Saturday, June 16, 2012

What I Would Have Done Differently

Today was a gloomy-skied Saturday, so I decided to spend it painting the egg-carton-stone fireplace.
Immediately I realized that a sunny day would have been better, as it was difficult to really see my colours as they would appear in regular daylight.  So next time:  wait for a sunny day.

A good reading light would probably be just as good, but my eco-friendly husband does not believe in those.  :-(  Like someone a century ago, I do most of my reading with the natural light from the window.

All in all, I was pleasantly surprised by how the fireplace turned out, though I definitely did make a few mistakes.  The next one will be better.  (You knew there would be a next one, didn't you?)

This one was probably obvious to everyone else a long time ago, but using a green egg-carton was really making things a lot harder than they needed to be.  Covering up the green without saturating the stones (and losing their " stony" contours in the process) was probably the most fiddly part of the whole operation.  So next time -- a more neutral tone of egg carton, please!

Secondly, I think I should have first given the styrofoam backing a coat of some masonry-coloured paint.  Grey or even ivory would have looked better than the stark white I had.  (And which again presented me with challenges in coverage.)

But you know, painting the fireplace was a lot of fun!  I approached it as a learning experience and hence felt free to just play.  I experimented with painting technique, starting first on the side of the fireplace that would not really be "seen" once it was installed.  What I finally decided worked best was to begin with a mid-tone and middle consistency to lightly cover up the egg-carton.  Then, when the paint was no longer wet, I dry-brushed a darker colour (in my case, a dark grey) on the contours of the stones, to bring them out visually.  I finished by adding accents in lighter, brighter colours (in my case a kind of pale sandstone and a medium umber).  And yes, there were still some greenish tinges, which will just have to represent a dusting of moss, I guess.  I wanted to hate it, but somehow I couldn't.  It is probably more suitable to a family of mice than a family of Tudors, but it's rather sweet, and I like it.

Next time I think I may try using artist's pastel crayons instead of paint, to eliminate some of the "muddiness" of the colours.  This time out I used only colours of acrylic paint that I had on hand.  They were:  Soft Sand, Burnt Umber and True Grey by Aleene's and Rain Grey by Delta Ceramcoat (imported for me from Canada by Jeff!)

Note  the Don Enrico Jalapeno Chiles bottle which I used to hold the water to dip my brush into.  :-)  Don Enrico is the first brand I have bought here in Germany that actually tastes like Mexican food back home in California.  We actually had excellent tacos for lunch today!

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Egg Carton Stone Fireplace

After a couple of days without the stamina to work on the dollshouse at all, I am shooting for two projects at once today.

The upstairs floor needs to dry after being gently sanded and I am trying to make a fieldstone fireplace out of egg carton stones.  My parents have such a (real stone, not egg carton!!)  fireplace in their real house, and I have always loved it.  Egg carton, odd though it sounds, does have the potential to create the most realistic results for miniature stonework.  (I guess using real stones could be as good, but I wanted to try something new.)

I say "has the potential" because, let's face it, I am going to have to paint those egg carton rocks once they are in place.  Can I paint anything remotely resembling fieldstone?  Ahh, there's the rub.  Let's see how it goes.  On the plus side, this method is spectacularly cheap.  All you have to do is save up an egg carton -- I used almost one whole one -- and find something to cut the actual fireplace shape from.  I used a scrap of styrofoam packing material.

The cut-out for the fire (for which I traced around half a soup can to make the arch) was a little bit shaggy, so I neatened it up with a thin coating of plaster:  that is to say, Polyfilla (or Spackle) thinned with water.

I am very much indebted to Casey's Minis for the advice I followed on the method itself, and you could not do better than to visit her magnificent blog for the details.  I both cut and tore the stones to shape, and went so far as to use a green egg carton (since that was what I had on hand and I did not want to wait to eat another ten eggs.  Yes, you read that right.  Here in Germany you do not get a dozen; you get ten.  They also do not refrigerate them in the store.  I still expect to get food poisoning, but never have.)  I don't think the green  colour will show through the paint.  (If it does, we are almost through another carton of eggs.  A brown one this time.)

Here is a picture of what I have so far.  No paint yet.  This is a first for me, showing a work in progress.  If I ruin it in the painting stage, I will try to feel liberated.

The bare white strip is the place where the rough-hewn balsawood mantelshelf will be glued.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

The Shortlist of What Needs to be Done

When my guest from Canada arrived here over two months ago, it seemed like we had an ocean of time before us before he would have to go back home again.  Surely we would be able to finish a small two-room Tudor dollshouse?  Now there are a little less than three weeks left, and frankly the house is nowhere near finished.

I think we need to get a little bit more organized, and break down what remains to be done into steps.

And I also think I need to take this whole business a little less seriously!

1.  We need to sand with 0000 steel wool the planked floor of the upstairs room.

2.  We then need to give the floor a coat of sealer -- either Mod Podge (for its adhesive qualities) or plain old satin varnish.

3.  Then we can glue the floor down, assuming the planks are still sticking to their backing.  (We have had them weighted down for about two weeks under a pile of very heavy Philosophy books belonging to my husband.)

4.  Time then to situate the many interior beams that Jeff (our guest from Canada) so thoughtfully distressed and stained dark walnut.  We will probably also need baseboards, and maybe a hand-hewn cornice as well.  Lucky that we bought so many extra pieces of square Balsa dowel stock and an extra bottle of the dark walnut woodstain.

5.  Finally (for the upstairs, at least) we will need to cover up the hole in the roof where a dormer window originally was to have been.  The outside is covered with our version of "thatch" and the inside has only been patched, not covered.  I want to use something that will seem logical, like a painting, but I realise it will never actually be seen as part of the room since you have to lift the roof upwards in order to see inside. 

In retrospect it would probably have been better to retain the dormer window, but the house was designed in such a way that all of the visual interest was on the left-hand side of the house, and the right side looked strangely empty.  My solution was to remove at least one of the decorative elements from the left side:  the dormer window. 

6.  I would like to weather the far-too-even coverage of the warm ivory emulsion on  the exterior.  I ought to have done it before we stuck the exterior beams on.  Now I am too cowardly to approach them with a paintbrush and a dirty brownish-grey wash, but as is it looks too pristine and lacks character.  Maybe some brick-infill would help?  (You see why this is becoming the Neverending Story....)

And this is just for the upper floor.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

The Tudor Dollshouse, Part I

When I returned to the dollshouse hobby a couple of years ago, I had it firmly in my mind to recreate a  Tudor interior.  I had discovered a perfect source for much of the furniture at Ashwood Designs and had a long history of Tudor fascination dating from a childhood reading of Mark Twain's The Prince and the Pauper.

As with my storytelling endeavours, I found the research to be one of the most rewarding aspects of the whole project.  I watched films, read books -- shelves of books! -- and studied every aspect of  sixteenth and seventeenth century English life.

Little boxes filled with dark wooden furniture started to appear.  Then tiny, exquisite people made of porcelain.  A friend visiting from Canada was set to work carving vast amounts of miniature wooden beams.  I experimented with various  masonry techniques -- did I mention that I am a horrible perfectionist?  I was never satisfied, and kept trying new approaches for fireplaces and floors.  It began to look as though I would never be able to actually finish the dollshouse as the "means" had so overtaken the "end" in my mind.

(Funny how the whole enterprise became a microcosm of my problems with writing stories.  I second guess everything!  One step forward and three steps back is my basic formula.  You would think that something as inconsequential as a dollshouse would at least give me a break from that awful voice in my head.)

Working on the house was fun, but it was also a bit stressful.  I am not an artisan, after all, and I think my vision of what I wanted stretched a bit beyond what I could realistically achieve.  Still, I loved trying.  (Even when it started to get expensive and I wondered if I might not have been better off paying someone else to do the whole thing.)

I am learning more about myself with each week that goes by.  I think I need to have an ongoing project to think about, to work on.  I love the problem-solving part of it even when the problems do not get solved!  (Downstairs Floor, Third Version comes to mind.  But somehow I just know that Downstairs Floor, Fourth Version is going to be better!)

You know, I really did not want to write about Multiple Sclerosis in this blog at all, wishing more than anything to escape the reality of it at least here.  But here's the thing:  it's all connected.  My life has shrunk to a fraction of what it once was, as I can no longer move about freely and can no longer make too many long-range plans.  So the dollshouse, with its tiny battles and tiny victories is just what I need to keep going in the larger struggle.  There are few (if any) victories with M.S. and I have to live with that.

But maybe I can still make something of my own, something that says I was here.

And if Floor Number Four does not work out, there will just have to be Floor Number Five.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

The Umbrella

I am back from Hamburg, and very grateful to be at home with my two Shelties again. 

My journey to Hamburg was for an MRI scan of my brain at the Marienkrankenhaus.  I was much impressed by the hospital itself, but the journey exhausted me and filled me (naturally enough) with anxiety.  Of course I know that my disease is only going to get worse, but most of the time I put that nasty fact as far out of my mind as possible.  Now I worry about what the scan will have shown.  I'm rather attached to my brain!  I don't want to lose the function of any part of it.

A very serendipitous thing happened while I was in Hamburg.  Friwi and I had planned to go out to dinner, and set off on foot from our hotel, only to find ourselves smack in the middle of a downpour.  It did not let up, but as I had not eaten all day, we soldiered on in search of a hot meal.  (This we finally found, and it was excellent.  I had a spinach pfannekuchen.)  After the meal, of course the rain had not let up in any way.  We were soaked to the skin, and dripping!  I must have been looking as bedraggled as I felt, for suddenly a smiling lady stood in front of me, offering me her umbrella.  She wanted me to take it and keep it.  I stammered out to her that then she would have  no shelter from the rain, but she just smiled and showed me the hood of her coat and how it would shelter her perfectly well.  She really wanted me to accept her umbrella and keep it.  So I did.  And kept looking behind me to see if she was real.  She might have been a good angel, after all.  But she was very real, a small lady hurrying to catch up with her companions, her hood pulled down against the rain.

When we got ready to leave Hamburg the next day, Friwi wanted to just leave the umbrella behind in the hotel room.  Instead, I took it back with me, perhaps to give to another stranger someday, someone who looks like they could really use it.

The unexpected kindness of a stranger has an effect that can change the entire outlook of a day.  Even a dark, rainy night beset by ill health and worry.  Something to remember, as all of us can be kind.