I’ve been upgrading some of the first areas of scenery on the layout, using new materials now on the market. Products like static grass sheets are significantly better than the older stuff. As the two photos show, the landscape can be studied like any other prototype and the knowledge applied to modeling. I’m just beginning to learn what the landscape actually looks like, even though I have been in the hobby for decades. I’m discovering I have a lot of preconceived ideas to overcome and that they die hard.
Here are some of my personal lessons:
1. I think I tend to overdo the number of trees in a given area. While the number of saplings in a woodland can be dense, the amount of sunlight, water and soil nutrients each can get goes a long way in determining the number that survive and thrive. In the model photo, I feel there are too many trees behind the fence. I do this to visually fill in the spaces but I need to look more carefully at what is actually going on in the real world. Another lesson to keep in mind comes from my art training. As you reduce an image, the objects and the spaces between them both shrink. This fact needs to be taken into consideration. In the case of the trees mentioned, I neglected to think about the spacing between them. In looking at this photo, which provides a more objective view, I think I need to thin out some of the clutter behind the fence.
2. Despite my artistic knowledge, reproducing color is a major struggle for me. This is why I prefer the use of natural materials whenever possible. I let nature do the coloring. In looking at areas I’ve refurbished on the layout, I need to do some blending of color between the new and old. Things look a bit garish in places, such as the clumps of static grass I’ve added. The bright green needs toning down. You’ll notice the different shades of green in the first photo. Taken in mid-May 2012, the grass is a brighter yellow green, while the tree leaves range from lime green to darker shades.
Another example is the tall shrub made from a chunk of sisal rope near the fence in the second photo. The gray spray paint is all wrong for this type of shrub. They’re actually more grayish beige, but attempts with that color look even worse. Color doesn’t scale down directly. It has to be manipulated in tone and value to look natural at the smaller scale. You have to observe and think things through. Forget what you know and model what you see.
3. Evaluating your modeling from close-up photos is an excellent way to gain perspective. The camera simply does not lie and allows you to see things as the really are. For example, that tall bushy sapling in front of the fence post looks phony to my eyes in the photo. The dried flower buds of the plant don’t resemble leaves in shape or color. Now that I’ve noticed it, it will bug me until I do something with it. Some will say: “Oh hell, leave it.”, especially since it is in the background. I can do better, even with background scenes. More important to me, I want to do better.
Rendering scenery doesn’t have to be the subjective exercise in generic modeling the hobby has practiced for decades. Like many other aspects, one can take it as far as one wants.
The inspiration for this post came from looking at photos of Australian modeler Geoff Nott’s work (a link appears in the post A Matter of Perspective). I’ll never look at model scenery the same way again.