how to model grass

It is a lot more complicated modelling grass than you may think! Apart from seasonal differences, grass may be in a water meadow, grazing land, hayfield or tennis court.

Where animals are grazing most of the grass will be very short.  There are often clumps of longer less palatable grass and there will also be thistles, fat hen and small meadow flowers. Modern selective herbicides have much reduced the flora in fields.

This is how we do it.

step 1

First, we just paint the plaster surface with matt brown emulsion paint. The surface is then painted with PVA and Woodland Scenics blended grass scattered on to form the undercover.

step 2

We then add Silfor tufts if required and some Woodland Scenics medium turf (as clumps). For ungrazed areas we use the same methods but include patches where dyed lint has been glued down and when dry, ripped off. The blades are then teased up with a toothbrush. Reeds and very long grasses are represented by plumbers rope, cut to length and pushed into the Polyfilla substrate when it is still soft. They are then trimmed to size and spray painted. This is best done early during the model construction.

meadow with just scatter and tufts

ungrazed land using scatter and tufts

step 3 Using a Noch

We then use a Noch electrostatic grass system for those areas at the front of the layout. The Noch is an expensive piece of kit, and some (including myself) have tried to build one using an electric fly swat. These swats are pretty useless for killing flies although rather satisfying (it's the sizzle, you know). Most flies just seem to recover and eventually fly away, presumably with total memory loss, or at best, no longer suffering from depression!

a previously clinically depressed fly following treatment with the electric fly swat

The fly swat version does not work any better as a grass system, rather sadly although all and sundry continue to post about them on Yahoo Groups. I am told that the swats are not allowed in Australia as it is considered cruel to flies.......the World has really gone mad! Perhaps they could be useful for playing badminton.

To see a video of using an electrostatic grass maker
click here

Firstly, one has to say that the machine is monstrously large. It might be excellent for covering large areas but very wasteful and messy for detail work. We use PVA diluted 40% with water. Where we are going to apply, the glue is put on with a brush. We then dig in a pair of forceps at about the centre and attach the anode crocodile clip to it.

One then starts to tap the container and after about a minute, the grass starts to fly out and attach itself to the glue. Once you are happy with the coverage, (which will also be half way across your layout) run a vacuum cleaner over it, about 1" away. This removes the excess and also helps the grass to stand up.

Even the short grass is long for 4mm scale, however it is excellent for hay fields and ungrazed land. We find that many of the supplied colours are as gaudy as a fairground galloper, but the Noch short 'Dark Green' is about right for lush Devon grass. We do mix a few other colours with it to obtain variation.

A new system from Greenscenes is now available for sale which seems a lot better as well as significantly cheaper.

hot tips

  • Replace the battery supplied with a new one.

  • Line the inside of the container with must touch the base of the unit.

  • The grill size can be suitably blanked off to reduce the application area.


step 4

Hopefully one now has a very furry field! Even the short grass is too long for a grazed meadow, so now we get to detailing. Again, I must point out that we are modelling for early June, and the techniques have to be changed for the month. Firstly we lightly touch the tops of the upright longer grass and tufts with a light stone coloured paint. While wet, we stroke in the paint with a finger and the effect seems to work to give the impression of grass going to seed.

The long grass in then reduced in height by scattering Woodland Scenics blended grass and gently rubbing this in. Suddenly, the effect starts to look so much better. We use some brown scatters too, say where the soil is thin, or under the shade of trees. The trick is to make sure that none of this scatter remains sitting on top of the blades of grass. It is now time to judiciously scatter yellow, red and mauve flowers. The scatter can come out far too big. Once applied, we tease out to reduce in size and just remove the bigger clumps. Usually, more is less with wild flowers.

We then add small pieces of asparagus fern (previously soaked in glycerine and water) to represent fat hen and thistles. Last year's fat hen will have flowered (bolted), and many will still stand, coloured a rich brown. Thistles can have a flower added.

Where appropriate, bracken can be added. You can use the etched brass variety. We use paper which is laser cut for us.

Other plants, such as Docks can also be planted.

step 5

Stabilise the meadow using artist fixative spray. Remove excess bits with a vacuum cleaner otherwise they will land up in your locomotive mechanisms.

the result

Tended lawns are best modelled using one of the fine grass mats available in good model shops. Mowed lawns show stripes indicating the direction if cylinder mowers are used. These can be simulated on such sheets by ironing is opposite directions. I use a brass bar of 8mm attached to a handle. This is placed on your wife's electric iron to warm and off you go!

Even well tended grass will usually have patches that are more or less green. This can be modelled by using colour washes or by judicious spraying with an air brush.

Some folks seem to do well using teddy bear fur as a start. Personally, whatever I do, I find it still looks a bit shiny and like teddy bear fur!

Grassland and meadows will also have a large variety of other plants growing in it. These can be represented by many means. These day, one can purchase laser cut bracken and a selection of broad leaved plants such as docks. Interesting clumps can be represented by Woodland Scenics medium green coarse turf. Brambles by tearing up traditional fibrous carpet underlay and adding leaves from suppliers such as Silflor.

You can actually punch out leaves and flowers from coloured tissue paper. I use small paint brushes that have lost their bristles. The end of the metal bristle holder can be bent to the shape desired and sharpened with a fine file. If you cut the shapes on a sheet of lead, the punches will last some time.

Silfor produce many excellent ready to use products. One supplier is International Models

Silflor products