Thursday, 30 April 2015

Casting..... Day 3

Why is it, that no matter what time of year I'm casting, I always seem to be doing it on the coldest days of the month?

There's also something about handling slightly damp plaster moulds, in conjunction with porcelain slip which chills me to the marrow.

I'm completely convinced that slip has something in it, which is, on a molecular level, almost exactly the same composition as the active ingredient in Cold Wet Nose, as practised by Small  Dog.  Even on the hottest summer day, Small Dog's nose is unnaturally cold.  When she uses it to tap the back of my hand (which is her preferred method for requesting strokings) the cold, wetness of it lingers much longer than the actual nose/hand contact.

It's the same with porcelain slip.  Only as well as being both cold and wet, it is also slippy which is not a good combination.

I've completed a number of casting sessions over the past three days and I'm way beyond the first flush of enthusiasm, down the main road of meh and well along the tree-lined avenue of "shoot me now".

It's not that I dislike casting.  Well, not too much.  It's necessary and I've been doing it for so many years that I can put my brain in neutral and coast through it thinking of other things.
However, after all those years you'd think that I would have more a more realistic notion of how much I can achieve in a single session and plan accordingly.

But no.  I always hopelessly overestimate how much is doable in a given period of time before I lose the will to live.

No matter..... I'm reaching the halfway point now so it's all downhill from here on in.
*said more in hope than expectation*

Sunday, 26 April 2015

Casting caution to the winds.....

It's no good.

I can't put it off any longer.

I have to start a casting batch this week.


My last casting session was started last August, and took me absolute ages to complete but I need to be completely focused this time as I have some important commissions to do, as well as assorted dolls and toys for my forthcoming classes, not to mention other stuff which is a bit hush-hush and I shouldn't even be mentioning here as I'm under strict instructions from our newly appointed 'Hed of Markitten and Komewnicashun' to keep schtum.

So, all this week I shall be hard at it, up to my elbows in porcelain slip.  I'm planning two sessions per day, with a goodly stretch of time in the middle when I'll be working on La Belle Poupée workshop packs.

Speaking of which, if anyone wants to order one, please let me know by Thursday 30 April at the latest as I won't be taking orders after that time.

Anyway, earlier today (despite it still being nominally my birthday week AND a Sunday) I set up a casting area on PP's side of the desk, leaving my side free for workshop preparations.  

It might look like carnage but trust me, I'm a dollmaker, and this is all perfectly normal.
Those little moulds at the back, still wrapped in protective cardboard are some brand new moulds which I haven't even unbanded yet, let alone cast, so that's always exciting.

I'll also be channelling my inner Dr. Frankenstein this time, swapping heads with bodies and generally taking extreme dissection to a whole new maniacal level.

*cue diabolical laughter* Mwahahahaha!

It could all end in tears....

Saturday, 25 April 2015

Amazing and Wondrous Ebay WIN!

I am so chuffed.

My state of chuffedness relates to a recent Ebay win which was delivered this morning....

Can you guess what it is yet?

Tah Dah!

How exciting is THAT!  It's a Crafter's Extreme Cutting Kit and it is, quite simply A. Mazing.

I'm not ashamed to admit I'm a bit of a cutting mat geek.  Followers of my FB page will be aware that in advance of my new miniature classes which are due to start in June, I've been doing battle with my collection of cutting mats, degunking them and generally scouring them clean of all the stuff which miniaturists get on them.  

The list is long.... glues (assorted) paint (acrylic - easy to remove, enamel - not so easy) pen marks (ditto) and various other unidentifiable debris.

An initial long soak removes most of the stuff, and a subsequent scrub with cream cleaner deals with more stubborn stains.  What's left is then treated with white spirit, acetone and as a final all-out attack they go in the dishwasher. 

Whatever stains remain after all of that are obviously hard core truly permanent marks, which are possibly impervious even to a small thermonuclear device so I have to reluctantly accept that they're there to stay.  Nevertheless, those mats are CLEAN.

You could eat your dinner off them, except I wouldn't let you.  Nothing should besmirch the pristine surface of a newly cleaned cutting mat.

So. Anyway, I have a number of ordinary cutting mats, now cleaned to within an inch of their lives.  I also have my 'best' cutting mat, which I bought when I did my workroom makeover and strive never to actually cut on in case I mark it.  It is on my desk, and very lovely it looks, but when I'm working I always put one of my standard mats on top of it to protect it.

Did I mention I was a bit of a geek?  You can probably add a dose of OCD to that description too.

Which is why I will not be using my new all singing, all dancing cutting kit quite yet.  I only took it all out of the protective packaging to get a photo of it.

All the bits are new and shiny and the mat itself is COMPLETELY UNMARKED.  There is not even a waffer-thin cut on it yet and I shall have to steel myself to put the craft knife anywhere near it.

But I digress.  I have yet to describe the wondrousness of it all.

It's a big mat (17" x 14") and it holds a cunning secret.  

It is MAGNETIC!  How awesome is THAT?  It has an embedded metal sheet so any magnet will stick to it.

The kit also includes an 18" magnetic ruler which holds really firmly onto the mat, stopping it from sliding when cutting.

But the wondrousness doesn't stop there......
There is also a magnetic twist trimmer with straight blade cartridge.  To be honest, I haven't read the instructions yet so I'm not quite sure what it's for but it's something to do with a hidden blade so you can't cut yourself.

Then there's the magnetic scoring blade cartridge which will make super-crisp folding lines.

Not to mention the ergonomic comfort grip, precision art knife, with loads of spare blades.  

Now the wondrousness goes stratospheric as there is also a magnetic ultimate circle cutter, which I'm presuming cuts perfect circles in any size. And it comes with spare blades too.

And last but not least there is a set of magnetic posts to hold projects in place on the board while glue is drying etc.

Honestly, I cannot believe the amazingness of this kit, and if, like me, you spend lots of time doing precision cutting etc you will appreciate just how amazing and wondrous it is.

Sadly, if you want one too (and why wouldn't you?) you're a bit buggered, as apparently they have been discontinued.  They were made by a US company so there may still be some available over there but you might just be lucky and find one on Ebay UK.  Presumably the seller of mine was so overcome by the wondrousness that she never had the heart to even unpack it, as everything was still factory sealed.

I have a project in the offing which will require me to use my new kit but in the meantime I will clear a space on my desk so that I can admire it.

I should probably get out more.......

Tuesday, 21 April 2015

Calling all Kent/Sussex Miniaturists......

If you live within an hour or so of St. Leonards on Sea, and have a yen to make a miniature toy related project in the company of a few like-minded individuals, you're in luck!

I've been 'toying' (can you see what I did there?) with the idea of starting an informal fortnightly class for a while.  If I'm scrupulously honest, one of the best ways to get on with the myriad ideas for my own projects is if I'm preparing for other people's!

Classes will take place in my home with access to a full range of equipment and tools.
Here are just a few ideas for projects you might like to undertake.....

  • Learn how to make, dress and wig a little porcelain doll, from casting right through to completion.
  • Alice in Wonderland vignette
  • Dollmaker's work table
  • Mignonette doll presentation box.
  • Window displays.... perfect to display the tiny toys you've made
  • Make a 1/12th porcelain child doll, along with her matching toy doll
  • Create a doll's tea party
  • Make a scene in a book
  • Menagerie animal rocking and pull along toys
 Miniature toy doll and accessories

 Alice in Wonderland characters

 Alice-themed toy cart and theatre

 Make a little Jumea-inspired toy doll from scratch!

 Traditional Punch & Judy Toy Theatre

 Dollmaker's work table.....

Doll shop display and accessories....

The possibilities are endless.....

Classes will run for three hours every two weeks, either morning, afternoon or early evening and the cost per session is £15.  Kits, materials etc are extra, depending on your project.
Classes will run in blocks of 5 over 10 weeks and I anticipate starting the first session in June.

If you are interested, please contact me and I will add you to my list and send you full information as soon as it becomes available.

I am also planning a return to running occasional one day workshops in the autumn so watch out for an exciting announcement coming soon....

Sunday, 19 April 2015

La Belle Poupée - a spring workshop project....

It's been a while since we designed a complete workshop project,  so with spring springing all around, here is our new offering - La Belle Poupée.

La Belle Poupée is a display window which perfectly showcases four miniature porcelain toy dolls, all dressed in different doll fashions of the late 1890s.
The wooden window display has a tiled roof and is decorated inside and out with printed vintage-style graphics and bunting designed specifically to complement the style of the display.

The porcelain dolls measure a diminutive 1 3/4" tall and feature jointed arms and legs. Each costume features full silk and lace underwear as well as dainty silk shoes with leather soles.The four costume styles range from a simple shabby chic style dress, through to an elaborate Jumeau inspired dress and silk jacket. Wig and hat styles are also varied so you will learn different skills and techniques for each doll. Micro doll stands are also included to show off the dolls to their best advantage. The workshop pack will contain everything you need to complete the costumes as shown, in the pastel colour(s) of your choice.

A selection of full colour antique images are included to use as decoupage in the background and in the side windows.

The interior of the display features an elaborate silk curtain backdrop, along with cut-out antique images to add further interest and atmosphere.

Fully illustrated step-by-step instructions for the complete window display and the four dolls will be provided, as well as email support and a one-to-one video tutorial session as required.

When completed, the display measures 9  3/4" high, 5" wide and 1  3/4" deep.

The cost of the complete workshop pack is £125 plus P&P.

This is a limited edition workshop.  To check availability and to order, please email me with your details and your pastel colour choice(s).  
A deposit of £25 is required, with the balance payable when your kit is ready.  
As I will be making the display kit and doll kits to your colour specifications please allow up to 4 weeks before despatch.

If you need any further information please contact me and I will do my best to help.

Saturday, 18 April 2015

Shed wars.......

It's a lovely,  sunny day today, perfect for starting to clear out the shed.

Some people will have been lazing on their lawns, snoozing, reading, or listening to music.

Not us.

No by no nonny no.

I've been up to my armpits in spiders..... both alive and dead.... and I'm absolutely covered in webs.

The shed of which I speak is  a modest 6'x8' wooden shed up the top of the garden, painted to look a bit like a beach hut, with seasidey curtains at the windows.  It's been there since we moved in and over the past two winters it has deteriorated beyond the point of no return.

The roof leaks like a sieve (despite constant running repairs) the wood is rotten and bowing out, and there are cracks you could fit a badger through.

It's home to legions of spiders, the odd mouse nest and very possibly a docile, ageing rat which we've seen trundling around up there.

It's also where I have been storing loads of spare packaging stuff.... bags of bubble wrap, recycled postal boxes and jiffy bags etc.  It's always good to recycle, but I think I may have been overdoing it.

Yes.  I am suitably shamed.

No wonder we couldn't get in there.  I could never get through this much packaging material in several lifetimes, especially given how small the items I have to package actually are.

 I've put the lot on Freecycle in the hope that some budding small business owner, or
avid Ebay seller will come and take it all away.  Preferably before Monday, when we will be loading it all into the back of the car to drop off at the recycling centre.

So it's been a productive afternoon.  Not only have I cleared out my packaging stash, we've also gone through the paint cupboard and identified no end of tins of dried out emulsion and gloss paint, rock hard wood filler, ancient varnish and assorted bottles of 'touch up' paint from historical decorating jobs.

We've also broken up two old cupboards and disposed of any amount of other rubbish in the process.

Our estwhile 'helper', Small Dog, did put in a brief appearance to occupy a patch of sunlight on the patio while we schlepped up and down the garden, carrying bags and boxes.

"Do you need help with anything?"

Predictably, when I requested immediate backup for spider incursions she made herself scarce.

I'm done for the day now though, and we're contemplating the possibility of having a BBQ later if the weather holds up.

In the meantime I'm off to pick webs out of my hair.....

Monday, 13 April 2015

Crisis talks.....

Over the weekend, Tower House Dolls was rocked to its very foundations by the news that Small Dog's FB page now rivals the THD business page in popularity.

Yesterday afternoon (Sunday) we both had 768 page Likes.

I had been waiting for that momentous event for several days and as Small Dog's Likes edged upwards I kept checking feverishly, eager to catch the moment of equilibrium and save it for posterity.

This is what Small Dog looked like when I told her.....

That expression can only be described as smug.  Smug Dog.

After that things rapidly began to unravel......

This morning, when I should have been making a start on the annual accounts, I was overwhelmed by an avalanche of events.  Predictably Small Dog's page has now overtaken THD so I had no option but to call an extraordinary meeting of the management team.

In the interests of fairness and complete transparency, the minutes of this morning's meeting are transcribed below.......

Minutes of Extraordinary Meeting of Tower House Dolls Management Team
Monday 13 April 2015 at 11.00 a.m.

Sandra Morris – Partner & Creative Director
Pam Shallcrass – Partner & Director of General and Website Administration
Smug Small Dog – Sleeping Partner and Business Mascot

The purpose of this meeting is to discuss the direction of THD and the efficacy (or otherwise) of our marketing plan.

SD wishes to have recorded the fact that her Facebook page is now forging AHEAD with 11 MORE likes than THD.

Duly noted

SM gave a brief overview of our marketing strategy to date – blog posts, targeted newsletters, regular updates on the THD FB page etc.

SD interjected that her FB page hasn’t been going long and she mostly posts selfies and videos of animals doing funny things.  Suggested that she takes over the THD FB page and takes on the role of Head of Marketing and Communications.

PS mooted that selfies of SD and funny animal videos were not in keeping with the ethos of THD

General uproar and SD took a huff.

Short break for tea and biscuits.  Unseemly fracas over the one remaining Chocolate Hobnob but SD eventually marginally mollified by a Rich Tea.

Meeting called to order and resumed at 11.15

SD suggested that what have we got to lose.  As the boney fido rising FB star, she is ideally placed to boost our flagging profile.  In addition, as well as having her paw on the pulse of social media, she is perfectly capable of taking on additional responsibility for research and development.

SM said she knew where this was going and the answer was no.

SD maintained that ‘Dog Eared Dolls’ were an excellent concept, ground-breaking and innovative.

PS interjected that we’d gone over this ground many times in the past, and she was in complete agreement with SM.  The answer was still no.  And anyway, how could SD take on additional responsibility when she didn't get out of bed till 10am and had to have a nap every 20 minutes.  Not to mention regular interruptions to her 'working' day in order to bark at squirrels.

SD wished it to be recorded that she couldn’t be blamed for poor marketing performance if nobody took her, or her ideas seriously.  And what about Lickety Spit dolls then.

Pandemonium ensued.

SM finally regained tenuous control of the meeting and requested that SD show due deference to the reputation of THD and refrain from making fatuous remarks.

PS pointed out that it’s THD that keeps the wolf from the door and SD should be grateful.

SD replied that she pays no heed to wolfs at the door as she regularly hunts them up the garden and bites the heads off them.

General uproar.

SM politely requested that SD keep her fantasies to herself and stay on topic.

PS suggested that perhaps we do need a full time Marketing and Communications Director and proposed that we all give due consideration to the matter and report back on Friday 17 April at 11 am.

SD asked if there could be better biscuits next time.

Any other business - Small Dog's request for a selfie stick denied.

Meeting adjourned at 11.30 am.

Friday, 10 April 2015

Is it that time already.....?

I find it difficult to believe that we're already a quarter of the way through the year!  At the time, January and February felt interminable, but now we're in April it feels as though they passed in a blur.

Spring has finally sprung, and the hedgerows and trees are starting to green up.  Magnolias are in their full showy glory and the lighter evenings are a positive boon.  

Easter has come and gone and another of the year's millstones milestones has arrived by post.....

Yes, it's time to roll up my sleeves, clear a space on my desk and immerse myself in the perdition that is 'doing the annual accounts' in preparation for submitting the business tax return.

I'm going to try a new approach to the despised task this year.  Instead of putting it off and engaging in endless displacement activity, I'm going to sneak up from behind and take it by suprise, grabbing it by the scruff of the neck and shaking it into submission.

Straight after I've had a cup of tea and a look out the window.  
No.... wait.  I forgot I've got a dentist appointment later.  I want to have a good run at it so I'd better wait till tomorrow.

Ah. Buggrit.  Tomorrow's Saturday.  Whoever heard of ANYONE doing their annual accounts on a weekend?  Sheesh.

Monday.  Yep, Monday's the day.  
Up early and right at 'em.  
No messing.  
No siree.......

(To be continued.......)