Author Topic: Hand Carved Rock Faces for N Scale  (Read 3658 times)

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primavw

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Hand Carved Rock Faces for N Scale
« on: February 27, 2014, 07:24:25 PM »
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Well, I took the leap and tried my hand at hand-carving rock faces for the first time. I have some of the old WS rock molds, but after using them on several occasions, the rocks tend to be just ginormous for N Scale imho. Not only that but the process of blending them to make a long rock face comes out kind of mediocre looking. Carving was a little strange to get the hang of right off the bat, but once I checked proto pics and kept at it, it was actually....fun!

The materials/tools I used:
-Sheetrock lightweight spackle
-Putty knife
-Plastic spoon
-Straight pick tool
-Xacto with "chisel" blade
-Wire brush
-WS's washes
-India ink




I was trying to go for a "shale" feel but I think it came out more generic looking. Which is ok. Anyone have any tips to add a bit of extra realism? For whatever reason the grey and black washes completely covered over the umber and ochre highlights I had added, so I'm debating if I want to re-apply those.

« Last Edit: February 27, 2014, 07:26:55 PM by primavw »
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robert3985

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Re: Hand Carved Rock Faces for N Scale
« Reply #1 on: February 27, 2014, 09:55:15 PM »
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I'd need a photo of the real rock face you were attempting to model before making a comment.

What???  No reference photos?  Would you start working on a Pennsy Caboose model without reference photos, plans etc?  Carving rock is just like that.  If you want it to look "real" then first, get a reference to work from.

However, congrats on the attempt.  At least you're getting started.  Now, go find some reference photos.

primavw

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Re: Hand Carved Rock Faces for N Scale
« Reply #2 on: February 27, 2014, 10:16:51 PM »
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Now, go find some reference photos.

LOL how I read this last sentence



This was the reference I was working from:

« Last Edit: February 27, 2014, 10:18:43 PM by primavw »
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VonRyan

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Re: Hand Carved Rock Faces for N Scale
« Reply #3 on: February 27, 2014, 11:31:56 PM »
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... Even without a reference photo, those rock faces look dern good!
They look nothing like the reference photo however. To recreate that I'd say get some old roofing slates.
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peteski

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Re: Hand Carved Rock Faces for N Scale
« Reply #4 on: February 27, 2014, 11:44:01 PM »
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I suspect that the reference photo was tongue-in-cheek.  If not, then the carved rock looks nothing like the real thing.  Sorry! Try again.  It does look like rock, but not that one.

I agree that trying to model this type of rock can be done quite well using broken edges of suspended-ceiling tiles.
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robert3985

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Re: Hand Carved Rock Faces for N Scale
« Reply #5 on: February 28, 2014, 12:25:55 AM »
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I think the problem is with the material you're carving.  Sheet rock spackle would not be my first choice.  Actually, my first choice is simple, old Plaster Of Paris.  I don't need no steenking Hydrocal to carve rocks!

Good to see your reference photo.  Looks like a lot of the detail we're looking at is pretty small and might not be too visible in a "cliff" or a rock cut.  Yup, a rock cut, which is most likely what the second photo shows on your layout.  The railroads aligned as much as they could by bypassing large rock formations, but in canyons, following rivers and streams, they blasted a lot of rock, and most rock faces that close to your mainline would be a blasted face, not naturally occurring.

Blasted faces are characterized by the vertical (or near vertical) remnants of the holes the construction crews would stuff Nitro Glycerin or (later) Dynamite into.  These look like roughly vertical channels scoring the rock faces.  Here's a photo I found online somewhere that graphically illustrates this:


Although this photo illustrates a big blasted face, sometimes the blasted face wasn't that big, and was only part of the cliff, so both natural and blasted surfaces would be present alongside the mainlines.  There are a lot of examples of that in the prototype I'm modeling.

What I'm saying is that there's room for both natural and man-altered rock faces in model railroading scenery. But, ya gotta think of what actually went on during the building of your railroad, and model THAT, rather than just pick a nice piece of cliff by a stream and carve that.

The reason I love plain ol' plaster is because it's easy to control and color and texture.  You can color it in a lot of ways, but powdered tempera colors are really easy to use, as is mixing in dirt (after you've baked it at 400+ degrees for an hour to kill the fauna and flora).  Dirt and sand also add texture.  Plaster needs to be somewhere between runny and cured to carve efficiently.  To speed things up, you add salt, and it really sets off quick with a little sodium chloride.  I like my plaster to set up quick so I mix in salt.  My buddy Kelly likes to take his time, so he mixes in vinegar to slow it down.

When you've got your plaster in the right "zone" (somewhere between runny and rock hard) you carve in the the big features first using screwdrivers, sharpened popsicle sticks, Xacto knives, artist's spatulas...whatever.  Splop blobs of semi-hard plaster onto the thinner plaster surface and carve the big rocks and cracks.  Then, texture it using hairbrushes, boar bristle paint brushes, wire brushes of various stiffnesses, toothbrushes, sandpaper, damp (almost wet) natural sponges or whatever else you have on hand, until you get the effect you want.

Did I mention old file cards??  They're great for certain applications, as are bigger wire brushes.

When the plaster is semi-hard, the coarse details you've initially carved will be softened somewhat (or a lot) by using brushes.  For rock surfaces that have lots of sharp edges, now's the time to start inserting and popping the plaster away.  Squarish surfaces can be carved with scrapers, carving tools inserted into the semi-hard plaster then flicked outward for random edges.  Do this over and over either horizontally or vertically depending on your reference photos. 

Rock has "grain" and most of the time it's pretty clear what it is and what direction it's going.  Slate almost always lies somewhat horizontally, and the fine lines can be easily scribed using a stiff fine wire brush.  If the exposed slate faces are squared off, as they often are, scribe the lines heavily, then use a scraper, flat knife blade or artist's pallette knife to cut away the outermost surface to get that flattened, squarish look.

If your rocks are sandstone or weathered granite, then use a damp (almost wet) sponge to round off your carved pieces, then go back lightly with fine brushes and dental picks to make cracks and sharp edges where the rocks have cracked and broken, or are just about to break.

You can texture the plaster rock surfaces with coarse sandpaper too, or a ripped up foam sanding block by pressing these materials against the semi-hard surfaces.

After it's all set up and hard, you can continue to create sharp corners, cracks and breaks.

All of this goes really fast for me, and I rarely work on a section that's bigger than 8" X 8" because of my salt additive and setting up quickly.  My buddy Kelly, on the other hand, will work for an hour or more on a piece, taking it slowly because he's added vinegar, so he's got more time.

Although I can't find a clear photo of my blasted rock surfaces in my cuts at Wilhemina pass, here's a good example of a rock cut and natural surface that I carved from several reference photos I'd taken of the actual place.  This was done using salt as an accelerator, with black and brown tempera added to gray up the plaster.  Washed with India Ink and various washes and dry brushings of color using fine artist's acrylic (so it won't fade) tube paints:


Here's a shot of Kelly's slow rock carving depicting Weber Canyon.  You'll note that although in Weber Canyon, there are plenty of naturally occurring vertical lines, the vertical lines near the track are REALLY vertical, which indicates blast hole remnants.  Since this area was blasted out in 1869, they're not as prominent as in the first photo:


Once again, Kelly's work on the rock carving.  Note that he's got both slate and sandstone, which are common in the Weber/Echo Canyons and are extremely folded.  You can see in the cut on the right side of the photo, Kelly has once again included blast hole remnants.  His shale is very well done, and is almost exclusively accomplished using fine welder's wire brushes, with additional scoring being done with a pick or Xacto knife:


Hope this helps.  Use plaster, not dry wall spackle.  You'll have way more control.

Anyway, have fun.  I love carving rocks and building scenery.  It's by far the most rewarding part of the layout, especially when non-railfans see something they can identify with...rocks, mountains, cuts, tunnels, trees, grass...while all of us model railroaders are gawking at the superdetailed engines coming through!  :)
« Last Edit: February 28, 2014, 03:53:04 AM by robert3985 »

primavw

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Re: Hand Carved Rock Faces for N Scale
« Reply #6 on: February 28, 2014, 08:57:42 AM »
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Eh... it think its pretty good for a first attempt.

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Philip H

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Re: Hand Carved Rock Faces for N Scale
« Reply #7 on: February 28, 2014, 09:27:43 AM »
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prime,
I think the main difference between the sedimentary rocks in your proto photo and the ones you carved is all the vertical relief in your carved rock doesn't match the reference.  Sedimentary is horizontally striated, and there's not much vertical relief visible, even close up.

Your rocks are a good, general first attempt, and I think you have the right idea, materials, etc.  But they don't visually match the reference.
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peteski

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Re: Hand Carved Rock Faces for N Scale
« Reply #8 on: February 28, 2014, 12:27:13 PM »
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Eh... it think its pretty good for a first attempt.

Serious modelers are serious

Did you post your rock carving simply to get an attaboy and a pat in the back, or to get some constructive criticism and possibly some helpful hints on rock carving?

If it is the first, then ok, you did great for a first attempt at rock carving (in general).

But the Railwire is where you will also hear honest opinions.  The honest opinion is that if you really tried to model sedimentary rock, then your carving doesn't resemble that at all.  Robert provided some good info which you could use to get better results.
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wazzou

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Re: Hand Carved Rock Faces for N Scale
« Reply #9 on: February 28, 2014, 12:30:56 PM »
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Yeah, you did a nice job carving, it just doesn't look much like what you were after.  I think the formation in the second photo is much better than the first image.
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PAL_Houston

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Re: Hand Carved Rock Faces for N Scale
« Reply #10 on: February 28, 2014, 08:18:11 PM »
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I applaud your efforts, and you obviously have a talent for this type of modeling.
 
But I don't think your product looks like anything I have ever seen.  (Your fractured rock-faces are more complex, more random than I'd imagine.)
And while I am not a geologist and certainly haven't seen everything,
I think even you'd like your product better if it represented something real, wouldn't you?

Proto-photos are your best friend!
Regards,
Paul

primavw

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Re: Hand Carved Rock Faces for N Scale
« Reply #11 on: February 28, 2014, 11:27:18 PM »
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Well, I'm not going to beat a dead horse here. I'll just leave these here as I had a bit more progress.




Overall I'm satisfied with what I've created. For those interested (and not to start a flame war) I'd like to contradict what some have stated:

-Lightweight spackle worked great as a medium. I mixed it to a consistency thicker than pancake mix and after lumping it on and letting it set for about 15 minutes, it was ready to carve. It wasn't falling off in chunks and took overnight to really set. It is hard as a rock to the degree of having some difficulty chipping it further.

-I'll be the first to admit that my rock formation doesn't look like my proto pic. Being that I have not tried this before and I learned the methods as I went, I sort of struggled with the method of creating Shale, although from the good comments I got I was able to realize I could have used a wire brush more heavily. I'm going to use that method near my creek scene which is still waiting for rock faces.

-I believe someone mentioned my rock faces looked like nothing they had every seen before. While I agree it doesn't resemble Shale, I think it looks like bedrock which has been eroded by several decades of rain. I also am not a geologist so my opinion probably isn't worth much. Although this post was not in my layout engineering thread, I want to point out that NEPA is heavily vegetated in the summer to the point were green consumes almost everything. That being said this rack face will not remain bare and will be weathered and detailed along with other facets of scenicking.

See:


-Finally, yes, I posted this thread to gather some extra thoughts on how to add details to the rocks, and everyone is entitled to their opinion. I really don't intend on tearing down all the work I have just finished. I plan on moving to the next step more than satisfied. Rule #1 applies here.
« Last Edit: February 28, 2014, 11:31:32 PM by primavw »
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wazzou

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Re: Hand Carved Rock Faces for N Scale
« Reply #12 on: February 28, 2014, 11:37:37 PM »
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Ultimately, that is what is really most important, that it meets your satisfaction.
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Re: Hand Carved Rock Faces for N Scale
« Reply #13 on: March 01, 2014, 01:20:08 AM »
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Looks great primavw!
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primavw

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Re: Hand Carved Rock Faces for N Scale
« Reply #14 on: March 03, 2014, 08:36:06 AM »
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As promised, I changed my methods up a bit since I REALLY wanted shale-like rock faces. I attempted to use hydrocal as a medium this time around just to experiment and found it set WAY too fast to carve with a little stinkin' chisel-tip xacto. I doubt even adding vinegar would help matters, lest a team of people all crowded around and chipped away furiously in a race against the clock. So I broke it all down and went back to good ol' lightweight spackle. It takes a few hours to completely dry but is ready to carve in about 15-30 mins.

Shale is pretty interesting (oh god, did I just say that?) in this region. It's referred to as "Marcellus Shale" and stretches from NY state, through Pa, and into Ohio. It has layers of black shale, limestone, and shale containing iron (how the hell else did Bethlehem and Pittsburgh get their claim to fame?) which has a nice rich rust color.

Two of the many photos I used as references.



And what I came up with:

 
A shot with the bridges in place:


And as customary, a Loco for good measure:



And with my pride bruised, I tore down the other faces I carved, since I am way more satisfied with the outcome of my latest efforts. Yeah, you win Robert and Peteski.  :D
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