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.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Better Late Than Never . . . .

Normally I post my weekly blog post on Monday or Tuesday . . . . . Today is Friday.  In addition to my own personal inclination towards sloth, I have been distracted getting ready to do some 1:1 scale, real life re-decorating.  Plus, when I've sat down at a PC, I've ended up looking for oriental style miniatures rather than writing a blog post.  The latter has taught me that there is very little in the way of 'authentic' oriental miniatures out there.  Mostly all there is is in chinoserie style which is more oriental fantasy than real oriental and not what a traveller would have collected on his travels.  So my tips for anyone else who wants to do an oriental project like this is to be prepared to make most of your own furniture.  As far as ornaments and accessories go, look in bonsai shops, garden centres and aquarium shops for some oriental style statuettes and figurines.  Try homewares stores for 'matchstick' bamboo placemats which can be cut down to bake bamboo blinds, placemats made of a wider, flatter bamboo which can make floorboards or other items and woven straw like placemats are good to make tatami mats (tradtionally used on floors in Japan).  i would be very interested to know if anyone has any other suggestions where to find small oriental items, particularly DIY components.

Despite the distractions, I have done a little work on the Retreat itself, albeit only a little.  First, I dismantled the dry-built structure and coated all the MDF with sealer (PVA glue, water and a little paint to make it obvious where I've missed).  I then re-assembled the structure, glueing securely together.  The foamboard extensions on the top floor were connected to each other using pieces of bamboo skewer as dowels for extra strength.  For even more strength, all the joins were covered with duct tape.  To smooth over the various joins, I covered the outside with thin card, attaching it with a wallpaper paste.  Once this was dry, I covered the card with cotton fabric, again using wallpaper paste.  The fabric is a neutral beige-y sort of colour and will be the final colour for the outside walls.  It will eventually be livened up with some wooden trim, vivid red posts and either a green or blue-grey roof with the porch railings in the same colour as the roof.

Progress on miniatures will be slower than usual over the next couple of weeks as I still have that 1:1 redecorating to do.  I have a whopping 80m2 of ceiling to paint and all the walls that hold it up, plus all the window and door frames and trim in the same area so it will take me a while to get it all done.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Raising The Roof

Bowing to popular opinion, I've made a start working on the Retreat.  Already, the original theme of "Japanese tea house" has been dropped.  The thing is that the Japanese are essentially minimalists.  Take a look at any room or scene I've ever created and you'll immediately see that my usual style is as far from minimal as you can get.  Perhaps even a little further.  I just don't think I can leave a room that . . . . empty.  So I've decided to change the theme to "Oriental Folly" and mix Japanese influence with other oriental styles.

Imagine a garden in England sometime in the 17 or 1800s.  It's owned by a wealthy man who has travelled extensively all around the world, but particularly in the orient, and has brought back many rare and unusual treasures.  To display his collection and impress his guests, he had a folly built in his garden.  It was designed by mashing together different oriental influences; Chinese, Japanese, Indian and perhaps even a touch of Egyptian for good measure.  Although the structure was inspired by his time in the East, the local English builders who actually had the job of constructing it had never seen it's like, nor had any idea how to build it, thus in places they used English techniques they were more familiar with.  Around the building, the wealthy traveller had a small oriental style garden built / planted to enhance the look of the folly.  Within the structure are housed the man's collected treasures such as furniture, teapots, screens and wallhangings all in oriental style, all displayed to impress.

Having looked at various pictures of oriental style buildings on the internet I noticed that the ridge of the roof almost always runs paralell to the front of the building.  The ridge of the Retreat kit runs perpendicular to it.  Could I rotate the direction of the roof?  Well, the basic kit looks like this:

If I turn the roof around without cutting into the original structure at all, it looks like this:

It looks bigger this way doesn't it?  The question is does it now look too big to be a garden folly and more like a proper building?

I can't decide whether I like it or not.  As you can see, I had to raise the walls at the sides of the building which has the strong advantage of making the upper floor far more useable.  The slope on the original roofline meant that only the middle few inches of floor were really practical for positioning furniture and still having room for the mini people to mave around it.  Now I can use the entire top floor, essentially doubling the space of the top floor.  That is if it stays this way.  At the moment, the entire structure is held together with masking tape so can easily be taken apart and put back the way it started out.  I'd love to hear any opinions you have about whether you like it better with the basic original roof or with my alterations.

You'll notice in the photos that Dapper Dan has been pressed back into service as my test model dummy.  With Artie finding a permanent home in Castle Starcaster there was little choice but to get Dan back.  Unfortunately, I haven't broken the news to him that the Retreat is not going to be the Edwardian era building that it was once intended for and thus Dan's permanent home.  Well, maybe he won't notice, his brains are made of plastic after all.

Monday, October 10, 2011

More on "Please Help Me To Decide"

Remember the Wacky Wisteria on the W. Shop?  This is what it ought to look like.
 Thank you to everyone who has shared their opinion about my next project by voting and/or commenting. The poll will be open until next Friday (21st) so there is still plenty of time if you haven't voted yet but would like to, or if you want to vote again you can vote for as many different options as many times as you like.

As far as the results to date go I think 'landslide' is the only way to describe it with 100% of voters so far in favour of the Retreat. It surpises me that everyone is being so like minded about this and I wonder if somehow I gave out some false impressions about the projects I have in mind.

Judging from the comments that have been left I somehow gave the impression that I have more details plans and ideas for the Retreat than I do for the other two projects. Let me clarify now that this is not the case. For each project there are certain aspects that I know exactly what I want and other areas that are still either blank or variable and they will stay that way right up until I start to work on them. I prefer to work this way for a number of reasons. For example both the Old Castle and the Georgian, new layouts can't be fully decided until after I've discovered how easily the walls can be knocked out and how hard it is to cut holes in others and how much damage is done to the elements I want to retain through this process. Besides, last time I had something fully planned out before I started it I discovered that a staircase was emerging right in the middle of a fireplace. Basically, I work better when I'm winging it.

As far as the Retreat goes, I know the theme; "Japanese tea house". I know I want to rig the door to slide. I know I want to add a garden. I know the ground floor will have a table and some tea accessories (tea pot and cups) That's it. The "things I don't know list" includes such things as colour (for the walls, inside and out, furniture, accessories, furnishings, etc) what the blazes to do with the entire upstairs, what roofing material/style, what will I do with the ugly stairs that came with the kit, how do I fill up the ground floor (it's bigger in reality than it looked on screen), how do I encase the garden to stop dust settling in it and cats eating it and where do I put it when it's all finished?

Both the Old Castle and the Georgian when finished can go back where they were before. Both have themes; "Victorian Camelot" and "Grand Georgian with a possible touch of Cinderella". Both have at least two rooms fully laid out in my head and vague ideas for all of the other rooms including layout, colour, function and style. Both have furniture already bought to go in them. Both have been plundered for elements to use in other projects (many of the Old Castle's best elements are now in Starcaster and the Witch Shop, the candlesticks in Starcaster's bedroom started out in the dining room of the Georgian). The unkowns are largely limited to "things I won't know until I start" (e.g. how wide can I make the stairs before they look too wide, is that paint colour a shade too dark in situ) and "wild ideas" (e.g. maybe I should rip the electrics out of the Old Castle and use the lights in the Georgian instead).

Furniture bought for the Old Castle's Renovation
All in all, I'm probably about as ready to start any one of these three as I am any of the others.  And that is the basic problem.  I could start any of them now.  I want to start all of them now.  I have to pick just one.  Thus far it looks like popular opinion says it will be the Retreat, but maybe something in this post will cause a swing in voting to one of the other two.

To address some of your comments specifically:

Linda - The theme isn't entirely new, there is this roombox from a few years back:

Chinese Room by Alennka

Rosella - Thanks for the compliment that you like them as is, but the  Old Castle at least is in total disarray because I've "borrowed" things from it.  It needs lots of love to put it back to rights.

-P- The cave will have a well in the floor, undressed stone walls with shelves 'carved into some of them, a fire (possibly in the middle of the room) and all the usual magiciany things like owls, potions, books and scrolls, staffs, a comfy chair to collapse into after a long day of spell casting and of course a magician/wizard/sorcerer.  I want to see it too!

Irene, Fabiola, Patty and Maria - I think I've pretty much already covered any response to your comments, but thanks for leaving your thoughts.

It's Spring and things are again in bloom.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Please Help Me Choose

Decisions.  Decisions. . . . With the Witch Shop almost finished (alas, still unnamed), it's time to choose what to do next.  If you've been reading my blog for a while you'll know there are three projects on my "To Do Next" list, renovate the Old Castle, renovate the Georgian or build the Retreat, but which to do first?

As you, my wonderful blog followers, will be subjected to me rabbitting on and on about whichever I pick for the next several months on this blog it seems only fair to let you have some input in the choice.  Below is a brief outline of the three different properties and the plans I have for them.  Please take a look and then vote for the one you want to see me do first in the poll you'll find at the top right of this page.

The Old Castle

The first dollshouse that I planned and built from scratch is what I now call the Old Castle.  It has four floors and a total of ten rooms.  It is also the only house I have wired for working lights.  To keep the size down and the weight as low as possible, the rooms of the castle are only about 20cm deep and the ceilings are only about 20cm high which was fine for the original decoration, but will be very limiting this time around.

The assembled castle
Despite the fact I was very proud of this castle when I first finished it, there are any number of things I was never happy with.  The original idea to renovate the castle simply entailed fixing these problems and generally tidying up and replacing the pieces I "borrowed" to use in other properties.  The current plan is vastly more complex.

I want to transform the castle into a Victorian era person's vision of a Camelot style castle.  This means a little gothic, a little ornate, a little over the top with lots of whimsy.  As usual for me, no historical accuracy will be involved.  The low ceilings are going to be highly restrictive and in many ways make it hard or even impossible to achieve the look I want.

On the top floor I want to eliminate the small courtyard garden and make the floor one big room which will become the new bedroom, or rather "master suite" as it will incorporate a dressing room/wardrobe and a small private sitting room.

The next level down the current bedroom will become the solar (presently in the room above this one) and I want to add a door and opening onto the adjoining gallery. The steps from the gallery up to the top floor will be eliminated.  If I can remove them without damaging the wallpaper, this is probably the only major change for this area.

Below the gallery is the "great hall".  In this room I want to replace pretty much everything and to knock down the right hand wall to combine the hall with the small, purposeless room next door.  The final room on this floor is the armoury which only needs tidying up and perhaps some of the weapons will need upgrading. 

Below the armoury is the crypt.  Again, this space needs few, if any changes.  Next door to the crypt is the kitchen.  I've decided to do away with the kitchen and make this area a magician's cave for the castle's "merlin" type.

The Georgian

This house has three levels and currently seven rooms.  I've already dismantled and redecorated this house totally once before, but the redecoration simply didn't live up to the image in my head of how it should look. 

Look closely and you can see the join running along the top and sides of the walls
 The house is made from thin plywood with pine posts and beams at each edge to provide the needed strength.  In most cases I have already shimmed over the walls to bring the walls to the same level as the pine beams.  As this was just painted, you can still see most of the joins though and it's not a good look. 

The two lower floors

 The grand staircase just looks messy, the lounge suite is more Victorian than Georgian and the doors in the upstairs bedrooms are forced by the slope of the ceiling to be far too small.  Mostly, my gripe with this house is centred on the ballroom.  The ceiling and lights are absolutely horrid.  The walls just didn't work and the stairwell cuts too far into the room leaving no room for dancing at all.

The top floor

So, how to fix it?  Although there are some things about this house I will hate to destroy, I think gutting it is the only choice.  The new layout will have two rooms on each of the lower two floors.  The first room on the ground floor will be a double height room occupying both the bottom and middle floors.  It will be the entry hall with marble floor, a vivid red wall and a staircase connecting the floors.  The remaining room on each of these floors will be the dining room and the lounge/parlour.

Upstairs on the top floor will be at least one bedroom, but the A shape ceiling has to go.  This roofline is fine if the room is going to be a dusty old attic or a servants quaters, but not for a proper formal room.  This means cutting the top floor off the house and rebuilding it.  I'm thinking it will be rebuilt to house one large bedroom or two smaller ones and a small garden terrace/balcony on the end.

This guy is just about perfect though

Now, below the ground floor I'm thinking of adding a new level for the kitchen, scullery, laundry room, etc.  If I'm adding a "below stairs" element to the house, perhaps I should replace that A shape roofline on the top of the restructed bedroom to put the servants bedrooms up there.  Oh, and perhaps another level for a music room?  Nusery?  Extra bedrooms?

The Retreat

After much consideration, I've decided that DHE's Retreat kit lends itself to nothing so much as something Oriental in style.  I'm thinking something along the lines of a Japanese tea house.  I say something like because to my knowledge the authentic ones don't have two floors and they usually seem to have the roof gable running in the other direction so the sloping side of the roof faces forward.  So it will be an oriental folly house in the gardens of some rich European, part Japanese tea house and part pure flight of fancy.

The front doors should be easy to adapt to slide open instead of swing on hinges (she says hopefully) and a little adaptation and some rice paper should get them looking quite oriental.  Part of the reason I decided on this theme for the Retreat was because I was looking through some drawings of idea's for miniatures I'd done and found an oriental style garden, the back wall of which incorporated the fascade of a tea house that looked remarkably like the Retreat.  So when I do the Retreat, I am going to have to build the garden as well. 

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Drawing to a Close

 The people in the shop have been rearranged.  Agatha got bored upstairs and came down to the shop to try on some of the new hats and was quite taken by a witchy green one while Isis and the two younger witches have swapped places. 

 Some new items in the shop are the fantasy birds which sit on perches suspended from the ceiling.  The birds are polymer clay adorned with real feathers.  I think that the shop needs a large rug in the centre of the floor, but other than that, I think this space is pretty much complete now; for one thing there is no where to put anything else.  I was going to make some hanging dried herb bunches to hang from the ceiling, but I think it is busy enough up there already.

Upstairs in the Reading Room, Hector has taken a seat and put a collar and lead on his pet monster (made by Nickycc) who waits miserably under his chair for it to be time to go home.

The last untouched space in the building was the little nook under the external stairs.  After considering and dismissing a range of uses for this space, I eventually settled on one of the simplest solutions.  I used a swinging garden seat that was hanging about, dressed a child witch, found a book for her to read and sat her in the shelter of the stairs.  More wacky wisteria around the frame of the doorway softened the finish and made it look more like a whimsical garden seat than an old seat shoved someplace out of the way.

Although I don't think I remembered to get any photos of them, all the doors now have fake hinges on them.  The hinges are made from leadlighting outliner in the same was as Starcaster's hinges were done.

I set myself the target of this Thursday to have the shop finished.  I think I'll more or less make it.  As you can see in the patch at the bottom left of the below photo, I have some painting to do on the front pavement.  The clay bricks/pavers were a little thick in one spot where the front of the shop opened, so I had to sand them down to stop the paint being scraped off.  I've recovered the sanded area in basic grey, but still need to put a wash or two of lighter grey over to match it back up with the rest of the pavers.  There are a few more little re-touches that need doing, an owl in flight that needs hanging in the garden, but basically, I think the shop is more or less done.