Incorporating Water in Your Layout

The first day of Spring is here – this means that nature will soon start to come to life from it’s winter slumber. Trees are beginning to bud, flowers are emerging, and lakes and rivers are thawing out. What better time than now to take a look at one of the most challenging and important natural elements that we can add to our layouts – water!

Why Create Scenes with Water?

Often, it is the realism in our railroads that truly makes them come to life. Water surrounds us and plays a huge part in our lives. In the context of model railroading it can offer a wonderful dynamic addition to almost any scene. We can use it to powerfully frame buildings, include stunning bridges that have a real-life purpose in our layouts, and bring to life mountain, forest, and parkland landscapes. 

The beauty of featuring water is that there are so many possibilities around how to implement it. If we want to take water realistically across the contours of the landscape that we’ve built, then we can include anything from small streams to powerful looking rivers and even waterfalls. Alternatively, if we simply want to place a pond or lake in our scene, we can do this too.

These are just the opportunities we have if we use scenic water materials. If you have the right equipment, it’s not impossible to have actual water running through certain sections of your layout. But that’s a topic for another day – we’ll stick with imitating water for now!

Why Do People Shy Away from Adding Water to Their Scenes?

Perhaps the biggest concern is that we want to make our scenes look realistic, which is understandable. For many years, there were very few products available that were good for creating realistic looking water. Thankfully that has now changed, as we’ll explain in a moment.

Another potential reason is that adding water and getting the detail right can take a while, and getting it wrong can lead to a significant amount of work to put it right. Many model railroaders simply find it easier to create a landscape by adding trees and buildings as they wish, before focusing on running their trains.

However, with a little work, investing the time to carefully add water in addition to these other elements will pay off in the realism it creates, and will help take your scene to the next level!

What Products Can I Use to Create Water?

Here at ModelTrainStuff, we have a wide range of products that will allow you to add water effects to your railroad’s scenes with relative ease.

The primary option for creating a water scene is to use products like E-Z Water and Deep Pour Water. These will create very realistic looking static water, and can be combined with products such as Water Effects to give the impression of a flowing current. Water Effects can also be used in winter scenes to create icicles and other touches of winter detailing.

It is possible to use paints without water products to create water features in your scene too. These are ideal if your layout is on a flat board and doesn’t feature any raised landscape, or doesn’t have the capacity to be cut away. However, it’s more common to use paints in conjunction with the more realistic products mentioned above to produce the right color and atmosphere for your water scene.

If you want to add water to your layout but prefer to keep things simple, you can create a pond or lake by taking a piece of Plexiglas, painting one side of it a watery shade of blue, then using a clear acrylic paint on the top. Place this blue side down in your scene and it’s done! While this is a simple method, we’d recommend only using this as a means of seeing what water would look like in your scene, and would encourage you to experiment with some of the other products we’ve mentioned here to get a more realistic result.

How to Get Started 

One thing to consider before adding water is whether you would be better off treating it as a longer-term project. For example, you may wish to consider where your water will feature before you even build your benchwork, so you can cut out or build in provisions for it accordingly. This is the preferred method for many modelers, as it forces you to build around nature, just as in reality, rather than trying to incorporate nature into a man-made scene.

One of the biggest things to consider, as covered in this excellent guide, is how the landscape looks around the water. Except for where we have manmade structures such as ports and dams, it’s rare to see water just randomly placed. When incorporating water into your layout you should consider its purpose in the landscape. Is it a rushing river flowing through a valley it carved out over thousands of years, or is it a lake or bay, overshadowed by a cliff-lined shoreline? 

It’s also important to consider what your immediate surrounding landscape will feature. Depending on the environment you’re modeling, this could mean rocks or pebbles, it could feature sandy beaches, or there might be a need for reeds and other water-based plants. To further bring the scene to life, you could include people on a beach, people fishing, or you could even add boats to the water.

A final touch to think about is this. Most water has a source and empties out into a bay to the ocean. Can you include the whole journey in your layout? You could have a mountain spring or waterfall in one corner of your layout, with the resulting river snaking it’s way across the scene to a bay or lake. This would be a great opportunity to make your scene more dynamic, and would provide an excuse to build in multiple landscapes, from coastal scenery to mountains.

Incorporating Water into Your Layouts

Feeling inspired? We hope so!

Why not get started today on formulating ideas for incorporating water into your layout? Whether you want to keep it simple or go all out with depth and realism from the start, including water doesn’t have to be difficult or complicated. As with all things in this hobby, making sure to take your time will ensure that you get the best results. Experiment, have fun, and you’ll have an inspiring water scene in no time!