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Way back in the day, once the table was set up, the standard procedure was for your dad to go to the hardware store, buy the cheapest can of bright green paint he could find, and paint the top of your board with a brush.  And that was that!

In a week or two, I will be painting my layout board.  I am going to use a really long nap roller, such as 1/2 inch, so that the ground has a mottled look.    But, what color of paint do you guys use for the start-out color?

I don't plan on building lots of different scenery or structures or streets, so there probably won't be very much detail painting in different colors after the first paint job.  Some yes, but not  a lot.

Is there a color that is generally used to simulate ground and brush?   A Great Plains type of look?   (If I decide to do a winter scene layout, I'll use cotton white paint, but right now, I am not totally certain yet that I'll do the winter scene.)

Thanks for all advice.





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brown, rust red, black , anything really. Soil is actually many colors combined and will vary over areas.  Blending primer colors(feathering )or leaving a sharp line will show say, as wet spot, once green goes over it.(unless the green paint is very opaque, then thinning it may help make the base shades "work better")  

Just slop/spray some here and there as primer/sealer. (a great time to empty half cans of primer & lacquers) Later coats wont need as much paint if primed or sealed. Colors cost more and first coats (on wood esp) "drink" more paint 

Usually lowlands are darker, high spots lighter.

I wouldn't do a gloss or semigloss. Too "wet" of a shine with gloss for sure. It will out "pop" tinplate.  Semi-gloss would still be pretty "wet". (in modeling, gloss for wet or oily things, semi-gloss for gloss, satin for low gloss, flat for most organic things (unless shiny/wet)

 I'd go satin for a brighter, smooth, tinplate look, but flat/matte is my go to.

Do green over that "soil" and any little holes will hide better, and the background colors add depth as the "ground" vs grass. Each coat of green will be a shade lighter as it gets thicker for about 2-3 coats too. (also a depth creater)

Lionel used to mix in sawdust for texture, but other additives would work too. I'm not sure your going to get the texture you expect as lying flat, the plain  paint is going to try to lay much flatter than on a wall or ceiling.


Scenery doesn't always have to use a "small brush and magnifying glass technique" to look OK.  It can be dirt cheap to try too fyi. (I read about your "fears of the tiny" and think a simple approach would better suit you to at least try out for FUN) 

 It doesn't get much easier than foam rocks/cement. I'd like you to try because you might really like it; it's just so low pressure with good results I can't express it.

Foam rocks are basically garbage foam w/80¢ water based craft paints, flat black, then dry drk grey, then light grey with a 1½" or 2" brush. Carved randomly, burned by torch, etc (light and fast meltings.)

You can't really mess this up. If you do, you paint it black again, then try again. No great loss if you hate it. I do it while the train loops.  (I always have at least one loop to run while I do my projects; large or small. It helps me relax and not overthink or hurry.)

The worst part is waiting for it to dry between coats. I usually did one color a night, maybe two, no hurry.  The work itself is  fast and sloppily "broomed on" if done right.Not messy though, as you dry the brush often on scrap cardboard nearly as much as you wet it.

It goes from paint to cardboard to the rocks, put on rocks with a wisking action. Only a little color travels and there are no drips per se.  Water on paper towel touch ups if your fast enough and don't break the dry stuff, etc. And if you do, you dot the spot black and start again later.

. (the longer it dries, the more time you have before new wet paint softens the dry paint and mixes. Rubbing with a brush/paper while damp doesn't help. Just pat if you can, and let it dry, then try again.

Sometimes its actually easier to scrape off craft paint to get a straight line with the stuff if the surface is funky with highs/texture.

After a few days it can be washed lightly and not breakdown near as quickly. Months of dry time makes it even tougher. After a year it takes a lot of effort, but still comes off (soap and hot water really helps now).

The sloppier and more careless you are with scenery, the better things look a lot of the time 😁  It shouldn't be hard to see what some brown mixed into or over the black/grey here and there would have done to change the granite rock into more of a sandstone. (The plateau actually has had some dirty brown brush water poured on and spread around a few times as more "imported dust" from within the mine next to it.)


Ok, I drybrushed some copper and gold here, very subtle.IMG_20180919_224453

Without shading, the colors will take on a much more 2-d appearance.  I did this without back shading and spent a lot more time touching up edges and retouching to get nice lines without color bleed.  The fade&feather is more forgiving than a slightly off masked line imo.. (tunnel is also the pit cover. Grass on one side, mud on the other) Hard to see, but a grey&black roadbed is there too.IMG_20161221_043224-1

It seems I don't have a photo of "before grass mat" was rolled out on the larger 4.5x9. ... I might be back with one..... and to tempt you with more foam 


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@Adriatic posted:

 The worst part is waiting for it to dry between coats. I usually did one color a night, maybe two, no hurry.

Handy tip for all, you can speed up the drying process if desired by setting a fan to blow across the work.  Paint or glue or anything else that needs to air-dry.  Even letting a fan run overnight will have things a lot drier first thing the next morning than if a fan hadn't been used (ballasting track with 50/50 white glue & water mix would be one such good example for overnight drying).

Last edited by Mixed Freight

What's kinda cool above I hadn't mentioned is some of the green tint seen on the upright, is actually copper playing with the camera and showing as green. (old copper tarnishes green)

Note I broke every "rule" with seams and flat surfaces vs stacking on the plateau footings, etc.  It's still OK imo. A learning experiment I've left alone. Another angle.IMG_20180917_220352


You mentioned interest in deserts? It's not grass, but you can see how the base and later layers change things about each top coats shading.IMG_20200224_153521~3IMG_20200227_033019IMG_20200228_074804~2IMG_20200228_132825~2IMG_20200228_141715~2

Blue&grey stripes, dark brown down low & sand highlights & on top added (the yellow of sand tone is really popping extra here)IMG_20200228_164440~2

You can't paint straight on a surface like this, you just add a color here and there to hide some of another. Short bursts of work and an admitted smaller brush here about 3/8" squared flat brush mostly.  You can skip the "painted rock" type lines or use wider bands or one color band, etc.   (this was actually inspired more by Michigans "Painted Rocks" on Lake Superior vs any desert version.)


A wash of dirty black/brown brushwater takes away the fresh look where paint to too clean to look "right".  If you look close you can still see the base colors and more "solid sandstone" high areas with whiter, grayer base from this angle, lows have a darker sandstone shade and pores. The "harder" grey stone ramp had an extra strong sand brown wash before the dulling grime.


It's just not hard to get a result you might be able to live with. (more "3 color" foam carving.(four w/the red brick wall, added later.)  It holds a ceramic castle lamp and a heavier Santa sleigh (counter weight) and flying R.deer team. maybe 3lbs ontop of a "feather", and not a wobble.  The grass here is a small fleece throw blànket, baby size at about 40"sq. "Moss" is missed dust .


The buildings are foam boxes, squares were there. I added the balcony with a piece of excess box. The brown wood is just streaky paint on yellow paper glued to a matchstick and that glued into each opening. The yellow building is fancy, and has plastic windows over black, glued on the low half, and yellow kickwall is held on the glass with silver pinstripe to hide that. The balcony's kickwalls and frames are all just yellow construction paper.(Lionel sign is a magnet, glass door center is pinstripe, door awning is an aluminum scrap. Light comes thru a hole in the back).  Yea. the buildings/plateau etc went fast, the layouts crispness was harder work. I am trying to find less toyish painted grass shots too. (I think my style is sort of Rankin&Bass makes a "Tool" music video while visiting folk art festivals ) )



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I wanted a bit of texture and some color variation so a quick&dirty solution was Joanne Fabrics fleece. They offer a color I like to call "desert floor".





The fleece laid well on this hard-shell mountain. It is a bit simple and crude but I like the effect. You can see in this pic (bottom right) that I had to "cut&paste" an area of fleece after doing some "landscaping" on the hard-shell underneath:


If I choose to keep this "ground cover" I'll apply grass and shrubs and that will conceal all the seams and tone down the variation between dark brown and light tan.


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Manny, as you have already seen, you ask a question and you can get a good deal of varied answers and approaches.

Having previously done the hi-rail approach (ballast, added ties, ground foam, etc.), for my current layout I opted for what I jokingly call the "low-rail" approach. I browsed local paint stores until I found a discounted mis-tint can of paint that was a grey-ish color. I painted the entire layout surface with this color, which was going to be my track ballast.

I then played around with layout configurations and when I finally was happy, I used just enough screws to hold things in place. This is to help reduce noise transfer. I then cut ties out of brown foam material (I'm using 027 track) that is sold at places like Hobby Lobby. Although the foam is thick enough to stay in place below the track, I still used a glue stick to place all the foam ties. This greatly cuts down the noise rumble from the board surface.

Then I went around the layout and trimmed off the grey  "roadbed" with a base green paint (you could use brown instead), and painted the remaining open spaces.

Now at my leisure, I have used small containers of acrylic paints in various ground to add more "detail." Areas around a factory or yard will have more brown colors, whereas areas around a train station will have a more manicured look with just a couple shades of green.

And if I don't like something, or decide to change buildings, I can just paint over that area, versus having to scrape up ground foam and scenic material.

I also have a number of items designed to be moved around, since I have a small layout, which could potentially become boring. So being able to move some things around keeps things interesting.

Like for example, the Lionel Girder Bridge, that has a sheet metal base that goes beneath the track. Instead, I mounted the girders to a couple strips of wood painted to look like a walk way. These can be easily set down on the layout right next the track. And I can easily replace the Girder Bridge with an equally altered Lionel snap-together Truss Bridge. Many of my trees are mounted in bases made of air-dried clay that I painted, so that I can move trees around at will.

Animated accessories take up a lot of space usually, so I have an elevated stretch of powered track at the back of the layout, where I have a number of operating train cars. To easily turn on or off the operating cars, I have strategically placed a narrow piece of a sipping drinking straw over the center rail where the pick up rollers on the car are located. Then, a simple move slightly to the left or right turns on the operating train car. Move it back and it is turned off.

So there are lots of creative ways to do a layout. There's a general thought about layouts that bigger is better. Not necessarily. I think more thought out, creative layouts are better. 

Last edited by brianel_k-lineguy

Forgive the picture quality as this was my first layout about 20 years ago.  In the picture below, look to the upper middle to right hand side.  You will see where I covered the sides of mountains with green scenic material.   On the advice of the forum I painted everything a soil color before placing the scenic material.   If you are going to do something similar please DO NOT paint the surface a soil color.   No matter how tightly I glued the scenic material clumps next to each other there were small gaps which showed up as annoying and terrible looking brown spots when I took photos.  To the naked eye it looked perfect but the camera catches EVERYTHING.  If you are planning to do something similar I recommend using a dark green color.


You can see some of the brown spots in these photos, especially at the bottom on the one on the right (and yes, my son was young and into Godzilla and Military figures):




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