A Randomly Selected Newspaper Headline:

The following is a randomly selected newspaper headline from many years ago:

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I have also added a separate page to the blog for the Tower of Magic with a brief summary of all the rooms of the ToM in the one spot. The link is just below this and above the main body of the blog, or you can just click here.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Highcroft Castle - Week Eleven

This was another week of working furiously to finish the exterior and major construction jobs of the castle. The good news is that I've finally finished it! Almost. In all honesty there are a few things that still need doing to the outside, but these are either small tasks or things I haven't decided for certain to do yet. So officially I'm calling the outside finished and turning the main focus of my attention to the inside of the castle. Of course, first I should tell you about the past week's work on the outside . . .

The small tower windows were shaped from air drying clay last week. Once thoroughly dried they were painted cream and then given a coat of 'stone' to match the exterior of the castle. Like the other windows, these were glazed with fine black mesh and mirror paper cut to size. Four of the windows were then glued onto the outside front of the tower while the remaining four will be added to the inside walls after I've decided where they look best (which will depend on the size and position of the as yet unmade furniture).

The tower front was made by curving a piece of board over arched 'ribs' of balsa wood. But the course of a week proved that the front board tended to pop off the ribs and no amount of glue or pins was going to hold it securely. So I decided to "sew" it together. I used a kitchen skewer to punch holes through the board on the inside and threaded twine through the holes in much the same way as you might lace up an old fashioned corset. This pulled both sides of the curved front together and holds them securely on the ribs. All the front needs now is possibly some vines/plants growing up it and maybe the wooden bay windows painting a cream stoney colour to match the rest of the stonework.

Originally, I had intended for the side of the tower closest to the main building to have no wall - the main building's outside wall would be the tower section's wall. This would have worked marvellously . . . if the tower was shorter than the main building. As the tower is taller, there is a jolly big gap between the roofline of the main building and the top of the tower. If I put a solid wall floor to ceiling here, it would block the doorway from the main building. After passing on several ideas I cut a piece of foamboard the width of the wall that covers the entire space between the top of the tower and the main building roofline, then tapers toward the back of the building. It's basically a rectangle sitting on top of a triangle. This makes it look like a full, solid wall from the outside but doesn't interfere with the doorway inside. The exterior was "stoned" with paste and a stencil to match the rest of the outside. On the inside side I had a problem. It should have been covered with stone paper to match the paper on the wall behind the steps, but I didn't have enough left. So I covered the side with a thin layer of polyfilla and carved a stone pattern into it. Many layers of paint later and the resulting stone effect is really quite passable . . . too bad it doesn't even come close to matching the paper. It needs yet more paint to make it yellower if it is going to match the paper, but I honestly don't think even that will look right and I suspect I will soon be ordering more stone paper to cover this section.

While I had the polyfilla out I added some to the pillars and arches for the catacombes in a thin layer and marked out stone patterns with a toothpick. Once dry and given a base coat of cream, the pillars and arches were glued in place in the catacombes. Although I experimented with several pillars (of balsa wood dowel), in the end I decided to use just two as this was enough to give a subterranean 'dungeony' feel without clogging the space and making it look like a hypostyle hall out of an Egyptian temple. Again, successive and numerous coats of paints later and the catacombes are starting to look like they're made of stone . . . too bad the stone is too brown to match the rest of the castle. So here too, I need more paint before I call the task complete.

The last major exterior task was to cut and paint a front piece for the catacombes. This was cut from foamboard and stenciled to match the rest of the exterior. This used the last of my stone paste, so I hope there is nothing else in this castle that needs to look like the same stone as the outside! This piece now just needs attaching with hinges and a catch adding to hold it in place. This I'm leaving until I'm happier with the paint work in the catacombes to avoid the risk of getting paint where it doesn't belong.

This week I'll (hopefully) be working on the Kitchen and Treasury (these two rooms seem to be a good place to start work on the inside given the fact I've cheated and already done some work on them previously). In the kitchen I need to sort out the fireplace, adding such things as a spit, and I need to figure out how to make a big wash tub. The kitchen staff are going to be in the process of clearing up after the banquet going on upstairs, so a big tub of water to wash all those pots will be essential.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Highcroft Castle - Week Ten

I'm trying to get the exterior and all the 'construction' work finished on this castle before moving on to adding furniture and accessories.  At the start of the week there was still plenty of work to do on the outside, so naturally I started making furniture for the kitchen.  I know, it doesn't make sense, but if you've been following this blog for a while, you should know that very little in my world ever does.  It was a simple matter of not having the time to start on one of the messy and time consuming jobs left to finish the exterior, so I worked on something quicker and less messy instead.  Rather than make a one piece dresser (or hutch) for storage I decided on a bench style dresser with separate shelves that hang off the wall above.  I chose a square table for my main preparation/cooking table because it fills the space better than a narrower rectangular one, plus rectangular kitchen tables are extremely common in dollshouses and I felt like being different.  Both items still need finishing off and staining, but they have already transformed the kitchen and made it look like, well, a kitchen.

The distraction of the kitchen furniture put aside, I went back to finishing the exterior of the tower.  I had already made the front for the tower out of presenation board, the next step was to give it a stone finish to match the front of the main building.  Just as with the main building I used stone paste and a stencil, the difference being this time I stenciled on a piece of cardboard.  When the stone paste was dry, I wrapped the cardboard over the tower front and glued it in place.  Rather than go to the trouble of stencilling the back of the tower, I simply covered it with a solid coat of stone paste.  It is the back after all, no one is ever going to actually see it.  At the same time I covered the very pink air clay crenellations I added to the tower last week with more stone paste and they now look much more at home atop the tower.

Next job were the windows.  There were three groups of windows that needed making: the dormers for the main building roof, a multistorey bay type window for the tower section front (infront of the stairs) and small windows to scatter around the walls of the tower.  All of them are fake windows glazed with a fine metal mesh (painted black) in front of a piece of mirror paper (the same as the windows in the main building front).  The mirror reflects light, giving the impression light is actually shining out the windows while the mesh breaks up the reflected image so you don't really notice that you're looking at yourself in a mirror.  For the dormer windows I used the basic window that was on the original house.  I took out the original window frame and removed the roof.  I made a new, larger window frame from air-dry clay and extended the height and altered the shape of the dormer with more clay.  Once dry, painted and glazed, I was prepared to attach the new windows to the roof when I realised that the windows had no roof, just a big hole on top.  So I used cardboard to create a curved roof for the windows.  These just need painting and the dormers can be attached to the roof.

For the bay window I used a single piece of balsa wood for the front with two strips for the sides.  After creating a pattern out of graph paper I cut the window openings out of the front piece.  I stained the whole window section to look like wood, glazed the windows and attached the piece to the front of the tower.  I chose to give the windows a wood effect for a bit of difference and interest.  Seeing it in place on the wall, I'm not sure that the wood look really works and I may paint it in the paler stone colour sometime later.

For the smaller tower windows I again made use of air-dry clay.  I made a template for a simple, somewhat gothic window on graph paper and used this as a guide to cut about eight windows from a sheet of rolled out clay about half a centimetre thick.  These still need painting and glazing, but will soon adorn to tower's front fascade and also the inside walls to give the impression that the rooms actually have a view.

Finally, inbetween doing these various bits and pieces I made a start on painting the catacombes.  First with a coat of cream to kill the ghastly pink of the clay and then with a wash made of various stoney coloured acrylics and some of the stone paste used on the outside of the castle.  Already the faux stones look quite good and not at all like clay, egg cartons and polyfilla (there are stones in this room made of all three).  I will add the pillars and roof arches before adding further paint layers so that all the stone in the room can be finished at once from the same mix of paint.  If I finished the walls before adding the pillars (etc) I can guarentee that the pillars would end up a different colour to the walls.

So that leaves me with ten windows to finish off, the main section roof to install in such a way that it can actually open, a 'front' panel to make for the catacombes and a few other little touches here and there and the outside will finally be finished!

Friday, April 16, 2010

The Tudor/Medieval/Jacobean/Queen Anne Dollhouse Project Giveaway

The Dangerous Mezzo, writer of the The Tudor/Medieval/Jacobean/Queen Anne Dollhouse Project blog is currently offering to giveaway a miniature book to one of her followers if they leave a comment on her blog post before 18th Arpil 2010.  Her books are just lovely and if you haven't already found her blog, I strongly recommend taking a look and becoming a follower (and that's before considering the chance to get a freebie!).

The giveaway can be found here:  http://tudordollhouse.blogspot.com/2010/04/giveaway-woo-hoo.html#comments

Or her full blog is here:  http://tudordollhouse.blogspot.com

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Highcroft Castle - Week Nine

 At the start of the week I thought perhaps I could finish the construction phase of the castle by the end of the week. Naturally, I was wrong and now estimate it will take at least two more weeks. The one big job left to do is the tower exterior which will need to be stenciled to match the exterior of the main section. I could cheat and use the stone look paper I used inside the tower, but I think it would just look wrong against the stenciled stone of the main tower, plus it won't take being used as a scratching post by cats nearly as well as the hardwearing 'paste' used for the stencilling. The main ingredient of the paste is intended to create stone effects outdoors, so it pretty durrable. I have made the front for the tower section, so really have no excuse not to go ahead and finish off the exteriors. I just wish that the process of stenciling wasn't so dull and repetitive.

Anyway . . .

My first task of the week was wrestling a flat piece of board to form a curve to create the tower's front. The plastic board was actually easy to make curve, just really hard to make it stay curved and then go straight (for the front of the stairs) at the right angle. The curve was created using "ribs" of balsa wood on the inside for support and pins and lots of glue to hold them in place. The bit where it has to change direction to run accross the front of the stair section was harder, but was eventually managed using wedges of scrap balsa wood and anything else close to hand that looked useful. In retrospect, I should have cut this piece off from the curved bit and just glued it back on at the correct angle. Because the plastic board doesn't take paint well, the whole front will be covered with a thin cardboard - as soon as I get it painted and stenciled. Lastly, I need to add some mock windows and of course, figure out how to secure the front cover so it only comes off when you want it to.

With the cover underway, I turned my attention to the other part of the tower exterior still needing attention: the roof. Using a mix of part air-drying clay, part paper clay I made the crenellations as one long, flat oblong of clay with 'notches' cut out to make the crenels and wrapped this around the top edge of the tower. After first experimenting with the mix of clays last week I have found that it does indeed dry as hard as normal air-drying clay, but shrinks and cracks less much like paper clay. It is also more like paper clay to work with when wet which is another advantage.

While I had the clay out, I decided I should at least make a start on the last untouched room in the castle - the catacombes. The catacombes are located under the tower in the 'subterrainean' level of the castle. In keeping to the 'mix-n-match' styles of stonework already in the castle, I knew that I wanted to try using clay to create the stone effect in the catacombes. I started by adding the angled side walls (so there would be something to cover with the clay). I wanted the inside walls to be set in from the external walls so I could create 'niches' in the walls. I angled them so that it is easier to look in and see what is in those niches. With the walls in place, I rolled out large sheets of clay about half a centimetre thick, used PVA glue to stick them to the walls while wet and then used a toothpick to press a random stone like pattern into the clay. At this point I was running decidedly short on clay, so used cardboard eggcartons, again cut in a random stone pattern, to create the floor. I am going to add some columns to the space to give it a more underground/enclosed/catacombey feel to the room.

At some point (but don't ask me exactly when) I started to give the Treasury room some personality, adding shelves to the wall and putting some bling in (or should that be out?) the storage chest. Beyond the arch at the back of the treasury room is a barrel table and chairs where the Treasury guards play dice to pass the time. Eventually there will be a gate in the arch so that the Treasury can be securely locked. There will also be bolts of precious fabrics, perhaps a few racks of weapons and lots of shiny, valuable looking objects.

Going back to my quest to complete the exterior, I painted the roof of the main building. The first coat was a terracotta colour, followed by a couple of washes of watered down brown to give it a random, weathered look. The original dormer windows are still being made over. So far they have been given extra height and a curved top with more air dry clay and had new window frames made for the windows. Some paint should see them ready to be installed on the roof.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Highcroft Castle - Week Eight

I started the week by continuing on from last week and finishing the door surrounds made from part air dry clay, part paper clay. The doors left to be surrounded were the three in the tower. As there wasn't the room around the tower doors for the same arch surrounds that I used for the doorways either side of the Great Hall, I decided to make the tower arches more simple, just a strip of clay about 1cm wide arched to fit over the opening of the doorway. These were glued in position when 'wet' so they could be shaped to the exact shape of the doorway. The same clay was also used to fill the gap between the stairs. Once the clay was dry, the tower doorways and those in the Great Hall were all given several coats of stone look paint.

While working with the clay I also made a fake door to lead out of the back of the bottom of the tower to give the impression that the castle continues on behind. The door was simple to make. After rolling the clay flat, it was cut into an arch shape using the same template as for the other arches. A blunt toothpick was used to press the curved line of the inner arch into the flat clay to create a 'door' surrounded by a frame. The edge of a ruler was pressed into the door part to create the effect of planks. It was left to dry pressed against the wall of the tower so it would have the same curve as the round wall. When the clay was dry, the frame part was painted with stone look paint, while the door part was painted with brown acrylic to give a wood effect. The final step was to add the hinges and studs which were painted directly onto the door with faux leadlighting outliner. Using the faux leading is one of those ideas you have to hit yourself in the head and wonder why you didn't think of it years ago - it is three dimensional, so looks like something solid on the door rather than something painted on and it can be used to create any size and style of hinge you want. The particular outliner I used has a shine, but others are matt and it comes in all sorts of different colours and metallic effects.

In the Great Hall, I finally made the decision to open up the walls to create a pair of galleries in the back wall. Galleries were part of my original plan for the castle, but I had changed my mind, deciding there wan't quite enough height, nor enough width to position the galleries so they weren't directly over the fireplaces (where would the chimneys be?). I have opened up the galleries just off line with the fireplaces, so the chimneys can carry on beside them. The 'stone' railing was made with air dryed clay copies a some Sue Cook frieze made by making a mould of the originals with sculpy mould maker. I placed some stone paper behind the openings, but this was a mistake as I now think the back walls will be better in a colour that contrasts the Great Halls upper walls. Perhaps more wood panelling?

Having finally made a start to the top floor bedroom or 'Royal Suite' last week, I continued the work this week by adding the wall and floor coverings. This room spans the entire top floor of the main building (kit house) of the castle, but is separated into two parts, the 'bedroom' and the 'bathing area'. The bedroom walls are covered in a cotton fabric with mottled gold, red and purple which looks very regal. At the moment it looks a little overpowering, but by the time the room has a door, a tester or four poster bed, other furniture and tapestries (etc) the walls will be much less visible. The floor and the bathing area are covered with vinyl floor tile, the floor with a wood look tile and the bathing area with black marble. Again the black marble is a little overwhelming at the moment, but will eventually be broken up by other furnishings. It will also (hopefully) look less masculine as the room is supposed to be currently occupied by the Queen of Oronia rather than a King. The main feature of the bathing area is a triganular bath tub made by covering a cardboard frame in vinyl tile. The internal section of the tub is less than a centimetre deep - a fact which will eventually be concealed when the tub is filled with a luxurious buble bath ready for the Queen to relax in.

The other piece of progress for the week was to start work on the 'front cover' for the tower. Once this and the tower roof are finished, the 'construction' part of the castle will basically be finished (until I decide to go ahead and create a right wing). Finally, I feel like I am actually getting closer to actually making progress instead of just making a mess.