In the 1970s I discovered the work of artist Andrew Wyeth. Love his work or hate it, it’s hard to deny the power certain paintings of his have. I’m thinking specifically of Dil Huey Farm (a portrait of a evocatively shaped sycamore tree, painted in 1941), Christina’s World (perhaps his best known work, painted in 1947) and Brown Swiss (a portrait of Karl Kuerner’s farm, painted in 1957). While these three are all egg tempera paintings, I’m also drawn to his drybrush watercolor studies, which often stand on their own as separate works.

What each of these paintings have in common is how spare they are in terms of subject matter. In each he stripped the composition down to the main subject, eliminating the surface prettiness a lessor artist would have focused on. By eliminating and eliminating what doesn’t matter, he gives each work a greater presence and power to hold our attention. We are forced, in a manner, to confront the subject of each work and our feelings about it.

Excuse me; this is supposed to be about railroading.
As I’ve presented over the past weeks, I’ve made extensive renovations to the trackwork and scenery, because the layout I had built over the last three years left me a bit uninspired. I’ve also realized that for a creative person, the goal is to create something. In the end, having it is secondary.

Thinking through the ramifications of the changes and the point I’ve come to in this craft, I’m looking at the layout less as a model and more as an ongoing artwork. As such my mindset is changing from modeler to artist. (I know, a loaded term), with regard to how I approach a project.

Having wrapped up the mill area and satisfied with the changes made, I’m now looking at the middle section. That vast expanse of nothing-much-happening between the yard on the south end and the mill on the north.

Model railroad thinking, would fill this with whatever caught my fancy, typically, more track and tiny, cutesy buildings that represent nothing. Not even close to my cup of tea these days. In actuality, this space will remain featureless, being little more than a wide expanse of gravel driveway connecting Mill St. to the yard along with overgrown background foliage inspired by the surroundings of Valley Junction.

The new access drive on the I&W

As you see here, I’ve gotten a start by bonding a layer of Woodlands Scenics ballast in place and setting some distant trees made from a torn floor scrubbing pad. A run down chain link fence and more foreground growth will ease the transition between the two. I’m rethinking the presence of the temporary mobile office.

Having this much open space on a layout in any scale flies in the face of convention. With space allegedly so precious and hard to come by, wasting it on nothing, is supposedly a sacrilege. Or so we’ve been conditioned. This is where the misunderstood power of empty space comes into play. As in Wyeth’s rendition of Brown Swiss, the off-centered mass of that stark farmhouse to one side of the panel is counterbalanced by the empty field of the rest of the painting, the two making an asymmetrical composition with beautiful sense of balance.

Recently reminded of this principle, I’m reconsidering the rest of the scenery on the layout. As it stands now in my mind, things will be far more open and spare looking on this section and the yard area than my original efforts.

As with the reduction in the amount of track, by making the mill a prime focal point on the entire layout, it will have tremendous power to draw and hold the eye. With the Mill Street crossing acting as the visual fulcrum for all the empty space to the south, the whole composition of the layout will reinforce the feeling of solitude in the abandoned nature of the mill buildings  and convey a strong sense of place and atmosphere. By not cluttering the layout with endless features that add nothing, I’m allowing the elements that are there to speak with greater clarity. Isn’t that the destination many of us are trying to get to with our modeling?