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.

maptiles3 maptiles2 maptiles

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!

garden door 4

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.