Hilton and Mears: Complete or finished…

Chris and I have previously talked about inspiration and motivation and this naturally progressed to the subject of completing a project. What follows is an edited narrative of that next conversation and a chance for us to explore the concept…

Popularly we start with a declaration of what we are going to do. That declaration explains the scale, prototype, all the details of that finished layout. To the builder, in their moment, this is undoubtedly clear. I have those visions too where I can see it as well. I still think one of the main reasons we build model railways is to create a place where we can gather and mature relationships between ourselves and those we enjoy the company of. This promise of a layout coming is an expression not of boastful pride but I like to think of it as expressing a vision of something we’d like to invite our friends to gather around and engage with. Through it’s lifespan the hobby has evolved that aspiration and made it one popular reason to build a model railroad, motivation for completing it, reminder why we do it. 

Throughout my life a model railway has been a connection point, perhaps not overtly of that purpose but nevertheless a place to share experiences. Early memories of ‘helping’ Dad with our first layout (first of many), later a vehicle to foster my friendship with Tim, hours spent playing trains… as an adult these connections may have become virtual through the internet with occasional exhibitions. Relationships have been key through everything I’ve built and shared

But model railroaders can be artists too. Individual creative people fascinated with curiosity and the places that questions lead to. Where the popular path through layout construction is ultimately attached to creating something around which we can host friends, this alternative path faces inward and changes the definition of what “completed is”. Complete, in this context, is not the fully rendered vision but rather enough of an answer to a question we worked through by building a model railroad. Answers formed in models created or processes studied by their application. 

In the UK we’re comfortable with smaller layouts, by virtue of smaller homes and frequent exhibitions. Layouts are often built with either a deadline in mind, or at least in relative short order - which in turn lends itself to trying out new ideas or practicing new techniques. Complete is more tangible as the experimenter or artist can get the layout more or less traditionally complete, and artistically finished in the same time. Consider my own recent output… from box layouts trying new scales (Creech Grange) or compositions (Vowchurch and Canal Street Wharf) to cameos spanning the Atlantic as opportunities to hone skills (ground cover and trees on Kinross) or just scratch an inspirational itch (East Works and Pont-y-dulais). As well as these traditionally complete layouts are a myriad of started but incomplete experiments ranging from no baseboards (006.5 peat which started me building my own trees) to magnetic board alignment (Coy in a box). Here finished is an emotional label. I am done, I can move on to the next thing.

So much of how we evaluate the model railway is hinged to it as a finished thing. It’s as if we can’t understand it until it’s complete. Like words of a story that aren’t clear or understood until the book is read. Just as this hobby can be about making things our sense of what we pursue in a layout plan can be evaluated by the craft opportunities it represents. Will this be an opportunity to practice making more track or is this combination of trains the right platform to help me evolve my understanding of how to program DCC decoders? 

As railway modellers we rely upon a combination of both inspiration and motivation to drive our model making, our artistry. Chris reflected that this might be driven by either the social or something more internal… I wonder if these two things are more intrinsically linked… art doesn’t exist without an audience and by sharing our creativity with others we can find the momentum needed to create something of our own, or our part of a group project. However we should not be embarrassed by the traditionally incomplete… when a project runs out of steam (excuse the pun) perhaps you’re experiencing a natural form of emotional completion. Inspiration to natural conclusion. Finished. 

Perhaps then, inspiration, is not always attaching a pin to a map but functional of a variety of opportunities we see in an idea. Looking in at that framework of prototype versus scale and available space we see something that looks like the right compound of ingredients. The decision to execute this plan then is discovering this combination and “doing it” because we see that chance to explore new skills or practice our existing ones. As creative people our work is often not so much the thing we make as the way we made it that calls our hands, hearts, and minds to action and moves us from armchair to tabletop. 


If you enjoyed this post, it forms the second part in a conversation started earlier in the year, read the first part here