The discussion is ongoing about the future of this craft and the impact of all the new tools and processes now available. I admit that I’ve added my uninformed two cents worth on several occasions, both here and elsewhere. I hope this isn’t just another episode of that. I’m not a Luddite who lives in fear of a changing craft. I absolutely agree that new tools and processes have a place at our workbenches. I do however feel that just because something new comes along, we shouldn’t be so eager to throw out the old.

As modelers we tend to make a big deal out of the tools and processes we use. A new technology or product line comes along and before you know it, everyone jumps on the bandwagon. Sometimes I think people believe that if they just had the right tool or technique, all their worries would be over and their modeling would magically improve overnight.

Most of us know however, that a tool or technique is just a means for expressing ourselves. There’s no magic bullet when it comes to improving your work and, a workshop full of fancy tools or a bag of slick modeling techniques is useless without a vision of what you’d like to do with them.

I wish we would emphasize this more because vision is sorely lacking in our work. The same products, kits and techniques are used in the same ways, giving layouts and models a homogenous appearance regardless of the theme chosen by the builder. When a modeler truly breaks the mold, their work stands apart like a beacon on a dark night. We stop and stare and wonder how on earth did he do that?

On the surface the answer is often deceptively simple: the modeler knew what he wanted and went after it. As I suggested though, that explanation doesn’t reach the depths that lie beneath.

In my experience, people who go their own way are listening to their heart rather than following what others are doing. They can indeed be inspired by the work of others, yet take that work much farther by building on it in their own unique ways.

Sometimes vision is focused on a process, other times it’s focused on the desired outcome, where the process involved serves that outcome.

A strong vision is often born from a question like why can’t we do X, or what if I did this? Such questions can captivate a creator’s imagination for a lifetime. Aesthetic vision is also refined over the course of a life. Your first efforts will look clumsy in a few years, as your understanding of the subject deepens and your sense of design and expression grows. In plain English: you’re learning and growing more confident in your abilities. Beginners are all about how to do things. How do you get that effect? How do you mix the colors? How do you make that piece? Seasoned artists have moved from the basic to the more advanced and from the concrete to the abstract.

I honestly don’t know where the craft is going, or what the ultimate impact of 3D printing and other digital tech will have on our work. I believe it’s still early days with this new technology and we’ve yet to fully understand how to use it to the fullest benefit. I also believe there are exciting possibilities opening up to anyone willing to explore them.

In truth, these topics don’t concern me that much now. I have questions and ideas of my own I want to explore. Like all of us, I’ll find my way through the coming changes. I do know however, that great modeling doesn’t happen without a curious and engaged modeler, regardless of the tools he or she might employ.

Now, go make something.
News Item
I’ve had to raise the postage rates for my book Detailing Track. My actual costs for postage have risen and the new rates reflect that increase.


  1. Trevor

    Right on the money as always, Mike.
    I remember when laser cut kits became a thing. Suddenly, everything was laser cut – even things that would’ve been easier (and better) to produce the old-fashioned way.
    For example, laser-cut outhouses: four walls, two roof panels, and far too many burn marks to clean up. And yet, such a structure would take about a half-hour to build at the bench by simply measuring and cutting wood or styrene.
    Laser-cut, peel’n’stick trim on structures is another example. I have found that the trim never looks as nice as building it from strip wood – again, the burn marks are a pain to fix – and the peel’n’stick trim should be called “peel’n’stick, then watch it un-stick in six months trim”.
    The question that should’ve been ask is not “CAN I laser cut this?” but “SHOULD I laser cut this?”
    We’re seeing the same thing now with 3D printing. And we’ll see it with the next technology.
    Fortunately, as time passes and people become familiar with the tools, the bad ideas disappear and the good ones remain (at least, for the most part). 3D printed parts will likely give way to 3D printed masters for casting (I’m already seeing this happening) – at least until 3D printing comes down in price and goes up in quality.
    That said, your real point in this post is about the importance of vision. You’re right. Modelers with vision will approach a project by asking “What do I want to achieve?” and then pick the tool and technique to achieve it. New techniques and tools are embraced – and often enable us to do things better or quicker. But if they’re not the most appropriate solution, we’re happy to return to tried and true tools and processes.
    – Trevor (Port Rowan in 1:64)

  2. Simon

    Trevor is spot on: it is a case of using the most appropriate tools, materials and techniques, and also of accepting that there may be several ways to archive similar results.

    A number of times I have seen a new technique in print or on-line, where the originator has said that they hadn’t realised that making X was not possible, so they went ahead and did it anyway.

    The key to success is being prepared to try a variety of techniques and materials until you find the means to personal success, and to then develop that technique, but be open to new ideas along the way.


  3. friesonmyburger

    While not exactly a tool and not really relevant to modelling skills, the new shiny thing in this hobby that has popped up and commanded my attention like nothing else before is BlueRail and battery power. I was a very late adopter of DCC, which happened literally this year, but the second I’m ready for the next layout (which will be in a scale larger than N), I will be all over this new tech like white on rice. The thought of not having to wire or clean track just makes me giddy. And by the time I am ready, the technologies involved will have matured that much more. Very exciting times indeed.