Design and Manufacture of Fine Scale Models by John Hunter and Laurie Green


by Laurie Green MMR


Lakes, ponds and waterfalls always add interest to any layout or diorama. In this article, I'm going to explain how myself and some of my fellow modellers achieve our water effects. 


Perfectly still water doesn't occur very often in nature, and mainly then on small bodies of water when there are no wind or other external effects. Perfectly still water will have two effects when you view it. It will either act like a mirror and reflect the scenery and sky depending on your angle of view. The other is like seeing through a sheet of glass where you can see all the details in the water and the pond or lake bottom. Each has to treated totally differently.


This is the easiest of all the water effects to achieve and is the basis behind all the other water effects except for the see through effect described later.

Once you have a smooth and level site for your pond, give the surface an undercoat to seal the surface. When fully dry, its time to start painting the effect you want in the water. The effect very much depends on the location of the pond. 

The ponds location could be in the middle of a field, so it will reflect the sky. Thus the effect will be a sky blue colour slightly darker than the sky, with the colour blending to the shore colour at the ponds edge. If the pond is deep in the middle, a darker blue could be blended in this area. I tend to blend these colours together while they are still wet to achieve gradual transitions between the various colours used. When these paints are fully dry, paint several layers of clear full gloss over the area until you achieve the effect you want. There are also various products like two part epoxy resins that a suitable as well.

f the pond has a background of trees and mountains, it may reflect these like a mirror will. The amount of reflection you will see very much depends on the angle that you are viewing the surface of the pond. If you model pond is at or near your eye level, you will see the background reflect in it's surface, while the higher your viewing angle, the more sky that will be reflected.



As soon as the water surface is effected by wind or movement it loses its mirror effect and reflects the general colour of your angle of viewing the surface. 

Before we paint the reflect colour we have to reproduce the surface texture of the pond, stream or lake. Most of these will have a small rippling of the surface by the wind or a current effect if the water is moving like in a stream. To achieve these textures I use a commercial gap filler available at all hardware and building suppliers that is made here in Australia by SELLEYS and is called 'NO MORE GAPS'. This is an white acrylic material that when dry remains flexible and can be applied in a thin layer. It comes in a cartridge and is applied roughly over the surface where the water is. This product is also very handy in general scenery work as well. Apply enough to achieve a depth of about 2 to 3 mm. You can always add more if you don't put enough down first time. Before it starts to dry, use an old or disposable brush and dipping the brush in water, spread the NO MORE GAPS out in an even layer over the surface. As the NO MORE GAPS starts to dry, pat the surface with the flat of your hand - it's a good idea to wear a pair of disposable gloves while doing this! This will raise the surface in a nice wave effect. By working the NO MORE GAPS you can also achieve a nice current effect, as can be seen in the photo opposite. Allow to fully dry overnight. Then paint the rippled surface to reflect the surrounds, much as we did in section 1, but with no details. This type of surface will only reflect the general background colours depending on your viewing angle. When fully dry apply  several layers of a full clear gloss. Using white paint, dry brush some of the tips of the wave effect to highlight the water.


There is a second technique that is great for moving streams.  It is also a good idea to have small rocks, scale tree trucks and other detail that you want to add to the stream on hand, as we will add these as part of this technique. Again we will use another SELLEY'S product called 'ALL CLEAR™', which comes in a cartridge and is a clear sealant used in bathrooms and anywhere a wet area needs sealing.

Prepare the surface and paint to the colours that reflect the surroundings, as we did in technique one above. Squeeze out the 'ALL CLEAR'  to a good depth (I find about 4 - 5 mm is good, but you can always add more if needed) over the area to be worked. This material can start to skin dry fairly quickly, so I tend to do a small area at a time. Using a straight edged palette knife of a suitable size, spread out the 'ALL CLEAR'  evenly over the area being worked. Often you need to use a screw driver or other like tool to get the 'ALL CLEAR' into position. Using the same knife in a vertical action, dap into the 'ALL CLEAR'  to form the water effect caused by the movement of the water by the current or by the wind. you can also drag the knife, pointed stick along the direction of the currents to give the effect of rapid moving water.

While the 'ALL CLEAR' is still soft you can push items like rocks, logs, weeds, grasses etc. into it. If the water is moving quickly, like through rapids, dry brush white paint onto some of the wave tips, and especially on the down stream areas where the water has passed around items in the water. like rocks. This adds to the illusion that the water is moving.

The same technique can be used to form small waterfalls, as can be seen in the photograph above.. The main difference with the procedure above is that rocks or area that the water is rushing over is left in its natural colour. Apply the 'ALL CLEAR' the same way, dragging the material  up and down in a vertical movement. When it is fully hardened, dry brush white paint in a vertical pattern. This white foam effect is more pronounced the more vertical the rapids or water fall. To complete the scene, take a small amount of white poly fibre, the type used in fish tank filters, and pull and tease out until it is a very fine net and place over the waterfall. This will soften the water effect, giving it an illusion of movement, as well as giving a mist effect.



If the pond or stream is shallow or very still, especially when the sun is not shinning directly onto the surface, the bottom and all the details can be seen, often very clearly. To achieve this effect, you can use clear Perspex as the water surface. 2" white polystyrene foam sheet is good for the method. Hollow out the pond into the foam, using the top of the foam sheet as the water line of the pond (the dotted line in the diagram). Scenic the pond bottom with sand, rocks, twigs and underwater weeds (aluminium foil cut into strips and painted green is great for this). These weeds can come right up to the top of the water level so when the Perspex is fitted the tops of the weeds can be glued to the top of the sheet so they appear to grow out of the water.

 Using an airbrush, lightly spray all the pond floor and details with a light coat of grey/blue colour to simulate the colour you see when looking into a pond. When this is complete, lay the clear Perspex sheet into place. If you want poles or jetty piles in the water, drill the size holes required so these can be inserted later. It is a good idea to lay some clear food cling wrap over the Perspex sheet to protect and keep it clean while the pond banks are completed.

Using some more 2" polystyrene sheet, cut and shape to fit over and match the pond shape. Scenic the pond's banks to match the rest of your scenery. To complete the scene, add items like the tops of weeds etc. With a sharp knife cut along the bank and peel of the cling wrap.



There are many plants that live on the surface and around the edge of ponds. Plants like lily pads, cattails, reeds, weeds and even stuff like algae populate a pond. There are some easy ways to duplicate these plants.

LILY PADS - Using a sheet of green paper, available from office supply retailers, paint random areas in a lighter green as well as some areas in a darker green. This will give the pads different shades of green. I use a leather punch which has different size punches, but you can use a standard paper hole punch or sharpen a piece of brass tube to the size required. Lily pads can range in size from 6" to 14". Punch out as many as you will need. and with a sharp knife cut thin V's in the pads. Dap little spots of glue onto the top of the water and place pads onto them until the scene looks right.

CATTAILS - In 'O' scale I make my cattails using thin brass wire cut to about 5 feet long. I then cut 6" lengths of the smallest shrink tube used on electronic components to insulate them. Slide these over the brass wire leaving about 3" to 4" of the wire above the tube. With a hot soldering iron, shrink the tube to a tight fit over the wire to complete the cattail. Paint them a straw colour, with the tube a brown colour. Drill a holes in the water surface and plant them in small groups.

REEDS - These can be made using many of the commercial grasses available or rope strands of the right colour. Place a small drop of glue onto the water or the edge of the pond and place some weeds cut to the right length in the glue. When the glue is almost set, tap the top of the clump to spread the weeds out  to form a 'V' shape.

ALGAE - To get my algae I take some of the commercial foams available for scenery and place it on a fine sieve. Rub the foam back and forward over the sieve, and the very fine bits will pass through. I keep these in an old salt shaker, and when I am poring my water into the pond I shake these fine particles of foam onto the top of the water to simulate algae.



The method that I'm about to describe was first shown to me by Geoff Nott of 'RED STAG' fame, who has used this method on his 'Leigh Creek' and 'Red Stag Lumber Company' layouts. Geoff is a master scenery builder and shares his methods and ideas at presentations he gives at local model railroad conventions and exhibitions

This is a very easy and effective way of simulating waterfalls of any size or height.. On a sheet of paper roughly mark out the size of the waterfalls required. On top of this tape down a sheet of clear styrene or plastic sheet. Using the Selley's 'ALL CLEAR'  that was used in the earlier methods, apply runs of the ALL CLEAR down the marked areas of the waterfalls. Take a flat bladed palette knife (the one I use has a blade about 1" wide and used for plaster work) and drag it up and down the ALL CLEAR to spread it out. You will find when doing this, the knife distresses the surface of the ALL CLEAR into a very effective simulation of falling water. When it is fully dry and hardened, dry brush the tips of the water with white paint to simulate the falling water effect.

Take a sharp knife and cut the sheet to the height of the waterfall and then into enough thin strips of varying sizes to the width of the waterfall. It look better to have many thin strips than one wide strip. Squeeze out some of the ALL CLEAR across the top leading edge of the waterfall and across the bottom of the falls. Using tweezers, pick up one of the thin strips, close to the bottom of the strip and poke into the ALL CLEAR at the bottom of the falls and allow the top of the strip to lay against the ALL CLEAR at the top of the falls. Gently push the top of the strip into the ALL CLEAR. Repeat across the falls with varying width strips, leaving a small gap between. A nice detail is to push a small rock into the ALL CLEAR right on the top edge of the falls and have the water divide around it, by leaving a wider gap. When all the strips are in place, use a tooth pick and gently cover the tops of the strips and tease the ALL CLEAR to  make a nice transition between the stream and the waterfall. When this fully dry, dry brush white paint onto this area to match the effect on the falling water. 

To complete the waterfall, take a small amount of the white poly fibre described above, pull and tease it out until it is a very fine net as in the photograph at right, and place over the waterfall. This will soften the water effect, giving it an illusion of movement, as well as giving a mist effect. Make it heavier at the bottom of the waterfall.

This method works equally well from shallow rapids to vertical waterfalls and gives a remarkable simulation of fast moving or falling water. Give it a try - I'm sure you will be impressed.