How to Model a River
Rivers are perhaps the most often modeled item on a railroad next to Depots and Trackside industries. Unfortunately, very few people actually model a river realistically enough to really convince your eye that it actually looks like water. Sure, the glossy surface helps, but it’s also what’s below the waterline that counts most.
Joe Fugate has certianly captured the look of a seasonal creek, with great success. You can follow his progress in his 5 DVD set about his Southern Pacific Siskiyou Lines. I would highly reccomend these sets of DVD’s for anyone wanting to make realistic scenery. (Volumes 4+5 deal with scenery)
For this article, I’ve modified Joe’s methods to produce a wide, shallow river. This type of river can be found anywhere. It typically doesn’t get more than 15 feet deep and has lots of sandbars and silt.
If one looks at the wide variety of rivers across the country, they all have on thing in common: a dominant riverbed color. This varies wildly from the rich oxide reds of Upper Michigan to the Green Swampy mess of the South, from the Clear mountain streams in the mountains to my river, slow, shallow and containing decomposed granite and a bit of clay.
Color is a make-or-break thing about painting a river. Model railroader has pushed black and sand as the dominant colors for riverbeds, and I disagree with their color assesment for ALL rivers, although the Milwaukee river does in fact have that color grouping.
The Mississippi is predictibly silty with a sandy brown being the dominant color.
The mighty Missouri River is raging in the winter, you can see the difference between the fast-moving winter Mo’ and the levied puddle that once was part of the river.
The somewhat fast moving Susquehana meets up with what seems to be the Juanita creek/river, just north of Harrisburg, PA in a hamlet called Benvenue (no “i” ?)
The Kankakee River is green..
The American River is deeper and faster…
My favorite as far as color is concerned is this one outside Edisto Island in South Carolina.
…Finally we have the River I intend to model mine after, the Salinas River, located in California.
This really gives the modeler ideas to branch out beyond the ultramarine blues and blacks and see what a REAL river looks like.
Next, we’ll discuss how to build a leak-proof riverbed for our water product and discuss how to correctly blend colors together to create the riverbed, then finally, We’ll pour the river and add the bankside vegetation.
I used Windows Live Local’s “Bird’s Eye View” to capture all of those Aerial shots.