You’ve come to the museum to see the latest exhibit from the reign of King Whoever. As you enter the gallery space there’s a sign that introduces and explains the themes of the exhibit. However, it’s a two thousand-word essay in 12-point type that tries to tell you everything and the only person who has likely read the whole thing is the staff member who wrote it. You take one glance and think no way I’m reading all that. It’s too bad because buried in the middle of that text are a few tidbits of information that would greatly enhance your understanding and enjoyment of the items on display.

On the way to the museum, you passed a billboard that featured a huge image of a mouthwatering cheeseburger and four words in large, easy to read type that said: “Hungry? Eat at Moe’s.”

Which message got through?

Design has a language that, when used fluently, brings clarity and expression. Used poorly, you’re left confused and frustrated. Good design communicates clearly. Trying to do everything, like the exhibit sign at the museum, simply leads to clutter and chaos.

A simple statement has power. Strong shapes, a stark contrast between light and dark, bold type and vibrant colors all catch the eye, even at a glance. These are a few of the visual design principles behind highway billboards, window posters and signage, where the core message has to be conveyed in mere seconds.

A Hobby Takes Many Forms
I approach modeling from a background in the arts, where ideas are the core of the work, excellence is encouraged and honing your craft is respected.

 Of many things one learns from the arts, getting to the core of an idea or subject is central to the work. Much of the work involves stripping away the clutter to find the essence of the subject. I apply a similar process to modeling.

Another thing the arts teach is that the work begins inside, with the artist. Art that has power comes from an emotional connection between the artist and subject. It could be a flash of insight, a glimpse of something out of the corner of the eye or anything. What the artist does with these moments is important. Sometimes there is a rush to get something down before the impression fades; at other times, things need to simmer away in the mind until the idea is ready. The artist has to protect and nurture this connection to find and speak their truth about the subject through the work.

It takes a degree of self-knowledge to appreciate such moments. There is a level of openness and attention involved that only comes with time, practice and a sense of humility and awareness of the world around you. A substantial part of learning to draw is learning to see the world as it is rather than how one thinks it is. The most difficult aspect is letting go of perceptions that simply aren’t grounded in reality.

Representations of Reality
A model is not the actual object. Like a painting or a photo it is a representation. How real or abstract a work is depends on how the artist sees the subject and what he is trying to express about it. In these terms, my modeling is realistic rather than abstract. I want the models to be faithful representations not only in the surface details but also coloring and texture. The setting they are placed in should convey a sense of place that feels familiar on a level beyond the surface. If motion is part of the equation, I want it to be as realistic as the visual qualities.

All of this is my way of saying that I pursue the craft in a very different manner that’s meaningful to me. I don’t see operations as the sole purpose for building a layout. I believe that model building and developing a skilled craft is equally fulfilling. I want to look deeper and express the emotional connection I have to railroading.

The ideas in this book aren’t the answer for everyone. They work well for me and I see them as a framework: a way of thinking about the work and how one might proceed with it. Treating these principles as another formula to follow will rob you of the experience and challenge this craft can provide. You’ll have to think independently, make your own choices about what’s important and understand your own priorities. Creativity is a skill you teach yourself, there is no formula. 

This post is an excerpt from a new book I hope to publish later this year.