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.

 

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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

 

 

‘Contemporary Living’ at Christie’s South Kensington – Part 2

Miniature exhibits from the interactive model for 'Contemporary Living' at Christie's, made by David Neat 2017

If you want to see Part 1 of this series just scroll down to the previous entry, which will also give fuller information on the context. This was a commission from the London gallery The New Craftsmen for an ‘interactive model/installation’ exhibited at Christie’s during ‘Contemporary Living: Art, Craft and Design’ April 1-4 2017. The exhibition brought together work from Christie’s, The New Craftsmen and the South African gallery Southern Guild. All in all I had to make more than forty model versions of the exhibits complete with decorated plinths, which anyone could then move around to ‘curate’ their own exhibition within the space.

Here I am presenting a selection of my model versions accompanied by the publicity photos I was working from and a little information about each artist/designer. I have also included some notes on the materials or the techniques I’ve used to simulate the objects.

Porky Hefer

Models of Porky Hefer 'Fallen Bird's Nest' and Charles Haupt 'Num Num Branch', Southern Guild, made by David Neat

South African artist Porky Hefer’s Fallen Bird’s Nest is in reality woven ‘kooboo’ cane with a leather cushion. If I’d been able to allocate more than just a couple of days to this interesting piece I would have attempted weaving very thin, soft wire or even tried a 3D printing ‘pen’. But I had to settle for making a basic wire armature, then modelling both canework and cushion in Super Sculpey, painted with acrylics.

Porky Hefer 'Fallen Bird's Nest', model by David Neat

 

Porky Hefer 'Fallen Bird's Nest', kooboo cane and leather, courtesy of Southern Guild

Above the original Fallen Bird’s Nest, kooboo cane and leather, courtesy of Southern Guild.

Charles Haupt

Charles Haupt 'Num Num tables', models by David Neat

Charles Haupt works in bronze, with his own art foundry called Bronze Age in Cape Town. His speciality is making cast bronze components which can be configured in various ways as table supports or stands. For these he takes his inspiration from the regular thorns of the native South African Num Num shrub. For me these pieces were the most challenging to represent, partly in keeping them as thin but smooth as possible and also because, in the case of the tables, the structures have to be very finely tuned to meet both the ‘floor’ and the level tabletop.

Featuring Charles Haupt 'Num Num' coffee table, courtesy Southern Guild

Luckily I could snip out the basic shapes in pre-welded wire mesh, then model a thin, smoothed layer of Milliput to achieve the distinctive appearance. This needed a lot of delicate sanding before basecoating in dark matte acrylic, then dry-brushing Treasure Gold wax-gilt finish. The thin acrylic table tops had to be secured to the supports with the merest dots of superglue.

Charles Haupt 'Num Num Branch', model by David Neat

Previously the original Num Num Coffee Table in cast bronze and glass, and below the Num Num Branch in polished bronze. Photos courtesy of Southern Guild

Charles Haupt 'Num Num Branch', polished bronze, courtesy of Southern Guild

 

Miniature exhibits from Christie's 'Contemporary Living', interactive model made by David Neat

The ensemble above features some of the smaller works presented by The New Craftsmen from Nic Webb, Edmond Byrne and Leah Jensen. In the model I represented smaller works such as these in a slightly larger scale to reinforce their presence alongside the larger pieces.

Edmond Byrne

Edmond Byrne 'Glass Bowl with kaolin patina in amber', model by David Neat

Edmond Byrne is an Irish glass-blower whose technique involves blowing into hand-made moulds. Byrne lines these moulds with various materials such as clay or fabric which impart rough, matte effects on the cooled glass surface, in contrast to the sleek and glossy interior.

The easiest way I could achieve this in the model was by doing a similar thing .. by modelling a shape then making a mould from it. I then coloured some clear, viscous epoxy resin (Poundland epoxy adhesive) with a smudge of oil paint and spread it into the mould. To enhance the dusty patina on the outside I removed the cast while still a little tacky and brushed talc into the surface.

bowl making process

Below the original Large textured glass bowl with kaolin patina in amber. Photo courtesy of The New Craftsmen.

Edmond Byrne 'Glass Bowl in amber', courtesy of The New Craftsmen

Nic Webb

Nic Webb 'Moon Jar', model by David Neat

There were two very beautiful pieces by Nic Webb .. the sycamore Moon Jar represented above and the boxwood Lost Vessel below. Webb had given the sycamore a rich, dark finish which, as it turned out, I could suggest fairly well in slow-baked Super Sculpey with a few coats of brown shoe polish. Apart from the scorched interior the boxwood Lost Vessel was much paler so I had to use paint .. and never really got it! I realise now that I might have done better if I’d used a mix of translucent, cream and light brown Sculpey without needing to paint.

Nic Webb 'Lost Vessel', model by David Neat

Below the original Lost Vessel and Moon Jar courtesy of The New Craftsmen. The colours in this quick reference photo are not accurate.

Nic Webb 'Lost Vessel' and 'Moon Jar', boxwood and sycamore, courtesy of The New Craftsmen

Stanislaw Trzebinski

Stanislaw Trzebinski 'Mesa Ya Mwamba' model by David Neat

The young South African designer Stanislaw Trzebinski takes inspiration from marine forms, especially the ‘sea changes’ effected by aquatic organisms. Apparently he envisioned his sturdy tables as if underwater .. floating and transforming. As wood he uses muninga (also known as kiaat in Afrikaans) which is warm with a distinct, lively appearance. I wanted to trial a different technique for simulating this and needed it highly polished.

I was pleased with the results obtained surfacing the plinths with patterned acetate so I tried the same with the table surfaces .. finding a suitable image; adjusting the scale and printing on inkjet compatible film, which was then spraymounted onto the Pvc table top, ink-side down (once it had dried on the film, which can take a while!).

Stanislaw Trzebinski 'Mesa Ya Mwamba' model by David Neat, detail showing surface

One of the virtues of this method is that the pattern feels ‘within’ the surface (rather than sitting on top, like paint). Inkjet ink is transparent, so layers can be superimposed for richer, darker effects. Lastly, the top surface of the acetate is a perfect ‘mirror’ gloss, if this is the aim, but it can also be subdued as I’ve done here by rubbing with scouring sponge or superfine sanding pad (available from specialist decorator’s shops such as Leyland). When cladding a surface in this way it’s always better to cut the image slightly larger; spraymount onto the image; press and rub onto the host surface; turn over, and trim the edges with a fine scalpel. I’ve used 3M Display Mount for a strong bond.

I used strong, thin glassfibre rod for the legs (because it bonds well to the Pvc top) then modelled the details in Milliput. Below is the actual table, entitled Meza ya mwamba, cast bronze and kiaat, courtesy of Southern Guild.

Stanislaw Trzebinski 'Meza ya mwamba' table, model by David Neat

David Krynauw

David Krynauw 'Jeppestown Waiting Bench', model by David Neat

The Johannesburg designer David Krynauw chose panga panga wood (related to wenge) for this version of his Jeppestown Waiting Bench. In it he’s paid homage to the traditional riempie furniture method (using worked leather thonging for seats or backs).

I cut the basic framework out of 2mm Palight, then there was a deal of edge smoothing. Of course I had to take a shortcut with the criss-cross thonging (which in reality is surprisingly thin), substituting pieces of plastic embroidery mesh. Below is the real Jeppestown Waiting Bench, panga panga and leather, courtesy of Southern Guild.

David Krynauw 'Jeppestown Waiting Bench', Southern Guild

Meyer von Wielligh

Meyer von Weilligh 'Leaf Sideboard', model by David Neat

‘Meyer von Wielligh’ is the duo Norman Meyer and Abrie von Wielligh. They have created a number of versions of their Leaf Sideboard .. this one using ash wood and steel, the leaf patterns inspired by leaves scattered on the floor of Knysna Forest, in the Garden Route area of South Africa.

For me, once again Palight foamed Pvc came to the rescue, because it can be easily embossed .. sparing me the chore of inlaying real wood veneer which wouldn’t have done the job at that scale anyway.

Meyer von Weilligh 'Leaf Sideboard' detail, model by David Neat

Below is the photo reference for Leaf Sideboard, solid ash and steel, courtesy of Southern Guild.

Meyer von Wielligh 'Leaf Sideboard, ash wood and steel, courtesy of Southern Guild

William Waterhouse and Louisa Loakes

William Waterhouse/Louisa Loakes 'Cherry Day bed', model by David Neat

For their Cherry Day bed collaboration William Waterhouse made the structure and textile designer Louisa Loakes hand-printed the mattress and head-roll. They both work in London, William specialising in furniture and installation pieces often employing movement and mechanisation. I found it easiest and ‘neatest’ to model mattress and roll in Sculpey, then paint with acrylics. The written dimensions suffered in transit, so my version ended up a little short!

William Waterhouse & Louisa Loakes 'Cherry Day bed', cherry wood and steel, hand-printed fabric. Courtesy of The New Craftsmen

One of William’s kinetic installation pieces was included in the exhibition; the Beaufort (Air Powered Machine) .. a mesmerising chandelier-like structure fed from an unseen air pump. Since I couldn’t hang anything in the model, mine had to rest as if ‘off duty’ on a plinth.

William Waterhouse 'Beaufort (Air Powered Machine)', model by David Neat

Photos of the original Cherry Day bed, cherry wood and steel with hand-printed textiles and Beaufort (Air Powered Machine) in brass and air, courtesy of The New Craftsmen.

William Waterhouse 'Beaufort (Air Powered Machine)', brass and pumped air, courtesy of The New Craftsmen

Heino Schmitt

Heino Schmitt 'Be Seated', model by David Neat

Heino Schmitt’s bench which he entitled Be Seated utilizes an unusually large piece of olive wood which he found on a river bed. Some of the original nature of the wood has been retained at the edges but combined with decidedly man-made elements in brass and steel. Once again I grained and painted Palight for the seat. Photo below courtesy of Southern Guild.

Heino Schmitt 'Be Seated', olive wood, brass and steel. Courtesy of Southern Guild

Trevor Potter

Trevor Potter 'Weaver Nest Lamp', model by David Neat

Trevor Potter’s Weaver Nest Lamp represents a fascination with a weaver bird colony near to his home. Like a number of the other South African designers he favours bronze, because of the freedom it gives to model in an amenable material such as wax before making inflexible in metal. A quote from him about the work is worth giving in full:

‘Nest-building exemplifies a drive to create and it is in this instinct, shared by all life, that consciousness shows its face and expression can be noticed’

My simple expression of it just involved Pvc, wire and Sculpey. Below is the original, bronze and glass, courtesy of Southern Guild.

Trevor Potter 'Weaver Nest Lamp', bronze and glass, courtesy of Southern Guild

‘Contemporary Living’ at Christie’s South Kensington – Part 1

 

Miniature exhibits and 'push tools' from the interactive model 'The Patron's House' exhibited at Christie's during 'First Open' April 2017

I have just finished work on a particularly interesting, rewarding .. and of course demanding! .. piece commissioned by the London gallery The New Craftsmen for a showing of their artists’ work in conjunction with pieces from the Johannesburg based Southern Guild and items from Christie’s contemporary collection. The ‘exhibition’ .. along with my miniature, interactive version of it .. will be briefly open to the public at Christie’s South Kensington under the title ‘Contemporary Living’  from April 1-4 before the auction process starts. So yes, it opened already yesterday .. but it’s public tomorrow from 9.00 – 17.00 and on Tuesday 9.00 – 17.00, continuing 18.00 – 20.30 .. admission free!

The idea was to include a playful, dollshouse-related, interactive model within a showing of applied craftsmanship and artist/designer furniture .. so that visitors can actually rearrange the exhibits according to their own preferences. ‘The Patron’s House’, as it’s titled in the show, is really a more simplified, ‘toyed with’ version of the exhibition space, but opened out to allow more access.

'The Patron's House' Contemporary Living at Christies, April 2017

'The Patron's House' David Neat, Contemporary Living at Christie's, April 2017

The work had to be done relatively quickly .. there were more than forty individual objects and, within the realm of the model, each piece had to have its own plinth. This was mainly for practical reasons, so that the pieces can be moved around without harming the delicate models. From the beginning we felt that the plinths should be somehow decorated .. stark white plinths may often be the safest option in real-space, but the model needed something more playful. In the end I opted for a mixture of patterned, plain white and veneer-clad plinths. Another thing that was clear to us from the beginning was that there needed to be some juggling with the scale of the objects themselves .. so that the smaller objects could retain enough presence in competition with the larger. This is a feature of traditional dollshouses .. whether intentional or not. I chanced upon the idea of making ‘positional rakes’ similar to those used by a croupier, because participants needed to be given more ‘reach’ .. we couldn’t do away with the three main walls because the ‘paintings’ would need them, so the model could only be comfortably accessed from one end.

'The Patron's House' David Neat, Contemporary Living at Christie's, April 2017

'The Patron's House' David Neat, Contemporary Living at Christie's, April 2017

I had the chance to take photos of the individual model pieces while they were still in my studio, so I’m presenting them here followed by the photos of the real-life pieces I’d been using as reference. I often only had one publicity photo to work from plus outline dimensions, though The New Craftsmen provided a thorough series including details and good ‘white balance’, which helped a lot when trying to assess true colours or identifying materials. Nevertheless with many of the objects I had to settle for a reasonable ‘overall suggestion’ or sometimes even a ‘playful variation’ on the essential look. This was just as well because it was perhaps inevitable that the galleries had to make some mid-term changes to the exhibits, meaning that what arrived was a different version of what I’d been working on. For each object I’ve also included some notes on the materials and the processes I used, some of which I developed specially for this work.

Conrad Hicks

Conrad Hicks 'Implement Table' and 'Copper Chaise', Southern Guild, models by David Neat

Conrad Hicks 'Implement Table', Southern Guild, model by David Neat

South African Conrad Hicks works principally with forged metals, in these cases copper and iron. I had to use real copper sheet to achieve the look but the verdigris is just an acrylic paint job. After experimenting with a few different scaled thicknesses of copper before it would behave, I finally spraymounted two of the thinnest together to combine the right strength with easy bending. I didn’t have to beat it! .. the texture was easily done with an embossing tool. Deciding what to use for the iron frameworks was difficult at first, but in the end cutting out shapes in 3mm black Palight ( foamed Pvc ) proved the best solution. Below are the photos I was referencing for Conrad Hicks Copper Chaise and Implement Table, both forged copper and iron, courtesy of Southern Guild.

Conrad Hicks 'Copper Chaise', Southern Guild

Conrad Hicks 'Implement Table', Southern Guild

I wanted the plinth decoration throughout the range of objects to be as noticeable but also as subtle as possible .. and I wanted it to last, and not get dirty from handling. I wanted colour and pattern to ’emerge’ from the surface .. so neither direct painting nor pasting paper prints would do! I also wanted the pattern to fade out smoothly at the top, otherwise it would clash too much with the objects. In the end I found that inkjet printing 100micron clear transparency film with found pattern images and gluing inked side down to the plinth Pvc with strong spraymount ( Photomount or Craftmount ) did a perfect job! To be safe I let the printed sheets dry for a day before using (the ink takes much longer to dry on acetate). I also needed to prepare special strip portions of the pattern images first, using the Graduated Filter in Paint Shop Pro to fade each strip at the top. Once applied and trimmed, I ‘silked’ the surface of the film to take away the gloss with fine abrasive cloth.

Sebastian Cox

Sebastian Cox 'Scorched Shake Sideboard', model by David Neat

Sebastian Cox 'Scorched Table', model by David Neat

The British furniture maker Sebastian Cox, represented by The New Craftsman, uses traditional woods .. specialising in coppiced timber and self-managed woodland .. but often subjects them to a very controlled surface scorching resulting in a deep black. For both his sideboard and large table I found again that black Palight worked best of all because I could vary the surface effects from a slight-sheen sanding for the sideboard to a deeper matte graining on the table. For the front doors of the sideboard, which in reality are composed of cleft ‘shakes’ .. a form of shingle traditional to Japan .. I had to texturise thin strips of 1mm white Palight, apply them, then paint them with matte black Humbrol enamel. I dry-brushed with a slightly lighter acrylic to further emphasize the texture. I felt that the table needed a simpler, veneered plinth .. in this case oak sealed with water-based ‘satin’ varnish. Below is the real-life Scorched Shake Sideboard, but since the table was a new work there is no proper photo as yet ( courtesy The New Craftsmen and Gareth Hacker Photography ).

Sebastian Cox 'Scorched Shake Sideboard', courtesy The New Craftsmen and Gareth Hacker Photography

Dokter and Misses

Dokter and Misses 'Kassena Isibheque', model by David Neat

Dokter and Misses are not a married couple in spite of what the name might imply, but a multi-disciplinary Johannesburg design company of more than two. One of their special ‘Editions’ .. as different from their ‘Products’ .. is their ‘Kassena’ collection, a unique looking range of robust wooden cabinets which are all hand-painted, inspired by the painted adobe structures of the Kassena people from the border region of Ghana. These cabinets contain drawers which are almost hidden apart from tell-tale hand slots .. because my time was limited I had to sacrifice this feature. For the same reason and also because of the minuteness of the scale I had to simplify the geometric patterning (which does actually represent texts in an indigenous writing system) and resort to Letraset to create an effect. Below is the original, hand-painted solid beech wood Kassena Isibheqe, courtesy of Southern Guild.

Dokter and Misses 'Kassena Isibheqe', Southern Guild

Bristol Weaving Mill

Bristol Weaving Mill, Rag Rugs ('Blue Ombre' and 'Yellow & grey'), models by David Neat

Also represented here by The New Craftsmen, BWM had two rag rugs in the show made by Juliet Bailey, one of the directors. In the model I mounted these either side of a freestanding plinthed wall piece. For the first time I felt I was using my usual recommendation to use painted sandpaper for carpets to good effect! I painted a very coarse sandpaper white first then detailed the colours in matte acrylic. Below is one of the two originals, the Yellow & grey courtesy of The New Craftsmen.

Bristol Weaving Mill, rag rug 'Yellow & grey', The New Craftsmen

Mock Mock

Mock Mock (Pieter Henning) 'Stone Tables', model by David Neat

Pieter Henning’s design label Mock Mock produces, amongst other things, simple combinations of copper and stone of which these ‘tables’ are an example. Henning comes from the Klein Karoo valley in South Africa. I didn’t stand a hope of bending and soldering flat metal strips at this scale so I cut the slender shapes from thin styrene sheet, combining with discs of thicker Pvc.

Detail of Pieter Henning's 'Stone Tables' for Mock Mock, models by David Neat

To suggest the coloured stone or marble patterns I started with a generalised base colour, then stippled spots of lighter acrylic using a piece of reticulated foam. Tissuing this before the paint was properly dry created a more natural and varied effect. The copper is simulated with Humbrol metallic enamel. Below are the items Southern Guild originally intended to send .. the ones which arrived were significantly different, not as colourful though of the same type. In a sense this didn’t matter .. it became part of the model’s separate and playful existence.

Pieter Henning 'Stone Tables' for Mock Mock, Southern Guild

Gareth Neal and Kevin Gauld

Gareth Neal & Kevin Gauld 'Brodgar Bench', model by David Neat

The ‘Brodgar Bench’ featured on the left above was designed by London-based designer Gareth Neal and made by Orkney chair maker Kevin Gauld. The model needed to be mainly wood, nothing else would have been right .. in the end I used a combination of obeche, limewood and bamboo for strength. For the woven straw back I resisted trying any woven fabric, fearing a fibrous mess .. so ended up engraving the weave pattern in 1mm Palight (to the right is a day-bed from Louisa Loakes & William Waterhouse which will feature separately in Part 2). Below, the original Brodgar Bench, oak with woven straw back. Courtesy of The New Craftsmen

Gareth Neal and Kevin Gauld 'The Brodgar Bench', The New Craftsmen

Jesse Ede

Jesse Ede 'Lunar Bench', model by David Neat

Lastly for this part, another very different form of bench from the South African Jesse Ede. Most of the original was cast in recycled aluminium, making use of the rough, pitted texture .. so Humbrol ‘silver’ enamel with a little sand mixed in simulated this perfectly. The distinctive slate shard was easiest to model in polymer clay then paint using my ‘open foam print’ technique. The photo of the Lunar Bench in recycled aluminium and Malmesbury slate is courtesy of Southern Guild. The photos illustrate how one needs to be wary of foreshortening when judging photos .. my proportions are fairly accurate!

Jesse Ede 'Lunar Bench', Southern Guild

 



 

 

 

Template drawings for furniture model-making

At last I’ve had the chance to clean up and improve some of the furniture drawings I’ve always used for model-making workshops, and so I’ve gathered them together as Template drawings for furniture model-making in the Methods section. The page includes this mid-18th C ‘rococo’ armchair which has always been popular .. though a bit challenging to make at 1:25! I’ve drawn most of the plans and reproduced them at 1:10 scale for greater accuracy though some simpler ones, such as those for ‘folded’ furniture using stencil card, are 1:25 scale.

1:10 scale rococo armchair drawing

I think I’ve sorted out the problem that has been occurring of ‘thumbnail’ images not responding i.e. normally a better quality image can be opened by clicking on the images here, but I’ve only just found out that it hasn’t been happening for recent posts. So hopefully if you ‘click and save’ any of the drawings you’ll get the size they’re supposed to be. I’ve given the source resolution so that you can compare it and I’ve also listed key measurements in the text so that you can check accuracy in the printout.

Template for making 1:25 scale folded chair in stencil card

 

 

Does foamed PVC have a grain?

Although this question will not be of much value to most people, it is certainly of interest to those few .. like myself .. who work with this material. The answer is .. yes, it does .. and this has a significant bearing on how one can get the best out of it! I have to confess that even though I’ve been using it for years, I’ve never properly realised this until now. There’s hardly any visible indication and although I had noticed at times that cutting in one direction seemed slightly harder than another I didn’t attribute a cause. I’d always assumed that sheet plastics just don’t have a ‘grain’, or rather a directional difference, because of the way they’re made and this would be especially so with foamed materials. In all these years I’ve never noticed any reference to a ‘grain’ in any of the product information available .. until now.

I should point out that I’m going on the basis of the tests I’ve made with the brand I use, which is Palight and Palfoam foamed Pvc manufactured by Palram. But I’m assuming that the manufacturing process for foamed Pvc will differ very little between the various brands even though there is often a difference in hardness. After looking more closely at the manufacturer’s documents available for download, I found this tucked away in some notes entitled ‘Installation’:

‘Palight is manufactured as an extruded foam PVC product with a directional grain running the entire length of the sheet. This manufacturing process gives Palight greater flexural strength in the direction of the extrusion. The grain of the Palight should always be installed perpendicular to the fastening point.’

In other words if a thin strip is cut along the direction of the grain this will have more rigidity than the same strip cut at a right-angle to it or ‘against’ the grain .. just like wood! To test this, amongst other things, I first had to find a way of recognising the grain direction, because as I’ve said .. it’s hardly noticeable when looking at the surface or the cut edges! If you hold a piece of Palight up to the light (better still a light that’s glancing the surface) and look at it closely, then rotate the piece 90° and look again, you may just about discern a faint direction of surface texture in one of these views. Another test involves making an indented line with a metal point, such as an embossing tool, a nail or a compass. Along the grain progress will be fairly smooth and hardly make any sound, whereas against the grain there will be a higher, scratchy sound and the surface will resist a bit more. A third test just involves cutting a strip, and is perhaps more noticeable in the thicker versions of Palight. I tested with squares of 1mm, 2mm and 5mm Palight, cutting strips just 5mm wide, first along one edge of the square and then the other. I made sure to keep my exertion with the knife roughly the same, and I found that I consistently needed a couple more strokes to cut against the grain. These strips were also noticeably more bendable than those cut along the grain.

So, I’ve already implied the possible advantages of utilising the grain direction and I’m guessing that the following will apply to all thicknesses .. having tested 1mm, 2mm and 5mm with the same results.  Thin structures will be stronger if the grain follows their length, and they will also be easier to cut! If strips are intended to be bent, this will be easier if they’re cut at a right-angle to or ‘against’ the grain. Finally, and as I’ve illustrated in my page ‘Palight’ brand foamed Pvc under constructing in the Materials section, Palight can be scraped with sandpaper to simulate a wood-grain surface and this will be easier following the actual grain of the plastic. Pvc can also be embossed, ideally using a smooth-pointed embossing tool, and a slightly different quality of line is produced either with or against the grain. You’ll have to try it out, to see which you prefer.

‘Model-making Basics’ – fine construction

Please note before you start reading this older post that I have long since included a version in the Methods section, under Making realistic models, which can be accessed above. That version may have been updated or expanded since.

This is the second of five instalments, looking in turn at what I consider the five defining areas within model-making; main construction, fine construction, modelling/shaping, creating surfaces and painting. The only difference between ‘fine’ and ‘main’ construction is relative size. The structures involve the same methods but they are smaller, more delicate and therefore much more ‘fiddly’ to achieve. Being able to cut, shape and assemble the appropriate materials with accuracy becomes much more of an issue at this smaller size. I’m referring to such elements as window structures, stair banisters and railings, or period furniture .. including chandeliers!

A very slight difference in overall measurement may not be noticeable on a long wall but it does make a difference to the appearance of, for example, a fine window strut! However on the other hand, whereas the principle structures in a model can’t be just ‘suggested’, some aspects of the finer details can be, without losing their realism. My aim in this article is not only to suggest ways of achieving intricacy, but also to consider ways of simulating it. This article also illustrates how the choice of material can be 90% of the solution .. my own choices of ‘Palight’ foamed Pvc and stencil card tend to dominate here!

I’ve written these overviews in preparation for teaching sessions at RADA (Royal Academy of Dramatic Art) in London. So they’re tuned towards the specialities of theatre design model work, but most of the points will be relevant in general terms to model work in other disciplines.

As with the previous post I’ve divided the content into general ‘themes’ or requirements of the subject, followed by more specific and practical guidance and ending with a couple of more closely observed examples.

fine construction

GENERAL APPROACH

The importance of details

One has to accept the fact that these smaller things often take much longer to achieve than the elements of main construction (at least in relation to their size). Although one would never have to say this to a practiced model-maker, it’s important to reassure beginners that these will ‘take as long as they take’ and that one shouldn’t feel they’re less important just because they seem like small details of the visual concept. In fact it’s usually quite the opposite!  For example in a theatre design concept the ‘details’ in terms of furniture style and small elements of decoration may constitute most of ‘the design’ if the budget is minimal or if a minimalist approach has been chosen. Moreover, even if a setting is lavish or architecturally bold, when the play’s action is underway and the lighting settles to focus on the actors, it is the furniture and other elements of detail that stay within that small area of focus rather than the set as a whole. These details of the setting, especially furniture, have a more intimate and ‘telling’ relationship with actors and their characters in the way that they’re used. For example broader playing areas, entrance and exit points, and different levels don’t necessarily need to be understood in terms of real architecture but furniture usually demands more. It’s rare that furniture can be rendered ‘abstract’.

Often the defining elements of a ‘look’, or a period style, or a social status, are contained as much in the details as in the more general proportions, materials and colours of the set. In particular historical periods furniture and interior decoration styles develop their distinctiveness side-by-side .. they are designed to fit .. and one can see the same decorative motifs, basic shapes or general proportions in both. When working through a design in the model, spending what may seem like a very disproportionate amount of time on a single chair (it could easily take the best part of a day) can be a very important step in discovering and defining that ‘look’. It took me a while to appreciate what was meant when as theatre design students we were often advised to start with one well chosen and closely observed chair, but I think now that this was part of it.

The demands of scale

I think the underlying point of this whole area of model-making (and of this article) which I’ve termed ‘fine construction’ is.. ‘What are the best materials and methods to help with the challenge of achieving a reasonable and convincing scale with delicate structures at this small-size level and in the time available?’ It should be clear that getting the scale right is of fundamental importance, but of course it gets harder the smaller you go .. as I have said, a fraction of a millimetre out can make a big difference! But I’ve underlined ‘reasonable’ because there’s a limit to how fine one can and should work; compromises need to be made, and one of the most interesting and creative journeys a designer will make in terms of their model-making throughout their career is developing a sense for the right ones. Models in this context should always be convincing that is, they should keep us thinking about the real thing rather than the model itself, but there’s a big difference between this and fooling the eye. There’s a lot that we can forgive, and forget, when looking at a model as long as enough essentials are there to ‘suspend our disbelief’.

It’s not just size than determines delicacy .. i.e. it’s not that the thinnest will automatically give the most delicate or elegant look .. it’s also what happens on the surface, how the light falling on it is manipulated or broken up. This is the reason why, traditionally, wall mouldings and window frames are composed of ‘stepped’ or shaped strips of wood, not flat and block-like, so that the light forms shadows that are soft or varied.

I think this is illustrated, coincidentally, by the photo below which I took just to show stages in building up a window structure. Each of the successive stages has the same underlying basis cut from stencil card and shown on the far left, so each has the same ‘silhouette’ but the ones progressing to the right look finer and somehow thinner (despite the addition of white!). It is because the flat planes are broken up, the edges are softened, and the shadows give more contrast.

windows

Continued practise with cutting always improves one’s ability, even if the improvements take a while and are too small to appreciate .. as long as one perseveres, and as long as one has understood and accepted the value of it! But if cutting material to make a structure of the required scale intricacy proves too arduous, it’s good to know that one can fall back on the ‘shadow principle’ and that, if need be, this can be faked i.e. by carefully drawing or penning lines on the surface instead of having to apply yet more intricate strips.

The value of proper visual research

I must have encountered this hundreds of times as a teacher .. when someone is having difficulties at the model-making stage, which are easy to attribute to the challenges of model-making in general, but are actually because they haven’t got a clear enough picture of what they’re trying to do. I don’t imagine that anyone would try to make a convincing model version of a Louis XV chair without finding visual reference first (at least I would hope not), but I know that a lot of people might assume they can get by without checking on the concept of ‘a simple, basic, nondescript chair’. The fact is there’s no such thing, and although it sounds like a paradox one first has to choose what particular type of ‘nondescript chair’! Unless you’re an expert on the history of furniture, you’ll have to look at chairs to get some help. At the very least you need to have, preferably already absorbed, certain facts about the standard dimensions of chairs, such as the average seat height and size, or the common height for chair backs etc.

Nowadays there’s really no excuse for not knowing even the detailed particulars of real objects or settings because so much can be accessed quickly over the internet. For example, there are countless antique dealer websites and the good ones offer all-round views of pieces of furniture including close-ups on details and lists of principle measurements. Even the less specialist, more style-led outlets can be quite informative, as below. For more on this, including suggestions for the best sources, see my article Common sizes of things in the Methods section.

chair measurements

So here below is a Louis XV chair! You would need to look at a lot of pictures of Louis XV chairs to decide whether this is an average or representative one. In the days before the internet it could take a long time for designers and artists to acquire a true sense of what was common or representative. These expert notions needed to be culled from books, or the work of other designers, or visits to museums, or by browsing in antique shops. Now it’s easy to get an instant and fairly reliable notion of what’s average, or representative, or popular, by examining the results of an image search.

But it’s also fair and balanced to say that the regular internet won’t provide the full picture .. for a start there’s a vast amount in the form of specialist image databases that the search engines can’t penetrate. You won’t get much like the following on the internet .. not only the Louis XV chair but a full measured drawing!

Louis XV armchair

armchair drawing

These can be found in a book by Verna Cook Salomonsky entitled Masterpieces of Furniture published in 1931. It was re-published by Dover in 1953, even so it is not so easy to find. It’s an ironic counterpoint that, although books (and especially older ones) will often provide more specific, detailed and reliable information than the internet, with many of the older books which have been archived the most efficient way of accessing their information is .. on the internet!

My point in all this is that the internet can often provide you with all the information you can carry, and somewhere within that mass may be all the information that you need .. but it puts the responsibility on you of becoming the expert. You have to search thoroughly and responsibly, you have to filter and organize (i.e. rather like an academic might in recording sources, questioning and checking information).

Where can compromises be made?

It’s clear that compromises do need to be made in the model, because the time the designer has for making it is not unlimited. It’s mainly about available time, so if ways are found to speed up the making process, to make it easier or less involved, without altering the resultant appearance of the model … this is not compromise, this is advancement! Getting into the habit of thinking in this way, of continually keeping an eye open for possible improvements to the process, is beneficial in more than just practical ways. It exercises inventive or creative thinking!

But if those ways of saving time cannot not found, however hard one tries, what simplifications in appearance are acceptable? This is a difficult question to answer, because it .. just depends! I’ve mentioned one possibility already, with the case of drawing in highlights or shadow lines on window struts to make them appear finer. I would say this is on the whole perfectly acceptable, because the fine additions that are being feigned are not going to cause anyone to misunderstand the real appearance, structure or space intended. It’s not altering the most significant proportions of the whole. To illustrate another example I was drawn to thinking about the craft of paper-cuts which was developed to quite a ‘high art’ in the Victorian era. This one below is from the 1840s, courtesy of the Columbus Museum in Ohio, US.

Victorian era paper-cut

What’s so significant about this and many others like it is that it’s so convincing .. in spite of being so artificial! What I mean is that although we’re very familiar with shadows, or seeing silhouettes of real things when lit from behind, as a real occurrence in daily life (and this certainly helps with our acceptance of this form) .. there’s really nothing more unreal than forms reduced to 2 dimensions with no hint of colour or volume. Yet I for one feel totally drawn into accepting this as the representation of a real moment .. I’m transported to the place in my imagination where I’m more conscious of what is being represented than how it is represented.

How is this accomplished .. when the only means used to convince me is the simplest line? It is achieved through a very exact understanding of overall and believable proportions, together with a clever choice of which details will count!

PRACTICAL GUIDANCE

Building up on ‘cut-outs’

When I was training as a theatre designer and had to tackle making model chairs I can’t remember specifics of the guidance we were given but I think it was assumed, like most people do, that one approaches it much as a carpenter would except 25-times too small to do proper joints. That is, that one starts with cutting very thin strips of wood which are cut to specific lengths and glued together to make the construction. I’m sure we were encouraged to make scale drawings first so that we at least had guides for placing these minute pieces while gluing and I’m sure it was also common to make the whole of the back of the chair including the legs as a flat piece against the drawing. It was incredibly fiddly, virtually impossible not to glue these pieces firmly to the drawing instead and difficult to coax these tiny components into lying straight and level. Even if one could get a reasonable result, it would remain very fragile. Also, one of the main reasons for using wood was that it would convey the ‘real’ material, with a pleasing suggestion of grain which could be stained to any shade. But any vestige of glue visible around the joints would not stain, and given the size this was impossible to avoid so often much of the painstaking effort could be negated by ugly patches.

After a while I gave up on this and looked around for other methods. About the same time a friend introduced me to a soft sheet plastic called foamed Pvc which came in thicknesses of 1mm upwards. It offered the possibility of cutting small and intricate shapes easily with a scalpel. Although soft to cut the material is resilient, retains its straightness and is easy to paint especially if primed. The brand I use is Palight which seems to be softer than the others.

making model chairs

Foamed Pvc can be drawn on with a pencil but I usually prefer to spraymount a printed drawing and cut through that, because it saves time if I need more. It’s also much easier to draw up the original at a larger scale such as 1:10 (shown below) and reduce to 1:25 (40%). I use a very minimal amount of repositionable spraymount (3M blue can) so that in the end the paper can be peeled off the plastic. The photo above shows the three chair parts .. back, seat and front legs .. being cut out. It is worthwhile to note that I am cutting the inside parts of the form out first i.e. working from the centre outwards. Keeping the form in the sheet until the last cut means that you always have more to hold onto while cutting. One drawback perhaps is that Pvc can only be glued with superglue, which is not everyone’s favourite and doesn’t allow much repositioning.

The chair assembled above may serve quite well as a good mock-up, after all the overall dimensions and proportions are exact, and it can look much more convincing if properly painted. I left the paper drawing on for this photo but normally I would peel it off before gluing the parts together. Palight foamed Pvc can even be scraped with coarse sandpaper to create a fake ‘grain’ which looks very like real wood when washed with colour (this will be illustrated in the later post on ‘Painting’). But it’s certainly lacking in the proper visual weight because parts of it, particularly the legs, don’t have a believable thickness if left at 1mm (which is 2.5cm, or 1 inch at 1:25 scale). What I usually do is

model chairs with drawing

apply further strips to these cut-outs, sanding the joins as flush as possible, before gluing the chair pieces together. These strips can either be more Pvc  or thin wood such as obeche. For these chairs, enlarged below for more detail, I’ve applied 0.8mm sheet obeche strips to the chair-back surround, the legs and the whole of the seat. The grain is visible, even though the whole chair needs to be painted to unify wood with plastic. The joins between the layers are just about visible in the photo, but I think this hardly matters.

chairs detail

I’ve also tried this ‘add on’ or layer method just using stencil card. The chairs below are actually pretty strong, even though only a thin card is being used. A double layer of stencil card would itself be quite tough to cut through, so I’ve made these by cutting out pieces in one layer, gluing those down on another piece (as shown in the bottom left corner), and then cutting out again around them. For more on these methods look at my article Working with stencil card in the Materials section.

stencil card chairs

Gluing on paper templates

Another method, particularly if you prefer to use real wood, is to build up structures by purposely gluing down to the drawn paper template. I thought of this because of the difficulty of separating glued work from the drawn guide in the past .. why not glue it all down to the paper? This can work for furniture, but it can be especially ideal for building up window frames because in this case the back surface is not usually seen.

building windows on drawn template

Here thin obeche wood (0.8mm thickness) has been glued completely to the paper using Pva wood glue, with further strips built up on the outer frame. After gluing is finished the structure should ideally be left for a couple of hours for the glue to strengthen and paper to dry. Then using a sharp blade-point the paper can be cut away, leaving just the wood form visible at the front but still backed with a thin layer of glued paper. This makes it surprisingly stable. The technique is most suited to working with wood and Pva glue, because the glue can be thinly applied and leaves little residue (Pva glue contracts to almost nothing around the edges).

windows

Some general tips for cutting

See the section on cutting in the previous post ‘Main construction’ because all of that applies equally here .. especially the choice of knife and general approach to cutting .. but there are some additional tips to remember when it comes to working at a finer level.

Small curves may be the trickiest to manage, even with a fine blade and a relatively soft material such as foamed Pvc. Something which makes this a lot easier is making a rough-cut around the shape very close to the intended line before starting to cut it. The reason this helps is that as the intended line is cut the friction on the blade is lessened because the surplus material (often referred to as the waste ) now has somewhere to move to, as illustrated below. One can make it even easier sometimes by ‘shaving down’ to the line in small stages, more like carving than cutting. Although this is of more help when cutting a pliable material such as plastic, the difference is noticeable when cutting cardboard or even thin wood.

rough cutting technique

But extra care needs to be taken when cutting fine pieces out of wood for two main reasons. Firstly the wood may be a little brittle, meaning that it has a tendency to split along the grain when the scalpel blade is forced too firmly into it. Secondly the grain will often divert the scalpel blade, particularly when trying to cut straight lines along its direction. In each case cutting needs to proceed in gentle, successive strokes. But there are other precautions that can be taken. Although not shown in the next-but-one photo, I have covered the underside of a piece of wood with masking tape before cutting a circular table-top. This will help in preventing the wood from splitting.

working with obeche wood

As for cutting the line, I have traced it carefully with the scalpel first to establish a more definite guiding line but then (as in the previous example in plastic) I am shaving down to the line first. When close to the line the rest can be smoothed off using a sanding block (cardboard nail-files, shown above, can also be useful for very small work).

cutting a circle in wood

It is very easy when cutting a grid of window struts to accidently cut through them. Often this is a momentary lack of concentration .. the work is repetitive and can feel pretty mindless, so one goes into ‘coasting mode’. But it isn’t helped by the fact that whereas we can always see where to begin a line, it’s more difficult to see where to end because the scalpel blade is in the way. The method of avoiding this is to cut each line only so far, stopping purposely near to but not quite to the end, turn the work around and complete the line from the other direction. I always cut lines like these in groups, for example, cutting all the lines along the same edge for each square first, then completing all of them, then doing the same for the next edge etc.

cutting a window

Lastly, I always find I can be more accurate if I keep to the same orientation of drawn line, guiding ruler and scalpel each time. This is a bit difficult to describe, but what I mean by the ‘same orientation’ is, for example .. always cutting against the far side of the ruler, always placing the ruler over the part that’s going to be kept (as opposed to the ‘waste’), etc. This means that my physical relationship to the line I’m trying to get  is, as far as possible, always the same and that helps greatly in terms of control!

Setting up for gluing

As I’ve said, the methods for ‘main construction’ and making the finer constructions here are pretty much the same, so it is worth referring back to the examples looked at in the previous post. Even though small, it is still sometimes necessary to construct a special support structure to glue them together. Below is one that I made quickly to help gluing a small park bench together.

construction jig

The leg units are meant to appear free-standing without an obvious connecting structure. In full-size reality there would be a metal connecting structure underneath the wooden planks and these would be bolted to the wrought-iron units. The problem here was just setting up the three leg units so that they were already in the right position and perpendicular (90degrees upright) and this cardboard ‘construction jig’ was the most reliable way I could think of for doing that. Above I’ve secured the legs (cut from 1mm foamed Pvc) to cardboard uprights with thin strips of masking tape. I decided to paint after assembly in this case so that nothing would interfere with the glue. The planks can then be glued in place on top individually and again, I decided to stain these after assembly (not yet done in the photo below).

As I said, this was my preferred method but one of the RADA students suggested that it could work just by drawing groundplan positions on a piece of paper and propping the leg units into position using Blu tack (or possibly plasticine) which I think is also a good solution. My method would perhaps be preferable if one had to assemble a number of benches rather than just one.

park bench

It’s worth saying a few things about superglue at this point, because it can be fairly indispensable, even if you’re not working with plastic. The first thing is of course that one usually needs very little at a time ( meaning, per making session) but superglue starts to set in the tube or bottle as soon as it is opened for the first time. The moisture in the air acts as a catalyst. So buying a ‘large’ bottle is senseless unless you’re working with it 24/7 for a number of days in a row! What remains in the bottle, even if you seal it tightly, may only last for another few weeks before thickening and setting solid. Partly for this reason I prefer to use the small tubes, because any wastage doesn’t matter so much. I’ve found that the small tubes or bottles from Poundland work better than many other more expensive brands I’ve tried i.e. some superglues tend to work well with certain materials and not so well with others, and the Poundland brand works very well with foamed Pvc, stencil card, obeche wood or Super Sculpey (as examples of the main materials I want it to work on).

superglue

One of the challenges that people have with superglue is being able to dose it, or apply it delicately without squeezing out too much .. which can often result in a mess and glued fingers, as most people who’ve tried will know! I often squeeze out a little puddle of superglue onto a piece of plastic and apply it using the end of a cocktail stick. The puddle will remain fluid for quite a while before it starts gelling. Incidentally, I work almost totally with thin superglue rather than the gel type, because I usually rely a lot on being able to introduce superglue into a joint ‘from the outside’ where it can travel into the joint and set. This can’t be done with the gel type. An alternative to help with controlled dosing is attaching an even finer tube to the nozzle supplied. Poundland sell packs of superglue bottles in which a few tapered tubes are included. If you’re feeling particularly adventurous or dedicated (and if you have a hot-air gun), you can make your own fine-dosing tubes by finding some transparent ‘shrink-wrap’ tubing in Maplin or another electronics outlet. This is tubing that shrinks when heated to fit tightly around wires. The end of this needs to be heated and pulled to create a minute nozzle, similar to those above.

I’ve said that atmospheric moisture causes superglue to set. This also means that it is more effective if the materials being glued together also have a bit of that atmospheric moisture, and one of the reasons incidentally why fingers glue so well! There may be occasions when superglue appears not to take, and one remedy is to brush surfaces with the fingers beforehand or even breathe on them, to introduce a bit more moisture. There are also accelerator liquids available for superglue to make it set even faster (so called ‘zip-kicker’ and a sure way of gluing two parts together instantly is to put superglue on one part as one normally would but apply not glue but accelerator to the other before bringing them together.

One last tip here is that if you’re using the thin type of superglue but you want to make it both more gap-filling and quick setting, the joint can be sprinkled with common baking soda (sodium bicarbonate) either before or after applying the glue. This solidifies on contact and forms a very strong bond. I’ve demonstrated the uses of this in my post Modelling small-scale figures from March 2013.

Is it worth knowing how to solder?

I’d like to say yes, because the work and the results can be very satisfying when all is going well and proper scale can be achieved with thin brass wire as opposed to some other options, but to be honest I prefer to avoid it unless it’s the only practical solution. Consider this challenge, for example. Imagine that you have planned an elegantly curving staircase and that you would like to create a balustrade for it that is suitably delicate in keeping with the style, perhaps just composed of thin uprights joining a simple, curving handrail. Years ago when the world was still largely ‘traditionalist’ and the material options for model-making seemed to begin and end with .. cardboard, wood or metal (with perhaps some plaster, and some organza thrown in) .. those ‘in the know’ would certainly have suggested soldering with thin brass rod. But now consider what you have to do to achieve that! You can’t solder your pieces of brass onto your cardboard construction and you can’t really glue metal to it with any security either. So in order to secure the uprights to the construction you’d have to drill tiny holes in the right place at the edge of every step. Those holes would have to be deep enough to hold the uprights in position and of course they’d all have to be perfectly perpendicular. This may just about be possible if your construction were made of solid wood but doubtful with cardboard. Now there’s the question of how all those uprights, even if one did manage to fix them and they are all exactly the right height, join with the handrail. It would be most logical to make the handrail also out of brass rod so that the uprights could be soldered to it. But this would mean that the piece of rod would firstly need to be bent to exactly the right smooth curve with no allowance for even slight departures from it. I don’t think I need to go on! I’ve seen these marvels of craftsmanship and dedication in the past, but I pale to think how much time they must have taken or what specialist skills they involved. I have very mixed feelings about these things .. for me they’re reminiscences of a different age when craftspeople could dedicate a whole year of their lives to the meticulous decoration of an egg!

Even though I actually love soldering I’m presenting it in this cautionary way because I think the alternatives should perhaps be considered first. For example, I feel the way I’ve chosen to make the scaffolding structure in the previous post is better .. it’s cheaper, quicker, more achievable and, actually, stronger because it’s not labouring under its own weight, as brass of this thickness would do. But on the other hand I don’t think I would be able to get the clean, precise and properly scaled result I wanted for this brass bed frame if I hadn’t taken the trouble to solder it in brass.

brass bed

In particular the curved elements wouldn’t have worked using plastic because only metal keeps that kind of shape. Below are balustrades being made as cut-outs from 1mm Pvc with strips of wood added to give them some dimension. I would think that this is the quickest way if one can cut the Pvc uprights thinly and cleanly enough and if square-section uprights are acceptable. But if round-section and more delicate rods are necessary for the look, brass is perhaps a better option especially if the structure is staying flat.

balustrade in Pvc

stair balustrades in Pvc and wood strip

I would probably have solved the curving balustrade problem we began with here by cutting the whole thing on-the-flat in Pvc (or even stencil card) and then wrapping and gluing it to the curved surface, as in the example of the spiral staircase below and featured in the previous post.

completed stair portion

railings in stencil card

It is certainly not my intention to put you off soldering, and if you want to know more about exactly how its done look at my article A quick guide to soldering in the Methods section.

Shaving legs or modelling legs

This is bound to get me a lot of search engine hits!  But I’m referring to two fairly easy ways of creating a ‘turned’ (i.e. done on a lathe) look which is such a common feature of period furniture, particularly table legs and balusters. This is the kind of thing that strongly defines or greatly enhances the ‘look’ by fairly achievable means.

tables in progress

For the first method thin wooden dowel, wooden skewers or cocktail sticks .. any forms of thin, round, smooth wood .. are most suitable, but it can also be done with round-section styrene strip, as in the close-up below. Divisions are made on the dowel surface by rolling and pressing the scalpel blade to make a significant but small cut. These divisions correspond to the intervals in the decoration intended. Then the scalpel blade is used at a fairly oblique (flat) angle to shave or carve slivers of wood down to the cut keeping the dowel turning between the fingers. Although it needs care and control, the method can be surprisingly quick.

shaving legs

Below are chairs made from styrene strip, ready to be painted.

styrene chairs

The other method of achieving the same shapes involves applying a modelling material over strong metal rod, such as brass, and shaping it by pressing with formers such as a cocktail stick or even a comb. The ideal material to use is Milliput, which is a very fine 2-part epoxy putty. Milliput is very sticky, so it will stay put on the metal while being modelled, and it sets very hard. Once set it can also be shaved or sanded to improve the look without crumbling off as some softer modelling compounds might.

modelling balusters in Milliput

WORKING EXAMPLES

Constructing a chandelier

When making this test subject I was thinking of the heavy brass chandeliers which look as if they’re made from brass piping, full of curves and arabesques. I didn’t have a particular one in mind, just the sense or essence of the type.

chandelier

I felt it was far more important to get the overall symmetry and balance of the shape, together with the sense of fine, tight and flowing curves, rather than worry too much about the sleekness of round brass in the originals. If I’d wanted that I would have to have used brass wire bent into shapes, but I knew I wouldn’t be able to bend wire finely enough to achieve all these matching segments!

The first task was to design it, by drawing up a segment shape that was sufficiently curvaceous and full-looking but also kept as simple as possible beyond that. I could have made it simpler still, but every element of the drawing below is chosen to convey not only the desired look but also something which will stay together structurally when made.

chandelier drawing

I then made a scan of the drawing (which I’d drawn at 1:10 for convenience), reduced the image file to 40% to make it 1:25 scale, and printed out a sheet of copies. Incidentally, it’s generally harder for people to wrap their heads round percentages or conversions than I’d imagined! If you need help on the subject read my post Working in Scale from June 9 2013.

cutting chandelier sections

In this case I used Photo Mount, which is the permanent type of spraymount from 3M, to fix the drawings to stencil card since it would not be necessary to remove the paper from the cut forms. This type of intricate cutting does take practise, and a lot of patience, but if successful it is still a great deal easier than by any other hand-making method.

central support

A central support was needed because this is always a feature of the real chandelier designs and it also helps in spacing the segments evenly. The central rod here is styrene plastic, shaved with the scalpel to suggest a turned element. The cut-outs were glued on with superglue and I used a gold Edding marker pen to paint once assembled. The sequins used as candle saucers were a final touch, also quite effective in introducing a bit more ‘bling’ to the whole thing.

chandelier with cutout pieces

Making ‘ironwork’ arches

This is also something I’ve featured elsewhere, in ‘Working with Palight foamed Pvc’ in the ‘Materials’ section, but I have to appropriate it because it’s so relevant here.

finished piece

Although it’s much easier to draw on foamed Pvc with a pencil (unlike styrene or ABS) I prefer to work out a design on paper and spraymount a copy on the plastic. In the photo below I have started cutting out the ironwork shape through the paper. Curves are much easier with Pvc than cardboard because the composition is much smoother, with no particles or fibres to affect the passage of the blade. Cutting is easier also because it is more porous (foamed) on the inside and will ‘give’ a little under the blade causing much less friction.

starting with a cutout

If the paper cutting template is lightly fixed with spraymount (especially the repositionable type) it can be easily peeled off the form once cut.

removing paper

In this case the Pvc cut-out serves as a firm, cleanly cut basis upon which more detail, profiling or strengthening can be added on top. It’s a constructional principle of ‘building in layers’ which I’ve developed for myself over the years and try to follow most of the time. Below I’m adding a strip of styrene (a harder plastic which can be bought in a wide variety of pre-made strip formats) to make a thicker top rail. The easiest way to glue this on in exactly the right place first time is to position a guide-block (in this case a metal block) against the top, press the cut length of styrene against it and run a little thin superglue (using a plastic gluing brush or cocktail stick if preferred) along the join. The thin type of superglue will travel into the join and set immediately.

assembling against metal block

Below, I am doing similar but this time with a very thin (c. 1mm) cut strip of the same Pvc to give the arches more substance. Pvc is nicely bendable, especially in thin strips. The trick with bonding a strip in an exact curve is to fix the strip with a spot of glue at one end first, then curve and position the rest, spot-gluing at intervals to the other end. I’ve cut the strip a little longer, to be trimmed off when the end is reached.

adding curved detail

The columns were completed by adding half-round styrene strips, which can also be bought in various thicknesses.

ironwork in progress