Whenever I write on the topic of doing your best, I can count on receiving comments about the dangers of perfectionism. It’s a valid concern but one I feel is misplaced.

Recently I looked over a text I wrote and subsequently published five years ago. Back in 2009, I was pleased with how it turned out and felt I had done a good job. As I went through it a couple of weeks ago with eyes that have five more years of writing and editing experience, I found several typos, even though three separate people had proofread the text multiple times. I found awkward wording, clumsy transitions, and a lot of clutter that didn’t add anything to the text.

I planned to reuse this text in a new work, so I cleaned it up to add greater clarity for the reader and to reflect my current level of writing. Here’s my question: am I a perfectionist in doing this or simply a more knowledgeable writer who cares enough to bring an earlier work up to speed?

If a modeler tears out a portion of old scenery and rebuilds it, is that modeler a perfectionist or simply more skilled and dissatisfied with his earlier work? If you rebuild an older model to reflect your current skill level, are you a perfectionists for doing so?

Striving to do one’s best work is not perfectionism. Perfectionism is a state of mind that says nothing is ever acceptable as it is. Human perfection is an abstract illusion in my view. From a spiritual viewpoint, God alone is perfect and we’re not God.

This hobby, indeed the culture as a whole, has settled for things that are good enough in attitude and in quality. Indeed, we’ve made a virtue out of it and patted ourselves on the back for being so practical. I think this all sets up a wrong set of expectations but maybe it’s just me.

There’s pragmatism and then there’s high standards.
I have a friend who models to very high personal standards. Tony will undersize the wire diameter on his HO diesel handrails to account for the thickness of the finished paint layer, so that the painted rail appears accurately sized. (Visually speaking he’s actually allowing for twice the thickness of paint, on both the top and bottom of the handrail.)

Most who read that will slap their forehead and loudly proclaim: “NO WAY would I go to that extreme!” There are model builders and there are layout builders and often the two have very different mindsets and vastly different objectives for their hobby time. With that understood, three things stand out for me here.

First, most people, myself included, wouldn’t even know how the paint thickness impacts the finished appearance of a model. Tony knows this and more.

Second, this level of attention and consideration isn’t that extreme in Tony’s view. In fact, it’s a bit routine for him because he has spent many years improving his skills to this level of proficiency. It’s also how he approaches life in general. By temperament and by choice, he gives 100% of himself to whatever he sets his mind on doing.

Third, he cares deeply about the quality and presentation of any of work he puts his name to. This care is also reflected in the depth of knowledge and research he brings to a modeling project. Tony spends time, lots of time, in the real world studying, photographing and, when he can, measuring a subject locomotive. He knows about diesel details most of us aren’t even aware exist.

I don’t consider striving for high personal standards the equivalent to being a perfectionist. Tony finishes his projects to his satisfaction and moves on. A perfectionist never finishes anything because he is constantly chasing something that can’t be caught and deludes only himself in the process of thinking perfection is possible.

I think people shy away from doing their best because they don’t want to be labeled or misunderstood. No one wants to wants to be the target of the self-righteous hobby critics when they utter those dreaded words: “You’re an elitist. Wha, ya think ya better than us? My modelin’ is just as good as anybody’s.”

A craftsman like Tony doesn’t have anything to prove. He’s already proved it to himself and to those who matter to him like a mentor or fellow craftsman. A perfectionist, on the other hand, always has something to prove because his ego is tied up in knots over how he looks to others. Perfectionism is seldom about the work as much as it is about the person.

A craftsman just gets on with the work and lets it speak for him.



  1. P4newstreet

    When I earned a living as an illustrator I was always striving for the perfect image. And at the same time I hoped I would never find it, after that what would be the point? That attitude still exists and the idea of that will do, just won’t do. It always amazes me the excuses people use for not trying. Not that they need an excise but what just does not fit with me is if someone can’t motivate themselves to do thier upmost at an activity they have chosen to do, just what is thier work ethic like at something they have to do? I don’t think my approach is the only way but I do accept I’ll probably never understand the other way.

    It comes down to this, ultimately I think any creative type knows, deep down, that what they do will ultimately never be good enough. Do you give up at the start or strive for it regardless?



  2. mike

    “…I don’t think my approach is the only way but I do accept I’ll probably never understand the other way.”

    Completely agree Jim.


  3. mike

    Greetings Martin and welcome to the site. I’ve reposted your comment here in its entirety as it was on the wrong page. I also ask that everyone sign their comments as a courtesy to all.

    “I am a professional modelmaker. What I do for customers has to match the price they’re prepared to pay, but what I do for myself has to be the very best I can do, yes, right down to the rivets. I AM a rivet counter and proud of it. When I make a 1/12th scale model of a McLaren M8F, I actually count the rivets on the real monococque and I measure their diameter. I have to, because the car is there in front of me. Why wouldn’t I?
    For scenic work (where I began my modelmaking as an 8 year old, 53 years ago) I do it based on endless observation. I have been known to measure the length and breadth of Couch grass blades in an effort to get rough grass right. Once again, it’s right there, why wouldn’t I?
    When I couldn’t find the correct chair patterns off the shelf for a narrow gauge line model, I made brass masters from the real thing and had them cast, same for the lock gate furniture for a canal model.
    I could hardly present my work for inspection by others if I hadn’t taken such care with it.
    I have never given a toss about what others think of me, so I am always happy with what I do and who I am. Being a dyed in the wool misanthrope is a wonderful aid to good modelmaking.

    It saddens me to see the paucity of most layouts in exhibitions. Poor observation being the main culprit of poor work. I am of the view that if something is held up to me as excellent and it isn’t, I will criticise it mercilessly. However, if something is offered as a best try so far, by a modest modelmaker, who is trying to improve, I will sing its praises from the rooftop. In other words, if you tell me you’re good, you’d better be bloody good. If you simply do your best, I’ll jump through hoops to help you get better.
    If you just buy off-the-shelf and think it’ll do, don’t even talk to me.”

  4. Odds

    Mike, my comment must have gone awry as I had to register first to leave it, but I thought that well worth doing as I like your attitude.

    Martin Field

  5. P4newstreet

    Hi Martin

    I have had similar experiences when someone joked that I probably measured the kerbstones I was modelling. Like you say, they are there so why wouldn’t I? Generally people that are good at something don’t need to tell people, they can just let them make thier own minds up but like you hint at when I see someone liming thier tipped from a box model locomotive is as good as anything else out there because it comes fitted with sound I kind of roll my eyes and move on.

    Ultimately it comes down to effort for me. Someone can have a superb model built to a high standard but it’s just what hey do. Whereas someone who has took an airbrush to their model for the first time, with all the trepidation that brings have got my interest.

    There’s a guy who demos and posts about weathering at shows and on a forum in the uk and to be honest, his work is utter crap. But he tells people he’s good and people believe him.



  6. mike

    Thank you Martin and not to worry, everything is sorted out now.

    I do agree with you that coddling people who claim to have skills they do not, isn’t doing them a favor. I also agree that an earnest effort regardless of skill level ought to be greatly encouraged.

    Modelers who are focused on the work can accept tough criticism for what it is. When egos get involved though, sad to say, it’s another matter completely. I think we’ve all been on both sides of that situation and how we handle it goes a long way in determining how far we will go with things.

    Sadly, our craft seems to have lost the ability -dare I say it, the grace- to give and accept honest criticism. I don’t know the situation in the UK but, in the US the emphasis on how much fun the hobby is encourages a devil-may-care attitude. People who take a more serious view are ostracized and put down for their dedication to improving, let alone their honesty about the lack of quality in a work.

    I don’t see this attitude in other handcraft oriented pursuits.


  7. Simon

    Sadly, our craft seems to have lost the ability -dare I say it, the grace- to give and accept honest criticism. I don’t know the situation in the UK but, in the US the emphasis on how much fun the hobby is encourages a devil-may-care attitude. People who take a more serious view are ostracized and put down for their dedication to improving, let alone their honesty about the lack of quality in a work.

    Same over here as over there, for the most part.

    Thing is, I get fun out of being “serious”…


  8. mike

    Hi Simon,

    I do too.