Bristol Old Vic Theatre School ‘Generate’ at the Truman Brewery

It’s the last chance today to see Generate, the exhibition of work from the graduating MA Theatre Design, Scenic Art and Costume students from Bristol Old Vic Theatre School .. until 3pm today at the Truman Brewery (Unit 11, Dray Walk, off 91 Brick Lane, E1 6QL London)

I wish I’d been able to go earlier than last night, to impress on anyone interested  .. not only in theatre, or theatre design, but simply the skilful and passionate expression of visual ideas .. how worthwhile it was to see it! This little show was like a ‘survival capsule’ .. a gem preserving the brightest blueprints of the best .. or a restorative potion, meant to remind us of what’s good and true! What I’m saying is that there was real magic there, lots of it .. alongside the well-expressed ideas, the craftsmanship and fine-artistry.

I was so fortunate around this time last year to spend a week with the MA Theatre Designers .. Alana Ashley, Roisin Martindale, Oscar Selfridge and Robin James Davis .. going through some basics of model-making with them. I can’t believe it’s just a year, when I now see .. 99% credit to them .. such confident exploration, such visual enthusiasm, such careful attention to every telling detail, such unbelievable workmanship. Credit must be given here in a ‘pandimensional’ scale .. that is, 99% to them, and another 101% to Angela .. Angela Davies Head of Design at BOVTS .. for always being there to guide them through it.

Each successive year I see this excellence from BOVTS .. and each year I’m rejuvenated by experiencing the best in British theatre art!

 

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Astrid Baerndal ‘Source of Life’ at the Blyth Gallery: Part 2

 

The Private View of Astrid’s exhibition Source of Life at the Blyth Gallery (Level 5, Sherfield Building, Imperial College London) took place yesterday, and I managed to take some photos, along with contributing to the short introduction. I’ve included my introductory speech here, with a few added comments.

Homage to Ernst Haeckel 2005

detail

Starfish and Sea Urchin 2009

Paper Insects 2007-18

When you look more closely at the work Astrid has chosen to exhibit here you can, dependent on what it is you normally look for in art, appreciate it first of all in terms of its aesthetics. You can admire the quality of the making; you can focus on the variety of materials experimented with; you can engage in the attraction of the forms presented as objects in themselves. Then .. or instead, especially if you’re the kind of person who perhaps goes through life a bit like a detective and so, when you go to an exhibition, you’re more interested in why an artist does what they do and what the implications are in the ‘bigger picture’ .. you may focus on how the forms are presented, what contexts are implied. Are some of them being catalogued; are some being cultured .. are others being manipulated?

Growth 2005

Brood Place 2005

When an artist does this kind of work, how can it not be a comment on a bigger picture .. in this case the total and relentless manipulation of nature, in other words everything ‘us’ and everything that we do. Sometimes I ask myself if we are even capable of just looking at nature, and appreciating it just for what it is, without ‘making something of it’, manipulating it in some way .. whether physically or mentally?

Although I’m no different, I like to think that I can find enough satisfaction in the forms themselves regardless of what they might represent in a bigger ‘conceptual’ picture. I could say that it’s my duty as an ‘abstracted’ .. or better said ‘abstractional’ .. artist to encourage my own kind to appreciate form for itself for just a little while longer before setting about making something of it!

detail from Paper Insects 2007-18

Chrysalis in Cocoon 2009

What appeals to me most about Astrid’s forms is how undoubtedly ‘world of nature’ or ‘realm of organisms’ they are compared to, say, more traditional wildlife studies, and this aspect remains strong however simply represented or ‘abstracted’ they are. What also appeals to me is the difference between this form of ‘biomorphic abstraction’ and what I would call ‘architectural abstraction’ .. straight lines and structures, defined angles .. which, to my mind, is so exclusively human and artificial. Everything here is a homage to the fundamental formal blueprint of the ‘natural’.. and a celebration of how wonderfully varied that can be, even within a fairly strict recipe!

1001 Mutations 2005

detail

A big part of that is the ‘homage to symmetry’. In case you’re not sure, symmetry is a completely natural ‘directive’ or necessity of cellular life .. not a human invention. Nature is so committed to symmetry that it has curiously never managed the ‘bug fix’ needed to prevent the symmetrical pattern of a moth’s wings being detected when camouflaged against tree bark. In our own aesthetics we seem to share the same inability to control it. Most often in ‘Fine Art’ either it’s not used too obviously for fear of being labelled decorative, or it’s overdone .. too florid!

But Astrid not only presents it as a life principal, but also takes advantage of the fact that symmetry is embedded within our most ancient perceptions. Our species has grown up with it .. part of the package of ‘pattern recognition software’ in here. It’s the reason why our ancestors could make out the face of a lion in the undergrowth; the reason why we can see so many different possibilities in an ink-blot, and the reason why in Astrid’s work an insect can so readily be modified to become a face, or a fish, or even a snowflake.

Filigree Insects 2006-7

Mandala 2005-6

Then there’s the making .. the evident care taken to achieve a desired look; the variety of practical skills demonstrated with the different materials. I’m sure I’m not alone in feeling that this craft .. this ‘creation’ .. is also something that can be appreciated as a ‘thing’ in itself .. simply our way of mimicking both the sheer craftiness and the discipline of nature itself. In my view art originated from our attempt to ‘prove ourselves’ to those that we imagined were above us, and what better or more flattering way to do that than mimicking, or making our own versions of, their creations?

In Astrid’s work I can quite comfortably and naturally move from the ‘what’ to the ‘why, or what for’ without having to ‘put on other glasses’ as it were. I mean, in the first place any celebration of obviously natural form nowadays carries with it a message of sorrow for its likely extinction, so I would argue that’s reason and meaning enough.

Paper Insects 2007-18

But more than that .. Astrid’s creative process is often one of taking a simple natural form such as a fruit or vegetable, subjecting it to successive mutations (using both ‘hand’ methods and digital) until it becomes a different organism. That’s not only commenting on evolution (how such variety / diversity has come about) .. it’s also a closer comment on what we’re doing, what we’re capable of and where we might be going.

So I think Astrid’s work strikes a good balance between the ‘what’ (the designs; the forms we’re seeing; the materials and their own physicality; the craftsmanship shown) and the ‘So what?’ (the bigger evolutionary picture, and the big questions all of us should be asking now).

Source of Life continues at the Blyth Gallery / Level 5, Sherfield Building, Imperial College, South Kensington, London (just off Exhibition Road) until Thursday 6th June. Open everyday from 9am – 9pm, admission free.

An architectural play-model: Part 2

 

David Neat model-maker, architectural model 2018, 1:25 scale

David Neat model-maker, architectural model 2018, 1:25 scale

This follows on from An architectural model: Part 1 posted on January 12 where I outlined the purposes of the model, expanded a little on the use of foamed PVC for the build, and detailed my methods for achieving a convincing polished concrete effect. In this second part I am looking at the rest i.e. the ‘generalized’ treatment of the brick walls; my methods for staining the woodwork features; and lucky solutions re the baseboard and veneer cladding.

 

Staining the woodwork

The natural wood chosen by the architect for this project is oak. In Part 1 I explained that I was hoping to emphasize the model’s own sculptural presence, and it occurred to me at one point that a way of doing that would be to give the model its own material integrity, a ‘truth to materials’ in other words .. i.e. by using real oak, even real glass, and even real brick! But in practical terms this hardly ever accords with the functional remit, important in this case, of keeping to scale! So I couldn’t explore that direction at this time. On the question of real wood, there are only a few woods suited to fine-scale model work and fewer available in thin strips or sheets. Oak, because of its hardness and strong patterning, definitely isn’t one of them. So I’ve taken obeche and stained it to represent oak. I could also have chosen limewood ( ‘basswood’ in model shops ), which is even more precise to cut, but I wanted to take advantage of the slight patterning which shows up when obeche is stained. The woodwork features in the architect’s design were mostly related to the window structures so the following group of photos serves to show both (the windows will be dealt with in Part 3).

David Neat model-maker, using stained obeche and PETG clear plastic

David Neat model-maker, using stained obeche and PETG clear plastic

David Neat model-maker, using stained obeche and PETG clear plastic

David Neat model-maker, using stained obeche and PETG clear plastic

David Neat model-maker, using foamed PVC, polyfilla stipple texture, stained obeche and PETG clear plastic

For this staining task I have used one of my favourite methods (suitable for both large or small work), which is to use a clear wax/oil based wood finish as a carrier, with a controlled amount of spirit-based stain mixed in ( it can’t be anything water-based ). I’ve found this much more successful than just using either a straight stain or a staining varnish partly because the wax/oil medium (along with anything added to it) penetrates the wood fibres more evenly, but also because it gives sufficient drying time to modify i.e. to rub away, or even out any excess. Spirit-based stains on their own can make woods like obeche or basswood too dark, unless they’re heavily thinned with white spirit. But then it’s difficult to control what appears once the wood dries out. I made tests using wax/oil varnish with different amounts of Colron ‘Medium Oak’ and there was little difference between the wet and dried results.

David Neat model-maker, samples using Osmo wax-oil medium plus Colron wood stain on obeche

It was particularly important for me to make test samples here, because to reflect the distinctive tongue-and-groove cladding of the original I had to composit separately cut and sanded strips of obeche, otherwise there wouldn’t have been enough tonal difference between the strips. I was concerned though that staining might emphasize those lines in-between too much, but these turned out fine. On the left above I’ve just tried the wax/oil carrier on its own, and for the other two I added small amounts of Colron ‘Medium Oak’ Wood Dye. For those other two I also experimented with adding a little more colour variation using alcohol markers. I did this before the wax/oil was dry, though I think this could be done at any later stage. It shouldn’t be done before the wax/oil goes on though! .. I tried this with the same markers at the top of the middle sample piece. They came out much darker on the bare wood, whereas on the wax/oil the effect and strength is much easier to control.

Spectrum Noir markers, selection of 'browns' ideal for model wood staining

The markers I used were from Spectrum Noir available as a pack of six ‘browns’. I’ve found that these generally have a much richer ink than Winsor & Newton Promarkers, as well as lasting longer and being cheaper in the first place!

Osmo Wax Wood Finish

The wax/oil medium I’ve used is from Osmo .. the photo above includes the tins I still have after more than 20 years and the wax/oil still works perfectly! I used Osmo products quite a lot when I was living in Germany, they were always available at Bauhaus (equivalent to our B&Q here). I used them not only to protect or colour wood, but also to seal or paint any similarly absorbent surface .. even plaster!  In fact, it was a surprise but the Osmo treatment gave the cast plaster forms I was producing at the time the smoothest, best looking and most durable surface I could hope for! But Osmo ‘Wood Wax Finish’ (as it’s marketed in the UK) is intended for wood and comes either as clear, various whites, as a variety of wood stains, or in a small selection of basic colours.

On plaster as on wood, the first coat is likely to dry to a matt finish and a second coat is needed for a ‘satin’ sheen. Like any oil-based treatment the basic Osmo clear transparent will slightly darken any wood (though this is often not so noticeable with very light woods), and it also imparts a slightly yellow tinge (see further along for more on this). In the UK Osmo products have remained specialist, not stocked by any of the big DIY marts, so the best place to look for them is here

https://www.osmouk.com/retail/product.cfm?product=317

 

Generalizing brickwork

In this case there was every excuse to stylize, or rather generalize the brickwork exterior: it wasn’t an important visual part of the model’s function; I wanted to avoid slavish or fussy detail; and I wanted it to appear playful. There was also the fact that I’d really only had the architect’s plans as a guide in making the model, with just a few on-site photos available, so it was also a case of playing it safe. I wanted to emphasize the ‘warm and friendly’ in brick .. the ‘toy’ version of it, as I’d said, or as I imagined it might look mass-produced. I wanted to get a sense of textural richness and unifying pattern too, but time-wise to be able to get it relatively quickly! Embossing horizontal lines in 1mm foamed-Pvc was the quickest way I could think of to suggest the basic ingredient of a brickwork surface, and I’d done some texture tests with Rust-Oleum texture-spray for a previous project. The two effects just seemed to combine perfectly for what I wanted.

David Neat model-maker, archetectural model 2018, brickwork effect

David Neat model-maker, architectural model 2018, generalised brickwork effect

I used an embossing tool to score the lines in 1mm Palight. These are basically like scribing tools but with a rounded point instead of sharp ( in the UK, Poundland has them in their nail art section ). I had to try a few different orange or rust-red sprays to get an idea of the right direction for the base colour ( using red primers or leftover Montana cans ) before I could settle on the best .. MTN 94 Phoenix Orange. I left the sprayed pieces to fix more than day before going lightly over with Rust-Oleum ‘Pebble’ Stone Textured Finish. These Rust-Oleum sprays spit out tiny gobs and streaks in two colours at once and the effect is often better when subtle, but also I didn’t want to hide the base colour too much.

David Neat model-maker, brickwork effect tests 2018

 

The baseboard

For the baseboard .. which is to be honest usually more hassle than enjoyment .. I was especially lucky that the smallest size of IKEA table-top suited the model perfectly! I’d strongly recommend these table-tops because they’re relatively light but suitably solid, in a variety of rectangular formats and a number of immaculate finishes including satin white, dark blue and beige. They also work out cheaper than ordering good quality MDF or plywood cut to size, plus if you pick up from store you can see what you’re getting. Incidentally, I like the idea of models having a certain size relationship with the human figure, just as pieces of furniture do. I feel that the small table-top format traditionally 4ft x 2ft average, now 1200 x 600, has a similar dimensional presence to a small person.

David Neat model-maker, architectural model 2018, bird's eye view

David Neat model-maker, baseboard from IKEA

As I’d explained in Part 1 of this write-up, the ‘building blocks’ of the model were designed to be removable and I wanted to give them clear ‘footprints’ to lock into. This meant a raised surround with the shapes cut into it, not just a sprayed design on the floor. I was thinking here of the tactile experience of making objects connect, of feeling the joining more, rather than just sliding parts around. I cut the surround shape out of 2mm Palfoam (I’d waited to do this until I’d got all the room structures made, to make sure of a good fit). Instead of making each room as a box with the floor included I made them as open boxes to fit around floor shapes which became part of the base. I thought this was more interesting, as it gave the opportunity of revealing a more convincing ‘ground level plan’ underneath.

David Neat model-maker, architectural model 2018, baseboard with 'polished concrete' floor areas and veneer surround

We’d gone through a few ideas for possible treatments of the surround, including a blotchy watercolourist abstract suggesting tree and shrub shapes seen from above. But from later building site photos it was unclear to me how many trees and shrubs would actually be remaining, and in any case I was running out of time .. so after thinking about a variety of quick surfacing options which would never have survived, I chose oak veneer because it was sympathetic and felt appropriate.

For the least possible hassle I wanted a veneer which was self-adhesive, also the best choice when cladding Palfoam. I’ve used these before and I’d recommend getting them from The Wood Veneer Hub because I think the prices compare well and delivery has always been quick. With veneers there aren’t usually many size options, for the 60cm width I required I had to get 2 metres, total cost around £45. The best way of organizing the sticking in this case was first trimming the veneer to a little over the length; laying it glue-side-up on a flat work surface; peeling off the backing paper; then carefully and slowly lowering the Palfoam surround shape onto it starting from one end. The thorough directions that came with the product recommended using what they call a ‘veneer scraper’ in other words a hard plastic smoothing blade with which to press down on the veneer strongly while sticking. I didn’t have one of these but I cut a rectangle in Palight, sanding the edge a little to prevent it from scratching. The adhesive is very strong but I think it pays to be thorough i.e. just smoothing it down with the hand or a cloth wouldn’t be enough.

Once this was done I could turn it over, place on a large cutting mat and trim the edges with a scalpel. Oak is a hard wood but the veneer is extra thin, so this wasn’t difficult. I’d made sure that I’d kept the backing paper so that I could put some back on the interior leftovers. Since I had trimmed the veneer from its underside, the final task was to smooth down all topside edges (120 grit sandpaper) because otherwise they would catch.

Wood veneer comes unfinished, that is, the wood surface may look beautiful and feel smooth but it will need protection from dust and dirt. Medium-tone woods like oak will quickly show darker finger-marks. So I knew that I would have to seal the wood surface but I really didn’t want it to go any darker. In the end I went a little the other way .. in the photo below I’ve laid a piece of untreated veneer over the final effect for comparison.

David Neat model-maker, architectural model 2018, making veneer surround

Osmo Wax Wood Finish and Rustoleum Clear Sealer

It’s vital to make test samples before using any type of wood treatment because sometimes the results are most unexpected! Here below for example, the first two tests on the left were Rustoleum Clear Sealer a matt water-based sealer I’ve used in the past on lighter woods such as ash or sycamore. On those it worked perfectly, the sealing coat was practically invisible with no change in colour or tone, but for some reason on the oak it couldn’t have been more different! As a second test, I diluted the sealer 1:1 with water, and this was different but still surprising. For the third on the right I tried Rustoleum Furniture Lacquer a matt spirit-based finish which is normally intended as a protective coating for chalk paint. This result was much more as I’d expected.

 

David Neat, samples using different sealers on oak veneer

In the end I went for the Osmo Wood Wax Finish, mixing the clear version I had (No. 3101) with some transparent white (No. 3111). Below from the left is the straight clear, then the transparent white and lastly a 1:1 mix of the two which was the final choice. With any mix like this which contains some pigment it’s important to use a soft flat brush and to keep working the liquid into and over the surface to avoid any pigment pooling.

David Neat, samples using different sealers on oak veneer

David Neat model-maker, architectural model 2018, veneer surround

In the course of working on this base layer I successfully solved a problem which had troubled me for a long time. How can you place a large cut-out shape (such as the one above) into exactly the position you want it (with a nice 1cm margin all round in this case), making any slight adjustments that might be necessary, but then stick it down without moving it from that exact position? Of course I’d thought about pencilled corner guides, even little corner blocks, to fix the position for later when the glue-covered surface is impatiently waiting! That’s the whole problem .. anyone who’s tried to manoeuvre a large, bendy, sticky sheet into exactly the right position before any of it starts sticking anywhere it shouldn’t will know the problem!

Ultratape Rhino Double Sided Carpet Tape

I solved the problem, thanks partly to double-sided carpet tape. This is a good one .. ‘Rhino’ Double Sided Carpet Tape, from Ultratape .. I’ve used it for years and it’s often sold very cheaply for some reason. I knew that this kind of smooth, thin carpet tape would be fine for securing smooth Palfoam to a smooth, manufactured surface (in this case painted MDF). It just doesn’t usually hold that long on porous, dusty or uneven surfaces.

I hoped that I could take full advantage of the fact that the tape could be fully applied, as shown below, and then stripped of its non-stick covering, but in stages. Take note of the little square of tape that I’ve put in the bottom right corner.

David Neat model-maker, using carpet tape to laminate on model baseboard

Once the taping was done I turned the sheet over, positioned it on the baseboard exactly as I wanted it, but then put whatever weights I had near the far three corners leaving that corner with the square of tape free. I could then carefully bend that corner up a little just to get at the tape covering and pull it out with tweezers. Then I could press this corner firmly down. Now it’s stuck at one corner and all the other corners are still fine. Then it was a case of carefully repositioning weights so that enough of the sheet could be flexed to get at the end corners of tape lines, to pull out the covering strips .. progressing in this fashion roughly diagonally from where I started. Incidentally I had to use this photo taken to remind myself where I’d put the pieces of tape because they’re not all easy to see once the sticking starts.

David Neat model-maker, weighting down base cutting while fixing in position

In the final part to come I will be looking at the various options for making the windows in the model.

An architectural play-model: Part 1

 

David Neat, architectural model, 2018

I was asked to make a model of gallery rooms newly added to a private house in Hampshire, and have been working on this part-time for the last few months. The focus was on the interiors, since the idea was that the owners could use the model to explore different arrangements of the contents, but it was agreed that the model could also have an aesthetic presence of its own .. as a sculptural object in itself .. so I took the freedom to stylize aspects of the exterior and to avoid fussy detail. After initial talks with the friends who’d commissioned it the model developed its ‘plaything’ nature .. somewhere between dollshouse and construction kit .. as it progressed. From the beginning the plan was that there would be detachable sections, making it possible to peer into parts of rooms, but that these ‘building blocks’ could be quickly and cleanly reassembled again. This suggested a baseboard with cavities into which room sections could be slotted into place .. further adding the qualities of ‘jigsaw’ and ‘puzzle’ to the aspect of play.

We wanted the roof structures to be represented, mainly to illustrate how the interiors are crowned by these light-receiving cones. But I only wanted to ‘outline’ them as it were, and they needed to be detachable. Giving them any suggestion of their external nature would have made them too heavy-looking, so I took advantage of their separateness to make them  ’emblems’ in yellow Palight.

David Neat, architectural model, 2018

David Neat, architectural model, 2018

David Neat, architectural model, 2018

 

Working with Palight and Palfoam

Once again I wanted to use my favourite foamed PVC for most of the build, because it is one of the most manageable and versatile materials I know! Using this would also mean that the individual ‘room blocks’ would not become too heavy while still being structurally very solid. At the chosen scale of 1:25 the main walls came to roughly 15mm thick in the model, while the interior walls could be represented with 5mm. I had quite a large stock of 5mm, but I chose to build each section of thick wall as a ‘sandwich’ i.e. solid 5mm PVC both sides, with a 5mm thick framework in between. This was partly to reduce the weight ( and therefore the stress on the boxes ) a little more, but also because I wanted to build in a continuous groove along the tops of the walls to slot the ceilings into. In retrospect I wouldn’t do it this way again if I could help it .. it was an awful amount of cutting, sanding, aligning and gluing!

David Neat, architectural model 2018, detail of foamed PVC walls

Here in the UK Palram’s ‘Palight’ brand foamed PVC is available in white or a small selection of colours, and comes in a few different thicknesses. But of the white only the 1mm thickness is actually Palight. In the thicknesses from 2mm to 10mm ( there used to be thicker, but no longer it seems) the material is Palfoam. This is important to know, and to check when ordering, because Palfoam is softer. This makes it even easier to cut ( with a scalpel for example, as I do, and especially if one cuts along the extrusion grain i.e. along the less bendy direction ) and it glues together even stronger because the cut edges are more porous. But the surface of Palfoam is much more susceptible to scratching, so something needs to be done about it if it’s being used for a model that’s going to be handled.

David Neat, architectural model 2018, white wall texture samples

I knew that I was going to clad the outsides anyway with whatever I came up with for the brickwork effect, so my first task was to find a covering which would be suitable for the interior walls, which in reality were just white-painted plasterboard. Apart from the practical durability aspect I wasn’t happy with the idea of just white PVC walls anyway .. it’s the most uninteresting, lifeless form of white! One possibility was cladding the interior with Daler Rowney ‘Georgian’ oil painting paper ( on the left above ) which is quite a tough 250gsm, primer-coated and ‘linen’ textured paper. This is available as pads or sheets. The other idea was evenly stippling Polycell’s Fine Surface Polyfilla directly onto the PVC ( shown on the right ). I’ve textured PVC this way before  so I know that it stays put and resists scratching better than the plastic alone. It’s tricky at times to maintain an even quality of stipple, and the oil painting paper was the easier and quicker of the two to do, but I was worried that the paper could scuffing at the edges after repeated handling. Fine Surface Polyfilla is also a more sympathetic, slightly warmer white, so I chose this for the wall treatment.

David Neat, architectural model 2018, detail of stippled texture on walls

 

Simulating polished concrete

The most important aspect of the interior, the part which needed to look ‘convincing’ above all else, was the polished concrete floor. Especially so, since floors assume greater significance in models than in real life, because we’re mostly looking straight down on them. That usually can’t be helped, but it’s one of the reasons why we chose to make the model in removable parts, making it possible to get more of the ground level perspective.

David Neat model-maker, architectural model 2018, polished concrete floor

David Neat model-maker, architectural model 2018, polished concrete floor

I was originally going  to go with a method I’d tried before, using matt photo prints of actual concrete and achieving the polished look by spraymounting clear acetate on top. I’ve used this technique for very convincing marble or polished wood, easy to play around with because the parts can be ‘tweaked’ separately instead of having to achieve it all-at-once, and satisfying to look at because the surface effects ‘come from within’ rather than lying opaquely on top. Incidentally, it’s interesting to observe from the last three photos how .. even in simulations! .. the particular warm greenish-grey of concrete can alter quite a bit dependent on the light. I’ve noticed many times in real life how much concrete can change its mood under different lighting.

David Neat model-maker, recycled paper

As I was saying, I’d planned to create the concrete with photos but by chance I happened to have a cheap, recycled paper that worked even better as a basis. These (above) were file dividers found in a £shop which I’d kept because their back surface was interesting. The grey ones were a good basis in terms of colour and mottling, a suitable warm greenish-grey, though a little too dark and too even. But I found that if I use a sanding sponge on the paper  I could make it lighter, while giving it a bit of animation.

David neat model-maker, simulating cocrete with recycled paper

David Neat model-maker, concrete effect samples

Embossing the back first with a serrated modelling tool created other distinctive patterns in the paper when sanded. I didn’t want this kind of patterning in this case, but it’s an interesting effect.

David Neat model-maker, polished concrete simulation using recycled paper and acetate

I had to cut the floor pieces out of 2mm Palfoam first, clad these in the paper ( spraymounting down using 3M’s Craft Mount, the strongest ), modify the paper surface by sanding, vacuum the surface to remove any dust .. then I could apply the acetate. This is straightforward ‘transparency film’ designed for printing on, sometimes also called ‘OHP film’ ( for overhead projection ). Hence it’s surface feels slightly rough on one side, because there are micro-deposits of clear priming material to help the ink to fix. It is this side of the acetate that needs to be spraymounted, then laid and firmly rubbed down over the paper. Now the glossy side of the acetate is on top. This is usually too glossy for a polished concrete surface ( though it depends what look you’re going for) so I take some of the gloss away by rubbing either with a kitchen scourer or very fine sanding sponge ( the kind painter/decorators use for matting paintwork ). This will deepen but also slightly lighten the effect.

David Neat model-maker, samples for a polished concrete floor

I felt in the end that my polished concrete was still a little too dark and not ‘beige’ enough, so I gave all the pieces a light and mottled dusting with Belton Molotow ‘Stone grey light’ spray paint. Above .. to the left is an example of the photoprint method (which in this case was far too busy and specific); in the middle is the recycled paper/acetate version; and on the right the final adjustment adding a dusting of spraypaint.

In the next part I will be talking about the baseboard, describing my methods for staining woodwork, and a ‘generic’ or stylized treatment for the brickwork.

 

‘ Yogiji ‘ on YouTube

The word really needs to be spread about the beautiful and unique work of a friend of mine Marc Steinmetz who creates short, animated pieces where his character Yogiji .. an Indian guru graffiti’d onto a backstreet wall .. gives us his simple wisdom on the most fundamental things in life. You can find him here

https://www.youtube.com/lifewithyogiji

Marc Steinmetz 'Yogiji' still from 'The Pursuit of Happiness'

These pieces are charming (in the fullest sense of the word) in their simplicity and directness, and they are faultlessly created! There’s a very considered balance of humour and seriousness .. with great little touches such as Yogiji talking about the wall ‘I was drawn to it’ or his Third Eye turban disapparating after him. It helps to be relaxed and receptive when seeing these, but I’m convinced that if you accept them as they are, give them time and heed the words .. you’ll not only be entertained and moved, but you’re unlikely to forget Yogiji or what he has to say! One of the remarkable things is that Marc does everything himself; the writing, the graphics, the animation .. even the voice!

Marc Steinmetz 'Life .. with Yogiji' Part1

I would recommend that the best way of experiencing the pieces is to go to the ‘Videos’ page after following the link and look at the short ‘Teaser’ first, which introduces Yogiji and establishes the style. Then look at ‘Part 1’, ‘Part 2’, ‘Yogiji and Mole Man’ and ‘Yogiji Sounds the Alarm’ in that order. All are voiced in English but Marc has included the option of English subtitles if you find the accent a bit difficult, or subtitles in his native German.

Marc Steinmetz, still from 'Yogiji and Mole Man'

Marc Steinmetz, still from 'Yogiji Sounds the Alarm'

I’m not the kind of person who has ever taken to doctrines or life-coaching messages .. but Yogiji is someone I could very happily follow! As Marc writes for Yogiji  ‘Alas – You were never given a handbook for this life. This could be it.’

 

1:10 scale furniture models

 

David Neat, 1:10 scale furniture models in photoshoot set, July 2017

I was recently asked by The New Craftsmen gallery in London to make a series of 1:10 scale models of a new furniture collection they were producing, conceived by the stylist Sue Skeen. The accurate models were meant to serve as a ‘portable collection’ to help show the range to customers and as publicity objects before the actual pieces were ready. The models were used in a photoshoot for World of Interiors magazine and were to be presented during the London Design Festival.

The image above is one from the photoshoot, for which I was asked to make a large model ‘set’ consisting of three distinct rooms with very bold, oversized decoration but including some realistic accessories such as doors, light switches and ‘retro’ radiators. These included the re-creation of a vintage fireplace as direct homage to the artist/designer Peggy Arnold whose work was one of the inspirations for the collection.

David Neat, 1:10 scale funiture models in photoshoot set

What had to be sorted out first was a reasonable scale in which to show the pieces to best advantage while still keeping them easily portable. At first 1:6 scale seemed reasonable, the size that Vitra use for their chair model collection .. but although that might work well for chairs, some of the new furniture pieces were over 2 metres long .. too bulky at 1:6 to carry many of them around, so we had to go for 1:10 scale.

David Neat, 1:10 scale model of 'Trunk' table with oak top, Inglis Hall and Sue Skeen

One of the next most interesting challenges was deciding how the range of different surfaces would be represented, particularly in terms of the scale. With surfaces it’s acceptable to play with scale up to a point .. in fact many surfaces wouldn’t ‘read’ well enough at a small scale so they need some exaggeration. A natural way of doing that for wooden subjects is just to use the actual wood. For example the table above has an oak top so I’ve used good quality oak veneer laminated onto a Pvc base. Oak veneer is too brittle for wrapping round the curved edge so here I used ash veneer instead. For this collection I had to do quite a lot of careful veneering to give the effect of solid tops or legs, because woods such as oak, ash, sycamore or Douglas fir are not available in ‘model friendly’ thicknesses apart from veneer. 

David Neat, 1:10 scale model, 'Trunk' table with oak top, Inglis Hall and Sue Skeen

David Neat, 1:10 scale models of 'Stick' tables, Inglis Hall and Sue Skeen

Likewise, the specific Formica pattern intended for these tables would have appeared too nondescript at a dutiful 1:10. On the other hand though, using the actual Formica wasn’t an option either .. impossible to work with, and in any case too bold at 1:1 .. so in the end I made my own graphic version of the pattern and printed it at a size I felt was right. I sealed this within acetate ( see later for technique ) which I rubbed with fine abrasive cloth to give the right ‘satin’ surface.  

David Neat, 1:10 models of 'Stick' tables, Inglis Hall and Sue Skeen

Representing a rushwork seat turned out to be simpler than I’d thought. I found that I could get quite a good suggestion by embossing/carving into 5mm foamed Pvc .. the material I turn to for solving just about everything! Once patterned I undercoated in a dark, warm grey acrylic and dry-brushed the lighter rush colours over.

David Neat, 1:10 scale model of bench with rushwork seat, designed by Sue Skeen and The New Craftsmen

David Neat, detail of 1:10 scale model, bench with rushwork seat. Designed by Sue Skeen and The New Craftsmen

For both the marble and the terrazzo tables below I was able to utilize methods I’d tried for the first time in an earlier job this year for The New Craftsmen and Christies. The marble effect here is a photo image printed on inkjet transparency film (also known as OHP film or ‘printable acetate’). The marble intended for the real table was a specific type called ‘Bianca Eclipsia’ and the supplier’s website had a number of usable images, and in this case it made sense to adjust one to the right 1:10 scale. The makers of transparency film recommend waiting 10mins for the ink to dry but in practice I’ve found that it takes much longer, like a few hours, before the ink is properly smudge-secure.

The marble top was to be 30mm thick in reality so I’d cut and shaped a piece of 3mm Palfoam (foamed PVC). After the image had dryed I lightly spraymounted it on the inked side (using the stronger 3M DisplayMount), pasted it firmly on the Palfoam, and carefully trimmed round the edge. It’s difficult to trim the acetate exactly around curves, even with a new scalpel blade, so I usually cut as close as I can and finish off by sanding with P120 sandpaper or finer. Sanding has to be done just in the downward direction (i.e. downward from the top surface) otherwise the acetate film will lift at the edges. With the acetate attached ‘smooth side’ up the image is now perfectly sealed within. That’s all fine now, if you want a glossy, highly polished surface, but most marble has a more tastefully subdued one .. as if frosted. This can be achieved by sanding the acetate either with fine ‘wet and dry’ paper’, decorators’ sanding pad or something else finely abrasive like the rough layer on a kitchen sponge. Now it feels even more that the marble pattern is coming from within the surface .. rather than lying dead on top like paintwork!

If evenly sprayed the acetate will remain secure on the surface, especially if there are no protruding edges left to catch. If in doubt, both the image and the base can be lightly sprayed at the same time for extra adhesion. I realized though that this method wouldn’t work for surfacing the edge .. a 3mm strip of acetate would never hold! I’d done some experiments before where I’d printed images on regular matte coated inkjet paper, sticking them ink side down on PVC, and washing/rubbing the paper part away. I found that the image was left almost completely on the PVC .. preserved in the chalky coating which had remained firmly stuck to it. So I filled in the marble pattern around the edge of the top that way .. printing more of the same on matte coated paper; cutting thin strips of it; pasting those ink side down along the edge; trimming the excess; soaking/rubbing off the paper.

Transferring images 'ink side down' comparing white and black bases

Above is one of the first tests I made of this method, comparing the effect (using a photo of treetops) of transferring onto white and black. What remains of the image after all the paper has been removed is semi-transparent .. but I was surprised at how much of the detail and colour still came out against black. Especially if a strong glue is used e.g. 3M DisplayMount or PhotoMount, the image is very secure .. hardly possible to scratch it off even!

Going back to the inkjet transparency film for a moment .. I had used the one sold at Ryman’s, A4 size and 100microns thick (which I think they all are). Ryman’s seems to be changing their products now, so I’ve put a link here to the same material from PhotoPaperDirect. Wherever they’re from these sheets cost between 50p – £1 each.

http://www.photopaperdirect.com/products/A4-Inkjet-Overhead-Transparency-Film-OHP-Film.html

David Neat, 1:10 scale model, marble table, designed by Sue Skeen and The New Craftsmen

David Neat, 1:10 scale model of marble table, designed by Sue Skeen and The New Craftsmen

I went into such detail describing the ‘print transfer’ method I used on the marble table edge .. because I then used it to create this ‘terrazzo’ table model below. Like all the table-tops here and many of the other elements, the basic form was made out of Palfoam ( or Palight if it needed to be a bit tougher). The ‘look’ of the table-top and the choice of marbles and granites were fairly well defined by the client, though an actual table was yet to be made at that time. I colour-printed a range of images; chose the best areas and drew the shapes on the unprinted side; pasted each piece in place printed side down; soaked and rubbed off the paper. It’s important to remember that this is likely to work best on a white base and I should note that sometimes definition and colour may be a little subdued because we’re seeing the backside of the ink, as it were, soaked into a minutely thin chalky layer.

After the surface was cleaned up and dried I emphasized the edges of each shape with a slight, embossed line. In the real table these would probably be completely flush, so this is another of those little ‘enhancements’ to realism, and to clarify that it’s more than just a printout.

David Neat, 1:10 scale model, 'terrazzo' table, designed by Sue Skeen and The New Craftsmen

David Neat, 1:10 scale model, 'terrazzo' table, designed by Sue Skeen and The New Craftsmen

My process of veneering

The best sources I found for a wide range of wood veneers were Vale Veneers woodveneeruk.co.uk and Wood Veneer Hub thewoodveneerhub.co.uk. Vale Veneers had the smaller range but a handful of common woods in particularly ‘flexible’ paper-backed form, c. 0.6mm thick. This was the type I was hoping for because it generally lies flatter and can be stuck down evenly without using a lot of pressure. I had imagined paper-backed veneer might be pricey but the cost from Vale Veneers was generally about £3.50 per sq foot. Originally the remit from The New Craftsmen included pieces in the less common sycamore and Douglas fir but these were available from The Wood Veneer Hub for a similar price though not paper-backed.

I made the basis (that is, the underlying material of each piece) of this oak ‘settle’ from Palight foamed Pvc. Each piece would then be clad on both sides with 0.6mm oak veneer. The visible edges would also have to be clad and this slight dimensional difference had to be foreseen and compensated for when cutting out the Palight pieces .. there’s a lot of searching, logical thought going into this but that’s what I most enjoy, even though I might not be the best at it sometimes! Oak is not very pliable even in veneer form so for covering the curving edges I had to use ash veneer .. the difference in tone should not be so noticeable at this size and if it is it can always be tinted to match. The same applied to the birch dowel used for the legs.

David Neat, 1:10 scale model of oak settle, designed by Sue Skeen for The New Craftsmen

The correct order for cladding is .. edges first, and then faces because they’re more visible. It means that any join-lines will be on the edges where they blend in better with the other edge lines. In the event of visible gaps these are much easier to fill and disguise if they occur on the edges. For the edges I cut long strips wider than needed and, surprisingly, in the direction of the grain .. normally this direction is the least flexible but I found that ash veneer could do it and when I’ve tried thin strips against the grain they just didn’t look right. After I’d pulled, glued and pressed the edge strips in place I needed to trim them near with the scalpel and finish off with a sanding plate (i.e. a thin piece of wood or plastic with P120 sandpaper attached). I did the same with the face cladding later.

I used superglue throughout. Both on the edges (applying to the plastic, moving along bit by bit) and on the faces (applying a rapid network of thin-ish lines to the plastic, especially the outline, and pressing all at once).

David Neat, 1:10 scale model of oak settle, designed by Sue Skeen for The New Craftsmen

All the tables were designed with ‘quadrant’ profile legs .. two sides of a square on the inside and a 1/4 circle curve on the outside. This was a very pleasing shape with also a lot of variety to it when seen from different angles. Most of the tables had painted legs and frame, so I shaped a prototype leg, made a few moulds and cast them in resin. However, the table below was to be solid Douglas fir, top and legs, so I had to mould and cast a thinner versions and veneer them .. hoping that I could get the veneer to stay with the curve. As it happens this worked fine mainly thanks to the effectiveness and speed of thin superglue in sticking wood veneer to PU resin, especially since the Oregon pine (the only available version of Douglas fir) fought a bit against bending.

David Neat, 1:10 scale model of Douglas fir (Oregon pine) table, designed by Sue Skeen for The New Craftsmen

Protecting model wood

Much as one might like to in order to preserve its naturalness, there’s no way that a wooden model can be left untreated if it’s going to be handled. It absorbs natural  grease and dirt from the fingers, this is turn attracts and fixes dust, and in no time the wood appears grubby. But the wrong choice of treatment can be just as demoralising!

David Neat - tests for best clear, matte wood varnish or sealant - June 2017

I wanted a coating that would hardly change the appearance of the untreated wood, certainly not make it visibly darker. Also, I couldn’t afford that the treatment would have any permanent warping effect on the veneer as some of the elements were quite thin .. and this can often happen when a water-based medium is used.

I did a number of tests with different clear ‘varnishes’ including oil; spirit-based matte and water-based matte.  In the end there were two very different mediums that did exactly what I’d hoped for .. RustOleum Clear Sealer which is water-based and OsmoColor Dekorwachs which has a wax/oil base (this is the German version from more than 20 years back when I was living there. Names and packaging  may have changed but Osmo products have remained essentially the same).

David Neat, 1:10 scale model of ash bench, designed by Sue Skeen for The New Craftsmen

David Neat, 1:10 scale model of ash bench, designed by Sue Skeen for The New Craftsmen

I painted the RustOleum wood sealer as thinly as possible and undiluted on sample wood swatches. There was a little curving but within a couple of hours these were perfectly flat again. Also, after drying I couldn’t even tell which pieces of sample veneer I’d painted! I knew there wouldn’t be a warping issue with the Osmo wax/oil, but I’d expected significant darkening. The next day after proper drying the change in tone of the wood was only very slight! Because wax/oil penetrates into the wood more than water-based sealer and different woods will react to this in different ways, there could be more darkening with some of them. A solution to this is to add a very little amount of white, preferably using the ‘transparent white’ version of the same medium if there happens to be one.

David Neat, wood treatments compared - RustOleum clear sealer and Osmo wax

Using gloss paints in models

I was never a fan of using the ‘older style’ .. i.e. spirit or oil-based .. gloss paints in models because there were always problems! Here’s the shortlist: – unless the surface to be painted is immaculate, every imperfection becomes very noticeable; unless this surface is evenly primed or suitable for the paint the ‘gloss’ that results after drying can turn out patchy; gloss paints used to be notoriously unstable, needing religiously thorough mixing beforehand and sometimes failing to dry properly even then; during a lengthy drying process the surface is bound to catch some dust particles whatever the precautions.

On a more important level than all that hassle, there was my emerging notion that ‘gloss’ just doesn’t translate in scale anyway! That something a bit more subtle and light-friendly .. like ‘satin’ .. conveys ‘glossiness’ better in the smaller scale?

However, part of my brief was to use the gloss paints that would eventually be used on the real items .. a good idea, yes, but only in terms of colour matching as it turned out. The new breed of acrylic water-based gloss paints may be progressive in some important ways .. but they’re certainly not for painting models! They .. at least, the ones I was given .. are thick, not opaque enough, non-levelling and they congeal so fast when brushed on that it’s difficult to even out the paint layer .. even on small areas! In spite of firming up far too quickly, they also seem to take a long time to ‘dry’ fully! I found this out when I took a handful of painted swatches to a meeting .. they had stuck together, a full week after painting them! I managed to make the surfaces look reasonably clean and streak-free in the end .. but it took a lot of effort. I made each item of painted furniture in Palfoam Pvc which I ‘grained’ very slightly by drawing P120 sandpaper in straight lines across (to suggest painted wood). I had to prime the Pvc first and because the gloss paints had too much transparency I used Humbrol enamels as an undercoat, mixing as near as I could get to the final colour. The adhesion between Pvc/enamel and enamel/acrylic was first-rate!

David Neat, 1:10 scale model of painted settle, designed by Sue Skeen for The New Craftsmen

I had to make two versions of the ‘Peggy’ chair, as it was called .. one plain ash and the other gloss grey. As with the settles the legs are dowel but needed to be 4mm diameter and this doesn’t normally exist! Luckily there was just one online source that did have this size but in ramin wood.

David Neat, 1:10 scale models of 'Peggy' chairs, designed by Sue Skeen for The New Craftsmen

Lastly I wanted to include here a picture of the ‘Peggy Arnold’ fireplace on its own. I was fond of the way this looked! I used an original Peggy Arnold pattern, printed on gloss photo paper in grey tones, for the tiling. The last promising discovery was that Marabu GlasArt glass paints make excellent wood varnishes! Here I have used the ‘Brown’ as it came (they can be thinned with white spirit). One coat brushed then evened out with a tissue will create a good matte cover, but after this first coat has dried for a day a second will give a nice, even silk/gloss.

David Neat, 1:10 scale model of 'Peggy Arnold' fireplace

 

 

Guide to Thames Foreshore locations

I’ve started to hunt on the Thames Foreshore again, the first chance I’ve had since the beginning of the year. But before I get too wrapped up in the promising present, I wanted to put some of the work I did in January to rest. I say ‘work’ because I worked hard to justify the time I was spending and to put my obsession to good use. The only solution for self-indulgence is to share it! So I developed the idea that I could create my own artificed version of my Thames Foreshore experience .. a collection of small cast and painted forms which could pile together like a diverse, colourful and symbolic shingle, and which could be .. perhaps quite literally .. sold by the ounce! For the moment I’m calling this rather prosaically my Thames Foreshore Collection.

So in the folder Thames Foreshore above, which I added last year but has remained practically empty, I’ve added my project log. I had also got somewhat sidetracked into feeling that an organised account of each foreshore location I visited would be worthwhile. So I’ve also put the beginnings of those there. As always this was as much for myself as anyone else, because I needed first of all to decipher and pinpoint where the access points actually were from the outdated guidance; to remind myself of notable hazards; to remind myself of any aspects of local history which could be relevant to what might be found below, and lastly to record the things I’d not only found but experienced there.

I’ve started each location write-up by marking the precise access point on Google maps, together with photos of the steps and immediate foreshore terrain. After a short listing of any ‘Hazards’ there’s a summary of local history where I’ve included sections of a very detailed Ordnance Survey map from the 1860s as an indication of the past life of the area. For example, here is the Google map entry showing the location of Horn Stairs in Rotherhithe; followed by a section from the 1860s OS map detailing the Royal Victoria Victualling Yard as was, in the Deptford/Surrey Quays area, and a photo of the entry gate to the steps at Greenwich Power Station.

David Neat, Thames Foreshore, location of Horn Stairs (Google Maps), Thames Foreshore, Surrey Docks

Thames Forshore, Upper Watergate upstream 3, Thames Foreshore, Deptford

David Neat, Thames foreshore access at Greenwich Power Station

Where I’ve found interesting images to illustrate the history I’ve included them, such as this rendition of the royal Palace of Placentia in Greenwich, formerly on the site which became the Royal Naval College, now University of Greenwich.

Palace of Placentia Greenwich in 1560

Then for each location there are the ‘Opportunities’ afforded, and I’ve started to illustrate some of these with the things I’ve been able to find so far. I’ve put up what I can for the moment, but there’s a lot more waiting to be added.

David Neat, Thames Foreshore, early 18th century clay pipe

Such as .. a portion of 18th century clay pipe found at Enderby’s Wharf on the Greenwich Peninsula, and the shingle bank underneath Morden Wharf nearby.

David Neat, Thames Foreshore, shingle at Morden Wharf

David Neat, Thames Foreshore, frost on shingle Greenwich beach December 2016

Winter frost on the beach at Greenwich and an unusually large piece of pottery dug out of the mud there.

David Neat, large potsherd, Thames foreshore Greenwich, unidentified pottery sherd on-site record as found

David Neat, Thames Foreshore, large piece of coral (ship's ballast), Thames Foreshore, Rotherhithe

Coral, weathered bricks and flints, and buried ship timbers at Rotherhithe; lastly the remains of a present-day offering to the river at Surrey Quays.

brick and flint forms, Thames Foreshore, Rotherhithe

David Neat, buried ship's timber, Thames Foreshore, Rotherhithe

David Neat, river offering, Thames Foreshore, Deptford