The point where Mill St. meets the backdrop has been another area of dissatisfaction. I intended to use a photo montage to extend the street and provide the illusion of the town of Sycamore in the distance. However, I made life more difficult by angling the modeled portion of the street and it doesn’t meet the backdrop squarely, making the transition to a photo far more difficult and so, progress stalled.

Mill St. in the rough

Bam! Watch for that sudden stop at the end.

My recent work with the layout has revealed just how rigid my thinking can become. This is not a happy revelation but a useful one nonetheless. Once I get an idea in my head, it tends to stay there, influencing every thought around it for better or worse.

Why Is This Street Here?
Why is Mill Street here and in this configuration? Truthfully, my original purpose was to model a mixed bag of pavement details in the crossing. Running it across two turnouts created a lot of visual interest with the mix of timber and metal flange guards, satisfying a gnawing desire to model track in pavement, even if only a tiny stretch of it (photo below). The front-to-back line of the street also provides a counterpoint to all the parallel lines of the layout edge, backdrop and track. Further, it provided a logical access for vehicle traffic to and from the old mill and the rail yard. (Employees have to get to work somehow.)

Mill St. Crossing on the I&W

That’s why the street is here and oriented as it is but, that still leaves the backdrop issue, driven by my rigid idea of the town in the distance, unresolved. Hmmm.

Does Sycamore really need to be there in the background? Could I relocate the none-existent community to the other side of the tracks and place it in the aisle instead? What possibilities would that open up? Would Mill Street have to be a through street if I did this?

Asking these questions opened up my mind to new ideas for the scene. I decided to close Mill Street to through traffic, making it little more than an access road to the yard and this resolved the problem of visually extending the street onto the backdrop.

I erected a scratchbuilt guardrail an inch or so away from the wall. Behind it I broke up the pavement and planted lots of weeds coming up through the cracks to disguise the hard line where the layout meets the wall. As soon as I placed the guardrail, I knew I had my solution. It stops the eye from following the line of the street into the wall and redirects your gaze to the right or left. There is still work to do to complete the scene but I can see the impact of it now.

Mill St. closed

It’s never fun to realize your own thought process is a problem that’s holding you back. And, it’s a struggle to get here. I turn things over and over, wondering if I’m making a serious mistake or what others might think. (Silly isn’t it? Must remember Rule No. 6. Thank you Mr. Z.) For all the pieces I’ve written about doing your own thing and thinking for yourself, I still have my own hobby demons and baggage to get past. I wonder, in what other ways am I creating problems  on the layout? When I suggest this craft is a journey, this is what the steps look like. For me at least.



  1. Aultsville Lad

    Mike, good Sunday morning to you. I knew when I read this entry yesterday that there was something that still was a problem for me with this scene and while taking in the first coffee of the day it became somewhat clear. When I first learned to paint the one thing that was impressed upon me was then need establish the horizon line. It was also an integral part of my drafting lessons and it is the lack of this that still leaves me feeling like I’m looking at a painted wall and not a distant vista. I have followed your work from pretty much the beginning and use your track book as the defacto bible for my efforts. One of the factors for your work was the use of the real world and, as you talked about in OSR was the use of photographs to build the real into the scene and I am wondering if you have slipped into the trap of “knowing” how a scene should look without seeing what is really there. Of course I am guessing here that you did not have a specific location to build up this scene so if I am blowing smoke here then my most humble apologies. The modeling on it’s own merit is great, although I can’t get the picture to enlarge very much, but it looks very convincing when considering the elements you have added but when I allow my eye to look at it as a whole vista I still smack into the wall.7
    Well, forgive me for my blather and I hope this is read for what it is worth.


  2. mike

    Hi David,

    You’re right, I didn’t have any specifics for this street scene, the whole thing is quite ad-hoc in nature. And yes, I’m mucking around here a great deal.

    I don’t consider the scene finished as shown in the last photo. I intend to add more trees to the left and need to do more with the vegetation around the barricade to blend everything together and further disguise the junction with the wall. Another problem is the cast shadows on the backdrop, which destroy any illusion of distance.

    This is always a problem and not one that’s easily solved. In other areas, the shadows tend to blend into the mass of tree branches and aren’t as noticeable as they are here. Without major expense and reworking of the lighting, they are something I just live with, although Photoshop let’s me clone them out of photos

    As you suggested, the horizon line is the critical factor in producing any sense of realism on a backdrop. Most people place it too high and doing so kills the effect. In my view, it should be no higher than a scale figure’s eye level because our eye level is so out of proportion to the rest of the scene in most cases. Of course, there are dozens of variables to consider.

    Thanks for writing in as always.