Thursday, 30 July 2009

Presentation III

Having said what I don't want it's time to say what I do. I've already mentioned the separate backscene and lighting suspended from the ceiling, so can we assume they'll be in place.

Most layouts are designed to fit a particular shape and size, the required track being juggled to fit the board followed by the scenery squeezed into whatever space is left. I'd like to take the track I want and the scenery I want, and cut the board to the shape and size this determines. There should be no awkwardly truncated buildings or dead spaces; the board footprint can be stretched to accommodate structures uncut or trimmed to avoid areas of uninterest.

I think I'd also like to break away from a deep and regular baseboard edge. There's no reason for the the framing to surround the baseboard surface. A pair of spars running along the major axis could sprout tapered outriggers that would reach to the edge. I'd be tempted to reduce the leg structure to a single, stable, heavy tube that would allow the under board support to be lost in heavy shadows from the overhead lighting. Hopefully the sketch shows the relationship of all these parts.

Mind you looking at it something troubles me. There's a hint of loft living, Cafe Nero or DFS about the whole thing. None of the above are to my taste; I'd like to inject a more homespun look yet keep the principles, have some fun without it coming across as theme pub. I'm not sure if this will be possible. Perhaps it's time to concentrate on the layout and see if it suggests any ideas.

Tuesday, 28 July 2009

Presentation II

I may have been leading up to my current obsession with presentation for longer than I first thought. For some time I've used a light to mid grey as my baseboard edge colour as it's about as neutral as it's possible to get. Concurrently I have also been brewing a healthy dislike of the conventions of layout display. I hate curtains and proscenium arches, black painted baseboard edges, brightly coloured baseboard edges and worst of all, varnished baseboard edges. Framing the layout is usually cited as justification, but rather than contain the eye, they draw the eye.

It's all well and good saying what I don't want, but that doesn't get me that far along the road to working out what I do. If the overall aim is to reduce visual clutter and distraction, then the earlier notion of a separate and wider backscene makes the proscenium arch redundant, lighting can be fixed from the ceiling out of the line of sight; this leaves just the edge of the layout to deal with, and I've ideas how that can be done. More later.

Saturday, 18 July 2009


If I'm to put theory into practice, I can't help but think that I should be saying something other than "This is a nice piece of railway", but what will this message be? Over the last week or so it's dawned on me that one of the attractions of all railways is the juxtaposition of order and chaos. There's the routine of the timetable, the regimentation of the livery, the need for compatible stock with common coupling and brake systems, the grouping of like items into classes and perhaps above all the consistently parallel lines that give order even when nothing else is present. Of course the railways can exhibit their own anomalies but that only serves to enhance the order of the rest. In greatest contrast is the randomness of the human interaction; passengers turn up at differing times, goods traffic ebbs and flows to meet human demand and all other vehicles in human command don't follow the same rigidly proscribed paths. Therefore I think I'd like to say something of this.

This will shape quite literally the design, but more of this later.

Wednesday, 15 July 2009


For a long time, art or rather pictures took the place of photographs, they were records of people, places and events. It seems significant that when photography had taken a little more than the first few faltering steps, artists started to move away from the literal depiction of what they saw to a more representative interpretation stripping away some of the detail but still trying to capture the essence of their subject. Thanks to the wonders of the digital age it's easy to take an average black and white photo and turn it by stages from something with detail and sharp lines to a more fluid outline yet retain the meaning and context of the view.

Quite how I'll bring this to the model has me flummoxed at the moment, but I'll be thinking about it over the weeks to come.

Monday, 13 July 2009


I don't think it'll come as much of a surprise to find that I'm planning on something French as my next venture. At the moment no firm plan has bubbled to the surface, though the gift of three four foot diameter circles of good quality ply has made me consider a circular HO layout. I seem to be making a bit of a habit of models set on islands (Shell Island and the Isle of Avalon Tramway) and have started to wonder about the possibility of locating this latest venture on an island in the Seine.

I have been hugely impressed by photos of Brian Harrap's latest HO layout in the round, but I do like a backscene to finish things off. Trying to combine all these elements has led to the sketch above where a free standing backscene a small distance behind the layout helps focus the eye on the modeled foreground. I think it's also worth making the backscene significantly wider than the layout so that it's edge doesn't show whatever angle the layout is viewed from. It may also be possible for the one backscene to serve the layout whichever point of the circle is positioned at the front.

Saturday, 11 July 2009

Nothing ventured .....

There's a recurring question frequently asked, are model railways art? No consensus ever emerges, the debate circling round abstract concepts of intent and value based comparisons with other pieces of work generally held to be art. Sometimes a tick list of skills we employ is used to beef up the assertion that model railways are indeed art.

I think it might be better to step back from direct comparisons and have a look at activity in the world of painting. Amateur painters seem as a whole to want to better their skills and see this as a route to becoming a better artist. Having seen a lot of amateur and semi-professional paintings I think that I'd have to disagree and say that skills alone will only make them better illustrators. Art is about more than a pretty picture, it should stir some emotion inside. Those paintings of trains that make it onto the front of two thousand piece jigsaws are illustrations, whereas some of the David Shepherd paintings of the decay of steam are art.

Model railways could be art if they can convey something more than the three dimensional representation of a piece of railway. This may be what's held to be atmosphere, but it might be necessary to go beyond atmosphere to get to art. Accuracy and fidelity to prototype alone won't get you there; that path leads to sterile illustration.

You might have guessed from all this that I'm going to have a go at art. Well I am, though I'm quite alive to the possibility I might fail. As the saying goes nothing ventured, nothing gained.

I'm taking a break .....

.... from finescale. I rather fancy a different approach.