The thoughtful comments from Dave and Galen on my last post raised valid and interesting points that deserve an equally thoughtful reply.
I wasn’t making a manifesto with that post. I simply wanted to express an idea that I feel strongly about and give an example of it in action via the photo and captions. I’m always surprised by the intense reaction, both positive and negative, to such ideas.
In many ways model railroading in this country is little more than a giant echo chamber where the same ideas and concepts get bounced around endlessly. It doesn’t matter if it’s online or off; change the color, paste a new name on it, whatever, it’s still the same thing as before. New ideas are welcomed if, they give people more of what they want or already have:
Amazing two-level design. You can now have twice the layout in the same space.
However, ideas that challenge our comfort level or fundamental concepts of what the craft can be have a tougher road to travel.
Dave mentioned John Allen’s work and the subsequent influence it had. More than a half-century removed now it’s hard to understand the state of the hobby that made his work so extraordinary in its day.
The basic weathering we take for granted was unknown fifty years ago. Layouts were little more than circles of track on bare plywood. Maybe the track was ballasted and maybe the builder put basic scenery in place. Operations? How many laps do you want to watch the train make? For the majority a model railroad was nothing but a big trainset.
So imagine, as Dave suggested, here comes this guy who makes stuff look old, dirty and beat up. He built scenery all the way to the floor that you could walk through! He used mirrors to visually extend space and people never realized they were looking at a reflection. He employed forced perspective and on and on.
In hindsight, we say he broke the mold and changed the concept of what the hobby could become. Well, yes, but that’s our present day assessment of his work. In truth, he was simply following a personal vision for modeling he had developed. John brought his skills and training as a photographer and applied them to model making and, likely, didn’t give the combination of the two a second thought. He was just doing what interested him. His much-lauded impact evolved over a very long time, as the result of other modelers who found inspiration in his examples. Today, we can’t imagine modeling without the so-called pioneering concepts that John used.
John Allen simply brought well-known techniques from one context and used them in a different one. That is the fundamental essence of creativity and Galen makes the important point that ideas aren’t adopted by the majority right away. New ideas follow a well-documented path from the early adopters who are always looking for the next thing, to the ubiquitous middle, where the idea becomes mainstream then finally, to late adopters who are dragged kicking and screaming into the modern era.
Because any practice tends to stagnate over time, one has to look outside for new inspiration. I’ve been doing this for several years now. For example, I got the idea of modulating the color and tones on my warehouse from Michael Rinaldi, a military modeler who uses the technique on tanks to move a viewers’ eye around the model. Using color and contrast is also part of my training as an artist and bringing these skills to modeling is a no brainer to me. Why wouldn’t I use them?
It’s true that people aren’t aware of these skills. School art programs have been decimated and their value poorly communicated. Speaking from first hand experience, artists are their own worst enemy in many ways. We get so caught up in our own world that we leave little room for others to join us. We’re poor communicators when it comes to helping others understand our work, because we often don’t understand it ourselves. The parallels to model railroading and public’s perception of it are striking to me.
However, it isn’t just the public. Model railroading is broken up into so many silos and narrow special interests that there is little cross knowledge anymore. I gave a talk recently to a group of modelers. Mostly working in HO, they had little to no knowledge of P48 or quarter-inch scale in general. Though it wasn’t part of my talk, I spent time explaining why O scale is the way it is and why P48 is different.
If a large portion of the modeling community doesn’t understand the fundamentals of a different scale, why should we expect the general public to understand anything about what we do?
Galen and Dave both make the point that the Internet allows us to learn about ideas we wouldn’t know of otherwise. While that’s very true, most modelers have no clue of the power these digital tools place at their fingertips. Like the general interest magazines most blogs and forums imitate each other’s content.
We could do so much more, but most won’t bother. It’s too much work. I’m not a writer. I’d rather spend my time at the workbench than the computer. These are all choices people are free to make and I’m not going to suggest otherwise. I choose to put in the time with this blog even though the content is largely ignored. My writing benefits from the process, whether others do or not.
In the end, that’s the real lesson to understand. It isn’t the impact a modeling approach has on others, it’s what impact does it have on the modeler? What value am I getting from it? What value does your approach to the craft provide for you? That’s the real heart of a discussion we’re not having in my view.
My 13th and North E cameo won’t garner any interest from the timetable and train order crowd. And, it’s decidedly old news to UK and European readers who’ve been building them for decades. What it does do is allow me to explore ideas that I find compelling. It combines several of my interests into a form that’s personally satisfying and I’m happy to share what I’m learning with others. That’s all this blog is about really.
Your mileage will certainly vary and thank you to Dave and Galen along with the many others over the years for taking the time to offer such thoughtful comments. I appreciate it.