It’s the tension of walking into the unknown and unfamiliar that keeps the craft alive for me.

I wanted to show the progress I’ve made on the window sash for the Hoosier Drill Company building but to be brutally honest, I’m quite indifferent toward the way they turned out. Many people would consider them acceptable as is but I’m no longer interested in acceptable. I’m more aware than ever that my productive years of modeling are finite and I don’t want to spend that precious time settling for acceptable outcomes.

I’m drawing inspiration for this project from the work of Peter Johnson’s Canada Street layout featured in volumes 245, 251, 252 and 258 of the Model Railway Journal. In looking at Peter’s fine work in modeling the large industrial buildings, I don’t see things like fingerprints, blobs of glue squeeze out or misaligned joints. What I do see is excellent craftsmanship that adds immeasurably to the atmosphere he’s recreating. In examining his results in 4mm scale, I’m faced with my own lack of skill in working with quarter-inch. The pieces I see on my workbench don’t lie. They aren’t horrible but they aren’t excellent and I know I can do better.

A lifetime of creative work teaches one several habits of thinking. Among them are becoming aware of what is and isn’t working with your process and approach. In thinking through my own procedures with the window sash I see that my tools and methods are a bit crude for the task I ask them to do. I need to reevaluate my approach and methods here. Second, I’m not certain I’m using the best material for the glazing. At 0.015” it’s thicker than I prefer and I’m using it because it’s all I could find locally. I’ve yet to decide if my issue is with the actual thickness of the material or just my own sloppy handling of it. On a positive note, I’m thrilled with the impact of using pieces with close to scale cross sections. The sash has a delicacy that faithfully mimics a full size window and the realism this adds to the model is stunning and well worth the effort involved.

Another habit of thinking from professional creators is a willingness to push beyond your current level and take risks with the work. Because of the scope of our projects (think layout), we don’t care about the process as long it works and produces results quickly and effortlessly. Just crack the code and give me the formula, that’s all I want. That mentality is the kiss of death for many creators. Doing the same thing over and over in any craft leads to boredom and mediocre outcomes. Modeling is no different.

You learn to determine what matters and how to judge the work against your own standards. So, after fitting the window sashes to their openings I stepped back and looked at them hard and with a critical eye. The fact that I was neither thrilled nor totally disgusted was informative. Instead of going upstairs for the night I dug out some different materials and tried an idea just to see what would happen with it. It was the most productive and enjoyable hour I’ve spent at the bench in the past two weeks. It’s still very much in development. It might work, it might not, and the point is in the knowledge and experience gained. The outcome is almost secondary at this point. So many would ask whether this is worth all the fuss and bother. My answer is yes. For me the process of modeling is the point, not a dreaded step that I have to endure before my enjoyment can begin.

It bears repeating that the craft is what you make of it. You can follow somebody else’s formula and rules, or bring every bit of your own curiosity. It’s up to you because the path to contentment in this craft isn’t linear or one-dimensional. It’s the one you mark out for yourself. I’m aware enough of my own needs to know that I’m happiest when I feel that tension of walking into the unknown and unfamiliar. It’s where the craft lives and my soul is fed.



  1. Rene Gourley

    “The process of modelling is the point, not a dreaded step to be endured before my enjoyment can begin”

    This is nicely stated, Mike. Reflecting on my own engagement with the hobby, it is the endless opportunity for personal growth that keeps me coming back.

  2. Jeff Peck

    The paths one can take in this hobby look like an old Esso road map of the New York City area. Choosing one and staying true to it and the standards you set are key. Sometimes it’s the little things that bring us great joy in this hobby.

  3. mike

    Thanks guys. Rene’, your project is far more involved than mine, and more intimidating too!


  4. Craig Townsend

    I see myself in a similar situation of trying to push my own modeling boundaries, but ironically encouraged to do so by the likes of your posts and those of Rene.

    I’ve had on my mind a large scratch built brass model of a snow plow for years. But I’ve also known that my skills in brass work are lacking. Watching Rene design his locomotive pushed me to start designing the parts for my project, using similar methods of brass etching. Without Rene publishing his success (and failures) I probably wouldn’t have tried to move forward with the project.

    At the same time, reading your posts about redoing parts over and over again until they meet your satisfaction, has pushed me to do a similar thing with a plastic scratch build.

    In other words it’s nice to read and hear about the failures as much as the successes in this hobby.

    A big thanks goes out to you and Rene for posting about these trials and errors, and be willing to share them with the masses.

  5. David

    I have some photos of Canada Street. Let me know if you’d like copies to upload.

    In the meantime many thanks for your thought-provoking articles.

  6. mike

    That would be lovely David. Thank you.


  7. mike

    You’re welcome Craig. I always feel the best way to promote better work is for people to show it and share the truth of how they got there. Too much of the literature makes it seem like the stuff just falls into the lap effortlessly.