What Pierre said…(& some thoughts on Judging models)

I hate the entire concept of “Judging” models in a contest to some set scale of how to build or detail a model.  I don’t think I could say it any better than my friend Pierre Oliver did, and since we use different blogging platforms, I will just link to what he posted as I can’t easily re-blog it:


Full disclosure, I am not now, nor have I ever been a member of the National Model Railroad Association (NMRA).  Only occasionally has it ever crossed my mind to join, which has quickly been banished back to the darkness the thought came from when I read about or talk with others about their experiences in the NMRA.  That doesn’t mean its not right for some, but it’s clearly not right for me, and many others from what I hear about declining membership in the organization, as I don’t see the hobby declining as much as some seem to think it is.

One of my hangups for years has been self doubting the quality of my modelling when I see what others achieve in magazines or at shows.  I started building models when I was around 10 years old, not because anyone else in my family had an interest, but because I expressed an interest, and my Aunt & Uncle gave me a plastic model of the Titanic (I had a massive interest in the Titanic story as a kid) for Christmas or a Birthday.  I remember spending weeks working carefully to paint the hull, and the decks, and the little details, then running thread for the radio wires, and making it look perfect to me.  My parents had no background in building models (and probably no interest in having their son spend thousands of dollars on trains and models), but they encouraged me and my interest both in setting up a space in the basement where I could make a mess without damaging furniture, and financially in buying kits and paint.  I never had any friends who built models as a kid, or experienced adults to get advice from (my dad certainly did all he could to help me understand how to follow instructions and glue parts together.  I learned how to “properly”/”successfully”? paint, glue, cut materials, etc from making my own mistakes.  I learned techniques that I was never brave enough to try from reading Model Railroader or Fine Scale Modeller at the library or spending my allowance on MR.

It’s only in the past few years where I’ve gotten to know some other modellers in informal social settings that I’ve come out of my shell to display models, or ask others to teach me techniques.  I’ve also learned that some of the stuff I read over the years stuck, as I successfully do things i’ve read about years ago now when building models even if I never have done it before.  I have no illusions that I’ve learned everything, I know there are lots of things I want to and need to learn if I am going to build a layout, but I also know that I am not a bad modeller.  I can build kits, design models for 3D printing, detail and scratchbuild things, all to a more than acceptable level. I’m proud of the models I build, and now I want people to see it when I finish a project, rather than being filled with dread that someone may look at it and start pointing out things I got wrong or that I did wrong etc etc.  I’m also not afraid to admit when I screw something up (which I’ve done at least a couple of times on this blog).

Entering contests does nothing for addressing my hangups, and reading about how NMRA contests works does even less for them.  It took me years to show off my models in public, first at Doors Open for the Toronto Railway Museum, then at an informal monthly model railroaders dinner a friend organizes, then at my first couple of local RPM meets.  I’m only just developing the confidence in my work to want to go further afield to one of the larger RPM meets in the US to show my work with others and see what modellers further afield than my local area are doing.  I certainly won’t be rushing out to enter a contest with judging such as the NMRA uses (full disclosure on duplicity, I did enter models at the recent Ontario Narrow Gauge Show as a way to show off my work, where the awards are a popularity vote of the attendees, which strangely I’m OK with which even to me seems opposite of everything else I’ve just said about judging models, I’m also specifically working on a non-train scale model project to enter at a Transformers (yes, the robot toys) fan convention in the customizing contest, so I dunno anymore).

It turns out, after years of thinking I wanted nothing to do with socializing or joining clubs/associations, and always feeling others were judging my eccentric modelling interests, that I was wrong.  There are lots of great people in this hobby, and getting to know them and make new friends has enhanced my hobby, and my confidence in my abilities.  Turns out, despite some of my friends mocking me as really being a crusty old fart in a 38 year old’s body, I actually am a social person who enjoys talking shop with others (though if we had a lawn, I suspect I would be caught sooner or later shaking my first at some kids to get off it!). Entering competitions where what looks to me are amazing models that don’t even get recognized with a base level award would undo years of work to get me out of my box, and I can’t foresee me joining an organization that runs contests like that anytime soon.

IMGP6256RawConvMy “Railway Village” diorama.  Lots of room for improvement, maybe, but I’m certainly not ashamed to put it out there and show it as my work, and as I try to cover here on the blog, I’m constantly looking for opportunities to try new techniques or improve my knowledge.

3 thoughts on “What Pierre said…(& some thoughts on Judging models)

  1. I guess I am the one that got the ball rolling on NMRA contest judging that Pierre commented on. I think the concept is good, there are 5 judges that go over your models looking at different areas such as scratchbuild, finish and lettering, construction and so on. This was my first NMRA convention and my feeling is the judging may have been more critical and stingy with points than one would expect, but the overall experience was good. The judges thoughts noted on the forms can help take ones modeling to the next level and is well worth any negative feelings…we are all learning as modelers with new products come forward all the time. I thought every model entered was over the top…we have a great bunch of good modelers in our area and they do like supporting the NMRA also.

    I was at Schomberg also…was your models the 3-D printed engine HOn30…if so they where great to see…I also do some HOn30 modeling…George Dutka

  2. Hi George, i had started a response to you Friday, and never finished it, but still wanted to reply. First, i hope you didn’t think i don’t think I was singling you out because you are an NMRA member. I don’t take any issue with anyone who is a member and finds it valuable. I just don’t based on what i’ve seen and heard.

    Beyond that, in terms of finding your post and stirring up a hornets next, to be fair, i flipped over to your blog after Trevor commented on your Southampton mural post, and went back from there a bit. I saw the posts about the contest, and your comments about the judging annoyed me. Then, i saw Pierre’s post and that inspired me to put my own 2 cents out there. Notwithstanding that, as far as i am concerned, starting discussions is a good thing! Even if we have differing viewpoints, that is something i can most definitely get behind! As I said, I am sure many find value in the NMRA’s offerings and competitions, and there are certainly many talented modellers who are a part of the organization. I think for me the concept of competitions as they seem to do feels outdated and exclusionary.

    The two models i brought to the Narrow Gauge show were the HO 3D printed Porter and the OO9 Talyllyn that i have blogged about here. Thanks for passing by, hopefully we can connect in the real world somewhere down the road as i gather we’ve at least been at some of the same events judging by your blog.


  3. Hi Stephen…I was at Schomberg at the table you were placing your models at…I commented on them while you set up and took a couple of photos…so I guess in a way we did meet.

    The NMRA is new to me as it has been years since I was last a member…I too think they could do a better job judging…better days ahead…George Dutka

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