Take a walk to improve your scenics

It might seem like an odd thing to suggest taking a walk in order to improve your modelling skills, but Sarah Palmer investigates why a winter stroll might be the key to doing just that.

January might not seem like the best time to be out and about walking.

Why would you want to when you could be inside in the warm doing some modelling or running trains on your layout?

However, a winter walk or cycle could pay dividends in terms of improving your powers of observation and thus your modelling skills.

Over the last year of editing and working on RMM I have seen lots of layouts, but one that always sticks in my mind is Maggie and Gordon Gravett’s Pempoul, which they retired from the circuit in May of last year.

The HMRS, based at the Midland Railway-Butterley, is home to an incredible rotating seasonal layout in which the train liveries and scenery is accurate for each of the four decades it represents. This section shows winter in the 1950s.

I’m sure that one of the reasons that it stands out, to me, as a shining example of modelling is the observances of nature undertaken by Gordon Gravett.

Says Maggie: “Gordon walks every morning and often takes a camera with him to photograph what he sees. When we were doing our research for Pempoul, we visited France regularly for inspiration and photographed the trees. We would then print them off at the right scale for our layout and use them when making the models. You can spend a long time making a tree.”

Part of the realism of the layout is created through the trees, as you can look through the trees as they aren’t covered in leaves, one of the many ways that the layout creates space by fooling the eye.

“We wanted to create a feeling of space, which is why we set it in a springtime mid-morning. We
wanted to create an illusion you can get lost in.”

The items of scenery in this layout have been so acutely observed first hand by Gordon that the layout is specific to a season and time of day.

Gordon and Maggie Gravett’s now-retired Pempoul layout.

This kind of accuracy comes from looking closely and noticing light, leaf formation, shadows and colours.

At this year’s Warley show I spoke to exhibitor Trevor Hughes, who was there with his layout Crowsnest Wharf. Trevor says that he and Gordon were inspired by the same person, George Iliffe Stokes, who was well known in the 1950s for using twisted wire and Artex as a modelling medium for creating trees.

“Artex sets slowly so you are able to create sculpture and textures with it,” says Trevor.

I was very taken by the detailing and realism of the treescape in his layout.

“They can be done in just 20 minutes,” says Trevor. “I used heather and horse hair. I then slop each structure with diluted PVA glue and then use foam scatter from Woodland Scenics that I’ve put into a household blender to cover the glue then I tip the tree upside down to dry.

“It’s all about observation, connecting your eyes and your brain.

“Trees aren’t like lollipops, they don’t grow like that. Sometimes people take 10 pieces of wire and keep bringing out two wires and so on until there is none left – trees simply don’t grow like that, the bottom of a tree is thinner than you think.”

Author Tristan Gooley runs a website called the Natural Navigator and has written several books
about looking for clues and signs in nature.

Walk or cycle along a former railway line

Sustrans, the UK’s walking and cycling charity, is pioneer and guardian of the National Cycle Network and provides thousands of miles of traffic-free and quiet routes.

Bristol and Bath Railway Path – Warmley CREDIT: J Bewley, Sustrans

They’ve kindly supplied some top routes for RMM readers that take in former railway lines or still have extant railway structures if you want to take a walk or cycle along a former line.

If you can walk a former railway line and notice what grows along the line it may also give you some clue as to what soil conditions may have given rise to the predominance of certain trees and plants.

For more information and route inspiration visit www.sustrans.org.uk

MINI MAKE: Static grass

If you are feeling inspired to take on a scenery project, but feeling daunted by the idea of tackling trees, then Liam Santini has got a small grass-making project to have a go at to build your confidence:

Always start by painting a base layer on the chosen spot you’re going to lay the static grass. Using a base layer gives it a natural ground look.

Grab a static grass applicator, your choice of static grass and start to apply.

Start by using the smallest grass fibres first. This makes a nice layer over the base colour. Make sure the base colour is still wet while you do this.

This is what you should start to see, a nice layer of grass on top of the wet paint.

Now grab some extra-hold hairspray. Spray a layer over the top of the static grass you just applied. Not too much though, it is heavy, so can flatten the grass. Just a misting will do.

Add larger grass fibres to the static grass applicator, and apply over the static grass that you just lightly misted with hairspray. Using a different colour grass is always best for this part. Natural grass always has different shades, go outside and take a look.

You should now start to see layers building up. Different shades will take shape and the look of natural grass start to form.

For the full articles, see January’s edition of Modelling – available now!

For a complete list of stockists and how to get your copy, visit: www.railwaymagazinemodelling.co.uk/distributors