Sea House Conservatory Water Feature

Bolinas, California

Although this photo was taken during high tide, this is the water feature look I want to emulate on the Sea House Conservatory low tide build.

Sea House Leadlights

After watching countless hours of video demonstrations from a variety of sources, I started my experiment with a small area at the front of the Leadlights landscaping that seemed natural for a water incursion. I glued a 2-inch tall length of acetate to the project board to form a dam, several inches longer than the intended 4-inch-wide pour, reinforced with masking tape below and tape holdfasts above.

First pour

Several deep breaths and I poured a scant quarter-inch of Realistic Water ™ from Woodland Scenics into the prepared area. Recommendation is an eighth-inch, but hey, it pours fast. So far so good.

Not any different 5 minutes later

I did the same prep on the Conservatory project board.

Constructing a dam around the Conservatory pier

One tricky situation encountered is when any element of the landscaping extends past the base, even a little. I had some time to consider ways I will do it differently next time, as I held the acetate to the base while the glue set adequately.

The indispensable Hand Clamp

When the glue seemed set, I boldly yet delicately poured the first course of water into the prepared base, altogether 5 or 6 separate individual glugs into each tide pool or basin.

The first pour

Unsurprisingly, as I looked and marveled at the swampy effect and the no-going-back-nowness, a few small, very slow leaks began to develop. I used wide painter’s tape to further seal — more on that later — the dam to the base. I checked again about two hours later, added more tape, and also noticed a few small areas where the glue I had used to attach the gravel and boulders seemed to be turning opaque white. Hmmm. The recommendation is to let each layer dry at least 24 hours. It was very late by this time, so I called it a night very early morning and went to bed.

Hmmmmm. Should I be concerned?

Next morning, not 24 hours later, I was encouraged to see the water was mostly turning clearer, but the small white areas were still present, noticeably in the transition areas of gravel I had applied a few days earlier.

What is causing those weird areas of white in the gravel?

I re-read the product label instructions.

What?!

Not for use with PVA glue. I’ll shorten my whole lengthy tirade — who doesn’t commonly use PVA glue? Why wasn’t this the very first caveat on the label, and why was this condition never mentioned in any of the company’s instructional videos on use of the product, etc. and lots of swears and unkind, even rude assumptions and declarations. And then there was the offhand “Cure above 70°F.” Thankfully I have a wise and patient bitch buddy to vent to with whom I can vent. You know who you are are.

Then I calmed down enough to decide that since there was nothing I could do about it, I’d wait and see what would continue to happen. After all, it had not been even 24 hours yet, and it is a rather larger area and blah, grumble, blah.

I wasted more time did more research on pouring water, this time with a variety of mediums and preparation techniques, and even grubbed around in some forums, which I detest, and learned yes/no there are some/not any problems with PVA glue that can be gotten around by sealing everything with — and here again suggestions vary — some sort of varnish, and, most valuably, some clever ways to build and seal dams for water feature success. One involved swamp water.

Time passed, and my water problems with this product mostly resolved themselves. I continue to steep myself in the experiences of others.

Leadlights water feature, with live edge!

I did a second pour on Leadlights, and a second and third pour on areas of the Conservatory. Above you can see the dam removed to reveal the fully cured water. (One of the plants bled a little color into the water, but I don’t mind.) I wanted a “live edge” to the water, and used an Xacto knife to carve away the lip. The project base itself will be edge-banded with thin basswood for a finished look :)

I have made a water effect!

All in all, I am happy with and consider the results a success. I’ll know so much more on the next one.

Check out the light shimmer on the right pier piling, a reflection from the late afternoon light. Magical realism, which validates my efforts :)

I’ll leave you with this image found in Bolinas, on the estuary marsh/riparian transition on a winter afternoon hike at low tide. (Very low and long ago for this guy.)

Old skiff, seen in Bolinas, California

Rocks, Cobble, Water Features, Sunset Light

Sea House Conservatory Pier, ready for her water feature!

In preparation for creating the tidal water surge under the Sea House Conservatory, I mixed up a nice ocean green base color and painted it generously on the project board. I made sure the whole 26 x 20-inch base — foam cliff landslide, boulders, cobble, gravel, old tiled patio — was well-sealed with glue or paint to prevent water leaks. Two-inch tall heavy acetate strips were cut, ready to glue to the base to form a (removable) perimeter dam.

I estimated an area about 18 by 18 inches would be covered an inch deep, then used the Woodland Scenics water estimator to see how much product I needed to buy. Two, maybe three bottles?

Um, no. No, no, no. Depending on whether I chose “Realistic ($24 for 16 ounces)” or “Deep Pour ($30 for 12 ounces)” the estimated 180 ounces required 12 or 15 product bottles, costing a total of $288 or $450. For a feature, however awesome, mostly obscured beneath the Conservatory deck, this makes no sense. Back to the proverbial literal project board to drastically reduce surface area.

More cowbell! I mean, more reefs and rocks!

After fashioning more florist foam into reefs and rocks, I glued them to the project board.

Black Model Magic rocks and cobble

Starting this time with black Model Magic, I forged another batch of accent rocks.

Rocks, mid-wash and spray process
The open water feature base is realistically and financially reduced.

The foam shoreline formations were generously sealed and detailed with a few shades of warm and cool gray acrylic and stabbing holes with a pointy thing. All base edges were given a transitional application of gravel, cobble and accent rocks. These were allowed to dry, excess gravel brushed out, and the process repeated.

Barnacles make everything better.

“What are those white cone things?” I can hear those of you looking at this photo on your phone exclaim. What, yes! Those white things are perfect barnacles, crafted by Keli of iseecerulean.com.

Rocks to Keli

(I am not ungrateful. We have a longtime water-influenced exchange going on.)

Sea House Conservatory, under the pier

I did a final brushing and shaking off loose gravel after the glue dried over my (1:1 life) front deck, just as the sun was setting.

Kansas remembers me now
The lunatic is on the grass

You know how it is when maybe you fall a little bit too much in love with your build? That’s how it is for me right now with these sunset light photos. I have about a dozen that made first, even second cut, and they are all epic. One more, please indulge me.

Will be largely unseen

I sighted through all the open viewpoints, and as I mentioned earlier, most all will be obscured once the Conservatory is in place. But I know, and now you do too, what lies beneath.

Now and Then: Chairs, Leadlights, Conservatory, Rocks

The first of two estate chairs for Sea House Leadlights. Probably.

I bought two of Kris Comapas’s Estate Chair kits because I wanted to use more of this thrift store dress fabric, which I love.

From a Pescadero thrift store strapless, bubble-hemmed dress
Happy little estate chair, work in progress

It’s a rather large scale print for miniature upholstery, as well as being a very fine and lightweight fabric, but did I mention how happy it makes me feel?

Though legless and unpiped, still a very welcoming estate chair

Kris includes good instructions and cord to make fabric-covered piping in her kits, but I generally prefer a twisted cord made from 3 strands of embroidery floss.

Yes, K-2’s eyes light up (when he sees me)

Here you can see my associate K-2SO inspecting the floss piping with his massively articulated fingers. (I love him, too.)

I find attaching tiny piping gracefully onto miniature upholstery to be a tedious task, so I’m putting it off until I feel more… um, articulated dextrous. And patient.

Sea House Leadlights design studio

The Leadlights design studio also has a new chair. Makes it look way more office-y, don’t you think? I’m really pleased with the level of quality and detail in this chair. (Ack! This photo also reminds me I want to finish tricking out the desk accessories, and to trim that orange bookmark on the last-minute-made sketchbook!)

That brick rubble is glued down Scarlett. (Yes, she checked.)

Work continues on the Sea House Conservatory build, with a sea level rise remediation support pier in place.

Model Magic air-dry clay rocks and boulders

Geologic rock and boulder construction is underway. My preferred material — think I’ve tried just about all of them — is Model Magic air dry clay, made by Crayola. It is lightweight, inexpensive, readily available, pleasant and responsive to sculpt, accepts all kinds of pigments well, and dries with virtually no shrinking.

Spatters and washes and sprays, oh my
Lots and lots of boulders and rocks
Granite-veined black rocks

With this last batch of rocks, I experimented with adding black acrylic paint or India ink to the white clay before sculpting. One batch had fine black gravel mixed in. The paint or ink initially made the compound stickier to work with, but it was nice to start with a pre-tinted base. These have green and gray washes spritzed on. When dry (takes a day or two depending on size and relative humidity) with a fine brush I painted the surf erosion holes and granite veins with white acrylic, diluted 1:1 with water.

As I was ordering new clay, I learned Model Magic also comes in black, gray, and “Earthtone, Bisque and Terra Cotta”. So stoked to use these colors on the next exploratory rock and boulder sets.

Closeup before the tide comes in

The finished rocks are slicked with a satin multi-purpose sealer, as they’re meant to look wet. The final Conservatory project base will have about an inch of water in tidal flow. (I’m excited about that, too, as I’ve never worked with a “water feature” before :)

Sea House Conservatory, in progress, February 2020

Deck planks are installed, and I’ve finally arrived at a stair design that makes sense and blends into the overall structure.

Yesterday I was at Chrissy Field in the Presidio, and took a bunch of pier photos for genuine detail ideas. It was a perfect winter’s day, cool, clear and sunny, with very little breeze.

Looking north to the Golden Gate Bridge and Marin
Chrissy Field, Presidio. See the fog horse galloping over the City?

Glorious.

Retrospective: Sea House Leadlights

Albie oversees receipt of Serendipity Shed base kits, 16 August 2019

I thought it might be interesting to review building highlights of the Sea House Leadlights studio office, from start through submission. (Can’t really say “completion” because things never stay done ‘round here.) There are links back to original posts — if any were made — with more details. I wasn’t very bloggy :)

First ideas

I spend a lot of pages thinking, sketching, dreaming, considering and working out dimensions and story.

The starry floor in process

The first floor idea, though fun to design, paint and assemble, did not work well in the space. So it goes.

Two base kits mashed together

Height was added to the starter kit with parts from a second. I like to retain recognizable elements of the kit, so the roof angle and footprint, as well as door and lower window placement remained unchanged.

Loft wall detail

I glued cold press 140 lb. watercolor paper to the walls for texture before painting, and added a whitewashed aged brick back wall in the loft.

Adding siding to the new front
Half-loft installed, supported by faux beams

I opted to make the front façade removable as well as the roof… this makes it so much easier to photograph the interior.

Bench tops and bottoms

I cut the built-in benches from 1/16-inch basswood on the Cricut Maker. These were glued together and supported with 1/8-inch dividers.

Interior space begins to come together
Tree Frog green was the only possible finish color, with black leather cushions

I thought and sketched about the window designs for some time. The Pavilion is bubble-themed; the Conservatory celestial… for the Leadlights design studio I went Egyptian Deco. Mostly sort of.

Sea House Leadlights front doors and front/side windows
Sea House Leadlights upper window

The upper window is a stylized scarab. Very.

The “leading” designs for the windows are cut from lead black cardstock, glued front and back to the plexi, then framed in black on the exterior (and tree frog on the interior). I like to see wood grain, so I use a 1:1 ratio of acrylic paint and staining medium.

The scarab window at night

If one looks straight on, the window frames the bricked loft wall and the old Sea House logo. With sacred scarab wings.

Side building signage

I — or rather the Cricut Maker — cut the signage from matte black vinyl. The stars in the design are meant to resemble anchor plates used to reinforce old buildings. I love them.

In this backlit photo, the vinyl letters appear to float off the side of the building. It’s not quite so unnatural-looking in person, but knocking back the synthetic smoothness is on my eternal learn-to-do list, to find ways to tone down the material. (Transferring wee letters and figures is a fiddly, fussy business, especially onto an uneven surface, and I am not eager.)

Side sign
View from above

Here’s a roof’s-eye look at the progressing build. The holes are drilled for the LED light fixtures that will illuminate the work space below. (The wiring to be concealed beneath a custom rug and other stuff stored in the loft.) A narrow shelf beneath the scarab window on the removable front might support batteries if I ever add lighting to the front. Floor tiles gleam softly with scuff-resistant utility. Leather window seats beckon.

To be continued…

Sea House Leadlights Interior, Roof; Scarlett

Hello Sea House Leadlights office

The entrance to the Sea House Leadlights office is up a few stairs and across the deck to the left of the fireplace. A set of leaded glass doors opens into a snug but functional design studio.

Details: Terra cotta pot by Braxton Payne. Basswood deck and siding stained with Minwax Classic Gray. Pumpkins made from tissue paper and thread. Boulders sculpted from air dry clay painted with acrylic washes and sealed with ultra matte varnish. All succulents, yucca and other plants hand colored with W&N Promarkers. Many are prototypes; some available as kits at Modern Miniature Succulents + Sundries.) 

Desk and bulletin board

Beneath the half-loft a large tabletop desk has plenty of room to roll out plans and inspiration. Low built-in cabinets with black leather cushions provide more seating, storage and level surfaces for tea trays.

Details: The ceiling lights are 12V modified for warm white LEDs. Bulletin board is made from cork sheet framed with basswood stained to match. Sketchbooks made from my kits at MMS+S. Various meaningful artifacts including original leaded glass designs for other Sea House buildings, and a drawing of a cat by my then 4-year old daughter. Fèves, prized vintage Monopoly shoe, and an anodized earring from the 1980s.

The white-washed brick loft stores window frames, tools, Sea House memorabilia and miscellaneous treasure — as well as the switch (lift the black basket) and battery pack (hidden in a custom box) for the LED lights.

Details: Oh yeah, the baskets and boxes are also available as kits at MMS+S.

A gazebo-style roof welcomes natural light. (I’ll detail more of that happy construction in another post.) I made the 1:144 scale basswood model of the source kit for the original Sea House Pavilion, built some years ago. The Egyptian cat is a porcelain fève. Best of all is the vibrant painting by Jim Tracey that commands the studio — also another post.

Finally, of course, Scarlett. Here she has somehow managed to fluidly infiltrate an impossibly small entrance to the Sea House Sea Rise Pavilion loft (my ongoing remodel of the original 2013 build.) I swear she does these things just to remind me she can.

Oh, how she makes me laugh.

Sea House Leadlights Back Wall; No

Part of the back wall of the Sea House Leadlights design studio

The back wall of the Sea House Leadlights design studio is about utility and remembrance. There’s a water spigot and old brick patio remnant for transplanting yucca and succulents. A faded advertising poster from nearby attractions survives on the wall, as does a longhorn cow skull from ranch days.

(Details: Brick wall grouted with tinted spackling paste and aged with muddy gray acrylic wash. Garden tools by Sir Thomas Thumb. Terra cotta pot by Braxton Payne. Basswood siding stained with Minwax Classic Gray. Foundation made from styrofoam, detailed here. Cow skull is resin, aged with Winsor & Newton Promarkers. Boulders sculpted from air dry clay painted in several acrylic washes and sealed with ultra matte varnish. All succulents, yucca and other plants hand colored with W&N Promarkers. Many are prototypes; some available as kits at Modern Miniature Succulents + Sundries.)

Who is this?

A vintage collection of gnomic being fèves populates the succulent understory. I tried to match their colors with the foliage, as they prefer to blend in. This guy is far more camouflaged in the final build, rest assured.

(Details: I find my fèves here.)

No

And, no. Never say never, and never ever compromise your instincts. This is my younger granddaughter Ruby, when somebody told her NO. She is two years old, approaching three. Know your truth.

Marion’s Cape Town Proteas

Marion Russek kindly sent some protea family photos from her visit to the Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens in Cape Town. Though the peak bloom season is from June to November there, she still got some sumptuous shots. I cropped them pretty tightly, and sampled some colors from the flowers for additional eye candy :)

cone_palette

peach_green_palette

red_green_palette

spiky_red_palette

spiky_yllow_palette

sunray_palette

Pulling swatches really helps me understand what colors are going on, and provides a natural starting palette. Many, many thanks, Marion, for sharing the warm sunlight of South Africa with us. Plus! I learned a new word: fynbos.

Color + Form Research

pink_01

Spent a drizzly hour+ marching around the South African garden at UCSC Arboretum, taking reference photos of proteas for the upcoming kit, inspired by Keli’s free-style flowering.

pink_black_00

So many other-hemisphere plants to see. Not all are in peak bloom, but I was more interested in surveying the range of protea forms, their structures and colors.

pink_green_00

I didn’t even concern myself with recording variety names, since I plan a sort of hybrid form for the kit. But the colors, the colors!

yellow_green_01

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This one is a Leucadendron, “Inca Gold”. So luminous.

eucalyptus_blooming

In the transition zone between South Africa and succulent gardens, there were flowering eucalyptus. The scent was heavenly! There’s nothing quite like being in a deserted botanical garden on a rainy day, with only hopping bunnies and many small brown birds.

succulent_color_pattern

Look at the subtle coloration and bold pattern of this succulent.

succulent_color_spiral

Again, but with the spiral nature of growth (and decay).

succulent_red_green

These were quite a surprise. Smallish, leathery, spiky, but what?! If I had done these colors I would call it a mis-step, but now I am emboldened.

This field trip was a wonder. I’ve many more examples of natural plant colorations that will probably necessitate having to buy more markers.

 

An Exaltation of Yuccas

I’m excited to share photos of some incredible yuccas, made by two different miniature artists, both starting from the same kit.*

*Uhh, to clarify: each had her own kit. Two artists, two kits, two locations. Nancy B finished first. Not that it was a contest.

yucca_02_nancy_bristow

This is Nancy Bristow’s work. (Nancy has been making miniatures since the 1970s, and it was she who finally identified the Braxton Payne pots I had bought at auction, and pointed me to his obscure website.) She hand-colored the leaves using markers, and I love that she styled them curling out and upward. So pert and jaunty! They’re planted in BP pots she “aged”, and used bird grit as gravel.

yucca_3_nancy_bristow

Here’s a shot of Nancy’s work-in-progress, adding knot holes to the stems. I noticed she chose to curl the leaves first, before attaching to the stem. Brilliant! It is so gratifying — and informative — to see how other makers work with my kits. One can learn so much.

yucca_keli_111917

This is Keli Minick’s interpretation of the yucca tree kit. Look at those colors! I love the graceful trunk, and the stubby branch. Two completely different plants! She suggested using round nose pliers to separate and shape the leaves after attaching — which makes the process much less tedious. And she kindly pointed out a typo in the armature instruction sheet. Argh!

YU01_contents

Here’s what the Broad Leaf Yucca Tree kit looks like to start. This is the green leaf variation; cream and white are also available. (I believe Nancy B started with white leaves; Keli with cream?)

What would you make of it?

Sincere thank-yous and expressions of humbled awe to Nancy B and Keli for allowing me to share their work. 

An Idea Occurs

Some backstory: A long time ago, there was the Sea House Pavilion build. Good times.

SH_Pavilion_side

It surprise-won the Grand Prize in that year’s HBS contest. Then more stuff happened, and once again, we packed up and moved house. This time, up the coast to Pacifica. Time passed, and we got a new kitten. Whereas the older two boy cats had always ignored my work, Scarlett’s relentless depredations of all miniature endeavors, um, challenged my work flow. All the builds had to go live on top of tall bookcases.

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Here is the above-mentioned cat, now slightly less naughty, and a partial view of our north fence line, in the process of being demolished and rebuilt.

backyard

Late this afternoon, I sat outside on the retaining wall, looking at the back of our little blu house. We’ve had some very high temperatures in the San Francisco Bay Area — like, tacky wax melting; all the miniature pictures and signs fell off walls in all the builds. Triple digits F° hot. Today was the first day it was cooler than the face of the sun possible, pleasant even, to be outside.

backyard2

Perhaps it was the temporary expansiveness of a fence-less suburban back yard… but an idea — a solution to something else entirely — occurred to me.

master.jpg

The idea began when I unearthed this lovely corroded Master lock, as I was weeding and tidying up some of the excavations before the fence guys return tomorrow. Kris Compas’s post about how she dilapidates upholstery, read earlier in the day, and the steady stream of Abandoned Miniatures in my FB feed no doubt contributed to my thinkings.

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2+2=5 was playing as I wrote :)

So the idea to reimagine the Sea House Pavilion as “a post-sea level rise coastal squat” may be the solution — a transformation — to the problem of housing all these builds. Just keep remodeling them! And I get to do research and problem solving and learn by doing new techniques! My favorite things! There’s still Scarlett to reckon with, of course, but she may turn out to be my assistant disheveler.