A journal following the history, design, construction and operation of Bernard Kempinski's O Scale model railroad depicting the U. S. Military Railroad (USMRR) Aquia-Falmouth line in 1863, and other model railroad projects.
©Bernard Kempinski All text and images, except as noted, on this blog are copyrighted by the author and may not be used without permission.

August 30, 2009

Backdrops Decision - hand paint or photo murals

I am at the point in construction that I have to make a decision about the backdrops. For the first section I used a photo mural that combined Brian Kammerer's art work with actual winter photos of the Potomac River watershed. This worked out great. The completed 12 ft section always gets compliments from visitors.

But the next couple sections of the layout traverse some relatively hilly ground with two stream crossings. The first will be a short trestle over Clairbourne's Run. The second is a big gap across Potomac Creek. These two crossings will require special treatment to properly convey the perspective of the run (stream) flowing around the scenery. Trying to get the computer printouts to fit this area is going to be very tricky.

I am also concerned that I can not get my scenery colors to match the backdrop colors. While it is not too obvious in person, it is very noticeable in photos.

Therefore, I thought I'd take a stab at hand painting the backdrops. I think I can handle the ground, trees and details. I can not paint the sky and clouds as well as an actual photo. Here are some photos showing the results of the first section of hand painted backdrops.

I actually enjoy the painting process, so the extra work is not an issue. The computer files are so large that they tend to bog down the computer, so working on the art process on the computer is not as enjoyable as it could be. So....... decisions, decisions?

Work is also progressing on the Potomac Creek scene. Mark was over Saturday and he continued with framing the deep benchwork. I continued some work on it Sunday, installing the backdrop
extension. Reconfiguring the benchwork in this area to accept the deep and long bridge scene was a lot more involved than we first anticipated. Not only did the benchwork have to be rebuilt, but the sky board had to be extended down to provide the depth needed where Potomac Run meets the backdrop. Although a bit of work, it was not difficult and it is coming along nicely. I am using Bondo Filler to patch the seam between the existing styrene backdrop and the lower extension. The big hole in the sky just visible at the right is to allow access to the main water shut off. It will be covered with terrain, or a structure. Alicia came down and gave the scene a "thumbs up." She also said she prefers the computer printed backdrop, but she only saw the initial phase of the test section.


  1. Bernie,
    I htink you may actually get better color matching on the computer, since you can manipulate colors more easily. Since it sound like you may already have the files, print a few small test sections and tape them up. Do a little scenery and see how it matches.

  2. The advantage of the computer is that you can sample the previous image for colors to use on the new image.. but I understand the frustration of doing artwork on a machine that can't really handle the load.

    How much overlap is there between the photo backdrop and the painted backdrop in any one scene? Is it a worry how to transition them?

    Anyway, looking good! Thanks for sharing!


  3. Color matching from one image to another in Photoshop isn't the problem. The problem has been getting the 3D scenery colors to match the colors of the computer printed backdrop. If I had access to the printer and could make test runs, it would be a little easier. But the printer is at a commercial establishment and the cycle time is about a week. That puts a crimp on the creative process. The first printed back drop had a red shift, compared to my own printer and screen image. Calibrating printers and monitor screens is a black art I have not mastered.