Sunday, August 22, 2010

Technique - Painted furniture

My most recent project needed an extra piece of furniture and I decided to go with a piece I painted.  I ended up painting two pieces and this blog is to explain how I did it.
First I started with some pieces of BPF (brown plastic furniture) that I had in my stash.  This is great stuff to supplement quarter inch scale (1/48th) projects, but I no longer use it 'as is'.  I paint it. 
Now, when I was early on into miniatures and first discovered BPF, I painted a whole house worth of the stuff but I did a poor job because I didn't prepare the pieces, I just started painting.  I still have several of those pieces that I salvaged from the project but I repaint them before using. 
In this pic, I wanted to show a before-before.  I am going to use the piece on the right which is a desk but this was after I had already started filing/sanding and scraping on it.  The two pieces on the left show how blobbed the gold paint is and also the extra flashing that can be on this stuff.  (the middle piece in the middle along the edge has a bump).
I cleaned the piece using these tools.
left to right: screwdriver (like for eyeglasses) that I used to scrape with in a tiny area, a wedge shaped needle file and then the sharp pointed craft knife for getting in the tight spots and scraping the edges after sanding.
I started by sanding the bumps off, sanding down any raised edges, scraping off any excess flashing (thin pieces that sticks out from the edges and is caused by a gap in the mold) and fixing any gaps if the plastic was missing by evening out the line such as an edge.  Sometimes the BPF has mold lines where is should be flat and I use a combination of these three to get it smooth as possible.  Although didn't have that particular problem with these.
I use the file to sand it down and I like that the file is thinner on one edge so can get in grooves.  It also has a wider edge that can be used to sand against a right angle.
The more fine tuning done with these tools the better the look of the finshed product.
When filing/sanding, sometimes the plastic doesn't want to release the sanded plastic and so a fuzzy edge appears.  If this does not wipe away, I use the craft knife to slice or scrape off.
This grandfather clock is the second piece I am transforming. Shown before and after some sanding/filing. The pics actually show the grain of the plastic and I didn't worry with that as I was going to paint it.  (Actually was the flash that made this stand out. Where the grain shows was actually smooth.)
In the far right, the clock face has been scraped to remove some extra bumps (over the entire face and not just the hands which I kept) that I used the screwdriver tool to get in the area.
These two pics show a plan of attack with paint.  I like to do a rough sketch and then use my colored pencils to picture what the piece may look like when done.   This sketch is not about scale or looking exactly like the item, just getting the idea of where I might want to put the colors.  I do sometimes sketch multiple ideas so I don't have to repaint.

Now that I have an idea of what I am going to do, I am ready to paint.  I use acrylics and so I do several thin layers.  It is a good idea to paint and move to the next section and don't go over the first section as it might remove the paint.  This is plastic thing as the paint will be pulled up by brushing too much because the plastic doesn't absorb the paint it just sits on it.
When I paint these size items and this kind of detail, I use a 1/4" to 1/8" size brush for coverage and 10/0, 18/0 and/or 20/0 detail brushes to get these tiny spots.  (And a good magnifer to see that detail to highlight)
Paint needs to be thin but not too thin.  If it is watery it won't cover so I tend to use little if any water added to my paint.  however this blue was globby and I had to add water and later I used extender to keep the paint flowing.
Building up layers of paint requires the paint to be 'open' for awhile.  It may take a minute to paint a spot or area but as I work with each of the different paints the paint can dry up so that is where the extender helped out.
This pic shows what one coat did.  Hey I got white on the blue, no worries I just keep touching up as I go.
Turns out the makers of BPF like to leave what they can open.  In this case, I needed a solid back as the piece will likely be seen at times from the back. So I cut a paper (thin card would work) back and glued it on.  I choose to cut to shape, but I could have gone with a square on the bottom, rectangle in the middle and another smaller square on the top with the edges of each piece butt together.  I didn't cut this to fit exactly the back as I didn't want the edge of it to be showing on the side.
After a second coat on the grandfather clock and on the top of the desk.  It took 3 coats to get the white even.  Consider that I was covering brown with white so the thin layers had to be built up.
I choose to paint white even where I was planning to go red.  I figure it would be easier to go red over white than red over blue and I was correct.  Although a few spots changed from blue to white and then red.
I choose to add white on top of the blue in between the drawers so several layers here. Note I have also remembered to add white to the molding on the clock.  I forgot about that at first but it was something I had planned.
I continued adding the paint in the spots I want.  I made numerous mistakes and had to cover them with the other color.  But as long as I kept the paint thinner rather than thick, I didn't have issues with build up.  Now if this was not a finished piece build up might be an issue, but I would tend to this painting after a kit is built.
All told some spots may have 6 layers of paint, but that was more because I made mistakes and had to cover them.  Either that or I changed my mind what I wanted to be what.
Here are my finished pieces.  I will add some accessories to the desk.  Not shown to size as the clock is under 1.75" tall.
The possiblities of ways to paint using multiple colors are endless, but a general guide is to highlight anything that might not show up if all one color.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Tools I use to make Miniatures

Tools are a critical element of making miniatures.  Over the years I have collected quite a few tools and some I use often and others not so much.  Some tools I keep to use on bigger stuff (cutting down to size) and I have a smaller tool to use the rest of the time.
The pics I have show both basic and additional tools, but I will list what I consider basic and recommend for a beginner.
Cutting tools

Starting from the left are two types of craft knife.  I use both.  I like the red and black one - a snap blade - especially for cutting matt board or other thick cardboard as it is has a new blade just by snapping off the end. The end of the knife has a removal cap that is for doing this snapping and also to allow reloading the knife.  A sharp blade is crucial to good cutting.
The second type of craft knife is great for the getting the tip in places the other knife may not go.
Basic tool kit: snap-blade knife - because it is versatile and economical.
Next we have a pencil, need that for marking. Basic - yes
Smaller scissors and bigger scissors, there are times when both are needed so I recommend both sizes.  The smaller size is good for smaller trimming and the bigger are for when larger things need to be cut.  The smaller size needs to have good points to get in tight spots.  Basic: both
Next is a 12" metal ruler.  For clean straight cuts metal ruler is a must.  Basic - yes
The green cutting matt that is pictured is a small size.  A cutting matt is a must but a larger matt would be preferred so that large media can be cut down.  I recommend a 12" by 18" size in Basic toolbox.
I do use the smaller matt shown for those times when a smaller size is fine.  This would be a great addition for later.
On top of the matt is a triangle.  This or a t-square are needed for marking to make square cuts.  This one is plastic so I try to avoid making cuts against to avoid damaging it.  I would use it to mark and then use the metal ruler for cutting.  Basic - yes

These additional cutting tools are ones I use often.  I like having a 6" ruler because I work in quarter inch scale.  It is much easier to work with than the 12" when the media is less than 6". 
Another tool I have used is the smaller triangle, same reason as the 6" ruler for using this size triangle.
A favorite for working with smaller materials is the mini square L shape.  I use this a lot.  If I had to choose just one of these three items, then get this one.
The other two tools go together.  Metal miter box and saw.  This saw happens to be fine tooth and works for most smaller woods much of the time.  There is available a rough cut saw and I rarely use mine, but I also have a preac (small table saw).  The miter box is great for straight cuts or angles. I use it a lot for cutting wood bits.
One thing not shown that is a must for me is a sharpie marker (fine tip preferred).  This is great for when I am making multiple cuts.  I mark the metal ruler with the sharpie so I don't have to keep counting those lines.  When I done, I use isopropyl (rubbing) alcohol to remove the mark.

Yep there are a lot of glues out there. I had to go with just one, seriously, just one, I would get the ultimate.  It can't do everything, but it sure can do a lot. 
UPDATE-Jan 3,2015 - I no longer use the Ultimate glue as I had such problems with it stopping/drying up.
My current favorite is Tacky glue - I buy small bottles - I like the glue pen as well.
I also keep on hand, super glue, tacky glue - I like this pen, but a bottle is fine - and some thin body white glue. 
I use the super glue for metal and plastic bits that are really small.
White glue for paper spread very thinly.
Tacky is a good glue to use for many things as well.  I use it for paper as well.
Any glue for paper such as wallpaper needs to be spread thin and maybe even set up a tad to allow the excess moisture to go.  A spreader can be a simple as a scrap of wood or cardboard or an old credit card.
There a couple of paper glues out there such as yes glue and grandmother stovers.  I have some and use it, but if I spread the tacky thin and even, I can get by with it.
After applying I also go over the top of the paper with a brayer type tool which is just some to apply even pressure across the surface. I like to use a sharp edge like the credit card.
Also consider wood glue for gluing wood, but I have been pleased with the ultimate for this especially in smaller applications.
One thing I have found about the ultimate glue is that it can seperate.  either that or it really does have a shelf life. Not sure which. I found it is good to keep glues like tacky upside down so it is in the top of the bottle for dispensing, but with the ultimate, I switch it back and forth and even lay it on its side so it gets mixed up.  I have even shaken it before using as I have had a bottle or two seperate and be runny.
I love tip bottles (small bottle with a metal tip) but they are hard to clean.  I keep small juice glasses to store my tip bottles in.  However if I have been lazy and not cleaned out the tip I rely on the toothpick for my applicator instead of the tip.  Squeeze glue in a bottle lid and dab with a toothpick or a hat pin.

SANDING and it's not just for wood
Basic toolbox: emery board, next most basic is a wedge shaped needle file (far left two items).  I use them a lot.
I also like the other nail file type sander and the nail file foam block (two far right items).  Both of these have two grits that I can use much of the time.
The other needle file I have pictured (in the middle) is  half round.  I like the roundness for shaping curves.  I have several other needle files, but I grab the wedge or half round the most.
Sanding is important to give a piece that finished look.  It may not take much but that extra may make the difference in how good it looks.
I do have sandpaper, but I like these tools as they have stiffness to them that helps keep me straight.
Another 'sanding' tool is the smaller scissors. When wood is cut it tends to fray a bit, it is quick to use the scissors to snip this off instead of sanding as the sanding might change the size or shape if not careful.
Another 'sanding' tool is a craft knife. Sometimes when sanding, the edges just keep fraying. This is especially true of plastic.  I use the craft knife to scrap away the fray.

TWEEZERS - must have a least one good pair.
I am showing three pair I like and use a lot. My favorite the straight ones. Basic must to have a pair of good sharp tweezers when working with miniature.  Our hands sometimes can't pick up or reach the spot and tweezers do the job.
I like the curved pair for getting around something.  The third pair have a sliding lock which is good when needing to hold something without squeezing the tweezers. These aren't for tight holds but in general will keep it in place.
I do not like the pinching type tweezers that pinch the middle to open.  Personal preference, maybe.  I have concerns with marring the piece I have holding, but try them to decide for yourself.

Other than paint, we must have brushes to paint.  For a basic tool box, I recommend a larger 1/2" to 1" flat for covering larger areas, 1/4" or 1/8" flat for covering smaller areas or frames, thin wood, etc and then two small detail brushes - round and liner in a 10/0 or smaller if you can stand it.  I have a 20/0 liner and love it for those extra thin stripes.
Also pictured is a roll of paper towels that I have cut in half using my snap blade knife because it makes a long blade and can get to the core. I find the half size handy, but typically will tear it in the middle. So if I bought the half sheet perforated style and then cut it in half might be even better.
A cup for water, I like to go smaller to force myself to replace the water more often. Doesn't always work, but I try.  Rinsing a brush and not leaving it sitting is really good idea.  I am very hard on brushes so I don't have top of the line. I like sable brushes but the two flats pictured are cheaper brushes and for the usage I use them for are great.  The type of bristle does matter, so I avoid coarser brushes as they to me are a waste of money.
The big brush on the right is not for painting but for dusting.  I use a power makeup brush to dust my precious minis as they do sometimes succumb to that if they are not covered.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Why I can (or can't) get it done...Perfectionism, Possiblities and making Decisions

As I have been working on my latest projects (Raggedy themed), I have been thinking about why I can and can't get things done in miniature.
The first thing I figured out was that I am a perfectionist.  Ok, I knew that.  But what I learned most recently was how that perfection comes at a cost - hours.  Making it perfect (for me) requires time that I sometimes don't want to spend.  It may require materials or techniques I don't have.  Since this is my personality and not easily changed, I have tried to figure a way to deal with this so that I am most productive.  So I can get more minis done, not just play with them, although playing is good and just fine for those days I just don't have the energy to do.  Course usually when I don't have energy, I don't play with minis I find other means of entertainment.
So my answer to the perfectionism- well, my most recent attempt was when I decided to redo the finishing on a trunk I am working on.  I have had this trunk for several years. I started with gluing wrinkled paper tissue on as an effect to look like leather.  Well, either I didn't know how to do this or I just didn't like this effect.  (Works great as a stucco look, though.) 
My second step (after many years of sitting) was to add some antiquing medium (rub in - wipe off).  I let it dry overnight and also to think about whether I liked the color it turned and the effect I had gotten (Great for a spooky color effect but not my raggedies).  Well I didn't like it, but mostly because it was too dark and my matchy-matchy gene was giving me fits.  Color must either match or be coordinated.  Now if I was truly trying to reform my perfectionism, I would have left it but I am not trying to reform it to the point I no longer care.  I just go read a book if that's the direction I am going to go.
Since I no longer liked the color, I needed to remove the paint.  I started sanding.  I used just a foam block at first, but wasn't getting anywhere fast, (multiple layers of paint plus the tissue wasn't going to come off easy), so I got out my dremel tool.  I picked a drum sander bit.  Not sure what level of sanding it gives but it was coarser than the others, so I used it.  It worked great.  I was trying to be careful not to gouge the wood once I got the paint off, but apparently there at the end I got to agressive so I had some issues.  I went back with a different sanding wheel to even it out, plus a sanding block and that helped, but still was some unevenness to it.  So here's where I didn't let my perfectionism interfere with the project, I got to a point where it was good enough and I am leaving it that way.  Since the trunk is a container for my project and not the featured item, I could deal.  I painted the trunk a different shade of blue and I am happy with the color and just forget about the leather idea. The unevenness is on the bottom of the trunk which will be in the back of the project, but if there is anything to see in the back, then I will use the other things added to cover it (might landscape that side).
I still need to add some corner trim, but just willing to point out the not so perfect bottom of the trunk.

Next problem with getting minis done is possiblities.  Whoa that's a loaded issue for anyone.  When I buy a kit, I like the kit for itself, but.... I do not want mine to look just like the kit maker.  (I am an artist. I make art in miniature so I want my creativity to show, otherwise I might as well buy the completed kit as a finished thing, although I couldn't afford to do that.) Some people do make their kit exactly like the maker intended and I am ok with that, just not for myself. 
Well, changing the kit get's me into trouble.  Suddenly, I have just turned from kit builder/finisher to kit redesigner.  Having designed kits before, I understand full well the implications of redesign and sometimes it means I really bite off more than I can (or want to) chew.  Changing things on a kit can be as simple as moving a wall, using different wallpaper or colors or as in depth as adding to it and truly 'bashing' the kit into our own creation.  Typically I am on the simpler side, but it still gets me in trouble for completeing the kit.
Changing paint colors is an easy thing to do, using differnt wallpaper if I had it on hand would be fairly easy as well, but usually I don't have them on hand and I have to print or purchase something.  Of late that is printing, but to print, you have to have something to print, and that means designing. 
At one point I had an ME themed kit in the red/black/yellow colors and I wanted to do it in pinks and greens.  Fine, but I didn't have the wallpaper.  I bought several small print scrapbook papers to use but they were really too big (it was 1:48 scale kit) and finally when I got back to doing the project I choose not to use the scrapbook paper.   I used the kit makers papers and just the inside was different.  It is very similar to the original which at the point I finished it I was fine with that. 
Time does help me with narrowing the possiblities, but in trying to motivate myself to finish things it is helpful to realize that up front.  Deciding to commit to a redo is going to take time.  Do I or do I not want to commit to that time?  Sometimes I will and sometimes I won't.
In thinking about possiblities there is also the way things get placed that affects how long it takes to do something.  I like to glue things done so my projects which are small, so can be handled without the fear of things falling over.  Deciding to glue requires being happy with the placement of everything.  I can't finish it if the wall isn't glued down or this shelf isn't or whatever.
More possibilites to deal with getting it done, well adding details to make the project snap come to mind.  My current project in the trunk has blue outside and white wallpaper with tiny red hearts.  It looks good together but a lot of white when the furniture is low so I want to add some details to the top parts of the trunk rooms to spice up the white.  If I had this as a kit, would be much less likely as an issue, but working on my own with inspiration by others projects, well it boils down to do i want to purchase some details or use what I have, then if I just use what I have, what colors do I paint.  Decisions, decisions...

I have to make decisions to keep moving to getting it done.  If I had someone else guiding me and I was copying theirs to a T then I  would just follow step by step.  But making it my own, I must make decisions.  Decisions I can live with whether it is this color or that, letting a minor flaw go because no one will notice or will likely be hidden or whatever.  I must make decisions.

Want to help me make some decisions?? Give me feedback on these

I am making a 1:48 scale raggedy (RA) theme scene in a 1:12 scale trunk.  This was inspired by others who made a similar type of project - the first being a RA scene.
I am happy with my trunk (just need to add the corner trim), happy with the heart wallpaper, but deciding how to set it up and which pieces to use, well that's those annoying, hm-mm, I mean fun possiblities.
Most everything furniture-wise is from swaps.
Here is one layout:
The BPF (brown plastic furniture) grandfather clock will be painted to match the color scheme if I decide to use it.

Here's another layout with the lid folded more and the tray to the side.  I also show a matching chair to the red sofa.  These are resin pieces I painted so I am considering do I want the matching pieces or include the sofa from the swap...
This view shows the tray and the chest I plan on using in it.  I will add shelves to the side of the dresser.
Also here is a quilt rack I want to include (turned around).  In this view, I have included the sofa with white hearts as well.
The bench at the end, might be a toy box instead....

More possiblities...
I want to add details to the top of the trunk.  In the inspiration pieces I have seen, they used some ornate spindle pieces from Grandtline (love that companies stuff) but I don't have the same pieces I have seen used. I do have some trim and I have played with the painting as seen here:
But do I do just the spindle trim and none of the lower, this trim in both parts of the trunk and then what about the tray...
Here are some other trim options I am considering
I really like the red and I can cut it to put two hearts on each of the trunk pieces and then something else in the tray. Course I would stiffen, trim up and paint these lace pieces to use.

So what do you think?  Post a comment on this blog or send me an email  I want to hear what you have to say.  Thanks.