Life is short, break the rules. Forgive quickly, kiss slowly. Love truly, laugh uncontrollably and never regret anything that makes you smile. - Samuel Longhorne Clemens (Mark Twain)

Monday, December 2, 2019

Acquisition & Review - Model Railroading as Art - Lance Mindheim

I bought this book a while ago and have been slowly making my way through it. Not because its particularly difficult to read but time seems to be in short supply this year and the puppy managed to eat it not once but twice, so this is my third copy of the book.

There are three writers that I really admire in the model railroad industry; Iain Rice, Tony Koester and Lance Mindheim. Earlier this year I was thinking that it had been quite a while since Mindheim had published a book although he is published in the model railroad press on a frequent basis. I did a quick search and my timing was perfect a new book was in the works. I was hoping that it might be a compilation or perhaps a complete guide on how he does creates his model buildings, but it was quickly evident that he was going to go in a slightly different direction than that. I ordered a copy pretty much as soon as it was available. I eagerly started reading and was about 2 chapters in when the puppy dragged it out of my backpack for a quick snack. I promptly ordered a second copy since the direction that Lance takes is quite fascinating. Being somewhat more careful this time I was keeping it my laptop bag which I unfortunately left unzipped and she found it again. Copy number 2 was good for a mid morning snack. At that point I took about a month long break before ordering my third copy of Lance's book. While the material presented was worth the wait I don't recommend having to purchase it 3 times.

Model Railroading as Art is a very different approach to the hobby than what we are used to seeing and reading. While there isn't new material on how to build something it does present an entirely different perspective on how we should (or at least could) view and design our layouts. I think Iain Rice uses some of these concepts, almost unconsciously, in his approach to design. Lance really does a fine job of translating how to take long established concepts of artistic design and philosophy and applying that to our layouts.

He takes on the visual elements of color, space and line and how we can use those elements to highlight features on are layout. Helping to direct the viewer's eye to where we want it to go and not see the layout as a model railroad but distinctly as a railroad. Scene composition becomes the key, we cannot represent the entirety of even a small part of a railroad in the typical spaces we have available, but rather than compressing our subject and perhaps trying to put to much in we should think about cropping our subject. Change our perspective around the physical boundaries, better element selection (time to stop buying all those cool kits, focus on what is important, time to sell off some of the stuff I have been accumulating) and how to think about placing those elements (or not placing as the case may be). This revolves around your focal point for a given area and requires you to look closer at spacing, scene compression, scale and proportion.

Scale is particularly intriguing within the context of the book. Its not so much about the scale you work in but how things within that scale look, not everything scales down very well. In particular how to deal with overly thick items that we just can't get smaller like hand rails. Lance maintains that the miniature people that populate our layouts also fall into that particular category. While I might agree that the current generation of miniatures that are available to us fall into this classification I think that is more a production problem within the model railroad hobby. If we look at the tabletop miniature world, fine scale miniatures and even our friends in the armor modeling world we can find plenty of samples of miniatures that fit very well within their scaled environments. I have compared some O scale miniatures available through Knuckleduster that not only are much cheaper than the O scale miniatures produced by model railroad companies but totally blow them out of water on both price and quality. So it can be done but we need some one to step up and actually do it in HO scale (at least for me).

None the less, that's a pretty minor disagreement on my part. I only wish that in a couple places Lance had gone into a bit more detail than is actually present but all the information is incredibly useful. This book really dovetails into some of the goals I have for my Warehouse Row layout and I certainly intend to take advantage of utilizing the  "Art" approach that Lance is pushing in this book. I definitely feel that this is a must have book for your model railroad library.

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