Avoid getting caught in the detail trap

Following on from the last post, an amusing little tale from Marty McGuirk….

Recently I attended a corporate retreat day where one of presentations that stuck in my head was titled “How to Measure Progress: Moving Forward Toward the Big Picture vs. Getting Caught up in the Details.” Quite a mouthful, but I immediately thought of model railroading. The instructor opened with a quote – not from a business tycoon or marketing giant, but an artist:

 “Nothing is less real than realism. Details are confusing. It is only by selection, by elimination, by emphasis, that we get at the real meaning of things.” ― Georgia O’Keeffe

This is often described as a golden age for model railroading. Never have we had it so good. We get detailed models, fresh out of the factory that reflect even the most minor differences between prototypes.

I’ll never forget when I was at Intermountain and we released the D&RGW version of the N scale SD40T-2. (Yes, some N scalers will recall the first run of the model had some teething pains, but that’s not the point of the story).   I’ll never forget the phone call I received a couple of weeks later from an irate (I mean really ticked off) modeler who sounded like he was about to have a coronary on the phone as he described the source of his angst:

“The jacking pads are the wrong shape on the SP tunnel motors. I’ve bought six of them, now I have to return them. And you <expletive deleted> SOB… now that you’ve ruined them no one will ever make them.”

“Excuse me,” I said, “the jacking pads?”

“Yes, the <f@#$ing> jacking pads. On the SP the tops are rounded – you <f@#%ers> did the Rio Grande ones and they’re squared off but you’re selling them as prototypical for the SP!!!”

This went on for what seemed like an eternity – I knew nothing was going to make this guy happy. At first I decided maybe he just needed to vent. After a while I almost started hoping for the aforementioned coronary to put him out of my, and what was clearly his, misery. For the record what he was referring to was the representation the metal stamping on the ends of the jacking pads located above the trucks of the sides of the jacking pads – the shape was less than 1/64” of inch. No one, and I mean not one person, ever commented on the shape of the jacking pads after that. But clearly it was important to him.

If that guy – who never mentioned his name – is reading this I’m sorry I ruined your enjoyment of the hobby. (And I almost mean that seriously.)

I bring this up to illustrate how we need to pick and choose which details we emphasize.  Models are, at their very essence, representations of a real object. Locomotives are big, heavy objects. Shape or form, color, and perhaps some use of light and shadow (“weathering”) to impact a sense of mass can be far more important to create the impression of a hard working piece of machinery than fretting over any individual minor detail.

In the context of a model railroad layout that entire locomotive is just another element. Just as a painting is made up of numerous brush strokes, the layout is comprised of numerous “micro details.” That locomotive, the track, and each car, structure and trees, are each “micro” details – that combine to create the “macro” item – a model railroad layout.

True artists have the ability to capture the essence of a subject in their chosen medium. And in some cases, less is more.

About snitchthebudgie

Secretary of the East Surrey N Gauge railway club
This entry was posted in Inspiration, Jon's layout ramblings, Layout design and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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