Saturday 31 March 2012

James Gilchrist - tenor

Trying to simulate a backdrop of terracotta tiles on which to depict scenery for my model railway.

Yesterday's attempt over-emphasised the outlines of the tiles themselves which would have interfered too much with anything drawn thereon.

A reminder:

So, I softened the surrounds of each tile.

Then, with a heavy 7B pencil, I drew a station building onto one of the tiles - using a fine black pen to highlight some of the features.

Quite like the drawing but not sure about the colour that I've painted the baseboard - it's supposed to be a derivative of the colour of the tiles. Will probably change it at some point.

Will continue to add drawings over next few days.


Die Schöne Müllerin:
Yesterday, I dragged my wife to a lunchtime performance of Die Schöne Müllerin by tenor James Gilchrist and pianist Anna Tilbrook. (A change to the advertised performers.) It was held on the top floor of an old building in Edinburgh called St Cecilia's Hall.

More a large room than a hall - perfectly oval in shape with a similarly shaped central skylight and chandeliers all over the place.

The Performers

The song-cycle lasts for an hour and superficially tells a very silly story - this telling of silly stories is one of my objections to lieder.

However, James Gilchist's performance has made me take a completely different view of the whole genre. One has to "see through" the lyrics to the emotional and moral message of the piece.

I was almost in tears by the finish.  Die Schöne Müllerin, is of course, a heart-breaking story of unrequited love. Being sung in German, one was insulated from the tweeness of the words. But it was Gilchrist's physical performance - the way he acted out the emotional journey of the hero starting with joie de vivre and the not a care in the world attitude of youth; through the excitement of falling in love: to the realisation that the love is not returned; and the despair of worldly failure - that transformed the piece.

Gilchrist acted this all out in front of us. We were all transfixed for over an hour.

Not only was I shaken by his performance but I felt that I had been directly connected to the German Romanticism of 200 years ago. It was like attending a living history lesson and being put in touch with one's intellectual roots.

I can't wait to attend my next lieder recital. I've attended a few concerts recently where a solo singer has captivated me (albeit, in orchestral settings with choral accompaniment). I now realise that a singer communicates with the audience in a much more powerful way than an instrumentalist.

This conversion to lieder is restricted to its live performance, of course.

My wife was almost as enthusiastic as I was, by the way. She particularly liked Gilchrist's "light" (her word) German accent.

PS Anna Tilbrook was pretty good too!
PPS James Gilchrist was a doctor until 1996.

Here is a  photo from my phone.

Friday 30 March 2012

Elspeth Gardner

Not entirely sure how this is going to work, but the idea is that background scenery eg station buildings; water-towers; adjacent churches; trees; distant hills - possibly, even clouds in the sky; will be drawn in bold outline onto individual terracotta tiles. Sometimes, a building will stretch across two or more tiles and their associated grouting.

Here are the "tiles" painted onto 2 cardboard sheets.

Here is an artist's impression (so to speak) of a tree and a small station drawn onto the tiles.

Obviously. I'll have to carry out a few trials as to the colour of these line drawings; the thickness of the lines etc etc.

And here are some photos of tile work that we have hanging in our house by the brilliant Scottish ceramicist, Elspeth Gardner.

Obviously, her approach to delineating the buildings is completely different from what I'm considering.

Die Schöne Müllerin:

Attending a live performance of Schubert's "The Miller's Song".

I've never liked "lieder" which an internet dictionary defines as follows:  any of various musical settings for solo voice and piano of a romantic or lyrical poem, for which composers such as Schubert, Schumann, and Wolf are famous.

Lieder has always sounded to my ear: silly; snobbish; precious; melodically simplistic and "samey".

However, a recent introduction to the brilliant Danish (deceased) tenor Aksel Schiotz (see earlier blogs) has begun to convert me.

If nothing else it will be interesting to see a live performance.

Here is an extract from the List about today's concert.

"It's an old story: boy meets girl, girl meets hunter, girl goes off with hunter, boy throws himself in the river. Franz Schubert's Die schöne Müllerin was not the first song cycle ever composed but it's the first great one, beginning in happiness and proceeding via longing, jealousy and madness to end in tragedy. Tenor Ben Johnson and pianist James Baillieu perform it here in a concert which will be broadcast live on BBC Radio 3."

Thursday 29 March 2012

Roots Manuva

I'm going to rig up a mock-tiled background for the test layout and try out some scenery. (See yesterday's blog re terracotta tiles.)

Tried two sizes of tiles: 20cm x 20cm and 15cm x 15cm. I think the latter is better.

Simply drew the outline of the tiles on a length of cardboard. I'll draw some wee buildings and trees on it.

20cm x 20cm

15cm x 15cm
Found this image of a painting of a French branch line.

Roots Manuva:

Today, I have been mostly listening to "Run Come Save Me" by Roots Manuva which is the stagename for Rodney Hylton Smith (born 1972).

I suppose you'd call his stuff, British hip-hop.

Wednesday 28 March 2012

Scenery - 3 Layers

Saw a great new technique in my ceramics class last night and intend to incorporate it into my model railway scenery.

Basically, it is a terracotta tile with a layer of white clay painted on top of it. One then scratches out designs on the white layer which reveal the terracotta underneath - like so.

And here are some variations on the same technique.

My plan now is to build the town around the station from 3D ceramic buildings and to have a back cloth of tapestry stretching from behind the town rightwards along the wall for the length of the layout.

BUT, in between the 3D buildings and the tapestry will be a background layer of terracotta tiles. These tiles will only run as far as the town runs. When the tracks reach countryside, the tapestry will be the only background - there will be no terracotta intermediary.

I hope this crude drawing will explain what I'm getting at.

I think it would have been too steep a gradient of scenic effect to have gone from vividly coloured ceramic buildings to plain tapestry. The introduction of the terracotta tiles will act as a scenic intermediary between the 3D buildings and the tapestry.

Another technique:

There wasn't much I could do to my Gare du Nord last night as it was placed in the kiln ready for firing. (Won't see the result for another 3 weeks because of the Easter holidays!!)

So, in the mean time the lecturer introduced me to underglazing pencils which allow one to draw details onto ceramic pieces. They still have to be fired to release their pigments.

Experimented on this little building I'd made some weeks ago and which had only been fired once.

It will now be fired a second time to cure the lines drawn by the special pencil.

I have to say, there are endless numbers of techniques to be explored in ceramics. Very exciting.

Cee Lo Green:

Well, well, well. I had absolutely no idea that Cee Lo Green is the singer on that amazing record "Crazy" by Gnarls Barkley.

Downloaded his single, "Forget You" from iTunes and that was the second surprise: I'd heard it dozens of times on the radio at work but had never discovered who it was by.

I would describe his voice as "effortless".

Tuesday 27 March 2012

Colour Schemes

Here are photos of 4 different colour schemes of the test track.

Remember, my criterion is that the layout should look pleasing to the eye - verisimilitude comes second.

Bare wood.


Bright green


Pink plus carriage
At this stage, I rather favour the pink surround.

21st Century Pop Music:

I've always enjoyed the pop music of the day - until now.

It's not that I dislike today's pop music - I simply don't know it well enough.

I've heard all the names: Jessie J; N-Dubz; Dappy; Tynchy Strider; Pixie Lott; Tinie Tempah and Cee Lo Green but have not knowingly heard their records.

There are exceptions: I've heard a lot of and like Calvin Harris. I have seen and heard a lot of those big-voiced brassy female singers who all seem to have won the X-Factor  or similar, and I do not like them at all.

But, basically I'm ignorant. So, I'll explore some of these new pop artists, starting with Cee Lo Green - because I like the name.

Monday 26 March 2012

Diatribe Against Lichen

First, a painting update on the points. Couldn't risk using the spray paint over the points mechanism in case paint infiltrated the mechanism of the points motor. Therefore, have had to touch up the missing sleepers with a paintbrush and some acrylic artists' paint (Venetian Red).



Diatribe against Lichen:

As a child, I loved using lichen to represent bushes and general shrubbery on my model railway. Now, I think the use of lichen is ridiculous.

My objection is that it doesn't actually look like bushes or shrubbery. It is rather a SYMBOL for shrubbery. It is as if one is saying to the viewer, "By the way, wherever you see lichen then please imagine that there is a bush growing there." One would be as well placing a little label there instead with the word "BUSH" printed on it.

I feel almost as strongly about the use of flock powder which usually comes in green and is spread on slopes to simulate grass.

(By the way, there are some fantastic model trees available - they really are works of art.)

Vin yard by Faller
My approach is to decorate the layout so that it either succeeds aesthetically or incontrovertibly simulates reality. Also, I want the predominantly green or red rolling stock to have a background which suits their colouring.

So, rather than use flock or lichen to fill in the area around the ballast, I want to decorate that area so that it HIGHLIGHTS the ballast and thence the rolling stock. With that in mind, I decided to paint the rest of the test board in yellow emulsion. I'm not sure that yellow was the right choice - I'd considered black or bottle-green as well.

But that is my aim - highlighting, rather than using something that one hopes sends out a message to the viewer: "Oh, by the way the ballast is surrounded by tarmac or gravel or concrete or a scrub land or whatever."


By the way, this week Radio 3 is playing 8 days of continuous music by Schubert.

The Beatles:

"Eight Days a Week", another great track from the album "Beatles For Sale".

Sunday 25 March 2012

Ballasting the points

Finally, I faced up to ballasting the section of the points surrounding the changing mechanism.

Used masking tape to protect the mechanism itself and the sections of rail which actually move when the points change.

Used the eye dropper to distribute the PVA.

The final, final task will be to paint the sleepers adjacent to the mechanism - they got missed when the rest of the track was spray painted. This time I'll use a paint brush. Try that tomorrow.

Also, installed the buffers.

And ballasted them.

Arlo Guthrie:

Born in 1947, he is the son of Woody Guthrie.

His most famous song is "Coming into Los Angeles" which I never get sick of.

Arlo Guthrie has a most distinctive voice. As a pop voice, it is pretty much perfect.

Another of his better-known works is "Alice's Restaurant", a satirical talking blues song about 18 minutes in length.

His changing faces:

As I remember him.

Saturday 24 March 2012

Ballasting as a disastrous experience

So much for spiritual experiences!

Here is the result of yesterday's spiritually driven ballasting session. As usual, once the PVA bonding was dry, I tipped up the board to let any loose grains fall off. Unfortunately, 30% of the new ballast dropped off leaving what looked like a disease ravaged railroad behind it.


I think what happened was that I tried to ballast too long a stretch at the one time and lost track of where I already had and where I had still to apply the PVA/water/detergent mixture. The earlier and entirely successful trial efforts had been over 15 to 20 cm whereas this time I had tried double-track over 70 to 80 cm.

I also suspect that the PVA was too thick and had a tad too much detergent in the mix.

I think that the glue should have the consistency of milk rather than cream and that a mere droplet of detergent for every half-tumbler full of PVA/water is sufficient. The glue must disperse readily over as wide an area of ballast as possible otherwise  it's a case of applying one blob after another and  leaving gaps of unbonded ballast between the blobs.

Anyway, tried to remedy the situation and 95% of the ballast is now in place.

Perfect Pop Song:

The Beatles' "I'll Follow the Sun" from their 1964 album "Beatles For Sale" is one of my favourite Beatles tracks with a brilliant instrumental intro and yet, it is only 1 minute and 49 seconds long.

A Collect:

Oh Lord,
We beseech thee,
Mercifully to receive the prayers of thy people
Who call upon thee.
And grant that they
May both perceive and know
What things they ought to do,
And have the grace and power
Failthfully to fulfil the same;
Through Jesus Christ our Lord.