Thinking through the discussion of why we do what we do in this craft, there have been some amazing insights. The comments offered have demonstrated a depth of thought that humbles me and illustrates how meaningful our craft can be.
One such insight is the idea that asking why may not hold the significance one might expect. If we’re to have a true spirit of inquiry, then the questions themselves are also fair game. As Simon observed, knowing why certain choices have been made may or may not alter our motivations. It’s a thought worthy of due consideration.
I feel this quest for a deeper understanding of our involvement in this craft reflects something broader: an urge to create.
As a topic, creativity suffers from a lot of emotional baggage. Too many people think it’s some mix of voodoo or other black art mixed with cosmic selection visited on an anointed few. I’m sorry to burst any bubbles but the reality is far simpler and less dramatic. I believe creativity is hardwired in our DNA and the means of expressing it varies widely between individuals. Further, I believe you can trace the threads of creativity throughout your life.
These posts and my conversation with Chris and others has been instructive for me. It has prompted some deep reflection as I’m at a stage where I’m questioning the fundamental premises behind my own pursuit of this craft. Reflecting back, I’ve begun to see the threads, including one around trains, that make up a larger tapestry.
At an early age I became fascinated with craftsmanship. I remember watching a TV news segment on the restoration of an old wooden sailing vessel using a blend of modern tools and traditional techniques. The image of a railing being fitted into place and watching the joint between two pieces of wood come together seamlessly, is still fresh in my mind as if I watched it yesterday. The idea and ability of human hands to do such work thrilled me and still does because my appreciation of what’s involved has matured over the years.
While I only dabbled in woodworking as a dilettante, I found myself drawn deeply to the craft of watercolor painting after discovering the work of the late Andrew Wyeth. Again, it was the craftsmanship of his technique that captivated me initially and still does. I would look at his paintings and say: “I want to do that!” However, it was only after many years of studying and reading about his work that I began to understand the ideas he was expressing. This is no small thing because I came to realize his technical mastery was only a means of expression for ideas that ran far deeper. I spent many years trying to imitate Wyeth’s technique without understanding how futile that was. It was only much later that I realized I needed to find my own voice as an artist before I would be able to do anything of substance.
Reflecting further on these interests, I realized that the material involved, be it glass, metal, ceramic, wood, paint or other, was nearly irrelevant. I find the processes of working all of them supremely interesting. Today, I understand that craft is only the catalyst and it’s up to me to bring myself to the work at hand if long term enjoyment is to be found.
This thread also shows up in my journey through railroad modeling. In the 1970s I was drawn to the work of Bill Clouser and Bob Hegge, two pioneers of quarter-inch finescale. It wasn’t that I found traction subjects so interesting, it was again, the uncompromising quality of their craftsmanship, which stood head and shoulders above the level of modeling commonly featured. Even then I knew I wanted to do such work but didn’t have the means to do so. Forty years later I have the means and the choices involved in working with P48 standards seem perfectly natural.
In addition to a love of craft my study of painting taught me how to observe a subject deeply. It taught me the fundamentals of shape, form, color, texture and composition, all of which I want to bring to railroad modeling. I spent countless hours walking in the country just observing things and today these observations inform the scenery work on the layout. This knowledge coupled to the desire for fine craftsmanship won’t let me settle for ground foam grass and puffball trees.
Tracing this thread through my life sheds light on the choices I’ve made in this craft. It was both a journey of discovery and one of shedding unnecessary baggage along the way. For me, shedding the unwanted baggage allows for a greater focus on things that truly inspire and fuel my interests. Yet getting here was no small accomplishment. It sometimes feels like this hobby almost wages war on such clarity and doesn’t easily tolerate the outliers who travel a different path and yet, whose work do we remember most but those who traveled that different path.
I could be mistaken here but I think that the process of shedding the mental baggage of the mainstream hobby is the issue some are battling. Coupled with the real concern we could miss out on something important and the unwarranted need for peer approval, it makes for a potent combination. Yet, the answers are there when we find the strength of our own conviction. And, as many have noted, we owe much to those who by example, blazed a trail ahead of us.
I’ve touched on these themes in numerous ways with this blog and fully realize that many people simply don’t care a wit about such things. Fair enough. And yet, others like Chris and Simon, find themselves on similar journeys. They want more than the common notions provide. For myself, I’ve reached the point where I understand that a layout, or individual model and the quality or lack thereof is simply a means of expression for a deeper idea. It’s the exploration of such ideas that will fuel the future of my craft. It’s less about what do I want to model and is becoming more of what do I want to say?
Several years ago I promised myself I wouldn’t give unsolicited advice because doing so is often a waste of everyone’s time. I’m going to break my own rule this one time. My only advice to those on a similar journey is to look for those threads in your life. You’ll find them and may discover how consistent they’ve been. Once you do find one, follow it wherever it leads and enjoy the journey. The satisfaction you’re seeking comes from within, instead of without.
Beautifully put, Mike.
This is no small thing because I came to realize his technical mastery was only a means of expression for ideas that ran far deeper.
The whole post is beautiful and thoroughly enjoyable but I particularly enjoyed that thought. I grew up on a steady diet of the British model railway magazines and in those pages discovered the Pendon Museum and their modelling methods. I’ve always enjoyed how open they were with what worked for them in terms of technique and materials. Contrary to what I felt like I was reading from other modelmakers I enjoyed a philosophy that started with “How can I make…?” instead of the more typical “How can I use sheet styrene and basswood to make…?” Of course, it wasn’t just the humble materials but the conviction of approach that modelling to their standard was always possible if the modeller was willing to invest the time and patience – all of which anyone can provide.
Thanks for sharing the thoughts Mike and keeping this conversation going.
Worthy of a zen master, that.
Those who understand others are intelligent
Those who understand themselves are enlightened
– Lao Tse, Tao de Ching
Thanks Chris but I’ve contributed my tuppence for crown and hobby. Where it goes from here is up to you guys.
Thank you Rene’
Simon, Most days I understand neither. -Mike
I was thinking of the phrase, “the past is another country”, and putting the biblical reference into that context: the pioneers of old were often ignored or decried, and only recognised more recently for their contribution.
What gets my goat is that it was the so-called “rivet counters” of days past who did so much to push manufacturers to produce better models, and yet the box-openers – who have benefitted greatly from this – completely miss that point.
Hope that clarifies.
I agree with the observation about prototype modelers pushing the manufacturing envelope with regard to quality.
I am however put off and embarrassed by this nonsense surrounding the references to prophets and sages. I’m neither and don’t wish to be.
I’m just trying to figure this out along with others. So please, let’s keep some perspective here and to that end, I’ve removed those comments.
Fair enough, your blog.
Wasn’t calling you a prophet (concerned that you thought I was), and the sage reference was light-hearted humour. I mean, railway modelling is neither deep nor shallow enough to provide a vein of profundity.
For those who missed it, I referred to the biblical phrase that a prophet (i.e. a modeller with higher standards) is ignored in his own country (e.g. the time he was modelling).
Enough – I have obviously said too much.