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Easy Indoor Lakes and Rivers
Adding Lakes or Rivers - Here are a few of the many ways of adding the appearance of a lake, pond, or river to an indoor railroad or community:
Pre-built Miniature "Desktop" Waterfalls
A few years ago, I found one of those little "office waterfall" fountains that was just the right size to add a waterfall to a temporary display village. Versions that are realistic enough to use with an indoor railroad or village are hard to come by, but you might keep your eye out for one.
My mother's family always used frameless mirrors to represent ice-covered lakes. You may disguise the edges by using fake snow or small stones (like the little oval-shaped ones you buy at the craft store to use in ginger jars and the like). This is especially useful if you have a round or oval mirror you're not using and can sacrifice to "the cause." Even though the mirrors aren't completely convincing, they add shimmer and a sense of depth to your display.
An additional use of mirrors is suggested by photographers who take pictures of display villages for their catalogs. If you have a long mirror (like one of those cheap full-length mirrors they sell for dorm rooms) use it as a street, burying the edges (and maybe even most of the mirror) with fake snow or some such. You could even draw "tire ruts" in the fake snow so it looks like water has settled into ruts and frozen. Such details help make it look as though the street is a "sheet of ice." The "ice" also nicely reflects your buildings and lighting, adding another layer of "shimmer" and depth.
Lucite or Plexiglass Scrap
The next time you're visiting the hardware store, check the window department to see if they have some odd sizes and shapes of Lucite or Plexiglass they'll let you have cheap. (Most stores hang onto pieces that broke off at a funny angle in case someone comes in wanting a little tiny panel. Some stores save the odds and ends for schools that have requested them, so if you tell them it's for a craft project, that usually helps.) You can use glass, but that can get dangerous, especially on larger pieces.
When you get it home:
- Figure which side you want to be the top (usually the side with fewer scratches; there may be a plastic film protecting one side - if so that side will probably be your "top." You'll have to take the film off before you paint, though, so you can see what you're doing.).
- If you want a goofy shape and you know how to cut Lucite, go ahead and cut it to the shape you want. If you don't want to mess with cutting it, though, don't bother. You can always cover the excess with fake snow, rocks, styrofoam "snow banks" or whatever later. Just keep the "final" shape of your watercourse in mind as you paint it. (For more information on using foam "scenery," see the article Portable Indoor Displays for Trains and Towns.)
- Paint the underside, with acrylic craft paint or latex house paint (interior or exterior are fine). These have the advantage of being easy to mix, and also of not being entirely permanent in case you feel you screwed it up and you want to rinse it off and start again.
- For icy water, use a pale bluish-gray around the outside edge and a deeper blue in the middle. If you want the whole bit to look frozen, you may use the pale color throughout, but allow the tone to vary slightly so it doesn't just look like you spray-painted it. The lucite panel in the photos to the right received a mix of gray paint from my daughter's room, white paint from our kitchen, and blue acrylic craft paint from a craft set.
If you are eventually going to use this on top of something white, like a white cloth or a piece of white styrofoam, you don't even have to cover 100%. The brush strokes can represent ice scratches, and the "deeper" white showing through will add depth. Don't worry about "too much" texture showing in your brush strokes. As the photos to the right show, the texture is less obvious when you turn the panel over.
- For warm water, use a brownish green around the edge and fade to a deeper blue in the middle. If you're going to use this in a permanent display, you could add more apparent depth by allowing the coating on the lucite to be semi-transparent, leave a slight gap above the surface underneath it and paint that surface a slightly darker color. But I've gotten good results by just giving it a good opaque second coat and laying the lucite right on the surface as well.
- After the paint has thorougly dried (overnight if you use two coats), place the panel where you want it. If you are glueing it down permanently, glue it down by the edges (otherwise you may disturb your the paint job where it will show.
- Disguise the edges however you feel most comfortable (fake snow, "craft rocks," aquarium gravel, styrofoam "snow banks," etc.
When you're all done, you may not find it entirely convincing. But when people keep sticking their fingers into the "water" to see if it's really wet, you'll realize that, with the edges hidden, it really does look like a body of water to most people.
In the 1960s, clear resins became popular for many kinds of crafts. Most of these resins come in two parts; you mix the chemicals together to activate them, flow the resin where you want it to go, and let it set. Some very realistic indoor streams, lakes, and rivers have been created this way. The main things you need to know is that:
- The structure you're doing this on must be very solid, because if it shifts later, the resin could crack leaving less-than-desirable visual effect.
- You need good ventilation (and it's often recommended that the room be fairly warm to help the resin set quickly - the slower it sets up the more likely it is to get dust motes or whatever in its surface.)
- The creekbed, riverbed, or lake bottom must be finished and dry before you get out the resin. Forming and painting any rocks is the minimum. Some folks glue sand, bits of fake greenery, and even miniature trash like boots and hubcaps to the bottom of their "ponds" or "lakes."
- You may wish to do really deep surfaces in several "stages" - some products recommend that.
- To simulate a deep body of water, you may also wish to add a blue tint to at least one layer.
I'd recommend starting with a small stream or pond to get a "feeling" for the product. Once you mix the resin, you have a limited "window" before it starts to set up, so be sure things are ready to go and that you can work uninterrupted for ten minutes or so (twenty is better).
All these are only suggestions, of course. It's your train and or town; choose a method that you are comfortable with and that gives the appearance you desire.
We hope to add more photos in the coming weeks. If you have photos of your projects that you would like us to include, or if you have any suggestions or corrections, please contact us, and we'll be sure we give you credit for your contribution.
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