Thursday, May 1, 2014

White Space and the Model Railroader

This is clearly a working business – anyone can open a bunch of packages of “bits,” paint them and scatter them about the countryside. Purposeful placement of details is much, much more difficult. I especially like the half barrel planters – a very common site at many industries both in the 1950s and today. When was the last time you saw those modeled?
Negative or “White Space” is a concept familiar to graphic designers and fine artists. I think it’s a concept that more model railroaders should grasp.
As I continue building, and rebuilding, my layout I’m finding that less is usually more. The whole idea of not cramming every available square inch with track, structures, and the like is foreign to many modelers. But as I do the final planning or get the initial scenery completed on an “open country” scene I’m finding the less I include the more impactful the finished scene will be.
Two New England modelers, Mike Confalone (Allagash) and Jim DuFour (B&M Cheshire Branch) are prime examples of how state-of-the-art New England modelers are approaching modeling our favorite region and railroads in 2014.
Florence, Vt., on Randy Laframboise’s HO scale Rutland.
Another, perhaps less well known example is Randy Laframboise’s Rutland. Randy, along with his friend Mike Sparks are, it’s safe to say, experts on modeling not only the Rutland but Vermont.
If model railroading can be an art form (and I think it can be) then we need to approach it like an artist. And one thing an artist must have is a respect for his or her subject. Some, or perhaps a lot of this, is about modeling “home.” Mike, Jim, Randy, and I all either lived in, or live in New England. And there’s some things that are very special to each of us about that region, it's history, and railroads that compel us to recreate it in miniature.
This isn’t fantasy modeling. By that I mean you won’t find dozens of overly compressed structures, most sporting an assortment of unusual (and often implausible) architectural elements scattered throughout the countryside.
But it’s not “rivet counting” either.
The buildings are, as a rule straightforward, purposeful, and close to scale size. The familiarity and respect for the subject matter extends beyond the trains to the buildings, fields, farms, trees, fencelines, and a host of other details.
Make no mistake about it. The trains and structures are, by their very nature, the stars of the show. But they are incorporated into the scene with breathing room around them.
You focus on one building in its natural habitat, and, as your eye scans the landscape some “negative space” - a stand of trees, or a field, or even a country lane – gives the eyes, and brain, some respite before you focus on the next “star.” All the while through this agrarian landscape you might catch a glimpse of a train.   
Randy was kind enough to allow me to share a couple of photos to illustrate this post. These photos show the Florence, Vt., section of his layout.  He estimates the distance between the street on the left and creamery building on the right is about five feet. When was the last time you saw a layout that had that much “negative” space? It is accurate to the prototype, as he measured the distance.  


Bernie said...

I agree with this concept. I believe it also makes the mainline look longer when the scene is not so cramped with stuff.

Anonymous said...

Very nice, Marty! We (especially the newbies) tend to want to put as much train action, per square foot, as possible. It's a great lesson, to focus on the scene, and how the train's a part of it, not the absolute main focus. I hope when I get to a more permanent location, I'll re-evaluate my track plan and space allocation... thanks!

Anonymous said...

Marty, Great comment ! Occasionally I have a few 'train guys' come over and say, "why don't you have more stuff on the layout'...I live in a LIONEL dominated region. JOHN

Riley said...

Excellent point, and it is one that is very difficult to make in the mainstream model railroading community. I have personally experienced extreme derision over supposed wastefulness of providing white space. Thanks for posting it.

The Japanese call the space between objects "ma." (In fact the key to learning how to draw is to draw negative space and not objects.) As you suggest, the best architects and designers design ma and the rest falls into place, and simply thinking this way will immediately improve anyone's design skill.

Chris said...

Really enjoyed this post and couldn't agree more. I'm really trying to do the same thing on my layout. Do Jim and/or Randy have websites or blogs?

CVSNE said...

Thanks Chris.
I don't believe Randy or Jim have websites. You can find a fair number of videos of Jim DuFour's layout on You Tube (search "Jim DuFour Cheshire Branch").

Matthieu Lachance said...

I missed this excellent train of thoughts. You said it well: "I’m finding the less I include the more impactful the finished scene will be." This is exactly what I found. My formation as an architect made me very aware of that, but implementing it is the "art" part of it. An old teacher of mine always speak about the pertinence of choices. What matters, what doesnt, what is enough. And as Riley said it, we are often ridiculed when taking this more modest but realistic approach to model railroading. Nevertheless, the results speak for themselves.