Lyon Valley Northern

This site is designed to promote the hobby of ferroequinology. It also provides an opportunity to show the development of the "Lyon Valley Northern": an HO railroad featuring CN and BNSF action in the West. Please feel free to contact me if you have questions or comments at

My Photo
Location: Ottawa, Ontario, Canada


Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Bytown Bobber Backdrop Clinic

I was very pleased to be joined by my good friends Michel Boucher and Ron Newby for this backdrop painting clinic. They had asked me to show them the techniques I used and they were quick to learn and apply the methods to their layouts. They would be a great help at the Bobber. I noticed that they were able to pick up the brush and learn very quickly so I decided to put this to the test in a backdrop clinic for the SLD.

John Mitchel was the clinic organizer and I have to thank him again for the wonderful support he gave providing an appropriate venue as well as equipment and tables for the conventioneers. We were able to accommodate 14 this day.

Here is an example of a backdrop 2x4 that I had prepared for the PowerPoint presentation and also served as the sample painting techniques I will describe below.

On my home layout you can see that I applied very similar principles.

Here is an overview of the LVN. This section took about five hours to paint (22 feet)

Here are some pictures of the folks that participated and you can see that they really got into the projects and did very well.

Now let us get started. The main principle I use for backdrop painting is to give the illusion of depth and to ensure that the colours you see in the backdrop match the foreground colours that are usually represented by woodland scenics products.

The first step is to get an interior acrylic latex paint. The colour of blue is your preference. But may I suggest the lighter the sky the better. Apply it to the backdrop or wall using a roller putting on several coats to ensure good coverage.

Now the paints I use are cheap high viscosity artist acrylics. This Canadian brand is just great as you get big tubes for under five dollars and it is available at art supply stores everywhere. The colour pallet is small. There is ultramarine blue, mars back, medium cadmium yellow and white.

You will note that there is no green. In order to make a green that matches the grass used in woodland scenics products you mix large amounts of yellow with some black. The black has a blue base so when mixed with yellow you get green.

The brushes are also indicated below so you can have the most appropriate for each technique used. From left to right you have an inexpensive 3 inch brush made in china. Then a fan brush 2 inch and finally a 3/4 inch round brush. The big brush is used for green hills and stands of trees. The fan for large foreground trees and the round for mountains roads etc.

The pallet is paper and comes in a tear away booklet of 20. This makes for easy cleanup and handling. All art and craft supply stores have these.

The first thing is to select a horizon line. This usually is about 1/3 of the way up from the bench work but can be adjusted up to 50% up depending if you are painting a layout or a module. You basically want to give yourself plenty of sky and room to create land features in front of your real hills and trees.

Take some white paint and put it on your pallet. Full strength (n0 water) dip your three inch brush into the paint and apply it on the horizon line. Then by using a scrubbing motion left to right (horizontal motion and horizontal edge of the brush (thin edge) scrub it in moving up the painting as well so as to create a light transparent horizon as well the sense of clouds.

Continue adding wispy clouds in a random fashion using horizontal strokes. Some folks asked about those big fluffy clouds. I recommend you do not make them as they draw your eye to them instead of your trains and they are always in the same place which can be annoying after a while.
The next step is to add just a touch of blue to the white and draw hill shapes. Use the round brush. Make sure that you stretch them out horizontally so they do not look like camel humps. Also apply them so the bottoms cross over the ones behind creating a sense of depth. Make the hills larger as they get nearer.

Now just add a touch of crimson dark red to your blue mixture and you will notice a Payne's grey on the purple side appear. When you apply this to your misty distant hill shapes, mountains will appear. Make sure that you are just tinting the colour as if it is dark there will be to much contrast against the sky. Think about the light source and apply the darker to the shaded side of the mountain and the light (add a little water) to the sunny side. As mountains tumble down use a downward one inch brush stroke in the direction you see the slopes falling. Change the directions and the slopes will change. Do not colour a solid colour. variation is what gives it depth.

Now take the yellow and put a big blob on the pallet. Then some black...dip the three inch brush into the yellow and spread the paint a bit. Now dip into the black lightly and mix it into the spread yellow and see it turn moss or woodland scenics burnt grass green. Now go in and dab some of this holding the brush horizontally along the upper edges of the hills/ Then load the brush and apply small one inch upstrokes and you will notice trees emerging. thousands of them. Keep working along the slopes. until the hills are covered with these small lines that when you look at them look like tree lines.

You can turn your three inch brush into an open field creator by just using sweeping horizontal strokes in the direction of the slopes on the hills. If you keep spaces blue they can be used to create lakes.
Now add a little more black to that yellow so that you get a darker olive drab colour. Brush using the 2 inch up stroke using that three inch brush thousands more trees. Add some more fields as well. You will notice that there are two things happening at this point. The picture is getting darker as you paint lower and that the objects (trees) are getting bigger. This creates depth as well.

Now take that 3 inch brush and instead of holding it horizontally hold it vertically. Get more of that back and yellow mix. Darker now with about 50 percent black 50 percent yellow. Push that brush into the base of where the big trees are going and let it rise vertically for about 3 to four inches and let it off the backdrop lightly so there are points at the top. Do this lots until the whole painting is covered as seen above. Go back with pure yellow and pure back. Use the same strokes, blend it a bit so there are lots of variations in the green you have created.

Now it is time to use the fan brush. Load it up with black paint both sides so that it is mucky with it. Hold the brush vertically. Using the top 1/2 inch just touch the backdrop with a light tap so you create just the very top of the tree. Then create a little upward V just under it so the first two top branches are formed. Then turn the brush horizontally and holding the brush so that only the centre of the brush edges will hit the painting at a 90 degree angle tap the bottom of the V. Then tap under as you drop lower and lower. As the branches get bigger tap harder and tap a little to the left and right using the whole two inches of the fan brush. Do no use any stroking motions. . Do not slope your brush to create downward angles. Always keep it parallel with the horizon.

You can then add some white to the paint and using your round brush go in and apply roads. Roads and streams lead the eye into the backdrop creating more depth. So now all you have to do is put your real scenery in front and you will only need a few trees to create a forested area.

Now was that not a great deal of fun. Practice on a 2x4 piece of Masonite first. paint it over and over then apply it to your layout and I am sure you will be pleased. If you have questions just email me at the email address on the top of the blog or leave a comment.


Blogger Mike Hamer said...

Hi Chris, Great clinic on-line and a superb job done at the recent convention. Hmm...I wonder if I could apply these techniques in my train room on the walls in behind my staging? May be tough, but I know it could be done.

4:07 PM  
Blogger Chris Lyon said...

Anything is possible Mike. However it maybe something to consider for your extention.

7:06 PM  
Blogger Wayne Woodland said...

Chris - excellent post - sure would have liked to have been there at your convention and partook in your lecture. Cheers.

Wayne Woodland

3:13 PM  
Blogger Chris Lyon said...

Thanks Wayne. It would have been great to see you. Maybe Lela and I will have a chance to visit down your way in the future as I plan to retire from the Military in January 2009.

3:07 PM  
Blogger Wayne Woodland said...

Anytime Chris. There is a nicely sized Model RR community here in the Halifax area - with plenty of great folks - shouldnt be a problem to arrange a few layout visits. Congrats on your pending retirement - I myself retired from the CF in Oct`05. Cheers.

4:16 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Absolutely awsome contribution.

6:34 AM  

Post a Comment

<< Home