Thursday, November 28, 2013

Rebuilding my ocean beach

One of the features I had been pleased with on my layout in Pittsburgh was the beach scene, intended to typify some of the Southern Pacific’s seaside running between Ventura and Santa Maria, California. It also provided a distraction from the return loop on the main line, which was additionally hidden by being partly inside a large hill.
     Moving this section of the layout to California, with fascia removed, naturally was a touchy matter, since the projecting beach at the end of the peninsula was vulnerable to bumps and scrapes. So although it largely survived, it did get damaged, and in the new layout setting, certainly needed repair.
     The original water area was created with a shelf of Masonite, covered with soupy plaster to make a flat surface. That surface was then modified by adding a wave surge, using the taxidermist’s papier-maché (mentioned in a previous post: ), then sanding smooth, sealing with Matte Medium, and carefully painting blue-green in deeper water, shading to light green near the beach. Some dry brushing with white suggested foam along the wave top. A final coat of Gloss Medium completed the look of water.
     I suppose it’s obvious, but an ocean beach is not like the lakes or ponds many modelers have built. The water is not flat, but has wave action, and representing the ocean’s surface as flat simply won’t do. It doesn’t matter exactly what action is chosen, but some suggestion of water movement seems essential to me in modeling the ocean shore. I chose to model a small wave close to cresting.
     I don’t have a good photo of the modeled beach as it originally was, but more recently, in its damaged condition, I took a photo to show how it had ended up. (You can click to enlarge the image.) You can see that some pieces of the substructure have fallen out, and that the curve of the “water” edge no longer exactly matches the re-installed fascia.

The color of the rock, incidentally, was matched to samples of the characteristic Franciscan sedimentary formations along the central coast of California, and the tilt of the formation is also typical of the prototype.
     My first step was to repair the basic contours. I used Sculptamold for the rough work, and a fine-grained taxidermist’s material, Brandt’s Paper Mache Compound, to refine it. (Brandt’s is available from Robert Ruozzi of Irwin, PA.)  Once that was all dry, I sanded it smooth, sealed it, and was ready to paint.
     I don’t have any record of what colors I originally used, but that doesn’t matter, since I only want to (more or less) match what exists. In my repainting, I used Cerulean Blue, Light Oxide Green, Yellow Oxide and White, using the yellow very sparingly along with white to lighten the blue and green. Even in the bluest area of water, there is some green in the color. This close to shore, seawater really only looks green, but the more blue shade away from the beach is a concession to the mental image most people have, of “the blue of the sea.”
     As repainting was getting under way (you can see the overly dark blue at the outer edge, toward the left), the right side of the scene looked like this. The rocks will get more foam around them in the final version.

     The water surface, not being flat on account of the wave, is higher than the fascia edge in the center area. This makes a raised vertical edge which has to be painted to match the natural Masonite color of the fascia, as seen below. You can see the wave crest also, which looks like a gray line at this angle.

     Once the paint matching and blending had been completed for the water, I went back with Burnt Umber, lightening as needed with the white and yellow, to touch the vertical edges of papier maché which should match the fascia. (Natural tempered Masonite is usually not as dark as Burnt Umber.) The final look after painting was this, with a final coat of Gloss Medium still to come (to make the water is glossy instead of matte), and some fresh white foam highlights along the wave top and around rocks.

As usually happens, the old glossy surface had become dull with time. I gently washed it with a damp sponge, then went over the entire water area, new and old, with Gloss Medium. The final effect looks good to me.
     It is nice to have this scene restored. It doesn’t fit my layout’s geographical area very well, at least not as well as it did in the Pittsburgh version, but I have kept it anyway because I like the look, and it reminds viewers (and me) of SP’s many miles of seaside alignment in California’s Central Coast area. Now to add some bathers on the beach . . .
Tony Thompson


  1. Black's Beach? Couldn't resist, it looks too secluded to not have such activities.

    John Barry

  2. Well, John, this is 1953, after all. But yes, one option is bathers who are, shall we say, underdressed. I didn't specify the extent of clothing on the future beach bathers .
    Tony Thompson