Sunday, 16 February 2014

Interpretation...And The Hobby...


I have been catching up on some blog reading during the week and there were at least four of my regular sites where "interpretation" of certain layout aspects and building was discussed in some form or another. 

This fact got me thinking as the word interpretation seems to crop up a lot in our hobby for a myriad of reasons and I am certain it has influenced the way I approach or view the hobby following a few days of mulling this over in my mind I thought I would attempt to put my thoughts into writing and at the same time it might give me a better understanding of the phenomena.

I thought of other "artistic" avenues far removed from our hobby where interpretation takes place to attempt a comparison of how it is used and the outcomes it provides and have come up with at least two comparisons

Firstly I examined a "portrait artist" and why it is, that a person would still mix up paint and spend hours if not days and months to achieve a likeness that could be attained in a few seconds via simple and relatively cheap digital camera technology and output to print in a few seconds... indeed if he wanted to embellish or personalise the raw photograph then there is also software available that will allow most things to be achieved with a few clicks of the mouse button.

The sculptor is another example, some still toils for massive amounts of time in clay or bronze to complete a bust that could now be accurately created by computer technology in the form of 3D printing and/or rapid prototyping, all without the need to be judged by some as accurate or not.

It is also interesting how the public perceives or interprets the artist's work.  I have seen many famous portraits that to my eye, display ( possibly through lack of understanding ) very little in common with the subject matter.  Indeed some of these "prized" works seem almost childlike to me. I do try and find the "key" to it all...but sometimes struggle.   The Archibald Portrait competition is a perfect example where some works are derided by some and loved by others...This brings another factor into the equation and that is the link of how the artist views his work versus how the audience then views it....There is an unmistakeable comparison that can be drawn to our hobby here...

I wonder how many artists evaluate and re-evaluate in their minds as to whether they are satisfied with one of their works...or whether they gauge their own success solely on public reaction...and does an artist readily admit that the level of interpretation of the subject of an artwork is actually linked to his or her skill level?  It may be that I am over thinking the point and artists are just like most modellers and "do it for fun" Or maybe they see this "interpretation" as their personal slant on reality.   

Of course creating a model railway cannot be done in a single session via computer technology...Some of us choose to model a prototype location, take a plethora of photographs and triple check all dimensions and try to replicate this in exact and minute detail...while some of us take a different path and create a fictitious location that includes elements of what we enjoy and combine this to provide a landscape to run our trains this approach the sole meaning of "interpretation"?

I then started to wonder how many of us create a layout based solely on our own wants and needs or whether the perception of how the layout will be viewed and evaluated by others influences the decisions we make?.  Do we all strive for perfection and then sometimes offer up the excuse of interpretation in lieu of recognising our overall limitations?.
I am not sure whether the comparisons I have drawn upon to illustrate this post are fair and reasonable...but it was the closest I could come up with for a self explanation.

So what is the point of this post.  Well for me the issue does have some personal significance because I have been wondering whether the issues raised here ( and discussed on other blogs ) played some part in my loss of interest in the hobby last year. Was it a fear of failure? and was that fear a personal fear or the fear of being judged to have failed in the eyes of peers and other modellers.

I may incur a bit of a spray for this next comment...but of all the pastimes that I am involved with in life...this hobby does appear to have a rather judgemental nature. To illustrate that point one only has to take a look at Railpage and other such forums where "interpretation" is sometimes viewed as failure and only perfection ( whatever that is ) is acceptable.

Another point that is not lost on me is that a fair proportion of those "critics" are not currently engaged in building a layout...or are active modellers.  While I am certainly not saying that the ownership of a layout is the sole pre-requisite of being a critic... It is a reality that it is "easier to judge than to be judged"...  I guess we are all guilty of that at some time or another. 

For me going forward is a new found interest, inspiration and approach to my layout based solely on MY needs and wants.  I certainly will continue to push myself, learn new skills and hone others. I will continue to blog regularly and seek input from other modellers...but the emphasis will be on fun as my spare time is as limited as most of us and I will be utilising that time for creating self enjoyment instead of doubt and worrying about..."interpretation"

Have a great week!!!     



  1. Rod,

    Thanks for the post. I suggest that we all interpret in some shape or form in most things we do and our modelling is no different. Indeed, I could suggest that honing one's interpretation of a particular element of your layout is one of the enjoyments of the hobby.

    I think your last paragraph says it all. At the end of the day, we are doing this as a recreation and pastime. We may leverage off the ideas of others to improve our skills or increase our knowledge or to consider an alternate approach to a problem, but without a basic focus on our own objectives and priorities, we can chase 'a lot of rabbits down burrows'.

    Sticking with the animal metaphors, there are many ways to skin a cat although some in the hobby may lose site of this leading to the judgemental nature that you detect. However, I suggest that we are no better or worse that many others recreational pastimes. How many interpretations can you get of a close LBW decision - there will always be at least two!

    cheers Phil

  2. Rod

    If failure is based upon others opinion, then the MR hobby is in itself a failure.

    Failure can be seen in many ways though through the individuals own expectation of his or her own abilities, & only I think when they get belittled & give up as a result, its not really the expectations of others that matters, its more like what each individual wants to do & achieve.

    For me, to continue in the hobby is to take notice of those who are helping each to advance in the hobby, those who encourage & offer meaningful & helpful advice are who I listen to.

    The problem as you have touched on, & I know I have in the past here as well, is that there are those out there who treat others in a full demeaning way by the way they push their opinion on what you must do, if different to them, then you are not a true modeller just a toy train person, they are people who need be simply assigned to an empty draw & ignored.

    The hobby as I said recently also I believe is about enjoyment & that is how the individual goes about his hobby, if its not enjoyable even with the frustrations then it becomes a burden.

    If I was to mark my journey based on the many failed areas, then I would no longer be doing anything, do we personally judge it with the contents of our scrap box? if that was the case I should have moved on years ago, I have had more problems than successes in a lot of areas, but these days I try to persevere, & rectify some things rather than just discard them, saves a heck of a lot of money to.

    What you do to achieve your enjoyment in the end is a matter for your good self, which means more often than not ignoring outside influences, especially ones that you have control over.

  3. Rod

    Hello, I haven't been in contact for a while but will do so soon.

    I view the hobby as a distraction from the pressures of real life and as such with the hobby I do what I want, how I want to do it and when I want to (I am lucky in having a beautiful, loving and understanding wife). I don't run to any 'timetable' as such, just a general idea of where I am heading. This can be seen in the way my Bylong blog jumps around.

    Similarly to what Phil said on his Philip's Creek blog recently, I model the ordinary, the boring, the plain everyday items to be found on the NSWGR in 1965 and it is the attention to these that can make a layout 'click'. I guess this is some sort of interpretation but more just observation.

    I think your comment about portrait paintings is at the heart of interpretation. I could imagine that two artists painting the same person could produce two very different portraits. However, if this was done with two layouts that are interpretations of the same station or locale then it might not work. I can see though that interpretation could work when the model railway is of a fictitious location.

    Bylong is not in the league of the P87, fine scale, extremely well done layouts but seems to still have a strong following. I think it is as a result of the above focus (and interpretation?).

    I like to think that through my blog I can help others which is why I often post some new idea or method that I have found. It is my interest in new ideas and techniques that drives my hobby. I think that you are very similar given the great kits you produce.

    In the end I only want to please myself and any praise I receive is nice but not the prime driver.

    I think you are on the right track with the hobby, do what works for you.

    Ray P

  4. I enjoyed this post very much. It raises many issues and I don't agree with them all but you really have hit the nail pretty squarely on the head. For instance, I know someone who has built a dead scale, totally accurate model of a GWR branch line. It is applauded by the cognoscenti and is correct in every detail, even down to the models of the stationmaster and porter. But when I look at it, it just seems dead to me, devoid of all atmosphere. Yet looking at Pendon, the scene comes alive for me and I'm not sure why. Perhaps it was because Roye England and many of his team are folk with vision and imagination..somehow their interpretations of buildings, whilst accurate, have a little something else that raises them above the norm. That's not to say that my acquaintance's layout isn't superb, it just doesn't do it for me. Interpretation... that word again!
    And yes, I have no time for the Model Railway fascists who insist that everything has to be 100% scale...I am sure it puts so many people off achieving something. There's room for everyone in the hobby and as you say, it is actually supposed to be fun!

  5. Just in case the railway fact police are watching...I do know dear old Roye is deceased...and much missed, too.

  6. It would appear from the replies to my post that "interpretation" is alive and well. This post was probably the most thought provoking ( for me ) I have put on the blog over the last couple of years...and certainly was not intended to polarise the readers. On the contrary I felt that there would be a fair number who felt some connection with the entry...and as I have no issues with publicly airing my thoughts...I was certainly very interested with the replies. Thanks to all who contributed...