Artistry and Craft
Artistry Is More Than How Things Look
I come from a tradition in the fine arts that values original thinking and developing a singular vision for the work. This tradition has had a strong influence on my thinking in recent years as I started bringing more of those values to my modeling. I see and approach model building as a craft, one that can be as demanding and encompassing as any other. I believe that a person not only develops their skills and knowledge of a craft but that the craft also develops the person as they practice it. If a model has an integrity and grace it’s because the builder found those qualities inside and imparted them into the work. I’ve learned that the real question is how much depth of emotion toward the subject are you willing to reach for and express in the work? I believe there is an opportunity that is being squandered by only focusing on a narrow range of potential with model building. I’ve learned to look beneath the surface to discover something good and worthwhile to bring into my life.
Like much creative work, there is an intention and choice involved. Looking at a scene for a layout I’m more interested in capturing the essence of a place and the emotional bond I have toward trains in some way. As with composing a landscape painting, there are things to emphasize and others to edit out. It takes time to get to the core of a thing, to understand a location and what I want to say about it. I take a similar stance toward model building.
In my view, building a model such as a freight car is like painting a portrait. I want to know the subject as well as I can and represent it truthfully. I believe the compromises carried over from toy trains are often unnecessary. I see them as distractions that take away from the subject. At the workbench, I find a deep satisfaction from working with tools and materials. There’s the feel of the tool in my hand and the rhythm of the work. Shaping a part, fitting it to others and seeing how the pieces come together and make the whole never gets old. The work shows my shortcomings; it reveals my impatience and, when I let it, my undiscovered strengths. It teaches me discipline and how to see. This craft shows me who I am and who I might become.
My overarching philosophy is to bring artistry and craft to modeling. I’m fully aware how different my thinking is from the mainstream and, painfully aware of how few people truly understand the value of this idea. Consider though that we’ve reached the point where one can have virtually anything in terms of product and that how-to information is practically a free commodity online. Where do we go from here? The technology will continue to advance yet we treat the medium of model trains as if it’s still the 1950s. Looking beyond the layout and consumption mindset where are we going with this craft?
An activity as creatively diverse as model railroading deserves a grown-up conversation and means of explanation. How does one move beyond the dry mechanics of the technical and share the emotional bond in a way others may connect with? Over the next few posts, I will unpack how I apply the principles of artistry and craft more completely. However, I’m not here to change anyone’s mind and, unlike other voices, I’m not suggesting you’re doing it wrong if you don’t follow my definition. I’m writing to suggest a different perspective of what this craft could be for people who are willing to look beyond the usual ideas. If that’s you I hope that you find something you can use in your work.
The next post on January 20 covers the topic of drawing as a way of understanding a subject. See you then.