Wednesday, 13 January 2021

That's Amore......

That old Dean Martin classic from the 1950s has been playing on an endless loop in my head ever since I was invited to participate in Miniaturitalia.... the premier Italian online miniature show.  There has been a proliferation of online shows in the past year, due to the cancellation of most of them.  I've been a long-time exhibitor at the US-based Mini Miniature Show, which has been running for many years.  Last year, KDF went online for their showcase and I exhibited virtually at both the summer and Christmas shows.

However, doing a show in a foreign language which I can't actually speak or understand  is a whole new departure... what could possibly go wrong?!?

The show will run from 25th-28th March, and I will also be offering a workshop (?!?) on 21st March.  I'm not at liberty to reveal the workshop just yet, but I'm working on it at the moment and full details will be available next month.

There is an initial list of exhibitors on the official website HERE (helpfully there is full English translation!) and I'm relieved to know that I won't be the only UK participant.  This show will be an excellent opportunity to discover a whole range of artisans who are unknown outside their respective countries, so I'm really looking forward to visiting their virtual tables and having a leisurely browse.

However in the meantime I'm working hard to restock as many Mignonette Toy Dolls as I can, as well as prepping for the workshop.  I should also try to learn a few useful Italian phrases.  My facility with Italian begins and ends with 'ciao bella', which I suspect may be of limited use.




Saturday, 9 January 2021

The eyes have it......

Since I mentioned them in my book, several people have enquired about my glass-eyed dolls.  I have only ever made a few, mainly to order, using eyes made specially for me by a German artisan.  Sadly he died a few years ago and since then I have used the remainder of my small stock and have been unable to source a suitable alternative.  The smallest commercially available glass eyes are 2mm, which although very small, are way too big for my standard toy dolls.  

I've toyed with the idea of trying to make my own using a variety of different methods, none of which have been successful, mainly due to the difficulty of achieving a perfectly matched pair.  Making one eye is doable.... getting a pair which are identical is a whole different kettle of fish. 

I still have just one glass-eyed doll left, which I've kept for myself, who resides in La Mignonette.  She was my very first prototype and I made all my mistakes on her, so I can't possibly sell her, but she's quite happy in the shop and has forged strong friendships with the other dolls, apart from haughty Belladonna, who, mystifyingly, for reasons no-one can discern, calls her Cyclops.



However, recently I've been experimenting with a hybrid method which makes china painted eyes look more like glass paperweight eyes, via a my foolproof, patented system of trial and error.  It's a complete faff and takes ages so it would be impossible to use it for more than a few dolls at a time, but it is showing cautiously encouraging results.  When I get it right it produces a slightly iridescent iris and a domed glass corneal layer which magnifies the effect, echoing the look of a blown glass eye.  Getting it right consistently is the issue, but I'm gradually developing, honing and refining the technique and am planning to use it for my dressed mignonette dolls for sale over the coming months.

*fingers crossed*







Friday, 8 January 2021

Ho hum.....

 So.

Just over a week into 2021 and already the world is plunging ever deeper into turmoil.  Watching or listening to the news these days should come with a mental health warning!

However, I've been spending the first few weeks Lockdown III in a combination of work and play.  Admittedly, more work than play this week as I've made a start on china painting the boxes of tiny dolls from my marathon casting sessions last year.   I've posted about the process before...most recently HERE.  It's one of the more enjoyable aspects of the porcelain dollmaking process, as the small faces really begin to come to life with coloured features.  I like to keep my faces fairly soft, with no harsh colours and each painting session I have to take time to 'get my eye in'.  Bear in mind that I am painting facial features onto heads the size of a petit pois, so eyes are the size of mustard seeds.  It's quite tricky.

Also, reds are a bit of a bugger and really fade out when fired.  I blush cheeks twice (with two firings) but they still tend to be too pale. 

Tip - for more of a 'blush' you can use your own cosmetic blusher, applied with a cotton bud to the cheeks, and blended out at the edges, just as you'd do on your face.  The cosmetic blush will rub off though, so I do this after the doll is dressed and wigged when the face won't be handled.

I finished a painting session this morning and the dolls are now in the kiln for their first firing, so I'm just about to tidy up in the workroom, ready for a weekend of play.  I'll be continuing with my little half scale shop and getting organised to make a start on my first ever properly bound notebook. 




Sunday, 3 January 2021

Small Dog......

 My absolute favourite Shakespeare quote is from Midsummer Night's Dream.....

"Though she be but little, she is fierce"

.... not least because it perfectly describes our beloved Small Dog.  She may be tiny, but she has the heart of a lion.

The past few months have been very difficult for her.  At the age of 14 years and 9 months, according to this dog breed age calculator she is 


On a good day she is a sprightly senior citizen and will proceed carefully up the garden to patrol the perimeter, as she has done ever since she was a tiny puppy.  She will sometimes enjoy a short stroll along the seafront, if it isn't too cold. Or windy. Or wet. 

Increasingly though, she is content to snooze on her blankets on the sofa, occasionally sitting  upright to watch for any movement out on the patio which might reveal the presence of a squirrel or bird.  

She is now rather frail... last year she was losing weight, and although she has regained some, when we carefully pick her up it is still noticeable.  She has no useful vision in one eye, and limited sight in the other.  She is mostly deaf.  

Back in November she suddenly developed an abscess on her face, under her left eye. It burst and she was in obvious discomfort and distress. We suspected one of her few remaining teeth was the culprit, which was confirmed by the vet.  Due to her age, any procedures requiring general anaesthesia are out of the question, so apparently the offending tooth cannot be removed.  

Due to the coronavirus protocols, we were unable to accompany her into the building and waited anxiously in the car for what seemed like an age, worrying about what was happening to her.  She was given several injections... a long-lasting antibiotic to combat the infection, an anti-emetic and an anti-inflammatory painkiller.  We brought her home and for three days she slept and slept, waking only briefly to walk unsteadily into the garden for her ablutions, then quickly back indoors for a drink of water and back to her little bed.  During that time we tried to prepare ourselves for an unhappy outcome.  Her little body was fighting the infection, but she had lost 2 kilos and seemed to be so fragile and delicate.  

After the third day, she asked for food and wanted to spend some time in the garden so we were cautiously optimistic that she'd turned the corner and was on the road to recovery.  Her appetite returned and she began to regain weight.  She resumed her duties as garden guardian and regulated our days with requests for food, informed us when it was time to light the fire and even, on a few occasions, wanted to play the game of chase.

However, on New Year's Eve, we noticed that she had another abscess in the same place as the first.  She became very sick and couldn't keep any food down. Next morning, the abscess had burst but our vet was closed and we couldn't get an appointment till Saturday, on the emergency list.

Again we waited in the car, while a young vet came and collected her, listened to our update, then disappeared inside with a reluctant Small Dog. His first words when he returned, without SD, was that he didn't realise she would try to bite him.

Incredulously, I said that she was in pain and scared. With supreme and uncharacteristic restraint, I refrained from adding that if he'd tried to examine and clean my painful abscess I'd have bitten him too.  Not to mention he's a vet and should know that animals, when they're in pain and distress can bite.  Plus she's a tiny, elderly Yorkie with only 6 teeth and he's a grown adult male who's had 7 years of veterinary training in handling animals so should just Man Up!

Thankfully PP took over before I blew a gasket. He wanted us to give her antibiotics in her food, but as she isn't eating that's not a viable option.  Not to mention if she did eat she'd just throw up.  So he agreed to give the long-lasting antibiotic injection, along with an anti-emetic.  However we have to give her oral painkillers (Metacam) in her food.

When he brought her back out we were dismayed to see her face. The abscess, which had been oozing, had been cleaned out, leaving a huge hole, almost down to the bone. Her poor, pretty little face.... it looks so very painful.  He said he couldn't put a stitch in it because it had to drain, which is fair enough, but there is no way he could suture without anaesthesia, which he said was impossible for such an elderly dog.   Mixed messages.

Anyway, she's safely home and back to sleeping continuously while the antibiotics kick in.  She did perk up for a short while yesterday evening, and ate some lightly scrambled egg with very finely chopped ham and a slight grating of cheese, which she loves. I surreptitiously added the painkiller drops and watched to see if she would eat.... she's an expert at detecting medication concealed in food.  She sniffed it suspiciously, and gave me a look which clearly said "Ai kno therr is meddisin in this" but thankfully she did eat it all and more importantly, wasn't sick afterwards so she had a hefty dose of anti-inflammatory painkillers on board.

She hasn't eaten anything today though, but as she's sleeping so peacefully and deeply, and looks so comfortable, we don't want to disturb her and hope that she might feel hungry later.

She's not out of the woods yet, and this may be a recurring issue that worsens over time. But she is a little fighter and clearly has no intention of going gently into that good night.  She is such an amazing little dog and we love her so much. We simply can't envision our lives without her and are cherishing every single day we have left with our fiercely spirited little girl. 



Saturday, 2 January 2021

Happy New Year.....

I would like to wish all my blog readers a very Happy, Healthy New Year.  Hopefully 2021 will be better all round, although we still have rocky months ahead.

Despite my ongoing back issues, I did manage to enjoy some 'play' time during the Twixmas period. As well as more planning and tinkering with my little half scale shop/house I have been exploring and perusing one of my lovely Christmas presents from PP.....


It marries two of my favourite things, making stuff and books.  It's a complete bookbinding starter kit to make two hardback notebooks, properly bound and stitched with headbands... just like a real book.  I reckon the first one will take me about a day... there are lots of different stages to making a proper book and I want to really enjoy the process and get it right.  

However, I've already started making changes.  Instead of the admittedly lovely book cover papers, I'm going to substitute some absolutely gorgeous fabric. There is a wonderfully helpful Facebook group for people who have purchased the kit and via that, I've already discovered how to prepare fabric to act like paper for the covers.  So as soon as my additional supplies arrive I'm going to make a special notebook to document my mignonette doll makes this year.  If it turns out well I might make another just like it as a prize for a future mignonette doll club competition, so watch this space....


Thursday, 24 December 2020

More best laid plans.....

I suppose that in this most disconcerting of years, I shouldn't be surprised that I'd be thrown another curveball.

For the past month or so I've been experiencing weird nerve pain on my right side, running from my neck, down my spine and right leg into my shin.  I put it down to my MS, which often causes neuropathic pain in odd places, but not usually in the same place over such an extended period of time.

Anyway, yesterday morning I woke up, turned over in bed then wailed like a banshee as an excruciating bolt of pain shot through my lower back, locking me in position.  I couldn't move. 

Buggrit doesn't even come close.

A hefty dose of painkillers later I managed to struggle downstairs, doing a creditable impression of Quasimodo. Needless to say, Prexmas plans for working on my little half scale shop have been shelved. 

PP, who is a back pain veteran, reckons I have a prolapsed disc, which after an ad hoc appointment with Dr. Google, sounds plausible.

Back in the day (no pun intended) the advice was to remain horizontal for several weeks but in these enlightened times, regular, gentle movement is recommended.  By dint of trial and squealy error, I've identified which specific movements unleash the worst of the pain and am doing my level best to avoid them, while still remaining mobile. Although tap-dancing is definitely out of the question.

Small Dog has taken up residence on the sofa nearby, and there's a roaring fire.  There are wall-to-wall festive films on TV today so between tentative peregrinations I'm spending my time gainfully, doing some 'research' and forward planning.






Tuesday, 22 December 2020

Unintended consequences....

I discovered this morning that during its two years of storage, the lift-off shop front has partially broken away from its base, so I've had to re-glue it and attempt to repair and strengthen the splintered section. 

A minor setback, and probably not the last.

I've been thinking more about the exterior decoration of the building, and how to achieve the overall look of a lithographed doll's house.  Every doll's house I've ever built (and over the past 35+ years there have been many), I've strived for realism, inside and out, but I want this little half scale shop/house to look like a Bliss-style house, which requires a very different approach.


I had already printed out some sheets of Ashlar blocks for the facade of the ground floor, but they were on plain buff-coloured card and looked very flat and uninspiring.  So yesterday I spent hours making a new sheet, using Photoshop to create subtly different coloured blocks, similar to the ones in the image above.


I'm undecided about whether to 'age' them so I'll wait till I've completed the front before committing.  They do still look rather flat and featureless as they are, but when they're in situ they should look better.  In any case, I'd have to practice on some scraps to refine the technique as it would pain me to mess it up.

I've also been searching for suitable frieze sections to use on the front and round the sides and have found a good selection online, some of which might work well.  I'm also going to use some around the edges of the internal floors, to echo the outside decoration.

Finally today, I made more windows for the sides of the building. 



I used the original windows as templates and cut more from thin card.  then I glued several together to make thicker window frames.


I thought that I might do something similar to those in the photo, with coloured card in the top sections and paper curtains in the bottom.  However, using card in the front section, where there are window openings, would block any light from the inside, so perhaps tissue paper would be better.  I'll have to experiment to see what works best.

All in all, not a bad start over the past few days.  Let's see if can maintain the momentum...