January 30, 2010

The other side

photo copyright Karin Corbin 2010

I thought you would enjoy a glimpse of the other side of the house. Remember the walls are only temporarily assembled, the stucco on the wall joins is missing and I am in the process of applying foundation stones. The upper area of the roof timbering is unfinished as beams that will be upstairs are going to come poking through that gable wall.

You can see some of the chunks of limestone I have been breaking down into smaller pieces for the dollhouse.

 In this photo you can see the dynamic patterning relationship of the timbers leading the eye around the structure. Repetition and variation of pattern is what it is called in the architecture design world. The shorter diagonals near the foundations were chosen as I saw in various books quite a few cottages in the Normandy and Brittany area that use that particular pattern of bracing. It is not something I have seen commonly used as a timber pattern in other countries or other areas of France.

January 29, 2010

Foundation work

photo copyright Karin Corbin 2010

I am starting to lay some of the foundation stones. I have created a separate foundation riser structure that the house wall and the floor sit on top of. Makes life a little easier for me being able to work on smaller segments of house and I am less likely to cause damage to work I have already done.. The walls are not yet attached to each other or to the foundation, good old duct tape is holding the corners of the upper structure in place.

Before I lay the stone work I first put on a skim coat of grout over the substrate. That way if I miss getting a good grout fill between the stones it won't be very noticeable as there is a color match. A little missing mortar here and there will look as if the mortar between the stones fell out from the land settling, the timbers sagging or weather related events such as freeze thaw cycles.

My substrate is a tile backer board so putting a skim coat of mortar on it works fine. I like that I can use push pins to hold the stones in place until the Quick Grip brand of glue dries. This glue does grip fast and dries fairly fast. Another advantage is that it dries waterproof which is important when I apply the wet grout between my stone work. I like working with this glue where the object I am adhering has an uneven surface that needs gap filling. These natural stones do not have a truly flat surface on the back side. I can use a coarse carborundum file to flatten areas if needed. You can find those files in the tiling supply stores.

Now I am running out of split stone, that means I will have to open my mini quarry box of stones up and start breaking up the bigger chunks into smaller chunks. You can see why I liked this color of stone for the project it is a nice complement to the timbers. The stone has shades of gray and browns to it as well as subtle blues and green, a little purple too. It might look like a miss match of stone between the area with the sink drain and the foundation but it is not. What you are seeing is that the sink area has had grout on it and it has been scrubbed to remove excess grout. That has removed some of the brown surface oxidation caused by the stones sitting out in the weather for many years. There is iron around in the soils and in the stone, also some algea green and brown and that gets scrubbed off too. But I will later use washes of acrylic paint to put some of those colors back on.

A sand dune landscape will be coming up against the foundation area. I don't have a straight line on the bottom edge of the stone work as I will be creating a loose, windblown, hilly look with sea grass type plants here and there rather than a manicured lawn.

January 27, 2010

Sink Drain

photo copyright Karin Corbin 2010

I started filling in the wall area on the outside of the cottage that is behind the stone sink. There is a stone drain trough that comes through the wall. It projects from the wall so that water from the sink does not get the house wet. This is a traditional detail used with the old sinks. I decided to infill between the timbers with stones rather than stucco. This helps to create a focal point for the big gable wall.  More stone work to be done to create a small foundation under the house.

The drain block is made from soapstone but the rest of the stones are limestone that I collected from an old quarry near Lime Kiln Park on San Juan Island, WA.

I never showed you a photo of the outside of the window. At the lower edge of the window frame is a molding that helps direct rain water away. It overhangs the window frame opening and has an undercut so the water drips off instead of running back onto the frame and into the cottage. This is also a traditional detail on old wood windows.

I need to start making exterior window shutters and the hinges for them this next week. They will be fairly basic in design, I don't want to spend the time to make louvered shutters. Guess I am feeling much too lazy to create the jigs for that task.

January 25, 2010

stucco layers

photo copyright Karin Corbin 2010

Will I ever be finished with the stucco job? Not for a couple of days more of work. It is very labor intensive to create the layers of texture, the cracks, the color washes and to pick off all the bits and blogs that get on the timbers. It is at least 40 hours, probably more like 60 to create this kind of look for stucco for a small cottage. No one part of the job is difficult but it is tedious work.

I had to invent a custom stucco putty mixture for the top layer of plaster. I needed something that was water resistant so it would not melt away the crisp edges of the broken plaster look when I applied washes. Spackle will lose its hard edges. It needed to be a smooth plaster with little grit in it.  I could not have any shine to this layer and I had to be able to carve it. It needed to be basically white in color but able to absorb the acrylic color washes without melting or bringing up a shine. Hooray I managed to accomplish that which I set out to do. Now that is a good day in the workshop.

So in order not to forget what I use for the top stucco layer I had better document it here. It is Golden Brand, light acrylic modeling paste into which I stir Lightweight Hydrocal Plaster. Do not add any water to the mix. You want a thick mixture that can be trowel onto the walls. When dry your mix should look and feel like plaster and not like the more rubbery feel of the acrylic modeling paste. The acrylic paste prevents the plaster from being fragile and cracking, it also makes it so that the plaster does not melt, dissolve, when you put a watery acrylic paint wash on the dry surface. As both the plaster and the acrylic modeling paste have a surface quality that will absorb paint rather than having it just lie there on the surface you get a very realistic look of time worn, lime washed plaster rather than having unrealistic thick paint on your project.

I put the sink in this photo, when I took it's portrait the other day the camera made the color too deep a brown. It is much more of a light grey with some browns. The sink fits right in with the monochromatic color scheme of the structure. The stone of the sink relates very well to the timbers and to the stucco. The natural edge on the sink front also works with those elements.

Back to work, another day of stucco tomorrow but I will break it up with a few other tasks on the dollhouse to relieve the boredom. What many people don't realize is that a great deal of the hours of work on dollhouses is not very exciting. I find the best fun is the research, the dreaming, the planning and the inventing of new materials and methods of construction.

January 23, 2010

Natural Stone Sink

Today I made the sink for my cottage. It is made of soapstone. Real sinks are also made from soapstone. I believe the French word for this type of sink is "evier" My design is generic, the size based on the area I want to put the sink combined with the piece of stone I had. It was already this thickness and was long and wide enough to do the job. I left the natural edge on the front. I like the fact that the sink tapers at one end, it says "I am  made for the purpose from salvage materials".  That is what my fisherman families would have done often when they needed a home improvement project over the centuries.

These types of stone sinks are typically shallow in depth. I created a small drainboard area. The sink and drainboard areas were milled out using diamond coated burrs. I mounted the burrs in a drill press. They don't have to run at high speeds when shaping soapstone. Soapstone is soft and turns into talcum powder.

If you have always wanted a stone sink for your dollhouse you will find it simple enough to make from real soapstone, you don't need to fake it. A fence and a stop block or two helps keep the edges of the recessed areas nice and straight. You do need a depth stop on your drill press to control how deep you cut.

The sink will drain out through the rectangular recess at the bottom into a channel that goes through the wall. You will see that detail in a few weeks.

Now I need to make the riser blocks that hold up the sink. No taps for this sink, my rustic old cottage does not have running water.

January 18, 2010

That driftwood look

In the two photos above I have set the side wall of the house right next to the front wall of the house. You can see the before and after effects of aging the timbers. The floors of the house are also in the photo, they were not bleached as the wood was already light in tone but they did have a vinegar and iron solution brushed over the raw wood as the first step in aging.

 I have mentioned before that the coastal cottage project is intended to have a grey cast to it invoking the feel of driftwood on a beach. The old timbers on these old houses will always weather to grey if left unfinished but they may still have some brown undertones to them. That is the look I want. This is a small cottage and the timber framing is very busy, the overall monochromatic color scheme of the dolls house has a calming effect on the viewer that lets one focus better on details.

I told you about a two step process to recreate mother natures reality aging in my workshop laboratory. Mad scientist at work! So first step is the two part wood beach, it is a peroxide based oxygen bleach. I stop the bleaching action by brushing water onto the timbers. As I am using a water proof substrate and also waterproof glue no warping or other damage is done to the dollhouse from this process.

The second step is the application of a dilution of iron minerals in vinegar. This solution is easy to make, soak rusty objects in vinegar then strain it and store it in a plastic or glass bottle. Never store it in a metal container. Or you can shred steel wool pads into vinegar, let sit for a day or two and then strain that solution. Usually though I purchase the famous Thomas "Bug Juice". I know the strength of the solution is consistent and  my purchase helps support the two people in the miniature business who have taught me more than any other individuals, Noel and Pat Thomas. They used to write a series of articles for Nut Shell News, Dollhouse Miniatures and later Miniature Collector I have all those articles saved into a big notebook. It is a fountain of wisdom, artistic attitude and examples of building fine miniatures from scratch.

January 17, 2010

Stucco Test

I started testing stucco last night. The store has changed brands on me. The stucco material I used to buy is no longer there. Last night I did a test patch of the new product they are carrying. I like it better in many ways, it is lighter in weight, the size of the bits of  sand is smaller, it does spread nicely, it is not as sticky.

Some things I don't like better, it is too white, it is not as sticky,  there are areas on the structure where I want to have larger grit showing. Ah you see there is no pleasing me, I want it sticky but not sticky and big grit as well as small grit. In order to get the right look for an old stucco wall that has cracking and failing plaster I have to use multiple products applied in layers. That is because that is how the real houses are created. I can also modify a product with bigger grit and a change of color and then layer on those variations. That may be what I will do this time around.

My goal will be to create a stucco that is showing age, has cracks and loss of plaster but is not completely decrepit. I am not building a haunted house, I am building a normal house that is in need of some attention. The photo below is a good reference for how that looks  on a real structure. I will be having a few areas where the plaster is coming off in larger sections, that is not shown in the photo.

The real life stucco process on a timber framed house starts with a very course mix of clay, straw, sand and other inclusions. That thick stuff is pushed into the underlying structure of wattle.  Wattle is basically  little sticks sprung or woven in the openings. Then what modern plaster masters would call the scratch coat is applied, that layer also has grit or other inclusions in it but it is not a course. After that comes a coat of smooth plaster. The last coating is a lime wash. The lime wash is to plaster walls what paint is to wood walls. It provides a protective coating that helps resist water.

Timber frame houses are an interesting architectural structure in terms of engineering. They move and they breathe. Moisture from inside the house can pass out through the plaster walls, that helps prevent issues such as toxic mold and rotting wood. The frames stay in good condition because of the plaster. When the plaster fails you dig it out and fill it back in again. There is a constant cycle of stress on the plaster, wind rain and movement due to changes in humidity. Only a newly plastered house would have the completely smooth texture from using a product such as Creative Paperclay or lightweight spackling compound or plaster. Only a newly plastered house would be free of cracks, stains and dirt. I don't build newly plastered houses so to achieve realism I use a combination of products of different textures and colors applied in layers.

Because I will also be applying paints, glaze and washes to the surface I need to have my stucco materials be water resistant. A wash of dirty looking water will melt and smooth away sharp edges of broken plaster if I make it from lightweight  hole filling product unless I choose to use an exterior product that dries to a water resistant surface. There is also the issue of the color of materials. The course daub (torchis) is not the same color as the white lime wash or colored lime wash. In some geographic areas of the world the earth the minerals used to make the layers of materials that make up the infill will be off white, other areas have a  golden tint or it could be grey and even reddish brown. Different layers such as the filler will be a color that does not match the final lime wash. What the local land provided  is what you got. They did not run to the local giant warehouse  home improvement store as I can. They will very likely have mixed their own stucco products for the various layers from basic materials using the locally favored formula passed around by word of mouth.

Set a time and a location for your project and then support your decisions with research. Remember to use materials the characters who inhabited your story house would used. They had to shop locally if they lived in the previous centuries unless they were very wealthy.

Quick and easy methods for dollhouse building are great but only if they make a believable finished product. Not all dollhouses have to be believable but sometimes that is the goal. Other times they are much like a stage or movie set, the designer edits out details and emphasizes others to create an artistic impression on the viewer. Either way  take the time to think it all out decided on a direction and then be consistent and faithful to that course

The photos below are some that I took on my tour of Normandy. Some show failing stucco and one shows newly restored stucco.