Casting materials

I’ve updated prices, suppliers and added proper entries for principal materials in the casting section under Materials above. The ‘quick view’ comparisons page provides an overview for anyone not sure which of the various casting materials to use, while the other pages give more detailed information on the properties of each and how to work with them. Not all are there yet in detail, I am slowly working through them .. but so far the pages include polyurethane resin, polyester resin, polyurethane foam and polymer-modified plaster.

These more detailed pages begin with a summary ‘definition’; outline what the material is best at and not so good for; describe their ‘working life’ i.e. how to use them and how long for, and lastly what they cost and where to get them. At the end is a ‘worklog’ where I can add other bits of information as I have it.

Here is an excerpt from my page dealing with polyurethane foam. It’s the first one in this section to include photos, but I hope to do the same with the others.

Working life

Polyurethane liquids generally have a recommended shelf life of under a year, but I recently made a test with this flexible polyurethane foam bought at the end of 2012  .. so, more than two years old .. and it worked perfectly! For more advice on disregarding ‘shelf life’ have a look at the start of the ‘quick view’ comparisons page in this section.

self-skinning flexible polyurethane foam, old batch still usable

I always write the date or period when I buy materials, plus reminders if anything needs special handling .. as with part ‘B’ of the mixture here which needs to be shaken because the ingredients separate after it has been standing for some time. This is common with resins especially those that are pre-filled. Another thing .. not only common, inevitable .. is that the cap or lid for the ‘hardener’ component (usually part ‘B’) gets stuck because traces of the liquid crystallize. Something which has never failed me so far even with the most stubborn screw-caps is a strip of tough rubber to grip around the cap while turning.

strip of rubber to help unscrewing caps or lids

As with resins, polyurethane foams consist of two component liquids which are mixed together in a set proportion by weight, so having a good digital kitchen scales is essential. With this one from Tiranti the ratio is 2:1 part ‘A’ to part ‘B’. But in addition to being able to weigh accurately one also needs to judge the volume in this case, to be able to dose the right volume of liquid needed to completely fill the mould when it expands.

For example if the expanding foam has to fill a volume of 1,000 cubic centimetres (equivalent to a 10cm cube) and the foam is expected to expand up to 5-6 times its original liquid volume, then dividing 1,000 by for example 4.5 should ensure that the mould is filled, with a little surplus. This gives us close to 222 ml of liquid needed, of which two-thirds of the weight is part ‘A’ and one-third part ‘B’. So let’s say we need 148ml of part ‘A’ and 74ml of part ‘B’. We must now find out what these would weigh. Luckily the SG (specific gravity, written as the weight in grams of 1 cubic centimetre of ml of the substance) is often given on the containers. If not it will be on the MSDS (Material Safety Data Sheet) available online from the manufacturer or supplier. The SG of part ‘A’ of this expanding foam is 1.05 so 148ml would weigh 155.4 grams, and the SG of part ‘B’ is 1.13 so 74ml would weigh 83.62 grams. We need to round these figures off a bit but also adjust them back to a 2:1 ratio .. 156 grams of part ‘A’ to 78 grams of part ‘B’.

Below, I didn’t need to make a specific volume calculation in this case because I was just testing whether the material still functioned normally. I poured an arbitrary amount of part ‘A’ .. 17 grams .. into the cup first, then 10 grams of part ‘B’, a little more than half the amount. I did this because I’ve come to expect that with ‘old’ materials it’s the catalyst that’s most often affected, becoming weaker.

part 'A' polyurethane foam being weighed

polyurethane foam part 'B' added 2:1 by weight

Above, 10 grams of part ‘B’ has been added. It is always important to think ahead when preparing for this work! Make sure that you have all your necessary tools etc. to hand .. i.e. as here, a mixing stick .. so that you don’t have to hunt around for them at short notice. As soon as the part ‘B’ is added it should be quickly stirred in because the reaction will start within a few seconds. If the mixture needs to be decanted into a form mixing should not be more than c. 10 seconds before transferring it. I’ve tried mixing the material directly in the mould form a few times in the past but this has often resulted in an uneven result with parts not properly curing.

2-part polyurethane foaming within 10 minutes

The foam will have fully risen within about 5-10 minutes. Out of interest I calculated exactly how much it had done so in this case. There was 17g of part ‘A’ .. so 17.85ml in volume using the above calculation, and 10g of part ‘B’ being 11.3ml in volume .. altogether 29.15ml. The foam rose to fill the cup with a little more on top so by measuring water in the cup and adding a little I estimated 210ml. So the polyurethane had actually expanded to 7.2 times its original volume! I don’t know whether the increased expansion was due to the age of the material or the fact that I added a touch more part ‘B’ .. but it’s worth experimenting with!

When I bought the foam in 2012 it was for making these forms shown below (I’ve placed an old casting in its mould) .. and I recorded at the time that the polyurethane only expanded 4.5 times its volume. The mould is plaster-jacketed silicone rubber (made a long time ago when I was living in Hamburg and I can’t remember why I used a translucent silicone). The silicone doesn’t need any release agent against the foam but plaster certainly will if you want to keep it clean .. and Vaseline will be fine. The surface of the cast didn’t achieve the smoothness of the mould .. but one shouldn’t expect it to.

form cast in flexible polyurethane foam, showing silicone rubber mould

What this photo shows well is how much polyurethane discolours over time. In this case it was just discolouration though .. after three years exposure the feel of the surface was just the same.

freshly foamed and 3-year old polurethane cast compared

Test 19/12/2012  72g (48g part A to 24g part B) expanded to fill the ‘Koerper’ mould with just a little pushing out of the top, which cut then be cut off. The volume of the ‘Koerper’ form was measured as 325 ml so expansion was 4.5 times (weight to volume). The foam took c. 25mins to reach tack-free curing

The art of alternative staining

This was meant to be just another short ‘hidden treasures of the pound-shop’ piece recommending the value of cheap liquid polishes such as these below as alternatives to more expensive wood stains. I’ve used similar bottled shoe polishes many times in the past, particularly for staining model floorboards .. with very good results!

Poundland liquid shoe polish

But these ones currently in 99p Store are, as you can see below, unusually weak in terms of colour. I’ve made these tests on pieces of 0.8mm sheet obeche wood, which normally accepts stain very well. Each of the sample pieces featured in this post was made with a fixed procedure! Firstly I ruled three faint pencil lines and applied the first coat up to the top pencil line, leaving a little of the wood bare above. I then waited a minimum of 2 hours before applying the second coat up to the line below and then another 2 hours before applying the third. I chose 2 hours in between because this was the time it took for the pieces of wood to return to almost complete flatness after warping .. so I figured these were sufficiently dry for the next coat. As you may know, warping doesn’t occur with oil or spirit-based media, and with spirits the ‘drying’ is a lot quicker .. but I gave these the same intervals anyway.

Poundland liquid shoe polish samples

The polite word for these is ‘subtle’ .. the ‘Neutral’ had so little visible effect on the wood, even after three coats, that I didn’t even notice that I’d photographed the piece upside down! The brown and black did impart some even colouring as you can see, but even after three coats and rubbing afterwards there was only slightly more ‘sheen’ than the obeche wood has on its own.

But there are much better ones! The lighter brown sample on the left below is brown liquid polish from Tiger, the one in the middle is brown Cherry Blossom Readiwax    brand found in Poundland and the last is Kiwi Wax Rich Colour Shine also from Poundland but a while ago. I’ve overdone the photo exposure a little .. the colours are richer and deeper in reality. All of these gave a visible, regular sheen to the wood surface on the second coat, and more pronounced on the third.

liquid shoe polish samples on wood

Here are just two more, but also showing how best to apply the liquid polish. The sample to the left is the brown Kiwi Colour Shine shown in the photo, also found in Poundland, and next to it is one made with Clarks brown polishing cream, which is thin enough to brush on easily and infiltrate the fibres. The Kiwi polish gave a good sheen after three coats but the polishing cream remained matt. If you intend to cover large areas you could use the sponge applicator attached, but for these small ones it was easier to press out a small amount of polish on a tile and use a rigid synthetic brush.

Applying liquid shoe polish as a stain

All of the polish types I’ve featured so far are ‘water-carried’ including the polishing cream .. suspensions of pigment and wax in water. So one has to deal with the fact that the water will make thin wood warp! It can look rather alarming .. especially if as here the wood grain is perpendicular to the length of the strip. But as the piece slowly dries it returns to almost complete flatness again. As I’ve said, if using 0.8mm obeche wood this will take at least 2 hours .. but it will differ according to wood thickness and type.

thin sheet obeche warping with water-based polish

Although it might be an annoying way to work, I would recommend if you want to treat wood with anything water-based (including water-based commercial wood stains) that the pieces are treated like this i.e. stained and left to dry before sticking down. It may be logical to assume, when making a floorboard floor for example, that sticking all the boards securely on a base first will prevent the whole thing from warping when painted. It doesn’t .. in fact it can make it worse! I think what happens is that if something absorbent like cardboard is used as the base, when the wood on top is painted some of the moisture reaches the cardboard so it will also warp .. this is clear. But as both dry out the moisture which has reached the cardboard is trapped so that whereas the wood layer will dry the cardboard will take longer. The drying wood will therefore ‘set’ in this position. When this happens it is impossible to get the ‘composite’ flat again.

It can be a bit dangerous if one gets hooked on the satisfaction of making illustrative samples .. one looks around for more things to test! Samples don’t have to have any other meaning, and one isn’t going to be judged on their aesthetic value. Breaking free of both the conceptual and the aesthetic actually does have positive advantages sometimes.. it opens the door wide for serendipity! Otherwise I wouldn’t have thought of trying two other media I just happened to have around at the time .. GlasArt transparent glass paints from Marabu and Letraset ProMarkers. As it happened both worked far better than I expected, with the big advantage that neither of them cause warping because they’re spirit-based. The other significant advantage is the cost of them. If one only wants to stain a relatively small area it’s quite an expense to buy commercial spirit-based wood stain, or a combination stain/varnish. The smallest tins or bottles available are generally somewhere over £6.00. The smaller 15ml jars of Marabu GlasArt can be found for between £2.00 – £2.60 and Letraset ProMarkers are on average £2.00 each.

Marabu GlasArt paint as wood stain

The GlasArt paints work like a dream on wood! They can either be applied straight from the jar, as I’ve done with the sample to the far left above, or thinned with white spirit as I have with the other two. I used Bartoline Low Odour White Spirit and mixed roughly equal amounts of spirit and paint together on a tile. As before, the best brush to use is a flat one, with soft but rigid synthetic hairs. The first coat penetrates readily but dries relatively matt; the second has more noticeable sheen, and the third gives a regular satin finish. Whether thinned or used straight, the GlasArt paint penetrated the wood fibres better than I expected. For an even stronger shine I would recommend applying some neutral Kiwi solid shoe polish such as the one shown later. This has to be thinly brushed or rubbed in, left for about half an hour, then buffed with either a clean shoe brush or soft rag. I would recommend using a polish like this every time for scale model work, rather than using any kind of gloss varnish. Varnish is too ‘full on’ for miniature work, and it will emphasis every little imperfection. Often the sheen that the wood already receives is enough to suggest a polished look, but if one has to have more, polish can be far better controlled. It means for example that a floorboard floor stays more matt where it is difficult to buff i.e. along wall edges or in corners, which makes more realistic sense!

Marabu GlasArt used as varnish on wood

Letraset’s ProMarkers come in a wide range of colours .. 148 in total. Below I’ve used a few I had which were suitable as wood colours, but there are many more. In addition they can be easily ‘mixed’ .. that is, overlaid .. so the colour range is infinite! The ink is alcohol-based and it penetrates the wood fibres very well. But it is also ‘self-sealing’ .. there must be a fixative in addition to the alcohol, though there is no info on what this is .. so transparent layers can be built up and colours deepened. Here I’ve used, from left to right; ‘Ice Grey 1′, ‘Sandstone’, ‘Spice’, ‘Walnut’ and ‘Warm Grey 5′. Although the ink is thin, a build-up of layers will produce a sheen, though not as much as the GlasArt paint or the better polishes. Another advantage for small-scale work is that the ProMarkers come with both a broad and a fine felt nib. Because it penetrates so well I expected it to be difficult to draw a hard edge on the wood, at least for the first coat, but as you can see from the top edges it didn’t ‘bleed’ as much as regular wood stains.

Letraset ProMarkers used as wood stains

This could make it easier to ‘fake’ a more complicated parquet flooring pattern, just by using different tones or hues of marker. It can be fairly tightly controlled even on balsa wood, which is one of the most absorbent woods. Below I’ve compared the same colours on balsa, to the right, with obeche to the left. Balsa generally stains more evenly than obeche, especially when layers are built up, but obeche will give a richer and deeper colour.

Staining wood with Letraset ProMarkers. Difference between obeche and balsa

One last option .. let’s say, if you don’t want to get anything special at all for staining wood .. is just to use whatever transparent paints you’ve got such as watercolours. If you do use watercolours I would recommend painting before gluing down, as before. Don’t use either acrylics or gouache because these will not be sufficiently transparent .. they will obscure the natural grain of the wood, and the effect will be rather lifeless and artificial.

In place of watercolour though, I prefer to use regular colour pencils or pastels ‘dissolved’ using white spirit. This avoids the problem of warping, but I’ve also found that the colours are richer using spirit, and it means that so many more things can be turned into paints or stains. These small floor samples were made by firstly shading some pencil colour on the bare wood, then dissolving it with low odour white spirit and a synthetic brush. The dry pencil pigment dissolves readily and can be worked over and into the wood, but the ‘paint’ produced remains workable for much longer than watercolour or acrylic. It is basically a straight ‘watercolour’ technique .. just not using water .. and with the added control of adding the colour, not solely with a brush but also with the pencil-point .. a combination of painting and drawing. I’ve preferred to keep these samples subtle to show the nuances achievable, but one can go much richer and darker with the colours.

Staining wood by rubbing with coloured pencils and dissolving pigment with white spirit

I’ve used Karismacolor pencils here because these were my favourite and I still have them, but sadly Berol discontinued them long ago. Others who use colour pencils in their work say that Prismacolor or Polychromos are comparable .. rich colours, soft but not chalky-fragile! These are all oil-based pencils, which definitely work better for this technique, though I have found that any kind of colour pencil will work to some extent.

Old oak floorboard model sample

For the sample floorboard piece above, and below, I wanted to simulate the distinctive markings of old oak, but using obeche. I cut the planks and sanded the edges a little first, then ‘distressed’ them variously using a heavy-duty wire brush .. either pressing and pulling for deep scratches or just pressing and rocking for pockmarks. I then glued them in place, inscribing the floorboard ends with a sharp tool afterwards. I used the pencils to shade or cross-hatch on the wood in various browns, but defining some differences between the floorboards. When dissolving the shading with white spirit I made sure that most of the colour collected in the scratches .. conventional wood stain would most likely colour too uniformly, not differentiating enough. Much more variation could be achieved than I’ve shown here, by shading parts with pencil again and fixing with very minimal spirit.

Wood staining sample including old oak floorboard effect and solid shoe polish rub

But the pencil/white spirit technique doesn’t create much shine, so after I’d given the sample a few hours to dry I applied a thin coat of the solid shoe polish shown .. a ‘Dark Tan’ to give it a bit more warmth. One needs to wait for it to ‘set’ before polishing .. between 30-50mins. As one final test I tried the polish on an untreated piece of obeche and got a deep, satisfying shine .. though adding further layers of this polish did not deepen the colour.

Staining and polishing wood with standard shoe polish

 

5 favorited in February – Lost Art Press, Prop Agenda, The Lonely Crafter’s Guide to London, Geffrye Museum of the Home, The Wood Database

 

Lost Art Press

from Lost Art Press blog

http://lostartpress.com/

The thought of a woodwork-related site might conjure up visions from the bad end of ‘retro’ .. fuzzy snaps and hideous neon text! On the contrary, the site alone is worth looking at as an example of a sleek, classic/modernist jewel .. clear and simple on the eye, but seriously rewarding if you have the time to delve!

Christopher Schwarz and John Hoffman introduce themselves as ‘two woodworkers with laptops .. trying to restore the balance between hand and machine work by unearthing the so-called ‘lost arts’ of hand skills’ and by publishing a small selection of woodworking books .. including reprints of antique works, some new ones and some fiction. There is also a WordPress blog attached, furthering the same cause, with a lot of info and good photos.

hand-made wooden vise

 

Eric Hart’s Prop Agenda

Prop Agenda header logo

http://www.props.eric-hart.com/

Eric is a prop maker from North Carolina and author of The Prop Building Guidebook: for Theatre, Film and TV. His site is a must for any prop-maker working in theatre or film who wants to keep in touch with what’s going on, or anyone considering the profession. There are scores of interviews with ‘Prop Masters’ .. a good balance from theatre and film .. and a wealth of useful links under the ‘Useful Sites’ category, worth taking the time to browse through! This will keep you busy for a few months. Eric is pretty modest when it comes to pushing his own work on us though. Some of it can be found there, but buried within the ‘How-to’ category .. if you’re able to find that! Alternatively some of it can be found here:

http://www.portfolio.eric-hart.com/

Eric Hart shaving fake rabbits

 

The Lonely Crafter’s Guide to London

http://cargocultcraft.com/knowledge/lonely-crafters-guide-to-london/

This is the best little guide to fabric shops in London that I know of. Unfortunately the compiler, Susannah, signed off in 2011 and went back to the States promising that someone else would ‘take up the torch’, but that didn’t happen. Nevertheless you’ll see it still popping up everywhere to this day because it’s still very useful. Almost all of the links still work and the maps are still valuable, because most of the fabric or haberdashery shops recommended are long-established.

Locations of Central London fabric shops

 

The Geffrye Museum of the Home

Geffrye Museum 1790 parlour

http://www.geffrye-museum.org.uk/

Although I’ve visited the Geffrye Museum countless times in the past as a theatre designer, I don’t remember their website being quite this good! For those who don’t know, the museum comprises 11 recreated period rooms, from the late 17th-century to the present day .. and is an essential visit for anyone interested in period interiors. But their website is also packed with value for designers, or researchers of anything domestic!

If one can’t get to London to see the rooms there are some good photos and 360degree views of each .. but move the viewer slowly, otherwise it may make you nauseous! But the Geffrye also maintains a collection of objects and images relating to ‘the material culture’ of the English home from the 17th C to present day, and much of this has been made available online. Although much smaller than the V&A collection, in many respects it’s more useful for period research. A search for ‘chair’ will produce 346 entries arranged chronologically .. so for example if you’re looking for images relating to chairs around 1780 they will be grouped together. Each chair is photographed clearly in multiple views and some details and the ‘Detailed Description’ includes basic measurements. Elsewhere on the Geffrye site the ‘Documenting Homes’ collection concentrates on current domestic life and the previous century with lots of photographs of homes submitted by the public, starting from 1910. In the ‘Collections’ section are links to complete copies of a number of household catalogues dating from 1885 to the late 1930s.

Geffrye Museum 1965 living room

Photos courtesy of the Geffrye Museum. Photographers: John Hammond, Chris Ridley

 

The Wood Database

Wood Database image

http://www.wood-database.com/

I didn’t know that there are almost 30 different types of ‘oak’ in use! Anyone who’s interested in wood will like this site, but I’d imagine most would know of it already. It’s also very useful for anyone who wants to identify a wood or just find out the basics of a particular one. It’s a very long list, and each entry contains clear sample photos ..comparing the appearance sanded with ‘sealed’ .. together with information on origin, common uses, working properties and sustainability. Eric Meier started his database in 2007 and has developed it with help from other wood professionals and enthusiasts.

Handy containers for small amounts of paint

One of my favourite paints is Rosco ‘Super Saturated’ scenic paint .. I like it because it has a more liquid consistency than most other acrylics, thins and mixes easily, adheres better than most to non-absorbent surfaces, covers incredibly well and dries almost completely matt! However, a major disadvantage is that it is only available in 1litre tubs .. really rather prohibitive in cost if you’re not a scenic painter and if you want a full range of colours! Added to that, the paint doesn’t keep very well once opened .. after about a year on average some of the colours start to smell, curdle or later still develop a thick skin of mould (but see postscript with solutions below). A couple of years ago I seriously splashed out on a number of 1litre tubs, partly because I intended to provide this paint to be used on my courses. Rosco has put together a sample box with small amounts of each colour .. costing around £50 if you can get hold of one .. but these sample pots don’t hold very much and once the seal is broken the lids aren’t quite tight enough to keep the paint inside from drying out.

Rosco SuperSaturated range

I needed to find better and more secure containers to transport portioned amounts. I’ve tried the smallest available food containers and for a while these worked quite well, but even these are a little bit bulky to transport in large numbers, if one wants to provide an interesting range. In any case none that I tried were truly ‘watertight’ so I had to bind them for transit with electrical tape. It also meant that the paint could only be properly dispensed from them with a spoon. What it did seem to solve fairly well was the problem of the paint ‘going off’ because I could fill a number of these to the top and thereby reduce the air contact. Nevertheless, I just didn’t like working with them .. too messy!

using food containers for paint

Another of my favourite forms of paint are the bottled acrylics from DecoArt, shown below. These are certainly not the richest colours but in all other respects the paint behaves surprisingly well for an inexpensive hobby-paint! Like the Rosco these acrylics are dense but liquid. But in this context it’s perhaps the bottles that have impressed me most of all .. they keep the paint completely where it’s supposed to be and allow it to be dosed in the smallest droplets needed. I’ve never had any leaks from these when carrying them around and when I’ve refilled empty ones with Rosco paint its appeared to keep for much longer.

DecoArt bottle acrylics

I tried to find identical ones online a while ago but couldn’t. But then, once ‘pound shops’ really started to get corporate and become a feature of almost every High Street I came across these in 99p Store, in packs of four as ‘travelling beauty bags’ .. or something like that .. containing shampoo, shower gel etc. They’re the same size as the DecoArt bottles, which hold a little more than 60ml of paint, but always square and made from a slightly harder plastic. I’ve never had the courage to use the contents!

travelling wash bag

But the bottles are almost perfect for paint! .. at least any paint that is liquid enough to be poured into them. Because they’re not quite as squeezable as the DecoArt bottles it’s best if the paint is cut with a small amount of water and .. if you’re familiar with the ‘ketchup bottle jab’, it will help at times! But their squareness is convenient when packing and, I suppose most of all, at 99p for four they’re cheaper than any options I’ve seen online unless you want to buy them in the hundreds.

using 'travelling bag' bottles for paint

As a postscript to this little piece celebrating small plastic bottles! .. I started trying to find out the best ways of preserving the Rosco paint and others that are predisposed to deteriorate and develop mould over time. It may not be simply a case of having to scrape off the mould layer .. the whole consistency of the paint or medium underneath may have altered and become useless. In addition the mould itself may be harmful to health, so it seems to me that prevention from the outset would be far wiser than making do with scraping the mould off as/when it occurs. What for example is it in the paint or medium that ‘goes bad’ in the first place? Is it simply solved by eliminating air contact? .. packing a layer of cling-film down on the paint surface when storing, or pouring a thin layer of distilled water, or even oil, over it? I was given these and other helpful suggestions when I posted the question on the Society of British Theatre Designers facebook page. A little later I received a very helpful confirmation from Jenny Knott, Paint Product Manager for Rosco Laboratories, which is worth quoting in full:

“Most mold/bacteria growth in paint is caused by introducing it into the paint.  Always use a clean, dry utensil to take paint out of the container.  If you use a wet stir stick to scoop the paint out, the water has bacteria in it so it will introduce bacteria into your paint.
If you have mold/bacteria on the paint, scrap all of it off then you can either put a couple of drops of pine oil floated on the top or plastic wrap over the top of the paint surface to seal it from the air.
Another thing you can do is to float distilled water on the top surface of the paint to protect the surface.”
…………………………………………………………………………………………..
In addition I would imagine that the colder the paint can be stored the better .. apart from freezing! I guess that these safeguards work best from the outset and that probably once the medium has become contaminated there’s really nothing that can be done to purify it again and that whatever can be salvaged probably has a short life, if it still works at all. I’d also imagine that all of the above applies to any water-based medium .. I know that it also happens with Idenden texture medium for example. I’ve just added one suggestion of my own which has worked for me so far .. decanting into smaller, separate, sealed containers.

 

Making a simple all-purpose modelling tool

I’ve seen these coloured ‘lolly sticks’ in the past in places like The Works but recently I saw that Poundland also has them. I’ve found these very useful for making quick, all-purpose modelling tools when I have been teaching large groups. I don’t know exactly what the wood is but even though soft it can take a fair amount of pressure while working because it is pliable .. best though with fairly yielding modelling materials such as fresh natural clay, properly conditioned Super Sculpey, soft modelling wax or warmed plasticine.

Poundland wooden lolly sticks

Basically, what one needs from a single tool for fine modelling are the following .. a fine blade-like point and edge; a more rounded point and edge; a flat spatula-like end with rounded edges. With this combination one can achieve a lot .. but of course not all! This tool is for pushing, impressing and dragging, but it’s not designed for scooping i.e. removing clay. A separate type of tool is needed for this, shown later.

Here below are the simple stages in making, shown from top to bottom. First a pointed end is made by slicing off at an angle, to a little less than half-way along the stick. As said, the wood is soft and easy to cut, not brittle, with a fairly fine grain. The cut edge then needs chamfering down (sanding at an angle) on both sides, to make the blade-like cutting or scoring edge .. any sandpaper would work but I used a fairly coarse one, i.e. P80 first . I’ve also rounded all other edges, especially giving the opposite end a smoother shape. All that was then needed was a careful rub-over with fine sandpaper or sanding-pad, shown below, until completely smooth. I didn’t find it necessary to oil or varnish the surface to seal it .. at least, if one mainly works with polymer clays or waxes the bare wood will quickly get a protective patina, as shown by the slightly darker tone of the used tool below.

stages in making an all-purpose modelling tool

It’s a funny thing .. I must have almost a hundred different modelling tools, bought over many years, but I often end up just using this one, partly because of the range of marks it can make but also maybe because, having designed and made it myself .. I feel I truly ‘own’ it.

variety of toolmarks made in Sculpey

Here are some other self-made tools for fine modelling .. using standard dowel from model shops, which I’m guessing is probably birch for the thinner, pine or ramin for the thicker. I’ve carefully drilled most of these at both ends (Dremel, 0.5-1mm drill bits) so that metal can be inserted. Shown at the top, I’ve fixed a slightly bent pin in one end and an ‘L’ of ‘piano wire’ in the other. Piano wire is very hard spring steel, available down to 0.4mm thickness from 4D modelshop. As with all of these shown, I’ve used a 2-part epoxy glue to secure the metal inserts. For the next down I’ve inserted the ends of a plastic cocktail stick.

Next is a collection of fine ‘scoopers’ made by bending 0.4mm piano wire into various shapes and inserting into the wood. I found that they needed to be strengthened by mounding the epoxy glue over the insertion point. Only piano wire will work, as ordinary wire will not be rigid enough under pressure. This type of tool is important because one can only achieve so much by displacing the modelling material .. one will often need to cleanly remove it. Last of all here, I found that LEDs make perfectly round and smooth impressions and they also come in a variety of sizes.

a selection of self-made modelling tools

 

5 favorited in January – VandA Collections, Nikon Microscopy, CGTextures, Nick Cave, Anatomy For Sculptors

V&A Collections

VandA Collections Search

http://collections.vam.ac.uk/

The Victoria and Albert Museum is Britain’s flagship museum of historical and contemporary art and design, and one of the world’s largest collections of its kind. Its online database contains almost half a million images which can be searched by keyword. If you’re looking for something very specific it’s best to enter general keywords first .. i.e. ‘armchair’, which will bring up thousands .. and then refine from the drop-down choices given. Medium-size images can be easily saved by right-clicking, but high resolution versions are also available for personal or academic use on signing up. Although the choice has its limits, the main advantage of using this first over Google is that one will receive accurate and often detailed background information including provenance, dimensions, makers and materials. It is particularly useful for furniture or prop research as many of the entries include multiple views and detail close-ups.

18thc side table

Above and below  Decorative side table, mid 18th c, originally from Ditchley Park, Oxfordshire. England/Italy (base designed by the architect Henry Flitcroft 1734-1743, table top made in Italy 1726). Photos © Victoria and Albert Museum, London.

18thc side table detail

 

Nikon Microscopy

Ralph Grimm 'Chrysopa (lacewing)'

http://www.microscopyu.com/

Nikon’s Small World Competition was established in 1977 and has taken place every year since, featuring the best and often the most beautiful examples of photography through the microscope. The Small World image gallery contains all the prize-winning and commended entries for each competition since it began.

Stephen Nagy 'Section of diseased ivory'

Apart from this the site is a textbook resource for those involved with microscopy and contains a huge amount of technical information which will be far beyond the casual visitor. However, the brief summaries of the different imaging techniques employed are clearly written and well worth looking at. The site is a must for anyone interested in the subject, whether professionally or otherwise.

Jacek Myslowski 'Acari (arachnid)'

Photos are from Top Ralph Grimm ‘Chrysopa (lacewing) head’ 130x reflected light, image stacking Middle Dr Stephen Nagy ‘Section of diseased ivory’ 15x polarized light Bottom Jacek Myslowski ‘Acari (arachnid)’ 100x polarized and oblique light

 

CGTextures

CGTextures homescreen

http://www.cgtextures.com/

This is a huge, free database of photographed textures, in its own words ‘striving to be the world’s best texture site’ and in my opinion succeeding! It is founded/managed by Marcel Vijfwinkel and Wojtek Starak in the Netherlands and has been conscientiously maintained and added to for a number of years now.  What characterizes the site .. apart from its vast range! .. is its simplicity and fairness. Basically it allows any form of private or commercial use unless the texture image itself is just being re-sold unmodified or bundled with a product as it is .. but you need to read the ‘Conditions of Use’ because it can get complicated! You have to register for free membership which allows up to 15mb per day or paid membership starts at 100mb. There are more than 100,000 real surfaces to choose from, organized into clear categories, and most are available in resolutions up to around 3,000 x 2,000 for free. It’s well worth a look in the ‘Showcase’ section to see how CG artists utilize these textures. During its development CGTextures accepted masses of photo contributions from enthusiasts (and these are dutifully still credited on the site) but now it has a select team of photographers which include the founders. There are also some useful tutorials, including tips on how to take one’s own surface photos properly.

CGTextures 'rust' album

 

Nick Cave

sd_nickcave_0309

http://www.jackshainman.com/artists/nick-cave/

Why should the fashion and performance designer Nick Cave adjust his name just because there’s a famous musician with the same one? That was the second thing that impressed me about Nick Cave .. for the first I just had to get a glimpse of his truly extraordinary work! He’s one of these artists that makes you sit up and wonder what else you might be missing .. I’m dumbfounded that I hadn’t heard of his work until last year although he has been exhibiting his ‘Soundsuits’ since 1999. These are costumes designed to be performed in, but are often exhibited as sculptures. Nick Cave spent some time as a dancer before turning to the visual/design aspect and is currently a Professor of Fashion Design at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Photos courtesy of Jack Shainman Gallery

NickCave4

 

Anatomy For Sculptors

Anatomy For Sculptors 'Main landmarks of back of the torso'

https://www.anatomy4sculptors.com/

There are a great many figure reference sites out there, most having similar names, but this one struck me as one of the most organized and .. there’s no better word .. sensible! It concentrates on the fundamentals one needs to know rather than merely re-trawling from the vast sea of figure photos like the others do and it instructs mainly through diagrams, keeping text to the minimum. Because of this you need to study the visuals to understand what is being said, but that’s a great deal of the point .. and it’s well worth it! Some may find it a bit simplistic, and some may disagree with the choice of priorities, but I can say that these visuals have been useful for me and they have stuck in my memory while working.

Anatomy For Sculptors '3D scan of middle-aged woman'

I’ve always found 3D figure scans a particularly valuable source of reference and the site makes good use of these for some of its illustrations.

Technical Drawing for theatre designers

This is a new course which I plan to run for the first time in July 2015 at RADA (Royal Academy of Dramatic Art) and has been developed with the help of my old friend Gary Thorne, who is Head of Design there. As far as I know it’s the only course of its kind focusing on theatre design, and one of very few short courses dealing with technical drawing at all.

Here is my extended version of the course description for the ‘Courses’ section above, the original of which can be found on the booking page of the RADA website:

https://www.rada.ac.uk/courses/summer-courses/production-design/technical-drawing/course-overview

An intensive, practical, week-long course for those practicing or interested in theatre set design July 13-17 2015 Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, Gower St, London WC1E 6ED

Technical drawing is a graphic ‘language’ which enables the clear and completely measurable description of three-dimensional structures in flat, printed form. Good, clear technical drawings are essential in the theatre design process. Not only are they necessary for the practical development of the design even in the early stages, and useful for costing at the ‘sketch’ model stage, but the workshops require them at the final stage for clarification of the model and proper realisation of the set. Good technical drawings are an asset within any designer’s portfolio and the practice of drawing stimulates and refines one’s ability to solve problems.

Technical drawing is much like driving a car .. fundamentally it involves more knowledge than skill, though it can be taken to skilful levels. It needs practise, but it can all be learnt! However, there are those who drive well and those who do it badly! Technical drawing is not difficult to do well .. you just have to know how and to continue practising it. The course is a thorough introduction to ‘how’, and we start with an understanding of the fundamentals including:

.. thinking and working in scale; planning and laying-out a drawing; the principles behind ‘orthographic projection’ i.e. choosing multiple viewpoints; using a drawing board and other tools

In the process we look at many of the details of good practice including:

.. labelling or annotating elements in the drawing; styles of lettering, writing measurements; what to include on ground-plans and sections; using recognized symbols and types of line; how to indicate moving parts; tips on easy geometry etc.

The course is aimed at those who come as novices and need a ‘jump start’ in the journey of learning or those already ‘en route’ but in need of a refresher. The week is intensive ..10.00 to 5.00 each day .. involving a lot of concentration, but each day balances the receiving of knowledge through prepared examples and demonstrations, with more hands-on practical exercises. Particular advantage is taken of the fact that RADA has three working theatre spaces to look at and compare with their technical ground-plans and sections. We also make use of RADA’s stock of student models to draw from, illustrating the close collaboration of drawing and model-making within the process.

Another special feature of the course is that you will practise using plain drawing boards and T-squares as opposed to parallel-motion boards. There are a number of good reasons for this: it gives a more effective training in the manual dexterity and mental organization required; it involves less ‘hardware’ maintenance; drawings are easier to keep clean; and finally, once managed, the drawing process can often become easier and more fluid.

All equipment and tools are provided by RADA, but participants are asked to bring their own 0.5mm mechanical pencils (HB and 3H) and a means of taking notes.