filler mix gives a smooth, hard surface on top, while with paint mixed in, should you get any chips, no white patches show through.



For 4mm scale and above, there is no escaping the fact that an electrostatic grass machine is not just a luxury these days. The effects are wonderful and the time saving enormous. Top of the range models, like my Green Scene version [now marketed as a ‘Flock It’] cost well over 100 euros. Cheaper versions, like the one based on a flour sifter are around a third of the price, while the Noch puffer bottles still have their uses and are very cheap indeed. You could make your own of course, but only if you know what you are doing…



If using an electrostatic machine, then fibres are required. These come in 1-12mm lengths, the shorter ones best in the smaller scales, but all have their uses in the larger scales. Colurs are VERY important. Grass [the main use for fibres], is rarely bright green – even on a soft day in Ireland! Sorry chaps, but some of the layout threads show some pretty vibrant/virulent, bilious even, shades. Real grass ain’t that bright. Hence go for beige and straw like colours and mix liberally with your less bright greens, because another key fault people make is using just a single colour. Forty shades of green came well before 50 shades of grey methinks!

As my art teacher explained, paint what you see, not what you think, so good colour photos are essential in capturing the feel of the area you want to model. Think about the time of year too. Autumn has to be the hardest – witness some pretty hideous efforts in the model press – because the subtle blend of colours required almost always end up too bright. Spring greens are obviously the brightest, but by late June, things are starting to dry out, with many more lighter shades coming through. Geology has an effect on the flora too, so study your chosen area carefully and aim to copy what it displays. Remember too, that colours fade as you go into the background – especially important when doing backscenes.


‘Crumb’ or scatter is still important to enhance static grass fibres and a decent substitute if you don’t want to go to that expense. My personal preference is for Woodland Scenics. Fine and medium textures work best for me and following Gordon Gravett’s advice, I generally put a layer of these down first, before adding fibres on top. Other brands of scatter can be both too coarse and/or too grainy, I find, but again, never be afraid to mix both colours and media. Nature is not monochrome. Save the darker shades for trees and bushes – next time you go out, notice how these are always darker than surrounding grassland.


Various thicker fibres, dried flower heads etc are very useful for making smaller plants and shrubs, so it is worth having a small stock in hand. Likewise the Woodland Scenics fibre matting. Sold with their tree kits, it can also be bought separately and has many uses for bushes, brambles etc. My other ‘must have’ is Postiche. A type of artificial hair, it can be teased out to make even finer matting than the Woodlands type & as such has many uses.


The Chatham Club is busy with scenic work at the moment, so will aim to add to this thread as our work develops and show you what goes on.










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Great start to the tutorial, David. I for one will be following it closely. :)


Looking at the cover of Barry Norman's book, I got the feeling I had seen that layout before. After much racking of the brain, I realised that it formed the basis for a brief scenic tutorial in the 'World of Trains' series of magazines published back in the early '90s.

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Rather than do scenery straigt on to the baseboard, it can be a good idea to practice by doing a small diorama on a bit of spare board. The one above I made when starting out on 36.75mm gauge. The track is code 100 rail glue to cardboard sleeper with contact adhesive & have played around with various materials/colours - especially since I treated myself to the Static Grass machine. None of the fibres you can see here are 'straight out of the packet'. All were mixed to some degree - mainly adding pale/straw types to light/darker green.




The next pictures shows what happens if you only use a single colour. Top left are 'mixed long fibres' [6mm], below that is medium dry grass [3-4mm]. Top middle is 'short dry fibre' [1-2mm], while below is 'short, dark green. Top right is 'long hillside green with 'long wild grass' below.

The last two are my favourites, but I mix them as, as required [& sometimes just what is available!]. A case of study pictures of where it is you are modelling. The shorter fibres give a more dense covering, but that said, once the first layer is dry, you can hit it with spray mount, clear varnish, etc and then go over it with the Grasstech again. At first, it is easy to get carried away by this and grow ever longer grass, but in practice after a couple of goes, it starts to look wrong.





The other pictures show things like the effect of putting fibres on a layer of foam scatter [used extensively on Arigna Town] & also over boulders [coarse grave set in the same]. The grassy tufts in between the sleepers were done using the Noch puffer bottle [great for small or tight spaces], while there are a couple of shots where I've used Postiche for brambles etc. You can also see a couple of areas where I've mixed bright 'flower' coloured foam scatter with finer, dark green foam, to create a wild flower mix in amongst the static grass.

More of that later. Am going down the Club tonight, so hope to do some photos of fibres on scatter foam, colour variations & so on, while on a future input will focus on just using scatter.

with a static grass machine, note that total time for this sort of work is very much minutes & not hours. It really is very satisfying!





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The first three pictures show the range of colours we have in the Club stores at the moment - not quite 40, but not quite enough either. For preference I need to get some more of the yellow/straw colours to capture that late summer/dry grass look I want on the linesides. The next three photos are back to front, as they show fibres on top of a scatter mix - which is the final photo. The latter uses Woodland fine and medium mid/light/dark greens, plus some fine earth too - essentially to create the base layer beneath the top layers of grass.

The three middle pictures show fibres attached with both Spraymount and using the same [60/40] diluted PVA mix that the scatter was put down with. Either works well, though the PVA needs time to dry while you can add further layers with Spraymount [or matt spray varnish] immediately. Hence layers of varied colours can be built up very quickly. While the adhesive is wet, very fine, darker scatter can be sprinkled on to make the colours even more varied. Likewise change the colours of the fibres as you add layers - subsequent ones should normally be lighter, but as ever, think about what you are trying to do and check photos, the real thing etc.

Beware lighting too, at the club we have fluorescents that are not that strong and colours looked very washed out compared to home - though this does not show too much in the photos.

Ran of of Spraymount, so the Postiche and top layers will have to wait until next time.







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  • 2 weeks later...

The way to use Pastiche is to first tease out a small tuft. Then, holding it in a pair of long nosed pliers or similar. spray with varnish/fixative etc and then lightly sprinkle with fine scatter. The effect of a couple of colours is shown below.



As a matter of interest, the spray stuff I'm using at the moment was bought at the Tolworth show, a couple of weeks ago. As the label suggests, it is a bit less toxic than the usual varieties and therefore better for use indoors, especially if you work in confined spaces.



If you can't get hold of Pastiche, then scenic matting sold by Woodlands is a good substitute . It tends to come in a mid green shade, but darker ones are available. The trick is to cut or tear off a small piece, no more than 2-3cm square and then tease it out as thin as possible. This works just as well when adding tree foliage as it does to creating ground cover. As before, then spray with fixative and add scatter of choice. The spray mount is also used to fix the shrub down, though PVA will work just as well.



For certain types of weeds, then a light smear of pva across the tips of your grass, when dusted with fine scatter produces a nice effect. Have also included pictures of how to add flowers. Don't use the coloured scatter on its own, mix it 50-50 with green - it produces a more subtle effect I think. Speaking of subtle, there is one picture in there which shows a second covering of fibres [using the Grasstech], on top of the different colours I showed in the previous entry. The choice of 'undercoat' can have very useful effects on the overall scene. Check out the real thing and copy!













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Not sure, but may have been running out of picture space, so here are a few more ideas.

Most of this workshop has been looking at different types of grass cover, with Postiche or scenic matting for the larger shrubs. Have also used lichen to good effect for certain types of bushes, but make sure it is of a realistic shape and dust well with scatter before planting.

More upright shrubs see us returning to old fashioned methods, i.e. there is no quick fix for these things. There is a variety of stuff we can use & again Woodlands supply a good range. The packets I've bought over the years seem to last forever, so are good value. Various shades of sisal make for longer grass/reeds & need to be laboriously planted as clumps in pva. More 'twiggy' strands can be dipped in pva [individually, or in small groups] and then dipped in fine scatter to produce a variety of plants, such as nettles and so on. You can find such things ready made too, but I find the colours are often too bright and making your own is cheaper & more fun anyway.DSCN1716.jpg


By now, I'm hoping you are beginning to see that ground cover is really just a matter of experimenting with the various materials on offer. There really is no single 'best way', but I like to think recent ideas are a big advance on dyed sawdust! Aim to be subtle and pay attention whenever you are out & about [in town or country]. Digital cameras/phones are a great help in taking pictures of those details/cameos scenes you want to model back home/down the club.

That is just about it for this series for now, though will aim to do something on man-made ground cover in a while, when I'll try to show you how I've done the road and yard surfaces on my layouts.





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Should be relatively dimple as it is quite a dense plant. Hence suitable scatter, such as fine, dark Woodlands ought to work. As a base, suggest you use the same brand's foliage matting. They do a dark conifer green, which should work well. Tease it out over your rock face, fixing with PVA, then use spraymount to sprinkle on the scatter. For a denser covered, go over it again. As always, worth experimenting on a test area first.

Hope that helps.

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