September 29, 2009

Windows and Door

photo copyright Karin Corbin 2007

The photo above is the entry door to the Acorn Cottage, is is a plank door with cross banding. The owl is a brass finding I bought. The door handle I made from a strip of brass I textured and bent then solder onto it etched brass leaves. I purchased the sheet of photo etched leaves at a miniature show. I also used the leaves on the light fixtures for this woodland cottage.

It is time to start making windows and the door for my new coastal cottage. That requires a lot of research and quite a few decisions before I can begin to cut the wood pieces.

I am going to create a few outward opening casement windows. They need the shashes and trim moldings cut to shed the rain away from the opening. These windows are also a good opportunity to add some small scale detailing to draw in and capture the viewers eye and give them a change from the larger textures and shapes of timbers and stucco. The visual animation of hinged opening windows and doors helps to break up the plane of the exterior wall surface. An outward opening casement also allows me to place a table right against the window. Objects on the table will help the viewer transition their interest into the inside of the cottage with a little sneak preview. The photo below shows a real life example with the type of detailing I will make.
photo copyright Karin Corbin 2008
The window style above with the dolls in it is what I will be using for the coastal cottage.
The drip edge at the bottom of white window frame will be a challenge to create. Love the French blue color of the sill below the window.

I have roughly imagined a build date for my projects framing of around mid 1600s to late 1700s but the time frame for the dollhouse as it stands will be 1900. Now that gives at least a couple of hundred years of remodeling changes and wear and tear on the building. A lot of things happened to home design during that time span, chimneys and fireplaces changed and windows, doors and hardware changed too.

When you look at the really old buildings you often notice changes in the framing around door and window openings, maybe they were added or enlarged or made smaller or even closed up areas that used to have windows and doors.

I plan to have a few small windows from an earlier era on the sides as well as the casement windows. My centuries of fisherman owners were into salvaging and scrounging for some of their improvements and left other things intact from previous generations. Sometimes the sea washes up lumber for home improvements.

This is a scratch building job, you can't walk into a dollhouse store and buy an odd assortment of windows spanning several centuries that are going to fit into a custom design. Over the years I have made dollhouse windows several different ways and I have a few new ideas for making windows I want to try out on this project. This time around my front door will have window panes in the top half as I want some extra light coming into the interior.

The glass I will be using for my dollhouse windows is clear with little waves and bubbles in it. It was mouth blown in France. Up until about 1930 or so most window glass was made by these methods. Picture windows are a modern invention, old windows are made from small panes because that is the only aviable size the glass came in. If you click on the link below you will see a video showing how the glass I am using was made and why window panes were always rather small.
Mouth Blown Glass Video

Update I have finished the door and windows since this blog was first posted. You will see it showing up now and again on more recent posts.

September 24, 2009

Rope Twist

photo copyright Karin Corbin 2009

I have finished carving the two rope twist supports for the fireplace. I will not be elected as master stone carver anytime soon but they look age and wear appropriate for the structure I am going to put them into. The areas where there is a little crumbling from inclusions in the stone is something I like, it adds texture and interest as well as making the stone look older. I think I might have made the ropes a little narrower but I am out of material so there will be no rework.  Don says they are too big to be ropes in 1:12 scale, they are hawsers, big lines for mooring a boat.

The color of the soapstone is a nice blend with the floor that is going to be in the room.

Now I have more soapstone support pieces to make for the fireplace as well as a mantel piece.

Update to this posting you can link ahead to see these pieces in place. Just click on the line below.
Finished Fireplace

September 23, 2009

Practicing Rope Tricks

I found some soapstone to use for the fireplace. I want to carve a rope twist detail on a couple of the upright  pieces of the fireplace. You are looking at my practice rope twist carving scrap with all the flaws I made. It is sitting next to one of the pieces I will carve for the fireplace. I love the soft, grey and cream colors and that is how I will use it. If I put an oil finish on the soapstone it is dark grey, green, black, brown and yellow. What a Chameleon this stone is!

I show my practice pieces because I want everyone to realize you don't start out as a master the first time you try something. I expect my practice pieces to look pretty bad overall. But I know what I have learned and if I have gotten enough of a clue to do it right the next time.

I have never carved soapstone before so I grabbed a scrap piece and started practicing. Oh boy do I have room for improvement. Problem one, it is not that easy to get the segments marked out nice and even and then maintain that spacing. Problem two, dust immediately covers over what I am carving and that sure makes it tricky to see what is happening. Problem three, it is  hard to carve perfect rope curves with tools that don't have concave curves. Problem four, no teacher around so this is a slower learning curve. The online instructions I found were of no use for making miniatures.

You can't learn how to do something just by reading a blog although it will give you some pointers in the right direction. If you want to do something you have never done before get out some scrap material, grab some tools and have at it. You will quickly figure out what does not work, that is the easy part. Finding out what does work and then being able to repeat those motions is real the trick.

I am truly enjoying working with soapstone. It cuts with a hand saw, band saw, scroll saw or table saw. It sands nicely too. You can detail it quickly with swiss needle files. That feels more like erasing material than carving stone. Using carving knives is tricky as you can flake off chips you do not want to remove. The needle files give better control for fine detail. A final sanding can be done with diamond coated needle files or wet sandpaper. I find it easier to carve soapstone than it is to carve wood so be sure to try it sometime. Fireplaces, fountains, stone sinks, miniature sculptures, bathtubs, doorsteps, stairways, counter tops, tables, benches, you can make any of these in real stone with just a few basic tools.

After measuring a few real ropes I realized that the lines are placed at 45 degrees and the width of the individual diagonal twist section  is very close to half the width of a three strand rope.

September 4, 2009

Old floorboards

photo copyright Karin Corbin 2009
There is some parallax in the photo above from my older digital camera that did not have correction for that. The boards are actually straight without curve to them.

I did say this was going to be an old, rustic, coastal cottage. I think a fisherman lives in it. Not sure if he has a wife.

What a worn and somewhat grungy floor. It takes at least 4 times more work to make this kind of floor than to make a pretty, nicely stained and laid floor with no wear and tear.

Every board had to be hand planed to make them look hand cut and also to make them uneven as if there were a little warping going on. I needed to create small gaps here and there between my nice straight boards. Then scratches were added and a few dings of course. There are the hand shaped trenails pegging the boards down.

The finish is done with many layers of stains, golden oak first then pickled oak and on the top layer I brushed in some dark walnut. It is done with a wet in wet glazing method. Then I rubbed down the floor with rottenstone which helps reduce gloss and adds an authentic ground in dirty look. Top with a final pickled oak wash.

If you ever need to put piles of dusty grey dirt into a miniature scene such as an old shed or basement just grab a box of rottenstone from the hardware store. No bugs or critters in it to worry about. Just good clean dirt, actually it is limestone that has turned into powder and surprisingly it is used to polish things.

That worn old floor started life as lovely Sitka Spruce planks meant to be used for the backs and tops of guitars. They were factory seconds that had been tossed in the firewood pile. I have quite a big stash of this wood, love it because the grain is so tight. In the photo below you see some of the floor board strips and also a plank below them that has not yet been cut. The floor board strips in the photo are just under 3/4" wide. If you enlarge the photo you can see the amazingly tight growth rings in the board, perfect for making miniatures.
photo copyright Karin Corbin 2009

September 3, 2009

Brickology Part 4

photo copyright Karin Corbin 2009
Would you look at those miniature bricks in the photo above! WOW I am so thrilled, I actually managed to achieve the look I was after. No way would anyone think these started out as a package of terra cotta, colored paper mache clay, the Plus brand from Activa, from the local hobby shop. They might even think they are real bricks. A few hundred more bricks and I will get to be an expert at making the chipped edges. Right now the chips are too similar looking. Picky, picky I am so particular I will drive myself nuts. You can't see the difference without a 10 megapixel camera aimed in as a magnifier.

So today it is time to describe how to take the bricks you made in the previous tutorial segment, using the food processor, and cut out on the board and get them to look even more realistic.

The first step is to take your scalpel and clean off any rough edges from the cutting process. Then take the scalpel and make some chips in the edges of the brick. You can chip off a corner by putting the knife against the side edge and pushing it in a bit while pulling up towards the top of the brick. A lot of the bricks are not truly straight edge so you can create a little curve by carving away some of the edge of the brick. If you want to round over the edge to soften a few here and there use some fine sandpaper. Also you might want to add a few more voids and chips into the top surface of the brick. The scalpel is also the tool for that as are fingernails.

So that is it, sandpaper, scalpel and fingernails to refine the shapes and the most important thing is to have good reference photos of real bricks. Don't go looking at my miniature bricks when you make yours or you will be making a copy of a copy and they won't look nearly as realistic as they could.

You have started out with a batch of miniature bricks that was a fairly uniform color. The color change is done with good quality water colors. You will need black, raw siena, burnt siena, yellow ochre, and white. If I had some blue on hand I would have used it to modify the black here and there, some of the burnt areas on the real bricks had a blue and purple cast to them. Next time I head to the art supply store I will pick up a tube of blue.

Looking at photos of real bricks try to copy as best you can the color variations. Water colors will blend into each other and soften the edges of color bands and that is fine. Don't forget to carry the watercolor down onto the side edges of the brick. You don't know if the grout will completely cover that edge or not. Hopefully some of your bricks are of slightly different thickness or even warped a little. On a real wall bricks are not perfectly laid with absolutely flush surfaces or even in perfectly level rows and spacing. Slight variations in your project are essential, cartoon like giant, variations will make the project look clumsy.

Next you will need to seal the bricks to keep the colors from running when you grout the wall. I have used a stone sealer on mine, it adds no gloss to my miniature bricks. The sealer I used is by Aqua Mix, Sealer's Choice 15 gold. I purchased it at either Home Depot or Lowes, sorry I don't remember which store it was. This is a water thin liquid in a bottle, you can brush it on or even air brush it on.

I have detail carved, painted and sealed my bricks as individual pieces held in hand so I had something to show you on the blog. Normally though I would first glue the bricks to the dollhouse surface and then do those tasks. It is also much faster to do these tasks when the bricks are installed than trying to hold, pick up and put down individual pieces. This method is slow enough without that!

September 1, 2009

Brickology Part 3

This Brickology lesson is for making handmade, antique style, miniature sized bricks using paper mache/clay air drying products.

The clay I am using today is Plus by Activa, their Acitv Clay formula works too. I have tried the Das brand of clay but did not like the results, it has too many paper fibers to give a clean cut. All of these clays are made from earth minerals which are the clay part and for strength they add paper fibers along with a few other ingrediants. I started with a terra cotta colored formula. If you let this product dry it won't look like terracotta, it will be a pale pink which is sad because it means more work to get the right look.

Right out of the package the Activa Plus clay is too wet to roll out with a pasta roller. If you simply take it out of the packackage and immediately roll it out with a rolling pin the surface will be very smooth and that won't look like hand made brick. So I started messing around with the clay to see if I could dry them out, improve the color and achieve the textures of hand made bricks.

The idea for the ability to make the  clay behave differently and get a different surface texture on it is based on my experiences of making the perfect pie crust. The idea there is to create crumbs and then add just enough moisture to get it to stick together. The dough has to be handled gently so you keep the crumbs, which are fat coated with flour, intact enough to create flaky layers. Too much water and it turns to mush, too little and guess what the crust is not smooth it cracks and flakes. So that is how I approached making bricks that have texture with cracks. But I will tell you up front that getting the mix just right can be frustrating and there is a learning curve to it.

I do the mixing in a small food processor. I tried it in a full sized machine and it did not work for this method, too much volume to get the clay to crumb. I got a very nice small Kitchen Aide machine that was on sale for $30.00. You don't need a high powered machine. The only speed button this machine has is for pulse.

Because the clay is too wet to start with you need to do something to dry it out. You could pinch it into lots of little pieces and let them stand for a while to evaporate some of the moisture. I added in some powdered earth pigment which soaked up the excess liquid. I also added in some PVA glue for extra strength. Adding more PVA helps moisten the clay if you get too dry of a mix. The ingredient I added to increase the strength of the color is tinting medium which I purchase at a local paint store by the ounce. I put in a terracotta color. Even with the added color the bricks will dry too light but you can paint on toning colors after they dry.

photo copyright Karin Corbin 2009

I make up lots of smaller sized batches. If I get a batch that is too dry or too wet I set some of it aside in a lidded storage container. Those not quite right batches can be used to adjust other batches that don't have the right moisture content. Also you start to get many color variations which is perfect for a hand made brick wall.

In the photo below the clay mache has had powerded earth pigment, glue and tinting medium added to it. It is nicely crumbed but it is too dry to roll into bricks. I do try to get my mix to this stage as it is easy to add more moisture to get it to begin clumping. Be sure to set aside in a covered container some of these too dry crumbs in case you need to adjust a mix that becomes too wet.
photo copyright Karin Corbin 2009

The photo below shows a batch that is just about right, a little more moisture is OK but not any more dry than this image shows. To the crumbs I have now added more PVA glue and also some water. Adding glue only will make the clay much too sticky to go through the rollers, it needs to be a little slick to pass through. You can tell you are at the right stage because the crumbs start to clump together, just like that pie crust making method. A perfect mix is the instant when the clay suddenly becomes a ball but it is easy to make it too wet so I stopped just before that point. A spray bottle of water is an easy way to add just a little bit of water without going too far. So it is pulse, check to see if it clumps, if not then spray some water, check again and keep going until the mix starts to bond together. My mix turned out to be a little too dry for perfection but it still worked out OK.
photo copyright Karin Corbin 2009

Now that you hope you have a workable mix you need to see if it will go through a pasta rolling machine. I am using an Atlas machine I found at a thrift shop. You can now purchase these pasta rollers for using with Fimo type clays. As seen in the two photos below first make a clay burger patty.
photo copyright Karin Corbin 2009

Now cover the patty with a piece of flexible cutting mat and take it down to about 1/4 inch or so in thickness. That will allow you to run it through the pasta machine. I am using the #3 setting on my machine. How thick you want to make your bricks is your choice, there is no rule to this game. All that matters is getting the look you want for your miniature building.
photo copyright Karin Corbin 2009

Now run the clay sheet through the pasta rollers. The sheet should just hold together. If it does not hold together and come out as a sheet because it is too dry put it back in the food processor and add more water. If it is too wet and sticks to the rollers then put it back in the food processor and mix in some of the reserved dry crumbs. The rolled clay sheet might come out pretty rough looking and it might even have long pieces flaking off the surface (or it might look perfect). Both those factors are great, you want this, you don't want a perfectly smooth surface. Mine came out pretty darned rough with a few holes, I was in doubt it would be good enough to use. Look at the photo below,I catch the dough as it comes out on that extra piece of flexible cutting board.
photo copyright Karin Corbin 2009

In the photo below I have just trimmed off the dough into a rough rectangle and I have patched up the holes. Then I slid the clay dough onto my cutting board placing the flex mat on top for the next step.
photo copyright Karin Corbin 2009

Take the rolling pin and using it over the top of the flexible mat smooth out some of that rough texture that came out of the pasta roller. Your piece should look something like the photo below. Maybe it has more cracks and rough spots, maybe it is smoother. The point of making small batches is that you will need a lot of variations in textures to make a good looking brick wall. No two batches will roll out the same and that is good.
My friend Don noticed something in my finished brick samples. There was a trend for the details to run from right to left on the same direction of diagonal. Don has an incredible eye for detail, I sure did not pick up on it. This was caused because I always rolled the pin from right to left on a slight diagonal; be sure to vary the direction you do the final, smoothing with the rolling pin on each of your small batches so you get random details on the surface of your bricks.
photo copyright Karin Corbin 2009

Now things get much easier, all you have to do is make the cut lines. You need very thin blades for this, thick blades mess up the edges. So there are two tools of choice a scalpel and one of the very thin, long razor blades made for slicing Fimo type clays. The scalpel works good for the long lines and the blade is good for the short cross cuts. I find using the scalpel for the second cut leaves little pulled out of shape hooks of clay. Those can be trimmed off later if all you have is a scalpel. I tried using the long blade for the long cuts and it is hard to get it to line up if not long enough for a row. I am using a steel ruler and lining it up with the marks on the grid sheet under the cutting mat. My ruler was cork backed so I put the cork side up to keep it out of the sticky clay. Steel washes better than cork. Take any leftover scraps from around the edges and toss them back into your covered container of mix, you can add them into the next batch.
photo copyright Karin Corbin 2009
photo copyright Karin Corbin 2009

Now let your bricks dry. If I place my boards in front of a fan the air movement dries the bricks to leather hard in 10 to 15 minutes. I can then transfer them onto a baking sheet and finish the drying job in a few more minutes at low temperature, 150 degrees in my convection oven. But that is the hurry up way, you can be green and let them dry for a day or so. The sun makes a great, quick energy source for drying but that is in limited supply at the moment. If the bricks start to warp cover them with another cutting board, flex mat side down or the spare sheet of flex mat and a magazine. Let them breath once in a while to evaporate the moisture off.
photo copyright Karin Corbin 2009

The next part of the lesson will be cleaning up the bricks, adding more texture and painting them. The long tutorial is almost over!

Brickology Part 2

photo copyright Karin Corbin 2009
This Brickology tutorial segment is about making the cutting boards you will be needing. While each brick will be unique there still has to be a way to control the size of the brick.

Knowing what era your dollhouse was built or remodeled is the first step in making bricks for the project. I can't tell you what size to make your bricks because depending on the date, the geographical location and sometimes the architect the standard sizes of bricks varied. During Queen Elizabeth's rein the size standard was different than the size during the rein of Charles I. These sizes were controlled by laws. Early American bricks were influenced by the British standards as the brick makers were immigrants. The modern standards in place now are created by builders associations. Tax rates were also an influence, structures might have had a per brick tax, that meant the bricks got larger so the tax would be smaller. While that brick tax was going on in England there were some really large brick sizes used on new buildings.

So do your research and find out what size the real life brick would be and then divide 12 if you are making a 1:12 project. Don't worry about rounding up to the nearest fraction, the decimal answer is better to use. The next step is to cut a brick to that dimension and find out how much it is going to shrink. Yes these clay materials always shrink so you must increase the size of your miniature brick pattern to compensate. You will only find out by experimenting what dimension you have to start with. As there is more material lengthwise in a brick it will shrink more in that dimension. Next use a program that will allow you to duplicate lines across the printed page. That creates your cutting guide.

You will need to make layout pages for the lengthwise bricks and if you want to also make them for the header courses of bricks. Header courses are where the length of the brick goes back into the wall instead of across the face. This provides greater strength for walls. So this is yet another wall detail you need to decide on, are you going to have header courses and how often will they occur? Some brick wall patterns have a lot of headers in them. There might also be decorative soldier courses. You will also see these long edges of the brick exposed in arches over windows and doors. Just running bricks lengthwise over these opening is not architecturally correct. Those are load bearing areas on a real building, the wall above the door or window would collapse into the opening if they are not properly engineered. Don't forget window sills, they too have a special pattern. Search out images and web pages that show how to build brick walls. Look closely at photos of real brick buildings from the era of your dollhouse.

Because this is a small batch method of brick making due to the width of the pasta roller machine I have made a number of cutting boards. My boards are made using some leftover plywood, I could have used pieces of melamine coated bookshelves. I adhere my guide lines to the board with 3M Super 77 spray adhesive. Next I put on the top surface also using the spray adhesive. That surface is a clear, flexible plastic cutting mat. You can find these at grocery stores or in the kitchen section of a department store, hardware store or kitchen store. I got the big ones and cut them in half. They came two per pack so that made 3 project boards. Only 3 because you will also need a piece of cutting mat that is not attached to a board. I will show you why you need it in another segment of the tutorial.

If you buy two packs you can create more cutting boards with a different grid size on the backside of the brick cutting board. I have a roof tile grid on one side of my board and a brick grid on the other side. I also have a long brick grid on one side and the header brick size on the other side of the board.

The cutting board is also the drying board.

1st sample real clay brick

photo copyright Karin Corbin 2009
I just rolled out and cut my first trial sample from the real clay I purchased. After they dry I will fire them in the kiln. I want to make several batches in different thickness to see what works best. Some bricks will be thin to use as a brick veneer over the plywood or other dollhouse shell materials, others will be 1:12 scale full dimensioned bricks. I also want to try making veneer corner bricks.

I loved working with this regular clay a lot more than I did working with the Das, Plus and other brands of clay/paper-mache mixes. It cuts nicer and the color is much better. The variation in color you see in the photo above is that some of the bricks are close to being dry as they were near the halogen lamp and other bricks are still pretty wet. The clay is not a bad bargain at $10.00 for 20 pounds. Of course the real expense is in the firing and the cost of the labor. But cost aside I can't purchase this product and there are no tutorials on it so I am teaching myself the skill.

So far I feel I am on a good track towards achieving a realistic texture to match that of old handmade bricks. There are definitely a few tricks up my sleeve that makes that texture happen but nothing too complex.