Railway Modellers

Meeting 4th October 2018.


Scenic modelling and backscenes - Talk by Mike Raithby

Mike Raitby gave an extremely interesting talk and demonstration to a large turnout of members and guests on how backscenes and railway scenery on a model railway layout can be transformed by creating a three dimensional image of the scene the modeller is trying to create. His approach to this aspect of modelling was to create a scene with the railway in it and to attempt to create an appropriate illusion in making an overall picture.

He began, however, by outlining his early membership of the Manchester Model Railway Society and his association with that group in a number of layouts, particularly a fine scale N gauge layout called Chee Tor which depicted a fictional scene in the Peak District.  He was keen at that time to develop techniques to improve the scenic elements of the layout and the backscene by applying 3d effects.  Incidentally, there is a fine video of Chee Tor available on You Tube if you want to see some of the effects created, although it is more directed at the operational side of the railway than the scenic elements.

For the next section of this article you will find it more helpful and certainly more informative if you refer to the attached slides Mike has kindly permitted our Association to use in this article; they do so much more to illustrate the techniques he was promoting.

In his talk Mike emphasised how important it was to introduce in a layout a sense of perspective and he identified a number of ways this illusion could be used to create more realistic scenery and backscenes:

Start by splitting the layout scene into three elements of foreground, middle ground and background and painting each element in appropriate tones and sizes

Introduce an eye level which figured throughout the depth of the layout from front to back

Making elements of the scene appropriately smaller as the viewer’s eye travelled to the rear of the layout

Using light and shade and shadows around buildings to give a 3d effect

When looking at a layout from an aerial perspective an illusion of distance and depth can be achieved by applying lighter tones of paint at the rear of the layout and as one moved to the front of the layout the tones of paint progressively darken. The same technique can be applied to the sky and clouds which at the rear are lighter and darker at the front when clouds are overhead.

Mike interestingly also referred to the practical implications of creating these effects. Backscene material was preferably made of plywood; MDF can be used but it has a tendency to splinter at the edges when being transported. Several coats of white acrylic (or emulsion) paints should be applied for a sound paintable base for the backscene. Acrylics were preferred as they were waterproof and cleanable.  He recommended small tubes of acrylic not of the high quality artist level which were not needed for this kind of work but a mid range such as the Galeria paints. The very cheap acrylics were not recommended as they contained less pigment and differing colours did not mix too well. Any thinning of paint should preferably be done by using a proper acrylic thinner and not water and a special medium could be used to slow down a little the drying time of acrylics. A good range of brushes bought in a pack from half inch to one inch for background work and finer ones for more detailed work were necessary.

Mike’s slide on materials and paints is particularly useful as it shows the mix of colours to achieve differing tonal effects.

After a break for tea Mike came into his own by demonstrating his skills of making a scene by mixing paints to show the effects he had shown on his excellent slides. As ever the artist made it all look so easy but Mike urged us all to have a go and said you might be surprised at what you can achieve.

Peter Cox, our Chairman, thanked Mike for an excellent talk and practical demonstration.

David Evans

October 2018.


Mike has kindly allowed us to publish some of his presentation slides.