And Now for Something Completely Different

In my normal thread I mentioned that John Armstrong had made an O'scale model of Edward Hopper's Masterpiece, "Nighthawks", the original of which resides in the Art Institute of Chicago. Hopper is one of my favorite American painters and of his works, I, like millions of others think Nighthawks is terrific. Brian Scaice got the model from John's estate and has it on his O'scale layout. If John Armstrong can build one, why can't I?


I was first going to convert a DPM corner store resin kit into the cafe, but after examining what I'd have to destroy to get it there, it seemed better to scratch-build it. Since I was planning on building a Victorian era city tavern from plans in a 1950s Model Railroader magazine, it seemed natural to install the Night Hawk's Cafe in that building. The front window of the building Hopper painted is a corner also and has a curved glass window wrapping around the corner. Since the building I was going to model has a round turret protruding from the corner, it would blend nicely with the curved corner of the cafe.


I downloaded a copy of the painting and then messed with perspective so it was straight sided. To re-acquaint folks, here's the original painting.


Edward Hopper's Nighthawks original


The image is American Impressionism, and therefore, is not photographically correct. At first I thought the building was at 90º, but after reading more about the composition, Hopper situated the building on a sharper corner so the glass around the corner would be entirely behind the three main characters. I have a acute angle corner in my city, but it's located towards the rear and the building would be facing the wrong way making it impossible for people to get a good look at the work. I'll take liberties and make it square. Since we'll dealing in three dimensions, not two, my viewers will be able to change their viewing angle and see the entire scene. The only red in the painting is the women's blouse and her lipstick color. The building was brightly lit with flourescents and I have one that I can use. It's also going to be my first attempt to hand carve O'scale figures. The picture I downloaded has such high resolution that it will be a good guide for the sculpture.


Many Hopper fans have tried to find the business in Greenwich Village that may have been the subject for the painting with little luck. Hopper may have used a composite of places he knew, but noted that he enlarged the restaurant to make it bigger and brighter. In O'scale I'm not going to distort it to match the painting. It would seem out of place.


I'm also planning on a row of stores across the street like the ones depicted in the painting. One of the interesting things is how the light from the diner lights those buildings.


I already have the coffee urns ordered from Westport Model Works.


Here's the plans drawn in O'scale.


NH Floor Plan

NH Left Side

NH Front


Hopper's painting also had no entrance. That may have been symbolic, "the folks were trapped in a life of sitting late at night having a cup of coffee on a deserted street" or something like that. Or he maybe didn't care if it had a door. I'm taking poetic license and having the entrance being the door on the front of the building (door's on the right of the image). I'm also going to have pass through from the kitchen to serve people more than just coffee.


I woke this morning thinking how I'm going to make the curved front window. I'm going to try and use the heat gun to selectively soften Evergreen clear styrene sheet and let gravity make a gradual bend. It will probably take some attempts to get it right. I may also try acetate if the styrene doesn't work. I already got the graphics, again taking it from the original and changing perspective so it isn't foreshortened.


Here is John Armstrong's rendition:


I would be pleased if mine comes out as good. The flourescent lights from Miller Engineering will help make it match the Hopper image. When John built his version, those lights did not exist. In the 1940s, they were the new thing too.


Like all the other scratch-build projects this one goes in the job jar. Until the trains are running (very soon now) and the Victorian Station is finished (Pretty soon now), then I select the next one. I may work on two at once just to make it fun... I have six on the drawing board and three other kits to build. Should keep me busy for a long time to come.


Photos (5)
Original Post

If I get a chance (and permission), I might be able to capture a set of photos of the one that Armstrong had on his layout.

A good deal of strategic planning is like a ritual rain dance.

It has no effect on the weather that follows, but those who engage in it think it does. 

Furthermore, much of the advice related to strategic planning is directed at improving the

dancing, not the weather.



Originally Posted by Trainman2001:

Brian Scace of O'Scale Magazine now has the building on his layout. He's now the editor with the passing of Joe Giovanini last year. Brian's got a beautiful layout and this building fit right in. Here's another view of it.


Indeed he does.  And it does fit in rather nicely despite his modeling British prototype.

A good deal of strategic planning is like a ritual rain dance.

It has no effect on the weather that follows, but those who engage in it think it does. 

Furthermore, much of the advice related to strategic planning is directed at improving the

dancing, not the weather.



Trainman2001, I think this is a great project. Looking forward to seeing it develop.


As a painter myself, who had studied Hopper in school, I have a few comments/observations about Nighthawks.


As for the diner not having a door, actually it does have one in sight and another implied... There is the tan door on the right, which does give a visual "entrance" to the scene. However, it is visually blocked and boxed in by various lines (red counter, green & black window frame) and so "inaccessible". Also note how the right hand pane of the front window is the same rectangle shape of the rear tan door. This composition arrangement creates depth by forced perspective.

As for the implied door, that is based upon the viewers own knowledge, "know" it is a pubic restaurant so there has to be an entrance. The forward angle of the front window not only draws the viewer into the entire scene, but also implies an entrance door just out of sight to the right.

The composition of no obvious door, the rectilinear shapes boxing the figures in and other aspects do create the trapped in space and time effect.

Hopper also used artistic license in not showing any reflections in the window glass. This makes the painting dramatically easier to render and also adds an irony of making the figures more accessible (i.e. no glass - yes, your mind's eye does notice that) while still being trapped, as described above. Note how the light from the diner illuminates the buildings across the street, creating a rectangular shape, but there is no reflection in the building's windows. In fact, a second light source is implied, probably a street light, making the white triangle on the interior wall and shadow on the desk. Still no reflection in the window glass.


Nighthawks does display the compositional tool that Hopper relied upon for just about every painting, that is how the viewer is cut off from the main image by a line or series of lines. As in this train themed painting...




In Nighthawks, the main image is isolated by the black shadow on the sidewalk and the green line of the window sill.


Not to sound overtly negative, but every critique has good and bad... Notice how the painting does not show feet. In fact, look at any Hopper painting and you will not find well rendered feet. He could not paint feet. In the case of Nighthawks it works just fine. You may also note in various Hopper paintings poorly rendered hands. He didn't do hands and feet well. And every female model in all his paintings is his wife. She would not let him use models.


All that said, Hopper's Nighthawk is a great painting. And yes, I have seen the real painting multiple times. But personally, I feel Nighthawks and a few other Hopper paintings are positive anomalies. The majority of his work could be described as static and quite boring actually. But hey, he gave us Nighthawks, which is more then any artist can really aspire to.


Sorry if you find this lengthy and dull.


Good luck with your project.


Photos (1)

I do not find your response dull. In fact, I found it enlightening. I too noticed a clumsiness about the way he does figures, but ascribed it to a desire to not be overly realistic, not to an inability to execute. Early Picasso's had very well-drafted figures and his later stuff... well, let's just say his later stuff didn't. So to be truly reflective (no pun intended) of the painting, I should avoid glazing the windows entirely. That would sure make it easier to model. The curved glass is the most challenging aspect of the whole project.

I'm glad you got something out of my review.


Yes, I'd say getting that curved glass will be the tricky part for your project. Maybe you can find something already formed to cut to fit, like a plastic bottle... ???


The outer edge of that curved glass pane in Nighthawks is the only actual glass piece rendered in the painting, and Hopper cleverly involved it in an abstract composition of shadows and highlights in the window across the street. Very clever.


Oh, and when I studied Hopper in school I looked at a lot of his sketches and drawings... He certainly had his talents, but hands and feet were not one of them.

This is a wonderful project, I wish you success!


One question, do you plan to also curve the building molding, if so mind sharing how? I have to this point only been reading about the use of plastics, so perhaps I am way off and that can easily be done with a form and heat gun.


There are so many Art Deco structures which curved and rounded forms, knowing how to achieve this would be a real asset to my modeling.





Building the Cincinnati Western Railway

TCA 13-68696


For the windows sills (top and bottom) I'm thinking about cutting them out of flat .040" sheet with the curve. For the rest of the molding, if you use .020" sheet, it's flexible enough to probably bend it without heat and use some inside backing. In fact, if you laminate two (or more) sheets together around a mold, they will maintain that shape, just like laminating skis or a toboggan. I'll have to make a mold of the curve and the rest should be easy...;-) 


Actually, I have much more apprehension in carving the figures than building the structure.

Having been a Hopper fan for several decades now since first visiting the Whitney in NYC. However i incorporated "Nighthawks" into my layout somewhat by accident.

In the small area of vacant land near the Warthog Coal & Oil Co. i had planned to build a version of Coalyard Charlie's, a bar and eatery in Rome, NY. However eldest daughter (MTS Harvard Divinity and JD Boston College Law) felt the property was better suited for a Pentecostal Church (currently under construction), and threatened legal action if i built an establishment that served alcohol.

Hence i was forced to build a small diner next to the coal yard fence which i named Coalyard Andy's after Andy Fusco, my friend and donor of the cadaver diner that i performed surgery on. i was able to incorporate "Nighthawks" inside the diner.


Pardon the poor quality photos; i can't seem to get used to digital photography since retiring my old Leica,







jackson, CEO, Not-So-Great Eastern RR, aka The Never Done Line

          Division of the Southern Adirondack Railway Cartel




Photos (3)

John Armstrong's "Modeling a mood - How to use fine art principles to make our model scenes more effective" along with his photos was republished in "Detailing Tips and Techniques" from Model Railroader Magazine by KALMBACH BOOKS FIRST PRINTING 1993, SECOND PRINTING 1994. It is Model Railroad Handbook 35. There are 3 figures that detail the building's layout along with 5 photographs. A side bar story is also included titled "Composition - Contriving scenes that go beyond attracting attention" that explains the basics on field of vision.


I highly recommend this publication. Paul Goodness

I had the privilege of visiting John Armstrong and seeing his layout about 20 years ago, maybe longer, when we were living in Virginia.  He opened his home in Silver Springs, Maryland to an NMRA layout tour.  He was a gracious host, and made many witty comments as he was known for. 


The Hopper's Nighthawks model did not disappoint up close in real life.  From the photos I had seen before visiting, I had not picked up on the fact that the building sits on a steep hill with the railing on the sidewalk.  Yes, the Brian Scace photo is what I remember seeing on that visit.  I will look forward to seeing your progress with this project. 


As an aside, John Armstrong ran O gauge outside 3rd rail.  It was the only layout I have ever seen using this, unless I saw one when I was a child and did not pickup on it.

Originally Posted by Trainman2001:

That's a smart way to use the actual painting in the model. I may have to go that root depending on how horribly the sculpted figures go. I should make the figures first before spending all the time on the building.

As I recall, there's a figure added in the Armstrong model that resembles the modeler.  You might consider that aspect in your project.

A good deal of strategic planning is like a ritual rain dance.

It has no effect on the weather that follows, but those who engage in it think it does. 

Furthermore, much of the advice related to strategic planning is directed at improving the

dancing, not the weather.



Hmmm... a self-portrait...I'll have to think long and hard about that.


Mark, the Cinergy Annual Holiday Layout erected in Cincy every Christmas season is an outside 3rd rail extravaganza. A friend, Gayl Rotcshing, is one of the people who sets up and runs it. It's now housed in the Cincinnati History Museum at the Cincinnati RR Station (the Art Deco masterpiece). Also in that museum is a scale model of downtown Cincy over the years with all the rail traffic done in HO. The buildings are terrific.

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