Clouds Forming (in a good way)

September 20, 2018

Clouds over the turntable.

As I mentioned in my last post I’ve been wanting to get started on scenery, and adding some nice Appalachian mountains to the backdrop seemed like a good idea. Using Dave Frary’s scenery book as a guide, I conducted a brief and ill-fated experiment with backdrop painting. I learned that I have a lot to learn about mixing paints. I resolved to take my sky blue color to the paint department and pick out colors for hazy background mountains and less hazy foreground mountains, rather than trying to mix those colors. Then I’ll try mixing paints again to do the trees. It takes a lot to get me to the store, though, and I really need to get some good reference photos first. So that will wait a bit.

In the meantime, on Saturday morning I was feeling pretty motivated to get something done, and so I decided to try my hand at clouds. The Frary book briefly discusses making clouds using white spray paint and templates/masks. As luck would have it I already had some flat white spray paint. I didn’t have any cloud masks, but I did have scissors and card stock, so I set to work and made a few test clouds.

Quite frankly I was amazed by the results. The technique is to hold the mask about one to two inches away from the backdrop and spray, keeping the nozzle a good distance from the template. Having an appropriate respirator mask and ventilation is also key. As I’ve worked with spray paint more and more over the past year I’ve found that there’s a technique to it. It takes some finesse to not end up blasting pools of spray paint onto your subject. Practice.

Over this past week I proceeded to paint basic clouds over the entire backdrop of the railroad. This is a great “break” task if you have small chunks of time. Open the window, turn on the box fan, put on your respirator, get a glove for your hand, cover the layout (there are a few prep steps, but they go quickly), and spray six feet of backdrop.

I had some mistakes – somehow I sprayed enough at one point in the above scene to almost form a drip line. Yikes! I let the area dry and the next day applied 220 grit sandpaper. With some care most of the thick paint came up and I was able to re-spray it; you’d never know it happened if I hadn’t written a paragraph about it here. I also found that if you get some splatter from the spray can nozzle and you’re quick, you may be able to simply wipe it off the backdrop.

I made about four different templates. They tend to get pretty wet with paint (oftentimes you are just letting the overspray mist the backdrop around the template), so it’s helpful to be able to set them aside and keep going with a different one. Of course, different templates help keep all of the clouds from looking the same. If you’re thinking of adding clouds, I highly, highly recommend this technique. It’s inexpensive and with a little bit of practice and care gives great results.

I may wait until I get the mountains in before doing another (final) pass and build up some of the clouds (not the pictured ones, though – they are done). One thing I haven’t tried yet is adding a light gray underside to the clouds. It seems like a good idea but I don’t think it’s necessary at all. I’ll test it.