Sunday, August 29, 2010


This One Is For Sans!

I have admired the elaborate painted wallpaper style known as "Chinoiserie" ever since I first saw some in a grand mansion we visited when I was growing up. There were trees and flowers and birds and butterflies strewn with elegant artistry across entire walls! But this type of wallpaper was very expensive and not currently in fashion, so it remained just a beautiful memory to me. The heyday of these wallpapers was in the late seventeenth and early eighteenth century, and certainly only the wealthiest families could afford it. The origins are said to be the European attempts to portray the exotic flora and fauna of the Orient, versions of which arrived on porcelain and fabrics from India and China. The commonest motifs are pagodas, dragons, and elaborate Tree of Life designs, rendered with great imagination and little attention to reality. Or so it seems to those of us from the West who have never been to the East!

Perhaps it was in part that distant memory of these designs that prompted me to start painting trees and birds and flowers on the walls of my houses - in real life scale! I have included a couple of pictures from my former home where I painted the hallway with a mural of trees and birds.

These pictures were taken the day I moved out, so the house is completely empty.

This is the view from the top af those stairs.

And in my bedroom (in my former house) very much inspired by Persian illuminated manuscript miniatures, I painted trees and birds and flowers.

And below you can see the beginnings of my painting the walls of my bedroom in my new house with trees and flowers...... and the birds will follow in due time! And while this is not exactly "Chinoiserie", it is a very New England sort of version of the Tree of Life painting that is such an essential part of that "Chinoiserie" I admire so much!

Here I have included a few photos of pages I have torn from design magazines that show the type of wallpaper I am referring to. I realize it is difficult to see the details in these photos, so you will have to use your imagination!

And here is a sample of fabric printed in the elaborate Tree of Life pattern.

And another sample of wallpaper from a design magazine.

So, why am I showing you all these photos on my Dollhouse Blog you are wondering? Well, because then you will understand why I decided to paint the second best bedroom of the Lovely Old Dollhouse with a "Chinoiserie" mural - as if it were antique wallpaper! I have ALWAYS known that this room would be painted with trees and flowers and birds....... just as I have always known that it would NOT be easy to do it!

So some time last January, in the darkest time of the year, I began to paint the trees and flowers on the walls of the bedroom in the Lovely Old Dollhouse. You may recall that it looked like this when I showed you the newly painted peachy color.

This was before I had even finished the window trim or installed the lights over the mantle.

Here below, you can see the window trim and lights as well as the beginning steps of painting the murals. The tree stems are roughed in and the birds have been underpainted with white to show their position, but also so that their colors will be true when painted over the peach color.

Below you can see I have finished the glass window!

And also I have painted all the blue and white porcelain jars around the floor.

Gradually the flowers and leaves were added to the trees.

It was at about this point in the painting, that Sans! posted her blog about "The Tree of Life". Her story makes the true meaning of the Tree of Life so clear to me, in a way I had never understood before! We ARE all connected. In ways we cannot always understand. And her blog post made me realize that all this time, what I have been painting is called "The Tree of Life", in all it's varied and unique forms.... it is the Tree of Life that has been calling to me.

And even though I was not painting it in full scale this time, I was slowly making progress on the Lovely Old Dollhouse bedroom .

I added a painted "faux" baseboard, because I had started the mural before I remembered that this room would need a baseboard.........

The only part still to do are all the tiny birds in the trees.......

Mr Peacock has had his tailfeathers painted with gold.......

Here at last, all the little birds are done too......

Time for a closer view......

And on the left hand wall........

You will laugh when you hear that in order to paint all the smaller birds that were too indistinct to copy from the magazine references I had, I went to the internet to look up birds from China. I had always assumed (in my sheer ignorance and provincial outlook) that the amazing colors and shapes of the birds in these wallpapers were exaggerated or made up altogether. They just looked too fanciful to be true! Well, Imagine my surprise when I found the photos of the real birds and could recognize them all in the murals! Amazing colors and shapes are authentic ! Every One! So, you birders out there, go ahead and try to identify them! I just can't remember any of their names... except perhaps the Sunbird!

I am particularly proud of the job I did painting on the right hand wall! I am right handed and in order to get my hand in there and still be able to see where the paint was going, I had to turn myself almost upside down....... and somehow manage not to knock the lights off the wall at the same time!


And more......

These are on the left hand wall, so were easier to paint... relatively speaking! I still couldn't get very close......

Left hand wall by the door.....

And more close-up of the right hand wall......

So I was painting the "Tree of Life" and never knew it until Sans!'s post enlightened me.

Thank you Sans!

Chinoiserie or "The Tree of Life"

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

The Monk's Cell

Or Good Night Henry!

You may remember, from my earlier listing of all the rooms that would be included in the Castle, my mentioning the Monk's Cell, which would be off the back corner of the Chapel. And you may also remember me mentioning that in the early "history" of this Castle it was an Abbey built on the site of a Sacred Spring. Now, in the original Abbey there was a whole wing devoted to the sleeping quarters of the Monks. But as this was VERY long ago, the dormitories were only built of wood, not stone like the Chapel Tower and Great Hall, and so they did not survive long when the Abbey was abandonned (whether because of Viking raids or the Black Plague, I do not know). When the Castle was once again occupied and fortified, the only room left for the Monk's Cell was the tiny room beside the Chapel. As everyone knows, Monks are very humble people and do not expect roomy accommodations, so the Castle Monk was very happy to have a room to call his own! And being humble people, they rarely portrayed their sleeping cells in any of the vast number of Illuminations they painted in Medieval texts. While it is common to see pictures of them painting or writing texts in a scriptorium - we almost never see where they sleep, and really know of their cells mostly from literary references. But I have found one tiny illumination that shows Saint Alexis asleep in a cubby under a stairway! It is from "The Hours of Catherine of Cleves" and was painted in the fifteenth century.

Please excuse the blurry photo, the original is about one inch wide!

So you can see that I have little material to go by in deciding on the decor for his cell, and I must therefore make it up as best I can!

So to begin with I determined that the Cell would have a tiny window with wooden shutters but no glass panes. Glass was used only in the important rooms and only slowly became common in all windows. His bed would be a narrow wooden plank raised off the floor, allowing room to store his clothes beneath the bed. And you may also remember that the Monk's Cell is where the trap door to the Postern Door was located. And because this room would eventually be closed in and hard to access, I had to complete all of it's details before I could complete the Chapel details.

Here you can see the very beginnings of the Chapel, while the Cell has already received it's Faux Stone painting inside. You can also see the trap door open, and the bed to the left.

Here you can see the Chapel ceiling (temporarily) in place, and the front wall to the Cell as well. And you can see the beginnings of the pillars in the Chapel itself, also temporarily in place. This gives you an idea of how little access there will be when the Cell is completed.

And the part I am really proud of is the Lighted Candle I made from sculpey, perched on a stone corbel at the back of the Cell! You can also see the wooden shutters on the small window on the left wall. And the Chapel has received the first coats of paint and some of the "stone" trim around the doorway.

A closer view of the inside of the humble Cell

And looking in through the door with the wall in place......

I'm SO proud of that little lighted candle!

And of course, there is a cross hanging on the wall. I apologize for the darkness of this photo.... the candle only gives a little light! If you look closely you will see that a mattress and some woolen blankets have found there way in too.... it looks so cosy and inviting! Almost as though somebody is living here already!

Oh, but wait.... I didn't think you were a Monk!

"Most certainly NOT!" says Henry. "But while nobody else is here, why not use it myself?"

"It's not like I'm putting anyone out.... and the place looks so cosy...... for a Castle!"

"And it's getting late! I'm going to bed now."

"Put out the candle for me, would you?"

I just LOVE that little candle!

"Good Night Henry! Sleep Well!"

Good Night Henry

Friday, August 20, 2010

Making Dolls

Not A Tutorial, More of an Explorial!

It has been many years since I tried my hand at dollmaking. As you may recall me mentioning, I had tried to make dolls for my dollhouse when I was quite young but with very little success. I tried again in my teen years, wanting to make something elegant and Victorian and wishing I could do porcelain, but again, with little success. I vaguely remember a salt-dough concoction or two that just didn't work and died a natural death. I remember trying to carve a wooden peg doll and managed to make one that was very un-handsome and rather uneven in the legs. He managed to stay around for a few years, but I think I gave him into my boys' keeping and he wandered off somewhere and never made it home again. I did carve a larger scale "Penny Wooden" doll, about 16 inches tall and fully articulated joints in those teen years (her picture is my icon for this blog) but she was much too large for dollhouses. In my early twenties I made a whole series of cloth fashion dolls, again much too large for dollhouses, and in my mind they were less about the dolls and more about the costumes. I made clothespin "dolls" in elaborate costumes for Christmas Tree ornaments, and I even made a costumed "Santa Clause" figure or two for Christmas decorations. But somehow, none of those "count" in my mind as dolls! They weren't meant for playing with. They never became little people with personalities who inhabited a little house somewhere. And when I think about it, it is one of those little oddities that my dollhouse never had any dolls that really lived in it! Why that is so is a question I have not been able to answer. Perhaps because the "right" dolls never came along. Perhaps because I could never decide what the "right" dolls were supposed to look like. Perhaps because I could not possibly make "real" the hazy figures of my dreams. For whatever reason, dolls for my doll houses are an ongoing puzzle to be solved. And I have to wonder whether it will only BE solved when I CAN make the figures that I have dreamed of!

So you can see that the subject of making dolls is not a simple one for me. I am afraid my aspirations are way beyond my current skills. I simply have not practiced making dolls enough to be confident in my methods. I know there are wonderful tutorials all over the place, but even so, you kind of have to get in there and muddle around a bit with the materials until you get a "feel" for it. At least I am old enough and wise enough to know that my first attempts are going to be funny looking little people! And so, to accommodate for that, I decided to start by making funny looking "old people" dolls for the Castle Dollhouse.

Here, I'll show you what I have managed so far.

This is the Old Crone who resides in the kitchen. I don't know her name yet.

Oh, and while we are at it,

I should show you some of the improvements I have made to the kitchen!

The pottery jars I collected many years ago at a Fair held by my son's school - I have forgotten the potter's name.

And the hearth fire has lighted flames as well as the painted ones!

And the bread oven has a glowing coal fire!

I purchased a beautiful iron trivet and some fire andirons with spit hooks on them, as well as a little iron kettle which needs to have patina added to it.

I promised I would show a picture of one of the references I have used as inspiration for the Castle kitchen. This is an illumination from the one of the tales of Boccacio's "Decameron" painted around 1430, showing birds being roasted on a spit before the fire - complete with a tray for catching the juices!

Here you can see the doll in her early stages..... but because this is NOT a tutorial, I have not included pictures of all the steps to get to this point!

You can also see the lantern that hangs from the kitchen ceiling.

A close-up of her un-wigged head and partly sewn body.........

But you can see that her "character" is already showing!

Here she has her hair added - I used natural sheep wool.

Sorry the next picture is so dark, (Castle kitchens ARE dark after all) but here she has gained her under-skirt which I have made from a very fine woven wool - a material they commonly used for all ranks of society. And she has a shawl draped over her shoulders.

And standing back, you can see a larger shot of the Castle with the Great Hall starting to have some details worked on.

Oh, and another Doll-in-the-making has come into the kitchen to keep warm by the fire until they find him some clothes. I am not sure whether he is the Baker or the Butler, or someone else altogether.

Oh, dear, the fires are not lit at the moment!

And is there NO privacy for the poor half-made fellow?

That's better! She has the fire going now.

And you can see she has her gown on now, and it too, is made from very fine wool!

She's very proud of her kitchen fires!

Ah, and now he has found a wool blanket to wrap up in while he waits for the seamstresses to sew his clothes!

He just might need a haircut too, before he's ready to take up his duties!

Whatever they turn out to be!

Or maybe he will grow a beard - to look more like the reference picture.

I think he looks kind of cute for an old guy!

I think I'm making progress making Dolls!
Or are they really little people?