As I embarked on making scenery for my little Reading and Northern, I wanted to experiment with some truly different techniques. For some time I've had an idea in the back of my mind to use floral foam, a material used for making floral arrangements, as a scenery base. It has some unusual properties, being both soft and firm at once. The notion occurred to me as I was wandering around craft store looking for ideas that might otherwise never come to light. I found a damaged block of floral foam, and noted with interest how it was easily deformed with just finger pressure, and retained its new shape. It was like some kind of porous, ultra-lightweight modeling clay, although once shaped it could not be reformed. It comes in different degrees of firmness, and so I grabbed a couple of blocks of each type for possible future use.
That was quite a long time ago, and the future was now. It seemed like a much quicker way to shape the terrain than my typical method for smaller layouts of assembling a Foamcore "layer cake" to support Sculptmamold or similar material. However, as an added twist, I'd essentially be working in reverse from normal: instead of building up the terrain by adding materials, I'd be creating the landforms by carefully crushing the foam into the desired shape.
The process turned out to be fairly straightforward. The first step was to slice the blocks into slabs that fit around the roadbed, then glue them to the Foamcore base with white glue. After establishing a rough landforms, finer shaping was done by pressing it gently with my fingertips. Given the size of the layout, this took practically no time at all, and I had the basic terrain established in just a few minutes.
Without a doubt it's a very different material with which to work. The less-firm variety is so delicate that cutting it with a sharp knife is almost like cutting air. It's also possible to over-crush the material, and reduce it to pulverized mush that no longer holds its shape. So, some planning is needed to ensure there is sufficient material in a given area to shape.
Once the desired shape was achieved, I sealed the surface with a coat of tinted Sculptmamold. This step simultaneously addressed three issues: first, it created a more realistic base texture; second, it helped give the delicate material more strength; and third, it sealed the surface to prevent the foam's decomposition—over time it would be reduced to dust.
If at some point in the future it proves to have been a bad idea, that's OK; this is, after all, a starter layout. I have plans for something new, even as I work on this...