Questions for Modeling Trees and Other Things
Too often we treat trees as the enemy. They seem complicated and time-consuming to create and the quantity required seems endless. I see trees as a way to provide and strengthen the context of the story I’m telling. As I develop this composition, I’m exploring several questions and ideas.
What am I trying to say with this scene/element?
Beyond signature elements what gives a location the individual character that separates it from other places? The geography certainly, along with the built environment imposed by man, but also color, texture, the quality of light and weather. There are also intangible qualities such as the experience and personal associations we take away from being there. As much as the trains and other railroad features, scenery speaks to a time and place. With the scenery on this layout, I want to move beyond generic treatments and materials. My aim is to create a recognizable landscape and the trees play a huge role in that task.
Does it provide context or confuse?
If I’m modeling a specific region, do all the elements contribute to the image and context of that region? Is there a consistent theme that comes through? Is this species of tree appropriate for the region I’m modeling?
What is this element for?
In considering the individual pieces of the larger scene, what does each one contribute? I want to bring a discipline and intent to the decision process as well as in the execution of the work. Settling for a quick and dirty solution just to get something off a to-do list may be appealing but is it appropriate? If not, then it has no place on the layout.
If I remove it, is the scene better?
Editing is a useful and underutilized art. Will this area work just as well with less? This goes back to the previous question about what is it for?
What we leave out can speak more clearly than what we include.
If I add it, is the scene better?
Again, full consideration of all sides of the question.
What does it contribute?
Perhaps the fundamental starting point for all the other questions. In this case, Mill Road is the boundary between the open country and the built up areas of the unseen grain elevator complex. My thoughts cover two aspects: 1) to use trees to strengthen this boundary and 2) to use the vertical aspect to counterbalance all the strong horizontal lines of the track and flat terrain.
With those criteria in mind, there are series of decisions to make about the height of the tree model. Since it’s in the background and I’ve used some forced perspective, I need to consider the height in relationship to other elements. That said however, I also believe that if you’re going to make a statement with an element, then make it a strong and clear one. Balancing these two aspects should be fun.
As you consider that unresolved area on your layout, I hope that reflecting on these types of questions helps you probe beyond the surface appearances. Also, as you look at your situation, I hope you ignore my questions and come up with relevant ones of your own that help you find the elusive aspect of railroading that many of us search for in our modeling.