Adding a backdrop to even a small layout can make the layout look a great deal larger. This scene under construction is on a 4'x6' HO scale layout. Sure, there's a lot going on here, even without the finished scenery, but in hiding part of the layout, your imagination and sense of reality make you believe that there's quite a bit more on the other side.
An anachronism is when an object in a scene does not fit with the time period being portrayed, like when you spot a digital watch on an actor's wrist during a movie depicting a scene from the late 1700s. However, adding an anachronism to your model railroad, like the cars in this scene, makes the viewer want to look more closely at the rest of the layout to find other "what's wrong with this picture" elements.
Install your tunnel portals before you add the plaster and other scenic materials so you can better integrate the portal into the surrounding scenery. Unless the tunnel prototype you're modeling is brand-spanking-new, you shouldn't generally be able to see every edge of a portal that's at the bottom of a cut. Plus, you'll be able to fine-tune your train clearances more easily.
Don't throw away the ties that you cut off your flex track when you're adding rail joiners. Bury a short row of ties in your scenery to show where track "used to be". These ties are at the Mid-Continent Railway Museum in North Freedom, Wisconsin.
Make your streets narrower and the details smaller as they approach the backdrop and they will appear longer to your viewers. You can also help the illusion by matching the angles in your backdrop image.
What color is green? When you're adding scenery to your layout, slight variations in the colors will help give a more realistic appearance. This photo was taken in late May 2003 from the back of the
Algoma Central's er Wisconsin Central's um Canadian National's train through Agawa Canyon.
Once you've gotten to the point in your modeling where you've got trains running, it's time to start thinking about building the scenes through which your trains will run. If you've planned your scenes based on a specific prototype, then you already know what kind of vignette you need to build. If you're proto-freelancing, then you've probably got a good idea of the kind of scene you need to build. If you're just building something to look better than bare plywood, well, think about what kind of terrain you've imagined the trains operating through.
Once you know what kind of terrain you're going to build, how do you do it? Here's one method to get the first landforms in place on your layout.