Tuesday, March 3, 2020

"By The Book" - Miniature Buildings Edition

Over at Orange Crate Art Michael Leddy has invited readers to play the New York Times 'By The Book" game. I'm another person the NYT isn't going to ask to participate, so I thought I'd give it a try, but with a miniature buildings spin* since this is 30Squares after all :-) Here goes:

What books are on your nightstand?

If I include what's on the coffee table too, I'm reading some recent purchases from our Los Angles trip as well as some items recently bought from Abe: Fifty Years of Progressive Transit: A History of the Toronto Transit Commission by John F. Bromley and Jack May (which strangely enough I bought in Los Angeles!), How to Build Model Ships by William Nordner, Pasadena's Bungalow Heaven by Juliana Delgado and John G. Ripley, and Dolls' Houses by Halina Pasierbska.

What's the last great book you read?

Inside the miniature building literature, Architectural Modelling in 4 mm scale by Dave Rowe; outside the miniature building literature, The Last Samurai by Helen DeWitt (I was surprised to find a recurring sub-theme in The Last Samurai where one of the main characters, Sibylla, types articles from old hobby magazines into a digital database for a living - a job that isn't presented with the highest regard, and no doubt Sibylla would flay me for proposing such a thing as a literature of miniature building construction :-) ).

Describe your ideal reading experience.

Outside by a lake in an Adirondack chair with a side table stacked with a number of books, pencils, sketch pad, and cold drinks (coffee is good too as always).

What's your favourite little-known book?

In the English language most of the classic books on making miniature buildings come from the UK, and in general a lot of them aren't well known in North America. The one that took me by surprise was Vivien Thompson's Period Railway Modelling Buildings from 1971.

Which writers working today do you admire the most?

I spend a lot of time in the past when it comes to the literature of miniature building construction, but right now I'd say the three craftsmen I follow closely are Francois Fontana, Pelle Soeborg, and Jack Burgess. I followed Iain Robinson until he retired a few years ago, and Michael Paul Smith until his death in 2018.

What's the most interesting thing you learned from a book recently?

In both Architectural Modelling in 4 mm scale, and Cottage Modelling for Pendon by Chris Pilton, they emphasize adding a foundation to model buildings so they can be inserted into the surrounding ground. This gets rid of the problem of the finished model appearing to sit on top of the ground instead of being anchored in it. Mr. Rowe refers to this as the 'Portacabin Problem'. I agree that extending a model's foundation / base so it could be inserted into the layout vastly improves realism, but on my layout I want to be able to move buildings around so I need to think of a way to solve the Portacabin Problem without actually providing an extended foundation - some sort of illusion is called for.

How do you organize your books?

My entire model building library - which includes books on real streetcars and various copies of non-ficition books E. L. Moore was known to have read - sits on just 2 shelves, which are each 28" wide. There's not much in the way of organization other than I try to group like topics together.

What book might people be surprised to find on your shelves?

How to build Dioramas by Sheperd Paine. Its focus is military modelling, but Vince urged me to get it as the principles and techniques are generally applicable. He's right.

What kind of reader were you as a child? Which childhood books and authors stick with you the most?

As a child, all model building books I read came from Cedarbrae Public Library in Scarborough. I read every one I could find there and read them many times. Hobby magazines came from the Painted Post Smoke Shop: Model Railroader, Railroad Model Craftsman, and for awhile, Railroad Modeller, were my reads. E. L. Moore is the writer who sticks with me the most.

Have your reading tastes changed over time?

These days I prefer Voie Libre International, Model Rail, and Railway Modeller; however, I buy few magazines these days. When it comes to books, I prefer the old ones and try to hunt down whatever I can.

You're organizing a literary dinner party. Which three writers, dead or alive, do you invite?

E. L. Moore, John Ahern, and Aldo Cosomati.

What do you plan to read next?

I've only scratched the surface of Architectural Modelling in 4 mm scale and plan to keep on with it.
*If you know a missing piece that should be added to the Miniature Building Construction in the 20th Century reading list, please go over there and take a look.


  1. Looks like a fun exercise. I may have to play along over on the blog.

    As for seating the buildings, consider magnets and foam. You may be able to get away with a very thin sheet of very soft compressible foam around the lower edge of the structure combined with rare-earth magnets in the structure and thin metal adhered to the table. The magnets, if strong enough along with the natural weight of the building itself should pull the building down against the table, compressing the foam around the edge. Treat the foam however necessary to hide it, whether as part of the scenery or part of the structure.

    (This idea isn't entirely mine, btw, and I include this disclaimer not only to give credit but to absolve myself if it doesn't work. Ha. Saw a fellow on YouTube building modules and adding a strip of camper tape to match the contour of the scenery at module joints. Once covered in matching texture, it disappeared along with the module joint!)

    1. That sounds like a very promising idea that I'll have to try. Thanks for passing it along!

      Yeah, this post was a fun exercise, and I encourage everyone to give it a try.

  2. Hi J D, loved the post. It inspired my own version.