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Shelf Island

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The backscene has caused far more trouble than anything else so far (including the drop test when the fiddle yard went onto the floor!) and I’ll open with a quote from Richard Wilson on one of the BRM pages:

"Backscenes are critical items on a layout, they can make or break the overall look, too heavy a scene and it will dominate the surroundings, too colourful or strongly coloured and it will be the only thing you see".


Unfortunately, I read this during my diagnostic stage, not the planning stage. I had treated myself to a fairly upmarket backscene for the layout, which I liked as a picture and which fitted very well into the shape of the model landscape. The print was an artistic delight to look at - and a disaster for the layout. It took over and dominated the whole scene, and I could hardly see the layout in front of it. And, the colour balance was wrong for every colour temperature I could set up in the room, from warm white to daylight.


I still like the print as a picture, perhaps as a frieze on the wall of a room, perhaps as the background to a model railway with a much deeper baseboard. But it had to go. Oh dear.


- -


For the second attempt I returned to John Ahern’s “Miniature Landscape Modelling” (third edition, 1962), and put some of his guidance into my head:


Works of art (including paintings and posters) are designed to hold your attention and draw you into them.

The backscene needs to frame the model, so if your eyes wander past the model, they naturally go back to it.

You can argue as much as you like, the horizon should be at eye level, but it looks wrong, like the view from an aircraft doing a sharp turn.

It is best to imagine the background (and the layout) on a sunny day.

Put the sun on one side (right or left) and stick to it, even if the model goes round the sides of a room.

If you need to paint detail like the leaves on the trees, stop until you can get out of this mindset and into the right one.


To this I shall add:

Photographs of buildings can work well, especially if they have been taken at an angle, to add a little forced perspective.


My second backscene is a Gaugemaster sky, a Peco accessory sheet (SK-34), some open sea (plain blue-grey paper), a couple of photographs of local industry, and some extra hills added with emulsion paint. This is all built up on a roll of “graffiti paper” from Hobbycraft, hung on the wall with double-sided sticky tape. It all looks like something of nothing in a photograph, but I suspect this is how it should be:



Ahem! The tape I used is a thin foam from one of the pound shops. It seems to be utterly and totally permanent. Worth bearing in mind if you are thinking of redecorating, or it isn't your own house.


I cut the back profile boards (5 mm foam board) to fit the first backscene, and kept them unchanged for this second attempt:




I wanted to get the backscene in place before I began the civil engineering structures and the landscape around them. The reason for doing this was to get the colour balance of both the backscene and the lighting rig correct before I paint any models, tho' it has been so difficult I wonder if I should have not bothered and just added a plain sky background at the end of the project. The model making will be more enjoyable.

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  • RMweb Gold

Yes - there are some photos in the second page of "Intertwined Micros" - posts #34 and #37, and in my first blog post on lighting.


It is an excellent product, and I left it in place for several weeks to make the decision, but at the end of the day it simply swamped the layout. It would work better on a much deeper layout - if it was (say) 30 inches away you would have to lean across to see it in detail.


The original backscene was a one-off, three scenes stitched together, and I ended up with two copies from the width of the printer's roll - so I have most of a whole copy to spare too. Any reasonable offer accepted!


I also had to remind myself, this model is supposed to be three or more intertwined micros, not simply one layout. The old backscene placed the whole layout in one corner of a larger landscape, but the new backscene has three "zones" - sea view, hills and industry. I think this will be better.


- Richard.

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I do like that last picture, especially the rocky cliffs in the distance rolling down to the sea.  And I notice the multi level track work too, so this time would you say it's coming together as you would wish? 

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  • RMweb Gold

Yes - I'm happy now.


I am thinking, the important thing with a backscene is to set the position of the horizon to the location where you would want to see it if you were a scale-size person standing at the highest part of the layout landscape. This will help the model to dominate the background, and not the other way round.


In particular, on this model, the track at the rear left is about 45 mm higher than the quayside tracks in front of it. If the rear track was not there at all, I would still want the horizon of the seascape in the same place (but with more "water" visible) to suit the imaginary viewpoint on the highest level (at the other end of the layout), which is another 50 mm or so higher. I do not have a theory to prove this, but it seems to work. If I put the horizon of the sea much higher, I think it will seem to crowd in on the model.


The "rocky cliffs in the distance" are a scrap cut out of a Peco backscene, "Country/Seascape - large", their SK-23. The cottage and tree at the left of the sea are from the same sheet.


- Richard.

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