Tuesday 6 October 2015

Eye for Detail, Imagination, Creativity and Patience - Mindful Railway Modelling

Arts and crafts are well-known for their therapeutic qualities, as well as providing a space for one to express their creative side. For many people on the autistic spectrum, it can also be a way of expressing their thoughts, feeling and emotions, especially if their ways of thinking are more visual, making it easier to communicate their needs.

Mindfulness doesn't necessarily change an individuals interests, pastimes or pursuits, but can change the way one approaches them, thus enriching one's experience. It is well-known that people with Asperger's Syndrome, including myself, have so-called special interests. It is not un-normal for anyone, whether on the autistic spectrum or not, to have an interest from which one gains great enjoyment. But when linked to autism, sometimes such interests can become an 'issue' to others around them with presumptions that they can be isolating or possessive, to the extent that they become associated with stereotyped Asperger behaviour. When taking a mindful approach with more awareness to such interests, whole new visual and sensory experiences slowly unfold, thus deepening one's relationship with their interest and how it relates to their surroundings.

Of late, I have begun to notice this with one of my longer term interests, model railways. A pastime that I have been very keen on from when very young, that I have 'shelved' every so often due to other commitments and responsibilities, when returning to it fairly recently with a more mindful awareness, I have begun to notice in more depth the artistic side of the pastime, its relationship to full-sized railways, including adding realism. A theme largely advocated by Cyril J Freezer, the late former editor of Railway Modeller, realism applies not only to making a model railway layout look more realistic through the addition of scenic detail and weathering, but also to train operation, track layout and setting.

It can be very easy for one to be put off taking up railway modelling in a monetary sense when one sees the retail prices of model locomotives, rolling stock and accessories, including power and control equipment. Space can also be an issue for many. The idea of railway modelling as a pastime confined to the wealthy was a myth that Freezer looked to disprove. Fair enough, when starting out in model railways one may find themselves spending quite a bit of money to acquire one or two locomotives, some rolling stock, track and power appliances as well as time and effort in acquiring some space in which to build a layout.  However, through patience and intuition, going deeper into it need not be too expensive. As well as being in many ways more affordable, techniques Freezer described in Railway Modeller and the many books he published on railway modelling, including scratch-building (making models from readily available raw materials) and kit-bashing (altering or adapting a commercial kit) to fit a limited space, also help add and further deepen an individual uniqueness to a model railway or diorama.

After many years of enjoying making commercial card building kits by Metcalfe and Superquick, whose products are a familiar sight on many model railways, including my own, I found that I had amounted a large reserve of waste card, including unused patterned card e.g. brick, tiled etc. Additionally, I had also amounted a sizeable stock of modelling materials and tools, including several colours of modelling paints. Though I had previously kit-bashed or put individual touches on card buildings I had made from Metcalfe and Superquick kits, I hadn't previously attempted scratch-building. Through being able to notice and gain an appreciation of the textures of different raw materials that had amounted from my modelling activity, including waste card and wood offcuts as well as a spatial awareness of the scale, including proportions, I saw there was a way I could make use of amounted raw materials rather than them going to waste. Looking at examples from old railway photographs I had seen online or in books, I put together the following small buildings/structures:

Cattle dock, made from card and matchsticks
Locomotive coaling stage, made from balsa strip wood and crushed coal
Coal depot, made from balsa strip wood and crushed coal
An aspect of realism that I have begun to enjoy adding, is placing and in some cases painting figurines depicting people in various leisurely and working roles, including rail enthusiasts with spotters notebooks, porters, a station master and engine crew. As well as adding depth to a layout, placement of figurines and small details, such as trolleys, suitcases etc. also helps to further enhance the imaginative side of building a layout. As well as being a therapeutic activity, painting figurines (many I have painted so far are supplied by Dart Castings) also helps to bring then beyond a figure-shape cast in white metal almost into an individual character.

An eager rail enthusiast chats to the station master
Such scenes may be inspired by books or films where rail travel features heavily or in my case, through being interested in recreating rural branch line scenes that were once common throughout Britain until many were closed after the Reshaping of Britain's Railways by the government in the 1960s, when private car ownership and motorways were still largely in their infancy. As well as in miniature, the realism encouraged by Cyril J Freezer has much relevance for full-sized railways in opening us up to lost rail networks in an era where roads have become heavily congested and certain towns, villages and housing estates remain remote from public transport. As well as providing alternatives to car use, local lines can also serve as a link with the mainline networks, including proposed high-speed routes.

Two young enthusiasts chatting to driver,
based on a well-known  Southern Railway poster
For me, railway modelling has been a good way for me to apply imagination to eye for detail, which I have long considered a personal strength. Turning it into something creative though requires a lot of patience cultivated through mindfulness, which I hope will be rewarded the more I work on my layout, which I have named Bretherbury.