Getting Started With Your Backdrop

 By Nick Kalis

             The x th in an occasional series of articles providing obscure yet vital resources for modelers in our Potomac Division. Previous articles detailed sources for styrene, ballast, carpentry services, and lumber.  

             If you are dead set against paying someone to paint a backdrop for your model railroad, read no further. If you possess the skills to do it yourself, have at it. There are stencils and videos and countless articles written about painting backdrops yourself. Problem is few of the articles written cover painting urban backdrops such as I required. However, if you are like me and possess no painting skills whatsoever and no spouse with those skills read on. I rationalize paying an artist to produce my backdrop as follow: many of the layouts featured in Model Railroader have been expertly done by the spouses or best friends of each layout owner. As I have a great wife and great friends who do not possess this skill, I face a choice: divorce either my wife and/or friends in search of a wife or friend possessing these skills or simply bite the bullet and hire a pro to get the work done. What made professional help even more imperative in my case is that my modeling is done in an urban setting. Painting skylines and urban scenes is much tougher than mountain scenery. Adding perspective to painted urban building is even more of a challenge – one that I don’t wish to tackle. I got into this hobby for relaxation – not to kick my cat and spew out cuss words when the backdrop comes out wrong. The challenges of benchwork, wiring, painting the layout room, collecting data for my modeling are enough for me.

             Recently, I had the pleasure of having a backdrop painted for my HO scale layout. For this I must thank Arlington’s Sarah Poly and her able assistant Carol Hopper. The cost should be no more than the cost of a few brass locomotives. Sarah asks a great many questions, and more importantly, listens to what you have in mind for your layout. Sarah will even make suggestions for improvements that you did not even consider. Of course, you are free to veto her suggestions – but I would caution you that disregarding her suggestions would be at your backdrop’s peril. What may be more important, she has done it before – both as a landscape artist and as been the artist behind my backdrop.

 If the idea of a painted backdrop sounds tempting, but you hesitate because your layout is still far from finished, hesitate no longer. It is at exactly at this early stage that your backdrop should go in. It is a basic rule of model railroading, that your backdrop should go in early. If you wait too long, your artist, be it yourself or a pro, will be unable to get to your backdrop because of delicate scenery being in place. Get that backdrop in now!

             Though Sarah Poly is an accomplished landscape artist, she cannot accomplish miracles. Your benchwork should be in and your walls should be drywalled and primed. There should be plenty of light in the layout room. You should also give a great deal of thought to what you want in a backdrop. Peruse back issues of Model Railroader if you are in need of ideas. You should also have photographs of the area you are modeling to guide Sarah along. If you lack such photos get moving on collecting them.

             You could save some money if you have painted the walls a light blue. This will save Sarah some work and time.

             I cannot thank Sarah and Carol enough for their patience and skills in seeing my dreams for a backdrop through to their fruition. Give them a call – you will not regret it. Once the backdrop is in place, you might just experience a rush of energy that gets you back in the layout room preparing for an open house.

             Artist Sarah Linda Poly can be contacted at 5260 North 25th Road, Arlington, Virginia 22207 703 532-6502. She exhibits her non-railroad work at the Art League at Alexandria’s Torpedo Factory.