Astrid Baerndal ‘Source of Life’ at the Blyth Gallery, Imperial College London

I have been invited by my friend Astrid Baerndal to say some words at the Private View of her exhibition Source of Life taking place at the Blyth Gallery, on the Imperial College campus from 29th May – 6th June.

Brood Place 2005

Astrid creates finely crafted objects, most often in series, in a variety of materials, and almost always heavily suggestive of variations in natural form. For many the common source may be a simple fruit or vegetable image, which she then manipulates according to a set method, generating an abundance of likenesses to other things .. often insects, sometimes faces, or occasionally snowflakes. In some ways Astrid’s work is a homage to symmetry, the design principle that is so characteristic of what we recognise as ‘living’, and which even now remains at the heart of our collective aesthetic. Also the manipulative technique itself is like a testament to the wondrous ingenuity of humankind .. how we can take some simple raw material and transform it into something different. But that’s not all that the work has to say. Maybe we are right to be proud of certain aspects of our ability to manipulate nature .. but is there anyone alive who still believes in a happy ending?

Little Fish 2009

Mutation Modules 2005

The exhibition is open to the public 29th May – 6th June, from 9am – 9pm each day. The Private View is from 6-9pm on 31st May, and if you’d like to come to that please download an invitation from where you can see more of Astrid’s work. The full location is Blyth Gallery, Level 5, Sherfield Building, Imperial College Campus, South Kensington.

Metamorphosis 2009

from 1001 Mutations 2005


‘Life with Yogiji’ .. a new episode!


Marc Steinmetz 'Life with Yogiji' Our Hidden Traps 2018

Marc Steinmetz 'Life with Yogiji' Our Hidden Traps 2018

Marc Steinmetz 'Life with Yogiji' Our Hidden Traps 2018


Marc has been busy making a new instalment of his truly unique and life-affirming creation. A little longer this time .. and all so beautifully worth it!  Adding something new to the meaning of ‘meaningful entertainment’, it is a friendly nudge in the right direction .. with a wink and a smile! If you do nothing else this evening just relax and spend a few minutes here:

Did families really do this in rural Holland?


Is there anyone out there, particularly Dutch, who could tell me whether this is real or not?

I’ve had this photo for a long while because it’s really inspiring! But I’ve lost touch with where it came from .. all I remember is the info that families in the rural Netherlands would imprint their feet into the last coat of new floorboard varnish before it dried. That’s all I know! Nothing like it comes up with a Google image search and I’ve never found any reference to the custom. If you think about what sort of imprint a real foot would make .. it doesn’t really convince. If anyone can say anything definite, maybe I can finally lay this one to rest!

A day later! Many thanks for all the responses!

These reflected very much what I thought myself .. the footprints didn’t look real; too flat and clean .. not to mention the question whether covering feet in floor lacquer could ever have been a popular one! So at first it seemed to confirm that this was some stylist’s invention, with no basis in historical fact .. because the Dutch people who replied (or those some of you consulted, including a couple of historians) had never seen nor heard of this practice before! But following up the lead provided by Jeroen De Vries about the discovery in a 19th century house in Leiden ..

.. it became clear that there was some factual basis, that it was actually done, though presumably not very often. A further example is this piece of floor which was recently uncovered during renovations to the Town Hall of Grootschermer, Alkmaar.


As far as I can understand, having struggled with some very dodgy Dutch/English online translation, it was a method of floor decoration practiced by house painters from the 17th century onwards .. inviting children to walk around in the wet topcoat of a prepared floor surface creating a varied marble-like pattern. Hence it is known in Holland ( maybe only to a few though) either as blotevoetjesmarmer ‘barefoot marble’ or kindervoetjes vloer ‘childrensfeet floor’! If you Google either of these terms in Dutch you will see some other examples, including some being done nowadays  



Some of the most precious ‘artisan’ films online

I happened to be putting this collection together just before June 23 and our nation’s misguided effort to reaffirm its island status. I didn’t manage to post it back then and the moment has gone .. not the issue of course, just the collective moment. In a way I’m glad I didn’t because with hindsight I’ve been able to skim away much of the embarrassing vitriol and lack of understanding.

Here you will see examples of WORLD craftsmanship, the best of which is demonstrated not only by the final outcome but also by the manner of working and the attitude, the demeanour of the maker. In many of these you will sense the true spirit of sharing.

I’m proud to be British! We can be proud that British craftsmanship ranks amongst the best in the world but it has only achieved that by assimilating the best from other cultures and it has been able to do that from a position of priviledge. We can visit other countries relatively freely and a great many of us have the financial means to do it if we put our minds to it. We have learned a great deal and have been profoundly inspired by the wider world but there is still so much more that would do us a lot of good. How are we returning the favour? Many of the artisans featured are in no position to learn anything about us, let alone benefiting from our accumulated knowledge yet from our vantage we can access almost all that we want. I want to feel fully part of this greater WORLD we live in, not separated from it. Neither craftsmanship, nor artistry, nor knowledge really ‘belongs’ to us .. it’s shared .. and we should face up to the fact that the same could apply to many of the other things we value as our own.

But to get to the point now .. here I’ve listed either treasured examples of craftsmanship on film which I’ve known about for some time or those I’ve newly discovered. More can be found on portal sites such as Reddit, particularly if you seek out the group and of course YouTube if you’re prepared to risk your time and patience with a Bertie Bott’s ‘Every Flavour Beans’ experience! For more specific quality on Vimeo you can find collections from the V&A and the Crafts Council at or

I’ve made a selection of those short films which have truly made me feel something .. whether it’s admiration for the seeming effortlessness of a perfectly refined skill; comfort in the affirmation of the power of handwork .. or it could be any one of these in combination with the pleasure of a well crafted film.

Good craftsmanship really needs equally good film-making! Bad film-making can make the beautiful seem dull .. just as good storytelling and camerawork can elevate the dullest or most reluctant personality. But fortunately the ‘personalities’ in many of these films, whether the objects made or those making them, are anything but dull or shy to begin with, as you will soon see!

Please note! Previously I included the proper video/links in this post but it was interfering with the loading of my ‘Home’ page so much that I’ve removed them. If you want to see any of the films you just have to go to my links section where they will be stored permanently. So don’t try to click on the image here, it’s just a ‘still’ I’ve chosen!


Balan the Blowpipe Maker

Balan the blowpipe maker

A very sensitive portrait of a blowpipe maker belonging to Borneo’s Penan tribe, using his own words. Balan is the last in his village to practice the craft .. but he keeps on smiling!


Guy Reid, Making Andrew

Sculptor Guy Reid making 'Andrew' in limewood

We follow the sculptor Guy Reid through the whole process of creating the figure of Andrew in limewood. A film by Margot Donkervoort.


Woodturning and painting a Japanese kokeshi doll

Japanese kokeshi dolls

Yasuo Okazaki demonstrates making a ‘Naruko’ style kokeshi doll, a skill handed down to him from his father.


The painting of a Scottish Opera backcloth

Kelvin Guy of Scottish Opera shows us the painting of a backdrop

Head Scenic Artist at Scottish Opera Kelvin Guy talks us through the painting of a large backdrop for the set of Donizetti’s ‘Don Pasquale’.


Moroccan mosaic art

Moroccan mosaic art

You’ve got to witness their complete control when shaping pieces of glazed ceramic tile and making it look like chipping shortbread! Turn the music off though .. unless ambient lift music is your thing.


Sugar sculpture by Jacquy Pfeiffer

Sugar sculpture by Jacquy Pfeiffer

Jacquy Pfeiffer of the French Pastry School talks about his sugar sculpting.


Making cricket balls

Making cricket balls 1956

From a time before ‘high tech’ manufacture .. 1956, the year I was born.


Making a lacquer vessel

lacquer vessel1

Korean craftsman Chung Hae-Cho demonstrates all the stages of his method for making a vessel using layers of lacquer.


A ceramic teapot on the wheel

Throwing a Japanese teapot on the wheel

Tokoname Master Craftsman Genji Shimizu ( artist name ‘Hokujo’ ) demonstrates making a kyusu  (Japanese tea pot) on a wheel.


Skakuhachi – One Man’s Meditation

Kelvin Falconer makes a shakuhachi

Kelvin Falconer makes and plays shakuhachi ( Japanese vertical bamboo flute ).


Turning chess pieces using a bow lathe

Making chess pieces using a bow lathe

Woodturner Mostopha Dnouch working in the street in Marrakech. Filmed by Stuart King in 2007


The art of marbling

Art of the Marbler 1970

Art of the Marbler 1970

The technique of marbling shown in this film makes use of a bath of ‘thickened’ water (using a carrageenan, derived from seaweed) because the paints used are water-based and they would disperse or sink far too readily in straight water. The method developed in Central Asia and became most popular in Turkey .. the Turkish word for it is ebru. The other common ‘marbling’ technique which came more from East Asia, particularly Japan, uses either inks or oil-based colours which will sit on water, as demonstrated in the other film on ‘suminagashi’ included in my links entry.




Finding stencil card in the US and other countries

I’ve been getting a number of enquiries from makers in the US, and some from other countries, who are trying to get hold of the stencil card (or ‘oiled manilla’) I often use for finescale work. I’ve illustrated the usefulness of stencil card in my article Working with stencil card in the ‘Materials/-constructing’ section. It seemed like it was nowhere to be found outside the UK! .. according to those who were looking, and I didn’t have any success either with my quick search of sites outside the UK using the search terms ‘stencil card’ or ‘oiled manilla’. Anticipating a few more enquiries like this in the future I decided to piece together some advice on the best alternatives, if it did indeed turn out that oiled manilla was just another ‘British quirk’!


But .. some good news! .. before I’d finished this post (I’ve been busy, and I’m also a rather slow and painstaking writer) I had a message from Cindy in San Diego to say that she might have discovered it, bearing the name of ‘oil board’ and she sent this link to prove it

This certainly looks and sounds like what I use in the UK, although much less ‘golden’ in colour and the price of $3.55 for a 24″ x 36″ sheet is quite a bit cheaper than the average here! It must be the same though, because the thickness which the Blick site lists very precisely as .015″ is also very precisely what it is here i.e. 375microns (.375mm). Cindy posted two other sources which seem to stock the same product at a similar price, though the sheets are smaller.

This might have sorted it at least for the US, but I’ll include what I was going to post anyway if anyone still needs to order it from the UK. I’d had no idea up to now that this wasn’t a fairly ‘universal’ and familiar material (like ‘mountboard’ or ‘foamboard’), though probably differing a little and called by another name. I know it’s much more specialised than these other standard card forms, but I also know that it’s been around in the same form for a very long time! I remember trying it as a base for oil painting when I was about 10yrs old, so that was almost half a century ago! I found it difficult to believe that it hadn’t spread, and in any case I’d always assumed that it was made somewhere other than the UK. Somehow it just never felt to me like .. ‘one of ours’. I’ve always guessed, either French or Italian?

I’ve never found any clue as to where it comes from, that is, who actually makes it! I know that here Winsor & Newton seem to play a significant role in distributing it because many suppliers such as Flints or 4D in London have told me that’s their source and it’s obvious from other suppliers’ websites that they’re doing the same (i.e. the product description etc. is identical to that on the W&N site). So a few days ago I contacted them, and another more specialist supplier, Wright’s of Lymm, who offer it online at the cheapest price I’ve found, to see firstly whether they ship abroad and secondly whether they would indirectly give any hint as to where they themselves get it from. All credit to both companies (big and small), they replied to me by email within a couple of hours! Winsor & Newton do not ship overseas unfortunately but referred me to the suppliers who do. I’d asked Winsor & Newton whether they knew of sources abroad, but there was no comment on this. Wrights of Lymm said that they do ship overseas but added ‘the stencil card is reasonably heavy and so it really depends if the customer is prepared to pay the shipping charges’. It’s true, it is pretty heavy for what it is (see below for sheet dimensions and weight). They added that they knew of nobody else in other countries that sells it. Finally I phoned Flint’s in London (a leading supplier of theatrical/film scenic materials) who I know also stock it at a good price. They also ship overseas and I asked them to prepare a quote for shipping 10 sheets to the US. I’m waiting for that to come and will add it as a ‘Comment’ to this post as soon as it does.

chandelier pieces

The standard size for a sheet of stencil card is 762x508mm (30x20inches, can vary a little) and the standard thickness is 375 microns, which is 0.375mm. This is the thickness I use. There is only one other, thinner version I know about, 250 microns, but I’ve only rarely come across it. A standard sheet of 375micron stencil paper will weigh a little more than 135g (I weighed one of the sheets I have at the moment and all are trimmed to 760x500mm). There has always been quite a variation in price between one seller and another!

By far the cheapest price anywhere is from Wright’s of Lymm who sell 1000x600mm sheets (larger than normal) for just £1.55. This is before 20% VAT (payable if ordering from the UK or European Union). Quotes for shipping overseas need to be applied for. I checked some while ago that this was the usual 375micron thickness. At the time they said that it was their regular price and they had a regular/continuing stock.

Flints sell standard sized sheets (just a touch less at 500x760mm) at £2.20 per sheet before VAT which is, after Wright’s, still a very good price for it here. They catalogue it as ‘Oiled Manila Stencil Paper’.

4D modelshop  also stock it as ‘oiled manilla’ in the standard sheet size and list it as a ‘Winsor & Newton product’. Here it is more expensive though at £5.45 (inclusive VAT) per sheet.

new pages added

I’ve been hobbiting away in the backrooms of this site putting up ‘quick view’ materials info for a number of the sections, including comparisons of casting materials etc. I’ve also added a ‘Quick guide to soldering’ in the ‘Methods’ section. New pages don’t get ‘announcements’ like the posts do .. just so you know.