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.

Monday, September 30, 2013

Got 'Em Covered

All the surfaces of the Crystal Garden (walls, floor, ceiling) have now been covered.  The picture panels made last week have been installed on the side walls and covered by arched windows made of cardboard and painted metallic black/grey.  At the moment I'm still debating whether to add more architectural detail to the windows, but I think perhaps the colour of the leaded backdrop is more than distraction enough from what is meant to be the main feature of the garden; the plants.

More faux leadlighting was used for the ceiling.  The circles are pre-bought rings from the Gallery Glass range.  If any of you would like to do something similar, I'd recommend simply drawing circles with some liquid outliner as I bought these circles about ten years ago when they were on sale for 50 cents a sheet, reduced from $60 a sheet.  Hand drawn cirlces may not be quite as round, but unless you're lucky (and unfortunate) enough that your local store is selling circles out cheap as they are no longer going to stock them, hand drawn is far more economical.

 While I'm on the subject of faux leadlighting, here's the door in the library decked out in hinges, studs and a handle made by using more of the outliner.

Elsewhere in the Library, not much has changed, just a coat of mid brown stain on the shelves.

Back in the CG, the construction phase is nearly finished, there's just the doorway to install and a few bits of trim here and there, then it's on to the planting!

Monday, September 23, 2013

Working on the View

The Crystal Garden has changed only slightly over the course of the past week.  The tiles have been added around the front beds and the central fountain, the mirror being broken up by using some white tiles to tone down the level of glitz and keep it from being painfull to look at.  The tiles of the floor and back wall have also been grouted with a pale grey grout.  You may be wondering about the currently blank side walls, but never fear I have been working hard to address them.

 These two panels are made of faux leadlighting paints.  The designs are from a cheap colouring-in book whith two designs traced and mashed together for each panel to create something the right size and shape to completely cover the side wall.  Each design was slipped into a plastic document pocket and the leadlighting was created ontop of the pocket using the traced design as a guide.  The side walls of the garden will be lined with mirror paper and then the panels will be adhered over the top once they have had another day or two to completely dry and I can peel them off the pockets.  The backing of mirror paper will cause the light to bounce back through the leadlighting and give the impression of light coming in through the window.  I wil then add "walls" with large windows over the panels.  The idea is that the leadlight panels will look not so much like leadlight windows but like a "crystal landscape" beyond the Crystal Garden.

When planning the Garden I almost decided to try using the faux leadlighting paints instead of tiles.  The idea I had was to use the outliner to create a grid (tile-esque) pattern and then fill it in with the colours to create a tile effect.  Obviously I went with real tiles instead, but I think this could look quite effective and if any of you are brave enough to try it before I do get around to it, I'd love to see the results.

DHE announced the winner of their Creative Competition last week, and sadly it was not Mill Cottage.  Nor was it the Steampunk Inventor's Workshop.  Although DHE haven't revealled the second and third place winners yet, if you work on the theory that the winners would be notified well before the announcements are made publicly, they haven't won second or third either.  Well, maybe next year then.  The winning entry is certainly well done and rather clever (although I can't say it's really to my taste . . . um no pun intended).  I for one could never spend that many hours working with polymer clay, nor get anything like those results!  If you would like to see it you'll find it on the DHE website by clicking here.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Taking a Break From Reality

Really, it must be something of a record for me.  Since finishing work on Dawncrest Castle at the end of March last year I have worked on miniatures set in the real world.  OK, so there was the Dragon Wizard and his Lair and I suppose the Steampunk Inventor's Workshop is fantasy too, but they were more like sidetracks than real projects so they don't really count.

It's time to brush off all that reality and break into some fully fledged fantasy!  For some time I've been planning to make a 'Tower of Magic' (or ToM for short).  The ToM will be comprised of a series of independant roomboxes that stack together to form a 'Tower'.  I'm using these boxes from Fantastic Furniture: Buzz Cube.  I'm cutting a couple of inches off the heights of the cubes to lower the ceiling heights in the rooms.  Each separate cube can be joined to others by way of dowels supplied with the basic flat pack. The beauty of this is that I can work on one or two roomboxes for the Tower, then work on something different, then come back and add more rooms to the ToM later on.  The danger is of course that I will forget that at some point I have to stop adding rooms . . . .

The first room I'm working on for the ToM is the 'Crystal Garden'.  The garden has four raised garden beds and a central fountain with a faux doorway in the back wall.  The garden beds will eventually be filled with magical plants made of beads and faux leadlighting paints and whatever else I think of that works.  The paths and back wall have been covered in dark glass tiles while the sides of the back garden beds have mirror tiles glued in place.  The plan is to add more mirror tiles to the front beds (as soon as I buy some more) but I may go with something a little less . . . glitzy.  I want the garden to sparkle, not burn holes in the sides of bank vaults.

The frame around what will be the doorway is the firesurround I took out of Dawncrest when it was renovated last year, a lesson in why you should never throw anything out.  The plants that grow in the garden will be made out of crystals and beads, much like the gemstone tree in this photo of Highcroft Castle: Wizard's Room or the gem bonsai in this one: Mai's Shop.  (Unfortunately, it seems I can't add photos directly to my blog from my Flickr account anymore so you'll have to follow the links to Flickr to see them.)

As I ran short of tiles for the Crystal Garden, I made a start on a second room for the ToM, the Library.  The floor and ceiling of this room are covered in scrapbooking paper.  All the shelves have been made, but still need some fancy trim on their fronts.  As Dan retired to Bellerose House, my new test model, Harry, is standing in what will be the doorway.

The ugliest chairs ever will not be staying in the room permanently, they're just there to prove there is space for a pair of chairs infront of the fire.  In the back left corner at the end of the two opposing bookcases I am planning to put mirrors to create the illusion that the shelves of books continue on into the distance.  Yes, you can expect a lot of swearing when I try and install the mirrors and make it work.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

The Making of Mill Cottage

Mill Cottage is built from DHE's "Cabin" kit.  This kit is very basic and a lot of other people have said it's also boring, disappointing and a copy of the Garden Pavillion with different doors and windows.  I have to agree with a lot of that, but being so plain also made it a blank slate and thus easy to impose a range of wild ideas onto it and as such perfect for use in a competition.  So far I've only seen one other person's competition entry and it is completely different to anything I had considered (although the bookcases are slightly familiar to one of my earlier ideas).  You can see Things' entry here : DHE Forum.  Isn't it just lovely?

Getting back to Mill Cottage.  I started by dry building the kit and playing with some sample furniture to see what would fit and what worked and what didn't.  From this I learned that the door would be best if moved from the side around to the front and that I would need to raise the height of the walls to have the headroom to add a mezzanine bedroom.  The walls were raised two inches by adding a strip of balsa wood around the bottom of the kit walls.  The balsa is thicker than the MDF walls so the walls step out a little at the join. With the extra pieces attached to the walls and the hole cut for the new door position, the kit was permanently re-assembled.  I altered the roof in the same way as I did for the Steampunk Inventor's Workshop so that the front section hooks over the apex and is removable, but the back section is permanently fixed.

To provide space for the mill wheel and a small garden, the kit was glued onto a plywood base.  Balsa wood was used to create a porch over the front door and walls around what would become the mill wheel and culvert.  The chimney was built using blocks of corrugated cardboard.  The inside of the bottom was hollowed out for the fireplace.  Once all the extra bits were built, the next step was to create the stone effect on the walls.  As a lot of people have asked how the walls were done, here's a mini tutorial:

You'll need some spakfilla (designed to fill holes in plasterboard), a flat spatula, a ball point stylus (or toothpick), sandpaper and some stone coloured paints.  Work in sections of about 20x20cm or (9x9") so that you have time to work with the filler before it dries out.  Put a dollop of the filler onto your surface and spread with the spatula until you have a layer about 2-3mm deep.  If you have trouble spreading the filler, mix in some water just a drop at a time then try spreading it again.  You just need enough water to help it spread easily but be careful not to add too much water as this will render the filler useless.  Spread the filler as evenly and smoothly as you can, but don't worry if it's still uneven, you can sand it once it's dried.  If you want a rough texture finish, you can try tapping it very gently with a ball of damp kitchen paper or a stiff brush.

 Take a ball pointed stylus, toothpick, blunt pencil or other object with a dull point and drag it through the layer of filler to mark out lines.  At the end of each line you'll need to wipe you stylus on a damp cloth or scrape the excess filler that will cling to it back into the jar.  Continue to make lines to form a random stone or brick pattern in the filler.  If you make a mistake, just use your spatula to smooth a little extra filler over the area and start again.  Don't worry about any blobs of filler that cling at the edges of the stones, these will probably fall away when dry or can be sanded off when dry.

Once you are happy with the pattern of your stones, leave them to dry totally.  Once the filler it completely dry, sand it gently until you are happy with the texture of your stones.

Paint the stones in you choice of colours.  For Mill Cottage I used about three soft greys and a light brown.  I like to start with a darker colour first and then dry brush successively lighter tones over the top.  However, if you want a pale grout colour use a pale colour first, then dry brush your darkest tone and then successively lighter tones over the top.  Basically, just play until you are happy with the final effect, if something doesn't work, you can always paint over it and start again.  When you're happy with the look, apply a coat of clear sealer to protect the finish.

Once the walls were finished, the door and windows were installed.  These were stained and the glass panes were given a leaded look using faux lead lighting products.  A black outliner creates the pattern of diamond shaped panes and a clear paint was used to fill in the panes to give them a more textured, hand made look.  The final step to make the house weather proof was to thatch the roof.  To do this I used some cheap fur fabric and glued a single piece of the fur over each section of roof, curling the edges around the edges of the MDF.  For the ridge, I took a strip of the fur fabric and cut the fur down to a short fuzzy stubble and glued this over the peak of the roof.  I added some decorative stitching using some cotton twine and a honking big needle.  All this was then covered with some layers of paint until it looked suitably thatchy.

With the basics finished outside, I next started work on the interior.  The walls were papered in a scrapbooking paper from the local craft store and the lower section of wall was panelled in balsa painted purple up to the height of the raised extension to cover the fact that the join was a little uneven in places.  More balsa wood made the frame for the mezzanine level and a piece of foam core board covered in floorboard paper makes it's floor.  The rails were salvaged from an earlier kit I had transformed into something that didn't need rails.  The stairs are also salvaged, coming out of Dawncrest castle when I renovated it last year.

Most of the furniture used in the cottage are items from my stash.  Only the bed was made from scratch and the two arm chairs were made from a cheap flat pack kit.  Once I had decided exactly what would fit where, I gave some pieces a fresh coat of paint and others some new upholstery.

 A hoard of accessories were the final addition for the inside giving the space a cluttered and homey feel.

With the inside decorated, it was time to finish up the outside by adding the mill wheel and garden.

The wheel structure is all balsa wood.  The wheel is made of two rings of balsa with flat "rungs" sandwiched between them and a toothpick for the central axle.

The culvert or stream was lined with fish tank pebbles and then some Scenic Water was poured over both wheel and culvert.  The weight of the water made the wheel spin, proving that my wheel really could have run a mill!  I wedged a skewer through the spokes of the wheel to hold it steady until the water dried so that I ended up with water running down the wheel rather than one great blob on the bottom of the wheel.

For the garden, I first covered the exposed base board with a grass sheet from a model railway shop.  This grass goes under the front porch and wall so that when the front is removed you see a neat finish.  I then covered a piece of balsa in more of the grass and attached this to the front wall and side of the porch.  It was on this that I made the garden so that when the front of the cottage is removed up, the garden is removed too.

The garden path was made from a piece of vinyl floor tile cut into a curvy S shape.  The look of individual stones was made by carefully carving grooves in the surface of the tile.  A little brown paint was rubbed over the surface to dull the tile's shine.  The climbing vine is cotton twine, dipped in watered brown paint and allowed to dry.  Lengths of this dyed twine were twisted together and allowed to branch out into individual strands as they climbed higher up the wall.  Once the glue holding them on the wall was dry, polymer clay leaves and flowers were glued onto the vines.

The birdbath was made out of air dry clay years ago for a project I decided not to use it for.  The rest of the garden was filled with lichen moss "bushes", more polymer clay flowers and assorted accessories.  The gnomes I found at the local doll, bear and miniature fair earlier this year, the rake is from a table-top Zen garden kit and Dexter the digging dog is one of the few items I bought especially for this project.  I'll put a Dexter into every garden I do as he's just so cute!

 Last of all came Florie, the cottage's resident.  As you can tell from her hideous hands, she's handmade from polymer clay.  (Why are hands so hard to make, even with a mould?)  Her hair is black and grey felting wool.  She wears a green striped dress I saved from a bought doll I redressed.  Her apron is handmade from a printed cotton with lace trim.

The History of Mill Cottage

Mill Cottage began life as a working medieval mill almost a thousand years ago. Farmers from the local area would bring their grain there to be ground before taking it back home to their wives who used it to bake the bread they ate daily. The original mill was repaired and rebuilt many times over the years until finally the coming of the industrial revolution rendered it unable to compete with the larger, more modern mills and it was forced to close.

The old mill then saw a number of fleeting and increasingly ignoble uses such as a trading post, a storehouse, a barn and finally and animal pen before the old building was finally abandoned altogether.    

 As a child Florence was enchanted by the now ruins of the old mill and would make up stories about the people who had once lived and worked there. As an adult, Florie moved away from her home town and soon forgot the ruins of the mill that stood just beyond it.

Florie returned to her old home many years later and again came upon the ruined mill. She immediately fell in love with the romantic ruin (if a structure filled with the remains of decayed straw and animal dung can be described as romantic) and begged the mill's owners to sell it to her. With her children grown and her husband sadly deceased, she set about restoring the mill and creating a cozy cottage for one . . . . well, one human and a number of cats.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

But Wait . . . . There's More!

You thought I was finished with competition entries?  How little you know me.  I couldn't choose with idea to use for the Cabin kit, so I figured what the heck and made both.  At least if I made a total mess of one, I could still enter the other.  The second property (which was made first) is called "The Steampunk Inventor's Workshop".

This Cabin is less modified than Mill Cottage with the doors and windows all in their intended positions.  Just like Mill Cottage, I altered the roof and left the front panel loose to make viewing the inside of the Cabin easier.  This closeness to the basic kit wasn't what I first intended to make of it.  The original plan was to turn the kit upside down and turn it into a steampunk airship.  I had to give up on this ambitious plan for several reasons, mostly issues with practicallity.  For example, how would I ever have stopped cats from trying to climb ontop of the balloon that would have been over the 'deck'?  I also decided it was an idea better suited to 1/24th scale to make it a better size to mount on a wall (despite the fact the Cabin is designed to be wall mountable, I think it is still too deep for this to look right).  I'll come back to the airship idea sometime in the future but for now let me explain what is happening in the Workshop.

The Story . . .

The still, cool silence of morning is broken by a rhythmic whomping infiltrating the forest from far above the tree tops. While rabbits scurry back into the safety of their burrows, a local woodsman carries on with his work unperturbed; he recognises that the noise is caused by one of those new fangled flying chairs. The flying chair, modelled on earlier sedan chairs, spares a lady wearing skirts the indignity of being seen in the air from below and is considered the peak of personal transportation.   

Mrs. Braford-Smythe makes a landing
  This particular chair is piloted by one Mrs. Bradford-Smythe a wealthy widow who has taken it upon herself to hep encourage the development of new technologies for the betterment of society by sponsoring new devices and their up-and-coming inventors. Today she is travelling in the company of her lawyer, Mr. Eddington, to inspect an exciting new contraption with an eye to possibly funding its further development and promotion. After a tiresome journey from the city, the pair finally pair finally spot the cabin of the inventor, one Oscar Simpkin, nestled in amongst the trees and descend from the skies to land on the purpose made landing platform on the cabin's roof. After all this travelling the contraption had better be worth it . . .

The Flying Chair's Mechanical Workings
Meanwhile, inside the cabin, Mrs. Glory Simpkin spent most of the past two days cleaning up both the cabin workshop (and her husband Oscar) to make the best impression on their impending visitors possible. She knows that gaining Mrs. Bradford-Smythe's approval could open new doors to the family and change their somewhat impoverished lives forever. The floor has been scrubbed, the tools polished and Ocsar forced into his best waistcoat and jacket. Even Humphrey the dog has his best top hat on.    

Humphrey resplendant in his best hat
 Having finally approved the state of her husband's domain, Glory returned to the house to retrieve some refreshments for her guests. Upon her return to the workshop she discovered to her horror that Oscar has started some last minute tinkering on his new contraption, strewing papers, gears and tools across the bench tops and floor in the process. "Just a few adjustments to make sure everything runs smoothly", Oscar says. However will she get everything presentable again in time?

Mrs. Simpkin finds her husband has made a mess
 Then their daughter Sally, who has been watching for the arrival of their guests, calls down the stairs that Mrs. Bradford-Smythe and Mr. Eddington have arrived . . .

Mr. Eddington helps Mrs. Bradford-Smythe out of the Flying Chair
The Cabin . . .

    I altered the basic kit so that only the front section of roof lifts off. This was done by cutting the rear roof panel about an inch down from the peak of the roof. The wider lower section of roof was glued directly onto the building while narrow strip was glued to the front roof at the ridge. This allows the front of the roof to hook over the apex of the side walls and easily lift off. The front wall panel was not glued into place so it can be removed allowing the interior of the Cabin to be viewed from the front instead of from above. A hole saw was used to cut an opening in the rear roof to create access to the 'landing pad' added on top of the roof.

The exterior walls are cladded with 'weatherboards' made by cutting balsa wood into centimetre wide strips and gluing them onto the MDF walls so that each strip slightly overlaps the one beneath it. The roof is covered in tiles made by cutting a (full size) vinyl floor tile into smaller pieces and gluing onto the roof.

The Landing Platform
 Inside, the Cabin was wallpapered with a textured cotton fabric while the lower walls were cladded with panelling made from balsa wood. The floor is covered with a parquet tile printed from an image found on the internet. The spiral staircase leading up to the rooftop landing pad was made from balsa wood and painted to resemble metal.

The Workshop
 The furniture is a combination of ready bought and handmade items with some premade furniture altered to give it a new purpose. In the back corner, the stove was made from a vitamin pill bottle and some jewellery findings. It contains a water tank and the heated steam is conducted through pipes (made of drinking straws) to power various devices.

The Stove and Pipes

The Collection Cabinet

The Tool Trolley, Steam Powered Of Course

Oscar works on his contraption

The Faux Leadlight Window, Complete with Gears

As I worked on the Workshop before Mill Cottage, I managed to get photos of it bathed in wonderful autumn sunlight (whereas the best I could manage for Mill Cottage  was some dreary overcast winter light).

 As usual, there are further photos in my Flickr photostream.  You can find them here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/dollshouses/sets/72157632987939575/

Next week, more details about Mill Cottage.