Becoming A Better Modeler

I’ve always been intrigued by the process a person goes through to develop their skills in any particular endeavor.   The actual activity is irrelevant.  It could be athletics, music, art, writing, or in our case, model building.  There will always be those who are born with great talent.   In most cases though it really comes down to desire and practice.   To say that a superior result was obtained simply because a person was born with a skill diminishes the effort it took for the person to get to that point.

Building quality models, in my view,  breaks down to 45%  proper technique and material  selection, 45% practice, and at most 10% natural talent.  Before we even get that far though there has to be a desire to be a better modeler.

I need to be clear that there is absolutely nothing wrong with being happy with your current state of modeling capabilities and maintaining the status quo.   If you’re having a good time and enjoying what you are doing then that is what the hobby is all about.  There can not, and should not, be any apologies for your current level of modeling ability.  Here’s an example.  I really enjoy fishing.  I’m a terrible fisherman.  I never catch anything.  Most of the time I don’t want to catch anything.  I rarely read fishing magazines.  However, put me on a pier on quiet Sunday morning and I’m quite content.    Viewed that way its quite easy for me to understand how somebody could take a casual, superficial approach to model railroading and have a great time doing so.

For me, model railroading is different.  This is my primary hobby and the one I strive to become better at with each passing month.   If a person were to ask me for suggestions on improving their modeling skills I’d offer up the list below as a starting point.

-As stated above you need to have the DESIRE to become better.

-Learn from past mistakes.   Maybe mistake isn’t the right word.   Learn to look  back on previous efforts and identify the areas that need the most improvement.

-Ask for advice

-As important, implement the advice you were given

-Develop an eye for what looks good and what does not.

-Stay abreast of the more modern techniques and materials (Static grass, etc.).  Many people cling to old materials and techniques long after more effective methods or better looking materials become available.

-Master the basics of creating clean joints and seams on your models.  Make sure things that should be straight are straight, corners are at 90 degree angles and that there are no unsightly gaps at your joints.  This is easier said than done and comes with time and practice.

-Study the work of those you strive to emulate and evaluate what is different about what they’ve done.

-No matter who you are, you will always be improving.  Your past efforts won’t be as good as what you can do now.  Accept this and enjoy where you are on the modeling skill spectrum.    Look back on previous efforts without regret and acknowledge they were your best effort at that point in time.

-Practice.   When trying a new technique practice on a sample, off the layout, until you can produce acceptable results.

-Study high quality ‘how to’ DVD’s

-Practice basic neatness at all levels

-Pay particular attention to color and flat sheen

-Avoid the temptation to add too many elements to your model railroad scenes.  Scene composition is very important.

-Learn how to use india ink/alcohol weathering washes.

-Learn how to use black and brown weathering chalks.

-Learn to scratch build structures.  Scratch building a structure is often easier than wrestling with a poorly manufactured kit.

-Build models on a consistent basis.  Don’t go for extended periods of time without doing anything.

-Attend prototype modeling seminars

-Carefully study prototype photos and copy what you see in miniature


You can do it…. if you want to.