Preparing for the overhaul...

Thursday, August 18, 2011

How To Make Your Own Medieval Or Tudor Salamander

Many of skills have been motivated by desperation.  I've learned to make things simply because there was nothing even approximating what I wanted for sale.  My window adventure is one example, and this is another.  I've always wanted salamanders (not the bed warmer, a representation of the actual animal) for my medieval and tudor dollhouses...but where are they?

If you look closely at historical architecture, really spanning an enormous period of history (anywhere from post-Roman to post-Elizabeth I) you'll probably see a salamander worked in somewhere.  They don't always look terribly lizard-like; as Durer's woodcuts demonstrate, most people, including the very well educated, had no idea what many animals looked like.  Salamanders have been represented as everything from lizards to snakes to gryphons.  

Salamanders were used as a charm against fire.  It was believed that they lived in fire (or, at least, were born in it), and, thus, were immune.  By representing the salamander somewhere on the building, medieval builders (and homeowners!) hoped to "borrow" some of its magical protective abilities.  Fire, then as now, was the single greatest danger a home--and city--could face.

Considering all this, it's sort of bizarre that there are no commercially available salamanders hanging about.  Oh, well.  Once again, it's Richard Stacey to the rescue and I decided to make my own.  While there are more complex ways to achieve a salamander, this is one I can actually manage.

I started out with...
  1. Richard Stacey modeling dust in "gault".  You can obviously use any color of modeling dust you like.  For my next salamander, I may, in fact, use stucco powder.
  2. A piece of wood for a base.
  3. A salamander.  Mine was purchased by my husband at a craft store for 99 cents (about 50p), in the "make your own jewelry" section.  For true historical accuracy, you could go with just about any animal you like and call it a salamander, since that's essentially what our medieval forebears did.  So, if you really fancy that frog (or lion, or gryphon), use it.
  4. PVC glue (I use Aleen's Tacky, but I realize this can be difficult to find outside of the States and Canada).
  5. A few fine detail brushes.

First, I cut a piece of wood down to size (the size of your wood piece is the size of the finished plaque).  Then, using some glue (epoxy works a bit better than PVC, but it doesn't really matter), I affixed my salamander.  Above, I messed him about a bit until I approved of his placement.  Then, let everything dry completely.  Note that, if you're concerned about warp being an issue, you can lightly coat your wood piece on both sides with varnish and let it dry.  If you're really concerned about warp, you can let it dry wrapped in wax paper and sandwiched between two books.  The wax paper is to protect the books.  You would do this, of course, before you affixed your salamander.

I took some of my regular gault mixture and added more gault powder until it'd formed a thick paste, somewhat the consistency of marzipan, and used a detail brush to work it in around the larger crevasses. There were places where, due to the salamander's shape, it didn't make contact with the board.  This is something of a preliminary step, wherein you prepare your salamander for its actual coating.  Note that, if you're making a plaster salamander instead of a stone salamander, you can perform this same step with stucco powder--just thicken it up a bit first.

I feathered it out a bit at the edges, just to give myself an even surface on which to work.  If your mixture is being stubborn, you can use a bit of water at the edges (load your brush with water and then feather it).  Then, I let it dry completely before moving on to the next step.

Here's my salamander after the first coat.  Here, I'm using gault powder at regular strength.  It's a bit shiny, as it's still wet.

And here it is after its second coat.

And here's my mate tiling my kitchen floor.  Just wanted to see if you were paying attention!  He's doing a bang up job, I think.

Here it is, almost dry after the last coat.

And here's the public ovens, done except for some sort of ground treatment.

I really do love this fountain.

I was thinking gravel would work in here.

After my salamander dried, I glued it in place with epoxy.

I'm quite pleased with how it came out!

And there we are, done but for the hardware and ground.

What do you think?


Fabulously Small said...

I'm new at your blog, but love it a lot! I think you have great ideas, very good way of working, you have a good eye for detail AND I very much like your writing as well! Going back in your blog admiring all you have done, I happened to notice this post has no comments despite your 'what do you think'. Being raised politely I decided it's about time your question was answered ;) I like it a LOT and I think you've done a very smart thing achieving this salamander-plaque and it looks great!

Anonymous said...

I too love your blog. Thanks for sharing the tutorials. Cheers Yvonne