As you may have suspected from the tone of the blog over the past years, I’m done with traditional model railroading as most understand it. (There; I finally said it and I feel better.) I’m moving in a direction that most people don’t understand or see the value of in terms of the traditional hobby.
Thinking as an artist, my frame of reference is different. I’m approaching this work as I would any other; by bringing the same creative process to model building that I use to create works with paper and watercolor or other art medium. I see my cameo designs more as landscape compositions with variable elements (the trains) than I do as layout forms.
The Mill Road cameo is inspired by memories and times from childhood when I could just walk up the street to a freight car spotted at the elevator and touch it or even peek in an open door to see what’s inside. Standing next to a boxcar as a child of nine or ten, it had an overwhelming presence, even a smell and hard, solid feel as I touched a grab iron or ran my hand along the side of it, as a kid will do. How can such memories not work their way into my modeling? Those days are long gone in too many ways but their influence still creates an impact because I choose to embrace it.
As a connection to the craft of modeling, these memories influence the modeling scale I chose (P48) along with the composition of the scene. I also bring a desire to capture something intangible. There is an essence in an object that makes it unique from all others. I liken it to a quote from Andrew Wyeth regarding a portrait of his son Nicholas: “If I didn’t get the shape of his nose correct, it wouldn’t be Nicky.”
Yes, on some level we all copy an object when we build a model of it, just as we’re doing with a painting or sketch. But, an artist also interprets the subject by virtue of his experience and personal way of seeing the world. There are choices of what to emphasize and how to present the subject that impact the work. As a viewer, we also bring our own perspectives and tastes to this conversation, which impacts our perception of the work. I believe it’s similar in model making. In many ways, the military and aircraft modelers understand this than far better we do.
Many of you are familiar with The Trackside Photographer website. These weekly photo essays present trains and railroading from a wide range of personal visions that have a depth and thoughtfulness that I appreciate. Railroading has many facets that are as evocative and inspiring as any majestic landscape or other subject. It inspires the heart and eye as well as the mind, in an endless array of conversations and creative expressions.
Have we said everything there is to say about trains with this craft, or are we stuck rehashing the same tired themes over and over from of a belief they represent everything that’s worth saying as far as a hobby goes?
Do we need another knock-off Appalachian coal railroad, or generic 1950s steam to diesel cliché? Are the current forms of expressing these themes the best we can do or are there other aspects beyond the surface appeal of each waiting to be explored?
Asking Different Questions
Approaching a subject, I’ve learned to ask different questions and try hard to put my assumptions aside. Such preconceived ideas and concepts of what I think I know, often get in the way of a fuller understanding. It’s that in-depth understanding and connection that I’m seeking.
The differences that separate one object from others are often subtle and elusive to the untrained eye. Two freight cars may look utterly identical and perhaps they are on the surface, yet look a little deeper, and there are distinctions to be found between them. My covered hopper project is a case in point. Beyond the obvious, what makes it a PS2CD? More specifically, what makes it an individual PS2CD? It’s these nuances that I seek out for modeling, whether the subject is a freight car, building or a landscape.
In considering the future direction for my work, the two most fundamental questions to ask are:
What matters to me, followed by, what do I want to create?
In a culture that worships ease of effort and instant gratification, I’ll leave those choices for others to make. There is room in the world for the fast and easy however, as the focus of my hobby they don’t interest for me. Many of the things we could do aren’t easy, nor do they happen overnight. As I wrote a few weeks ago, what matters to me now is spending time in the quiet of my shop creating work that’s meaningful and satisfying to me. I believe there is plenty of room around model trains for that conversation.
However you choose to enjoy this craft, I hope you’ll take a moment and reflect on what it brings to your life and the sense of renewal and restoration it can provide.
This is one of the more thoughtful blog posts I’ve read in recent days.