Rice Paddies: quintessential Asian scenery

by Paul Ingraham, Coordinator

This is our rice field, this is our story
Of lives that are planted, rooted in these lands.
In our rice fields. each step of the terrace is a witness
To our plowing, tilling, planting and nurturing...
- Philippine Rice Song

Modeling an Asian layout without rice paddies would be like representing New York City without skyscrapers. More than any other feature, rice paddies say "Asia" like no other kind of scenery. They come in all shapes and sizes from broad, flat river delta fields covering thousands of hectares and worked by machines to small, traditional hand-built terraces plowed with water buffalo and planted by hand. It is the later type that I chose both because of their traditional nature and the esthetics, as well as their compactness that would allow me to find a reasonable space on the layout for them.

Rice paddies are an important part of any asian train layout(click image to enlarge)

My terraces rest on a 3mm (1/8") acrylic sheet base, one of six scenery bases that have the same footprint and are interchangeable among several sites on my AsiaNRail modules. The terraces are made from overlapping layers of 6mm (1/4") foam board (Fome-Cor) glued together with carpenter's glue. The upper levels are supported on Styrofoam pillars, in order to conserve material. An advisory note here: If you plan to plant mature rice stems in the paddies (see later in this article), be sure to get the type of foam board that is open cell and not bead board, made up of little round white pellets which tend to be self-sealing and hard to work with.

The stone walls of the terraces were created with suede shoelaces (click image to enlarge)

The stone walls outlining each paddy are built up from two or three layers of brown suede shoelaces glued to the foam board and each other with carpenter's glue. These can be laid out along the sinuous curves found on mountainside terraces. When the glue had set, I faced the walls with latex Spackle and, while that was still wet, I pressed brown medium and coarse grit ballast into the wall. I then shaped this mix with a small, diamond-shaped artist's pallet knife so that the wall has a slight slope into the hillside. After this dried, I gave the walls a couple of color washes with brown muddy earth color paint.

It's unlikely that you'll see several stages in the rice growing cycle at the same time in the same paddies, but I wanted this to be an educational as well as scenic display, so I used some artistic license here.

I made the freshly plowed fields in the lower paddies by spreading fine powdered ochre and brown pigments on the bottom, over which I poured Woodlands Scenics Realistic Water. To keep the fields looking muddy, I stirred the pigments into the resin until it became fairly opaque. I did this in place in order to produce the swirls that occur during plowing. I also kept mixing it after the resin started to set to get the lumpy appearance of clods of mud, especially where the water buffalo is plowing.

After that mixture set up, I brushed one more very thin layer of water on top for a wet look. I emphasize "thin" so as not to fill in the ruts and spoil the effect. As this was setting, I used a toothpick to shape the flowing water lines spreading out behind the water buffalo and plowman.

The hook side of heavy duty velcro is used to simulate newly planted seedlings (click image to enlarge)

For the middle level terraces where the planters are working, I used the hook half of heavy duty Velcro. This is Velcro product number 90800 sticky back Rough Surface fastener, packed 5 sets per box, each set being 1" x 4" for a total of 20 square inches per box. I found this at Lowe's. The hook half of the Velcro is arranged in nice offset straight rows spaced 2.5mm (@1:150, this is scale 375mm/15") apart on a sticky backing. The design gives each plant two nice leaves, similar to a new seedling. The Velcro comes in a titanium grey color, so the first step was to spray paint it a nice fairly bright green for young rice shoots.

After the paint dried, I trimmed the pieces with scissors to fit the outline of the paddy, peeled off the backing and stuck it to the surface of the foam board. Then I mixed up an opaque batch of muddy Realistic Water in a paper cup and poured this carefully along the edge of the Velcro just deep enough to barely cover the Velcro backing, but not the hooks. I then worked it in between all the plants with a toothpick so that all the ground area between the shoots was covered. After this set hard, I checked the depth to see if an additional thin layer was needed to cover the ground. Sometimes it did, other times it was fine as originally poured.

The upper levels have mature rice plants ready for harvest. The mature rice plants are the tips of the bristles from a green plastic floor broom. These are "exploded" plastic that look like the tops of mature rice plants. Leaving them considerably longer, I've also used them for modeling sugar cane. Using heavy duty shears, I cut the ends off the WHOLE BROOM about 1 inch long to allow a stem to plant.

You rice-field maidens!
The only things not muddy
Are the songs you sing.
- Haiku by Raizan (Japanese) (1653-1716)

More mature plants were created with the ends of plastic broom bristles(click image to enlarge)

Before starting to plant, I painted the ground on each paddy a dark brown earth color. Then the fun began.

Using a dissecting needle, I punched over 2500 holes about 2 mm apart in the paddy ground of the upper terraces. I tried to maintain fairly straight rows, but this isn't critical as the plants will disguise the neatness.

I poured some carpenters glue into a little tray about 3mm (1/8") deep. I dipped the cut end of each stem into the glue and then planted the stem so that the top of each shoot extended about 6mm (a scale meter) above the ground. Depending on how much ground there is to cover, this can take several evenings (weeks, months. . . ).

When the glue had set, I dry brushed the tops of all the plants with a bright yellow color, using enough color so that the yellow stands out, but not so much that it became totally opaque or too thick and clumped the exploded tips together.

I then went back and poured a thin layer of Realistic Water along the edge of one of the paddies - but BEWARE! Because of all those holes punched in the landscape, there was a small leakage problem and I know there is a plastic lake inside the mountain somewhere. Since the plants pretty much obscure the paddy bottom anyway, I decided I'd leave well enough alone and just brush some gloss coat along the edges where the water would show. This worked out fine.

I still need to go back and add the water sluices between the levels, people delivering new trays of shoots to the planters, and animals and kids wandering about - maybe even kids skinny dipping in the unplanted paddies. I've got several photos of this from different countries.

The planter figures are Tomytec Japanese farmers (click image to enlarge)

The planter figures are Japanese farmers from Tomytec. The water buffalo is a Preiser deer with the antlers reworked and the body fattened up with body putty. I found the deer had a longer neck and better proportions than using a cow would have given. The plow is hand carved from styrene, based on a Philippine-style plow.

Other modelers are experimenting with different materials for making rice fields with the main focus being on modeling the mature fields without as much of the long process I used. I'm looking forward to seeing what they come up with, and, no matter how the objective is accomplished, remember this haiku by Issa (Japanese) (1763-1827):

your rice field
my rice field
the same green

Terrace wall construction (click on photos ot enlarge)



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