A river stretching toward the horizon adds a sense of distance to any model railroad. Capturing that perspective requires either a very large layout or a backdrop.
Building the Backdrop
Adding a backdrop is really two projects in one. First, the backdrop must be built. Choosing a material and supporting a backdrop are more like benchwork construction than scenery. There are many options when building a backdrop. For this particular project, a styrene plastic sheet was used. The styrene curved easily with the back of the platform at the river's end. This section of the backdrop was actually painted first and then installed. Doing it over, all of the painting could have been done just as easily with the backdrop in place.
Painting the Backdrop
Paintin a backdrop is one of the most daunting tasks for beginners in the hobby. The truth is, it is not as hard as it looks. In fact, what you see here is my first attempt at painting anything (locomotives and rollingstock excepted of course) since high school. If you're still convinced you can't pull it off, enlarged photographs can also be used.
This particular river scene and backdrop are part of a larger night setting on this level of my home layout. Painting a night backdrop is not as hard as you think. Whether you follow the steps used here, or create your own scene, you'll want to follow a few general guidlines when it comes to painting or photographing your river backdrop.
- Keep the horizon low. You're creating a river, not a waterfall. Keeping the waterline low makes the perspective more believable.
- Avoid direct lines of sight. Adding a bend in the river, or intersecting the backdrop at something other than a right angle gives the viewers' eyes more scenery to distract from the junction of horozontal and vertical scenery. It also forces the viewer to move about and change vantage points to take in the whole scene. This can make the railroad seem larger.
- Match colors. Try to blend the colors of the scenery and backdrop. On a dark night scene, this is easy.
- Start with the sky. Day or night, it is always easiest to start painting the sky and then adding horizon and foreground details. The last layers painted should be those details closest to the front.
Even without any foreground scenery, the addition of your backdrop will completely change the way you look at your railroad.