This week’s modeling project is an easy addition that will greatly improve the overall look of the diorama. What the fascia did for the edges of the display, a basic coat of groundcover will do for the platform itself.
Adding a Culvert
Before we sprinkle on the dirt, grass and leaves, a quick detail is needed at the base of the fill that carries the track bed above a small stream. One advantage of the foam base is how easily modifications can be made. You can buy culvert details in many scales, but they are also easy to make from scratch from a small piece of bass wood and a soda straw.
First, cut a groove for the culvert in the foam using a utility knife. Cut the groove from bank to bank, about 1 inch up from the stream bed. and at least 1/4″ into the base. The exact width and height of your culvert will depend on your scenery. The beauty of building from scratch is that you can make each culvert fit the unique terrain just like the prototype.
Cut a piece of wood the size of the groove. 1/8″ thick bass wood works well. Test fit the wood and trim either the wood or foam as necessary for a proper fit.
The pipe of the culvert will be simulated with a soda straw. With the wood in place, drill a hole the same diameter as the straw through the culvert and about 1 inch into the foam. The foam behind the culvert will help prevent the wood from splitting.
Paint the straw and wood a light tan or gray to simulate concrete. Concrete color changes with age, so there is room for improvisation here. I chose an inexpensive can of almond colored spray paint.
Glue the wood to the foam with wood or tacky craft glue then finish by inserting the straw and fixing with a tiny bit of glue. Don’t forget to make one for the other side,
There are many options for covering our model landscapes. A trip to your dealer will turn up many options for grass, dirt, stone, weeds and more. And you can find all of this in a multitude of colors to recreate any season and any locale. Our diorama is going to be set in winter. When we think winter, a thick white blanket of snow comes to mind. We will add some snow to our scene in coming weeks as the final scenic step, but there are many snow-less winter days. These brown and gray “hazy shade of winter” days are seldom modeled compared to verdant green summer or colorful fall settings.
As you’ll see, there is great potential and beauty in modeling the forgotten season. The techniques presented today will work for any time of year however – just change the colors to suit your needs.
Making Your Own
For our winter scene, the ground needs some fallen leaves. The best way to simulate the varied colors of dead leaves is dead leaves. All you need is a small pile of leaves and a blender. *Even the most forgiving of cooks will probably not approve of using their kitchen tool for grinding dead leaves from the back yard. A new basic blender can be found for around $20. A savvy yard sale and thrift store shopper can probably pick one up for even less. If you plan on doing a larger layout, it is a good investment.
There is no secret art to making small leaves from big ones. Put a few leaves in the bottom of the blender and grind them up until they get to the right size. It is easiest to work in small batches. Pour the ground leaves into a plastic cup until you’re ready to add them to the scene.
Dirt, small twigs and stones also make good scenic material straight from the ground. Best of all, it’s free!
To fix groundcover to the scenery, first apply a thin coat of white glue (full strength) to the platform or scenic base you want to cover. Spread the glue with an old brush, or just have fun and use your fingers. Keep glue off the faces of rocks and other details where you don’t want groundcover.
Next, sprinkle on the covering. You can use the ground leaves and natural dirt, as well as commercial products like ground foam, ballast, sand, etc. Protect areas like the road and fascia panels with tape or plastic to prevent splatter for this and the following step. You can mix-sand-match products for any look. Mixing color and texture helps create a more realistic scene.
Once satisfied with the look, spray the area with 70% isopropyl alcohol. This will help the glue flow into the groundcover and not bead.
Finally, secure the groundcover with a diluted mixture of white glue (50% glue, 50% water) or matte medium. You can use a spray bottle or dribble it on with a pipette. An old glue bottle also works well. Glue thoroughly – it will dry clear.
While the glue is still damp, use commercial tall grass and weeds to make tufts of taller grass. You can also use twine as an inexpensive alternative. Glue tufts wherever you’d like. Taller grasses tend to grow near streams or low-lying areas. It is not uncommon in winter to see many of these grasses laying matted on the ground as well. You can secure larger objects like shrubs, larger rocks or twigs to represent fallen trees with straight white glue.
For best results, work in small areas at a time. I finished this diorama in four sections, working back to front. Even doing small patches, the work goes quickly once you have the materials on hand. Next week we’ll put down some rails – and show how you can improve the look of older track along the way. Until then, Happy Planting!