Preparing for the overhaul...

Monday, July 30, 2012

Achieving Realism With Chrysnbon

As it's been a hectic, stressful summer, I'm taking a few days off.  And what better way to spend them than sitting on the screen porch, ignoring my family, and making kits?  You know, it's funny, I've been making plastic models--classic cars, various military vehicles, etc--for years, but it never occurred to me to use the same techniques on plastic kits designed for dollhouses.  I have no idea why.  I mean, really, is a bathtub that different than a classic car?

I guess we'll find out.

This is the first in a series of posts chronicling my Chrysnbon-related activities.  Most, if not all, of the techniques I use are pretty labor intensive and time consuming.  But, to me, anyway, the results you can ultimately achieve are worth the extra effort.  Plus, too, I'm doing a few experiments (stay tuned to find out how I solve the horrible wood problem!), so we'll see how that turns out.  Can't look any faker than it already does, right?

One thing I don't necessarily recommend, unless you feel like becoming super organized, is making a bunch of kits at the same time--which is exactly what I'm doing.  Partly because I have the time, partly because, with drying time, etc, the process is so lengthy that, unless you have multiple projects, you'll end up with a lot of down time.  Which, for those of you not taking a few days off, might not be such a problem!

My son, hanging with his dad and his magical inchworm, while I work outside on the porch.  These glues, paints, etc produce fumes; work in a well-ventilated area, away from babies!

One of our two especially large cats, enjoying "his" new "bed."
 I started with the tub and sink.  I'm actually making a couple of different bathroom sets, to see which one I like better.  I couldn't decide in the abstract.  Both are enameled claw foot tubs, obviously; one will be copper, and one will be a soft sort of blue-green.  The copper color is Testors copper, the blue color is Testors Nassau Blue, a color that was very popular for Corvettes in '65 and '66.  So, the first thing to do, here, is tape off the edges so the over spray--I like spray paint for large areas, because it coats evenly--doesn't get on the inside of the tub (or sink).

All taped up and ready to go.

Make sure you really press the tape down, so the paint doesn't seep through.  And another thing: invest in a self-healing cutting mat.  You'll need one.
Eventually--stay tuned--I'm going to tackle the "wood."  I have some ideas, and feel quite hopeful!  As a start, I sanded down the toilet lid a bit with a sanding sponge, just to get a sense of how hard the grain is to remove.  Actually, it's not bad!  And, so far, 3M sanding sponges (fine grit) have worked really well for just the initial rough sanding.  Well, "rough."  You certainly don't want to use anything with too much of a grit, or it'll mar the plastic.

This will look like wood!

I'm painting the underside of the sink as well.

This is the "metal" portion of the event.
 Your first step should be--I think, unless you like that "spray paint everywhere" look--setting up a spray box.  This is an old, unwanted plastic container with a smaller (also unwanted) plastic container inverted inside it, to create a platform for the pieces and add some height so I can actually see what I'm doing.  It's pretty straightforward: the pieces you want to paint go inside.

I've just put in the bathtub and sink, upside-down.

Two unwanted containers of varying sizes make a nice spray box.
 Working with spray paint--especially spray enamel, which this is--can be challenging.  The good news is, the learning curve is fairly steep.  Here are a few pointers: first and foremost, make sure that whatever you're painting is grease-free.  I mean, you don't need to go all out (there were a few fingerprints on these, pre-paint), but grease in any degree will prevent adhesion of the paint.  The other really important thing to remember is go slowly.  Multiple thin coats are much better than one huge, thick coat.  If you don't cover everything the first time, that's OK!  Thick coats bubble, peel, and generally look gross.  Spray back and forth in an even motion, never stopping directly over the piece--that can leave some odd marks.  And, finally, give yourself plenty of dry time between coats!  Here, I'm giving myself about 24 hours.  The longer you wait between coats, the happier you'll be.  Trust me.

Copper, but still not very realistic looking.
 It helps to be organized.  I'm trying to be really meticulous about keeping all my pieces together.  I've split up all my kits (hanging onto the directions, of course!) by color; all the plate aluminum pieces in one bin, all the cast iron pieces in another, etc.

My mom bought this box on eBay for 14.00 USD, decided she didn't like it after all, and gave it to me.
 I've always been a sucker for the Chrysnbon "mini kits."  I especially love their cookware, silverware, and china.  I have a couple of sets of cookware, here, and am dividing the pieces up between aluminum and copper.  Copper pots are lovely, but expensive--in any scale.  And, unfortunately, pieces made from the "real thing" are often slightly out of scale.  Plastic, if you paint it right, can really end up looking more realistic.

Hello, Revere ware!

Right before giving everything a good first spray.
 Sometimes, it's easier--especially if you're using a brush--to do a few initial coats while your piece is still attached to the sprue (extruded plastic piece).  That way, you have something to grip onto.  Keep in mind, however, that with metals in particular it's hard to get a uniform coat when you're doing touch-ups.

I didn't get almost anything in the first pass--which is fine!  They're not going anywhere.
 Now, when it comes to actually detaching your piece from the sprue, there are two things I want you to remember: DO NOT TWIST!  USE A SINGLE-EDGE RAZOR BLADE.  AND WHEN YOU USE THAT SINGLE-EDGE RAZOR BLADE, ALWAYS CUT AWAY FROM YOUR FINGERS!!!  Cutting plastic is NOT like cutting wood.  Your blade will move at variable speed: slowly at first, then zip! right through the piece you're cutting and, if you're not careful, into your hand.  Also, too, slow and steady wins the race: it's easier to shave off a little bit of extra at a time than it is to glue it back.  I also usually go over particularly difficult spots (very gently) with a sanding sponge.

This "metal" is not realistic.
 I'm not entirely clear on what metal the Chrysnbon "metal" is supposed to be.  "Silver color" isn't on the periodic table.  So, ignoring Chrysnbon entirely, I did a little independent research.  Here in Maine, finding old cast iron stoves is easy, and reading about how they're made is even easier, as many of the same companies are still in business!  Also, too, many town historical societies have really excellent records, and knowledgeable folks who can point you in the right direction.  Ultimately, I decided that, on my stoves at least, "silver color" would be plate aluminum.  It's historically accurate, and (I think) it looks good.

I used a sanding sponge to dull down the platform before painting it.  At no point do I want this to be shiny--hey, it was under a stove!  And, well, anyone who's seen my husband slinging sauce pans around knows that the area beneath the stove is bright, shiny and clean in no kitchen anywhere.
A lot of times, pieces will seem dry to the touch that really aren't.  One way to tell is to press your finger into a piece, to see if it's tacky at all.  If it's even slightly tacky, trust me, it needs, like, another 12 hours' drying time.

Some parts for the ice box.

After one coat of Testors aluminum enamel.

Still painting...

After one coat of Testors aluminum enamel.
 So while I set all that up to dry, I went to work on something else.  Specifically, these dress forms.  I'm not a huge fan of them as-is, principally because dress forms aren't made out of plastic, steel, or anything else super hard.  They're supposed to be at least partially cloth!  Which they will be, eventually...

I'm fairly confident that these will end up looking much better.

The seam here is very obvious, but I'm not worrying about it too much, because I plan to cover the top portion of the dress form.
One good way to while away your down time is to cut out, assemble and sand sub-assemblies.  Say, while you're watching TV.  When you're making your sub-assemblies, you want to pay really close attention to how you'll be painting them.  Don't glue things together that are supposed to be two different colors, or materials.  Don't assemble things to the point where it'll be hard to get at certain areas to paint them.

I've been putting all of my cast iron/black metal (the coal, obviously, is not cast iron and neither are the dress forms) in this box.
 Something else I recommend doing is dry-fitting pieces.  Here, I discovered that the two sides of this pipe really don't fit that well together.  Which is fine!  For a couple of bucks, Testors makes a great polymer filler.  It basically works just like wood filler.  More on that in a later post...

These pieces really didn't fit together that well.

And then they wouldn't come apart!  I inserted a pair of pliers into the tube and very gently opened them, prying it open.

I'm continuing with my sub-assembly, but will return to fix this seam soon--before I paint anything.

Lots of different stove parts...
Use the right glue.  It matters.  Tacky glue will not work.  Superglue will not work.  Epoxy will not work.  You need a polymer to polymer bonding agent.  The glue I'm using, Testors non-toxic model glue, smells pleasantly like oranges.

I'm working on my parlor stove sub-assembly.

You want to, ideally, hold the pieces you're trying to glue in place for at least 20 seconds.  I usually hold for 30--60.  Don't try to glue too many pieces at once, or everything will just fall apart.  Give yourself a good 10 minutes' dry time before you add anything else onto your sub-assembly.
 In real time, everything I've just written about took most of an afternoon.  Then we had dinner, did some other things, etc.  My family was happy when I rejoined them.

My son sees the cats.

And makes faces at them.  By the way, the hairy leg belongs to my husband.  Just sayin'.
 OK, so in real time, it's actually now the next morning, which is today, the day I'm writing this post.  It's been very, very humid here, so almost everything is still wet.  The one pleasant exception is the bathtub (and the sink, but that's not as exciting).  Now, after one coat of copper, it'll look a lot better, but the tub still won't look like metal.  First, I sanded away any imperfections I found.  Sometimes, these aren't really obvious until you start painting.  Which is OK.  Then, I buffed the heck out of that puppy!  Buff, buff, buff!  I used the back of the sanding sponge, and it worked really well.  Now, as I go along, I'll be going through the same process a couple more times: spray, dry, sand (only if necessary, otherwise ignore this step), buff.

It's a little hard to tell in this picture, but the tub is starting to look a bit more metal-like.

The white spots are from sanding; there were some bizarre little circular marks on the bottom, which I didn't notice at first.

And yet another view.  It's not there yet (not by a long shot) but it's on it's way.

And here I am doing the same thing to the underside of the sink.

Since this thing also turned out to be dry, I gave it a good sanding.
 One piece of plate aluminum was dry--why only one, I don't know--so I gave that a buff, too.  Testors paints come in two types: buffing and non-buffing.  It's pretty self explanatory: you can buff one, but not the other.  Non-buffing paints are usually used as final coats, say, for chroming model car parts.  We, however, want to buff our plate aluminum.  The highlights will get very, very shiny, and the lowlights will remain dull and slightly discolored.  This is important, because it adds depth and character to the piece, which promote realism.

It's a little hard to see in this picture, but even with one coat there's more of a contrast.
 Occasionally, a part will be very tough to sand.  This finial came with a lot of gunk on it.  I used some tiny pieces of sanding sponge I'd ripped off, a piece of wire, and a lot of patience.

Most pieces aren't quite this tough to clean.
 Another issue you'll encounter is that the pieces have these bizarrely crisp edges.  Very gently--you still want crisp edges, just not such obviously vacuformed ones--run a sanding sponge around the edges, to dull them down just a tiny little bit.

Can you see the difference?

Just a tiny little bit of sanding does the trick.

See how, along the underside of the piece, there's that little extra filament of plastic?  That's what you're trying to get rid of.  Leave it there, and it'll take you right out of scale.
I like to dry-fit my sub-assemblies, if it's critical that they go together in a certain way later.  So in the background we've got the parlor stove main sub-assembly, and in the foreground we've got the main three parts to the decorative top.  I usually wait until the pieces I'm trying to fit have dried at least an hour.  This glue sets in about four hours; before that, if you're very gentle, you should be able to coax pieces into a slightly different place.  I let the cast iron sub-assembly dry overnight.

Trying to get a good fit.

This sub-assembly is ready to be painted.

And here are the two sub-assemblies dry fitted together.

Don't glue them together yet!  You haven't even gotten to the hard part.

My little work area.

The top piece has had one coat of paint, and one buffing.  The bottom piece is fresh out of the box.  Big difference, no?
Well, that's it for now.  I'll post more, as I do more.  But, while we wait, I'd love some feedback.  Anyone else had success painting these kits?  Any funny stories?  Spectacular failures?  What would you do differently?

There's more to come...

Sunday, July 29, 2012

A Note On Scale

I first noticed, many years ago, that not all pieces of (human being-sized) furniture are made in the same scale.  Which seems like kind of an obvious observation, maybe, but one that doesn't get translated into miniatures very well.  Furniture suitable for an American colonial house in, say, Maine would seem tiny in a Georgian-era gentleman's home.  The library tables at the Vatican absolutely dwarf our dining room.  So why is it that we expect all 1:12 scale interior elements, furniture, and dressings to work interchangeably?

I first conceived of the not-Lincoln as using Chrysnbon fixtures--which are, of course, very dainty.  But, given the size and scale of the house (multiple rooms, fairly low ceilings, etc) I thought daintier was better.  My Reutter Porzellan stove, meanwhile, looks enormous in the kitchen.  It's designed, and scaled, for a much grander house.  So, at any rate, in picturing my ultimate decorating scheme, I kept the Chrysnbon cook stove in mind.

My first challenge turned out to be wallpaper.  Initially, I bought a bunch of different papers from Les Chinoiseries (who, in my personal opinion, make the most high quality wallpaper available anywhere).  They arrived, I liked them all individually, but they didn't all work together.  When I saw them side by side, some had much smaller patterns than others.  The effect just wasn't harmonious.  So, I ordered another batch (you can never have too much wallpaper, anyway), and this time was much more successful.  Also, too, because you're seeing so many rooms at the same time, the colors need to at least coordinate.  I learned this the hard way on my first dollhouse.

The next challenge was flooring.  Most of the house will have Houseworks random plank flooring that I plan to doctor up a bit.  For this type of thing, model train-specific tools (grainers, aging liquids, etc) work really well.  I wanted both the hallway and the bathroom (two very fine rooms for the era) to have linoleum, preferably in a pattern emulating tile.  The "marble" tile sheet I wrote about yesterday was huge-seeming.  For some reason, those tiles seemed enormously outsized.  The Les Chinoiseries "tiles" seem to work much better in the space.

Incidentally, I'm still deciding whether I want wood or linoleum in the kitchen.

Then there was ceiling paper; I've written about that before.

I'm sure other issues will come up--especially when I start making furniture--but this is what I've dealt with so far.

Your biggest design issue?

Saturday, July 28, 2012

A Color Scheme is Born

As promised, there are pictures!  However, due to the fact that the plumbers installing our sprinkler system (hooray!) completely took over the basement, they're not as complete as I'd like and I couldn't reach my better lights to turn them on.  So please excuse the shadows!  In any event, a few more goodies had arrived at the house, and I thought I'd start there.  I'm not really sure, yet, what I'll end up using in each house; the Sue Cook mantelpiece was intended for the house I'm working on now, but I'm not sure I'll end up using it.  I have a kit for a Georgian house waiting in the wings, so it may end up there, instead.  I ordered the grates, because I'm intending to build my own surrounds (probably for a bedroom fireplace).  And, lastly, the plaster rosettes are for the dining room.


In person, this is an especially lovely piece.
These rosettes are for the dining room (for the corners of doors, etc.)

My idea is to, hopefully, build something fairly modest around it.
The lighting's really poor, here (I couldn't reach my work lights to turn them on), but these are a few shots of the in-progress shell.  I'm trying to figure out what I'm doing with lighting, etc. before I put everything together completely.  As I find things I want to use, I've been sticking them into the house, so I can see everything at once and get a sense of how it all works (or doesn't work) together.

The main body of the house, which contains the formal rooms.
This is the rear extension.  In this picture, I'm looking down from above on the (unpartitioned) second floor.  Because it contains the more, shall we say, unexciting rooms, it'll be comparatively much more plain.  One contrast that's always interested me, in Victorian homes, is that between public and private.  I've seen these elaborate parlors, dining rooms, etc, then made my way into the kitchen and been shocked by how barren it was.  I'm still trying to decide what to do with my kitchen, here.
An upstairs in progress.

The dining room.

The library.
Yes, I like to write on things with Sharpies.  The dining room will be comparatively monochromatic (I don't like using wallpaper in every room; some solid color walls help calm things down, and set off the wallpaper to its best advantage), but will have quite a bit of ornament.  I plan on using lincrusta ("lincrusta") wainscoting both here and in the hall.  My lincrusta-making supplies arrived the other day, and I'm quite pleased with them--more on that later!

I've been fairly undecided about the kitchen.  Were I to be entirely historically accurate, it would have rough plaster walls and ceiling, and a random plank floor.  I'm considering, though, using bead board wainscoting and linoleum instead.  Thoughts?
The kitchen is on the left, the storage room is on the right, and the inset porch (this I did steal directly from Lincoln's house) is in the middle.  I envision it as being fairly utilitarian.
This is my first Victorian-era house, although I've wanted to build one for ages and have visited many historic homes.  What I find to be the biggest decorating challenge--and it's even more acute in miniature--is capturing the Victorian love of busy patterns, bold colors, and stuff without creating a horrible hodgepodge.  And eyesore!  I've been collecting (what I think will be) my major design elements, so I can see them all together.  This includes wallpaper, flooring, the fabric I plan to use on the larger pieces of furniture, and any other ornament necessary to the room (mirrors, niches, etc.)  After a few false starts--I bought some lovely wallpaper that fits absolutely nowhere--I think I'm finally getting somewhere.
For the living room, a couple of different fabrics, some slightly more bohemian wallpaper, a parlor stove and, find of finds, some miniature-scale grass cloth for wainscoting.

 In the family room, I'm trying to go for a more relaxed, bohemian feel--to create a room where you can actually imagine people gathering to relax after dinner as a family.  It's still a nice room, and most definitely a public space, but it's also--at least, historically--easygoing and child-friendly.  The formal parlor, on the other hand, is not.  The comparatively more severe golds, oranges, and greens say "sit up straight."  Also, too, while a stove has been installed over the original fireplace in the family room (they were much more efficient), the formal parlor will still have only a fireplace--and, thus, for much of the year be freezing cold.

I'm hoping to work this frame into my overmantel somehow.  Contributing to the severe effect, all the fabrics for the room will tie directly into the colors and/or design of the wallpaper.

The wallpaper for the master bedroom.
I don't plan on using everything I got for this house...or potentially at all.  I purchased a few different flooring sheets, wondering if they could be used either as intended or, potentially, as linoleum ("linoleum") tiles.  I was a little disappointed with the scale of this tile sheet; it's not detailed enough to pass for real marble, but the squares are too large for it to really look like linoleum, either.  So this is going into the miscellaneous materials drawer for now.
OK, but not really what I had in mind.

Still has possibilities, though!
 I wanted to use a little lincrusta in the house, both because I love the way it looks in real life and because, back then--certainly in America--man-made materials were all the rage.  Which is kind of hard to picture now!  Lincrusta was, like linoleum, made from linseed oil and used in a variety of applications.  My personal favorite was/is as wall ornament.  So, I thought I was really clever when I decided to buy a couple of 1:24 scale embossed papers to use.  I'll be making them into dado panels for the wainscoting.  I'll be using their 1:12 scale cousins as ceiling paper in a couple of the rooms.

I plan to use this pattern in the front hall; the angles will pick up the tiles nicely, I think (hope).

And here's the whole sheet.

I thought this would make lovely dado panels for the dining room wainscoting.  Good shapes and textures really work in a monochromatic setting, I think.  Each plays up the other.
 I might have no clue what I'm doing in the kitchen, but I've figured out the hallway.  Both linoleum tiles and encaustic tiles were popular throughout America during this time; linoleum (especially linoleum that looked like encaustic tile) was particularly popular in more rural areas.  It was expensive, and often chosen over (what we think of as) more desirable materials.  So, keeping that in mind, I'll probably doctor this up to look like linoleum.  This is, after all, no gentleman's house.

I promise, these colors really do work together--a fact which will be more obvious with the introduction of some solid colors, i.e. the wood flooring, the paint in the hallway, etc.

I don't know if it's totally obvious from this picture (the lighting really leaves something to be desired), but the orange in the wallpaper is the exact same burnt orange shade that's in the tile sheet.  They pick each other up nicely.

Also very hard to see in this terrible light, but the same orange is picked up again in my bohemian wallpaper.
So there it is.  It's a start.  I've brought up my plastic model-making supplies (although my metalizing sprays still haven't come), so hopefully I'll be able to work on the fixtures over the next month.  We'll be home after Labor Day, and I'm hoping by then that I'll have all my design issues worked out, so I can start right in on building the rest of the components (fireplaces, etc) and start installing everything. 

Thoughts?  It's really OK to tell me it's horrible (grin).  Anyone else facing any design issues?