We try to replicate convincing scenes when modelling so why not take a look around the natural environment. All sort of things can be collected and repurposed for modelling. Natural objects often need little work as the colour and texture is generally perect. Once you start looking around you will see there is plenty to choose from. Take your time and don't rudh. Visit the areas you intend to model as you'll be supprised what nature will provide for you.
When you can look at a model or a scene and genuinely need to take a second look then this is what everyone should aspire to.
Ballast can be found in many places such as roads to railways and everything in between. Great places to visit are garden supply centres as it will be in every shape, size and colour. If you explain what you’re trying achieve I’m sure the yard supervisor will let you rummage for $5er. A few buckets fine gravel ready to be sifted is all you need. You might come across road maintenance gravel pits. These are an excellent source of fine grave. I prefer to sift onsite which is quite easy but I only collect a small amount the first as it may not be what you’re after. Once its washed and placed on your layout you may find the colour is not right.
Using a coarse sifter, start by sifting smaller amounts and discarding the large stones. You’ll be surprised how quickly a pot can be filled but don’t waste time collecting the first time. You’ll need to place some ballast on the layout and see what it looks like. You may time that it is too dark, too light, too large, to small etc. That said, don’t discard what you’ve collected as you will find a use for it. You may want to back fill a retaining wall where colour is not so important, a gravel driveway or parking lot. The uses are endless.
Many common weeds have amazing structure that is perfect for modelling. Take a stroll through local parks and waterways looking for small fallen branches and dead trees. You’ll likely find something of interest that can be used. Depending on your artistic abilities, you may find your more natural looking trees are superior to things bought from a store. Many little weeds and things have interesting
A prune with a small pair of cutters is often all that is required to bring the trees to life. From there a simply application of water based PVA glue dipped in synthetic green tree matter is how a simple tree is formed. You can also use an aerosol based glue to build up the foliage until you get the desired look. Some natural flowers like acacias are copy to make with powered foam easily available from hobbyshops.
When you’re making trees this way save all the little off cut branches because you might find that carefully placing those on the scene adds an extra level of detail and makes it even more convincing.
Collecting leaf and bark material is a fairly simple task and often local packs and gardens provide a plentiful supply of material. Leaf matter and soft bark can be placed into a food processor or blender until the pieces are around 1mm or to your desired size. Sprinkle around the layout and especially under trees for a convincing look. Wet with spray bottle on a mist setting using a 50-50mix of PVA (polyvinyl acetate) and rubbing alcohol.
Dirt and soil is easy enough to find but you’re looking for the right colour and texture. Take a look at the scene your trying to create and if possible grab some soil. I use a selection of stainless steel sifts to size soil, rocks, and various other materials..
I paint my plaster with a light brown earthy wash and after its dried I wet the scene with a 50-50 pva and alcohol spray. Lightly dust with the soil mix and allow to dry. I then gently brush off the excess until I get the look I’m trying to achieve. If you don’t get the look your after simply paint it again until your absolutely satisfied.
Rock features add a lot of character to a model layout and let’s face it, we’ve all dreamed of that well finished mountain range full of jagged rock faces. Depending on your needs a whole mountainside or just one or two outcroppings are quite easy to replicate. Making rock features is actually quite easy. Thanks to readily available materials such as casting plaster and rubber rock molds that you can make yourself. Latex rubber is easy to find and you can cast your own highly detailed rocks. You will need to apply several coats of laytex on to the rock you’re intending to clone to access is important.
Start by finding a rock surface that provides great features that you’re hoping to transfer to the layout and using a brush clean the rock surface. You can now start applying the latex and once dried you can re- apply. You may need to leave for 24 hours before gently removing. You essentially want to build two molds, one large flat one that can be rolled or pressed into surfaces, and others that can replicate boulders or rock shelves.
Not nessesarily natural, it is a great idea to reuse as much as possible so keep strips of plastic and flat plate as it will come in handy for scratch building items on the railway. Things like bridges, buildings, signal boxes and line structures are all easily constructed from soft spastics. Things like a margarine or butter lid can provide an excellent flat surface. Cases and packing materials are all good sources of plastics.
Keep strips of ply and balsa as well as packing ply because it makes great rail bed ties and can be used to c scratch building items on the railway. Things like bridges, buildings, signal boxes and line structures are all easily constructed from balsa and ply off cuts. Ply is also great for packing up rails in the early stages of building and construction. If you keep an eye out for these items you will come across them in your daily travels. In fact you’ll be surprised at just how much free material is about that will help you with your railway.