7 Essential Scenery Supplies
Anytime I have a scenery project to work on, these are the seven items I always have on hand and use on just about every single project.
1) Insulation foam board
For most of my projects, I use styrofoam for the base, usually cut from 4x8 foot sheets I pick up at Home Depot or other home builder stores. You can pick this foam up in different thicknesses, but not all regions of the country carry the thicker boards.
Most people, including myself, can't carry a 4x8 foot sheet of anything in their vehicle, but don't worry. Just bring a utility knife that has a long 5/8" or 1" wide snap-off type blade or other knife with a longer blade, along with a straight edge of some sort, and you can cut the material down before loading it in your car. For example, cut it into four 2x4 foot panels which should fit easily in most vehicles.
Foam is easy to cut and shape to fit any scenery project you might be working on.
Snap-off blade utility knife, 1" from Amazon: https://amzn.to/3wLCE7b
Sculptmold is now the go-to product I use for creating the texture base on top of my foam layer. You may not need to use it everywhere, as if you plan to have a densely forested hillside, just painting and applying grass and trees right on the foam can work well enough by itself. Similarly, if the area is going to be covered by structures or roads, not much additional work is needed. But, for areas where you want an exposed rock or ground surface, the natural texture of sculptamold can give you natural looking rock areas without having to do extensive carving or use numerous rock castings.
Sculptamold can get expensive if buying in small 3lb bags from the craft store, but the price per pound is much less if buying in big 25 or 50 lb bags. So, if you need a lot of it, order the big bags.
Sculptamold from Amazon: https://amzn.to/3HnAwYc
3) Scenic express earth ballast for the under base
Once I have my foam and sculptmold down I will usually apply paint or stain to the surface so the white plaster or pink foam surface won't show through. After that, I usually apply a layer of Scenic Express natural earth ballast which has a nice variety of textures in the dirt ballast mix. If, after glueing the earth ballast mix down, you find the surface to rough, you can smooth it down using sand paper or a sanding sponge.
Scenic Express Natural Soil & Dirt ballast (Medium): https://www.sceneryexpress.com/MEDIUM-NATURAL-SOIL-DIRT-QUART/productinfo/SE0413/
Scenic Express Natural Soil & Dirt Ballast (Fine): https://www.sceneryexpress.com/FINE-NATURAL-SOIL-DIRT-QUART/productinfo/SE0403/
4) Static grass of various shades
The next scenery step is usually to apply static grass. I keep a few shades of green static grass on hand, and mix them together in the static grass applicator so the grass isn't a uniform color. Some brown or yellow shades can be helpful as well, depending on what you are trying to model. I currently use the Woodland Scenics Static King applicator, but there are numerous other static grass applicators available that all work pretty well.
Woodland Scenics Static King from Amazon: https://amzn.to/3jpHeop
Static grass from Scenic Express: https://www.sceneryexpress.com/Static-Grasses/products/1046/
5) Various kinds of natural stone ballast for the track
At this point I usually apply ballast along my track, but sometimes do that before applying static grass. Obviously ballast is only needed if you are building a model railroad or diorama featuring track, but you can also use ballast material to model rip-rap along rivers and ponds.
Arizona Rock and Mineral Ballast from Fifer Hobby: https://www.fiferhobby.com/arizona-rock-and-mineral-products/
6) Supertree/sea foam armatures
For deciduous trees, it is hard to beat Super Tree material, otherwise known as Sea Foam for tree armatures. You can buy these in bulk, spray paint them a gray/brown tree color, and soak them in glue, and then sprinkle them with ground foam to produce amazingly realistic trees. Or, don't add any ground foam, and leave the trees bare to model a winter scene.
Scenic Express Super Tree Kits: https://www.sceneryexpress.com/SuperTrees/departments/1006/
7) Various shades of ground foam
In order to build trees or add weeds or small shrubs to your scenery, a few shades of green ground foam (or other colors if modeling fall or other seasons) can help you complete your work. You don't want everything the same color of green, but about three shades of green, all subdued colors in the olive to medium green range of colors can give you enough variation to look good. You want to avoid high contrast colors except for in a few splashes here or there. Most trees are relatively similar in color, at least during mid-summer, and you don't see stark contrasts in most areas.
Ground foam from Scenic Express (use fine texture for N scale): https://www.sceneryexpress.com/Flock-Turf/products/1034/
You can watch the YouTube video for more information below: