Sunday, December 29, 2013

Rock on!

Sometime last spring, I made my first attempt at hand carving rocks. There was an area around the spur to Dry Creek Coal #2 at Summit Springs where I wanted a rock face, in part because of how steep the hillside is here. I also wanted to experiment here before attempting to carve the rocks around the tunnel portal at the entrance to Brocks Gap Tunnel. This is a large area, and I'd like it to be a signature scene on the layout. Therefore, practicing a little before attempting this project seemed to make sense, especially since I've never done this before.

I've collected numerous photos of rock outcroppings and rock faces over the years, so I had a good idea of what I wanted. I had also accumulated all of the materials that Joe Fugate recommends in his Ten Mile Creek video series for hand carving rocks (see this link for the videos: So after reviewing the video one last time, I was ready to go.

The picture below shows the end results.

This is one of only two shots I have of this area, largely because I was never happy with the way it turned out. The color was wrong, the texture was wrong, and the shape was wrong. Other than that, it turned out great! I used too much Portland cement in the plaster mix which resulted in the texture being too coarse. I used some craft paints to weather the rock surfaces. The paints were fine- I just used some of the wrong colors. I got more of a tan/brown appearance rather than the grey/white I was after. And most importantly, I didn't use those photographs I mentioned previously when carving the plaster. The resulting rocks looked it- too much of the same shape and not enough variations. Finally, the overall square shape of the entire rock face just looked wrong. So I knew I would have to redo this at some point.

Well. that some point occurred over the last several weeks. In addition to re-working the original rock face, I carved the rocks around the entrance to Brocks Gap Tunnel. The picture below shows the new rock face.

Some new plaster was added to the left hand side of the old rocks in order to get a more natural look to the overall face. The existing rocks were re-shaped by chipping away at the old plaster. During this process, most of the original surface was removed. This left the light grey of the original plaster along with the darker grey that was used  as the base coat. This was exactly the color combination that I had been after originally.

So armed with a little success in re-shaping the rock face, I set about to carve the rocks around the portal to Brocks Gap Tunnel. The picture below shows the end results.

This time, I used several photos when carving the rocks. The shot below of a tunnel portal somewhere on the  Clinchfield shows what I was trying to capture. I'd give credit for this photo where due, but I found it somewhere on the Internet.

A lot of the shape of the rocks along the right hand side was the result of the original application of plaster. Nothing like a little luck to help a project along! The rest of the shapes were carved over a week period. I'd carve a little, step back and look, and carve some more. Then I left the project for a period of time. When I came back, I'd find little things that I wanted to change. By the end of the week, the final shape was in place.  Here's  a couple of close-ups.

The plaster was painted with a medium grey craft paint as the base coat followed by a wash of brownish black craft paint. Once this dried thoroughly, I went back and added highlights with several lighter shades of grey craft paint. A light application of some weathering powders completed the process.

With the exception of ground throws for the turnouts, all of the scenery in this area is now complete. Here's the view looking from Laurel Ridge Coal toward the west end of Summit Springs.

And last up, a short video of DE 9 headed westbound.


  1. Replies
    1. Thanks, Tore. After looking at the photos, the rocks looked a little too grey to me. Some friends confirmed this yesterday, so I went back and added some grey ash, brown and white MIG pigments. This helped tone down the grey and added a little more natural color to the surfaces.

  2. Was going to say the same thing - a little more darkness on the rocks. One of the great things about photos is that they sometimes help find things we just don't see live. I noticed some similar issues with my recent rock work where I want to fix some coloring. Always more to do! But the carving looks great and nice to see the video.

  3. Nice work on the rocks. I think your approach to shading the rocks worked in your favour. You can always do touch-ups and additional shading over time. If you haven't tried it yet, washes of diluted india ink can really add depth and shading to rock carvings.

    Hunter Hughson

    1. Thanks, Mike and Hunter. The MIG pigments helped a lot, and the rocks look better in person than they do on camera. I've taken a number of subsequent photos, and for whatever reason, the coloring doesn't look as good on camera as it does under the lighting in the layout room. I have used diluted India ink for washes for many years now, Hunter, in a variety of different ways. And it really does add depth, as you suggest. For the rocks, however, I used a pretty diluted wash of black craft paint after the initial rock coloring had dried. It appeared to have roughly the same effect as the diluted India ink.

    2. Ya, I kinda figured I was over-stating the obvious with the ink suggestion, but I thought I'd throw that out there just in case. I think the rocks look great on camera, by the way.