Preparing for the overhaul...

Monday, February 28, 2011

POLL: What Color Scheme Should Patisserie 841 Have?

You'll have to use your imagination a little bit on this one.  So far, Patisserie 841 is in the beginning stages.  I just got the laser cut letters and numbers today to make the sign.  The overall look I'm going for here is 1920's/1930's Paris.  You know, "The Sun Also Rises", and all that.  I like buildings with definite character.  The inside of Patisserie 841 will have lots of photographs on the walls, etc.  So, keeping that in mind, color is important.

The shell so far.  You'll just have to imagine the sign, the numbers (directly above the door) and the gold leaf on the (as yet nonexistent) windows, advertising the various delights within.  Both windows will be display windows, and feature various edible wares.  So, of course, the color I choose has to be something that's becoming to food.

This is a bakery in NYC.  I like the idea of using green, and thought maybe a softer green...?  And then the question becomes, should I use all one color, or a mixture of colors?  And what should be painted what?

Anyone have any thoughts, ideas, concerns, or pictures they'd like to share?

Saturday, February 26, 2011

How I Spent My School Vacation

Since Wednesday, the start of my "mini vacation", I've put 36 hours of work into the mystery project and I'm really pleased with the results so far.  As soon as I finish waking up--it's still rather tender hours, here--I'll head to the store, to purchase a few missing items.  Have you ever had that incredibly frustrating experience of thinking, "oh good, I have everything I need", and finding that to be basically true...except you're one piece short?  One piece!  

Ever since the warp incident, I put a foot on everything; as it turns out, I'm just shy of the pieces I need to fit out this rather enormous base.

I'm not normally quite so industrious; in this case, my astonishing work ethic is due to missing my husband.  The good news is, he's coming home on Sunday.  By all accounts, he's really enjoying his golf trip (he's off to warmer climes with his dad and brother).  Having nothing standing in the way of making minis is both the good news and the bad news!  

Yesterday, the remaining ingredients for the thatched roof finally arrived, so expect that last segment of the thatched roof tutorial to arrive soon.  I'm really excited!!!  It's thrilling both to take one more step toward completing the Wizard's Eyrie, and finally have figured out a way to create a realistic thatched roof.  I love thatched roofs, but have been so unhappy with how generally unrealistic they look that I haven't used them in my work at all.  I guess...expect a glut on thatched roofs now?

In the meantime, here's a preview of coming attractions...

My "mystery project", covered by towels.  Why towels, you may ask?  Am I expecting eager copyists to peer in through the windows?  Our younger gentleman, Henry, loves to chew wood.  So far, the only solution we've discovered is to put it somewhere he can't get at it: in a different room with the door closed, on a very high shelf he can't reach (such as the mantelpiece), or covered with something he doesn't care for, like a towel.  Otherwise, poor Henry can't withstand the temptation.

Me, with my charming and delightful better half.

Component I of the soon-to-be thatched roof.

Component II of the soon-to-be thatched roof.  Yes, really.  Confused, yet...?

Cheers for now!  I hope everyone's week has gone well.  My thoughts and prayers go out to those with relatives in New Zealand.  I truly, truly hope that everyone's families and friends are well.  My own family--even those whose vocations have taken them to dangerous parts of the world--are, thankfully, all well and happy.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

The Hobby Builders Supply 18th Annual Creatin' Contest

Hobby Builders Supply has been my go-to place for basic dollhouse parts since I started making minis, and their annual "Creatin' Contest" has always inspired me.  Essentially, this contest is an exercise in kit bashing.  Ever year, the folks at Hobby Builders Supply pick a reasonably simple, inexpensive kit, and entrants turn it into something fabulous.  The most fabulous entry wins.  You can read all about it here.

I like contests, but rarely ever enter due to either time or money constraints.  This year, however, I was determined to enter.  I've placed my order for the "Fascination Station", this year's contest kit, and it should be arriving today!

Seeing as how this is a contest and all, I'll be keeping my pictures to myself...for now.  Once I've entered my design, though, expect to see a HUGE "how to" series, covering every aspect of its creation from beginning to end.  I'm really excited!

Have you ever entered any miniatures-related contests?  Did you enjoy the experience?  Are there any you wished you'd entered?

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Some Highlights From My Artisan Miniature Collection

I designed the interior of the Wizard's Eyrie around a few of my favorite pieces, so, in celebration of finally finishing it, I thought I'd share a few of them with you.  Introducing them to their new home is only the start of what, I think, will be a long furnishing project.  I still have to find, or make myself, the wizard's bed, desk, work table, etc.

The chairs are hanging on the wall, upside down, so they're out of the way until they're needed.  Anyone who needs to furnish a small space--of whatever scale--should take a few cues from the American pioneers.  The wizard's bed will go along the right-hand wall, his desk under the window, and his work table in the middle of the room.

These chairs were made by Pete and Pat Boorum of Smaller Than Life.

A chair flanked by two gathering baskets.

I collect Al Chandronnait's baskets, as well as fill them for sale, and wanted to give some of the pieces in my own collection a good home.  Like most wizards, ours is very hardworking, and must grow or gather most of his own supplies. He, thus, has a range of baskets for various jobs: small baskets for gathering herbs, big baskets for gathering his neighbor's pies.

Mr. Chandronnait's work is truly extraordinary, requiring a fine and steady hand.

On good days, these baskets might be filled with apples.

I purchased this piece at Molly Cromwell's Sturbridge Miniatures Festival several years ago.

This bellows was made by Al Chandronnait.

This is another piece I purchased at a show.  Sadly, I don't know the name of the artisan.  If I did, I'd buy more of her work!

It opens!

This is my small but growing collection of wizard's implements.

This is a piece I actually purchased for a different project; it's an historically accurate medieval rat trap from SP Miniatures.

I pity the poor rat!

I made this shelf to hold the wizard's prized potions, and other supplies.

So there you have it: a few highlights from my small but growing collection.  Now that I'm finally building (and finishing!) a few homes for my own collection, instead of to sell, I'm hoping it'll really have a chance to grow.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Wizard's Eyrie: Landscaping!

I'm now at the point with the Wizard's Eyrie where I can't do anything further until my Richard Stacey brick slips and thatched roof materials arrive.  Today, I finished the landscaping--what there is of it.  My biggest challenge, when creating this, was figuring out how to give it a realistic-looking stone base.  The eyrie itself is made out of slabs of styrofoam, which are attached together with foam glue and dowels.  A couple of dowels run right through both sides, from top to base.  This adds a kind of stability that simply gluing everything together can't.

I got the "stone" effect by first painting the entire eyrie with several coats of "stone" paint.  I actually used a brand that's now gone off the market; I got a huge discount on all the tiny little bottles I used--and, believe me, this was sort of a wasteful project.  When I started it, I had no idea how much paint I'd end up using.  First, just coating a material like styrofoam isn't that easy.  Second, this structure, with all its crags and plains, has a lot more surface area than you'd think.  Third, getting rid of the "styrofoam" effect took a lot of work.  I wanted the "stone" effect of the paint, not the texture of the underlying armature, shine through.

Then, I spray (very lightly) painted the "rock" with a different kind of "stone" paint.  By using basically an airbrush technique, I was able to achieve light flumes of color across the surface of the rock--just like in a real rock formation.  I grew up on the beach, and I've always been obsessed with rocks of all kinds.

The next step is landscaping...

I added colored sand to simulate "dirt", and architectural landscaping "foliage" material to simulate small clumps of greenery.  Since this is supposed to be a windswept tumble of rocks, there wouldn't be too much in the way of growing things.  I just added a few details here and there.

Once I've finished facing the hut with bricks, I'll add more clumps of greenery around the rest of the base. 

A close-up of the greenery. 

Another close-up. 

In real life, this would probably be a combination of scrub grass and moss. 

Most of the greenery is concentrated around the cleft in the rock, which--eventually--will have a little trickle of water dripping down. 

The (forthcoming) natural spring provides just enough moisture and humidity to support some small growth.

A close-up of the stream bed. 

Another close-up of the stream bed. 

The base from the back.

A close-up of the cleft.

When planning a miniature scene, the interaction between "inside" and "outside" is always a challenge.

I took a few pictures with the flash on, so you can see the detail on the rock face. 

A close-up of the rock itself.

The almost-done facade!

I'm really excited to finish this.

Here's to hoping the rest of my materials arrive soon!

Saturday, February 19, 2011

How To Plaster A Half Timbered Tudor Dollhouse

There are several commercially prepared products labeled "dollhouse stucco", or some such out there; most of them aren't very good, and they're all expensive.  In this tutorial, I'm going to show you how to make and apply your own dollhouse stucco.  It's cheaper to make your own and, most importantly, I think you'll be really pleased with the results.  Because you control what goes into it, you have much more control over what it'll look like when applied.

First, you'll need two products, both of which are readily available at any art store: acrylic craft paint, and  pumice gel.  Pumice gel is an additive used by fine artists, to add texture to paint.  It has many useful craft applications as well.  Note, here, that the kind of pumice gel you choose is critical.  Fine pumice gel will produce very citified, refined plaster; coarser pumice gel will produce a simpler, more countrified look.

For your paint color, pick something that suits your individual project.  I like this color, "antique white", because it resembles the yellowed parchment effect of aged plaster.  A brand-new dwelling would probably call for bright white.  Keep in mind, too, that many half timbered structures were painted in a rainbow of hues.  Many of the finest surviving examples in the UK are very brightly colored.  I've seen yellow, and even bright pink plaster.

For the Wizard's Eyrie, I'm using coarse pumice gel.  For the Tudor Bakery, which is a more refined town building, I'll use fine pumice gel.

Find a container--preferably one with a lid--that you don't care about, and, using a tongue depressor or piece of scrap wood, spoon some pumice gel into it.  Do NOT use flatware!  Pumice is an abrasive; it will scratch!

Mix in the paint, a little at a time, until you've achieved the desired consistency.  You want your mixture to have a noticeable texture, but still be smooth enough to spread easily with a brush.  Too much of a good too much.  If you're not sure, you can always spread a little on and see how it looks.

Begin painting on the first coat of stucco.  You'll need to do two coats.  I prefer to cut in each section, just like I'm painting a room in my house.  Here, I tested my mixture to see if I liked the consistency.  For your first coat, you may have to use your imagination a little; because this is just the first coat, the stucco will look slightly uneven.  The second coat is what will even everything out.

A close-up of my first coat (in progress).

Be careful to wipe up any mistakes.  Nothing will take your project out of scale quicker than huge blobs of stucco all over your timbers.  Remember, while many medieval and tudor structures were of the rougher variety, your dollhouse person's sense of scale, and yours, are very different.  Too many blobs, and your house won't look rustic--just sloppy.

The first completed section--we're still on the first coat, though!

A close-up of the same section: see how, with only one coat, it's still slightly uneven?

I prefer to use several different sizes of brush: medium, small, and tiny.  The tiny brush comes in handy for corners like this, which really can't be carefully painted with anything else.  Working around this window was difficult, and took a lot of patience!

Here I am with my tiny brush.

This section required quite a bit of work--but I'm optimistic that it'll pay off in the end!

A view of the rear; our first coat is completed!

If you're wondering what that unfinished side wall is about, I'm planning on facing it with brick along with the main structure.

I'm really pleased with how the wattle and daub is coming out.  So far, it's looking quite rustic!  With a small structure like this, interesting architectural detail becomes all the more important.

Now, take a break.  You need to let the first coat dry--and I mean really dry.  If you start applying the second coat before the first coat is totally dry, it'll all just turn into a gigantic mush.  Applying pumice like this takes some effort, and you don't want it all to go to waste.  

For our break, Jim and I made a nice fry up.  He's always been very good at potatoes.  We ate it at the table, in the company of the dollhouse.  Dollhouses make excellent dining companions: they're very quiet, and listen to everything you say.

Once your first coat has dried completely...

It's time for the second coat!  I won't lie, this is a long and tedious process.  I felt every minute of it.  But, honestly, when I admired the final results, it was totally worth it the sacrifice.

I took this close-up so you can see the difference between one coat and two.  The panel on the left has one coat; the panel on the right has two.  Part of what makes doing the second coat such a drag is that you have to be fairly attentive to how you layer on the stucco.  It's not rocket science, but getting an even-looking final result does sometimes require mushing the stucco around a bit. 

The west side is done. 

A close up of the lean-to. 

A close up of the eaves--what a pain! 

Here's the completed lean-to.  I am, once again, working in the dining room as my husband writes in the living room.  As always, I'm trying to protect my surroundings.  Here, I'm using two hand towels that everybody in the family hates.  I got them at a discount shop and was quite promptly told that, bargains aside, I should've left them there.  Thus, they make perfect craft towels.

I saved the easiest panel for last. 

Here's a close-up of the completed eaves. 

I've done everything I can do, on the hut itself, until my bricks, and thatching materials arrive. 

I must say, I'm really pleased with the final results.  I think they look very realistic.  Sometimes, shortcuts are good, but sometimes, going the long way 'round really does work out best.

So that's how to plaster a half timbered tudor dollhouse!  This same procedure could work equally well, really, in any plaster or stucco application--especially if, like I suggested at the beginning of this tutorial, you vary the coarseness of your pumice gel.  You can use it on any medieval or tudor structure--I'm also planning on using this same coarse pumice on the (forthcoming) medieval blacksmith's shop--but also on your mediterranean villa.