Repainting the Cliffs of Insanity

Several years back I learned a nifty construction technique that let me leverage my years of experience as a Cub Scout and Girl Scout leader. Namely paper-mache which in Scouting is a necessary and basic skill. In Garden Railroading you have to change some of the materials but the basic steps are the same.

Click to enlarge, use back button to returnFor framework you use chicken wire instead of balled up newspaper or cardboard. You use cement instead of starch and burlap instead of strips of newspapers, but the technique is the same, it’s just that the results are a bit more durable. Using this method I constructed the Cliffs of Insanity on my backyard train layout.


The construction of the Cliffs is covered on another page of the site as is the initial painting of same. I will say that the concrete shell is sealed with a white latex house paint. Then the finish color is applied with various washes of acrylic hobby paints.

r1-before-1-640x480After 6 years or so of the very hot Central California summers and this last year’s unseasonal heavy rains, the Cliffs were looking a bit threadbare especially where the drip line from the edge of the house caused additional water to fall from the second story roof.



r1-before-2-640x480Of course, since I was usually the only one to look at it I was very slow to do anything about touching up the color coat on the Cliffs.





But with company suddenly coming over to see the layout Saturday night I finally got motivated Saturday morning.




r1-before-4-1024x768I started from the north end where the rains and sun had done the most damage. The nice thing about a tight deadline is you don’t have the luxury of over-thinking the project, where you run the risk of paralysis by analysis. I had to get painting to be ready by dusk.



r1-before-tools-1024x768When repainting concrete you want a reasonably clean, dry surface. First step was a good brushing with a plastic bristle whisk broom and a bottle brush (normally used to clean cobwebs from trestles) that worked very well for getting dirt and sand out of the cracks and cuts molded into the concrete.


r1-before-paint-1-1024x768Given that the Cliffs were modeled after the rocks at the Big Thunder Mountain ride at Disneyland, the colors I used are bright yellow, black cherry (a very dark reddish purple), and the base rock color, nutmeg brown.



I dump a bit of each color on an acrylic square to act as a palette.  Painting concrete like I do involves a lot of stippling and dry brushing, both techniques are very hard on paint brushes. I favor short, stiff bristles for this work.

Where a lot of paint has been worn off I start with the highlight colors going from light to darker colors. Stippling is where you use the brush like a ice pick and jab it perpendicular to the surface you are painting.


You can see the black cherry quite clearly and the bright yellow here where I highlighted the piece so damaged by the drip line from the second story roof.




r1-after-3-1024x768To blend the garish colors back into a semblance of rock I used the nutmeg brown with a liberal dollop of water to thin it on the palette and used that to blend the colors to look more like rock.



r1-after-2-1024x768I should add that my layout pretty much enforces a minimum viewing distance of over six feet so many flaws can go unnoticed.




r1-after-4-1024x768To repaint the Cliffs took about three and half hours.  After a few days I’ll spray everything with Krylon UV-Resistant Clear Matte spray paint. This gets applied quite liberally and I’ll use an entire 11 oz. can on the Cliffs.

Tell me about your repair projects! –TJ


(Originally posted 7/01/2011, revised 6/28/2013)

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One Response to Repainting the Cliffs of Insanity

  1. Bruce Jensen says:

    I gotta try this! Thanks!

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