Sunday, July 5, 2015

Bridge Over Troubled Water

Having really enjoyed my trip to the 009 Society AGM back in April I've made the decision to attend the other big narrow gauge modelling show of the year, ExpoNG, at the end of October. As well as going to enjoy the modelling on show and to socialise I'm also hoping to have the kit for the Hudson-Hunslet ready by then as well which if it's a success will help with the expense of getting to Kent for the show.

ExpoNG presents a number of awards each year for layouts but they also have an open modelling competition, the Dave Brewer Memorial Challenge. Unlike the 009 Society competition this isn't just about locomotives or rolling stock and in fact the rules change every year. This year the competition is all about building a bridge. Specifically the rules are:
  1. The model bridge may use any scale and gauge combination, as long as it represents a narrow (ie less than 4 ft 8.5 ins) gauge, with a maximum gauge of 45 mm.
  2. The model can be any type of over or under-bridge and should be complete with abutments and track.
  3. The model may be wholly scratch-built, or use parts from kits or commercial models, but no unaltered kits or commercial models can be entered.
  4. To ensure we can fit entries into the available space please use these maximum sizes:
    1. 50 cm by 25 cm by 35 cm high for gauges 32 mm and above, to a maximum of 45 mm.
    2. 40 cm by 20 cm by 25 cm high for gauges 14 mm and above, but less than 32 mm.
    3. 30 cm by 15 cm by 20 cm high for gauges 9 mm and above, but less than 14 mm.
    4. 20 cm by 10 cm by 15 cm high for all gauges below 9 mm.
  5. The model should not have been entered in any previous competition.
  6. To be eligible, completed entry forms must be received by 31st August 2015.
  7. To be eligible, models must be presented for judging at Expo Narrow Gauge 2015.
  8. A prize, including one year’s subscription to Narrow Gauge World, will be awarded to the winner.
  9. The judges’ decision is final.
Given that I still find producing effective scenery a lot more challenging that building wagons etc. I thought building a small diorama (with a bridge) to a deadline would be a good idea. I had originally thought about building something in O14 so I would have somewhere to display the Clayton battery locomotive, but as I'll be travelling down on the train I'm thinking a small diorama would be better especially as it's going to need a sturdy box to transport it.

I have decided what I'm modelling but for now I'm planning on keeping it as a surprise for the day. I will, however, blog about the build as I go along as there will be a number of experiments that I'll need to make before committing to the final version. Without describing the bridge in detail I can say it's fairly decrepit looking and crosses peat coloured water. This means that I need to be able to model (among other things) peaty water and sleepers that have been weathered almost to a silver colour.

Having never tried to model water before I decided that this was likely to be the main problem I'd have to overcome. There are a number of products available for modelling water but they all seem to produce crystal clear water which isn't what I wanted. Asking around on the forums and most people suggested that I'd be best using a number of layers of yacht varnish to create the effect I wanted but I've never had much luck varnishing furniture so I didn't really fancy this route. The other option was to add colour between layers or into the water products, but again I couldn't find many people who had done this to model what I was after; the one exception being the stream on Tom Dauben's Dunbracken layout (a good photo of the stream can be found here). Tom told me that he'd used the Woodland Scenics Realistic Water and Water Effects products to create the stream with colouring applied to the stream bed and between a few layers. Armed with this information I set out to do an experiment or two.

My original intention had been to paint the stream bed (in this experiment a bit of white card) and then pour the water to see how it worked, but while browsing in WH Smiths I discovered that Winsor & Newton do a peat brown ink. So armed with the ink, some paints, and the Realistic Water I did an experiment. I first painted patches of the ink and burnt umber acrylic paint on the cardboard. I then coloured the water using a few drops of ink before pouring it onto the cardboard (the weird chunk at the top I'll come back to). The colour looks better in real life and what I've found is that the ink works well not just for colouring the water but helping simulate depth where I used it to paint the cardboard. the burnt umber patch seems too dark and different from the water to be believable, although that could just be because you can see the edges so clearly. The weird chunk is because I had a little bit of the mixture left so added a bit more ink to make it darker and then left it to dry in the pot. Once dried I removed it from the pot and decided it was way too dark. Unfortunately I then put it down on top of the experimental pour and left it there overnight. The following morning it was stuck. Anyway I'm really happy with this first experiment. Obviously I'll need to repeat it using some proper scenic materials (i.e. plaster) for the stream bed, and probably multiple layers of water to get more depth but it certainly appears to have promise.

As some of you may remember it took me quite a few attempts to get a well worn wood effect sorted when painting wagons and they are a very different colour than exposed sleepers would turn (or at least I think so looking at photos etc.), so I wasn't looking forward to coming up with a new approach, but I think I've found something that works reasonably well.

The sleepers aren't the right size as I just chopped up and distressed some coffee stirrers but hopefully the painting will work regardless of the size. I started by soaking them for a minute or so in a 10:1 mixture of isopropanol and Indian ink. This doesn't turn them jet black but allows the ink to settle into distressed bits of wood quite well. I then painted the sleeper using the peat brown ink used for the water. The black sections show through giving a nice variation and depth to the cracks etc. I then followed this by dry brushing with dark sand, ivory, and finally gun metal. This approach seems to work nicely as close to you can see lots of the grain and colour variation, yet when viewed from a distance, especially with the light falling on them, they look very light in colour which matches what I was hoping for.

So I might not have actually modelled anything but hopefully I now have a good idea of most of the techniques (although not all) that I'll need to complete the bridge for the challenge.


  1. I think your sleepers look pretty much spot-on and the last application of gunmetal is definitely the way to go. I lost half an hour thanks to your link to Tom Dauben's Flickr :-)...excellent and very inspirational. His water effects are quite something. I don't have this magazine any more, or I would copy it for you, but there was a really good article in MRJ #164 (2006) by Phillip Harvey considering how to model water and it is well worth a read. So...the bridge...I am guessing a Scottish narrow gauge railway...

    1. Thanks Iain, the gun metal as the last dry brushing was from one of your suggestions when I was doing the wagons so glad you think it seems to have done the trick.

      I'll hunt out a copy of MRJ #164 as any further tips etc. on the water are bound to be useful. I feel water is one of those things that can make or break a layout so I want to try and get it right; one of the reasons for a small diorama rather than starting with something on a large layout. Tom's recent work on his new layout (which I'm guessing you found) shows just how effective well done water can be.

    2. Iain, you were right the article in MRJ #164 is very interesting and gives quite a few ideas for differing types and approaches to water. It will be especially useful if I ever try modelling a larger river or lake.

    3. I'm really glad that the article was useful, Mark! Phillip Harvey is an interesting chap, he has built a magnificent freelance model railway...the structures on it are breathtaking...he was featured in a previous MRJ, I will have to look that one out.

  2. That looks like murky water to me.

    1. Thanks Adrian. It looks even better in real life as it has less of a red tinge to it and so looks much closer to peaty water.

  3. I made a jelly that looked like that! I can send you as much peaty water as you want. Then all you have to do is add gelatine!

    1. I have to say I did wonder at one point if I could get Old Crafty Hen to solidify!

    2. I've got a bottle of that too!

  4. I wondered what had happened to Basil Brush... good to see he's still getting work. :-) I haven't tried the Old Crafty Hen... yet...