text & photos by John Carty
As the scenery on my model railroad progressed, I realized that I needed to improve the transition from the layout to the backdrop. When I built the bench work, I painted the hardboard backdrop sky blue. While this looks very nice, as far as it goes, when I added scenery, the resulting transition from trees to sky proved incredibly abrupt. Obviously I needed to add trees to the backdrop.
The most logical method for adding trees consists of painting trees directly on the backdrop. Being as I relate to paint more along the lines of oil and water rather than oil and canvas, using a brush remained a daunting option.
While reading a model railroading magazine, I do not remember which one, I ran across an article on using potato prints for adding trees to the backdrop on an N scale layout. Potatoes lack the size needed for HO scale, as the trees built for the layout range from three to eight inches in height, translating to twenty to sixty scale feet. After a bit of thought, I decided to try using sponge prints instead.
At the local store I picked up a pack of four 3×5” sponges for a buck or two. Knowing the fate awaiting the sponges, I saw no point in spending a lot of money on them. I proceeded to cut “tree” shapes out of them. I only cut out the foliage shape, saving the scraps for use in stamping the trunks. I cut two versions of evergreen, triangles really, and two ellipsoid shapes for deciduous trees. These shapes need not be either perfectly symmetrical or perfectly neat. The profiles of real trees in nature rarely fit in either category.
I poured acrylic craft paint onto several plates. I picked a light, dark, and medium greens as well as a brown. I placed a cut sponge onto the plate making certain that the entire surface received paint and then applied the sponge to the backdrop. At first look, I was not too impressed, until one of the kids I coach for took one look after the paint had dried, saying, “cool.” I allowed voids in the paint created by the holes in the sponge, resulting in a somewhat seethrough and mottled effect. I varied the heights, colors, and spacing while stamping with the four sponges to create a forest with variety. I also overlapped the stamped trees.
After applying the foliage I used the scraps to apply brown paint for trunks. After drying the sponges provided a credible forest. After adding trees, ground cover, buildings, gravel, etc. to the terrain of the layout in front of the newly minted backdrop, the background blended the transition to the backdrop effectively.
Although the effect looks better with model trees directly in front of the backdrop, it still suffices without them, especially in photographs.
A little creativity solved my tree problems, now if I can just figure out how to add birds…