Interpreting The Landscape

by | Nov 28, 2018 | Modeling Techniques, The Art of The Craft, The Modeling Conversation | 9 comments

A question came up in the comments last week about modeling the dark wet gloom of the Pacific Northwest. I’ve never been to the northwest, so I really can’t offer anything intelligent about modeling that specific region. What I can do with this post is offer an interpretation of wet and dreary conditions closer to home. I believe there are broad principles that apply to many parts of the country.

Let’s take a look and break down a couple of photos.

This scene of L84 at work gives us clues about recent weather conditions. You’ll see a number of large rain puddles near the main and on the far left along the access path near the tree line. In wet conditions, any low spot may fill with water or at least have a darker color from the dampness.

An important thing to understand is how the values (the light and dark aspects of a color) will look under such conditions. To help explain this, I converted the photo to black and white.

Note how dark the ballast color is throughout the image and also how similar in value it is to the surrounding ground. Notice also how the more saturated portions of ground between the tracks seem to glisten with moisture. To capture this on a model, you might try adding thin applications of gloss medium or water based gloss polyurethane. I would makeup a small test piece with ground cover or ballast and experiment until I got the results I wanted before trying it on the layout.

Another thing to notice with the values is how close they are throughout the scene. Under this kind of light, such a narrow range of values makes things look one-dimensional.

Looking at the tree line on the left, you’ll notice how featureless it appears. The trees and scrub brush read as a similar mass of dull color. There is texture in the branches and undergrowth but little in the way of contrast between highlights and shadows that give individual trees their shape and clarity. The brightest highlights are the reflections on the railheads and the glow of the headlight. Even the light gray hopper cars and white markings on the locos are several shades darker than their pure tones. Lastly, with all the values in such a tight range, a spot of strong color goes a long way. The strongest colors in the first image are the crew’s yellow safety vests and the guy’s hunter orange hat. Both of these really stand out against all the drab tones around them.

This shot of the depot gives us another perspective on rainy effects. The streets are clearly wet and reflect the building colors. Once again note how uniform in color the wet surfaces are. I’m not certain how I would model this effect. A gloss coating of some kind is the obvious choice and A-K Interactive has a wash for wet effects but I’ve never used it, so I can’t speak to its effectiveness. Effects like this need to be handled with care, as things can get out of hand quickly.

At least one modeler that I know of is modeling a rainy landscape. Jim Smith-Wright of the UK has a fine exhibition layout called Brettell Road that depicts an industrial area with a dreary atmosphere. To say this type of atmospheric setting is a challenge is an understatement, but Jim is well up to the task. I’ve included several links to his work at the end of the post and if you happen to have a copy of the Model Railway Journal No. 257, you might check out the evocative photos of his layout.

To wrap up, I encourage you to ask questions. If I don’t know the answer or where to find it, I’ll say so. Likely as not someone will know and we can all learn. Knowing what you folks struggle with or don’t understand about a post will help me improve the blog and future books by making both more relevant to your needs.


Links to Jim Smith-Wright’s Brettell Road

A nice photo of the layout and its presentation.

Some ideas about lighting and modeling rain effects

More Rain