From The Intro To Vol. 10
In the early days of the blog, I posted a photo and asked readers what they saw in it. I often featured mundane scenes as a challenge to people’s perceptions. Even with a dull subject, there is always something interesting to see.
Looking at something and seeing it are two different things. When we first look at an object, we’re only taking in the most basic information about it: shape, color, size and perhaps texture. And unless we’ve taken notes or photos, we’re unlikely to recall many of these simple characteristics later.
Seeing, as I’m using the word, refers to a deep awareness or understanding of an object. Acquiring this level of understanding takes time and effort. Some aspects will come easily, others may elude you for years, only to yield at the most unexpected time and place. It’s no different in railroad modeling, as we study the prototype.
As modelers we tend to settle for surface impressions. While these aspects are important, they lack substance. Think of the typical hallway conversaton:
Me: “Hey how are you?”
You: “Fine thanks; you?”
You: “Great, See you later.”
Communication may have happened in that exchange but nothing of real substance was offered. We gloss over a myriad of details in the same way with a modeling subject, whether it be the style of a brakewheel or the entirety of a railroad’s operations. We ignore such depth and nuance because we’re too preoccupied with the big details and because we don’t ask deep questions about the subject at hand.
Whether you’re looking at a freight car, a building or an entire scene, the quality and depth of the questions you ask will directly shape your understanding of it and the outcome of your modeling.
Modeling railroad subjects in miniature, like other fine arts, is a conversation between the subject, the craftsman, and the materials. In this edition of TMC I suggest that observing the prototype is like being in a classroom.
I contend that a boxcar is not just an object to copy, it’s your classroom and teacher. It’s an opportunity to understand what qualities make it unique from the hundreds of other cars that look just alike on the surface. Your study is also a chance to learn what you need to bring of yourself to the work, to understand what form of bias you bring to the project or whether your current skills are adequate. Seen this way, looking at the prototype can take your craft to a different level of involvement. Approached this way, you will learn as much about yourself as the subject matter. It’s an approach to the craft that need never grow stale unless you grow complacent with it. In this way the demands of the craft will always be greater than your expertise and therefore, you always have something to strive toward. This is not some neurotic pursuit of perfection. It’s simply an ongoing conversation that only grows deeper and more satisfying through the years. If you’re intrigued, then read on.