How to get started

You’ve built your baseboards, laid your track and now you are staring at some clean pieces of plywood or foam and wondering where to go next! Scenery can feel very daunting to a newcomer but is actually very forgiving. It’s easy to correct mistakes and redo sections so the best advice is to give it a go and not worry.

This is an ongoing set of videos (and eventually an ebook) that will cover the basics of scenery. It’s aimed at beginners but will be of use to all levels of modeller even if only as a refresher of some of the techniques out there.

The first thing to do is consider your model and where it is based. Is it desert or forest, flat or mountainous, rocky or muddy, arid or wet? All of these impact on your scenery and how you build it. The good news is that the basics are the same regardless.

I always think of my scenery in terms of foreground, midground and background. I try and make my foreground the most detailed. Viewers will be drawn to this first and naturally assume that the rest of the layout is as detailed. 

In reality, everything blurs with distance and you cannot see weeds or details after a certain point. We can use our scenery to add a feeling of depth that mirrors reality. My backgrounds are therefore more generic, quicker to model and less detailed. The midground is a halfway house with some leaves and details but not too many. 

If you are just starting out, knowing what to tools and materials to buy can be a daunting task. Here is the basic kit that I personally use:


One of the key products I use to define cracks and details is a wash. Check out this post to find out more:


Here’s an overview of the scenery process I prefer to use: 

  1. Start with a substructure that acts as a firm base for your scenery.  Obviously, mountains look very different to prairies but you can use the same materials for the substructure but just build them up differently. 
  2. At this point you need to mock in the roads, rivers and buildings so that they have the correct height and flat areas for the water or road/building surface. 
  3. Next up is an earth layer that hides the base (which is often white, blue or pink!).  This can be as simple as paint or, in deserts, can be the bulk of the scenery work. 
  4. I tend to do the water, roads and buildings at this point.  The buildings are not attached and can be removed for messy work but it enables me to work out exactly where everything will fit and get it to bed down well. 
  5. After this I add in trees, then bushes, then grass. 
  6. The final step is the details that brings it all to life, from wildlife to people, rubbish and detritus to weathering. 
  7. First up is the most important part – the base – what do you put your scenery on?

Base Layer


I add big structural elements such as rocks after the base.
Want to know more about rocks? Check this post out:


I like to get my backdrops in early so I am not trying to install them when there is scenery in front. I do protect them with sheets of plastic if needed whilst doing the rest of the scenery.

This video is going to be premiered at the World of Railways virtual exhibition at the beginning of November.

Earth or Ground Layer

This is a really important layer as it often shows through vegetation and really acts as a base coat for everything that follows. I also add in small rocks and stones at this point:


Realistic roads are such an important part of all of our scenery; they tie buildings, towns and cities together and give us more little vignettes to model. There are so many ways to model them and I have already covered many options in videos. Because I’ve already covered so many topics, I went with one of my favourite techniques this time, muddy roads and dirt tracks.


We’re on to looking at vegetation and grass is one of the most common types we’ll meet. Even industrial layouts have tufts of grass.


Trees are everywhere and there are so many ways to model them. This is the next video in the Starting Scenery Course and I hope you find this quick snapshot of some of the methods I like useful.


This is the next video in my starting scenery course – bushes. Not quite a tree, definitely not grass but a great middle ground for filling out scenes. Model bushes are perfect in so many situations. I’ve used these techniques quite a bit in the last year and I really like adding static grass over the more traditional polyfibre or even using it on its own.


I love modelling water and here’s a quick look at the main ways you might add it to your models, from puddles to the ocean.