A Randomly Selected Newspaper Headline:

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

Welcome to my blog. Please feel free to leave a comment. I assure you I always read and appreciate everything you have to say. Unfortunately, thanks to Blogger being, well . . . Blogger, I can not respond to comments nor leave any on your blogs. They simply disappear into the ether. Occasionally I will remember to respond in the next blog post I put up, but usually these good intentions slip my mind. So if you want to ask a question or get a response to any comments you may have please leave an email address or other contact method in your comment and I will get back to you.

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, May 31, 2011

Witch Shop - Week Six

It's the last day of my giveaway, so be sure to enter now if you haven't already!  The winner will be drawn later in the week.

Do you remember the sideboard from last week that I was debating whether or not to use or to put a fireplace in the space instead?  Well, regardless of whether I do add a fireplace (and at the moment I'm thinking I will) the sideboard won't be going in the upstairs room.  That's because it now looks like this:

I transformed it into a shelving display unit for the shop downstairs by making a unit of shelves to sit on top of it.  The shelves are balsa wood while the more decorative front pieces of the shelves are cardboard.  The unit was finished by painting with a coat of a silvery metallic blue, a coat of crackle medium and then a coat of black which obligingly cracked to reveal the blue beneath.  I'm really pleased with how it turned out, but unfortunately I haven't been able to get a really good photo of it.  As of tomorrow it is officially winter in my part of the world and the sunlight, when we get it, has been pretty lousy.  Using a flash just doesn't show the detail of the cracked paint very well.

In the background of the photo you can see another unit for the shop.  This is just a cheap sideboard, the only change made to is was to paint it the same way as the shelves.  It was meant to be the shops hat display stand, but as you can tell from the two hats displayed on it I either need smaller hats, a larger stand or accept that the shop will have very few hats on offer.  The hats both on the stand and in the photo below were also made for the shop this week.

I don't know what the manufacturers treat the straw braid with, but it's addictive.  When I first used it to make floor mats, I kept going until I ran out of straw.  With hats it takes longer to run out of straw as they are more complicated and hence slower to make, but they are just as addictive as the mats were.  I'm especially proud of the tall, crooked two tone purple hat.  All four of these hats still need finishing with some trim, but I'll leave that until I've made a final decision which hat will be for sale in the shop and which will be being worn by the shops customers so I can be sure to accessorise the hat to match the outfit.  I have just one question about witches hats though . . . . When a hat is purchased it should be packed into a suitable hat box for the customer to carry home, but how do you make a hat box to fit a pointy witch hat?  I have a feeling the process will involve a lot of cursing.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Castle Starcaster - Week 17

The castle had another quiet week this week.  The only addition it recieved was a desk for the library.  The desk is very simple, just a rectangle of balsa wood supported on four straight legs.  It is dressed up by the addition of some pre-bought trim around the underside of the top and between the lower legs.  It is currently positioned accross the front of the room to take advantage of the light that comes in through the front windows.  It may be turned around to face the door, depending on which arrangement I decide on in the end.

The books you can see piled on the desk are all hand made.  The covers are collected from various miniature printable websites.  They were printed on transfer paper and then transferred onto fabric.  The fabric (in this case some sort of cotton with a close weave) is easier to bend and work with than if the covers were on paper.  The spine of an old phone book was carefully cut into sections sized to match the printed book covers.  The covers were then glued around the sections of book to create the little books.  One table full down, about a hundred more to go to fill all the shelves.

Over the past weeks I've been making a few door hinges at a time.  The hinges are made with a metallic leadlighting outliner.  Now that I had hinges on all the downstairs doors, I went through and attached the handles to all the doors.  I don't know . . . Somehow even hinged and handled, the door seem to be missing something.

And finally just because I haven't shown you a photo of the whole castle all together for a while, here's how it looks now:

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Witch Shop - Week Five

I'll lead this week with another reminder about my giveaway. It's been open for over a month now and it closes on the 31st May . . . And I have four entries. Four. It's really quite embarrassing. Other bloggers start giveaways and in under an hour they have more than four entries, in fact some can have close to forty. I know I can't produce the amazingly jaw-dropping fabulous prizes other bloggers can but please, please take pity on me and enter anyway. All you have to do is leave a comment suggesting a name for my Witch Shop and it doesn't even have to be a good name. Please. Oh, please. . . . .
Now I've finished crawling, i'd better get on to the Witch Shop. Most of the progress for this week was in the large room upstairs. This room is destined to house the shop's book section, so it really needed some bookshelves. These were made from balsa wood to fit in the right side back corner of the room. I'm quite pleased with how they turned out, but I think they could use some fancy trim along the top to finish them off. Between these shelves and the castle's library, I have a lot of books to make in the near future. Could a hand made book be among the mystery items in the giveaway prize?
After the shelves were in position, the room started to look more like a room than just an empty box, but it was the addition of rails around the stair well that really transformed the room. The rail is just pre bought spindles and posts with a balsa wood handrail, but the effect on the room was amazing. There is one problem with the position of this staircase however. When I decided to put it there way back when I assumed the door from the external steps would be hinged on the side of the back wall. As it turns out, it is hinged from the other side. Thus to enter the room through this door you have to open the door about halfway (which is when it hits the railing and can't open any more), shuffle into the small triangle of room open to you, climb over the stair rail and close the door while balancing precariously and hoping there's no one downstairs positioned to see up your skirt, then clambour back over to the right side of the rail. I'm thinking there should be a big pot plant or something in this corner to make it clear that the door fell out of use after the internal staircase was added.
The main floor area in this room will be occupied by a variety of eccentricly miss-matched chairs where the witches book club meets. On the left hand wall there is currently a sideboard where there will be a range of cakes and other treats for the witches to snack on durring their meetings. On the other hand, this is the only place in the room there could be a fireplace. I really want a fireplace in this room, but is it more important than delicatable, sugary treats? And the chimney would be a real b****r to try and make and instal as the roof over this wall opens and is angled. What to do? What to do?
I borrowed the bed from the castle to play around with the layout of the bedsit next door to the reading room. After trying the bed in various positions I decided that the room worked best with the bed in the least likely place; along the front wall. Because the door opens back toward the reading room rather than into the bedsit, there is just enough room to get in and out around the foot of the bed. This arrangement leaves plenty of space in the room for other furniture and a maximum of wall space which can be used to add a fireplace either on the back wall or either of the side walls. Finally, don't forget that there is a separate post each week for the castle so be sure and go back to take a look for it and it you haven't already done so, Please enter my giveaway!

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Castle Starcaster - Week Sixteen

This week I decided it was time to start work on the last untouched area of the castle, the garden on the roof over the library.  Before I could do this however, I had to add my system for attaching the front panels to the castle.  The castle kit comes with some quite large hinges intended to allow all three front pieces to open independantly.  I decided very early on that these hinges were not going to be used in my castle; there is simply no way to make them discreet and unnoticable.  If the people who designed the kit at DHE had thought to cut rebates for the hinges, at least you could have wallpapered over the top of them.  They didn't and the hinges supplied aren't suitable to trying to rebate them anyway.  So I decided to hang the hinges and the front panels as well, just in a different way.  Accross the top of the front egde of all three sections of the castle I glued a 0.5cm high strip of hardwood.  To the inside of the three front panels I glued another square strip of wood onto which a taller, thinner strip was glued and nailed so that the two pieces of wood formed and inverted L shape.  This L shape on the front panels hooks over the strips of wood on top of the main building to hold the fronts in position.  The front panels now hang on these L shaped hooks when in place and simply lift off out the way when the castle is opened up.

As I said, I needed to do this before the garden so I knew how much space the system took up and didn't make a mess of the garden trying to add it sometime after doing the garden.  Once I has this organised, I pulled out some terracotta coloured air drying clay and started to roll out a flat sheet.  When the sheet was both thin and wide enough, I positioned it in the garden, trimmed it to the right shape then glued it down.  A small, square cutter was used to make the impression of tiles in the wet clay.  If you recall, this is exactly the same as the method used for the black tiles on the ground floor way back when.  I took the excess clay and made a slightly irregular fountain which is the centre piece of the garden.  This was achieved by my normal method of working with clay; keep messing about until you get something close to what you want.

Once the clay tiles were dry, I gave them a couple of washes with some watered down brown acrylic to improve the colour and give them some character and them sealed them with a matte sealer.  The fountain, as well as a pre-bought bench seat, birdbath and pedestal were all painted grey to match the rest of the castle stone.  Some decorative purple stones were used to line the bottom of the fountain.  In the photos you can see a white fluid around the stones.  This is the watered down glue that I poured ontop of the stones to hold them in place and it will dry clear.  I need to buy some water to use in the fountain, both for the bottom pool and to have cascading down the centre pillar.  If anyone can suggest a good brand/product to use, I'd be very interested.

The hedges and topiary cones are made from oasis foam.  The foam was cut to shape using a pallette knife as I found this worked better than a proper sharp knife.  The foam was then painted with some watered down PVA glue and then sprinkled with model railway "grass" (This consists of fine spongy particles much like flower soft, but finer and green).  I had mixed two different shades of green to give the hedges some interest and variation.  The hedges will need another coat of this "grass" now that the first has had a chance to dry.  Some fish tank gravel covers the ground in the corners behind the hedges.

Inside the castle I finished off the ladder to the upper roof by installing the rope system that holds it up on the ceiling when not in use.  The rope is tied around the far side of the bottom rung of the ladder, threads through a ring on the ceiling, another on the wall before being tied off around a fancy gold knob.  The system is very simple and works quite well.

With the exception of one or two minor touches, the castle's construction and decoration phaze is now complete and it's now time for furniture, people and accessories.

Friday, May 20, 2011

New Addition to Giveaway Prizes

I had promised that my Suggest-A-Name Giveaway would include extra, mystery items not shown in the photo of prizes. There will still be some mystery items in the prize, but given there is only just over a week to go in the giveaway and the number of entries is decidedly under-whelming, I've decided to reveal what the major mystery bonus item is in the hope of enticing a few more entrants.

It is a hand made straw witches hat in a dusky mauve. It is about 1 1/2" high and sports a black hat band trimmed with black feathers and mauve flowers.  Here you can see Hetty modelling it:

If you would like to have a chance to win this hat as well as the other prizes (which include a straw mat, a faux leadlight window and a pair of candle sconces), please leave a comment either on this post or the original giveaway post here that includes a suggested name for my Witches Shop or a suggestion of something witchy to include in the shop.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Witch Shop - Week Four

At the start of the week, the back of the shop looked like this:
Needless to say it needed some tidying up. As you'll see in the next photo, the MDF was painted purple to match the front. The duct tape was removed from around the polystyrene panel and the entire piece of polystyrene was covered with a pice of card painted to match the rest of the walls. A beam of balsa wood covered the top and the hinges on the roof had the paint cleaned off them. After a quick polish of the DHE badge (the round blue thing at the bottom) and the back was finally as presentable as the front.
After turning the shop back around to face the front I installed a chain to stop the roof opening too far. By default, the roof in this kit is supposed to open all the way so that the opening upper roof sits on the fixed lower roof. I found that doing this was causing damage to the roof tiles where they met. It was also putting strain on the hinges; after only a couple of times opened, the middle hinge was pulling out of the MDF. The final reason for the chain is that if fully opened, the house would have to sit about 15cm out from a wall to allow the roof space to open. Using a chain to prevent the roof opening all the way should eliminate these issues.

Now that I was happier about opening up the roof, I could do some work on the top floor rooms at last. The first job that needed doing was the laying of the floorboards. The floorboards used are just under an inch wide iron-on strips. These were cut to length, stained and then ironed down. After they had cooled I lay the rug for the big room on the floor and was really pleased with the way the colours in the rug toned with the new floor. The browns in the rug match the floor while the beige matches the walls.

I've pretty much given up on the idea of adding a fireplace to the room. I just don't think there's enough space (despite thinking when I first put the kit together "wow, it's huge". I'm now thinking "wow, it's shrunk!"). The bedsit next door is having a similar lack-of-space-for-fire crisis. They are witches after all, they can keep themselves warm without a fire, right?

The last major change for the week is the addition of the roof over the external steps. This open framework of balsawood beams will eventually have vines growing through it.

Castle Starcaster - Week Fifteen

I started the week back in the bedroom dressing the bed. I took the less is more approach here and topped off the foam mattress with a simple bedspread and pillow in a deep blue cotton printed with a floral pattern. I then made a few other improvements to the bedroom; I added a heavier coat of white to the walls so they no longer look so badly painted. I cut a round "cow skin" rug for in front of the fireplace, recovered the chair in fabric to match the bed and played about with tapestries for the walls by temporallily hanging them with blu-tac. There's still something missing in this room, but so far nothing I've tried has looked right.

After giving up on playing about with the bedroom, I moved my attention up a level to the top floor. There I made and installed the ladder that provides access to the roof above the top floor. The ladder pivots so that when not in use it can be raised to the ceiling out of the way and then lowered when someone needs to get up to the roof. The ladder itself is finished, but the pulley system to raise and lower it is yet to be done. When lowered, the ladder sits at a forty-five degree angle to the floor. Most ladders rise more steeply than this, but this ladder needed to be clear of the railing arround the top of the spiral staricase (the addition of which is another of this week's acheivements).
And that is about all for the Castle this week. I'm thinking that next I should make a start on the final "room" of the castle, the roof garden. This will occupy the roof above the library and be accessed via the door in the side wall of the top floor room. The garden will be fairly simple, a clay tile path, some low box hedge, a few flowers and maybe a pond or fountain of some kind.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

What the old folks get up to . . .

One of the residents at my Grandmother's retirement village puts together a monthly newsletter for the other residents, most of the conent is devised by the residents.  Given the minimum age of the residents is sixty, the newsletter is always very mature and staid.  Here's a sample of the typical content:

This may come as a surprise to those of you not living in Las Vegas, but there are more catholic churches than casinos there.  Not surprisingly, some worshippers at Sunday services will give casino chips rather than cash when the basket is passed.  Since they get chips from many different casinos, the churches have devised a method to collect the offerings.  The churches send all their chips to a nearby Franciscan monastery for sorting and then the chips are taken to the casino of origin and cashed in.  This is done by the Chip Monks.

The Country Dunny

The service station trade was slow
the owner sat around
with sharpened knife and cedar stick
piled shavings on the ground.
No modern facilities had they
the log accross the rill
led to a shack marked 'His' and 'Hers'
that sat against the hill.

"Where is the ladies restroom, sir?"
The owner leaning back
said not a word but whittled on
and nodded toward the shack.
With a quickened step she entered there
but only stayed a minute
until she screamed like a snake or spider might be in it.

With startled look and beet red face
she bounded through the door
and headed quickly for the car.
Just like three gals before
she missed the foot log - jumped the stream
The owner gave a shout
as her silk stockings down at her knees
caught on a sassafras sprout.

She tripped and fell - got up
and then in obvius disgust
ran to the car, stepped on the gas
and faded into the dust.
Of course we all desired to know
what made the gals all do
the things they did, and then we found
the whittling owner knew.

A speaking system he'd devised
to make the thing complete
he'd tied a speaker on the wall
beneath the toliet seat.
He'd wait until the gals got set
and then the devilish tike,
would stop whittling long enough
to speak into the mike.

As she sat a voice below
struck terror, fright and fear,
"Will you please use the other hole,
we're painting under here!"

One morning while attending Timbertops School in Australia, Prince Charles attended a service at the local parish church.  As the royal visitor left his church, the rector apologized for the small turnout.  "Being a bank holiday weekend," he explained, "most of the parishoner are away."  "Not another bank holiday!" the Prince exclaimed, "What's this one in aid of?"  "Well," the rector replied rather embarrassed, "over here we call it the Queen's birthday."

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Welcome New Follower

Rosalind and the Dragon by Alennka
Greetings to the newest (88th) follower, Whittaker's Miniatures. A visit to their blog (Whittaker's Miniatures) is a jaw-dropping experience and an inspiriation for any Harry Potter fans out there.

Monday, May 9, 2011

C. Starcaster Week 14 & W. Shop Week 3

Normally I'm adding separate posts for the Castle and the Witch shop. Those of you who haven't noticed this need to be on the look out for two posts (one for each project) each week. This week is an exception however as remarkably little progress has been made on either. It simply wasn't a good week for finding time for miniatures.

For the Castle I made and installed the spiral staircase connecting the Centre room to the Top room. As always, the stairs are made from balsa wood. I cut fifteen fan shaped pieces for the stair treads, 15 squashed U shapes for the rise and a 1cm diameter balsa dowel for the centre post. Once all the pieces were cut and stained they were glued in place. Sewing pins held everything in position while the glue dried. Once dry, the stairs were glued in place under the hole in the floor of the Top floor. As you can see in the photo the steps aren't perfect. Firstly you have to walk around under the back of the steps to get to the first step, then you have to duck to avoid hitting your head on the ceiling as you climb.

Next up I tried to add a rail to the steps. Big Mistake. The idea was pretty simple; Silver chain was threaded through flat round metallic beads. The beads were then pressed down over the top of the spindles with about an inch of chain left between spindles. The spindles were then glued to the steps. Except: despite being stained the same colour, the spindles came out a totally different colour. The beads popped off the top of the four spindles at the top of the stairs and in trying to get them back in place, the spindles fell off the stairs and being at the top it is incredibly awkward to try and get them back in place. At the moment they are still dangling off the stairs. I think I'm going to remove the rail entirely, the stairs may be more dangerous to climb, but they definately look better.

My only other piece of progress for the week was making a bed. I had originally envisioned a half tester bed for the castle, but when I put the tiled border around the upper walls of the bedroom I decided that any furniture taller than the bottom of the tiles would look wrong, ruling a tester bed out. Instead I have made a simple yet (I think) effective bed from some newel posts, two gothic window fretwork panels and some more balsa wood. I'm very pleased with the bed and think it will look fabulous once it's dressed. That is of course only if I don't do anything stupid.

If I did only a little to the castle, I did almost nothing with the Witch Shop this week. After painting the roof last week, this week I opened up the top and touched up the white ceilings where the brown tile colours had seeped through. Downstairs in the shop I made and installed a cover for the underneath of the stair return which you can just see at the top of the photo. I think I have the furniture arrangement figured out for this room. Next to the door on the right of the photo are some shelves which will eventually be mounted on the wall with a rack for the shops range of broomsticks beneath. The dresser on the right side of the back wall will be modified and repainted to become a hat display stand. The white cabinet beside this will contain either potion bottles or jewellery or something else sparkley. On the left wall I have positioned the chest of drawers I bought for this project at the miniature fair back in March, but I'm thinking I might replace this with another cabinet of some kind. I've found it is impossible to arrange the shop so that these drawers will be highly visible and as they are possibly the most expensive single piece of furniture I've ever bought, I want them to be obvious and prominent. The clear boxes in the centre of the floor will (hopefully) be adapted into freestanding display cases.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Witch Shop - Week Two

The obvious component missing at the end of last week was a roof so this week I pulled out yet more air dry clay and another impress mould to "tile" the roof.  I bought the roof tile mould at the same time as the brick moulds nearly twelve months ago, but hadn't used it before.  You may be wondering why I didn't use it for the roof of the Dancing Dragon Inn and spent weeks cutting individual tiles from cardboard instead.  The simple answer to that question is that I forgot all about the mould!  I didn't remember it until the next time I opened up the box that holds the various moulds I have and lo! there it was.

As usual when using these types of mould I started by rolling out a sheet of clay about 2mm thick and glueing it onto the roof of the shop.  Most of this was then covered with cling film, leaving exposed only the area I was working on.  The mould was then pressed down onto the flat clay to create the impression of tiles.  I then smoothed the clay over to erase what I had just done, turned the mould up the other way and started again.  If you ever want to try using one of these moulds, I'd reccommend using a marker pen to draw a big arrow on the back so you can't mistake which way is up.  Unlike the brick moulds that work beautifully by pressing straight down and pulling straight up again, the roof tile mould needs to be pushed down into the clay and slid up it a little, then pulled off by sliding down and pulling up to get a good impression.  Otherwise all you get is the vertical lines and nothing of the horizontal ones.  It took a couple of tries to get the right technique, but from there the rest of the roof was a breeze.  I used a metal palette knife and a ball tipped stylus to add the tile impressions in the tight spots where the mould wouldn't fit and to fix up where the impressions left didn't come out quite right.

The next day when the clay was dry, I started painting it.  A couple of coats of a medium brown were followed by dry brushing some burnt sienna (a reddish-brown) over the top.  I had been going to add some more layers of colour, but the roof looked so good at that point I decided not to risk messing it up.

Inside, I used a tessalated tile paper to cover the floor of the ground floor.  Yes, using paper is a cheat and not as effective as a dimensional floor (i.e real tiles) but by the time the shop is full of stuff, I don't think enough floor will be visible for this to make much difference.  I'm still trying to decide the best way to lay out the shop on this level.  Lots of shelves around the walls and a variety of display tables in the middle is most likely, but I keep running out of space for a counter.  In fact, I keep running out of space period.  When I dry built the kit it seemed like the inside space was massive and I'd never be able to fill it.  Now I think it's shrunk and needs to be bigger!

The shop still doesn't have a name and I'm still appealing for suggestions.  If seeing what I've done so far has given you any inspirations as to what the shop should be called, please enter my Suggest-A-Name Giveaway.  The prized include all manner of oddments from a faux window to a meat pie, all hand made and I'll be adding more items to the prize before the giveaway closes.  All you have to do to enter is suggest a name for the shop or suggest something to include in the shop by leaving a comment on the Giveaway post.  I have managed to come up with one idea myself; "The Crack'd Cauldron".  What do you think?

Monday, May 2, 2011

Castle Starcaster - Week Thirteen

Work on the castle was restricted to one room this week; the Library.  It started the week as the least developed room in the castle and now looks the most finished.  Book shelves line the back and left side wall.  These shelves were made from balsa wood and I admit they look a little like something that came flat-packed due to their modular design.  The shelves start on the right side wall with an angled shelf accross the corner.  This connects to a narrow shelf that stands flat against the back wall.  This in turn connects to a fireplace, then another flat shelf before comming to another angled corner shelf.  The left wall is all one unit.  Once in postion I added the pre-cut fancy trim around the top.  My mounted dragon's head from Nickycc hangs above the fireplace and some of her other little dragons and a crow have come in to take a look at the new shelves too.  You might notice Artie is modeling a new Wizard's Staff . . . Well actually it's supposed to be a hat or scarf pin but it makes a perfect staff.

The pair of chairs were bought specifially for this room, but both chairs take up too much space to add a desk in the room.  Now I need to decide whether or not to remove one or both chairs from the room to add the desk or leave it as it is.