Action – next project!

Alright, I admit that budding rhubarb has absolutely nothing to do with this post, but none of the actual pictures are any good to use for a headline. Also, it offers a glimmer of hope, new life, even for this old ragged building. Just LOOK at this! It’s grim, isn’t it?

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Thankfully, Daylesford has very little termite action, mostly the ”good” kind which cleans up wet wood only and leaves the dry behind. Here in my old garden building they seem to have had a good time. I am wondering how much is affected, how on earth is the roof staying on if it’s all like this?

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No need to worry though, I will make it great. This is why I am ripping off the lining, so I can see what lies behind. The present lining is a mix of all kinds of chipboard and MDF and masonite, sometimes all three put together in an inch thick layer of offcut sizes like a patchwork. Maybe whoever put it together originally worked somewhere you got free material? Alarmingly, the plasterboard ceiling to this part sounds like it is the home to a large animal. I strongly suspect possums judging by the smell. When I rip off the plasterboard, will I get a possum on my head? Likely. I will carry an umbrella and have someone on standby for amusing action pictures as I get ripped to shreds by angry marsupials.

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The wood I replace will be something which does not get affected by termites, such as cypress or treated pine. I love ripping out rotting material, even if it looks worse to start off with. I am in for a good time obviously!

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There are some odd materials used, like this round post set in concrete which in turn supports a stud. Behind the lining below I found a door. There is a bench next to it which I thought I could remove, but no. It is SET IN CONCRETE. Really. Set in the floor itself. Who does that?

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Miniature landscape, again…

Seems I can’t get enough. I am now in the process of making my biggest landscape yet, 1,4m wide, 1,5m deep and 1,2m high. It will be attached on the outside of a viewless window, creating an illusion of something else altogether. Maybe a hint of Norway in the autumn? I made the base in two sections, otherwise they would not fit through doorways. I glued primed canvas to the walls, bending the corners slightly so as not to get sharp ”sky corners”. It will all make sense soon.

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Next I started to build up the landscape. I needed a lot of height, so mountains are the way to go. Boxes and chicken wire, covered in papier mache. The angled sticks are there to keep the front half square, as there is no back or front to that piece it is a little unstable until installed. fjord 26

I nailed the chickenwire as much as I could into place. The chickenwire is old and recycled, hence bits of leaf and grass!

fjord 25The basic shape is starting to appear. I am not really controlling it, just kind of letting it happen. I am aiming for a coastline with an island in the foreground, with lots of interesting detail. fjord 1I am painting the sky in oils, it is still waiting for more work but has to dry between layers. I can see now that I should have made the corners even more turned, but at least there is not a sharp edge. Too late! Never mind.

To make the rock, I mixed some old lumpy cement with water and Aquadhere (ordinary wood glue) and slapped it on. You could also use old tile glue, or similar. Things people have in their sheds… Here, I have also started making the bases for a couple of houses and bridges.fjord 54

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Looks like a load of rubbish so far, but wait! In order to give the rock some interest, I painted with the tiniest bit of paint on a dry brush. Just brush down with white for highlights, rub in some green and yellow for moss and lichen. A little brown maybe. Then, I painted on some wood glue and  sprinkled on some powdery modelling substances made to resemble grass, soil, or a combination.

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I am planning where the water will run down the rock, and laying down some mossy green in anticipation.

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The little house on the island is nearly done. The house is a plastic kit which I painted, rendered the chimney with caulking, and sprinkled on a grass roof. It had no windows so I put on cardboard shutters, giving the illusion that it has, hopefully.

fjord 50fjord4fjord11I have since removed the bird on the chimney and added smoke instead.

The grass roof is made with static grass and a Noch applicator. You can buy electric applicators for around $300 or so, but this works really well enough for my needs. Put some ”grass” in the bottle, shake for static, and puff it out on a bed of Aquadhere. It will land in the glue and set upright, more or less. When it’s dry, vacuum and the grass which landed where there is no glue will disappear. I use it on the ground too. Sometimes I sprinkle some earth powder on top to tone it down a bit.

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Here is another grass roof, with added longer bits from an old paintbrush head. I roughed the roof up a bit, was too smooth and even. Needs weeds and things.fjord 13

The trees are made from recycled copper wire. They are really easy to make. You can buy ready trees of all kinds, but I didn’t want anything readymade if I could do it myself. The houses, people, animals and fences are my limit. Trees? Piece of cake. Some cables have copper inside them, others not. This is why it is a good idea for recycling stations to strip all mechanical objects of metals. Why put copper into landfill when it can be reused? And they do. The local tip here in Daylesford has people stripping metal from things, sorting and making rather a neat job of it.

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Birches in autumn, yellow! The gravel is earthpowder and cooking salt. The stonewall is actual stones from the laneway outside my house, caulking and paint. The plastic house I fought with a lot, it was just so horribly plastic. I weathered the roof, rendered the walls, stuck flowerboxes and lupins and climbers all over it. Finished with an overhanging tree.fjord 48

It has a barn and a woodshed. The lupins are tiny pieces of wire, covered with superglue and flocking, painted. I have to admit that I am having a lot of fun, almost sorry that I am close to finishing.

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The pine trees are the easiest. I have seen people make extremely realistic and laborious trees, but these are fine for my scene. Wooden skewer, steel wool, fragment of scourer to act as a stopper.fjord 34

Spraypaint the trees black. fjord 35

Spray with glue, sprinkle with turf. I use a mix of green and soil colour to get lighter and darker trees. Products from Woodland Scenics. So useful for many things.

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To plant the tree, I hand drill with a fat screw. The cement gets much too hard to push a tree through.fjord 39Ready for planting. The back half has over 50 pines, haven’t counted the front.

fjord 46Hooray! My packet of Noch horse riders arrived in the post. I am also going to get a spring of seals, a brace of deer and a gang of moose. And a rowing boat. And And And… No, that should do it.fjord 40Nicely made figures, but why does that girl have to hold her arms up? At first I thought I would put a bear in her path so she would have a real reason. Then I considered cutting her arms off and regluing them in a down position but then I decided to just let it be. They are so far in the background. People are going to see trail riders, and not think more about it.fjord 32

I put some stairs and a cliff hanging path on one of the mountains. The birds are so small they are really a bit of a waste of time. I held one with the tweezers, and PING it flew away into the room, never to be seen again. The rest I held less tightly.

Making heather is easy. Just a dab of paint brushed on some clumpy foliage, I bought a bag. It lasts and lasts, good for many things. Treated lichen is great too.


Made a couple of bridges from planks out of thin cardboard (cereal box is ideal), glued and painted on masonite. Or thick card. Whatever. Just Right!


Though I had squirted some acrylic gloss medium for water dribbles here and there, I also wanted some water which flowed away from the rockface, like this:fjord 55

This was surprisingly easy. I squeezed out some ordinary silicon on grease proof paper, moved it around a bit with a toothpick, added tiny bits of white, also with the toothpick and let it set.fjord 59

Peel it off and glue in place, add a little silicon around it to make some water action happen. Bits of white paint work well for froth and foam.fjord 57fjord 56fjord 60

That is all I am going to do for now, will give it a rest and work on something else for a whil. It will be quite a long time before I can install it, but I don’t mind doing detail first and bigger things later. I once built a house which I started making from the inside of a two bedroom apartment. French doors, ceiling paintings, details galore. It all came to use eventually, and by then it was a pleasant thing to be able to add detail so effortlessly. I have absolutely loved making this view, if you feel in any way inspired, I can wholeheartedly recommend making one!



Hello Possums! The boat is done.

Because I have the benefit of being 12 inside yet with the decision making capacities of someone WAY older, if I feel the urge to have a boat in the garden then I can! Hooray! See the older Boat post if you like, here’s a recap picture: Actual boat and the general plan.

It was in worse nick than I had hoped for. Here is the floor once I ripped it out. When I tried to scrape the old paint I was actually scraping away the boat itself. There’s no denying it, this will always be a fragile friend.

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Once the floor was gone I could see the sleepers I had rested the boat on. I covered the whole lot with weedmat, byebye ivy! Water will still be able to run through the weedmat. Then I used three lengths of sturdy treated pine and nailed them down. The well itself is 1,8 metres long, it is a deceptively large boat really.

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From here it was a simple thing to screw down some decking. Just a little fiddly as each board has to be slightly longer than the next (and angled) as the well is shaped from narrow to wide. The thing in the middle is to take the centre support for the seat which will come soon.

monets boat 7On On the outside I attached braces to the sleepers to keep the boat steady. New seat, some new ply on top of the old, some fibreglass work  which is a delight, like papier mache for outdoors but HARD to get right, I am settling for strong and not pretty. The whole job is a bit rough really, but I feel there are limits to how much money and effort I am prepared to put on something essentially quite derelict.

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Monet’s boat would not be that if it didn’t have a hut at one end.

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I also made an awning in very thin plywood to keep most of the leaves out. As for durability, the whole boat is made from that stuff so I guess it will last for as long as the boat will.

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The possums play pirates in the boat at night. Or something. It became an obvious name! It is no longer Monet’s boat, but Dame Edna Everage’s.

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Room with(out) a view

What do you do with a wall without views? You paint some, of course. The ones in the picture above are just that. I find we see what we are expecting to see, so at a quick glance you simply assume these are real views through actual windows.

First, this was just a blank wall, no views, not even a window. I want views, however, and there are none behind the wall so I painted some on masonite.

fake view15Then I nailed my pictures to the wall. If you want to do your own, there’s info on how to paint a simple, fast and reasonably convincing landscape  further down. You could use a photo too, but I prefer paintings.

Add some strips of wood to rest the window on.

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Screw window into place. Looking better by the minute!

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Add timber to build up the right levels, then stick on some architrave to match the rest of the room.

fake view17Fill and paint.


To make my views I used masonite, rough side up. Five coats of gesso first, goes on quickly and primes the thirsty masonite wonderfully well.  Do not use undercoat, not good enough!fake view10I paint in oils, which is slow to dry between coats but nice to work with. First I roughed in where the sky will be. I used White, Payne’s Grey and Ultramarine mixed in with some medium to make the paint flow.

fake view11I was aiming for a sky which portrays no special season, just a dull plain sky. Fortunately you can’t see much sky from the real windows either so you will not be able to make a too obvious comparison, hopefully. It is all leaf.fake view12Next I blocked in the green mass. I used Black and Viridian, more medium. I didn’t mix on my palette, rather on the painting itself. Swirl and splash, rough and lively! Here are the two, they are the same, just bad light. The green mass has lots of variety in shade, but again, bad pic loses the detail.

fake view6fake view5The treetrunks are next, for this first layer I used Black and Vandyke Brown. Let it dry before adding leaves, or it will be a mess.      fake view7Add leaves of whatever kind, I am using the same leaves which are seen through the real windows.

fake view8I also added some flowers, this spot is so dark nothing would bloom there in real life but anything is possible in paint! If you want something, paint it. Oil makes flower painting a breeze. Just load a brush with paint and dab it on. It will look like a flower all by itself. I tend not to mix too much on the palette, but add more than one colour to the brush and it just does its flower thing.fake view2A crop of berries, not related to the tree itself but that’s ok.

fake view3Hydrangeas! Or something white and fluffy anyway.

fake viewWhen the paint has dried, you can add more shape and shade to the leaves and the whole scene. Keep building the layers until you are happy. Veins on leaves are good but certainly not necessary. You could go super realistic, or just give a general idea.fake view4Done.

A miner’s couch for the Pip

I am gathering furniture for the next seating place at the Pip, hoping to have it ready before summer but who knows? Could just as well be ready next year, or next week. It is a good idea in my mind to get your essentials ready for when you need them. I bought this old miner’s couch, probably cedar, from a woman in Glenlyon. So lucky, I usually have to travel for hours to pick up my finds. It is a bit rough though, in original condition apart from a replaced leg. The wire base is full of dirt, and what seems to be entwined chicken feathers.

miners couch 6miners couch 1Nine happy hours of hand sanding lots of fiddly bits. The old cracked varnish comes off easily enough. Sigh.

miners couch 4The wire base has an interesting construction, you can tension it if it has gone slack by turning these bolts.

miners couch5The old owner said that ”the spring base has hay stuck to it” but no, it is most definitely feathers. I freed them with tweezers and pliers and the last hour of daylight, as I had a final test of just how far my patience would stretch. Finally, I gave it a coat of Danish Oil which brought out the wood colour beautifully. This is a most wonderful product, so easy and pleasant to use and smells divine. If you are into furniture oils as a perfume, anyway…   The mattress just needs the final touch of a cushion or two, that will have to wait until final placement. Hooray!

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Plant markers

I have been wanting plant markers for ages, but only after buying a curry plant yesterday did I actually do it. The curry plant is not the most interesting looking of shrubs, and would rarely be recognised for what it is unless I added a label. The second hand shop down the road furnished me with a gang of spoons (still need more!). I dipped them in white oilpaint and stuck them in my fence to drip dry.

plant markersSo far, so good. I dropped one in the paint tin and had to fish it out with sticks and very painty slippy fingers. It is the one stuck in the ground. Very difficult. It is not as homogenous looking as the others, probably the best one really. Then it started raining and oilpaint in the rain is NOT a good idea as it pocks. Now I had to bring them inside in a hurry and it’s not easy to find homes for sticky drippy spoons. Recommendation: check the forecast. I had a perfect finish, now no more. Here is my dropped spoon.

plant markers 3Some permanent marker and the job is done. When I planted my apple trees I chose them for their names, don’t you think King of Pippins is a great choice for Queensberry Pip? And by the way, the Curry plant, Helichrysum italicum, is a herb. It has a subtle flavour reminiscent of curry and can be used however you like, but best with mild foods like eggs, potatoes, fish or yoghurt. Chop leaves finely.

Someone gave me a boat!

I have a neighbour of the best kind who knows everyone. When he saw me drawing a plan which called for an old boat he said he knew someone who might have a spare broken boat. They did! And not only that, they actually gave it to me. My neighbour now found himself facing my need to get said boat home, and he has a truck… This is what happens when you have a truck, people want you to put things on it.

In the front garden is a spot just behind the willow tree, tucked in behind hedges and ivy. No one goes there, as there is nothing to see or do. This is about to change! Presenting… My boat. A real beauty! It even has a mast, albeit not attached. The plan is to make something in the style of Monet’s boat, his floating studio which had a striped awning and a little hut at the back. Mine is smaller but I think I can achieve the general idea.

douard-manet-claude-monet-and-his-wife-in-his-floating-studio-1874Mine is remarkably similar… Graceful, I’d say. It’s had a good run of being on the water and now it is time for a new purpose.

monets boatmonets boat 4It even has a mast, but how to attach it puzzles me. This is the hole which clearly is meant for the mast, but how? It has to  get down deeper than a centimetre, surely.

monets boat 3  It is in rather poor condition. I pushed on the bow (that’s the pointy front of a boat) and it crumbled against my weight. Also, the bottom is totally gone. This is really not a problem for me, as I plan to lay a new wooden floor. But what will I attach it too? Is it all as bad as the floor and the sides and and and? The only good wood you can see here is the sleeper it is resting on.

monets boat 2For now it can sit and wait, could be a good spring time project. I drew some rough guidelines just in case I feel the need to go to the hardware sometime soon. I will do a new post when I have something to show, but it will take some time. Just too excited for now not to show the boat as it is!monets boat 5

Aga saga

Guests occasionally ask me what my own house is like. Is it as detailed as The Pip? No, it’s not. My house is quite different both in age and style, but I play here as well. Here is an example. In the kitchen was a slightly dated wall of kitchen units.

agaIt was thrilling to remove. Most of the timber could be reused in other projects. Behind the panelling was an old chimney opening. I sort of knew it would be there, since I could see the chimney poking up on the roof, but a delightful surprise to see it all the same. I knocked all the render off, exposing the brick. A couple of bricks were damaged from the dynabolts someone had put in when they covered it all over. I mortared them back. The steel covering the sides is just a sheet of galvanised iron which I glued with Liquid Nails and jammed a few pieces of wood against until it set. No pic of these stages, forgot! This project is a few years old and I have only some stages photographed.

aga 5I adore the look of Agas, but at a pricetag of around 20,000 I thought I could create the look for a pittance. Construction has already begun. Essentially, this is the same construction technique as I might use for building a kitchen cupboard, or a built in cabinet anywhere. First I made a base, to get it off the floor. I am using 140x19mm pine for the base.  The little tiles on the floor are staying. I started to chip them off at the front but I have never experienced such tough glue. No need to remove, anyway.

aga 3Then I added uprights to a good height. These are 70x19mm. Or they might even be 42×19? Hard to tell, but they don’t need to be overly big. Let’s say they are 70mm.The front panel is hardwood. No reason, you don’t have to. Not even sure why I did. Less marking when you kick it? I happened to have it hanging around? Can’t remember. It is a while since I did this. Looks like a recycled piece to me, with the old holes.

aga 7The top bars I screwed on from the back before I lifted it in place. Now comes a miracle: Almost done. Essentially, line it, put in shelves, face frame. The cupboard doors are actually the old doors from the kitchen I removed. They are sturdy and do not warp. They were a little small however so I screwed on some plywood and bit of MDF which I bevelled with my circular saw. So so sorry about lacking pics for these stages. I really carefully filled and sanded all screwholes. The top is ordinary pine floorboards. I will show all the missing stages in different projects, it all repeats anyway. Same, same.

aga 10Open the doors… A cupboard!

aga 11I undercoated, sanded, painted black several coats… Matte metal is the idea. I also needed some bits, such as the old gage.

aga 14aga 15The concrete hearth needed tiling and I chose a large shiny tile, with the hope that the stove would reflect in it. Yes, it does.

aga 16The rail is a shower rail. The trim on the sides is an angled length of aluminium just to ”hem” the cut metal to the brick. A good finish, I think. Basically if you make something black and matte, and even hint at it being a stove, people believe it. If you put a cooking pot on top, there is no question at all.

More tiled Ortelius

The bathroom will now be a place where you can lie and journey to places which indeed exist but not in our time. A time when Papua New Guinea was massively out of proportion, when ships were firing cannons at each other (oh, wait, they still do), when the Suez Canal had not yet been dug, and strange sea creatures surrounded Iceland. Magellan had just failed to return on his journey on the Victoria, pictured below. Or rather, the Victoria returned with all the information, but Magellan himself didn’t. You can’t have everything. The imagined coastline of Terra Australis in yellow underneath the Victoria, which connected with Tierra del Fuego in South America. Of course.

maptiles5iceland iceland2 iceland3There are explanaitons covering Iceland and it is needed. Such a complex place, with danger in volcanoes, poral bears on icefloes, animals which will kill you if you eat them, glaciers, seacows. Rudimentary knowledge of latin helps here. Pour more hot water in the bath, the perpetual nives is making me cold!

And no, I haven’t made any of it up. It is all a gridded copy of Abraham Ortelius maps, with maybe just a little rearranging of ships to fit, and cropping. The little fat thing with horns below, for instance. I take no responsibility, blame Ortelius. It is possible that I am repeating myself, I have written about the maps before and it will probably not be the last time either.

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Side door

Just to the side of the flower bike (another blog post) was a really rather sad door. Here it is, now retired.

garden door3I kept the rest of the wall and made it black. As I know by now, if I want something to disappear in the garden, I paint it black. The door was another story. You handle doors so much, you get close to them. Therefore, I prefer something a little bit special than this. I mean there is nothing exactly WRONG with it, it just lets the rest of the wall down a bit. I shall donate it to the local tip shop. Maybe someone will have mercy and give it a new purpose. Enough about that door, there is a new one to be made. Below is what the finished result looks like. Well, when I say ”finished” I mean I still have a bit of painting to do. Close enough to photograph it anyway.

garden doorWhen you stand back a bit you can see the lemon tree planter, the bike and the new door. You would never know the bins are lurking behind the planter box.  There are lemons on the tree already!

garden door2If you want to make a very simple (no joinery, can’t fail, strong) but rather laborious door, here’s how:

Tools needed: tinsnips, hammer, drill, circular saw, tape measure, pencil, caulking gun to squeeze out the building adhesive.

Materials needed: Hoop iron (comes in rolls, I get the ones with regular holes along the centre. It is used in construction, usually), sheet of pretty thin galvanised steel, spray paint (I used black and grey), steel wool, sheet of outdoor plywood, 70×19 treated pine decking (or other wood you might have hanging around), clouts (short fat galvanised nails), galvanised screws, building adhesive. Lock (if you want one), handle.

garden door 6My door is about 78x 210cm. Start by cutting with the circular saw the exact fit of your door. Next cut the decking, four for the length, one as a top cap which will be the width of the door, and four for the width minus the width of the board, so than they can fit along the edges exactly.  Cut the galvanised sheet of steel to be smaller than the door, but just fitting under the edge frame. If you cut it to the door edges exactly, you will run into serious trouble when you fit locks, if you have to shave a bit off for a better fit etc. No need to go all the way out!

Because the galvanised iron is so shiny, I do a loose and rough spray paint first. Somehow I am missing several pics, but you will see what I mean when you look at the steel soon. When the paint is dry, I scrub most of it off with steel wool, then maybe paint a little more until I am happy. Whilst you are spraying, cut the hoop iron into correct lenghts and spray them black.

garden door 17See what I mean about the spraypainting below? So much softer than shiny steel, to my eyes anyway. Use construction adhesive and glue the sheet to the plywood. The ply might want to curl but I say NO to curling! Weigh it down with your long pieces of wood with something heavy like a brick or three on top. Missing picture of this too, you have to imagine it.

The next step is below. Mark out where your hoop iron lenghts will go. I chose a pattern of regularity. This is a sedate door, a responsible door. You can just tell by the checks, the steel and the grey/black.

Now your real job starts. Drill holes through the steel for the nails. I start a couple, bung in the clouts, and then go on drilling. If you try to drill them all at once, they will be out of place, guaranteed. Because the clouts go right through the ply, I put a piece of wood under the door for me to hammer into. I remove it as I go.

garden door 18garden door 15Here we are, with clouts in place. I used a bit over a kilo of clouts, I think. It is a LOT.

garden door 12When I have finished a row or two, I turn the ply over and it will look like this. Hammer sideways to bend all the nails. I guess this is not an issue if you use very thick ply, but I am trying not to have a super heavy door. It will be heavy enough as it is.

garden door 13It will now look like this. Pretty.

garden door 10As you go on, hammering and flattening, it will begin to look like this. Yes, your arm will hurt but work through the pain. Only another thousand nails to go! When you are all done, glue and screw in the frame. I screw from the bad side into the good one, so no screw holes happen on the front. Then I put in screws from the back panel go in from the back, because I actually don’t care about this back at all.

garden door 7In fact, I care so little that I used the leftovers from the steel which was not big enough to patch up the back. It will all be painted black, and will actually not be that noticable later. Really. And even if it is, I won’t care. I would have left the bashed up ply as it was but I think the surface would have been too compromised for water attack so I used a lot of glue and stuck on my steel scraps. Of course, you can use a new sheet, or more ply, or thicker ply to start off with, whatever. I did this.

garden door 8garden door 9Here we are, back looking at the top. Can you see the sandwiched ply between the two bits of decking? I ran the circular saw along the edge, to trim it off nicely. I have also done an undercoat, waiting to paint it black. To cap it off I screwed a final short pirce of decking to the top, will prevent water entering the ply. Now fit the lock. I couldn’t find a lock which would fit my non standard thickness. My door is 5 mm thicker than the locks available to me, so I modified it by cutting off a piece of wood to one side and adding a bit on the other. Frankly, I should have thought about this and designed the door to suit my chosen lock. I repent and suggest you buy the lock forst, and make it easy for yourself. I also found an old handle in the trusty shed.

garden door2Back to this again! I am actually pretty satisfied. Here is a picture of me, happy with my day. Hooray!

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Medieval map tables – painting the map

Whilst I was working on these at my studio gallery many people asked about the process of making them. This is for you.

Old maps convey a sense of love of a place, love of the map itself. They make me want to go there, even if it is only for a little bit of time travel. To make a map table, start with a sturdy surface. I used a selection of kitchen benchtop offcuts. I had to buy a whole sheet when I steel wrapped the benchtops at the Pip, and there were several pieces going spare. Make it easy, use an existing piece of furniture! No need to make anything at all.material3Prepare your surface with gesso, I used 5-6 coats, rubbed down finely with sandpaper. Do not use undercoat, MUST be gesso. This is because I am going to paint with a watery colour, which will not take to a plastic surface. Gesso dries with a wonderful ability to take paint. It is what it’s for! I recommend priming a scrap  for you to try your brushwork and colours on. A word of caution: I ran out of my ordinary gesso half way through and had to get some from a non-art dealer, student/craft type of brand. This is NOT gesso, despite what it says on the tin. I bought Montmartre as there was no choice unless I wanted to drive 40 mins. Their brushes are fine but honestly, the gesso remains sticky, feels like plastic, does not rub down as it should, doesn’t take the paint or even texters. No. I have now to sand everything back and start again. A pain as I have spent literally hours on prepwork and sketching, thinking it would turn out fine in the end. Just no. I am crying inside with frustration. Sigh.

Choose a map. Look for high definition images online. There are some in national library archives, antique map dealers, museums. You might not be able to fit in the whole thing, select a section and grid it up. I do 10×10 cm grids on the table top, and use a calculator to work out how big the squares have to be on the map itself. I don’t tweak landmass, but I move ships and text sometimes to make them fit in the design.

Use a VERY LIGHT pencil mark for your gridding and sketching. This is because your eraser, if overworked, will not only leave dirty smudges which you can’t remove on the gesso but it will also leave a film which makes it hard for the watercolour to take. I can barely see my marks, they are so light. Like this:


Just as well I have started to fill in the landmass of Iapan because I can’t see the pencil at all on the picture. Well, that’s the point, I guess. I use fine permanent markers. It is excellent if your hand is a bit shaky, makes a natural looking coast line! I do the coast and rivers first, then I freehand all the places and detail.

When all the lines are in place, erase the pencil, then use a weak black wash to darken all the rivers and contours, shade any trees, sails, mountains, and put a general superweak wash on the bodies of water like this. A note here, I use acrylic black, and everything else in watercolour. If you are going to use watercolour for the black, do it last or it will dirty the other colours as they touch it.



I like to colour in the outside border too at this stage.


And here is a portion of northern Europe. But what’s going on with Scandinavia? Clearly not too well charted in the 1500s. I colour in using Winsor and Newton watercolours. You could also use very weak acrylic tubes, but your paint has to be so weak and watery that your black lines are still as clear when you are done. Practise on the scrap board. Since you are painting on gesso and not on paper you will find it doesn’t bleed. Work fast as it dries quickly. Have a tissue handy to blot if too wet.


Here’s the Riviera. If you can see enough detail, you will note my favourite, Prouuuuence. Well, more ”u”s than strictly necessary anyway but I didn’t make it up, I promise. Sometimes, a ”v” is a ”u”.  I stick with the colour scheme of each map, inventing nothing. However! The mapmakers didn’t colour in the maps themselves. They would go to different people who didn’t always colour in the same way. Really, use any colour you like. There were written instructions for the colouring, for instance the instructions for Iceland said that WHITE bears were sitting on icefloes, yet some maps have BROWN bears. They thought it was a mistake. There are no white bears, surely? Who ever heard of white bears? That’s plain silly.


Here’s the coast of Tuscany, complete with ships firing cannons at each other. As you do! Note Pifa just up the river. Spellings have changed a bit.

japanChina, Korea, Japan. Or rather, Iaponiae insvlae…

An important thing is to mould the landscape using shade, it really brings it to life. You can add transparent layer over transparent layer, just let the first layer dry a bit.  It you go outside the lines a bit, it won’t matter at all as the originals did too. Go with it.


I don’t use a ruler apart from the outside edges and the grids. I know, makes things uneven. Yet… It also leaves things very lively looking. Do what you like. Many old maps have creatures in it. This one has a monkey without ears (looks like a sloth, but Ortelius had maybe never seen a real monkey) and a snail, amongst other things. The dragon/lion/hoofed animal in the forground has caught a blue scaly fish. Or maybe they are just close friends? Here is a part of Greece:

greece There’s a lot of islands in the Greek archipelago. Really. A lot.

greece2When you are done painting, you will need to seal the surface.

british channel2I varnished the English Channel only to find I managed to smudge the marker lines slightly.

The varnish can dissolve marker if you brush with any level of enthusiasm. Be careful! For a table top, I do three coats of varnish in as many days. Lightly sand with fine paper when you are done. If it is to hang on the wall, a light spray coat of varnish will be enough. In order to create a barrier between the painting and the varnish, for the next ones I sprayed a varnish on before painting the liquid varnish on, no smudges this time… Polyurethane varnish will yellow a bit over time, which will look great.

For Tuscany I also put some goldleaf in the most elaborate part. This is not as fiddly as it looks. You need to paint Goldsize (a special glue for metal leaf work) with a brush everywhere you want the metal, wait until sticky, lay on a leaf and pat it down, then brush with a dry soft brush and it will all disappear wherever you haven’t painted the goldsize. If you use metal leaf, you must varnish with oil based product, not water.



Ceiling paintings


Your ceilings are an opportunity for decoration. There is a lot of space up there, unfettered by windows and doors. Since it is hard to paint upside down, you can do it the easy way and paint on boards which you glue and screw when they are finished. Fit lights as normal if you like, just drill a hole and thread the wire through.

Here I am, painting a ceiling for the Pip. It will be of Ferdinand von Mueller bringing conifers to the Botanic Gardens, an event which happened in the 1800s. I like storytelling through images. Look at the little wombat on my left. She is a tiny story on her own.





It was just having a little look at what was happening… I painted these on thin MDF (about the only tine I will use MDF). I have tried canvas in the past, and kind of wallpapered it up. Not so good, problems with bubbles and unevenness, since you can’t stretch it. You could draw on paper and glue it up too I suppose, anything goes. I put a couple of coats of gesso on first, then I paint with artist’s oils.



painting20This is what my scetches look like. Very loose, more like ideas really. The rest happens on the painting itself. It I was to do a detailed sketch I would already be sick of it before painting it, and the element of surprise which I need will be gone, depriving me of pleasure. This is pretty much how I do most things, a loose idea in my head and then I work it through as I am doing it.




Starting a different one. The long bits on the left are to extend my cornices, making them more impressive. No, I don’t stencil. I find it just as quick to paint straight on, and give me the bonus of a general unevenness which is something I always strive for. I have looked very hard at Albert Pictor for my borders and general style. He was a medieval church painter and pearl embroiderer in Sweden, and he did borders JUST like these. Being a church painter, he also filled all the wall space with stories.


Starting a fill of greeny-yellowy tendrils, with leaves and exotic blooms. Yes, I have changed clothes, twice now. It takes a little while to do a ceiling like this, I usually keep several things on the go as you have to wait for oilpaint to dry or you put your hand in it.


I have roughly scetched out the tendrils in pencil. I use a coloured art pencil as a lead one will dissolve and smudge into the oilpaint, leaving it dirty looking.

painting9The nuances and colour shifts in the paint are very simple to achieve. Simply squeeze out a little of three colours or so, along with a little medium (dilutes the paint), Put some on your brush without mixing with any great intention, go back for more, brush it out, repeat. Every time you go back for more the paint gives you a little different look for those strokes as you brush them out. Oil blends easily.



The ground looks far more yellow in the photo than in real life. The men are two gold panners having a conversation. What about? Gold, of course. I attached the tendrils to the ground next to the miners, to grow out from them and take flight in their fancy gold dreams


Here is another one, again with the same borders. Though I vary the insides, I feel it gives greater cohesion to maintain a similarity of theme. I have changed clothes again, and appear to have lost my hat. What’s the inside of this one? Who knows! I do round ones too, for more images head to the permanent page of ”the art” in the menu.

You need help putting them up if there is wiring to pull through. I can do them by myself unless they are very big and if there is no wiring, but usually there is a central ceiling light to navigate around.

Use liquid nails or similar building adhesive, have a long stick handy with a cloth at the top end to jam the painting to the floor with and work fast.

Map coffee table



I like the current coffee table in the living room, but being round, is not the best shape for the space. Also, I find I am scrabbling around with a tiny paper map every time I check in guests, to show them where things are. The solution is to get a longer table and a map of the area in one go! Here is how I made mine. The only material which isn’t recycled is the trims around the table edges. The top is what I cut out of the kitchen counter for the sink, and all the wood is the old lean-to floor (which was badly rotted and needed replacing, but I have cut off all the bad bits). Here is a piece of the wood, before trimming.coffeetable9First I trimmed, painted and put three coats of varnish the table top, then I cut and sanded all the wood. I will have a crossed over leg, a little like a picnic bench, and I need to make a join to make the legs sit flush. I set the circular saw to half depth and ran it over the wood several times. A handsaw works too. To work out good sizes and heights for any furniture I make, I use the IKEA catalogue. It tells you exactly the dimensions and proportions of anything you can think of. A perfect design accompaniment. Also can answer visual questions like ”how do you support a chair leg?” I wouldn’t be without it.



Chisel out the joins. You can make it easy for yourself and simply use two bolts and overlap the legs instead but I think this looks better, less ”picnicky”. When you have checked that the two halves fit into each other, use some woodglue and nails or screws to get it together. I am using clouts, which is a nail with large flat head for the visual effect. There is no need at all to use five, as I have done, but it forms a pattern. My nails reach almost all the way through both layers. Check that you don’t use too long nails (or too short…).

coffeetable49 coffeetable19



Now I need to attach the top and bottom wood to the crosses. Because I am using hardwood, I have to predrill everything. I also have to make sure the screws will countersink. If you are doing that, use a large drillbit to make a short hole and check by holding the screw in the wrong way. If the head fits, you are ready to screw it in.


Attach top and bottom.


Time for the trim on the table top. Because I am using a composite material for the benchtops, nails won’t take to it very well. I am using a construction adhesive, the nails will only hold it temporarily. This brings me to a great trick I have. It is magic. Usually, when you use a tube of building glue or any other tube product, you will lose some or the whole tube between uses if you don’t use it all up very quickly. I have a remedy! Keep the tube you just finished, unscrew the nozzle and jam the next tube straight in it. You will find it acts as a perfect lid, matching product with product airlessly. It will still go off but much much slower.




Screw the crosses to the table top.



I also added two bracing planks, cut at 45 degrees. This makes the structure free from wobbles.


All done!

A miniature landscape

In the bathroom is a three door metal locker I picked up at a garage sale and cleaned up.  The bottom shelf I intend to keep as shelf, but the top two will be installations of some kind. I am making a landscape with water, rocks and snowladen pine trees in the first one. When I am done, I will cover the front with plexiglass.  Here are some of the trees:


They are made with a skewer, some teased out felt, some scouring pads, a little steel wool, black spraypaint and green and black railway modelling flocking (comes in small bags, great stuff) which gets attached with sprayglue. They look convincing enough for the purpose. There is NOT a railway model nerd inside me at all… I just like making things. I have built up the landscape with papier mache, some gunky filler, some paint. Right now I am experimenting with the water. Will clear gloss acrylic medium look like water trickling over rock when it dries? I will find out today, as I squirted some on a couple of days ago and it was white, plus it dissolved some of the underpaint as it went on, making it look cerulean blue which is weird as the underpainting is mainly grey. Could be a disaster, will see when I look at it.

Flower bike and planterbox DIY

There is a large and bland wall at one side of the house, originally green. I first thought I’d replace the entire wall but have since had second thoughts. Now, I am just going to fix it, paint it black to make it disappear, replace a door and draw the eye to something more attractive. I think a flowerbike, bright red, will do the job to make you not look at the wall.

Here is the bike, finished.

plantbox59and here is the old bike as it was when I found it under the house.


First I cleaned it up and sprayed it red, to make it stand out against the black backdrop.

Now I need to make some planter boxes, a straight one for the back and an angled one for the front. I use a sliding saw which is accurate and easy. If you don’t have access to one, you can use anything at all, it will just be harder to be precise. Doesn’t matter hugely in a project like this. If you plan to do a lot of carpentry, I recommend this to be the third investment after a drill and a circular saw. Your life will never be the same. For this project you will also need a drill, a hammer, some tinsnips. All the techniques used are the same as I would use for making bookshelves, kitchens, any basic carpentry. The first thing I ever made on my own was a box, it was for keeping vinyl records in. Yes, I admit that it was a while back… Basically, if you can make a box, you can make a kitchen, which is just a series of boxes and planes of varying complexity.

plantbox35I have used actual baskets on a different bike I did some years ago, but baskets don’t last very long. I thought I’d do something else this time. The wood I have used is a sturdy treated pine which I plan to line with plastic. I don’t recommend using anything which will not stand up to water very well, seems like a wasted effort. I have a love-hate relationship with treated pine. I love it because it is affordable and durable, and hate it because you can’t sand it (toxic, remember!), or manipulate it like some other woods. For this project it is fine, though. Don’t make birdhouses from treated pine. Any eggs hatched in the house will be infertile, losing a generation of breeding birds.

planterbox1Here is a really good trick to get exactly the same length of your pieces of wood. I only ever mark the first piece I am cutting, the rest are copies of the original. If I am doing loads of pieces the same length, I mark the original piece and cut all from that. It is guaranteed success and fast.

Lay the cut original on the piece you want to cut on the saw. Put a finger on the end of the boards so you can feel that they are exactly level.



Lower the blade on your saw without any power. Nudge both pieces of wood up to sit closely against the UNMOVING blade, still holding the finger at the end, like this:plantbox16

plantbox22Now just lift off the original piece, hold the wood still, run your cut.


plantbox9The result is two identical pieces, no need to measure and mark! When you put a mark on wood, it is very hard to gage exactly where the saw blade should go, as the cut itself takes out a mm or so. With this method, there is no guesswork.

When I cut the front box I wanted an angled side at one end. I found the woods no longer matched up, as the angled pieces meeting the front are shorter, like this.

plantbox7Easy fix, just put it on the saw and slice off a little bit. Really, it won’t matter by the time you have flowers spilling out all over it but I did it anyway. Because I have the saw!


Next we need to assemble the pieces. I use screws, make sure they are made for exterior use or they will rust. As I have chosen to go double depth, I also need to add a small piece of wood to help hold it all together. Single depth would be fine with some plants, but I want to allow for deeper roots as I don’t intend to run out and water every five seconds. Shallow soil heats up very fast here in summer. For this reason, I wouldn’t paint a planter black.



Now some paint, I have chosen green. I would have preferred a slightly different shade, but found a bucket of this in the shed. It will do fine. In regards to paint, there is a great way to get free paint, handy for smaller jobs. Go to your tip and see the paint mountain! Since you are supposed to give the paint in to the tip rather than binning it, they build up a large collection. As long as you can still read the labels, it is just perfectly fine paint that someone has cleared out of their shed. When I painted my pencil fence I needed an awful lot of different paint, far more than I was prepared to pay for (was happy to pay for exactly none, actually) and so I headed to the tip. Here is a pic of the fence, totally irrelevant to this project but never mind:

pencilfenceSee what I mean? To get the different shades, I added increasing amounts of white. Save the world and your wallet and get some unwanted paint!

After painting, I added some steel strapping. Not really necessary, but I think it looks great and will also have the bonus of making the planter very strong. This stuff is sold in rolls. The true purpose of strapping is to be nailed in huge spans diagonally across your walls and roof before cladding it, to act as bracing. Also you use it for tying down your roof to your walls. Like I said, this is strong stuff. I use it for so many things. I sprayed mine black first, cut with tinsnips. If you have no tinsnips, a hacksaw will do too.


Nail the strapping on with a clout (short nail with large galvanised head) in every hole.


You will note that it can’t go round in one go on the angled box. I just let it finish, and will now cover my corners with a piece of scrap metal, like this. If you have a shed, chances are it will be hiding plenty of odd bits like this. If it doesn’t, start collecting. Don’t throw things out too quickly, you never know when a piece of metal comes in handy. The local tip can be a great source. Of course you can also head to the hardware but if you can give new life to something, why not use it? This metal is very stiff, so is impossible to bend with anything less than violence. Put it over the edge of a strong surface, cover with a piece of wood where you want the fold, and start beating.



Before nailing on the corners (and I had to predrill all the holes, as my metal was far too thick to nail) trim any angles, if you are doing an angled version.


I discovered the bike was too far away from the wall, couldn’t attach the boxes as I had planned. I cut off a handle with the angle grinder (or hacksaw, if you don’t have one) and suddenly the bike was in the right position. I also used pliers to snip off all the wires. Who needs brakes and gears when there’s no handle?


Now the bike needs to be attached to the wall. Depending on the wall, work out your best options. Mine is just a sheet of metal, so I have used tekscrews, fat strong screws with a hexagonal head. Here it is from the back wall side:

plantbox69and straight into the basket… It doesn’t matter if they stick out, you can cut them with a grinder or leave them.


The boxes will be very heavy when they are full of wet soil. They are resting on the wheels of the bike, but also need attaching to it. I used more strapping with tekscrews. Make sure the tires have no air in them. The air will go anyway over time, assuming there was any to begin with, and it will leave the boxes slanting. Somewhere in the shed I have a tin of tyre black, whenever I find it I shall make the tyres a little better.



I also wanted to add a totally pointless handle to one of my boxes, found one in the shed.


Line boxes with strong plastic, I use builder’s plastic, the stuff you lay under concrete slabs for instance. It will last well unless it is exposed to the sun. Make drainage holes in the bottom. You can buy as much or as little as you want as it comes by the metre.

plantbox60Plant up! I am not intending to spend much time caring for the plants in this box. The position is very exposed as it gets full strength winds in winter and scorching afternoon sun in summer. I have to plant the hardiest that I have. I will try some succulents and some seaside daisies which I have dug up elsewhere in the garden. I would go geraniums if it wasn’t for the frost, but they die back here. Treat your garden like a nursery. Dig something up, divide, take cuttings. Hopefully it will all take and look splendid in a month or so! In total, this job cost a little bit of wood, a few screws, nails and paint, everything else was recycled. If you want to make a flowerbike, head to the tip. You will find the paint, the steel, the bike itself, probably a handle, maybe even the wood. A great little budgetjob, using unwanted things to make a slightly more attractive world.


The next job here will be to make a new door to replace this exciting specimen. I have a plan…