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jtrain
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Backdrops are a must have for any modeler who wished to depict accurate scenes in a small space. Seeing that I can't do a lot of modeling while at college, I figured I should start refining techniques. Since backdrops and painting in general are one weak area, I've decided to start this thread cataloging my practice attempts at painting backdrops with acrylic paint.

To start with, let's go over what is needed:

A set of paints with as many "natural" tones as possible including Burnt Umber, Sienna, Yellow Ochre, Crimson red, Hooker's Green, and any other colors that would be suitable for the scene you have in mind. While the natural colors required will vary depending on the scene being depicted, yellow, white (a lot of it), black (a little of it), Red, and Blue are necessary. While any kind of paint will work with the right technique, I prefer acrylic due to it's ease of use, easy cleanup, bright tones, and simplicity.

For paintbrushes, the size will vary depending on the amount of detail required, and artist preference. I prefer to have a couple sizes of rounded burshes, two or three flat brushes, one of which being fairly large (about 3/4" for a small painting, larger if for a full backdrop). and then some oddballs, including an angle-cut brush.

You will also need a palette. While wood or plastic ones will work, something I've been using recently is a shallow steel pan, and sometimes a 10"x10" piece of glass. THe reason is that acrylic doesn't stick to these surfaces easily, and will stay wet longer than if put on wood or plastic. For the metal, I can come back later with some steel wool and take off any remaining paint. For glass, some hard scrubbing in the sink takes it all off.

And of course, you need a surface to paint. For these demonstrations, it will be cheap canvas pieces ($5 for three of them) and a $10 dollar easel.

Overall cost is about $50 ($20 for paints, $10 for brushes, $5 for the palette, $10 for the easel, $5 for three canvas pieces 11" x 14"). Each additional art piece will cost about $7 for the canvas, paint used, and perhaps one brush if it is destroyed while making the backdrop. With the set-up I describe, the paints and brushes should last about 20 small canvases before the brushes become too used and the paint runs out. So for $50, you get plenty of practice!

With that out of the way, let's start with a simple sky with some background scenery:



To cover the top, I used Bright blue (one or two steps lighter than titanium blue).

I worked down the canvas in horizontal motions, adding white to the blue as I descended.

As you can see, this process gives the feeling of a big open sky, with some oft clouds along the horizon.

Next, I wanted to add some clouds to the picture. Instead of starting with clouds in the foreground, I used light shades of blue and white highlights to give the impression of distant clouds near the horizon (horizon being about 1/4 up from the bottom).


After some time, here is the result:


At this point, you could stop and call the backdrop good. On a layout, this would give the feeling of an open sky. However, to make things interesting, more clouds and some basic landscape to make a more complete backdrop.

I plan to post a how-to on my blog regarding backdrops, so I've taken plenty of photos. I also plan to continue practicing with colors, hue, vibrance, water, and light. After about 20 paintings, I will probably be pretty solid at painting backdrops.

One thing I will say is this, instead of finding a specific image and copying it, paint your backdrop to suit your needs, taking inspiration from photos. Otherwise you'll go mad trying to make the painting perfectly reflect the picture.

I will also add that instead of focusing on shapes, let the landscape and the clouds flow, and always have a soft edge (even at the horizon line). The backdrop is out of focus when taking pictures of models, and even when looking at the layout (since our eyes never focus on more than one thing at a time). In fact, you'll never notice a backdrop unless something glaring is sticking out of it. But that's the job of the backdrop, to provide the feel of open space where there is none.

Oh yeah, I wouldn't recommend actual canvas for a backdrop, as the rough texture looks out of place with small models. Regardless, at less than $2 per canvas, it's well worth using as practice!

More to come...

--James
:java:

jtrain
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I just loaded the post onto my blog detailing how I made the sky. This isn't my first attempt, but it is by far my best. I'm trying not to sound like an expert in this, since I'm far from being an accomplished artist. However, I did try to reach out a bit with things I've picked up watching youtube videos and other artists I've met over the years.

Here's the link to the post:

http://jjwtrains.blogspot.com/2014/10/painting-backdrops-basic-clouds.html

I might revisit this topic in the future and do a video (edited down to about 10 minutes of course) since that seems to be a better way to demonstrate techniques.

The biggest thing I can say is that when painting, especially in practice, try to experiment and push yourself. Sometimes it will work, other times it won't. But by doing so, you are broadening yourself from what Bob Ross can teach you.

Speaking of which, there are plenty of youtube videos out there from PBS shows and from professional artists. I recommend watching as many as you can stand to listen to.

And I almost forgot, here are the results of my labor:




The lighting could be better, but I would rate it as a solid B grade as a backdrop for a small diorama. I still need to practice and focus on the clouds more before I do anything serious. What do you guys think?

--James:java:

Last edited on Thu Oct 23rd, 2014 04:26 am by jtrain

mabloodhound
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James, I think it is great........up until you put the foreground clouds in.   They look just too heavy and thick.   The landscape looks good though.

Herb Kephart
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I agree 100% with Dave. Far too much definition in the clouds, rest super.

Herb

jtrain
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Yeah, as I said in the blog post, I overdid it a bit. In hindsight if this were for a model railroad, I would have stopped at the last photo of my first post.

But that is what practice is for...

I'm looking at the next thing to start focusing on, and I think it will be basic landscapes. I'll do a couple more with clouds though.

--James:java:

Paladin
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I agree the clouds are just a bit overpowering.

Not sure what effect the placing of foreground stuff will have on the overall effect, but a great start.

Don

jtrain
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I just completed Attempt #2 for clouds, and here are the results:









I think this time I got it, at least for basic clouds. As I continue practicing, I plan to try different types of clouds other than distant, cumulus clouds. But, for a basic backdrop that is there just to provide some extra depth, I think this works perfectly.

Now I need to start working on landscapes, trees, grass, buildings, and eventually water. As you can see, I experimented a bit with all those, except water.

--James:java:

Lost Creek RR
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As for me less is best with clouds. I would go with even fewer than you have.
Rod.

Herb Kephart
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Better with the clouds.

Use just a suggestion of trees, bushes.

Stay away from buildings--takes an accomplished artist to make them look convincing.

Herb

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Take up Bob Ross' recommendations and howtos, they really work and you may even succeed in painting a small hut nested in your scenery.

jtrain
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Bob Ross is an interesting person. He paints well, but many in the art community talk trash about him for not being 'pure' enough with painting. That said, his techniques for creating a believable scene in a short time are just what is necessary for backdrop painting.

I'll post some links as I find videos on youtube.

--James:java:

Last edited on Sun Oct 26th, 2014 07:07 pm by jtrain

Javelina
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James,I was going to bring up Bob Ross, but Helmut ninja'd me......One of his techniques in painting clouds is to "not" paint the clouds, but simply let areas of the canvas see less blue. That way it's easy to not overdo the clouds. There are quite a few of his vids on the YouTube. Not only is he a master at encouraging beginners with his show, he was probably the most laid back person on the planet. Not bad for a former Air Force Drill Sgt. If I'm suffering from insomnia, or just P.O.'d in general, I watch him and feel my stress melt away. Don't forget when you clean your brushes, to mind Bob's advice and "Beat the Devil out of it"!You work looks good, keep on keepin' on.......Lou

Ty B
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I found this to be a very good tutorial. I lke it so much I used it to do my indoor layout and also my Modular layout. There are 5 videos in the series and best of all they are free...

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wgInYtjXWvk


I also did one on how I panted the clouds on my layout.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fQGdftF2A0c

I did not put clouds on my indoor layout.

Ty

Attachment: m_20141108_160140.jpg (Downloaded 37 times)

Lee B
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I think you're also going way too dark a blue on the overall sky.
People paint what the sky looks like in film, not as they see it in real life.
I knew a guy who had a layout with a backdrop which was just white, with mountains painted in place.
In real life, the sky normally isn't all that terribly blue, it's more an extremely light shade of blue.
When I'm done with my layout scenery, my backgrounds are going to be 2D representations of hills on shaped sections of masonite, with the simple white wall behind.

jtrain
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Ty, great links. I enjoyed watching them.

Lee, sound advice and I'll keep it in mind. It proves how subjective painting really is because I had been told by someone else a while back to paint the sky a couple shades darker than in real life. But the sky itself changes constantly with light, clouds, time or year, particles in the air, and the weather, so really it can be painted any number of ways... except how I painted it because looking back at the photos, yes the sky is far to dark. Looking out my window right now, the sky if a very bright and light blue.

I should also add that the tone seems to make a difference. The sky is very bright, almost electric blue in the winter sun, my sky in the painting is pretty dull.

Recently, I started trying out other mediums to see how they differ from acrylic paint. I'm currently experimenting with powdered pastels. Seems to work almost better than painting, and requires less cleanup.

I'll get back to this thread as I progress.

Once again, Thanks!

--James:java:


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