Thoughts on Layouts and Colors

Discussion in 'Getting Started' started by Gary S., Nov 19, 2006.

  1. Gary S.

    Gary S. Senior Member

    I was reading an article about dioramas / weathering, and the author stated that in the real world, colors at a distance become lighter and faded to the eye, and contrast is muted. I've been looking around town for the past few days, and I will agree. This is true for buildings, trees, trains, everything at a distance. I suppose the effect is caused by atmospheric distortion of the light rays.

    Now, if you accept this premise, and since we are modeling miniature trains and buildings which, because of their size, appear to be far away, then we should try to mimic the lighter / faded colors we see in the real world.

    I also got to thinking about layouts I have seen, both in person and in photos, and for the most part, the ones that look really good are the ones which contain mostly lighter colors for the buildings, trees, ground cover, trains, everything. As an example, an object that is very "black" up close will appear to be faded into a shade of gray at a distance. I'm thinking that all of our buildings, rolling stock, trees, ground cover, etc could actually be a shade or two lighter than the object actually is in real life.

    Does anyone have thoughts on this? Does anyone make use of this when choosing layout colors? Has anyone actually noticed this in the real world?
  2. EngineerKyle

    EngineerKyle Member

    Yes Gary,

    I consider this. In fact, I think that is why most model painting is done with flat paint. Flat is more to scale. I use the very gradiations of color you discribe when trying to force perspective. This can be as simple a putting the brightest colored car closest in a line of vehicles in a parking lot.
  3. RobertInOntario

    RobertInOntario Active Member

    Hi Gary,

    This is a good point -- it makes sense and seems reasonable. I've recently been using a lot of dark green ground scatter for my layout's grass and slightly lighter green scenery for my bushes. It looks good but it might be slightly unrealistic, and maybe too green? (But then my layout is supposed to be a British layout, and the grass is usually a rich green over there!)

    Previously, my layout had quite a few bushes & scenery in bright fall colours. I posted pics of these on The Gauge as well. A few folks commented that these were too bright and were distracting, so I've started to replace them with dark green. But your comment made me realize that I might also consider using some faded and muted colours to tone it down even further.

    Thanks, Rob
  4. 60103

    60103 Pooh Bah

    Generally, more distant objects get a bluish tinge; think of distant mountain vistas.
    Models have to be painted as they appear at a certain distance; that's the modeler's option or art.
    I see many modellers working under these Ott lights (sunlight or full-spectrum) and wonder if they have the whole layout at home lit with them. I think that modeling should be done under the same light as used on the layout.
  5. RobertInOntario

    RobertInOntario Active Member

    Thanks, David. Good points, but this gets me thinking ... I work as a magazine layout and designer, and I'm often amazed by how colours change in different lighting conditions. Colours can also look quite different in print, in laser proofs, as well as on the computer screen.

    It makes sense to use muted, blue or faded colours for distance as opposed to vibrant colours. But lighting on a layout is another issue (maybe this should go under a different thread?).

    Our basement is lit up via a number of pot lights, which aren't great. I often find these to be tiring on the eyes. Maybe I should change this somehow -- even 1-2 inexpensive Ikea lights would light up my layout better, and maybe even make the colours more realistic.
  6. doctorwayne

    doctorwayne Active Member

    Another thing that would be useful to enhance the impression of distance would be suitable foliage with grey and bluish colours. At one time, I had some ground foam that was green, but with a distinct blue tinge to it. It was very good for distant trees, but I don't recall the manufacturer and I've not seen it offered for sale for quite some time.
    The background hills in the photo below were made by painting the back (rough) side of a piece of 1/8" Masonite dark green, then gluing some ground foam to it, for texture. The appearance was improved (I hope :rolleyes: ) by giving it an overspray of flat grey autobody primer.


  7. RobertInOntario

    RobertInOntario Active Member

    Thanks, Wayne. I see what you mean -- that picture certainly does convey a sense of distance. Colour (and lighting) are certainly important considerations for layouts. Rob
  8. nachoman

    nachoman Guest

    This is an interesting discussion. Colors are much more complex than a child's box of crayons. If you pay attention, the water really is seldom blue, leaves arent always green and tree trunks are almost never brown. But that is how we colored them as a child, and that is how we tend to make them as adult model railroaders.

    We also need to keep in mind layouts sometimes look completely different in photos than they do in real life. The modeler must make a decision on whom his or her audience is and model for that audience. I have seen a few layouts where the trees seem way too green. But I live in arizona, and when I travel to more humid climates, I notice the trees really can be that green in the summer. For depth perspective though - I definitely think layouts look better if the background foliage is grayer or bluer. It only works if the viewer can't get close enough to see the background trees in much detail. On my 3x6 layout, having duller colors in the background wouldn't do much good!

  9. Gary S.

    Gary S. Senior Member

    Since reading that article on colors, I am paying much more attention to what I do. And I am trying to make things a bit lighter than I was doing. Luckily I haven't gotten too far into my layout and structures... not much that I have to re-do. I may have to add some lighter or grayer foliage to some of the trees that will be used in the background.

    I agree that the lighting makes a huge difference. As an example, someone posted two pics here on The Gauge, one with normal light and one with flash. The normal light photo looked great, the modeler knew what he was doing. The flash photo showed all the dry-brushed off-white highlights, and there was a lot more of it than you would expect. I am a firm believer in dry-brushed highlighting and those two photos made me believe even more. One of the things that dry-brushing does is lighten the overall colors of the layout.

    Now if I can just make myself do the dry-brushing, because it takes me awhile to get just the right amount of paint on the brush.

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