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Saturday, December 21, 2013

The 'Golden Rule' of Modeling...

Just as there is a golden rule in life, "do unto others as unto yourself," There also exists a sort of golden rule in modeling, and for that matter in all hobbies: "Just because it is different, doesn't mean it is wrong."  For the most part, the majority of modelers accept this rule.  Many modelers enjoy looking at others work, regardless of skill, construction method, prototype, really anything.  It has come to my attention over the years I've been in the hobby that there are a select few who dampen the fun of modeling with criticism of others work, sometimes to the point it becomes harassment.

I have been rubbed the wrong way on the Internet before, but thankfully I have never had to face a full out attack on my modeling techniques.  However, I have heard of a few modelers who have been unlucky, and a few even left the hobby all together.  This realization has provoked me to write this article, not to complain but rather to educate.  I find that etiquette while critiquing a model will go along way towards bringing up important questions while also not offending the modeler.  This is especially true when online, where emotions cannot be perceived nearly as well.  Since the majority of communication when face to face is through body language, so online that language is lost and only the written word is given instead.  I also find that having a bit of a tough skin will keep a modeler safe while in the Internet, or when reading an article.  These two elements I believe would make the online community a much peaceful place where ideas can be discussed without starting drama.

For the newcomer to the hobby, developing a thick skin and learning to be respectful on the Internet goes along way, but there are other things to consider.  Foremost, many newcomers to the hobby don't know that there exists numerous breakdowns and factions which divide modelers into different thought trends.  Below are a few of the major groups, or as some call 'camps' that modelers often affix themselves to based on their philosophy on what a model railroad should be:

  • Prototype modelers.  These modelers are said to be true modelers because they will model a railroad as closely as they can.  These modelers spend many hours researching their prototype and strive to replicate it.  This includes everything from the trains to the buildings to the track and even operations.  Due to the amount of work these modelers spend collecting information, I take any notes from this category, but as I'll explain later I'm a bit different.  While most modelers do enjoy making the model their own and not just a replica, there are a few who see exact prototype modeling as the only way to model a railroad.  Other modelers refer to these few as 'rivet counters' since they constantly look at the model in detail, and sometimes can take this examination too far by criticizing modelers work.
  • Architects.  These modelers are all into designing and constructing a great railroad.  They still look at the prototype for information, but these modelers generally only use the prototype for reference, not as the Bible.  To them, the layout is supposed to be a masterpiece, a high quality item.  These modelers are masters in their own right, but sometimes they can be a bit aloof.  Though few really provoke arguments, sometimes being above the rest makes these modelers look self centered and narrow minded.  The best of these masters developed a thick skin, and a few of the best found a way to deliver their message without looking like they are above it all.  Many famous modelers fall into this category.
  • Artists.  While Architects are out to design the best railroad, artists are out to build the most attractive railroad.  Many of these modelers become specialized in certain areas of layout design such as lighting, electrical, paint and color, backdrops, even the models themselves.  Sometimes, a few of these artists, just like the more standard artists who use paints and pastels, will over promote their style and sometimes will undercut others' methods.  Any master artist is able to make and take criticism effectively, however not all are not masters, just talented people who developed their own style.  The problem occurs when these artists are able to give criticism, but cannot take it well and so often they entangle in arguments.
  • Freelancers.  Probably the second largest category of modelers besides Prototype modelers, freelancers come at the hobby from a completely different angle.  These modelers will generally take modeling as more of a suggestion or reference.  Instead they build their own railroad, sometimes with a unique name, and incorporate what they want into their railroad.  This approach makes freelancers a target for criticism, especially from prototype modelers who are strict about their standards.  While often not aggressive, some freelancers have grown to become defensive and often perpetuate arguments by misunderstanding the other person's remarks.
  • Whimsical. While not too many go all out fantasy, these modelers don't go with prototype practice beyond very simple operation standards.  The O scale community is full of these modelers who simply are there to have fun.  While also not aggressive, sometimes these modelers think of the rest as uptight and needing an relaxing drink and a stress relief.  Therefore, some modelers in this category can become detached from the rest of the hobby.
Before I continue, I want everyone who reads this to know that the above are more of generalizations than a true definition.  The fact is that most modelers fall somewhere between categories, and a few will combine the best qualities of all the different camps.  For instance, I think I can use myself as an example.  I don't consider myself to be the face of the hobby, believe me I am far from that and I don't want that to be my face any time soon, but I have a hunch that most modelers will either partially of fully agree with my assessment of myself:
With any model railroad that I have built which I liked the most, I have met the following goals:

  • To model a prototype location using equipment that would have been seen in the area.
  • To have a photo friendly railroad that I can post on the internet or perhaps in a magazine if I am ever lucky enough
  • To have pleasing visuals which gives the railroad a professional, clean, and an all around pleasant feel.
  • To have my own style in the railroad, where what I like best about the prototype is presented on the model in a manner that isn't too obvious.
  • To have a design which is fun to operate, not challenging, and a bench work which allows easy access to every part of the railway and is broken down to be easily moved.
In general, I try to build a home quality layout that will look great at a public event.  Even if the layout never makes it to a show, I exhibit the railroad on the blog and so I want the railroad to look its best for the sake of this blog and for the general interest of this blog's readers such as yourself.

I am always searching for new railways, and I don't care much what they are or what they look like.  I am both impressed and grateful to the modelers who have great ideas and take the time to share their findings with others in the hobby over the Internet.  If I can learn something from a railroad, then that railroad holds my attention.

Likewise, I also take note of particularly good ideas and will use those ideas on my own model when I have a chance.  I cannot name the number of good ideas which I draw my knowledge from, but I will say that many ideas I post to his blog are not new, but rather repeated.  If I know who specifically invented a great technique, I give them credit.  However, I often miss who really came up with a great idea and so the best I can do is share that idea with the world.

By looking at what others have done, I've developed my own style which I continually refine.  However, since this is being different, I am sometimes the target of criticism and many times it is not the good kind.  Because of this, I've also developed a sort of code of ethics by which I follow while online.  This is in an attempt to avoid starting or perpetuating bad behavior from myself and others online.  The following list of tips I hope others adopt, especially newcomers:
  • Use emoticons.  I didn't like the little smiley faces when I started to type online, but after a while I cam to realize that by using emoticons, I can attempt to send my emotions with my writings.  I've found that using emoticons wisely clears up any possible misinterpretations.  For instance, I at one time replied to a water tower build, "That thing couldn't fill up a pacific."  Sound like criticism?  Yes.  What I was trying to do was crack a joke, and I really wasn't trying to be mean.  But my emotions were misinterpreted and imagine my surprise in the morning when I see a ton of hate comments.  A simple smile or thumbs up or something which showed I wasn't being serious would have prevented the situation completely.  I learned my lesson and have been using emoticons ever since.
  • Be nice.  As much as you may want to attack someone for a stupid comment, it is important to maintain a level of self control.  Obviously, come to anyone's aid who is being outright harassed online, but generally it is up to the website moderator to make the final call on whether someone is out of line or not.  If you must, contact the moderator and explain the situation as you see it.  Otherwise, there is no reason to get defensive, aggressive, or critical of someone's post, so be nice or leave the subject alone.
  • Don't be too self centered.  Yes, there are a few modelers who think they are the greatest.  While some truly are, many are not.  It is important not to oversell your opinions and personal beliefs as the one true way.  Remember, this is just a hobby, not a religion.  We're here to have fun, not suppress good ideas in favor of your own.  Even the greatest of modelers, in my opinion, have no right to downgrade someone else's work just because theirs is different.
  • Don't be too polite.  As crazy as it sounds, you can be too polite.  If offering advice, give the receiver of said advice the benefit of the doubt and assume they know most terms and have looked around elsewhere to find answers.  This is different than when talking face to face where you may be able to grasp the true extent of the person's knowledge.  If everything is explained so an idiot could follow it, you may be seen as condescending.
  • R.E.S.P.E.C.T.  Aretha Franklin is right, respect is what you give, and respect is what you deserve.  When seeing a modelers work, don't criticize, enjoy.  The only time that criticism is allowed, in my opinion, is at a competition where those analyzing the models are free to express their opinions as judges of another's work. out side of that, this is a hobby where people pretty much can do what they want.  Since there are no set rules, these can be no set standard.  Sorry NMRA, people can model a railroad with an alternate system.  The only standards I accept and follow are the standards that enable smooth operation of the model.
Believe me, keeping an open mind and following the above tips will go a long way to introducing yourself and conducting yourself online.

One final thing to those who those who are ultra-ego and aloof:

I will not plead nor will I beg for a change in behavior.  However, be aware that such behavior turns many people away from the hobby either in the public realm or altogether.  What I do ask is that, for the sake of furthering a hobby which for many years has seen a steady decline and for the sake of common courtesy, please rethink how you respond and interact with other members of the hobby, especially while on the Internet and especially with newcomers.

Thank you, and I hope this post addressed an issue which is not often talked about, but certainly is worth bringing up.


1 comment:

  1. Just found your blog. Re: Golden Rule; I can recognise modellers that I know who perfectly fit your categories ! I agree it is a subject not often discussed but I know people who have left Clubs for the reasons you give.
    I'm an Artist I suppose (sort of) with aims remarkably close to your layout criteria.