Forest Thrones, Part 16: Final Pictures, or, Hallelujah, Part Two

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I can’t believe I wrote this post way back when I finished these trees, and then never published it. What an idiot I am sometimes. Anyway, here are some final pictures of the finished trees. I still don’t have really good pictures of all of them, so you may see more pictures later on.

Now that they’re finished, I have one final secret to share with you. Each tree has a tiny door in the back of the trunk. I sculpted the doors in paperclay, painted them and applied the stoops or steps when I was adding the grass and mushrooms and stuff. Is it a doorway to Faeryland? Or does someone have the nerve to live right under the faery king’s… er… nose? I’ll let you decide.

Thanks for following me on this ridiculously long journey. I’m really happy with how these came out and I’ve loved every single response I’ve gotten. I hope you’ve learned something that will be useful to you in future, and I hope you’ll tune in to this space for more projects coming up!

Index of Forest Thrones posts is here.

Forest Thrones, Part 15: Silk Seats

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Hallelujah! The trees are finally finished! I’m so happy to get them off my desk. My painting desk looks so big now.

I did two more things to them before they were finished. First, I made cushions for the seats. The seats were originally pretty perfectly round, but since, as I’m sure you know by now, I’m very stupid, I overlapped the branches over the seat a little, resulting in each seat being off round just a little bit — and each of them being different. Sigh. I had this idea of these beautiful, neatly tailored little silk velvet cushions with perfectly smooth sides. Yeah. Those of you who have worked with silk velvet before can stop laughing now.

No, I mean it. Stop laughing.

I started by making a pattern for each seat cushion. I also labeled them and the seats so I wouldn’t get them mixed up. I had read somewhere that silk velvet was kind of slippery (STOP laughing!), so I ironed it onto freezer paper. Then I traced the seat patterns plus some seam allowance onto the freezer paper. I traced the seat twice so I’d have a bottom and a top.

Can you see my mistake yet? Keep looking. That’s right, I didn’t reverse the pattern for the bottom of the seat. Sigh again. Naturally, I had cut them all out before I realized my mistake. I had more fabric, but it was late and I didn’t feel like cutting out more pieces, so I decided to punt. I roughly measured the length of the side pieces, which turned out to be close enough to the length of my fabric that I didn’t need to measure. Then I carefully marked and cut inch-wide strips.

Due to the difficulty of working with silk velvet, I had to pin the side strips onto the top piece, hand baste them together, and then sew them. About four times each. Sigh again. On about the last one, I figured out it would get less gathered and bumpy and messy if I sewed them with the top piece underneath, rather than the sides. It turns out, you need to make five or six cushions to get the hang of it.

Notice there are only four cushions.

After I finished that — or maybe before or somewhere in the middle, I don’t remember — I used my patterns to cut cushions out of upholstery foam. Now, if I’d had proper bottoms for my cushions, I’d have pinned, basted and sewn the bottoms to the sides just like the tops, leaving an open space in the back so I could turn them and insert the cushions. Since I’d screwed up the bottoms, though, I ended up just gluing the sides of the covers to the underside of each cushion. I’d already established that they were going to look gathered and messy, and gluing them kind of enhanced this effect. I have been assured by my husband and my best friend, who are both apparently experts on fairies, that real fairies would rather have messy cushions than perfectly formal ones anyway. Who am I to argue?

So the chairs are finished. Oh, wait, the second thing I did was to add feet. While I was working with them, I discovered that just moving them around under normal use caused the paint to chip off the underside of the trees. This is bad, not just because it damages the trees but also because it might damage the surface they were sitting on. I decided to add felt furniture footies, but the logical places to put them, the bottoms of the roots, weren’t wide enough. So I made little feet out of air-dry clay, let them dry, and painted them before applying the footies with Goop glue. They’re not going anywhere.

I was going to do the big reveal in this post, but honestly it’s too long already. So check back in a couple of days to see the final product!

Index of Forest Thrones posts is here.

And then these mushrooms happened…

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Hi! It’s me! Remember me? I’m still alive. I’m so disgusted with myself that it’s been a year since I started my forest thrones project and they’re not done yet, that I’ve been hiding out from the blog. Real mature, right?

Money’s been real tight around here, but I got some cash for Christmas and spent it on some LaDoll clay. See, I ran out of the paperclay I was using for my trees, which was irritating because I just needed that much more to finish the little details. So I decided to come up with some other projects to use the LaDoll with before it dried out. I bought LaDoll this time because it’s stronger than paperclay and I wasn’t happy with the performance of the paperclay in some cases.

Anyway. It took a while to work up the nerve to work on the trees again, so I decided to ease into it by doing another project first … and then these mushrooms happened. Maybe I’ve been playing too much Plants Vs. Zombies.

Three flowerpots of lifesized mushrooms, a topiary and my BJD, Trixie.

Trixie is unimpressed by the giant mushrooms.

The flowerpots are mini terra cotta pots which I painted and distressed. I want to learn to upcycle furniture, but the idea scares the heck out of me, so I’m starting with baby steps. I’m thrilled with how these came out, so I’ll be distressing more painted objects from now on.

So then I filled the pots and built the mushrooms. Okay, I have a confession to make. Their armatures are paper. The stems started as paper lollipop sticks and the caps are index cards. Then I bulked them out with Model Magic, which is horrible of me but I had a bunch of it lying around that I got for cheap. The LaDoll is strong enough that using these lightweight materials inside doesn’t seem to have made a difference.

See? They’re quite strong. I even dropped one on accident and it was fine.

Then I painted and glossed the shrooms, and dressed the “dirt” inside the pot with model train landscape fuzz for moss and raffia grass. If you look carefully, you can see they each have a little rock in the pot, too. I was going to add more stuff, but I think they look good like this. I added the lace and gold ribbon to the pots to draw the white down a little, unifying the colors and such. I have an art degree, leave me alone.

The scale thing kind of makes me chuckle… they’re giant mushrooms for the doll, but in reality they’re about life-sized (modeled after the ones that grow in my yard). Trixie is about ten inches tall, if you were wondering. The rabbit is wood and I don’t remember where it came from. I swear it isn’t blurry in real life, but it came out that way in all the photos.

The topiary is an old ufo I finished up last year while waiting for glue to dry on my forest thrones. I’m planning to make several more of them.

Meanwhile, I promise I’ll finish up the trees soon. I want to take them to a show in May.

Forest Thrones, Part 13: Making the Grass Grow

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So, when last we saw my trees, I had just finished drybrushing them. The next step in this endless tree project is to add the details. I’m going to make some details out of paperclay, and then I’m going to make grass out of raffia and apply silk leaves.

This particular tree has a long, shallow space on the front of the base, so I decided to add some shelf fungus to add interest without taking up any room. I sculpted them in paperclay and added them with white glue. I think this project has at least four kinds of glue on it.

(That’s not a spider in the picture. I’m not sure what it is, but I think I would remember a spider.)

After the paperclay dried, I painted it up and then I added a mushroom, also sculpted from paperclay.

(See? No spider.)

The mushroom is also attached with white glue. I thought I might have to drill some room to add a pin inside the mushrooms, to hold them on better, but actually they’re so small that white glue has done the job perfectly.

Now, for the really good part. I figured this technique out a long time ago. I take raffia (which, ironically, is made from a kind of grass, I think) and cut it up into the right lengths for grass. It looks like this:

No, those are not dried up old green beans.

Then, after cutting, I peel narrow little strips off until I have grass-like shapes.

I make a pile of those, and then I put a lot of white glue on the base.

Then I add the blades of grass, one at a time. I know, it seems like you should be able to do a bunch at a time, but it never looks right when I do it that way. I pat the grass into the glue with a tool; this time I’m using a piece of bamboo skewer. Technically, a toothpick probably would have worked better, but I’m just too lazy to go look for one when there’s a bamboo skewer right here.

Rinse and repeat until you get all the way across the base.

After the grass is rooted, I mix a little green and yellow paint and quickly paint the grass so that it isn’t the same color all over.

Hmmm…. apparently I failed to take any pictures of the grass when it was all done. Here’s a photo of another niche with painted grass and a couple of paperclay rocks.

That’s all for now — next time I’ll show you how I apply the leaves.

Index of Forest Thrones posts is here.

Forest Thrones, Part 12: Paint Jobs

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Well, I have painted all of the trees and drybrushed three of them. I know it’s hard to get an idea of size from photos, so I snapped some pictures with my Petite Ai, Sebastian, who is 28cm (11 inches) tall.

I intended these trees to be sized for MSDs, but I think they came out a little short, even with the additional height of the cushion. Oh well. They look pretty good anyway.

Okay, you’re right. They look damn good. I’m so close to being finished now.

Not much to say about this step. If I ever do something like this again, I’m going to tint the Sculptamold before I start. It took forever to fill in all the little holes and crevices.

Since I don’t have much to say about this step and I know you guys are expecting some witty repartee, I’ll leave you with a photo of my paint palette.

I use cheap, party-sized paper plates because, well, I’m cheap. And I don’t mean that in a sexy way. Besides, they’re waterproof, just the right size, and they come in packages of one gazillion. Unfortunately, they were out of plain white ones the day I bought these, so I still have a gazillion minus a dozen or so to use up.

I might have mentioned this before, but there are two kinds of artists in the world. The first kind of artist is the perfectionist. They’re the ones who never let a painting go because there’s still stuff they want to do to it. They’re the ones who alphabetize their painting supplies. The good ones never stop working until their art is amazing. They do fantastic, detailed work, but sometimes they lack creativity.

The other kind of artist is the dabbler. Everything the dabbler does is an experiment, and they never do the same thing twice. They tend to be laid back and have fun with their work, but they also tend to leave a trail of unfinished or failed projects behind them. They do wildly imaginative, innovative work, but sometimes they lack focus.

I have a theory that you can tell which kind of artist you are by your paint palette. Guess which one I am?

Index of Forest Thrones posts is here.

Forest Thrones, Part 9: Progress is Slow

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Not much to report. There just isn’t a fast way to do the paperclay on the branches.

I wish I could be more informative on this part of the tutorial, but it really is just trial and error, and if you have some previous sculpting skill, like I do, that helps a lot.

So, to give you something to look at, here is a picture of the tools I’m using. The metal ones are wax carving tools. The big paddle is good for slapping paperclay on the big branches and for making the lines in the bark. The little one is better for maneuvering in small places. Wax sculpting tools are a bit hard to find, so if you don’t have any, you could probably get some good results with a plastic spoon or a palette knife. I also use the smallest knitting needles I can get as sculpting tools.

The paintbrush is an old cheap one with stiff bristles, so I’m using it to add texture to the smooth branches.

Finally, I recently received the silk velvet for the seat cushions and I’ve been dying to share it with someone. It’s so yummy! I ordered it from Silkfabric on Etsy, and I couldn’t be happier. I will probably be cursing it when I actually try to work with it, but right now I just can’t get over how pretty it is!

Index of Forest Thrones posts is here.

Forest Thrones, Part 8: Bark Texture

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Sorry I’ve been on hiatus; real life attacked me.

First, I wanted to show you a picture of my setup. When I’m working on a relatively large, detailed project like this, I use an old lazy susan to keep my desk clean and to let me turn it without touching it. Furthermore, I find that after focusing on anything table-height for very long, my neck starts to hurt, so I use a big block of basswood to raise the project to my eye level.

So I’ve gotten the trees to the point where they’re ready for their actual faux bark skins. The trunk part of the tree will be covered in Sculptamold, a product made of instant paper mache and plaster of paris. I intended to make the bark texture using a technique I learned a while ago from my friend Mary West, but I made a mistake. You see, it’s a little tricky mixing the Sculptamold, and the first batch didn’t have enough water, so it dried out before I could get the texture done. Sooooo… I decided to do two of them that way (so everyone would think I did it on purpose) and do the texture on the other two.

Here’s how the texture works. It’s very simple. You just take an old fork (you can get them at the thrift store for cheap) and draw lines in the wet Sculptamold.  Make all the lines going generally up and down, but make sure they aren’t perfectly straight. The next row can be a little off from parallel, and if you get one tine in an old row it’ll guide them along to look natural. The lumps in the product will make these organic-looking bumps and changes in the texture.

It looks really good when it’s done.

The other tricky thing about working with Sculptamold is that no matter how much product you mix up, you only have a few minutes to work with it before it sets. Plaster of paris hardens with a chemical reaction, so there’s no going back once it’s done. However, if you’re like me, it’s never a bad idea to have a pile of premade “stones” on hand for projects, so when I had too much leftover product and it started getting too stiff to use on the trees anymore, I just formed it up into lumps and let it harden. Later I’ll paint them and use them in other projects.

Next up: Paperclay on the upper branches. This is the fun part, where it really starts looking like something! Thanks for bearing with me.

Index of Forest Thrones posts is here.

Elsita Mora’s Flower Girls

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I’m not sure if you can call these dolls or not, but I love them anyway, so these are here for your inspiration.

(By the way, if you haven’t already, check out Adele Sciortino’s doll costuming newsletter for Martha Boer’s Summer 2007 article about using silk flower petals in doll costumes.)

Mora is a fine artist who exhibits in galleries but also sells on Etsy. Her body of work covers a wide variety of media and subject matter, including the occasional doll or doll-like piece. Her blog is pretty enjoyable reading; I admire her humility and her passion for life. Check out more pictures of her work at her Flickr site.

Have a great weekend, everyone!

Alarming Antiquities — Melisa Matkin

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Apparently I’m doing a series on paperclay-over-cloth dolls. :) Really, it wasn’t intentional. I’ve been meaning to blog about Melisa Matkin, the artistic power behind Coppermouse Dolls, for a while, and it just happened that she has some work-in-progress photos on her blog that detail her sculpting process.

But first, let’s talk about her dolls. Coppermouse dolls are very distinctive in style, combining primitive with creepy in a way that’s sure to make you grin. With their round faces and popping eyes, they resemble characters in some demented kids’ cartoon, or maybe an Edward Gorey illustration. But, like all really good abstractions, they have a firm basis in historical knowledge and technical expertise.

Coppermouse dolls wear costumes based on actual historical styles, only simplified. You can see the one above with her hairstyle and leg-o-mutton sleeves indicative of the styles of the 1830s, and most of her other pieces wear children’s styles from the age of the Addams Family, including black-and-white stripes, big ribbon bows and lace.

One gets the impression that there’s some kind of mythology behind Matkin’s work, and one wouldn’t be disappointed. The story involves the unlovable children of Mrs. Blatherby’s Orphanage, sometimes known by its acronym, MRSBO. Each piece made for the MRSBO group includes a story about its horrible background.

Visit Matkin’s blog, I Am a Dollmaker, for work-in-progress pictures that spell out her sculpting techniques pretty well. You can see more pictures at her Flickr site, but they’re not as well organized as her blog is.

Happy weekend everyone. Watch this space on Tuesday for a new Needle and Clay project.