Preparing for the overhaul...

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Creatin' Contest Fiasco--Enter At Your Own Risk!!!

It's the grand unveiling--my Creatin' Contest entry, the one that'll never get judged!  After hours of work and much excitement, I submitted my project.  If you're familiar with the contest, it requires four photos.  I sent one photo of each room, and two of the outside.  Based on my perusal of the photos available on their website, this seemed to be the norm.  Moreover, I felt especially confident in my photography skills, as these photos were also distinctly amateur.  And, in any case, this was, first, an amateur contest, and, second, a miniatures contest.

Imagine my surprise when, this morning, I got a call from a woman named Denise who started out with that most glorious of sentences, "Well, I really like your project, but I can tell you no one else will".  She went on to inform me both that I needed to take pictures from further away, and that my pictures didn't show enough close-up detail.  How was I supposed to do both at the same time, I asked?  Her answer included the words "suck", and the recommendation to hire a professional photographer.  She went on to complain about the background, etc, and how terrible everything was.  Having been told that my project wasn't judgeable because it was so bad, I politely ended the call.

Shame on you, Hobby Builder's Supply, for treating your customers this way and for turning what should be a fun, lighthearted opportunity for miniaturists to show off their work in to a shaming, negative, "nobody's good enough for us"-type contest.  This is no way to treat people who've worked so hard on their projects, and it's certainly no way to treat customers.  I can tell you, this company has most certainly lost my custom.

I hate to say this but, after reviewing my own work, and the pictures of it, and comparing it with other Creatin' Contest pictures, one explanation for Denise's condescending, angry attitude leaps to mind more than any other.  I could certainly be mistaken, but I got the distinct impression that she didn't believe I was, in fact, an amateur.  To be perfectly blunt, I don't think she believed I made this myself.  Her very negative characterization of my project seemed neither professional nor appropriate.  No, I'm certainly not claiming to be the best miniaturist in the world, but do I really deserve being told that none of the other judges will like my project, and that she's never seen pictures so bad?

So, since apparently I won't be getting considered in this year's Creatin' Contest, I decided to share my pictures--all of them, not just the four I submitted--with you.  

I thought it would be fun to make an historically accurate medieval blacksmith's forge out of what began as a 1950's era American roadside stand.  The name I gave it was The Forge at Yalding on Wye, 1194.  The (working) double chambered bellows, tool bench, etc are all based on period woodcuts.  Creating this forge--and everything that went in it--took extensive research.  If anyone's interested in learning more about specific components, or about the historical basis behind the project as a whole, let me know!

This specialized type of anvil is called a nailor's bench.

The design for this platform bed comes 100% from my imagination, although platform beds were common during the middle ages.

Any thoughts?  I'd love some feedback--positive or negative!  Although, to be honest, I could use some encouragement.

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?