Dolls by popular request.

I am always happy to answer emails, in fact I’m utterly thrilled you bother to write.  Thank you if you do.  I got a lovely email asking how I could look at a doll I’d made and decide it was a haberdasher.  You may remember

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the haberdasher is second from the left.

Well I wouldn’t if I did, though sometimes I have in the past.  These days I’m such a clever clogs I deliberately set out to make a haberdasher and also a short fat witch, a fairy lady and so on.  You may wonder why I would do such a thing, though not if you had been to Miniatura and seen my stand.  On the end there is always a hard backed notebook and a pen.  One page has a printed heading ‘please write which dolls you would like me to make in 24th scale and the page next to it has a heading the same for 48th scale.  Long ago I realised that the longest lasting miniature businesses  do what their customers want them to do.  It’s not like choosing which gas provider you’ll have, because no one is obliged to have a dolls’ house and anyone can choose whatever they would like to have in a dolls’ house.  I should jolly well know, as I am the person who wrote impassioned articles in a number of paper magazines for over twenty years defending the right of readers to have whatsoever they pleased in their dolls houses.

It all began nearly thirty years ago when someone wrote a letter to a magazine.  The miniaturist in question had put a teddy bear in a nursery that predated the invention of teddy bears and had been criticised for doing so by a very picky relative.  There followed a flurry of correspondence in which history savvy readers pointed out that there had been toy bears that predated Teddy Roosevelt refusing to shoot a small bear.  History purists defended the critical relative and gave  the miniaturist both barrels in the way that president Teddy had not and then there was another deluge of letters saying things such as: we have a TV in an 1890s house ner ner nee ner ner, and: I have a friend with a punk rock doll in a 1950s house – she should be shot at dawn; everything in my house is exactly dated to half past ten on the morning of June 4th, etcetera and so forth.  Eventually I got very annoyed and wrote a letter too saying that it was a personally owned dolls’ house and the purpose of it was to give the owner pleasure.  A stance I maintain up to this day.

Having made this rod for my back prior to turning professional, this naturally caused large numbers of people to appear at my table searching for Edwardian dolls with Fourteenth century hairstyles, Tudor blokes in pedal pushers and fairies with safety pins in their ears, because, as everyone pointed out, very reasonably, I thought, I had said they could.

Hence the book on the end of the table.  And hence also the modelling of the dolls from the inside out.  The haberdasher could be at any moment in time or space but I still think she will have the basic characteristics of a haberdasher.  I have known a fair few.  They are motherly types with beady eyes and a very keen sense of peering, looking and seeing.  It’s all the small labels on the ribbons perhaps.  Comfortable shoes are of importance, you have to be able to stand all day and climb up the steps to get the wool off the top shelf.  They are mainly cheerful; there’s a lot of soothing in sorting and tidying and rolling and rewinding.  Also, I would have to say they are fairly intrepid, I have known haberdashers who would venture into bombed buildings to rescue antique lace and email places on the planet without email if they were in search of a particular trimming.  Do you think I have encapsulated all that in the modelling?

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I hope I have given her the face of a haberdasher too.

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If you are looking at this with your art critic spectacles, please remember that this doll’s head is the size of a garden pea.

Requests often follow newly appearing houses, well loved television series, and the latest blockbuster movie.  I have had many requests for a short fat witch to live in a cottage  There is an abundance of magical characters at present, my favourites are those inhabiting Terry Pratchett’s Discworld, my ever-present bedside reading, though I think the witch requesters had been Pottering around possibly.  At any rate a 24th scale reasonably priced cottage kit made an appearance at Miniatura, so witches flew into the book in numbers.  I hope I have made her loveable and I think I should make a tall thin complementary witch when I have decided whether she needs a warty nose or not.

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This witch is exactly two inches tall, which in reality, for twenty-fourth scale, would be four feet.  Those curly toed boots are glazed shiny black with brown worn china painted soles.  As you can see she could also be anybody’s undersized auntie.  Especially an under sized auntie with witchy tendencies.  I have had some of them, both courtesy and real in my time.  She has the bland, benign and innocently smiling countenance of the most lethal witches and aunties.  She could walk into any room, say something, start World War Three and walk out again with a happy smile.  Dangerous.

Then there is the fairy.  I think only wonderful Walt Disney thought fairies could be motherly, a bit plump and rather inept.  I have gone for the much older, more traditional kind of super glamorous, slim waisted, pointy faced, elfin eared fairy straight out of Homer and all authors south of him.  A siren, beguiling.  A pain in the neck to model because she cannot have cabriole legs like the witch, she must look as if she will only get out of bed for a thousand dollars a day or two if you expect her to smile.

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When I am making the masters, as well as the overall body type and the engineering I have to consider questions of dressing.  The fairy must have nice knees which will probably be seen and she has a flat back so that when I sew the wings to her dress they will sit and stick out well and not droop off shoulder blades.  Do you think she has a fairy face?

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Supercilious, self assured and quite condescending.  But still lovely, and still all on a piece of porcelain the size of a garden pea.

A strange thing has happened while I’ve been writing.  I have been drawn to the dark side, I think I’m going bats.  I feel a strong urge to make a vampire.  A mittle European vampire and a very stronk urge my dear.  I vill leaf you here vile I go upstairs and check up on my etchings.  Come ven I call.  Do not brink garlic.  Vear a diaphanous nightie and I vill see you on zer balcony.  Or possibly, vear a balcony bra ant later you can pop out for a bite.  Von or zee ozzer.  Excuse me, I must fly.

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16 veeks to zee NEC, arrgh!

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Creativity.

If you are a creative person, the effect of not being able to make stuff for four and a half years and then suddenly being able to do so, is like a little hole in a dam.

I couldn’t do much at first anyway because of solicitors and so on and I still have a house full of furniture and stuff that I cannot do anything about.  The OH went berserk and bought a huge table saw and now we can barely get into the garage.  I have found myself guarding the space around the kiln with a snarl.

Nevertheless as the time and space between me and the last few years widens, the creativity pours out.  I bought a flat light table and used it to copy a photo and reverse it and make two pictures of the GDD, which I photographed and emailed to a craft shopping channel and they were aired so the GDD has been famous on telly for five minutes and she isn’t even two yet.

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Reversing the photo, drawing and painting the result was interesting, is this what she sees in the mirror?   I am not the generation that takes selfies but I might do one of me just to reverse it and find out.

I have been making cards and playing with my die cutting machine for the last few days as the weather has been gloriously rainy and cold.  I am so glad of dreadful weather, otherwise I’d feel obliged to do the garden.  I never thought anything would put me off gardening but looking after two of them in different locations and being told off for whatever I did in the other one has killed my enthusiasm somewhat.  I’m sure it will return.

I’m plotting a novel in my head.  It’s fifteen years since the last and I now know what I did wrong.  I actually wrote a novel co-dependently.  The baddie was writ large and the hero hardly put in an appearance.  It was all  very beautifully done and hilarious in parts but the basic premise was wrong, just like my life.  You’re meant to live your life for yourself, not as a bit part in other people’s lives.  Why didn’t I know that?  Anyway, under correction, work in progress, all going on in my head.

Where it is fighting for space with the dolls.  Here they are, out of my head and into existence.

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Left to right they are, a short fat witch with curly toed boots; a haberdasher, a giant, a fairy man, a fairy lady, the shrunken Darcy.  They are all 24th scale and all internally jointed.  The fairy man is really small and slight.

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So is my hand, the doll measures two and a quarter inches or five point five centimetres tall which isn’t tall at all..  You could make him a room in one of those cook’s match boxes.  I think he might be popular because of the size but I have only managed four of him so far.

The little Darcy which is the smaller version of the original Darcy is here with him for comparison.  He is the sum of all the original parts with moulds taken from them except for the head which is new.

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This original Darcy is going to wear breeches, which is why he has his stockings on already.  I do make socks for dolls but in small scales they cause havoc with shoe fittings and the dolls are always to be found shoeless in the box when you put socks on as well.  Maybe they just get hot feet.

That’s it for now, creativity calls.  These days I can scarcely get out of bed fast enough to get busy, though I am back to doing a work out every day and feeling the benefit of that too.

One of the unexpected benefits of giving your life to someone else for a while is that you are so grateful when you get it back again and so pleased with every hour spent doing something lovely.  I am living in the middle of a personal creative renaissance, and happy to be here.

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16 weeks to Miniatura.

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Wastage rates.

I am busy rubbing down the newest six 24th scale dolls.  I am keeping busy, as so often in the last few years.  If the body of someone close to you is affected by disease, once you are sure you have done all you can to help the person, then unless you are going to sit around waiting for them to die or get better and your practical help is not required, then your best bet is to mind your own business and get on with your own concerns.  The OH came out of his liver scan white as a sheet, the situation is grave but still recoverable and with no apparent cancer, which is great.  Having had cancer I wouldn’t wish it on anyone else, it’s terrifying.

So my job now is to get on with my job and, as always with brand new dolls, I am finding out what difficulties I have lumbered myself with.  Even after twenty five years of designing dolls I am still producing things that are tricky to rub down.  I am, however, doing it so far ahead of the show that I can afford the time to go slowly and to stop and rest when I am tired and, so far, this is having a dramatic effect on wastage rates.  I am very glad that I spent so many years interviewing artists working in miniature because it has given me an insight into wastage rates.  Unless a physical item is made by a machine, which can be programmed to repeat the same actions, exactly, hundreds or thousands of times, there will always be wastage.  The more complex and multi stage the  process required to create the item, the higher the wastage rate even if the craftsman is experienced.  Every experienced craftsman allows for wastage rates.  I recall Phil Grenyer, of Glasscraft telling me that: You just don’t want to be walking on too much broken glass.  I also own one of Terry Curran’s vases that had come out of the kiln so perfectly that he didn’t want to sell it.  These people are both master craftsmen who have made thousands of the items they sell and are internationally known and respected for their work.  And I would note, neither of them when they had finished their multi-part task had to segue into a different discipline and put clothes and a wig on it.

Nevertheless it is a pleasure to use skills you have honed over many years of practice.  I have designed a ten part fairy man who will be considerably less than three inches tall and has correspondingly slim limbs.  Upper arms as always are a difficulty.  They are thinner than a thin stick of charcoal and more fragile and they have to have a hole through the middle for two strands of elastic going down to the stringing hook in the hand and back up again.  If these items are left in the mould too long they will crumble when removed but can sometimes be reshaped with wet clay round a wire core.  I always kid myself when pouring that  I won’t be able to tell which ones I’ve reshaped but the fiction only lasts until I’m rubbing down, during which the thought that rises unbidden, with frequency, is : which fool poured this bit of rubbish?  I’ve lost three bodies so far, I should have poured them a millimetre thicker.  If I get one fairy man through all the processes, I’ll show you.

Shrunken Mr Darcy was difficult too.  The original came out so well

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that I thought I would see what happened if I took moulds from the finished body parts and gave him a new head.  You can see how thin his upper arms are.  When I took the mould from them, the liquid clay is poured into a hole exactly the size of the arms in the picture.  Once it has dried out enough to be demoulded it has shrunk by about 12%.  Once dry enough, three days later, to be rubbed down it will be about 18% smaller than the original, though of course, in the rubbing down, the hole in the middle will still be large enough for two strands of elastic, so the porcelain ‘walls’ round the central hole are comparatively thinner. 

There is no doubt about it, learning is taking place.  It took me a while to find this picture, that I was so pleased with when I took it.  Now I can make the original sized Darcy much better than the one in the photo.  How I fare with Darcy mark two remains to be seen.

When I’ve finished the fairy man I’ll be starting on a short fat witch with curly toed boots.  I’ve had a few requests for witches recently.  It usually means that someone has designed a 24th scale dolls’ house that looks like a witches cottage to everyone.  I have also done a giant wizard for requests who I am only going to do a few of before I shrink him to a size that  is similar to the witch.

When I’ve finished these I have several items in mind that I want to try in this scale and then I must get on with 48th scale because stocks are running rather low. If you are a mail order collector I’ll be pouring for you soon.

It is a pleasure to be a craftsman, to have skills you yourself have acquired.   It is lovely to be able to be happy creating things that make other people happy too.  Good use of time spent awake, I think.

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19 weeks to Miniatura (crikey, is that all?)

 

 

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Happy birthday.

To me yesterday.  Happy Birthday to you to, whenever it is.  I tend to have mine once a year, though the Queen and teddy bears are allowed twice, what about you?

I have until this year hated my birthday.  Not because I’m getting older, I think wisdom is a good swap for age.  I am not sure when we started valuing young people because they could sing or looked cute on camera over older people with a few wrinkles who knew stuff.  It seems to be multi cultural, around the world leaders are judged on their appearance of youth, which begs the question: if they arrived at the podium in a pram, would we respect them more?

I hated my birthday because I am adopted.  It was a defeat for my mother and she made sure it was always a misery for me.  She invariably sent a card saying: on your birthday I do not think of you, I think of your mother who gave you away.  Enchanting stuff.  This year, that could no longer happen and I am so relieved.  Your birthday is supposed to be about you.

The S&H the DIL and two (count ‘em TWO) grandchildren drove all the way to celebrate.  We met at the restaurant of their choice at a time to suit them because I remember the awful times we went to see my mother and she had cooked elaborate, time-critical meals and we were five minutes late and had spoiled everything forever and wrecked life in general and the day in particular.  I also frequently arrived ‘Looking like that’ as in ‘What did you come looking like that for?’  Or we were dressed formally and it was smart casual or the child was wearing an ‘unfortunate outfit’.  So I don’t do any of that.  Whatever you wear and whenever you get there is fine by me, I’m just super glad they will load the children into the car and drive all that way to see me.  I pay for everything without a murmur, with delight that I can do it, and I express no opinions on anything that is said or done.  As a reward I get to feed my grandson while his mother is snatching a bite of lunch, I get to chase my granddaughter round a restaurant, several times, I get to take her to a toy/clothes/children’s shop her parents have spotted and buy great stuff for her and do a cold early tea with a bottle of my father’s champagne so they could get off home in time for bedtime.  I even was able to put my feet up for the evening once I had put everything back again that the GDD had helpfully fetched.  The fetching included my dumbbells which she was carrying around effortlessly while we all nudged each other in amazement.  She is eighteen months old and carrying my weights around in one hand while strolling round the room deciding where to put them. It was very like the scene after Olympic Weightlifting when the cleaner comes on to the stage and lifts the Olympic bar and weights up in one hand to vacuum the stage underneath.

It was a great day but the best bit came in the post in the morning; it was the present I really wanted and it was a hospital scan appointment for Wednesday for the OH.  The light at the end of the tunnel may be an oncoming train or it might be the daylight.  Which it is is immaterial, for the first time it is there.

Older, wiser, better at the business of living, more grateful for good times, birthdays are great.  They are a reminder that we are all here to learn and doing it day by day.

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Miniatura 30th September 1st October 2017.

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Next room qualified

Now that so-called higher education has turned into a government cash cow, institutions of advanced learning are ramming as many fee-paying students in as possible, whilst simultaneously lowering the entrance requirements.  The cynical may consider that this is because they have to show the actual attendance numbers in the lectures to obtain the government hand out  contribution to the holiday fund salaries and running costs.  In the hallowed groves of academe, janitors with wide brooms are paid quite a bit to sweep up hovering students and pop them into the nearest room to bump up numbers.  Many years later, if the student has been able to buy enough exam results, the system, if we can call it that without laughing, is likely to produce interesting outcomes, however briefly.

Prisoner at the bar, I sentence you to be taken from this place to a place where you will be ploated, have your leg hairs singed, an apple placed in your mouth and be roasted at sorry, wait a minute,  what do you mean inappropriate?  All right I’ll try againI sentence you to be sieved into dariole moulds, topped with whipped cream  what now?  Really?  Third time lucky, I sentence you to be minced finely and pressed into a greased, lined, half pound loaf tin…….’

‘Breathe in, out again.  Cough.  Move your arm like this.  Yes, I see the trouble.  Your joints have dried out.  Have you been placed beside a radiator through the winter?  I think you have, look, the veneer is coming off round that bracket on your face.  It’s easily cured, take this glue, squeeze it into every crack and hole you can find, clamp your legs up as tight as you can with these and don’t move for twenty four hours.  Next day get someone to give you two coats of this varnish all over.  I know this will work for certain, none of the other patients have come back at all.’

‘Aisle three, unless they’re in an alternate universe.  Sorry, sir, no we don’t believe in big tins of biscuits anymore, you’ll find them in the Heisenberg aisle in discrete packets.  Are you looking for something in that fridge, Madam?  If you stand there any longer you’re going to get hot feet because of the first law of thermodynamics.  No you don’t need a lever or a fulcrum to get the yoghurt, I’ll reach it for you.’

Come on!  Good politician!  Good politician!  Well done, on your hind legs and…………..speak!  Very good, well done now sit!  Sit minister!  Sit!  Good boy!  Biscuit, here catch!  Well done!  No, sorry the member for Berwick North will have to wait for walkies, sit down.  No!  Bad boy!  You must WAIT for WALKIES!  Oh now I’ve done it, sit down everyone, sit down, there’ll be no bones in this house until you do.’

‘Welcome on the channel to an hour of fashion.  First up, this handy ice pick holder with the separate front pocket for your pitons, and we all know you can’t have too many of them. Long shoulder strap.  Nice bright colour to show up against snow. North face of a glacier, it’ll be ideal.  Next up quite a few sundresses in different colours.  I don’t see the point myself; you’d be risking exposure no matter what colour they are, perhaps they have a thermal lining, let me peer inside………no the fabric is as flimsy as it looks.  Yes I can hear you in my ear and I am moving on, what – shoes?  That’s more like it.  Oh.  Well you couldn’t even do Everest by the tourist route in them.  The climber modelling them is standing on her toes and there are no spikes on the soles that I can see.  No, not very good at all.  Impractical.  Ah now this is better.  I’ve just been handed a bunch of elasticated rope ties, sorry what?  Thongs?  Pardon?’

Open wide.  Hmm.  Wider.  Mmm, I see.  Well I think I’ll paint the tongue purple, it’s quite shapeless and frankly, I can’t see myself doing much else with it.  The teeth are a lot easier, they’re getting my creative juices flowing nicely.  And that’s another huge problem I need to address in the design stages or it’s just going to wash all my hard work away.  How would you feel about quilted vinyl in a nice shade of pale gold lining the cheeks?  It really is the new neutral, isn’t it? If I can get that done by Saturday, I can start hollowing out the teeth to fit the light bulbs after the weekend and then I’m going to, come back!  Come back, I haven’t told you where I’m going to fit the bench seating!’

Stand still and put these handcuffs on when you’re told, you naughty, naughty burglar.  Put that gun down at once or I shall get really cross.  Now we don’t call people nasty names like that, do we?  And while we’re at it we’ll take Mummy’s tights right off our face, thank you Mr. No Manners. What will people think? No one can see who you are!  Silly boy! And I’ll take the bag of play money thank you!  Don’t go running away like that or I shall get really quite vexed and use my little Taser and then there’ll be no finger painting this afternoon for you.’

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I began writing this before politicians and journalists started verbal fencing ahead of the election, now it doesn’t seem very far fetched.  Has anyone any idea what they’re doing?  At all?  Hmmm?  (You’re all right, you’re just reading.  Fully qualified if you got this far.  Well done.  Someone ought to have a handle on things.)

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Some weeks and a half but not that many.

 

 

 

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Mouldy round the edges.

One of the ways I can tell I’m getting older, apart from teensy weensy clues such as a mirror, is how long it takes me to recover from mould making.

You probably don’t think of mould making as being physically demanding but the older I am the more apparent it is that this is so. Hours of standing are the main problem and seeing, in the tiny sizes.  When you are making a two part mould the size of a sugar cube, you need to be able to stand very still, to pour accurately, to get your fingers into tiny spaces and to see what you are doing well.   All these attributes are affected by age.  I have in the past made moulds for several days at a time.  I couldn’t do it now, I’d be found in a small dead heap covered in plaster rubble by day three at the latest.

All the rest, in theory, gets better with experience.  For the first five or six years when embedding a master shape in a modelling clay bed you need to draw the midline round it and work out which bits are the undercuts and will not release.  For example, for a sphere the  equator can be oriented in any direction, the shape will still release from two halves of solid hard plaster mould.  For a human head you cannot site the equator round the head east-west under or over the nose, each time you demould the wet poured clay head the nose will pull off and so will the ears if they stick out.  You might be able to site the equator north-south down the middle of the nose, which will work well if you have a very double chin and small ears, though you will lose fine detail on the nose such as a hook.  Most of the time I site the midline round the jaw, up the edges of the ears, meeting behind the top of the head to allow room for the pour hole.  This is not the case with every head.  However after twenty five years doing this stuff I can look at the head of any person and tell you instantly where I would put the mid line to demould them.  I could go on Mastermind or any television quiz with this skill and win.  The skill is not much use in the real world but entertaining on bus journeys and in boring meetings.  Though, of course, if I’m ever in a meeting with you you will now know that I am not staring at you out of passionate adoration but just having a look to see where your edges are.

Then there is the million dollar plaster question – how runny?  I have a friend who did a degree in ceramics and can tell you the formula of water to dry weight of plaster, just like that.  Round here it’s seven rounded old soup spoons of plaster to one pot noodle pot of water two third up from the bottom but varied if it’s the middle of winter or summer.  In the middle of winter the radiators are on so I can dry the moulds on them, in summer there is sunshine (this is the theory, not the actuality) in which to dry the moulds.  So you can pour them a bit wetter and get better detail but still dry them out.  When the head I have modelled is the size of my little finger nail, plaster running wetly round the tiny eyelids is helpful, thick solid plaster sitting on them in a lump like a rhino on a pincushion, is no help at all; it’ll make an impression, but not much.  Then there is the interesting question of how long to stir the wet plaster before you pour it into the moulds.  Too soon gives great detail but is so thin it runs between the hair fine gaps in the moulding bricks and off the edge of the bench.  Then you have to chisel the plaster off the kitchen floor as well as everything else, late at night when you are tired and just want to stop.   If you go for the safe option and stir the plaster until it is thick as a brick the holes left in the moulds will be crude and undetailed and so will the dolls.

It’s called experience.  I would think I was very odd if I hadn’t spent so many years interviewing artists for magazines.  They all say the same: as you age your physical skills and stamina decline but are replaced by your knowledge and experience.  It’s a metaphor for life.  There must be a day when you are the best you are ever going to get.  There you stand at your maximum gorgeouseness and height, finally with a bit of dress sense, wearing clothing appropriate to your age and body type, knowing how to do quite a lot of stuff and able to interact with a number of people with benefit, or at least no actual damage, to both parties and able to cope with most of life without getting in a stew.  How nice it would be on that day if you could receive a message, perhaps a little gold edged card in the post saying : Happy Optimum Day!  After This – downhill all the way.

On the other hand, with age surprising occurrences, that are unrelated to bits dropping off, can still happen.  ’Frinstance in the past fortnight I have been accused of wisdom by three separate people, unbidden, just as a comment in three different locations and circumstances.  Who knew?  Me apparently.  I do remember considering my grandmother to be the fount of all wisdom, though so did everyone else.  She had had a lot of life experience.  I recall her stories of life growing up in a pub on the river Tyne.  As a child it was her job to launder the white smocks she and her sisters wore over their clothes.  In late Victorian times, when she was doing this, many of the ships on the river,and hence the customers in the pub, would have been in the coal trade.  If people covered in coal dust and little girls in white smocks in the same crowded room sounds like a recipe for endless work, I think it was too.  Her father helped, he lit the fire under the copper at five in the morning when  he got up so the water would be boiling when she was ready for it.  I think she started doing the smocks when she was eight.  She gave up millinery to raise her little brother.  Grown up he died in the war when his ship was torpedoed and he, small and slight, couldn’t hold on to the driftwood any longer.  His shipmate came to tell her because he didn’t want her to learn the news in the official letter.  She thanked him for bringing the news himself.  She lost a baby and later her husband at only seventy, I am fairly sure the drink got him, though no one has ever said so.

My grandmother excelled at entertaining children, at waiting patiently, at accepting what people could offer, at not fretting, at making the most of what there was, at gratitude and continuing to have faith and love when situations were bleak.  She never let all she had learned in the hardest of ways shrink her soul one inch.

The purpose of life is to learn; when you finally fulfil your purpose and have learned the lessons that life can offer as well, even though you are going mouldy round the edges, like a planet you will have acquired your own gravity which will draw people to you.  And I’ll pop along too and submerge you up to your equator in wet plaster just as soon as I’ve finished chiselling it off the kitchen floor.

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Only 22 weeks to get these moulds poured and up to the NEC

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When the going gets tough……

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Poured 60 got 41.  You have to remember that the largest is only three inches tall.  The wastage rate is caused by numerous factors.  Bad pouring, when I get tired and either pour them so thick there’s no hole in the middle, or so thin they crumble when I demould them or impatience when I get them out before the plaster has pulled enough water out of the clay, or the man from Porlock comes to the door to sell me double glazing at length and they dry out and blow away with a gusty sigh.

Bad rubbing. Sometimes I’m a really bad rubber.  You wouldn’t think it to look at me but I am.  There is a way of wet cleaning poured porcelain where you partially fire it and then clean the lumps and seams off by hacking with a knife and scrubbing with industrial sanders. This is fine for huge dolls and violent makers. I dry rub my dolls which means that after they have been decanted from the moulds they are left to dry for three days until they look like small chalk shapes.  I then sit with a twin filter respirator, an apron and a shower cap on a sheet of plastic in a closed room and placing a section of old tights on a finger I rub very gently until fine dust curls like smoke into the air where it is zapped by an ioniser and dragged earthwards.  I was fortunate early in my career to read of a doll maker who thought the dolls couldn’t hurt her because they were small, so she dry rubbed them in the living room with no safety equipment and died of silicosis.

So I dry rub.  I try to place all the poured parts for the same doll in one tray, which is harder than it sounds when I am pouring eight dolls at once.  I may have several pours, so that the parts for one doll are scattered over a few different trays, poured on different days.  First I collect the parts for the same doll into the same place.  This is not easy, they are small white chalky blobby lumps the size of garden peas.  It’s art, you know.  I rub all the bodies first, then the heads, then I trial fit the heads on the bodies and rub the adjustments so that they do.  I put the heads aside.  I dry rub the upper arms and fit them to the shoulders, making adjustments and making sure the shoulder holes align.  I rub the lower arms and hands.  There is always a high wastage rate here because of the fingers and because each lower arm has a wire stringing hook, which I have made, embedded in it and hopefully not sticking through it, though this can happen in the kiln as the porcelain shrinks.  I fit the elbow into the hole in the arm and adjust.  I do the same with the legs and the feet.  If I get impatient or think of things that annoy me, I break the tiny fragile porcelain pieces like nobody’s business.  After five breakages or an hour and a half, which is, apparently the pathetic length of my concentration, I stop, remove all the safety equipment and have a walk, a rest, a cup of tea.

The cleaning of six hundred pieces of porcelain takes several days.  Then they get fired to bisque, glazed on the nails and eyeballs and refired.

When everyone has cooled down they get washed and scrubbed with grit scrubbers, wet, to make the porcelain smooth and beautiful.  I do not like this bit at all. Two days of scrubbing with the water running off your elbows is not much fun but better in summer than in winter.

So at last I sit for days and days trying to find the parts that matched when they went into the kiln and discarding all the parts that have warped in the heat.  I try to match the parts for each doll, though an odd arm appears from nowhere always.  I discover that I have ended up with seven left feet for a doll and only one right.  Or all the left thighs are solid all the way through.

After more discards I have dolls to china paint and I try to make pairs of feet to paint shoes upon, knowing that when I get to stringing, my carefully paired painted shoes will be reduced to a selection of odd ones when the stringing hook pulls out of the left leg.

When they are out of the kiln again I match doll parts in little heaps.  There will be more discards as I string and find the insides that I poured lumps in and the heads that have bigger neck holes than crown holes which cannot be strung without the beads pulling through the neck.

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dolls.  Here are a couple of ladies for whom I am planning a steam punk future.  The doll in the middle is my mother.  She is proving very popular at Miniatura in the fur coat and terrible velvet turban hat as worn in the Fifties, a sweet Victorian granny in a mob cap and the Two Soups? waitress.  I am planning on quite a few men and boys in breeches, which is why they have white socks.

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That is how you pour sixty but get forty one, though this time forty because the best Mr Darcy has already been sacrificed.  His joints were so well engineered I will take moulds and shrink him with a new head.  He can be his teenage self ( yummy) or someone else.  He is either on the end or fourth from the right in this picture.  We shall see, for now, I am sculpting.

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When I began making dolls 25 years ago I thought I was saving the dolls, now it seems they are saving me as positive thoughts fill my head and four and a half years of pent-up creativity pours out of my finger ends.

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Half a week less to wait.

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The flowering of hope.

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The flowering cherry tree in the front garden is spectacular this year.

Which is a help, while we wait for the hospital appointment for a scan I can do with all the help from nature that I can get.  You might consider, seeing that I put a name to the problem six years ago that a few more weeks waiting to get my understanding confirmed would be neither here nor there.  Six years is a long time to wait and learn until an opportune moment presents itself, when you know that all the time the condition is deteriorating and you cannot do anything about it.  At the end of all that time a few more weeks should make no difference, you would think.

It’s like long distance running.  Marathon runners report that you hit a wall.  I do feel that I have been running through a brick wall for six years.  Then, they say, you sight the finish line and are suddenly aware of the superhuman effort that the last few yards will take from you and even then you might not win.

The tree in the garden is so beautiful.

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Under it the very average grass, the beech hedge still dormant, the tulips and beyond the grey and rainy road.

But the tree

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My heart feels so depleted the only metaphor I can offer is the visual one.

Except that in the tree, in the hollow middle of the tree where the heart of the tree is hollowed out and quite dead looking

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a bluetit has built her nest and is sitting on a clutch of eggs.

I am grateful to nature for the metaphor.  I hope the eggs hatch.  I hope the tiny bluetits grow.  I hope none of them get eaten by the cats.  I hope they fledge.  I hope they learn to fly.  I hope they take flight into a new and hopeful life.

I do.

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5 months and a bit to the next Miniatura.

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Misery and millinery.

Hello again, if you missed me.  You would think after the aftermath of my mother that all would be well, long rest, get on with spring, wouldn’t you?

Theory is a wonderful thing, not always linked to events.  The OH is awaiting a liver scan.  Several alarming physical events occurred, which he completely denied after being terrified by them, so I wrote to a doctor, arranged a visit to the doctor together and here we are, the OH is going in and out of denial like a crocodile on a sandbank

While we wait…….when the going gets really tough the tough make dolls.  The exercise is left undone, the weeds proliferate in the garden, shopping gets done sporadically whilst I do the one thing that can always help.  I pour porcelain.  24th scale articulated because I love them most, as each doll is ten pieces of porcelain and I have poured about 60 dolls that’s 600 porcelain pieces, give or take.  Give plenty because when I get cross, dry rubbing them down, they break, so how many dolls I end up with is anyone’s guess, not 60 that’s for sure.

But first hats.

Sensing that trouble was on the way I began making hats, as you do.  I realised at Miniatura that the hats were letting my dolls down.  Dolls of the past do need hats.  No one nowadays would opine that if you want to get ahead get a hat but in the past it was such a regular occurrence that my grandmother trained as a milliner, it being considered a rock-solid reliable job because people would always need hats.  Even today in troubled times we see world leaders who want to look impressive either wearing hats, crowns, caps, or in extreme cases of major insecurity, vast hair and gigantic ties.

As usual in smaller scales, first you have to invent the tools.  I made a handful of hat formers by carving dowels.  To do this the overwrought should stab the sharp scalpel into the dowel, drag the knife up to the end and flick the bit of wood off the end across the dining room with contempt and loathing.  Repeat until you feel better or until you have six hat forms.  Then rip assorted ball point pens and other plastic doodads to bits until you have caps that will fit on top.

All better now, sand the hat forms as violently as you like until they are smooth and varnish a few times.  Then cut out an assortment of circles from different materials plunge them into dilute glue, squeeze and beat the glue out and attach them to the formers. Ta da la da ta da daaaaaa!

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Hats!  As you can see from the pen in the picture they are quite small, well they would be, they’re to fit on 24th scale heads.  Closer look?

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I should probably not have expanded the picture so much, you can see all the faults, these experimental hats are made of leather, which is what I had handy but they still do look like hats and I am happyish with them.  Or possibly, hattyish with them.

Hats were such a thing to my mother.  I’ve been sticking all the old photos in a scrapbook album, prior to hurling it off a cliff, and I find numerous pictures of her in hats.  She had hats for gardening in, mostly berets, nothing too ostentatious.  She had hats for going to church in, rarely, though if there had been a wedding requiring  a new hat every week she’d have been there, with a hat on.  Hats for  garden parties, hats for shopping, hats for days out, holiday hats and a sun visor for seeing, when it was sunny.

I recall a conversation she had with her sister:

The sister:  You are so lucky, you have a hatty face.

Mother (modestly): Yes, I know.  I do suit a hat.  They frame my face.  You’re not so lucky, you have a small head.

Sister:  Yes but it’s better than having a big head.

Mother:  Like (names sister-in-law) remember that tiny pill box hat, she had, the yellow one?

Sister:  Like a pea on a drum!  (Both laugh hysterically)

My cousin’s grandfather never went out without a fedora.  He was at the peak of his gorgeousness in the Thirties and wore this very dark brown hat with utter glamour and a tan trenchcoat that whipped around him like a cape on a superhero.  His  two tone brown brogues were always shiny in the polished bits and suede elsewhere and he smoked cigarettes like a film star.  The hat he had more facility with than any eighteenth century lady with a fan.  He could tip it, reseat it, smooth it, and use it to frighten flies.  When he tipped his hat to a lady you could see her feeling a frisson from fifty paces.  When he put his hat back on after a disagreement, the altercation was settled forever.   He could do hat.  When he waved goodbye with his hat you could hear the music, when he took it off and hung it on the peg, he was home.

My first lot of hats were experimental to see if the hat formers would work.  As they do, I have now acquired assorted felt and I’ll have a go with that just as soon as I’ve finished being very busy with the dolls.

If you want to make a change see a doc.  If you want to get ahead get a hat.  If you want to keep your head when all those around you are losing theirs and blaming it on you

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make dolls.

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Only 24 weeks to the next Miniatura.

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Masterfully Miniatura

Over the years assorted journalists have asked assorted visitors to the show how they tackle the problem of seeing everything, given that several thousand people are trying to do the same thing at the same time.  The strategies to avoid the queues are as various as the visitors.  I remember once as a visitor myself, when the show was held at the Motorcycle Museum, standing in the queue next to a lady I recognised as writing for an American miniatures publication that was very famous at the time.  As the doors opened she put her head down and ran to the stairs and downstairs to the lower level.  I ran with her, this being my first experience of anyone actually running into a dolls house show (though I have seen the phenomenon plenty since then).

Why are you doing this?’  I gasped swallowing the unspoken addition – you mad fool you –.

Everyone starts at the front!’ she gasped back, sprinting.

I subsequently employed this very successful technique myself when planning the strategy for interviewing exhibitors and often it worked, I managed to visit stands before they were four deep in shoppers and grab the items to be photographed and run.  It only worked early in the day, of course.

There are also some exhibitors who are so popular that savvy collectors get there early because they know the best stuff will be gone.  Here is a wonderful item from Masters Miniatures which I have a horrible feeling I am dooming to an early disappearance just by showing it to you but as this might be the only way you see it, here goes.

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Oh how badly do you want that for your study?  And I’m about to make it worse……

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Oh yes, early bath for that item, I think.

The visitors I admire most in terms of strategy are those who buy the brochure at the entrance and then remove out of the rush and calmly stand with a pencil marking the floor plan.  I think they must be able to see most of what they came to see, which really is a feat.  If every stand were blown up to full size it would be like visiting more than one hundred shops in one day and trying to see everything in them.

Thank goodness it’s Miniatura which is planned not just with room for the stands but with wide aisles for the visitors.  I remember long ago when Dolls House Shows used to be held in hotel foyers with everything crammed in, two toilets for everyone, and visitors shoving and pushing.  At one point in the hobby, for a few years, I could guarantee that I would go home from a show with a terrible headache.  Moving the Min to the NEC which is purpose designed for lots of people all at once, solved the squash at a master stroke.  There are restaurants actually in the hall and plentiful toilets and seating areas and piped air and space the final frontier.  I don’t think I could go back to squished up shows, I’m getting too old and too used to shopping and exhibiting in a civilised manner.

Long live Miniatura!  (It’s the show that puts out the red carpet for the visitors, you know).

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www.miniatura.co.uk

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