How to paint a backdrop for a model train layout

Here is another backdrop for a model train layout that I painted recently in acrylic, with some notes about tools and techniques. I hope you will find my notes and photographs useful. I am finding the challenge of painting such a wide landscape very good for developing my painting skills.

acrylic paints, a palette, brushes, lichen , water and mixing tray

Tools – acrylic paints, a palette, brushes, lichen , water and mixing tray

I use cheap brushes and acrylic craft paint. Some brands are easier to mix, and they go on the board smoothly. Try a few to find a brand that you like.

The scene for this backdrop is a limestone quarry in South Australia, with distant mountains and scattered bushes and trees on low hills. The two large panels of MDF were painted with undercoat and a layer of sky blue interior house paint.

background mountains and plain - with white area for the limestone quarry

The first stage – background – with white area for the limestone quarry

section of panel with a tree and bushes

The second stage – painting trees and bushes with a small brush, and dabbing in bushes with lichen dipped in paint

The colours for the background scenery are quite grey. The mountains and the middle area are both mixed from cobalt, cerulean and orange with white. The orange and grey are complementary colours so when they are mixed they become more grey.

I use lichen (which is used for the model scenery) to dip in paint and dab on for leaves and bushes. I find the results more convincing than sea sponges and cork which I’ve used previously. The small bushes and trees follow the contours of the slopes.

The large trees and trunks for the small trees are painted in a mix of cobalt, burnt sienna and white, using a fine brush.

two trees with small leaves

Using lichen dipped in paint to add leaves to the trees

round brush with hairs divided and trees with leaves

A small brush is used for some leaves and a larger round brush for clumps of leaves, so the trees don’t look too fussy. The round brush was quite dry and the hairs divided to make a useful tool for droopy leaves.

the whole first panel

The first panel completed, with small trees painted in front of the limestone quarry and a few large trees

I began the second panel a couple of weeks after finishing the first, and realised it would have been a good idea to write down the combination of colours I’d used as I had some trouble re-creating them. However, I had made a start on the second panel at the end that will join the first panel, anticipating that it could be difficult to match the colours. I also painted a little way back onto the end of the first panel when I moved on to the second one. Anyway once there are some model trees and bushes in front of the join any small differences in colour should not be too noticeable.

The two panels with painting tools

Using the first panel to check colours in the second panel and make sure they connect well

Section of the first panel, in place behind the track

Section of the first panel, in place behind the track

Second panel completed

Second panel completed

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3 thoughts on “How to paint a backdrop for a model train layout

  1. ‘Maren, I am jealous! As I contemplate my layout design the background generates quite a lot of uneasiness. I am decent when it comes to rolling on the wall paint but the kind of work you do is so far out of my scope. Very nice work!

    • Thanks Joe – next I want to learn how to make model trees and do the scenery in front of the backdrop. Another quite different skill set needed for that.

      • Yes and one I desire to master as well. I joined a model railroad club connected to my university alma mater which coincidentally is where both my children are studying and hope to learn from experienced hobbyists there.

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