Modelers are told repeatedly to observe the prototype, yet just what exactly are we supposed to see?

We’ve settled for simplistic questions and shallow answers. The first step out of this rut of mediocrity is learning to ask better questions. Questions that move beyond form into context and substance.

Examples of contextual questions might include:

Why am I intrigued by this subject/scene? What do I want to say about it and, more fundamentally, do I have anything to say at all?

Do I really understand what I’m looking at?

What are the essential elements?

Are there critical relationships between elements in the scene?

How might I represent this on the layout in a way that speaks to the truth of the subject?

Such open-ended questions are in stark contrast to the usual ones asked about basic dimensions or color. Those questions have their place but the answers to questions of context go deeper and require more thought than an easy focus on surface impressions. Few ever pursue this because we haven’t been taught how to or why it even matters; preferring instead to remain as spectators seeking escapist fun rather than students in a lifelong pursuit of understanding.



  1. Trevor

    Very well said as always, Mike – and particularly helpful given recent thoughts I’ve been reading elsewhere (and writing about on my own blog).
    Some days, I feel like I need a cheat sheet taped to the corner of my computer monitor to remind myself to ask – and then answer – these types of questions when I’m looking at photographs of railways (prototype or model). I could use another one on the lid of my camera bag for those days when I’m in the field, too…
    – Trevor @ Port Rowan in 1:64

  2. Jed

    I love your writeups like this. They always make me think about modeling in ways I hadn’t yet explored.
    Like you often write, I believe ‘capturing the feel of the prototype’ isn’t just about the right model in the right place; its about modeling the feel of the scene you’re trying to replicate-something much harder to accomplish.

  3. mike

    Thank you gentlemen. I’m glad you found the ideas useful.