OCE – Three Steps Closer to Perfection

Have a look at this simple, beautiful picture:

Picture reproduced by kind permission of Trevor Marshall
Just a train running through some woodland, next to a river, right? Yes. And also, no.

Yes: it is a train; there is woodland; and there is a river.

No: it is not just that; it is not even a simple case of the whole being more than the sum of the parts. There is more to it than that. But not too much more, and best of all, these are basic principles, attitudes and activities which can be applied to any creative activity, but which lie at the core of “finescale with feeling”.

  1. Observation – This could also be called “attention to detail”, in that it is about identifying the detail points in the prototype: the slope of the embankment (“fill”, if you are North American); the texture of the grass and leaves; the size and shape of the trees; the correct details on the train. If you get this stage wrong, then the result cannot be “closer to the prototype” and I would argue that it is not finescale. To get this right, spend time observing.
  2. Composition – How best to arrange things. Not as simple as it might seem. The prototype often disappoints in this respect: notable painter Constable altered the arrangement of the real world to improve his famous picture, “The Haywain”. Trevor has written some interesting musings on his composition of the Lynn Valley, and of course has put them into practice, too. There is a large element of “love of subject” here, as the aim is to make subtle adjustments to the real scene so that the model displays it all in the best light. This is feeling. To get this right, spend time immersed in information: books, photos, videos, site visits, and then play around with plans, card mock-ups, etc.
  3. Execution – The quality of workmanship. A high degree of skill is required (the hallmark of finescale) but also the care of that workmanship – back to feeling – makes this a believable representation of the real world, even if it isn’t an exact copy of a real place. This is true finescale with feeling. To develop and hone a skill, spend time getting a feel for tools and materials.

None of this comes automatically, except maybe to the very gifted few. Not all of us can reach the high standards displayed by Trevor, but as the major requirement for each of Observation, Composition and Execution is simply time, we can all try at our own pace, and each of these can be practised whenever and wherever desire and opportunity coincide.

At the end of the process, what do we see? Just a train running through some woodland, next to a river...

11 thoughts on “OCE – Three Steps Closer to Perfection

  1. Trevor

    Hi Simon:
    Thanks for the kind words. I’m flattered!
    I do think, though, that everybody in the hobby can reach high standards. I know my first efforts at everything in this hobby were really, really awful – yet I’ve achieved something of which I can be proud. I think the key is to train oneself to think critically about what one has accomplished – and if it doesn’t measure up, to commit to re-doing the work until it does.
    That’s not an easy commitment to make – but this IS a hobby, after all, so the journey is as important as the destination.
    I already see things in the Lynn Valley scene that I want to re-do – not right away (I have other things to do first) but once I’ve brought the rest of the layout up to a uniform degree of finish.
    Again, thanks for the nice words.
    – Trevor (Port Rowan in 1:64)

  2. teigl

    Simon, thanks so much for alerting me to this masterpiece. It is truly majestic and I can’t understand why I haven’t found it before. I’ve spent about an hour so far reading through the blog and noting salient points, realising that this is very close to perfection, certainly closer than I will ever get. It did give rise to a thought, though. Most model railways are impressionistic in many ways, and will contain areas of sharpness where the builder is an expert in a particular field…locos, trackwork, point rodding, structures etc. Here, almost everything satisfies the eye of the relevant expert in every way. Photo after photo left me reeling with admiration and awe as I looked through the blog. Then something rang false. The cows under the trestle just looked clumsy to my eyes. I was brought up on a farm and kept various breeds of cattle myself for many years, although I am not an expert. But there’s something about them that doesn’t ring true. They are fine…there’s nothing wrong with them really and I suppose I am being a pain in the arse for pointing this out. But when everything else is to such an amazing standard…I don’t think this is a fault, and I couldn’t begin to approach this standard of work…my hat will never be back on for I will always have it raised for this guy’s work. But when everything else is so incredibly good…just sayin’…

    PS Trevor and Simon, please feel free to dis all my work, which is not fit to approach these standards!

    1. Dunks Post author

      Really, Iain, I am shocked. I have mentioned Trevor and Port Rowan many times. How could you have missed it? Dear, dear.
      What little I know about cows can be put between two slices of bread or next to some roast potatoes so I can’t offer any comment.

    2. Trevor

      Hi Iain:
      Thanks so much for the kind words. I’m pleased that you’re enjoying my blog.
      As for the cows, no offence taken. I’m curious, though: what doesn’t work for you? Is it the cows themselves, or their placement? If the latter, I must tell you that when I measured the bridge, there were cows in the river immediately downstream as I’ve modelled them. And a couple if my readers who grew up in the area tell me that’s been the case all their lives.
      I must admit the cow figures themselves are not that great. They are farm toys so tend to be a little “blobby” and best suited for background work. I will keep an eye out for better S scale cattle.
      Again, thank you, and no offence taken.
      -Trevor (Port Rowan in 1:64)

      1. Dunks Post author

        Given the lack of modelling proceas to report and the amount of “philosophy”, aka BS, a discussion on cows seems entirely appropriate!


      2. teigl

        Hi Trevor, thank you for being such a gentleman. It was churlish of me to single out the cows in the midst of such sublimity. No, it’s not the placement – that’s lovely. We had a slow-running river on our land and I always used to love seeing the cows enjoying the cool water, it’s classic behaviour and very endearing. More just that the cows, compared to absolutely everything else on your layout, were not very convincing as models. I spent quite a lot of time doing a herd of Ayrshires for a customer’s layout, painting the markings properly, filing the poor things down and adding milliput to give them the right conformation…and still the result wasn’t particularly edifying. As I say, not many folk are “cow spotters” like me and I really was being the very worst kind of nit picker 🙂

  3. teigl

    Sorry, Simon, I did notice you had mentioned Port Rowan before, it’s just me being short sighted . It has certainly opened my eyes! You could parade any number of model locomotives past me and I wouldn’t know whether they were correct or not so I don’t really have the right to criticise something that 99.99% of folk won’t notice.

  4. Dunks Post author

    Your comments intrigue me. The very first model railway magazine I bought, the Railway Modeller for May 1975, had a delightful layout called Penllyn as the Railway of the Month. Like Penhydd and Llangullo even more so, the layout was an attempt (successful, in my mind, as I have since visited) the general feel of an area. But the layout was built by a farmer, and in it he mentioned the problem with getting accurate cows: in his case, “Welsh Blacks” out of Airfix models. (There had been an article on modelling them a few months earlier, I later discovered.) He also mentioned the word “conformation”, which I will now have to look up again.

    The point is, if we are to embrace the concept of, for want of a better phrase, “total railway modelling” then this sort of information – including the correct terminology – is vital, as are comments that 0.01% may not be able to make: the rest of us may think that there is something not quite right, but not know what it is. Then along comes Mr. Oneintenthousand and tells us what it is that is not quite right. Knowing that the key search term is “conformation” is great – personally, I don’t mind looking, but I like to know what I am looking for.


  5. snitchthebudgie

    Reblogged this on esngblog and commented:
    The budgie has landed….. Back from holiday after a good break. Here’s an interesting article by Simon Dunkley to be going on with, that explores the way to a realistic railside scene – and the philosophy behind it. Yes, even railway modellers can be philosophical (well, probably after a pint or two).

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