Davis-Murdoch Stone Company

September 2023

Composing Scenes

Iain Rice is one of my favorite authors on the subject of model railroading.

I collected all his books intended for an American audience only to find he had written even more for British and European modelers. I have not aquired every Iain Rice book, but my favorite that I have managed to obtain so far is
Finescale in Small Spaces.


Accustomed to American model railroading publications being light on words and heavy on illustrations, this book has column after column of tiny type composing text intended for a British reader. I have managed to stick with it and read this book completely through several times, and no doubt will do so again. I gain new insights every time I read it.

The chapter that I focused on for this project is "Designing For Visual Effect." After multiple readings, I began to understand how important this is for any layout, whether it be a small finescale pike or otherwise. The earlier in the layout construction process that things like composition and sight lines are considered, the better chance they have of manifesting themselves in the finished scene.

I divided my layout into a series of scenes through which the right-of-way runs. Each scene has a Focal Point. Scenes are divided by some form of Containment that would break the view of a Visitor so they can interpret the beginning and ending of each scene.

Focal point in upper left, Containment in lower right

The Focal Points are identified by index cards marked with an "F." Containment areas are identifed by index cards marked with a "C." I can't recall Iain ever recommending using index cards in such a way to help previsualize scenes. He articulates designs far more effectively in his beautiful sketches. I feel that, once the benchwork is in and the track is laid, it makes more sense to work out the composition of scenes on the layout itself using foam board scraps, cardboard boxes, index cards.

With scenes roughly defined by "F" and "C" index cards, I taped together sheets of cardstock to make a pattern for the fascia.


Rises and dips in the fascia were made taking the locations of the F and C index cards into account, with an eye toward complementing the ridge lines on the backdrop.