Backdrop fitting

I printed out the temporary backdrop and stuck it loosely around the base of the diorama. I am about to start modeling and need it to help me to position elements such as the road. Although a high quality printed version is on its way to me I may still refine the backdrop further.

The backdrop frame is built for the base to be moved into place when the modeling has been completed.

The backdrop – although a poorly printed temporary version – really helps me see how thing are coming together. My printer is not particularly good – the colors are not accurate – and as I intended to ‘bounce’ many of the backdrop colors onto the model I need to have a higher quality picture put in its place. As mentioned above I have a printed version with more accurate colors being mailed to me. However I think I may make more changes to the backdrop so I’m not finished with it yet.

I’ll be starting on the road first. I will have to match the roadway fade which means modeling a sandy colored dirt(ish) road. That wasn’t my original intention as I really wanted the road to be a grey asphalt. Nevertheless I like the sandy color and will build the road on the desktop and keep working at it until I get it right. I can take as long as I need to get the texture and color right. I’m in no hurry. Looks like I may have to move the road up a bit to match the height of the model road – an example of some of the changes I may still need to make.

I may also move the mill a little over to the left as the whole scene seems a little unbalanced.

The sky is a little too dark. I can swap it out for a lighter version taken from another picture if necessary but I’ll wait until I get the printed version before making such big changes.

I’ll install the printed version in a couple of weeks – after the holiday.


I glued the foam base to a piece of hardwood and first step is to build the road and the ditch alongside. I’m trying to figure out if I should stick the track onto a card base or just lay the track directly to the foam.

Here’s a birds eye view of most of the elements I need to build. I’m going to start with the road and the ditch. The carpark will be in asphalt. I also need to figure out what kind of track weathering I want to do.

Diorama frame and backdrop

This week I finished the diorama frame. I created sides by cutting up three pieces of hardboard bought from my local art store. The diorama is 20 X 10 inches so the sides needed to be two pieces of 10″ and one piece of 20″. All the pieces are around 7″ tall. I framed the left and right sides with 1/2 inch lengths of wood (is there a name for that wood?). The rear board is just stuck to the left and right frames and is not itself framed. I used glue throughout to build the framework. Fairly simple.

The complicated part was deciding how to work on the diorama away from the backdrop and then fit the backdrop to the diorama once completed. I decided to create a separate base from hardwood, build the diorama on top of that and slide that base into the backdrop frame once completed. That way I can work on the back of the diorama and have easy comfortable access for my various tools such as the static grass applicator.

The diorama base and the frame are two separate pieces. I will install the backdrop on the frame but work on the diorama separately on my work bench. Once completed I should be able to just slide the model into place. It also means I can fit the backdrop immediately and not worry about damaging it when modeling towards the back.


Because I have stream running parallel to the road I need to be able to dig down beneath the level of the track. To do that I need to raise the level of the model and then dig out the stream. I decided to used extruded polystyrene to raise the level. I also purchased a foam cutter and used it to cut the foam to the size of the underlying hardboard. It will be glued to the hardboard and will be able to slide in and out of the diorama frame.


I continued to return the various planning elements to the board to make sure things were still looking good. All good so far.


I really like this image below. I like the strong colors, the country lane and the horizon of trees and farm. I decided to use this as the base for my backdrop. As mentioned before I already did a quick treatment to see if this was a direction I wanted to go. Like most things, the more time you spend on the task of creating a backdrop, the better it will be. However it is my least favorite task in modeling and I encounter enormous resistance to working on it. Nevertheless I did not want to rush it so I decided to spend this whole week working on it bit by bit and I eventually got to place I’m happy with.

This image was downloaded from Google. I typed ‘Indiana countryside’ and this was one of the first images that appeared. I have since purchased a license to use this image so that I have a clean version clear of watermarks and legal right to use for various purposes. I’m going to use as many elements as possible – tree, road, sky, farms, but will have to heavily rework the image to stretch it left and right and adjust the road to meet my road on the diorama head on.


Moving to my computer in the main house (with three monitors), I used Photoshop to do a trial run of finding and positioning elements. I figured out which Photoshop tools and filters I would need and got a rough layout to print and test on the model. I cut out images roughly, I added an oil paint filter, added a house and some other trees. On the next version I will go and adjust everything at pixel level which will sharpen things up. I will also choose better artwork.


Even though I have a computer station set up in the train room my three work monitors in the house are set up nicely for graphic work. I was able to print out the scene into four separate pieces, stick them together, and add tape the temporary backdrop to the model.


I added back the planning elements to get an idea of how everything was looking. Pretty good I thought but changes would need to be made. I did not like the oil painting filter. I used it to hide imperfections and artifacts left over from bad cutting and pasting. I decided to try to use the original photo as much as possible and just do a better job of adding layers. The three pine trees are good but the wrong color. I decided to find new ones. The house at the back is nice but I decided to try to find a taller structure that would rise above the depot and could be seen from the front. I should be able to get to a final version on my next attempt.


Here is the final version. It would take too long to walk through the various steps that got me to this point but in short I used cloning, blurring, smudging, stretching, copy and paste and resizing. I also worked at pixel level to tighten up edges and clean areas. The road took a while. It now lines up with the diorama road. I am going to match the color of the diorama road with the color of the road on the backdrop. That means using sandy gravel instead of asphalt. I will use asphalt for the depot parking area instead.
A closeup of the area behind the depot. I added a mill to rise above the depot building. I also found some nice trees that matched the overall color scheme.

I sent the backdrop file to the printers ( and will receive it in a couple of weeks. I will use my temporary printed version while building the diorama.


So with the space planning out the way I turned back to the backdrop this week. I did some explorations with Photoshop to re-familiarize myself with some of the functions and filters. I’m still deciding which way to and I have several options:

  1. Grab images from Google (pay for them if necessary) and create a montage.
  2. Take my own pictures out in the countryside with northern California having to stand-in for the Indiana countryside.
  3. Use a some kind of Photoshop filter to convert the final image into a painting-like backdrop

Here’s what I grabbed from the internet:

I searched for ‘Indiana countryside’ in Google and found these images. I played around with them in Photoshop to see if they would work for the diorama. I especially like the bottom image. I would have to work on the road and reposition it to meet the roadway on the diorama. It can be done but it may take a few attempts.


As a web developer I have some Photoshop skills and know how to cut, crop, duplicate and add filters (plus a whole lot more). I did a quick treatment just to see if this direction was an option. I duplicated the tree, and created three more; I cut out the road and moved it around; I added a paint filter. I really like how this has turned out so far and may continue on this path. It takes hours to do this properly so it’s best if you just do a quick test to see if you really want to invest the time.


On the other hand Sonoma County (70 miles north of San Francisco) may have to stand in for Indiana countryside. Near the town of Healdsburg is some very attractive countryside with the added benefit of being fairly green compared to the dry landscape found in other parts of California. I can get up there in an hour and a bit, hop on my bike, and take all the pictures I need. I can also add the oil painting filter to blend in several scenes if necessary.

Anyhow with that preliminary exploration of Photoshop I decided to get started on the backdrop structure. Things had to wait until the weekend as I needed to reorganize my drum room. I needed to clear the space – remove one of my drum kits – and bring up my power tools. The adjoining room to the train room is going to house the power tools. I’m waiting for furniture to arrive to place the tools upon.

Drumming: one of the reasons it took me so long to get back to railroad modeling. In order to keep good neighborly relations I had to have a sound proof drum booth built. Now I can practice in the middle of the night and no one can hear a thing! My neighbors are very happy. The area in front of the booth is going to house my power tools. A table is arriving this week for my mitre saw and drill.


With access to my power tools I’m building the backdrop frame. These are the sides and I’ll work on the rear this week. Once that is done and built I’ll turn back to the imagery for the backdrop.

Road Tests

The road tests are going ok. My first attempt produced something to practice with. I’ll be ready in a couple of days to produce another road surface. My jig was not sturdy enough for a repeat test so before I can do anything I need to make a better reusable one.

I’ll post the complete steps once I have figured it all out and produced something that I’m happy with but for the moment I’m essentially creating a flowing mix out of various ingredients and pouring it into the jig. It needs to be able to flow around and fill the space.


After a couple of days the mix has settled and dried. I added little pulls to pull up the road base but unfortunately the jig itself warped and distorted – I’m going to build one of out wood this week.


You can bend the whole surface to create cracks. When the surface settles back flat many of the cracks remain and look like authentic cracks found in asphalt. The cracks still need to be worked on by rubbing them, scraping the edges, and pulling the underlying card apart. I’m going to use a Swedish dish cloth as the base as I want to be able to pull the road surface and have it NOT settle back exactly as before, so preserving the crack profile better. I’ll have more on that next week.


Not perfect yet but definitely heading in the right direction. I’m going to experiment with different bases (not just a card base), darker colors (by adding more black to the mix), patches, crackle paint and other things to make it look more authentic. I’ll post progress next week.


During my time away from modeling I took up railroad photography. Most of the pictures are just to document the scene but every now and then I took one that I thought would look nice on the wall. Here are a couple of pics that arrived this week. The library is located here

I have a library of 20,000 images of active, inactive and abandoned railroad track mostly around the Bay Area. Some pictures are nice enough to frame..


New tests, old tests.

I have a testing schedule which I will work through over the next weeks:

  1. Road surfaces – working on this now – see below.
  2. Matt varnish –  I’m looking for the perfect matte varnish – one with no sheen! working on this now – see below.
  3. Trackbeds – I’m going build some more railroad trackbeds to test different grassing and track weathering ideas.
  4. Ammo oil brusher –  New product test. I’ve been watching military modeler videos on weathering and they recommended this product.
  5. Grass static applicator – I need to get better at using my static grass applicator. I’ve seen so many fantastic example of grass on model railroads and want to try to do better job myself.

Old tests either completed or nearly completed:

Crackle test is done, see other post on this. Weather-It is done – I found the product to be no better than the alcohol and ink method. Winsor & Newton Pigment markers – still have to purchase and test the missing shades of grey but so far they have been fantastic and I look forward to using them in my modeling.

New tests currently been conducted:

Asphalt road surfaces

Yes I have begun. I am glad I waited a couple of weeks as it gave me time to think things through. The test is the first step to creating a roadway surface for the model. As I want to build, color and weather the roadway on my desktop and then move the final result to the diorama I wanted to split the test into two parts.

  1. A test bed into which I can slip different road surfaces to give me an idea of how things are looking. This will have a grassy side to replicate the grassy side of the diorama (and generally a road in country).
  2. A reusable road-surface jig into which I can pour the road surface mixture. I want to create lots of variations of road surface and this jig will allow me to create one after the other.
The test bed. I want to be able to slide in road surfaces that have been created in the jig. The sides will act as grassy borders to the road surface.
The road surface jig. I’ll be able to reuse this to create as many road surfaces as needed. The jig allow me to pour in a road mixture, let it dry, extract the result to then color and weather. Note my pajamas  – it’s around 6am.

I’ll post the step-by-step methods of the test when finished.

Matte Varnish

I’ve been very disappointed with the various matte varnishes on offer and wanted to spend some time trying out various products until I strike gold and find a matte varnish that does not have any sheen. I find that in photographs of models, most that have been given a coat of matte varnish have a slight unrealistic glow. That’s what I want to avoid. I’ll be working on this test this week.

These are what I have on hand. If I am unable to find a varnish without a sheen I’ll continue looking.



Color coding plan

The nice thing about planning is the fact that you can just take your time while you give certain areas a bit of a think through. I had the roadway and platform front area figured out. I also added a freight platform and creek (stream, gully?) alongside road. However I had not figured out what was going on behind the station building but now that I had color-coded those other elements I was able to give it some thought.

Turning the diorama around was easy enough so that I could see how much space needed working on.

I decided to add a small driveway that would allow cars to access the right side of the station. The driveway surface level would be slightly below the platform surface as elsewhere. I like the fact that the platform is slightly raised as it then creates a nice self-contained area on which to sit the depot. I removed the old plastic base from the station building so that it could sit right on top of the platform. I may rebuild this building. I’m deciding whether to purchase another kit right now.

Once the drive way feature was incorporated I was able to create two color-coded areas to represent those elements.

Things are looking pretty good so far. I’m happy with the use of space – horizontally all elements have a nice proportion and I’ve accounted for vertical planning by adding a raised platform which replicates the final platform to be built.

Looking pretty good. The color coding has been really helpful to begin to realize the eventual model. I can work on each element (road, parking area, platform etc) on my desk and move them to the model when ready (as per my rules!)
Earlier this week after I had completed the initial color coding I was able to see that the roadway and creek was too large in proportion to other elements on the model. I cut them down a bit though I may have overshot and made them too narrow now! No matter as it is easy enough to rebuild them at this stage than later.

With the vertical and horizontal spacing figured out as well as what elements were going where I decided to start on the backdrop in earnest. I colored coded the backdrop elements and started working on the horizon. In fact these next two weeks are going to be devoted to designing and making both the backdrop photo and the structure that will hold it in place. Once that is done I will start building the diorama.

I added a sample horizon to see how it would like as a planning tool. It looks fine and I will start to extend it left and right to the edges of the diorama backdrop.


Color coding

I decided to color code all the elements that make up the diorama. It’s much easier to see the layout of the elements and the spaces between them when each element has its own color. It took a short while to figure out how to do the coloring. I ordered a set of water color spray paints which make the process cheaper than using Vallejo spray paint, but these don’t have the color range of Vallejo. I used random colors for the moment with no particular color scheme in mind. Moving forward I may use particular set of colors that work together. I’m slowly creating swatches of the Vallejo paints so that I can lay out the colors next to each other to decide on a set that would work together nicely as a color code.

The layout so far. I still have to do the platform and the side parking and rear driveway. I can see from this image that the roadway feels a little too wide and therefore I intend to make it a bit smaller.

The elements that have been color coded so far are the road, the crossing, the track, the platform, the gully alongside the road, the station parking area, the freight platform and the depot building. I still have to build the small roadway and parking behind and to the right of the depot. I also have to build the platform onto which the depot building will sit.

I used a selection of Vallejo spray paint to color the card pieces. Coloring has made observing the layout so much easier.


The coloring really starts to show the diorama coming together. It’s easy to make adjustments at this point. For example, I think the roadway and gully area is slightly too wide and I intend to shave off some of the width of both elements to help balance them out.
I decided to add the same treatment to the backdrop elements. I still have to do the sides and the horizon.
I’m slowly creating swatches of the Vallejo Air range paints. It makes selecting colors much easier. I can also pull swatches from the shelf and sit them next to each other to assist selecting a color scheme.
The colors for this diorama were randomly selected but I use the swatches to confirm that the colors will work together nicely.


Over the last year, mainly due to Covid, I’ve been working from home. It’s fine for a while but after too long indoors I have to go out. For a while I just drove the car to random places, but then I decided if I had to go out I would go and photograph railways. But here’s the thing, I’m not a huge fan of locomotives,  rolling stock or trains, instead my main interest is in the infrastructure: the track, the depots, the bridges, culverts, street running. So in the last year I’ve been going out with my bike and photographing railroad infrastructure around California. By now I’ve probably taken around 20,000 pictures. If anyone is interested in seeing them they are located here.

Most are just a plain ‘ole record of the railroad – not artistic in any way – but every now and then I take a picture which I think would look nice on the wall. Therefore I decided to get a few printed and framed and will decorate my new hobby space with them.

The pictures are 20′ X 16′ (10X8) and I get them printed at Walgreens. If I order a print they are usually ready within an hour or two – a very fast turnaround.


I’m a huge fan of street running and especially of abandoned track in paved areas. This is a picture of a track – no longer used – on Mare Island.


Abandoned and paved trackwork in Petaluma, CA. Whereas someone might not see anything attractive about a scene like this I think it is very atmospheric.


I’m currently in the process of selecting more pictures. They will be framed and placed along the top of the walls – similar to how they appear here.


Testing is going to be an important part of modeling for me moving forward. I don’t want to experiment on the final model or layout and would rather have a method figured out and practiced before applying it. In the past my impatience to see the final result tripped me up again and again. A method would be tried and I hoped that I got it right the first time. However that usually was not the case and I found that I would have to backtrack and start over. Sometimes after days of preparation the result would have to be scrapped leaving a messy stage on which to build the next attempt.

Most tests are simply preliminary stages of a build. I will practice making roads and then build a road. The tests simply help me work out the method. Other tests are standalone and not related to any particular build and would include trying new products, tools, and methods. I would write the steps or results down and store them with the test to refer to then in the future thus saving time down the road when I came to actually apply the test to the layout.

A typical test not related to any particular build. In this case I’m testing the three ranges of grey marker offered by Winsor and Newton. The markers are actually no longer being produced which is shame because they stain wood beautifully. I’m still in the process of collecting the remaining shades of grey. Also I purchased a label maker to make keeping notes a much more organized and easier task. I used it to print out the labels on the side. This card will be used for reference moving forward.


This is another product test. In this case Vallejo Crackle Medium. I’m working out steps and variations. I’m hoping to use it on the diorama in some capacity. I have a few more steps to go before this test is complete. Once again I will print out the steps using my label printer and store the results on a reference card.


This is a method test. These are the results of the first round of roadbed tests I built a few weeks ago. I’m about to start over in a much more organized way, keeping notes on materials, ingredients, steps, and particular methods employed. They will eventually be stuck onto a reference board/card and at some point a final version/test will be used on the diorama.


Tests need space and the more space I have the more tests I can run simultaneously. Here are the three main tests for this week. I’m working out the next set of tests right now.



Loving my new workspace. It’s really nice to have tools and materials at arms length. I still move around the whole room quite a bit while modeling and one of the nice side effects is that I’m losing weight because I’m so much more active. The other day my wife mentioned that my face looked thinner!!

The space around me is mainly for what you can see – paint, mainly Vallejo, and I’m buying at least 10 Vallejo Air paints each month till I have the full set. After that I will start collecting their Model range.

Other shelves have glues, decal liquids, thinners, undercoats, markers and paint brushes. I have also bought a small tool holder for those most often used tools such as knives, tweezers and rulers.

I’m really enjoying watching this space come together.