The Rule of Three Tries

There has been a good thread on the Model Railroader Forum about the use of the Alclad 2 metalizer paints.  For those that aren’t familiar with them, Alclad paints lay down a surface  that is amazingly close to true metallic.  Like everybody else, I suffer from inertia when it comes to teaching myself new skills.  I finally broke down and ordered some Alclad for some signal boxes I want to try it out on.

When learning a new technique I subscribe to the rule of three tries.  In other words, it generally takes three tries to get the hang of something.  For example, say you’re trying to learn to build your own turnouts.  The first attempt will teach you all of the things NOT to do, point out the problem areas and will ultimately be consigned to the trash (and it should be trashed.  Don’t put it on the layout).  The second attempt will be rough but marginally good enough to add to the layout.  By the third attempt you will generally be off and running.  These practice tries can be run in short succession and for some things done quickly enough that you have the skill down in an afternoon.  The key point is to have the mindset that the first attempt may not be great, accept it for the valuable information you get from it and not get down.  Stick with it.  Understand that it is a process and the sooner you get attempts one and two behind you, the sooner you’ll master something.  I think there are two myths surrounding the work of good modeling results.  First, is that somehow the modeler was touched by the hands of god and learned the technique on the first try.  No, the guy just practiced.  The second myth is that you need to devote an eternity of practice to acquiring a skill.  I disagree with that as well.  You do need to practice but you’ll be amazed how far you advance if you work at something over just a few weekends.

Sometimes a modeler will reluctantly show me his layout, head hung low in discouragement.  The resulting model pretty rough on all fronts.  It’s not what he sees in the magazines and he’s ready to quit.  What he doesn’t know is that,  if he builds another layout it won’t be slightly better, it will be significantly better.   He’ll circle the layout showing me all of the flaws and mistakes.  That’s my point exactly.  The importance of the fact that he made the early attempt, made the mistakes, AND recognizes them can’t be emphasized enough.  It’s crucial at that point to not give up.  It’s also absolutely critical to be aware of the areas that need improvement so they can be worked on.   Without having tried something, it’s hard to approach another modeler and say how do you do ‘X’.  No matter advice you get, the value will be watered down.  However, if you say, “I tried X, I had problems a,b, and c.  How do I fix them.” Now you have the perspective to know what to ask.

Often modelers don’t try to advance their skills toolbox because they look at a nice model and think they could never do that.  Well they could probably get pretty close if they made a few attempts and understood there is no shame (and tremendous value) in rough practice trial runs.  They  may also believe that so many months or years of effort are required to master the technique that it just isn’t worth it.  Finally, they may just suffer from inertia….like putting off how to use Alclad metalizers…..for years………….