Tuesday, 20 October 2020

Sneak preview.....

2020 has been a surprising year. 

During the trials and tribulations of the lockdown period I've discovered a whole new work ethic, freed from the constraints of appointments, shopping, socialising etc.  In common with most of my creative friends I've been acing work deadlines and multitasking like a demon.  Who knew that lockdown would prove so productive? 

My major achievement this year has been finally completing my book, which has been on my To Do list for the last decade. There have been no end of false starts and I've lost count of the number of times I've abandoned it as a lost cause.

But it's been niggling away at me, whispering 'finish me, finish me.....' and although I've mostly ignored its pleas, the opportunity presented by 2020 provided the perfect 'eye of the storm' environment to buckle down and get it done.

Now that it's finally finished I'm in an endless loop of checking and editing, double-checking and editing. 

No matter how many times I go through it, I'm still finding the odd rogue full stop, or an extra space between words, or an ugly hyphenation. I'm a bit of a pedant when it comes to grammar and punctuation and I will be mortified if any schoolgirl errors slip through.  However my over-familiarity with the text makes it really difficult to spot them.

So for the next few days I'm in editing/proofreading mode. However I just know that the nanosecond after I send the files off to the printers, I will notice a glaring mistake.  Thankfully I will receive a printed proof copy, which I'm going to have to go through with a fine toothed comb, on the hunt for inevitable flaws, but once I've made any amendments and signed off the final proof that's it.  I'm also aware that images will probably look different in print to how they do on my laptop screen.

Scary or what?

Anyway.... here's a sneak preview of the cover

I don't have any time to waste if I'm going to have the books delivered in time for the full unveiling of the website.  As soon as it's gone to the printers I don't have the luxury of resting on my laurels as I have loads to do to get the website properly up and running.

Not to mention the small matter of having been accepted to exhibit at the prestigious KDF Online Showcase at the end of next month, for which I must make a selection of new little dolls.

So I'd better get on and do another edit.... just in case.

Saturday, 3 October 2020

Plan for the worst, hope for the best......

 Not entirely unexpectedly, the old Tower House Dolls website has disappeared in a puff of smoke.  We had hoped that it might remain online a a marker of our presence but the recent server upgrades completely annihilated it.

The end of an era.

However, there is no time to mourn and work continues on the new, improved website.  It's all fresh and shiny but the back end is really unfamiliar, and I'm proceeding on the basis of trial and error... trying things to see what works and what doesn't.  My learning curve is practically vertical and I'm way out of my comfort zone, also every time I learn something new it pushes old stuff out of my brain... but so far so good and progress is steady, albeit slow.

It's the first time I've been without a website in 25 years so I do feel a bit cast adrift, but hopefully it's only temporary. 

Wednesday, 30 September 2020

End of an era.....

Eeeeek!  So it's done.

The THD website is in hibernation...we have no idea whether it will remain online as it is, or whether it will suddenly disappear in a puff of ether, but aside from the home page it is essentially dormant.

I feel a bit panicky, as though a lifeline has been cut, which is ridiculous, as I still have my blog and the THD FB page which I can use as sales channels, but the standalone simplicity of the website has gone.

There will be a slight hiatus before the new site is ready to launch.... partly through necessity and partly deliberately, as we need to thoroughly test it to remove any glitches and I'm still working on uploading content.  Also I will have several new lines and need to make sure that I have enough stock.

So the next few weeks will be a whirlwind of activity, although there is a limit to the amount of time I can spend on the new website before my brain attempts to clamber out through my ears and strangle me. 

However, in other news, the book is coming along nicely and I'm tentatively on track to have it ready to go to print by the end of October.  I have to complete photos for 30 pages, then thoroughly edit, edit, edit and check for errors.

The cover design is also progressing and overall I'm pleased with how the whole thing is turning out.  Of course until I see an actual proof copy I won't know exactly how it will translate from my laptop screen onto the printed page, but I'll cross that bridge when I come to it. 

So.... I'd better go and get on then. 

No displacement activity here.

No siree.


Thursday, 24 September 2020

Final Clearance Sale.....!

There will be an inevitable hiatus between the closing of our existing website next week, and the unveiling of the new one.  Hopefully just a few weeks but it is going to take us longer than originally anticipated to get it up and running.

So I've decided to have one final clearance sale which is now live. I don't intend to have any old stock items on the new website, so there are reductions of up to 60% currently up for grabs, from mixed lots of miniatures, to discontinued kit components, all at greatly reduced prices.

Just click on the image below to go straight to the website.... happy shopping! 

Happy days......

 Quick update on my recent mega firing.... it was perfect!!!

Porcelain perfection.... no chalky spots, no shiny noses, no cracks or bubbles.  It couldn't have gone better, for which I am supremely grateful as the contents of the kiln represented many, many months of work to get to the point where I was ready to bisque fire and a disastrous firing would have been a mortal blow.

Happy days indeed.

It will take many more months of china painting sessions and subsequent firings before they reach the final stage of re-uniting all the bodies with their respective arms and legs in several marathon stringing sessions, but the really worrisome part is over and I can take my time with the rest.

Onwards and upwards..... 😊

Sunday, 13 September 2020

Feeling hot, Hot, HOT!

After several weeks of fairly autumnal weather.... cool mists, grey skies, rain etc.... summer has returned for a last hurrah, and the next three days are set to be sizzling.

Which is why I'm now berating myself for choosing today to do a full bisque kiln firing.  This is the current temperature it has reached, thankfully the top temperature, which it has to hold for 15 minutes before switching itself off.

Which I time to make sure it does.....then

Inside it's hotter than Hades.... a white heat that would melt your face off if you were ever mad enough to open the lid.

It will gradually cool down over the next 24 hours and around this time tomorrow it will be cool enough for me to open the lid, although the contents will still be uncomfortably hot to handle.

Contained within are around 300 assorted tiny dolls, with their respective arms and legs.... so approximately 1200 limbs.  It's taken many months to cast, soft fire then laboriously soft clean each piece ready to bisque fire, and it will be several months more before all of the faces have been meticulously china painted and fired 2-3 times more.  Then arms and legs will have to be re-united with their bodies and carefully strung to create jointed, movable limbs.

Despite packing the four kiln shelves with military precision, I was unable to fit everything in, and I estimate that there are enough limbs left over to half fill the kiln for a future firing, so I know I will be tempted to cast more in order to fill the remaining space.  Seems such a waste not to.

Opening the kiln after a bisque firing is always a nail-biting, trepidatious time. Hopefully I will discover a perfect fire, no breakages, bubbling or cracks.  The vitrified porcelain should be a velvety matte, not chalky, or more disastrously, bubbled and shiny.  

An underfire, although frustrating can be remedied by re-firing. An overfire is impossible to rectify and the entire kilnload would have to be dumped.  In all my 30+ years of dollmaking, this has only ever happened once, a long time ago, in a previous kiln, where a piece of porcelain fell against the kiln sitter, preventing it from tripping the kiln off when the correct temperature was reached. As a result the temperature climbed and climbed, and we were only alerted by the smell of burning as the floor beneath the kiln melted.

Thankfully we found out before the whole house went up in flames, but since then on I mount the kiln on a piece of old kitchen worktop and ensure that I am always present in the final stages.  Of course it's much easier to monitor what's going on inside with the aid of the computerised panel on my current kiln, which accurately relays the internal temperature, and stage of the firing. 

However, it's impossible to gauge exactly what's gone on until the lid can be opened. Pieces can shift, shelves and shelf supports can collapse, kiln elements can slip out of their grooves.... any of these could cause catastrophic results.

So fingers crossed.  In the meantime we're trying to disperse the heat by leaving all the doors open.  I'll keep you posted on the grand opening tomorrow..... 

Thursday, 3 September 2020

Website woes......

You know that thing, where you're doing really well, focused on the task at hand, making progress slowly but surely, while things generally seem to be ticking along nicely?

Well up until Monday afternoon, that was me.  However, at precisely 4.07 pm, I heard a loud, anguished groan from the office, followed shortly thereafter by a forwarded email pinging into my inbox.

Apparently, the company who hosts our website is planning a major upgrade to their servers including moving to a newer version of PHP.

Now, I hold my hands up to not having a clue what PHP is, but the net effect will be to render our website instantly obsolete.  It's already very elderly and creaking at the seams, having developed a rash of irritating and apparently insoluble back end glitches which only a complete rebuild and overhaul would fix.  We've been putting that off and attempting to keep it limping along, having extended our hosting package for a further 18 months, but this news has sealed its fate.

It doesn't help that the upgrades are due to take effect between 28 Sept and 2 October, so only a few week's time.  There followed much wailing and gnashing of teeth, and a chorus of "Oh buggrit.... what are we going to do.....?" 

An emergency meeting was called (Small Dog agreed to attend, but only on suffrance) and we brainstormed potential solutions.

None of the options looked particularly attractive.

  • Rebuild the site from scratch using the same shopping cart software, which was a nightmare
  • Pay someone an eye-watering sum to do it for us
  • Cancel the hosting package and relocate elsewhere, using a simple website builder, such as Weebly or Wix.
  • Stay with our hosting service and use their in-house website builder
All of the options except the last one involved financial cost, which given the parlous trading conditions this year we are keen to avoid.  So we checked that we could create a new website, using our current hosting provider and simply switch over from the old one when we were ready.

So far, so encouraging.  Yes, we could do that.  No, there was no additional cost.  Apparently it was easy to do.

To say we were sceptical is a massive understatement.  All DIY website builder programs have pros and cons, and despite their claims to be easy to use, experience tells us that's true only up to a point.  However, with the clock ticking we decided to give it a go.  At the very least, our hosting package does provide excellent technical support which is available at all hours, 24/7 to address any of the problems which will inevitably arise.

Yesterday was spent deciding on a layout, and trying out the various elements, getting the look we wanted.  Today I'll be attempting to get to grips with how to list an item, with the first major issue looming on the horizon.... setting up shipping charges.  There seems to be only two choices... one flat rate charge per order, which doesn't accommodate shipping to different postal zones internationally, or a charge per item, which also doesn't taken into account varied international shipping rates.  We think we might have a workaround, but it's far from elegant.

I'm also juggling working on The Book, which is coming along nicely after years of languishing and gathering dust.  I have completed about 75% and finally feel as though I'm on the home straight, which probably means that I'm going to hit some insurmountable software issue and have to start again.

That's me.... always looking on the bright side. 😂