Late one night I decided to dry fit the HBS contest base because I needed to look at something new. I like the kit, but am undecided if I can responsibly build it. Ideas abound, and it’s currently on a turntable next to the studio thinking couch. It also makes a grand morning coffee cup platform.
Here’s a glimpse of the under-pier, under-stair Sea House Conservatory setting. Barnacles by Keli, air-dry clay boulders, and flotsam from the natural and manufactured worlds.
When I saw just how much of the low tide water is in the shadow of the Conservatory structure, I thought some bioluminescence might add charm. This is four flickering LEDs set in the back corner, under the pier.
The effect is subtle, but smile-worthy, especially in the dark.
Here’s a shot of preliminary bulb placement. You can see some of just how much is unseen.
A night view of the mystery.
I indulged the rare decorative impulse to design pier piling hardware that echoes the Conservatory finials.
Oh wait, another what-lies-beneath shot.
This was one of my birthday views, taken from Point Montara Lighthouse in early March, on a day-long field trip with my Greater Farallones Naturalist class. There was a large pod of dolphins cavorting not far offshore, visible through the very many pairs of binoculars and spotting scopes.
The pandemic was already getting real, but that was the last time I sat by the ocean, side by side with my classmates, eating our bag lunches together in the intermittent sun and light rain.
Here’s an image from a series Keli and I have been punting about. It started when Keli found a scale model canoe builder in Maine who makes these beautiful 1:8 paddles. We each bought one and the challenge is on Instagram #littlepaddletales and #paddlehomage. It’s been fun.
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.
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.
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.
I did the same prep on the Conservatory project board.
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.
When the glue seemed set, I boldly — yet delicately — poured the first course of water into the prepared base. Altogether, five or six individual glugs into each tide pool and basin.
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 acetate dam to the base. Checking again about two hours later I added more tape, and also noticed a few small areas where the glue I had used to cement the gravel and boulders to the base seemed to be turning opaque white.
The recommendation for the water product 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.
Next morning, not 24 hours later, I was encouraged to see the water was turning clearer, but the small white areas were still present, noticeably in the transition areas of gravel I had applied a few days earlier.
So I re-read the product label instructions.
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, rude assumptions and declarations. But 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 embrace that since there was nothing I could do about it now, 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 that 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 watery problems with this product mostly resolved themselves. I continue to steep myself in the experiences of others.
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 :)
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.)
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.
After fashioning more florist foam into reefs and rocks, I glued them to the project board.
Starting this time with black Model Magic, I forged another batch of accent rocks.
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.
“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.
(I am not ungrateful. We have a longtime water-influenced exchange going on.)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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!)
Work continues on the Sea House Conservatory build, with a sea level rise remediation support pier in place.
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.
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.
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 :)
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.
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 :)
I spend a lot of pages thinking, sketching, dreaming, considering and working out dimensions and story.
The first floor idea, though fun to design, paint and assemble, did not work well in the space. So it goes.
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.
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.
I opted to make the front façade removable as well as the roof… this makes it so much easier to photograph the interior.
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.
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.
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.
If one looks straight on, the window frames the bricked loft wall and the old Sea House logo. With sacred scarab wings.
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.)
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.
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.)
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.
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.
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.)
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.
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 :)
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.
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.
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!
This one is a Leucadendron, “Inca Gold”. So luminous.
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.
Look at the subtle coloration and bold pattern of this succulent.
Again, but with the spiral nature of growth (and decay).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.