The Small Layout Design Handbook

I’ve hinted several times over the past few months about a big project I’ve been working on but since Simon at The Titfield Thunderbolt book shop has let the cat out of the bag I feel now is the time to share more on the title…

James Hilton

My friend James has every reason to feel excited. One of the great privileges of our time is the ability to access so many channels to convey our body of expression but those ones that have always mattered still do and there’s something about ‘on paper’ and ‘in print’ that really means something. I have had a chance to preview this book and I can share that this one is different. I’ve often remarked that the feeling of holding the right tool for a job, a good tool with which you’ll do good work, is something you feel the moment you first hold it and before it’s even been applied to the task. The time James has invested into this book establishes that kind of feeling of care in its pages–a book on design should itself feel designed.

I trained as a draftsman. My career path guided me toward analytics and sometimes I’m asked about the movement from one to the other. I like to reply how they’re really not that different–my work today is still about finding ways to use ink as an agent for story. Design is like that. This book does the same but using its ink to do more than just fit shapes into boxes but as a way of using the layout as an expression of imagination. I believe we’re ready for books in this hobby that are for thinking and reading and not just to be burned up and consumed as fuel during the making of things. This is that kind of book. I’ll be adding a copy to the library here for sure. It’ll sit with books from Eric and Mike and be those that I return to because, on their pages, is a conversation that invites me to enjoy how good it feels to dream the dream of model railways and all the places our model trains can take us.

Well done James. You should be proud of this. It’s good work.


James has shared some fun notes on the book over on his blog. For those and so many more reasons you should go check that out: https://paxton-road.blogspot.com/2022/06/in-print-my-own-book.html

James and I have been collaborating on a series of posts that have been a real joy to be a part of. I have a category for them here on Prince Street and am reading through them now while I wait for August to come: https://princestreet.wordpress.com/category/hilton-mears-duo/



Categories: How I think

2 replies

  1. I am extremely pleased to see this book. I hope it finds quick distribution in the US.

    I love his drawings, both on his site and in your conversations, but they are very hard to see on my small screens. I will gladly spend money to have them in a readable form.

    What do I like about his work? For me, “layout planning” works best when it is “layout visioning” and sketches work better than anything else for visioning. And a scribble can be almost as good as a sketch, especially when enlivened by humour. I write “humour” because the concept does not seem to cross the Atlantic well. Iain Rice showed us the way, but somehow we remain grimly earnest south of the St Lawrence.

    We seem to fear that if we show the least bit of levity, we will be accused of playing with trains. So we get Walls of Text about Art/Craft or proclamations that even the dated track nails on our railroad are scale representations of those on the prototype.

    Hey, whatever floats your boat! For turning the vision into a layout , I am a huge admirer of Lance Mindheim, but I am looking forward to pulling down the new James Hilton while I drink my morning coffee!

  2. Chris thank you for sharing this, and your wonderfully phrased praise and overview. I’ve really appreciated all of your support. Through our discussion, exploration and Hilton and Mears series a lot of the ground work for this book was produced, and for that I’ll always be grateful!

    Marshall, I’m not sure if there will be US distribution, I will speak with the publisher, however most British book shops will happily post overseas, if not, and thank you, too, for your kind words. I can’t promise the illustrations will be any easier to read in print, but it should be an enjoyable and lovely thing to flick through, as well as read.

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