If you had a blank slate to begin again in the craft, would you change anything? Would you switch scales, stick with the same theme, explore a different one or, do nothing different at all?

In my No More Troubles With The Curve post from last Wednesday, I outlined the changes I made to the layout, touching on how they are driven by my changing criteria for modeling. I wanted to explore this idea in that post but it was getting long, so I held off until now.

It truly is a journey
My interests are not what they were twenty years ago when I returned to the craft. The recent changes reflect a maturity that I didn’t have then. I’ve been active in this craft for a number of years now and have done most of the things I thought I wanted to do with it, though there are still  avenues I would enjoy exploring and pushing my own ideas of what a layout can be is one of them.

I’m really drawn to the idea of a self-contained module or shadow box with a bit of staging on one end. This is a common practice in the UK but has not yet caught on here. Long-time reader Herb “Matt” Mathews is experimenting with a series of self-contained modules that feature an interesting construction, inspired by the design of fellow modeler Marshall Stull. Their work is intriguing.

Size is not the only criteria
I’m very aware of the arguments and the bias against smaller layouts. Truthfully, discussions about the merits of compact layouts are simply preaching to the choir. When the word “small” is heard, people’s thoughts automatically center on what is going to be lost rather than what one might gain. For others, a small layout is just uninteresting. What I personally find so compelling is the discipline required to effectively design one. You have to be disciplined in your choices and expectations and not everyone is willing to do that or understands how to exercise such restraint. I think it’s better to frame the conversation around thoughtfully considered and well crafted design principles rather than square footage.

Everyone can have quality
What many of us really want is a layout that truly satisfies our vision. This is a quality in which the actual square footage involved is irrelevant. I call it a Freedom Layout, Trevor Marshall uses the term Acheivable Layouts and there are others. You can certainly have a room or basement size layout of very high quality but it will cost you significantly in terms of expense, time and effort in proportion to the square footage involved. In my own situation, I’ve always preferred to have a higher quality of modeling in place of a more extensive layout. My route to a satisfying layout has been to eliminate the compromises that assumed or seldom used features usually require, such as the toy train character of my curve. I’ve also learned the importance of other principles like focus, breathing room and managing my expectations for the features I do include. All of these ideas represent a relaxed approach to the craft that has brought me to a satisfying place. Still, there are other design ideas I’d like to explore.

I’ve never been happy with the lighting of my layouts over the years. When you really think about it, realistically lighting a room-sized layout is a huge effort that requires multiple fixtures, dedicated circuits and other expensive factors. Properly lighting a small object like a model is an art form in its own right that few of us understand well.

The shadows on the backdrop destroy any sense of depth in this scene.

The building shadows on the backdrop detract from the impact of this scene.

Like most modelers I defaulted to ceiling mounted fluorescent shop lights that bathe everything in a boring light that does nothing to enhance the work I put so much effort into. These proved noisy and poorly placed, so I built a separate lighting array and valance that cast more light on the front of the layout instead of coming directly from above. This was better but maybe it’s the impact of aging eyes or changing tastes, because I now prefer more intense light.

Lighting commands our attention
In his comments on a recent post, reader Simon Dunkley offered an analogy from the theater of the lights dimming at the end of a scene. I think that would be an interesting way to actually end an operating session. With the ever growing number of options (including dimmable) now available for LEDs, poor lighting can be a thing of the past.

If I were to begin again, a design idea I want to explore is integrating the lighting into the layout itself and the first thing I would do would be to light the backdrop from both the top and bottom to eliminate any shadows from three dimensional objects in front of it. Eliminating the shadows on the sky will vastly improve the quality and depth of any scene. I’ve pondered ways to do this on the current layout but, it would be difficult at best, with the reason being the layout is not designed with such lighting in mind. A truly effective solution needs to be built in from the start and, I don’t know if I want to put that much effort into remodeling the I&W at this time.

I’ve touched on this subject before and by presentation, I’m referring to the entirety of what one sees, from the actual modeling and how the layout itself is introduced and presented.

I have seen examples of exhibition layouts that would rival any museum display in their interpretation, signage and lighting. (I particularly enjoy this one.) I find this style of modeling very intriguing, because it speaks to the artistry and craft that I enjoy. I also think there is a wonderful opportunity in layout presentation to help the public understand our craft beyond the stereotype of toy trains. I’m thinking of ways to help people understand the craft, both in general terms and specifically with our layout. However, this topic is a post in its own right.

So where is all this going?
At 2 x 24 feet the I&W is considered small by quarter-inch scale standards and it’s given good service over the years. Consisting of three eight foot long sections tied together into a single unit, it isn’t going anywhere without considerable and destructive effort. I’m not getting any younger and I don’t want to saddle Susan or our children with the disposal of this big thing in the basement, so why not plan for that day and dispose of the layout on my terms?

In my eyes a self-contained layout would be easier to dispose of. Perhaps someone could make use of it as is, salvage the material from it, or strip it down to the base and start fresh. In any case, compared to hauling multiple loads of lumber and styrofoam to the landfill, it would be far simpler to load up a shadow box or two in the back of a pickup and call it done. (Oh and did I neglect to mention the disposal fees?)

I don’t know when the end of the current I&W will come. Maybe soon, maybe not. Will I replace it? I don’t know that either. Probably, but who knows? Things change over time and, it’s wise to change with them. I still look forward to many years of active modeling but the direction the modeling will take is certainly changing. My time in the craft now is truly focused on bringing a higher level of overall quality to the modeling. I see that path as moving toward more modest efforts, while others will choose a different direction. For each the final criteria should be is it expressing my vision in a satisfying manner?

All due credit goes to work and writing of residential architect Sarah Susanka for inspiring many of the ideas about the power of design presented in this post.