Thursday, 21 May 2015

Exhibitions, are they worth it?


This is something that has been on my mind for quite a while. I thought it would make a good post to make, especially as I am off on my hols very shortly and it would be interesting to see what (if any) replies I get.

Highclere (the layout) was a bit of an afterthought and originally wasnt planned but as the layout has evolved its ended up at a small seletion of exhibitions, not big show but small ones where its perfomance hasnt been critical. I remember the first time it went out at a 2mm expo in Oxford, a guy there really laid into the layout gleefully pointing out all of the faults in the design and differences from the prototype. He made numerous comments like...
"You cant call it Highclere because it isnt Highclere, you need to call it an Impression of Highclere" 
"If it was me, I would scrap it and start again, but thats just my opinion"
Now for a first show that has left an everlasting impression on me. All the subsequent shows have been a bit stressful setting up the layout, making sure everything works, and making sure things are running. It feels pressurised, especially as I am not really that interested in operating it, all the enjoyment for me comes from building things.

So why the post? Browsing the interweb forums I always stumble across people critising layouts that are out and about at shows. The trend these days seems to be that people are almost demanding that layouts run faultessly and have a contunuous flow of trains passing by throughout there time infront of the layout as its their right to see this because they have paid to see it.

To me as a layout owner who occasionally takes it to shows it scares me rotten. It applies even more pressure to a situation which is quite stressful anyway. The thought of someone publishing critisism online about my layout because I didnt run trains constanly or a wagon derailed makes me think is it worth all the effort. To get the layout to a show, set it all up, and try and keep things running throughout is not an easy thing to do.

I built the layout because I enjoy it (well, most of the time anyway!). If it gets invited to exhibitions then great (and it does!) but if what I read on some forums it the general mentality of exhibition attendees then I cannot see that its worth the effort. I wish I was thick skinned but I am not, should I need to be anyway for doing something I enjoy?

So, what do you guys think?



  1. If you find it stressful then don't do it. This is a hobby, a pastime, for relaxation in our precious spare hours away from work and other chores.

    But I do wonder about the type of comments that you're worried about. Do those that criticise exhibit themselves? Or even build stuff? Are those that criticise to your face trying to make them selves feel good by putting down your efforts? Are those that do so online cowards who know that you'll never knowingly meet the person making those comments so they can be rude from the safety of their living rooms?
    Thinking about those comments made about Highclere, could there be a bit of sexism at play there?, surely a woman wouldn't know anything about railways! Good grief, lady modellers, whatever is the world coming to!! Stick to needlecraft!!! etc. (NOT my views btw. I shouldn't need to add this bit but this the 'net...)

    I personally would never criticise someone elses work, either at a show or on-line, unless I feel that I have something constructive to add and the builder would take the comments in the manner that they're meant. If I see a loco stall or a wagon de-rail at a show its important to remember that the layout probably ran beautifully at home, and everything that can go wrong will in front of an audience. As for continuous movement, a good layout should hold the viewers attention without a train in sight (and that doesn't mean countless cameos), and anyway with few exceptions there isn't constant movement at any one spot on the real railway.

  2. Julia,

    As long as you're happy with what you've created, does it really matter what other people think?

    I used to exhibit (ooh, err, missus) when I was in my teens and early twenties, but I never enjoyed it and haven't done it since. Like you, I get my buzz out of creating, not operating, and I don't like being in the goldfish bowl.

    And I agree with Paul about the criticism - if you haven't done it yourself, keep your mouth shut ... and if you are going to say something then make it constructive not destructive. I've been on the end of both in my time through work and the latter just wears you down.

    But then I remember something a wise man once said to me ... people who give constructive criticism want to see you be the best that you can be, and won't mind if you become better than them, but people who give negative criticism think they're better than you and can't stand the thought of you being better than them.

    So, next time it happens, smile sweetly at them, thank them and then ignore them ... and get on with doing something that you enjoy.

    Now bugger off on your hols and have a lovely time!


  3. Constructive critism, now there's a difficult thing to get right, especially on-line. One of the things that makes it so hard is the fact that very few of us 'net users have actually met, and our on-line personas don't always reflect our true selves as we communicate differently through a computor than we would in the pub. So its all too easy to come across as a nit-picking smart-arse when actually all you're trying to do is help. Therefore I only give constructive criticism to folk that I've either met in person or that I'm sure would take any advice in the spirit intended.

    Don't spend too much time fussing about forums Julia. They're great in theory, but in practice can fill up with idiots who know nothing except how to voice their own petty-minded opinions. The bigger, more general ones are worst and are best avoided, except in small doses.

    David's comment above reminded me that I used to be a kayaking instructor. My aim was to train paddlers to be better than myself. Some of those I took out ended up paddling harder water than I'll ever be capable of. Job done.

  4. I know so call modelers who know everything if I have an elephant they have a box to put it in

    strangely I've never seen anything they have modeled

    Ignore them your work is excellent something I can only strive for


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  6. I think the system ate my original comment. Let's try again.

    I was once told that my gravestones were facing the wrong way. It was clearly important to this guy! I just smiled and saved it up to recount. I never changed the gravestones. There is a tradition but like so many things it is tregularly broken.

    I would say that if it gets too stressful then stop. However, if you can rise above it (or find an assistant who likes operating) then please carry on as we need quality layouts like yours to inspire our own modelling.

  7. Well I for one thought Highclere and the other exhibits at Oxford were just amazing and it's sad that there are people who sneere at the hard work of others... it's not only rude to the modeller, but if it puts them off showing their work it deprives us the opportunity to see these models - those we follow online and those that aren't - in the flesh.

  8. Everyone needs to stop and remember....we are modelling.
    We know there is a real Highclere, we know there is a real Timbucktoo.
    It doesn't matter. It is the modellers "ínterpretation" of the place they are modelling.
    You only have to look at what artists paint and don't paint in a scene....what is painted is NOT necessarily what is there at the time!
    Enjoy your's a hobby :)

  9. Hi Julia all I can say is that I think your layout is stunning and so are your models it is a shame that you had that experience but thankfully there (hopefully ) there aren't to many of them .I personally am looking forward to seeing your layout

  10. Thank you for the replies (so far guys)

    I am not fishing for compliments, in fact its far from that. I am just very interested in getting views and opinions on if it is worth the effort to take my layout to shows or not. Highclere isnt a small layout and it does take a bit of organisation to get it and extra operators to a show. The money I get rarely covers the cost involved, its all usually done for the enjoyment.
    The thing is I can understand when people dont find something of interest and post a comment regarding it, these days its so easy to do so but as some have said, there is a balance between constructive comments and those that are just moaning about something.
    It seems that its becomming increasingly common for people to almost demand that an exhibition layout needs to fufill these following criteria amongst others...
    1. It needs to have something moving constantly
    2. Things need to run faultlessly and not stall / derail
    3. Operators need to communicate with the public
    So where is the balance? Who makes a show a show? Is it the public who attend or is it the exhibitors and layouts? The impression I get is its the public and its thier right to see something that fulfills those criteria, if they dont then its their right to complain about it.

    I dont know what the answer is, it just feels like these people are setting the standards / expecations higher and higher. Something that feels scary trying to achieve.


  11. All you people in the UK should think yourselves lucky in having so many shows to go to. Stuck down here in southwest France with no model railway activity I'm reliant on the web to keep my hunger satisfied! When I used to go shows in the UK I was always amazed at what people had built and then spent a considerable amount of time, effort and money in setting up in cold, draughty halls across the country. So my thanks to you for showing your very good and interesting work here. I echo all the above comments and as an artist I get all sorts of comments about my work-some people like my paintings and others dislike or ignore it but I would rather have negative comments than none at all.

  12. I only actually 'play' with my layout at exhibitions. I don't enjoy operating it on my own at home, except to test it. My main enjoyment is in the construction of it. However, I do really enjoy operating it at exhibitions, when it is behaving itself.

    I don't remember hearing harsh comments about my layout, although a lot of people just pass by, maybe making a quick comment about it being too small for them. However, especially since I have been basing my layouts on real locations, the few that do want to stop and talk usually provide something useful or interesting about the location. One memorable occasion when exhibiting Alresford, an elderly couple told us that they were married in the old tin chapel we had modelled, the original having long since been demolished.

    In the long term, the few nice comments far outweigh any negative ones. Keep at it. Exhibiting Highclere will bring joy to many people, and the few that are upset with it can always move on the next layout.


    1. Don't really know what to say about this question, Julia. Personally I have no enthusiasm for exhibiting, mainly because I don't enjoy operating, but I do like talking (to those who are interested) about modelmaking. I've not had much criticism of my models, but anyway I model for my own enjoyment, so if I think that I've done reasonably well, that's enough for me. I have no problem with factual criticism, by the way. Model show audience expectations have grown apace in the last few years, but I think that is because there are now so many shows, so few people who now remember how sparse the service was in all but the biggest locations, and taking into account declining attention spans that having something running all the time is the only way of satisfying the average audience. You need to keep in mind, however, that just by building a layout that looks as good as Highclere you have done something that 99% of the onlookers could not even dream of.


  13. Interesting to read about audience expectations growing in recent times, could this be down to the 'net I wonder? There are plenty of folk who enjoy a good moan, so perhaps one person has a whinge about trains not running which sets off a couple of other malcontents and so on. Misery loves company and whingers feed off on another.

    Another thing that the negative folk out there should remember is that exhibition layouts are by their nature portable. And therefore need to be carefully transported, set up, and then dismantled and stored when not in use. At any stage damage could occur, even if the owner is exceptionally carefull. And don't forget that a layout could be moved form a cold garage into a warm car, then set up in a hall sweaty by day and freezing at night.

  14. I have to say that exhibiting a layout has no appeal for me. My little train set is my hobby and I like to tinker with bits to satisfy my own whims but, overall, it has little relationship to 'reality'.

    My main hobby is photography and I enjoy setting up small 'scenes'. Fortunately, the web now provides a vehicle for me to share these vignettes and some people do seem to like my fantasies, which pleases me.

    From what I have seen of your work, you enjoy the challenge of making things. That's very different from running a model railway but is still a perfectly valid aspect of 'railway modelling'.

    I always enjoy having a chat with you at shows, rather more than I enjoy watching trains running around. There are many wonderful layouts on the exhibition 'circuit' but, for me, the pleasure is in viewing the skill with which the various features have been modelled, rather than how smoothly the trains run.

    That's my view but, of course, many alternatives are to be found :)

  15. Julia,
    Over the last couple of days I have read your initial question and the responses that people have taken the time to submit with interest, given that in a few weeks I will be taking Modbury out for it's first ever outing (albeit only to the Expo event).

    I guess that to answer whether exhibiting is what anyone wants to do is solely a personal decision, if all you get from such an experience is stress and anxiety then I would suggest that it's possibly something to avoid (although that would be great shame if layouts such as Highclere are lost to exhibition visitors - I have followed your blogs since I returned to the hobby a few years ago and always find your postings very inspirational, although I have only seen Highclere in the flesh twice).

    It is unfortunate that there are people out there who love to criticise, it is probably a fact of life. I'm sure that some of it is a result of envy or from people who just like to put others down but sometimes I am sure that the criticism/opinion is well meant but doesn't necessarily come across that way. Last weekend for example whilst exhibiting St Ruth I had a guy approach me and try to tell me that we had modelled the the beach wrongly because of "longshore drift". In telling me, he stated a few times that he really liked the layout anyway (I felt he was trying to offer constructive criticism). I thanked him for his observation and explained that we had copied the build up of shingle around the groynes from a suitable beach in the UK (although I probably didn't come across as being particularly grateful for his input). Afterwards, it was pointed out to me by another member of the group that I probably should have told him that 2 of our number are actually geologists and know all about longshore drift (it was probably as well that he approached me then)!!

    The (to me) thorny issue of "always something moving" is a difficult one. I fully appreciate that the viewing public have paid good money to get in and be entertained, but unless the layout is a large busy place it is sometimes difficult to keep things on the move. Even operating St Ruth which has up to 4 operators, at times 3 of whom will have a controller in their hands (the 4th is normally engaged on the fiddle yard), has quieter periods in the schedule.

    Ultimately, what we do is a hobby generally to give ourselves pleasure. By exhibiting I feel that we are trying to share our hobby (and the pleasure it gives) with others. Hopefully most out there appreciate what we do and share.


  16. Hi Julia

    I remember you commenting on the guy at the Oxford Expo and I thought - what a t**t he was. Obviously couldn't stand the competition, especially as you are - wait for it - - female! I too find exhibiting and operating "Welton Down" stressful. It never works as well as I would like and Sue has stopped helping me as she says I shout at her too much if she does things wrong! And I also know there are loads of people who like building model railways but are not bothered about operating and vice versa. That's why it is a hobby full of such characters, each with their own particular interest.

    My advice is "stick with it" and give the proverbial two fingers to the serial carpers. As others have said, they have probably never built anything anyway. Stressful though it may be, if no-one exhibited any layouts the hobby would slowly wither and die and then we'd have to take up.... fishing!

    Enjoy your hols.


  17. Hi Julia,

    I don't think that I have much different to say then other have already said. I enjoy exhibiting. I like sharing what I've done with the punters. It also gives me some deadlines without which I might get a lot less done. I don't remember getting too much criticism. Maybe I'm just more heedless then other people.

    I don't like it when the layout stops working, there are too many derailments and so on. This usually seems to happen in the first few hours of the show regardless of how much testing we did beforehand but after a while things usually settle down.

    I do remember saying at Lutterworth that we don't meet to work on the layout in the week after a show... because we might be tempted to do it some serious harm!

    Keep smiling. Personally, I hope that you keep taking Highclere out because I like to see it including whatever guest operators and stock may be running.

    Regards, Andy

  18. I doubt that I can add much to what has already been said.

    I hope you do continue to exhibit Highclere occasionally - it's been one of my main inspirations. But if you find exhibiting too stressful, then cut it back, or even stop for a while.

    One possible defence against the critics is to rename it and/or use an alternate history, thus making it "based on ..." or "derived from ..." or "inspired by ..." (though from what I recall the differences from reality are too small to need that).

    As you do seem to enjoy chatting to onlookers about how you built it, maybe take parts of it out more often on your roadshow or demonstrator outings - which I know you often do with small parts, and think you have done once or twice with whole baseboard sections.

    In response to your subsequent questions, from my experience as an operator on Nigel Ashton's Llangerisech layout:

    1. "It needs to have something moving constantly"
    Yes that's what exhibition organisers think the public expects, and they are probably right (though there are exceptions). I prefer more realistic operating myself, but the public are paying for the experience, so I think we have to try to comply

    2. "Things need to run faultlessly and not stall / derail"
    That's what we try to achieve, though in 2mm it's not going to be perfect, there always seems to be at least one loco or one piece of trackwork that needs a bit of prodding. For us it has improved on later outings.

    3."Operators need to communicate with the public"
    Yes - the only problem being that it tends to overload the already-busy operators. A few, like Jerry Clifford, manage it all and make it look effortless. For most of us it's a struggle to satisfy all the demands.

    "So where is the balance? Who makes a show a show? Is it the public who attend or is it the exhibitors and layouts? The impression I get is its the public and its thier right to see something that fulfills those criteria, if they dont then its their right to complain about it."

    For most shows I think the paying customer has to be the king. There are exceptions, and I would expect Society events (Expos and AGMs) to be much more oriented towards chatting with fellow members - which makes your Wallingford experience so unfortunate.


  19. Hi Julia,

    I guess it depends on why you go to exhibitions.

    As an example, we are taking Sturminister Newton to its debut next weekend in Toowoomba, about 100 miles to the west (one of the local shows!). We go to Toowoomba as it is an opportunity to run the whole layout as originally planned - Stur is a sub for St Alban's Priory as they are designed to replace each other. We can't fit the whole 12m long layout in either Ben's nor my shed/car space although our third can fit the whole under his house!! Taking it to an exhibition gives us the chance to play trains. If the punters like it, great. If they don't - and there are more than a few who don't because it is N, or British, or Steam (!) - then so what? They won't detract from our fun because we don't worry about their goal in going to the show.
    Ours is to enjoy ourselves.

    If you aren't enjoying taking Highclere, then don't. If you do - the good outweighing the bad - then keep doing it. Hopefully, one way or the other, I will get to see it next year as it is on my list of layouts I would love to see as it has been an inspiration from afar.

    I have visited a few shows in the UK on my visits and have found they are vastly different affairs to out here. Maybe it is a space thing - my layout at 5.5m x 1.1m isn't unusual and it is permanently set up. The size gives me the opportunity to have roundy roundies (which tends to be what the majority of punters want) while giving me the chance to shunt the yard and operate it "just like the real thing" (to borrow a phrase). In the UK I have noticed a tendency to plank or bookshelf type layouts which don't, as a rule, allow for continuously working trains. I remember a visit to Epsom in 1996 where there was a layout of a local terminus - and it was operating according to the correct timetable for the date in question, 50 years earlier. Problem was, there wasn't a lot of trains on a Sunday so I walked past a few times but never saw a train. Modeling was brilliant but it was more diorama than layout I think. I thought it was the extreme but found a lot of the layouts were similar - branch lines either working cassette to cassette or terminus stations with the sole operator engrossed in discussion and not running trains. On subsequent visits I came to develop patience and found operators willing to have a chat and run a train for you if you showed sufficient keen.

    A bad experience can leave you disheartened but consider what you have actually achieved via this medium, other Forums and by taking your activities out into the world - I think I can speak for the majority in saying we are richer for it and it would be a loss to us all if you retreated.


  20. I think I've worked out my own definition of what I believe is constructive criticism,. It matters to me because I do post reviews of layouts at exhibitions that I realise could be taken negatively.

    I think I'm being constructively critical when I mention either something minor that is easily corrected and would make a big difference. For instance if an otherwise well modeled scene is spoit by a single overscale or obviously anachronistic feature. Or if I'm calling attention to something I know I struggle with myself, especially if I understand it is inherently difficult to achieve.

    I would like to think I look for something positive on most layouts, even if I don't agree with an underlying premise or it doesn't appeal to my personal tastes.

    A personal annoyance is when a layout or project is exhibited at a specialist show as a WIP but is judged as if it was the finished product.

    As an aside though I wonder if sometimes rather than exhibiting our home layout it would make more sense to show an exhibition specific model.

    And a closing note, I hope it is clear how many of us find your own modelling approach inspirational.

  21. Exhibiting can be very stressful, but to me it is worth it. It is an opportunity to operate with a purpose, to engage with the viewing public and take some pride in what I have done.

    My layouts tend to be designed with exhibiting in mind, they have the capability of continuous train movement, something interesting for the mostly shy punters to discuss and I make an effort to ensure that everything runs well. The last point is less important than the others.

    Don't get stressed by the small minority of critics. They will be criticising everything (not just your efforts) and can be safely ignored.

    Is it worthwile for you to exhibit? Only you can answer that. Is it worthwile for the rest of us to see you exhibit? YES! The vast majority of the exhibition going public will be very appreciative of your efforts even though they are the silent majority. I guess it is why I like to engage with visitors - when you actually get to talk to them you realise how much they appreciate what you are doing and it greatly offsets the critical murmurings.

    Suzie x

  22. "You cant call it Highclere because it isnt Highclere..." - well, yes, Highclere is rather bigger :)

    If he had been at 2mm scale, you could have swatted him with a rolled newspaper :) :) :)


  23. Dear Julia.

    It's a sad fact that some people are mean and have bad manners.
    The only way to avoid them is never to leave the house.

    I had the pleasure of chatting with you at the Oxford 2mm Expo on the Sunday morning, and I came away inspired and full of new, useful information.

    When I visit your blog and read of your adventurous engineering experiments (CNC milling: wow!) I realise you are far ahead of me.

    I hope you'll continue in the hobby - which by the way I regard as an artform on a par with classic English landscape painting - and that you'll continue to share your knowledge and results with us. Highclere is lovely.

    Allan Gay
    2mm Scale Association member 2578

  24. So far I have only taken my layout out 3 times. On its first outing I had some guy pointing out that one of my coaches probably would be seen in the area and that Shark brake vans would never be used on the Southern Region! This was coming from a guy that told me he worked on the railways.
    I didn't challenge the guy about these things even though I had photo's to prove otherwise. Sometimes its just not worth it and better to let them think they are right.

    Another guy said that maybe things should move a bit faster so he could see more of the stock running on the layout. This time I questioned him by asking why would a branchline station that is already being run with more trains than there probably should be and to a timetable, be run even quicker? His answer... I've paid to see stuff run and I want to see as much as possible!

    It did make me wonder if my time would be better spent just turning up with some track and stock and putting a loop on the floor for it to run on. That way I can go and look at the show and not waste my time running things how I want to.

  25. I very much enjoy operating at shows you do get some rude idiots but you also get a lot of appreciative people. Life in general throws up rather more rude idiots so being at a show is fun for me. My favourite though are those who gaily talk have visit the station modelled and offering criticism when it is fictitious.
    Will we see you at Chelford or are you on hols?

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  27. Julia -

    Don't you just hate 'em??? I use the comment 'I look forward to critiquing your next exhibition layout. When are you showing it??'

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