Sunday, 30 November 2008

Expletive deleted..............

In the words of Emo Philips, some mornings it's just not worth chewing through the leather straps.

This homily is particularly pertinent to the last few days, when whenever could go wrong, has.
My to do list has been pared down to within an inch of its life, which means that the remaining tasks are VERY IMPORTANT.

One of these VITs is to print out copies of our shiny new catalogue, which has finally emerged from draft form through a process of blood, sweat and tears. Regular readers of this blog will know that I wage a continual war with the printer, which for reasons best known to itself has declared a jihad on every document or photograph I try to print.

This weekend it has excelled itself, by enlisting the help of the print spooling application program, the result of which is that whenever I try to send a file to print, a large warning box pops up telling me that Windows has encountered a problem with the Spool Application thingy and can't fix it. Then my whole system grinds to a halt and I have to reboot the laptop.

This sort of underhand behaviour is what I have come to expect from the printer but it has really excelled itself this time. Having spent 3 hours yesterday trying to fix the problem, I was hopeful that having had time to reflect overnight, the printer might have repented of its wicked ways and go out of its way this morning to be helpful. However my optimism has proved to be unfounded. Not only is my network printing still skew whiff, Perfectionist Partner's computer, which is connected directly to the printer, is also having problems.

It's going to be a l-o-n-g day......

Wednesday, 26 November 2008

Cold feet.................

The recent spate of very cold, icy, frosty weather has been playing havoc with small dog's dainty little paws.

After only a few minutes outside she is pleading paw frostbite and has to resort to a warm human lap to warm them up.

We have suggested fur-lined paw warmers, which met with a very cool response. Apparently paw-warmers are tantamount to animal abuse and small dog was not to be moved on the matter.

In fact she presented the following evidence in her defence.............


I seem to have overcome my inertia and have been working like a demon for the past few days.

My 'friendly' countdown timer informs me that there are just 10 days to go so I'm belatedly moving up a gear and ticking off items on my resurrected to do list with abandon.

There have been a few sticky moments........most notably when we decided to check whether our lovely new display stand would fit into the back of our very small car. You may remember that we designed and built the stand it for Spring Miniatura, which we attending in our campervan, so the height was not our foremost consideration as we have lots of headroom in the van.

However, it will most definitely NOT fit easily into the boot of our car, backwards, forwards or upside down. As a result we have had to dismantle it, and even then it's a tight fit. We might have to resort to sawing 6 inches off the bottom of the sign 'legs', which is not ideal, as that will mean re-drilling screw holes to attach it to the shelf arrangement............ don't you just love it when the solution to one problem immediately spawns a whole collection of new ones?

That aside, we are making some progress. I am doing well with my traditional Victorian toy shop window display, which will form the basis of a series of home workshop sessions early in 2009.

So if I can just keep up the momentum for the next week, everything will be done and dusted.

*look of complete and utter 'Oh, really???!'*

Saturday, 22 November 2008

Procrastination is the thief of time.............

With just 14 days till the Kensington Christmas Festival, I am raising displacement activity to undreamed of new heights.

Having revised my 'to do' lists, and whittled them down to only the most urgent tasks, instead of cracking on and actually completing any of them, I got it into my head that clearing out the cupboard area behind my chair in the workroom was far more important than anything to do with fair prep.

Now, granted. Those cupboards were a mess and had been crying out for a tidy-up for ages, but as I opened the doors and started clearing off the shelves, even the displacement goblins were screaming in my ears...........


By the time I came to my senses of course, and realised the folly of my actions, four cupboards had been emptied and the contents lay strewn across the desk, worktop and floor.

I could have wept.

What WAS I thinking??????

Of course there was nothing else for it. I then had no option but to sort everything out, dispose of the rubbish (0f which there was a fair amount) and re-organise the cupboards.

The upside of this is I have now liberated half a cupboard, cleared out a load of junk, and used the remaining space in a much more sensible manner.

The downside of this is I am now so disastrously behind on my to do list that I have been forced to jettison yet more tasks, which I have no hope of completing.

This of course may have been my subconscious intention in the first place. After all I now have four tidy cupboards, and pruned my to do list in the process so there may have been an element of method in my madness.

As a footnote to this disclosure, my horoscope this morning, read as follows:

"You may be conflicted today between your high ideals and the practicalities of your current obligations. If you have let your chores pile up, you may not have the luxury of taking time off to enjoy your weekend. Complaining won't help. Don't procrastinate; just stay focused and get as much done as possible."


Tuesday, 18 November 2008

Global slip-up............

Much of my time over the past few days has been taken up in searching the planet for some tubs of porcelain slip tint.

And when I say planet, I do mean, planet.

I have emailed distributors worldwide, in an effort to track down the most elusive of colours in the slip tint pantheon......California Sunrise.

I sense blank looks and puzzled shrugs, so let me explain.

I work in porcelain. Well not IN it, obviously, but it is the medium in which I create the little toys and dolls. The raw material is porcelain casting slip, which is specially formulated for high-fire bisque dolls. It used to be available, pre-mixed in gallon tubs, in a wide range of 'flesh' tones, from Brown Velvet African-American skin tones, through Oriental, and American Indian to very pale Pink Blush tones.

However a few years back, the U.S manufacturer changed from selling pre-mixed tubs in the full range of colours, to selling predominantly white slip, in conjunction with small 4oz pots of slip tint, in all the colours, which could be mixed with the white slip. The obvious advantage to this was not having to keep stocks of the bulky tubs in all the required colours. I could just have a few tubs of plain white, and a selection of tints, and mix up small amounts as required. After all, a gallon tub of say, Brown Velvet, would last me for years and years, while other colours might only last a few months. The cost differential between a gallon of slip and a small pot of tint was also substantial, so it made good financial sense to embrace the new system.

Now, strictly speaking, I don't make dolls. I make miniature people who live and work in doll's houses, shops etc, so the normal very, very pale 'doll' colours were too pasty and washed out for me. So I chose California Sunrise as my flesh tone of choice. In spite of the name, it isn't a perma-tan orange tone, but a softly sun-kissed, healthy colour, and after years of using it, I have boxes and boxes of assorted limbs, bodies and heads all in the same flesh tone.

So far so good.

However, when I got down to my last pot a month ago, I rang the one and only UK distributor to find she was out of stock! Not only that, she'd had it on back order but her latest shipment from the US didn't include it.

No matter. I thought I'd go straight to the source and placed an order for 6 pots from the manufacturer. Only to receive an email informing me that they had no idea when they would be replenishing stocks.


Hence my trans-global distress messages over the past few days. I'm getting desperate now as I'm down to my last few eggcupfuls of slip, with no prospect of easily finding more.

And no, sadly it's not as easy as changing to a different slip tint. This is because it took me years to find the perfect colour, and also because I have substantial stocks of limbs which wouldn't match with a different colour. Which would mean that I would have to make hundreds more limbs in the new colour to go with new heads and bodies.

Not a problem I wish to have to solve.

So my slip tint search this space............

Sunday, 16 November 2008

Micro minis..........

I have just finished painting a batch of very tiny babies. When strung they measure just under 1". Painting their faces is a very painstaking process.......trying to get the tiny irises and even smaller pupils just right is a real challenge. Just the slightest slip and they end up looking cross-eyed and I have to start all over again.

I am used to working in very small scales, including 1:144, which is the correct scale for a dollshouse to go inside a 1:12 scale house. I have a working train set which is 1:900, for which I still have to create the landscaping.

However, this really takes the biscuit for pushing the boundaries of what is achievable in small scale.

Absolutely incredible! *shakes head in disbelief*

Saturday, 15 November 2008

Pleats plus............

When in the midst of chaos, I always find that doing a calming task helps relieve work-related stress and anxiety.

Pleating is one such task.

The rhythmic, repetitive motion of pleating silk ribbons is most definitely calming. Not only that, it is one of those lovely tasks where after a set period of time you can actually see what you've done and experience a warm sense of achievement. A whole pleating board covered with rows of neatly pleated, colourful silk ribbons is like a balm to the soul.

Small dog agrees. No sooner had I spread out a drift of multi-coloured ribbons than she suddenly appeared like a small hairy genie, and leapt up onto my lap to observe the process. I think she finds it calming too and we both entered a trance-like state as row followed row.


Yes you're right.

I need to get out more.

Friday, 14 November 2008

Catalogue of errors............

The closer we get to the Kensington Christmas Festival, the more frenetic becomes the activity for preparation. Now we are working 7 day weeks, up to 12 hours a day and it will remain like that till 5 December.

It was in this mode of 'positive work ethic' that I sat down with my laptop after dinner last night, in order to begin work on a long overdue 'hard copy' catalogue. The magazine article has produced a flurry of phone calls from collectors who don't have internet access and who would like a paper catalogue sent by post.

In principle this is fine and dandy.

In practice, as I found last night, there are a whole host of problems challenges.

For example, we never repeat exactly the same piece. I may make three tiny dolls dressed in shades of pink, but the costumes, wig styles, bonnets etc will all be different. Similarly our little porcelain toys, such as Humpty Dumpty will all be painted in different colours with different facial expressions. This means that it would be practically impossible to create a catalogue showing every variation on every toy or doll.

Then there is the matter of the format of the catalogue itself. What size, how many pages, what layout............

I started off optimistically enough, having finally decided on an A5 booklet, containing 8 pages. I found a Publisher template which I (mistakenly) thought would be easy to customise to my requirements and set to with enthusiasm.

Two hours later my enthusiasm for the project had completely evaporated and my laptop screen looked like an explosion in a Spirograph factory, littered with dozens of cut and pasted empty photo frames, grouped objects, text boxes........absolutely nothing right and such a mess that my only option seems to be deleting the whole thing and starting again.

In the cold, hard light of day this morning, upon opening the document to review my progress (or lack of it) it was blatantly obvious that the two hours spent last night were a complete waste of time. The only saving grace is that I now know EXACTLY where I went wrong, and when I summon up enough energy and enthusiasm to revisit it, I will (hopefully) be able to crack on and put all to rights.

However, even when the catalogue is done and dusted, there is still the small matter of having to print it out.

Double sided and everything.

Which as I well know, is not as easy as it might sound, given that the printer and I are engaged in a long running vendetta.

But that is a challenge for the future. For the present I'd be happy if could just get the catalogue under control and underway..............

Tuesday, 11 November 2008

The clock is ticking........

Needless to say, with a mere 25 days till Kensington, stress and panic levels are rising exponentially and the workroom is a vertitable hive of activity.

The 'creative chaos' has now spread into the dining room, rather like a black miasma, as I am trying to lay out our display stand and plan where everything is going to go. This effectively renders the dining room out of commission for the duration, as boxes and display materials start to pile up.

In amongst all of this I still have to re-design our information brochure and update it with new pictures, as well as getting a mini-catalogue sorted out, which is long overdue.

Not to mention completing my little shop display window, of which more anon.

I have given up on with my extensive volumes of 'to do' lists, which rival 'War and Peace' for length, weight and incomprehensibility. Instead I will reconnoitre towards the end of the next week and see what I've missed *worried look*

Small dog has beat a hasty retreat from the melee and is hiding out in her basket, only occassionally wandering into the workroom if she spots a cup of tea being carried in, which she hopes may be accompanied by a biscuit or two.

As is always the case, I am sure that we WILL be prepared, packed and ready to by late evening on the day before the fair, but at this point, it is hard to see beyond the chaos to a time of peace and calm.

I only hope that all this work turns out to be worth it, and the fair is a runaway success.

Ok, back to the salt mines for me...........

Friday, 7 November 2008

28 days later........

No, I'm not talking about the post-apocalyptic science fiction/horror film, but rather the fact that we have just 28 days till our final exhibition/fair of the year.

Here, at 'Miniatures HQ', the pace is stepping up a gear, and even small dog has discovered a positive work ethic and relinquished several naps today in favour of 'helping'.

This dedication on the part of small dog is much appreciated and it is heartening to know that she takes her directorship seriously. There has been much banter in recent weeks of her status as 'sleeping partner' but today she really has knuckled down and given 110%.

Indeed, so grateful were we for her input that, after lunch, with the sun shining from a clear blue sky, we set off for a jaunt in the woods, with the prospect of a slight detour for a spot of geocaching.

Ten minutes in, and the skies darkened ominously. Then as we trudged up a hill, a wall of water came rushing towards us in the form of a torrential downpour. Our initial attempts to shelter under the trees proved futile, and within minutes small dog was soaked to the skin. We decided to beat an ignominious retreat and scurried back along the path which was now ankle deep in mud. This meant that small dog was knee deep in mud and looking like nothing so much as a very mucky drowned rat.

As if that wasn't bad enough, on our bedraggled return home, small dog was summarily dispatched to the shower, hosed down, shampooed/rinsed (twice), towelled off, then released to whirl through the house like a cartoon Tasmanian Devil.

There is probably a moral to this tale. Something along the lines of 'let sleeping partners lie', or 'don't help out lest you get rewarded with something you don't like'.

Or words to that effect.

Either way, small dog has graciously forgiven us. This may have something to do with the delicately cooked chicken she had for dinner, or the fact that she is currently curled up, warm, snug and fast asleep, on a cushion on the sofa.

Thursday, 6 November 2008

Technical difficulty............

I don't know why I persist in tormenting myself with seemingly impossible technical challenges.

Like setting minute handmade glass eyes into tiny dolls.
Or deciding to produce a jointed tiny doll with a fully articulated head.
Or both.

The doll in question is just over 1 1/2" tall. So the body cavity is really, really small. So the network of stringing required to joint arms, legs and head is a real technical problem.

Having spent several hours today struggling with various methods of achieving this miniature feat I can report that it is possible.


But maddeningly, infuriatingly, frustratingly difficult.

My prototype has demonstrated exactly where I've going wrong, and I'm sure that I can improve on it in terms of simplifying the construction, but each doll is going to take 10 times longer to create than my normal little toy dolls, which have jointed arms and legs and painted eyes.

So I have to ask myself, is it worth it?

Wednesday, 5 November 2008

History in the making............

Feeling a bit bleary-eyed today after staying up till stupid o'clock this morning watching the momentous events unfolding across the pond.

It felt like one of those pivotal moments in history which engender a sense of belonging, and witnessing a ground-breaking achievement.

Except if you're a Republican of course.

Small dog kept me company into the wee small hours, falling asleep once or twice but immediately rousing at the prospect of a warming mug of hot chocolate, or a biscuit.

I think the whole 'clean sweep' concept of the night must have percolated into my sub-conscious, because this morning I spent quality time clearing my side of the workdesk, and generally tidying up the chaos which is a permanent feature of the workroom. This mess is always much to the annoyance of Perfectionist Partner, whose own side of the workdesk is immediately recognisable as it is usually possible to actually see the surface of the desk itself.

This is in stark contrast to my side, which is normally several inches deep in ribbons, dolls, sewing paraphernalia, half-finished projects, scribbled notes and ideas.........the list goes on and on. I don't actually like working in such a mess but somehow, no matter how hard I try, my attempts to maintain areas of clear workspace are always doomed to failure.

However, no matter.

It is impossible not to feel a renewed sense of enthusiasm and positivity, and the thought that maybe, just maybe, all may be well with the world in due course.

Small dog was keen to do her own little bit of flag-waving today so here is her suggestion for a suitable contribution to the historic occasion...........

Tuesday, 4 November 2008


It has arrived!

I've been stalking the postman for the past two mornings, aided and abetted by small dog, who is always keen to ambush the poor chap as he hastily pushes our post through the letterbox, quickly removing his fingers as letters are deftly pulled from his grasp.
Thankfully once the mail lands on the doormat small dog immediately loses interest in it so there is never any imperative to race her to the door to prevent some creative paper tearing.

However this morning, as I raced her to the door, she sensed more than a usual degree of excitement at the arrival of several letters, one of which I immediately identified as containing the latest issue of Dolls House Magazine.

Had I mentioned that it contains an article on my toyshop, with a cover shot and everything?!

After poring over the cover, I turned to the contents page to discover a photograph of small dog in all her glory gazing photogenically into the camera lens. As a result she is now completely insufferable, strutting around like a prima donna and convinced that fame and fortune are just around the corner, seeing as how she is now an international superstar.

Modesty is not one of small dog's foremost character traits.

The article itself is spread over four pages and features loads of great photos of the shop interior, as well as a beautifully written article.

I am just soooooo chuffed.

Permission has been sought, and granted, to put up a link to the article on this here blog, so you can now view the cover HERE and the entire article HERE.

Tips for viewing PDF files.......It's best to right click on each of the links and open them in a new window or tab, otherwise you'll be whisked away from the blog and might not find your way back.

Heaven forbid!

The files contain lots of photos so be patient while they open. You can enlarge the pages to read the text more easily by using the zoom control (use either the little + button or the the % box on the toolbar at the top!) Also there are two x two page spreads to view so scroll down to read the second page.

If you can't view the files or have any problems, please contact me and I'll try to sort out any glitches.

How's that for efficiency!

Monday, 3 November 2008

Wild Goose Chase...................

In the temporary absence of my (hopefully) complimentary copy of Dolls House Magazine, I set off into town this afternoon in the sure and certain knowledge that I would find the latest issue in WH Smith.

So we ventured out in the fog, rain and cold only to find every other magazine EXCEPT the one I was looking for, stocked on the shelves.

To say I was not a happy bunny is a gross understatement!

However, thanks to a fellow miniature artisan (thanks Bea!) I now at least have a copy of the cover featuring my toy shop.