Backdrops and Backdrop Painting
eltvize The following material is a collection of the information that I have encountered or uncovered in the course of preparing for and in actually painting the backdrop for my layout. I claim authorship of none of it and give full credit to the several people mentioned in the text and to the many unnamed who have written in the model press on this subject for all the years that I have been reading it. I have merely been the collector and user of the data and I am here playing back what I have found to be useful. In particular, I would single out Gil Bennett, who presented a clinic on the subject at the 2001 Sn3 Symposium, and to Paul Scoles who has written much on scenery and related topics.
Note that the bulk of this material has to do with painting a backdrop. This is what I have chosen to do on my layout but there are other ways to solve the backdrop problem and I touch on those in the text.
The backdrop is a key part of the "illusion" we are attempting to create in building our railroads. Its role is to mitigate the obvious fact that our miniature world is constrained to the limited space we have available. The backdrop attempts to open up our railroad rooms and to imply that the layout is sited in a much larger piece of the universe. Also, that it flows smoothly into and is an integral part of that universe. If successful, it therefore reduces the toy like aspect of our models and makes more plausible the thought that the layout is part of a larger rail network. It also is a key element in placing the viewer of the layout in time and place - assisting him/her in identifying the area we are modeling and, perhaps, the time period as well. Creating such a thing is a tall order for modelers who typically are not trained artists and who would rather spend their available time building railroad models or operating. If well done, however, a good backdrop adds tremendously to the enjoyment of the layout.
In recent years more attention has been paid to backdrops in the model press. Most construction articles for project layouts now, at least, touch on the subject. Studying them and picking out the bits and pieces of the articles that have to do with backdrops is a worthwhile exercise. You will discover that ingenuity abounds and a wide range of materials has been successfully employed. The following list are some recent things that I found particularly useful. There are many others and perhaps, if readers will identify for me similar references that they found to be of help, I can add to the list over time and build a bibliography on the subject. My email address is above. The articles and information of interest are:
- Paul Scoles in the Narrow Gauge and Short Line Gazette Sept/Oct 1998
- Recent thread in the LDSIG Yahooo Groups list on "Perspective". This occurred in Jan/Feb 2001 and can be found in the list archives.
- Dave Jasper in theLDSIG Journal #25 "Backdrop Innovation"
- Kalmbach book "Scenery For Model Railroads" has specific treatment of the subject for several different locales.
- Wide range of articles in the magazines : Model Railroader, Railroad Model Craftsman, etc...
- General interest magazines and National Geographic in particular. These can provide a wide range of images that are of the type you want to do in your backdrop. Also, reference material from the library can assist.
- Natural History museums - The displays in this type of museum typically have painted backdrops. They may be full scale, but even so, you can see how some pros handled the problem.
- Field trips, or as Scoles says: "Study the prototype". If possible, get out into areas of the type that you will be doing in the backdrop and look at what is there - really look. Take some photographs that apply to what you will do.
- Painting programs on TV. (Who said there was nothing worthwhile on TV?) These are typically on PBS and are on during the day. You can tape them. They very often do woodsy natural landscapes that are directly applicable to our backdrops. However, even without that, they still give good tips and techniques on handling color and paint.
- "How To" books from your local art store/craft shop on painting nature.
Why Is This A Big Deal:
Maybe it isn't!! There have been many ingenious approaches used to solve the problem. If, however, you want to paint a realistic scene that will appear to be a natural extension of your layout's scenery, for most of us, it will turn out to be a fair sized effort. Can anyone paint a passable backdrop? Bennett and Scoles argue that they can. Based on my experience I would question that if only because we want to build a railroad and not spend a huge amount of time learning and practicing artwork. So if the question is: Can anyone paint a reasonably realistic backdrop in a short period of time? Then I would answer no. I make the point to indicate that this can be time consuming and frustrating process. In my own case I painted the main wall in my layout room three times before I had something that was acceptable to me. This was basically practice and it was easy to paint over my attempts at representing the Rocky Mountains when they came out looking more like the Great Smokies or sand dunes. Wasn't a problem for me because I was having a good time. If, however, this painting stuff is not fun for you and you want to spend your time modeling you might want to consider other ways to work the problem.
The Possibilities For Getting It Done:
Simplest solution is to not do a backdrop. If you have an island layout you don't need one. Even in this case, however, if you use panel viewblocks of some kind within the layout, as has come into fashion in recent years, then you have to "decorate" them. If, as most of us do, you have an around the walls layout or at least one that somewhere in the room, runs along the wall then you, again, have need to decorate it somehow.
Easiest decoration is to just make it "sky". Many fine layouts exist where the backdrop is just that - a blue sky, with or without clouds. This can literally be just a single toned blue paint or you can get a little more sophisticated and attempt a more realistic sky ( see below). This beats having nothing behind the layout and is quick and easy to do. It also doesn't leave you with a renovation job when you sell the house.
Moving beyond the plain sky approach, to something with some landscape in it, requires that you decide what you are after. The layout theme will usually dictate what is required. If you are modeling an urban location, you will have to deal with cityscapes. If modeling rural areas, it may be farmlands - flat or with rolling hills. If mountain railroading is your thing, then its mountains, etc, etc,... Whatever the locale, the layout theme will also require that you consider the time frame or era the layout is representing in doing the backdrop. What form that takes depends on the detail that you decide to put in it. Its up to you. The point of this is that you can specify a pretty detailed backdrop that will test your artistic skills. I argue against a detailed backdrop for the reasons laid out in the next section. However, as in the case of the urban scene, if the detail is required you have to wrestle with it..
So, if we are at the point where we are going to do a backdrop - which is to be something more than a simple blue sky and, which will have more or less detail and, which we want it to flow smoothly as an extension of our layout's scenery - how do we get it done? There are two choices: photo backdrops or brush painting. Air brushing is probably a distinct third possibility but I have not encountered anyone who has done a backdrop that way so I can't offer any information on such an approach.
Photo backdrops have been around for a while and have improved greatly in recent years. They are available from several companies. All advertise in the model press and all have web sites where you can preview their offerings. The images are available in a very wide variety of scenes so that you will almost certainly be able to find what you need. Sizes range from small to huge, both width and height, giving you the opportunity, to eliminate or at least minimize seams. How do you hang them? Sorry, I have never done one but I believe that it is a "wallpaper" kind of effort. Seek out someone who has done it and try to get help hoisting up your's as it appears to be a one shot kind of deal. Mess it up and you get to buy another backdrop. Overall I think that for most of us, this is a great solution. It is quick and provides what you need without a diversionary effort away from layout building. Further, you can pick up the colors in the photo backdrop and easily carry them into your scenery, thus easing the transition into the layout.
One approach that has been used effectively is a hybrid approach that utilizes a painted sky and cut outs of printed images then used to depict the land below and whatever you want on the landscape. These cut outs are then glued onto the painted sky backdrop. Sources for the cut outs can be a customized photo backdrop ( if you don't like their sky and clouds) or magazines and anything other kind of media that gives you the images that you want. Being similar to the photo backdrop this approach has the same pluses and minus.
If not a photo backdrop, the second choice is painting the backdrop and most of what follows is information that relates to this task. There is one final out in the event that backdrop painting doesn't appeal to you - get someone else to do it. Some of the more well heeled among us have hired professional artists to get the job done. It works great but you have to have the bucks. Next best is to have an artistic friend or relative do the job for free. This doesn't cut into the modeling time or budget, but buy them a nice gift. If all efforts at the Tom Sawyer approach fail, then you have to do it yourself. Note that even if you get someone else to do it you still have to decide what you want and communicate it to them. You still need some sort of plan.
However you do your backdrop, you will spend some of the modeling budget on it. Some might think that painting a backdrop will save some bucks over buying a photo backdrop. Not necessarily the case. As you read through this you will find that unless you already have the "arty" materials required, you will end up spending some noticeable dollars on the painting stuff you will need. Also, the wall and surface prep is the same for either approach so there is no saving there. If cost is a consideration in this layout decision you might want to do some pricing, including however it is that you value your modeling time, before you jump one way or the other.
The Plan - you need one:
You need to plan from two perspectives. The first is what you will paint and the second is how that painting will blend/merge into the layout. Detail planning of what you will paint is a time saver. If you have to splash it on the wall and then decide if you like it or not, you will spend a lot of time repainting what doesn't fit. Sketching helps here and if possible you should do some full size sketching. Get some butcher paper, tape it in place on the wall and have at it. It is good drawing practice but will really let you know what works in the room. You can sketch with whatever: pencil, charcoal, your kid's crayons. etc... You can, of course, sketch directly on your backdrop surface as well - better restrict it to pencils.
The issue of blending smoothly into the layout is critical in making the backdrop an effective part of your "illusion". The two things that you must consider here are: the detail and the color. The detail refers to the stuff that you depict on either side of the divide between the three dimensional layout and the two dimensional representation of the backdrop. This is covered in the following section. The second item here is color. What you are after with color is an easy color transition between what is on the wall and what is immediately in front of the wall on the layout. To have the backdrop run into the layout with lots of greens and browns and then have the layout "stuff" right next to it be all red, blue or whatever ( not greens and browns ) is a disconnect to the viewer and will highlight the backdrop as a separate painting and not as a part of the layout. So, decide which will be the driver of the color selection, the layout or the backdrop, and plan the two to flow one into the other with similar colors and tones.
Fuzz Is Good:
We are not talking cops here, but rather the degree to which we carry the definition of the things that we put into the backdrop, in a word, blur. Blur is good. The opposite end of the drawing (with paint) spectrum from blur is highly realistic detailed representation of the objects we put into the backdrop. You don't want to do that. First it is difficult and demands highly developed artistic skills. Most of us are not John Singer Sargents. More importantly, however, the layout is the thing and we don't want the backdrop to be so good or so interesting or so detailed that it draws the viewers attention away from the layout. You only want enough in the backdrop for it to do its job of opening up the layout room and of placing the viewer in place and time. No more! Thus, what we are after is an impressionistic rendition of the extension of our layouts' world. Remember, fuzz is good, detail is bad.
In the reference list above I called out a discussion that occurred on the LDSIG list. It is worth digging out and reading. It will make clear that how people view things is highly subjective. There are the technical issues of drawing perspective that have to do with vanishing points and such but beyond that you will learn that what looks right to one person will look odd to another. Nothing to do here except to stash the thought into the back of your mind for the time when some visitor makes that cutting remark about your wonderful backdrop.
On the technical side of things, the issues involved in perspective argue for maximum fuzz and non detail in your backdrop. The reason being that vanishing points are a function of where you are standing. (Vanishing points are the logical extensions of straight lines as they head for the horizon.) The close up house that you painted in the backdrop may look great when viewed frontally, but move to the left or right five or six feet that it won't look so great. The reason being is that the parallel lines of the house ( eave lines, corners, etc...) will now, from your new vantage point, require a different vanishing point if it is to look realistic - and so the house as painted, will look odd. What is the solution - don't put things in the backdrop that are square or if you do, blur/hide the corners and edges. Foliage is the obvious choice for doing the hiding.
The Surrounding Issues:
There are some things which very much affect the way the backdrop does it job that get little attention in the press - in my humble opinion. They are the layout valence, the fascia and the table skirt. Often one or more (usually the skirt) are not done at all. If these are to be important to you depends on what you are after with the layout. If the layout is just for yourself, then do whatever, or nothing. Whatever you feel like is fine. If, however, part the pleasure you derive from the layout is showing it off to visitors, then these items need be of concern. The following are some thoughts and suggestions:
- The three items listed ( valence, fascia and skirt) allow you to control somewhat the viewers attention and line of sight and so can help with the handling of some of the visual issues involved in doing a backdrop.
- I feel that valances, when present, are usually not low enough. Most allow the viewer to see the ceiling, the lights, wiring and whatever may be up there. Really blows the "illusion". The trend to taller layout heights accentuates this problem. However, if you are wanting the viewer to have a ground level view of the layout and so have a relatively tall layout, it doesn't require that he see a big sky area.
- Valences are usually aligned with the front edge of the layout table structures. This need not be the case. If you recess the location of the valence toward the wall even a little,eg, six to ten inches, you reduce the upward angle of view available to the viewer and so reduce how much of the overhead behind the valence that is visible.
- The skirt and fascia are required to achieve a finished look to the layout. If that is not high on your list of objectives, you don't need them.
- I prefer dark colors for all three items. I am striving for a "shadow box" effect. Some modelers go as far as coloring the aisleway ceiling and floor areas the same dark color as the valance, skirt and fascia so that the layout is the only lighted thing in the room. Don't know if I will go that far.
- Fabric for the valance and skirt is nice as you can make it easily removable ( velcro or snaps) for cleaning. However, unless your "significant other" sews and has access to discount fabrics, it will be pricey. Other materials commonly used are masonite and wooden wall paneling.
- A common problem with the fascia, which is usually masonite, is that the scenery will pull away from it over time leaving an unwanted gap. I am working on that one. Let me know if you have a fix.
- Even if you don't have the valance in place when doing the painting of the backdrop, have a test piece or similar viewblock that is the size of the valence that you can put in place and move around as you do the painting so you can see how it all looks.
When do you get this done:
You really do need to get the backdrop done before the layout is in place, assuming that the layout is not portable. Its really a tough job to do after the fact. You can do significant damage to the layout when attempting to do the backdrop after the layout is well along. Also, you need to get the lighting in place before serious layout construction starts. Not only because it is a construction/wiring job that may trash the layout if done later but, more importantly, because the specific type of light that you chose will very much affect the appearance of the colors in the backdrop.
Lighting is another subject the has been covered in some detail on the Egroups/Yahoo Groups lists on the web. I have found information on this subject, if I remember correctly, on the LDSIG list and the Sn3 list. Not a simple subject and some guys have delved into it extensively and done testing of the various alternatives. It is worth digging out the information to save yourself some cost, time and effort. In my case, I installed a single line of fluorescent tubes just behind the valence using Croma 50 tubes with UV filter tubes on them. The UV filter tubes are probably not necessary. In addition, I then installed a line of track lighting fixtures parallel to and just inboard ( the wall side) of the fluorescent fixtures. The dual lighting was chosen to provide the fluorescents for working and the track lighting for operation. Surface Prep: Note that the issue of establishing a smooth surface is the same for photo backdrops as it is for painted backdrops. Any surface irregularities will show through the photobackdrop once you "wallpaper" it in place. So you must achieve the same smooth surface here as is required for a painted backdrop.
There are basically two alternatives to preparing the surface you will paint your backdrop on. Put the backdrop on the wall directly or build a surface in front of the wall to accept the backdrop. If you have textured walls in the layout room you will have to opt for the second alternative. In my case, I have smooth walls and chose to paint directly on the wall. Of course, given my artistry, the value of the house immediately plummeted. With smooth walls there is little surface prep. Before I started, I painted the walls a uniform off white but that is not really necessary as the latex and acrylic paints will cover all but the darkest colors.
Building a surface for the backdrop has been covered extensively in the model press. Basically you build a frame out of dimensional lumber, usually 1x2's or 1x4's. Then, either attached it to the wall or the layout table structures and finally, attach whatever painting surface material you have chosen to this frame. Material choices for the surface are: linoleum, masonite, styrene, sheetrock , etc... Use anything that you are comfortable working with that provides a smooth, stable surface and which allows you to achieve really smooth seams, ie, you don't want your sky, mountain or street scene to have a zipper in it.
Room corners are a problem as they are a visual discontinuity. The usual solution is to cove them in some fashion to provide a less 'digital' visual break for the viewer. A cove is simply replacing the 90 degree angle of the cornor with a curved surface. I used sheet styrene to cove my corners. You can get 4x8' sheets at plastic material distributors in most metropolitan areas. I used .030" sheet and one sheet cost about seven bucks. I cut the cove piece about 1.5 feet wide and mounted it to the wall with sheetrock wall anchors ( the small plastic cone variety ) and small sheetrock screws. This width material gave me a fairly gentle curve to the cove. I ground a slight countersink in the styrene to allow the screw to seat and so had a smaller bump. Careful here as you can go through the .030" styrene very easily. You will use more or fewer screws to hold the styrene flat to the wall, depending on how well your wall mounting holes and the styrene holes line up. If the holes are misaligned, even slightly, the material will ripple at the edges and the edge smoothing job gets harder. When you have it mounted, you then have to smooth the edge of the cove material to the wall. This you do with sheetrock tape and mud. See your local Home Depot on this one. Just realize that it is messy - water and sponge to rough smooth the applied and dried mud and lots of dust when doing final screen sanding.
If you do decide to cove corners or door frames edges, etc... you probably want to paint the cove material and sheetrock mud after installation to seal it somewhat and establish a base similar to that of the walls. You want all the backdrop surface to "take" the backdrop paint in the same way.
Doing the backdrop is essentially drawing with paint. If you have no experience painting or drawing - practice. Get some masonite or canvas boards at your local art store, put the same base coat on them that you will use on the wall and practice, practice, etc... Use the image reference material you gathered and work at being able to represent the specific likenesses you have chosen to put into the backdrop. However, don't spend too much time doing test boards with images smaller than those you will be doing in the actual backdrop. That is, move onto the wall as soon as you have developed a basic capability in handling the paint. The issue here is scale. Not the scale of your models but the scale of things in the backdrop relative to your models and relative to each other. You have to practice this and it comes down to your subjective judgement on what looks good. No absolutes in this. Just remember that things get larger as they come forward in the painting and when they hit the wall ( ready to jump out of the backdrop and into the layout) they have to be pretty much the size of similar things ( 3 dimensional things) on the layout
Jack Burgess ( Yosemite Valley RR) makes a great suggestion for those of us who are drawing challenged. He is modeling a specific prototype and so wanted his backdrop to represent specific scenes. To do this he went to those locations and shot slides of the views he wanted. Then, back in the layout room, he set up his slide projector to project the scene on the wall. Adjusting the position of the projector, he was able to scale the projected view to exactly what he wanted. Then, using the image as a kind of template, he painted the scene on the backdrop surface. This is a great technique and can be used on any model layout, proto or freelance.
If you do a museum trip and look at paintings of nature, you can usually identify the position of the sun and the direction the light is coming from. This is a big deal as the effect of this (light source) is what gives the objects in the painting their definition. The problem for us is the size of the backdrop - not to mention the direction changes provided by room corners. It is tough to get a consistent position of the sun for the whole room. If you can visualize a position for the sun, then use it and decide what time of day you have and, I believe, the painting will be easier. This is so, because the shadows you have created ( late afternoon, for example) aid in fuzzing the detail. In my case, I opted for noon on a clear but hazy day. This allows me to "claim" a fairly uniform light over everything but then all is visible. Life is compromise. If your layout design or the room itself provides separation of the backdrop into sections, then you probably need not worry about a consistent position of the sun for the backdrop. Shadows, if you use them, however, may prove to be a problem in layout photography
Paints and Painting:
For the large areas such as the sky, I used garden variety interior latex paints. Get the cheapest you can find - no need for quality here. I used "Rodda" paints which is a Northwest regional but you can do Home Depot or Lowes or something local. All colors can be cross referenced by the paint numbers by the dealer. For the detail in the scene I used Liquitex Acrylic colors. I used both the jar colors ( small plastic bottle) and the tubes. Any acrylics will work and they can be found in art shops and craft stores. Note that you can freely mix the latex paint with the acrylics.
The painting will typically look better if you paint "wet in wet". This avoids the edge that occurs if you paint new over dried paint. Obviously, if the backdrop is any size you will not do it in one session so you will have this problem of painting wet over dry. Only suggestion I can make is to plan ahead and try to end a paint session with the paint at some natural break point in the picture, eg, end a session so the you will restart painting a line of hills whose edge will be atop the dried work of the last paint session. Even with the best of plans, you will still have this problem and so you will have to practice to be able to begin new work without having the paint telegraph the break point. Within the area you are working, work all the colors at the same time blending them together to form the effects you want. Problem here is that latex and acrylics dry quickly. To slow the latex drying time use a paint additive called "Flotrol" available at any paint store - use a lot. On the acrylics I just use matte medium or water to keep it loose.
In choosing the colors to use, you have to decide what "looks right" for the effects you want - under your lights. Spend some time with paint chips - then flip a coin. On colors, fewer is better. A broad palette tends to give a discordant look. A reduced palette, hopefully, will contribute to the muted effect you want in the backdrop so that it doesnÃt overpower the railroad. If you feel that the painting is too bland, you can get some color variety by using different tones rather than using lots of different colors. Get the tones you want by mixing the base color with white or gray - stay away from black as it is usually too powerful. .
For the sky, I used three colors and blended them together going light ( table height) to dark (ceiling).. You will need several rollers for this. Start with the light and work up to the dark. Colors were: Rodda Clear Sky ( #537), Ice Cold (#539), Bar Harbor ( #540). In addition I bought a Petal White ( #907) which is the white I use in the scene as well. I used a small band of the dark at the top and small band of the very light whitish blue just above the mountains with the bulk of the sky area done in the middle blue color. I made the transition areas large and varied across the wall. Most guys do clouds but I decided not to. I feel that they usually are not very credible ( my opinion). I opted instead for a hazy look. Remember, I have limited the amount of sky the viewer gets because of my valence. If you want clouds use the research material on backdrops. You will uncover several techniques in the model press. There are also cloud templates available commercially that do a good job and simplify the task..
Colors to be used in the backdrop scene depend on what you are doing. I am doing the Rocky Mountains so I used a variety of earth tones. You will have to decide on the specific palette. Just remember fewer colors are better here and always keep in mind what colors will be on the layout directly in front of the backdrop so you can use backdrop coloring that will meld smoothly into them.
Remember things get whiter and bluer as they recede into the distance. In my case the most distant mountains are pretty indistinct and things get more defined as they come closer. One way to do this, per Paul Scoles, is to paint the distant objects in full color, perhaps muted some with white, and then over spray them with a flat white using a common aerosol can of spray paint. You might want to use better spray paint here ( Rustoleum or Krylon ) as the really cheap stuff is more likely to give you problems with the spray nozzle. The nozzle issue is not clogging of the nozzle. Rather, it is splattering drops all over the section of the painting you just finished. You do the overspray progressively. Paint the most distant objects in the backdrop and then overspray for the desired effect. Paint the next closer stuff, then overspray somewhat less than the first shot, etc... The closest stuff doesn't get sprayed. Careful here. First time I did this I was too close to the wall with the spray can and I got visible banding of the white, that is, I got recognizable "lines" of white across the wall instead of a uniform mist or fog effect. Stand back and take your time. Also, wear a mask and really cover the floor as that is where most of the paint goes - don't walk into the house after doing this. Bad conjugal scene will result. Change shoes.
If you can use your air brush in the layout room, you have another way to do the overspray. It may take longer but will give you more control and less overspray in the room. You can thin and use latex colors in your air brush. You need the largest tip opening you can get. You can, of course, use flat hobby paints to do the overspray with the air brush, but it will cost you more. Whatever technique you decide to use to do an overspray, practice on something before attacking the backdrop.
Brushes / Rollers:
Use standard household paint rollers and brushes for the base coat ( sky ). An approach here for blending the colors in the sky is to apply the paint to the surface with large brushes - one for each color, and then just blend with a roller. Realize that as you are working, the roller you are using for blending will get darker and darker as it picks up more and more of the darker hue. Therefore, you will probably want several rollers anyway.
Doing the distant landscape stuff you should use 1" to 2" brushes. You can also use cheap stuff here - just be sure you pick the bristles off the wall. Depending on how detailed your background, you will use a variety of small artist brushes when you start doing the more defined/closer objects in the painting. You don't need that many brushes. I use a lot simply because I happened to have them and because I don't like to be cleaning them frequently. When painting scenes, bigger is better where brushes are concerned. Using large brushes somewhat overcomes the tendency to be tight and paint "within the lines" which gives a stiff and unrealistic appearance.
The size and type of artist brushes to be used depends on what you are doing, how big it is and what you prefer. Sorry, no cookbook on this. You will primarily use bristle brushes with rectangular shaped tips. You will also need one or more sable brushes for blending. These will also be of rectangular shape. In addition, there is a type of artist brush, called a fan brush, which is useful for doing evergreens. It takes some practice but if you can get the hang of it, it can give you light and airy foliage when painting your foreground fir trees. I found, however, that these brushes are only useful for larger trees in larger scales as you cannot buy a fan brush small enough to be useful for the small trees you will have to do in HO or N scale. Other trees will be done with bristle brushes sized to the task and blended with sable brushes. The Wall/Layout Abyss: The backdrop most often fails in its job at the point where it meets the layout. It is here that the viewers eye and brain has to resolve any discontinuities and any dissonant items that exist between the backdrop and the objects on the layout. What to do?? Hide the "seam" completely if you can. In my case, which is easier because I have hills to work with, I will have a low range of hills running along the back of the layout that will completely shield the viewer from seeing the seam. My concerns then only have to be with the blend of foliage, color and scale.
If you are modeling a theme which does not give you the hill option that I am using, still attempt to hide the seam itself as much as you can. If you don't, it ( the seam) is a big disconnect. Hide it with foliage, buildings, RR stuff, etc... anything that will prevent focus on the seam itself. Also, if you can avoid running anything into the backdrop you should do so. A road, for example, which runs on the layout and then visually enters the backdrop is very difficult to carry off effectively. Much better, if you can to run the road behind a hill on the layout where the hill is immediately in front of the backdrop. Building flats, 3 dimensional pieces of the front of buildings, can be used effectively depending on how well you are able to disguise the seam between the building flat and the backdrop.
- Practice helps. May be tough at first if you have never done this kind of thing but stick with it and the facility will develop. Hopefully it is fun.
- Don't avoid doing it before the layout is in place just because it is strange or different for you. Decide how you will handle it and get it done. At least get the backdrop surface in place and do a sky.
- If you are into layout photography, do some trial stuff in the layout room with the colors and lighting you have selected before all the final choices have been made.
- Never turn down the offer by an accomplished artist to do your backdrop for free.
- Get this done and you will amaze your friends - your wife will look at you in awe!!!!