Did families really do this in rural Holland?

dutch-rural-dec

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 ..

http://bouwhistorie.blogspot.co.uk/2013/12/kindervoetjes-vloer.html

.. 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.

https://monumentaleinterieurs.nl/nieuws/bijzondere-kindervoetjes-vloer-ontdekt-raadhuis-grootschermer

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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

http://www.walraad.com/projecten/voetjesmarmer-vloer-op-de-herengracht  

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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 https://www.reddit.com/r/artisan 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  https://vimeo.com/vamuseum or https://vimeo.com/craftscouncil

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’!

chairs

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

http://www.dickblick.com/products/oil-board/

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.

http://www.misterart.com/display-presentation/sign-supplies/duro-stencil-oil-board.html

http://www.texasart.com/g4038/Duro-Stencil-Oil-Board.htm%3Chttp://www.texasart.com/g4038/Duro-Stencil-Oil-Board.htm

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 www.stonehouses.co.uk 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 www.flints.co.uk 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 www.modelshop.co.uk  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.

Press-casting in Sculpey

For a mixed-media sculptural project I’m working on at the moment I’m trying various ways of ‘casting’ leaf forms. I’ve already tried painting resin into the mould forms and the results were nicely thin and delicate looking but difficult to manipulate into the variations I wanted. I’ve done some press-casting with Sculpey in the past and found it much more versatile. The results are durable enough if properly baked, dependent on how they’re integrated with the rest and .. as long as the finished piece is not thrown around!

I modelled the prototype forms below as flat reliefs on a Pvc base. I didn’t want to mimic the exact vein structure of leaves too closely, just suggest a ‘cabbage-y’ feel in this case. I made use of a custom modelling tool I’d made some time ago for simulating a tree bark pattern (shown in one of the later photos below). I also used a piece of open-celled or reticulated foam to give the Sculpey an ‘orange-peel’ surface.

Above, I used scrap cardboard for containment walls, stuck to the Pvc baseboard with UHU (forms a strong enough seal, but removable afterwards) and Vaselined to prevent adhesion of the silicone. Neither Pvc nor Sculpey needs any barrier, although if for any reason the prototypes need to be preserved these should either be baked or greased with Vaseline because silicone rubber tends to extract the plasticizer from unbaked Sculpey making it crumbly. I used my favourite, medium-hardness (Shore A 20) silicone, Lukasil 429 from www.specialplasters.co.uk which has a red pigmented catalyst to assist with mixing. Although I’ve found that there’s rarely a problem with air bubbles when using a slow-curing silicone (24hrs) without thickener, I usually dribble some first to cover the forms and let this settle for a while before pouring in the rest.

I’ve found that silicone moulds don’t need to be too resilient for press-casting in Super Sculpey. If the Sculpey is properly conditioned (softened) beforehand little pressure is needed and the more the mould can flex to assist removing the press-casting the better. The best way is to roll a portion of Sculpey fairly thin, just large enough to cover the area being filled and press this firmly in, working into all details.

Then the Sculpey layer should be roughly trimmed, just to remove most of the excess, using a scalpel held at a fairly shallow angle to avoid cutting into the silicone itself, below.

The clay can then be pressed further, working it more tightly in and thinning it (by more pressing and trimming) if necessary. The edge can then be cleaned up by gently rocking/smoothing with a finger all round.

Below, I’ve used a self-made modelling tool to quickly add some surface structure to this side of the leaf. I made the tool originally to impress a bark-like pattern for tree models, by first modelling Sculpey over an old scalpel blade and then baking it hard. I left the base of the blade free so that it could be inserted into the type of ‘clutch’ handle supplied with some types of craft blades. The baked Sculpey can be pressed into fresh Sculpey quite forcibly without sticking.

I also use a small piece of reticulated foam again to give a uniformly pitted texture.

 

Using this method the pressed shapes can be modified by gently curling or bending them before baking. No single casting will look exactly like another.

The advice regarding baking from the US Polyform company (included on the packet) suggests giving Super Sculpey 15 minutes for every quarter-inch of thickness in an oven heated to 130 Centigrade. This is true if one’s aim is to preserve the light pink colour as far as possible but it certainly doesn’t harden the Sculpey as much as it can be hardened. I gave these leaf forms (which were on average only 2mm thick) 20 minutes at 130 C resulting in the nut-brown colour. This is not ‘burnt Sculpey’ .. this is Sculpey properly strengthened .. and there is no extra shrinkage or loss of detail suffered in doing this.

My past experiments in press-casting include the similar ‘leaf’ forms below, featured in my book. For these I used a Gelflex mould but they were made in the same way. The following two photos are from Astrid Baerndal.

At the time these ‘sprigs’ were inspired by the putti forms which clustered and buzzed around Baroque representations of the Ascension, or particularly the flying figures I’d seen in the large collection of nativity scenes (krippen) in the Bavarian National Museum in Munich.

I also looked at this method of making lightweight puppet heads. Here I used a stronger Sculpey version (actually a blend of grey ‘Firm’ Sculpey, some original white and some Super Sculpey) and filled deeper details in the mould separately first to ensure they were properly dealt with.

Portions of Sculpey were then pressed in and smoothed together. In the finished casts there was some very slight suggestion of fault lines where the Sculpey had not fused together completely on the other side.

When filled and trimmed, above, the Sculpey can be baked while still in the mould (essential because it would distort too much if removed from the mould at this stage) either by using a heat gun for a number of minutes or by putting the whole setup in the oven. Most silicones (even if not specified as heat-resistant) will withstand up to about 200 C without any effects. Oven heating is more effective because, if given long enough, the Sculpey furthest from the surface will also be baked. The heat gun method ensures that the uppermost Sculpey becomes firm enough for the cast to be taken out of the mould without distortion but the other side then needs to be given the same treatment. Below are the two baked halves and another version assembled with the seam line filled. Superglue is very effective in bonding Sculpey together, but it is not gap-filling. This can be done with fresh Sculpey which in turn needs heating.

Working with ‘Palight’ foamed Pvc

I’m really very keen now to get a better idea of just how many people are working with this wonderful stuff or have even heard of it? I’ve been working with it for years having been introduced to it by a good model-maker friend from the US. I’ve always assumed it must be well known to architectural and product model-makers here in the UK but since I don’t mix with them (as much as I might like) I’m really not sure anymore. Another reason for my doubt is that 4D in London are now planning to stock it (partly at my suggestion) but they’ve always been very much in touch with what their customers might be looking for and obviously haven’t noted a significant enough demand up to now. Even though many established freelancers or model-making firms may be more likely to order in bulk from other sources the ‘knowledge’ does normally tend to filter through to the rest of the community. So I’d be very grateful for any feedback on this i.e. whether you’ve heard of it and from where, whether you use it and for what?

The following ‘article’ is a transcript of the guidance sheet I’ve put together especially for 4D in conjunction with their presentation of my 1:25 scale teaching kit in the shop later in May (see previous post May1st). Therefore there’s some emphasis on small-scale work but foamed Pvc is available in thicknesses up to 20mm making it applicable for virtually any scale of work! I’ve also just started to compile a directory of materials accessed from the ‘header’ menu above in which I will group information like this according to material.

Foamed Pvc is an extremely versatile sheet plastic. Of all the different brands I’ve tried over the years Palight has proved to be by far the easiest to work with by hand. In fact it’s become my own first choice as the basis for almost everything I make! It can be easily cut with a scalpel, or carved, sanded, even embossed to a certain extent. It can be painted without any danger of warping (though it will usually require priming first) is not affected by humidity or (within reason) heat from strong lights. It is also incredibly light! For example, when I use it to make larger-scale sets for stop motion animation it delivers the structural strength of Mdf at a fraction of the weight! The only caveat in all this is the fact that it can only be glued with superglue, but on the other hand this gives a very strong bond and also once one has mastered the option of ‘gluing from outside’ it all becomes much easier!

I’ve chosen and illustrated three examples of its use: firstly using 1mm Pvc (the thinnest available) for intricate forms; secondly using 2mm Pvc for general construction; thirdly using Pvc as one may not otherwise have expected, to create surface effects.

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.

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

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.

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.

The following example illustrates some of the benefits of using foamed Pvc to construct walls etc. Even thin Pvc will retain its rigidity well. For example 1mm Pvc can be used to represent walls up to 30cm high easily, as long as they’re not load-bearing. Because Pvc sands well cut edges can be cleaned up if uneven and right-angles bettered prior to gluing together. Also because Pvc sands well the visible joins after gluing can be sanded often to invisibility!

In the next example I am constructing a piece of vaulted ceiling by first making a framework box (2mm Pvc) and then curving a thinner piece of Pvc underneath it. Curves are much easier to cut smoothly in Pvc because there is no grain and the material ‘gives’ a little. It is also possible to make a definite guiding groove in the soft surface using a compass fitted with two metal points. Curves can also be perfected by sanding them.

Here I have scored the 1mm on one side to help it to bend. The same can be done by heating it uniformly and securing it until cool on a curved surface such as a bottle. The piece can be glued in position, in much the same way as the curved profiles on the ironwork example, by first securing one end, pressing the rest into position and ‘spot- gluing’ from outside. Here the end has been made purposely longer and can be easily trimmed off once the rest is glued.

Whereas other plastics such as styrene or Abs can be sanded to modify the surface, because foamed Pvc ‘gives’ so much more it can be inscribed or even embossed to create different textures. Here is just one example where I have scraped the surface with coarse sandpaper to simulate wood.

To build up the structure of wood panelling I first cut out the raised areas as continuous pieces, then pressed firmly with sandpaper (120 grit, mounted on a small block) along the length of each part. ‘Grain follows length’ almost always for any realistic wood construction.

I scraped those areas of the base piece which would remain visible as panels then stuck the frames into position (just spacing dots of superglue). I used different thicknesses of ‘half-round’ profile styrene (also sanded) inside the panels and around the door frame.

The painting method and the choice of medium are fairly crucial in making this technique work. Normally it wouldn’t  be reasonable to paint plastic with any water-based paint  and expect it to stay, but because the surface is sanded it can grip quite well. The paint needs to emphasize the scratches made by the sandpaper, settling well in the grooves but not too much on the surface. Sometimes this can be achieved well with washes of thin paint, other times by rubbing in/rubbing off like a polish. For this example I just used a regular System3 yellow ochre acrylic thinned down with a little water and ‘rubbed into’ the plastic surface using a medium-hard brush. It takes some practise to find out for oneself what a particular painting medium might do and how best to do it.

Why make models?

The following is an article which was originally published in the Society of British Theatre Designers magazine Blue Pages (Vol.4 2009) which I often refer back to myself and which I feel is always worth re-stating. The question always comes up .. as it should I think! .. but especially when I’m teaching film/tv production design students. The article is written specifically with theatre design in mind, and the worth to the designer or the practical function of models in film design is almost a different subject with a different set of issues, but I like to think that many of the less specific points touched in the article apply to design model-making in general.

Why make models?

As a specialist teacher of model-making it often falls to me to initiate 1st year design students in the joys and challenges of making models for the first time. This always has to be done rather too quickly and inevitably devolves into cramming whatever technical basics will fit hastily into the survival kit: how to think and work in scale; what materials can be used; where to get them; how to make this or that specific structure? These are undeniable essentials in practical terms but they are not the ‘essence’ of good practice. I try to ensure that students understand and accept more than the superficial reasons for themselves rather than just doing it because they’re told to, but I often feel that these technicalities are where model-making begins and ends for a lot of people, and that the true appreciation of how integral the act of model-making is to design and how models are supposed to serve is left rather to chance and personal inclination. Unless the question – why? – is consciously and personally engaged with the act of model-making, even if pursued to technical perfection, remains a purely functional and rather empty one, like an actor learning lines impeccably without understanding the meaning.

There are first of all the more obvious reasons; those of communication. The theatre designer produces a model to communicate his/her intentions as clearly, comprehensively and as unambiguously as possible to those many collaborators who need to know. If done with understanding a model can leave little room for doubt or misconception, and that doesn’t mean that it need be slavishly detailed. We all read two-dimensional images differently but are more unified in our understanding of real, physical space and structure, regardless of the scale. A drawing can only make the relationship of objects in space tangible if the perspective is first-rate and then it’s only from one viewpoint. But the same perspective makes it difficult to be sure of the relative sizes of those objects whereas a model lays this out very clearly. Furthermore a model can be played with, interacted with, changed collaboratively or illuminated, in ways that a drawing cannot. Of course models take a long time, and this brings up the question again of how far one should go with them. The model cannot deliver a complete illusion (without spending a disproportionate amount of time) and should not be thought of in this way. Rather it is quite a sophisticated (and certainly not immediately acquired) combination of practical definition: everything is in the right scale; space and structure are as exact as possible; colours are as intended .. and atmospheric suggestion: surface textures are attempted but perhaps with some license; set dressing is conveyed just through key elements. Although the model may be scrutinised in detail, it should be read as a whole.

The established requirement (at least here in the UK) of making a scale model as a concise ‘one stop’ communicative tool is accepted, albeit sometimes grudgingly, by most. But the deeper, more creative benefits for designers themselves throughout the process are perhaps more difficult to understand or define. Model-making is, from the very first rough-cut to the very last touch of paint, a process of testing – a journey of increasing definition. Ideas, however bright and definite they may present themselves, are still vague at all the edges. Lines drawn on paper may provide more definition but are still symbols for something different which is still fairly easy to lose touch with. But make something physical, however simple, in real space – and it’s real! It’s only by attempting to make, rather than draw or describe, that we can really test and ‘know’ an intention, a form, or a spatial concept. Take the rather prosaic example of a simple chair. Anyone who’s ever planned the inclusion of ‘unobtrusive’ or ‘generic’ wooden chairs in an otherwise abstract set and then set about to model them will know that it is only then that one discovers what a surprising amount of fine-tuning is involved in achieving even that form of simplicity. Making them is the only way to find out how packed with decisions the ‘simple’ can actually be. On the other hand if a specific period interior complete with appropriate furniture is planned, taking the trouble to model a typical chair of the time should not be just something that has to be done because it’s needed to complete the scenic picture. In attempting to make it one is engaging directly with the elements of period style but more importantly one has to simplify (there are limits to the detail achievable in 1:25) and in doing so one is forced to focus on the essentials of that style. This is one of the reasons why it is often recommended that the model-making/design of a chair might come quite early in the design process, because the information gathered will often inform the whole. The act of making, however simplified and however surrogate the materials, also informs how things are generally ‘put together’ in the world.

Related to this and special to theatre design (more than most of the other disciplines which include model-making) is the degree of engagement with simulation – faking, if you like. When any form of scenic realism is required on stage, whether the object is a cluttered office or a decaying ruin, the designer must formulate the most economical yet convincing visual recipe. As in all forms of artistic creation that recipe comes from the overbearing mass of perceived reality filtered through the mind of the artist. In any art-form where an economic simulation of the real is called for scale model-making is an excellent filter. It is not possible to copy the visual complexity of an old brick wall for example, brick-by-brick, at 1:25 scale so the designer/maker is forced in a very immediate and practical way to concentrate on the essentials of the look. In the heat of working, this 3ft foamboard microcosm becomes a crucible of design fundamentals: -stripping down to the essence; the question of generic versus individual; achieving heightened reality through selection and focus; ‘less is more’, – not hampered by the model but in many ways because of it.

So models are not just small because they’re supposed to be manageable through doorways and present an instant overview, not small just because it’s more practical to make them smaller than real life. They’re small because smallness puts things into perspective, because working in scale becomes a filter and a focus for the designer. They’re not just there because of what they tell others but because of what they can tell the creator in the process.

I hope I’ve outlined my personal – perhaps biased – belief in model-making as something integral to three-dimensional design which cannot be bypassed. My general endeavour is to make model-making ‘bigger’ and to promote a better understanding, not just of its technicalities but its deeper significance.