An unspoken drawback to turning your hobby into full-time work is that there is no escape from it. There are two different mindsets between the enjoyment of a recreational pastime and earning a living from something. Blending the two can be done but it takes a degree of mental discipline to maintain a good balance.

It’s a discipline I’m still learning and doing a poor job with. Experience has taught me that I need a creative outlet to enjoy just for the fun of it. Time at the modeling bench used to fill this need but I now find myself thinking I should be photographing the construction process of whatever I’m working on for future use in TMC or some other book project.

Feeling in a rut over the holidays, I wanted a project that I could practice on a regular basis and with a minimum of prep time. I live in a rural area and our house is separated from the neighbors on one side by a seven acre meadow, that creates a distance of a hundred yards or more between our drive and the next. For a creative challenge, I decided to explore this short stretch of road as a refresher course in learning to see as an artist. So, every morning for a week I took a short walk, camera in tow, to see what I could find in terms of subject matter.

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The road doesn’t offer anything of visual interest at first glance and most would consider it totally barren of anything photogenic. The first morning went as expected, meaning I purposely got the typical snapshot views out of my system (above). I didn’t have any expectations per se and if nothing caught my eye, that would have been fine. At least I would enjoy a pleasant walk.

It didn’t take long before I began to find the patterns and texture of the frost killed grasses along the edge of the road quite interesting. They’re a tangled abstraction of lines and odd shapes contrasted by clusters of the grass seed heads that to my eye, resembled schools of little fish. A light dusting of snow the next morning gave the seed heads a completely different look.

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Another subject that caught my interest was the tangle of vegetation growing along the fence line of the crop field. The taller grasses and other shrubs created lots of different compositions against the horizontal nature of the landscape and the weathered range fencing became a subject in itself. Overnight snows on days three, four and five added another visual dimension.

Thistle Dance Smyrna Road-2


Linked Smyrna Road-2

I shot 172 images during the week and whittled them down to ten that I compiled into a simple PDF monograph with titles and a short text, that I could easily share with family and friends. It proved to be a fun exercise and it felt good to flex the creative visual muscles. A week is hardly enough time to provide a thorough understanding of a subject, so I plan to continue the exploration to deepen my understanding and also, to increase my visual vocabulary. The deliberate limitations I chose for the project served well as guides.

This has everything to do with railroad modeling
To professional creatives, limitations are an opportunity to really flex the imagination. I imagine any architect will say the project with the most restrictive site conditions invariably produces the most satisfying building design.

Hobbyists by contrast view any limitation as an enemy that wants to rob us of all our fun. If people can’t have that gigantic dream space, then too many simply give up or settle for some poorly designed throw-away layout. A “tiny” 10’x10′ spare room is seen as a horrible, restrictive strait-jacket rather than the opportunity to really focus and do something unique. It’s only when we can let go of all those preconceived notions of what makes a satisfying layout, are we able to consider ideas that might lead to a better solution.

The notion of unlimited creative freedom is a pernicious myth. In the real world, without guidelines or a structure of some kind, creativity flounders. The narrow parameters I imposed on my photography exercise forced me to look at my chosen subject more deeply. They forced me to go beyond surface prettiness and find the hidden-in-plain sight subjects right in front of my eyes.

In the same way, having a structure that forces one to focus on ideas instead of obsessing over how much stuff can I have, is more likely to produce a satisfying layout design solution regardless of the available space one has to work with.

Have we sacrificed genuine creative thinking about what a layout is or could be on the model-railroad-as-stuff altar? Sadly, yes and I’m not certain we’ve improved our lot as a result. On that note, I feel the urge to grab my camera and take a walk up the road. Umm, maybe I’ll wait until the wind chill temps climb above zero again.