I made a passing remark in my post last week that I feel my modeling has grown shallow as a result of being complacent with my skill level. After some serious thought and cleaning out a ton of clutter that no longer has any relevance to where I want to go with my modeling, I feel it’s time to focus on improving my skills by focusing more on projects that present greater challenges.

I thought I was doing a pretty good job with the scenery in this area, especially the groundcover. Quarter-inch scale demands something beyond a simple dusting of ground foam and a few clumps of something to represent bushes. That might work in the smaller scales but not for quarter-inch.

I’d become quite pleased with the sisal twine technique for wild grasses and, must admit to secretly feeling smug over the amount of work I put into the layout scenery so far. To date, I had placed a tree line flat on the backdrop and started filling in the groundcover with my usual methods. All was fine, until my copy of Gordon Gravett’s book on modeling grasslands, roads and water features arrived. I’m not ashamed to admit when I’m wrong and in this case, I learned that I don’t know the first thing about modeling wild grasses and other ground covers. Yes, his work is that good, and I was able to look at my own with more objective eyes, seeing much room for improvement.

Now mind you, I’m not saying that what I’ve done so far is bad or of no consequence. That’s going too far off the deep end. I’ve simply become more aware of what can be accomplished by someone more experienced and knowledgeable than I am, hence, I’m a student again. My techniques still have a valid place and have served well, but there are many techniques and materials available now, most of which I haven’t tried or had access to before. With some thoughtful experimentation, I can use them to enhance what I’ve built.

One of the take-away items from the book for me is his careful attention to the various textures found in the full-size world. This is something we gloss over in our haste to just get the job done. Grass in the wild doesn’t look anything like the manicured lawns of residential areas. Many commercial products, even static grass sheets, are just too uniform in nature to effectively represent the tall ragged nature of wild grasses (below).

Wild grass meadow reverting to forest

This field will revert back to forest if left alone. The abundance of cedar saplings will eventually give way to hardwood species.

This is one of the areas of my scenery that needs improvement, as an over-reliance on a single technique and material tends to produce the same uniformity in outcome. In the photo above, you can see how the waist high grass dies off and will mat down over the winter. Below, this fence line shows a different impact where the frost killed grass is a mass of clumps with some green showing through, while the inaccessible areas of the ditch line are a tangle at the base of the fence. Do we even see these things until someone points them out?

Roadside grassesSomeone reading this will wonder: why bother with such obscure details? It’s just scenery. It’s supposed to be model railroading, not model landscaping.

I answer that by noting there’s another principle to consider: That being one of consistency. When one or more modeled elements are grossly out of balance with the rest, the realism we’re trying so hard to achieve suffers greatly. When the trains are highly detailed and the scenery isn’t, the contrast between them will be jarring. Many modelers don’t understand this or simply don’t care enough to do anything about it. They simply spend their time wondering why things don’t look as realistic as they could or console themselves by thinking it doesn’t matter. It does matter.

I understand the arguments presented by those who have chosen a larger, more complex layout project. The key isn’t in hyper-detailing everything, it’s that one pay attention to creating a consistent level of detail across all aspects of any project, large or small. In my case, the modest nature of my layout makes a more detailed approach in all aspects possible, which is the perspective I naturally write from.

As this area progresses, I’ll be leaning heavily on Gordon’s work for inspiration and looking more closely at the landscape for ways to improve. The real lesson here is that you don’t need to completely scrap a layout in order to find new projects. An existing layout can be improved upon continuously.

Modelling Grassland and Landscape Detailing by Gordon Gravett
ISBN 978 1 908763 06 8
Wild Swan Publications Ltd.
1-3 Hagbourne Road, Didcot, Oxon, OX11 8DP

I purchased my copy from International Hobbies of Auburn California. It’s the simplest and fastest way to get a copy if you’re in the US. I have no connection with Wild Swan or International Hobbies beyond being a satisfied customer.