Saturday, February 06, 2010

Standards change

The front cover of "Model Railway Journal", the magazine for the finescale model railway fraternity, shows some buildings by George Iliffe Stokes. Looking at them I was struck by the similarity with those seen on the Madder Valley Railway built by John Ahern.
Both layouts are home to buildings with bags of character. All are scratchbuilt using the materials available to modellers before the middle of the 20th Century and both are deservedly famous as they were created in an age when railway modellers didn't really bother with anything beyond the lineside fence. These men were artists who attempted to produce a complete scene rather than just see the trains whizzing by.

Yet there is one thing that makes me smile more than any other - if either layout were produced today, no magazine would be interested in featuring it. That's especially true for MRJ where only the highest standards are to be seen. The editors would probably say nice and encouraging things, praise the effort required to make everything from basic materials and then return the photos.

You can see why too. A trip to any decent model shop with your credit card will see you leave with ready built structures of a standard Stokes and Ahern could only dream of. Should you not want to bother leaving the house, Scalescenes will let you download kits to be printed off at your leisure.
What really stands out is that the old models look old. They don't have the level of detail we now expect, yet aside from the glues used, we can make models from the same materials today and they will look squarer and generally sharper. I wouldn't call myself the best building modeller in the world yet I bet I could knock up something of a higher standard. Why ?
I think I know.

Two weeks ago we had the AGM for the model boat club. After the official business there was a talk from a trustee looking after King Henry the 8th's famous ship, the Mary Rose. One of the problems they have is that no one really knows what the vessel looked like when it sank. There are drawings but generally they are terrible. It seems that artists of the day didn't understand the concept of perspective. Therefore the images are hopeless, misshapen with guns pointing in all directions. Why ? It's not like the artists couldn't have done the same thing we are all taught - "Draw what you see" - perspective isn't even that difficult a concept to grasp but we are still stuck with paintings that are hopelessly unrealistic.

It's the same thing with model making. We each stand on the shoulders of those who went before. Stokes, Ahern and a few others created modeling as we know it. Were I to start from the position they were in, without any reference and having to develop every technique myself, I'd be rubbish. And for that we owe them a great deal.

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