Miniature Landscaping part IV

I had originally planned on just adding a strip of garden in front of the porch, but a desire to see springtime cheer up the dreary late winter views I saw through my windows, made me want to make more and more blooming garden.

The blooming shrubs at either end of the picture are almost intact sections of artificial sprays. The one on the right gives an impression of a lilac bush, and below you can see it close up. I just realized something. In the last segment I showed some of my favorite leaves. I had a darker and slightly lighter version of them from two separate artificial sprays. Well, I just remembered, the darker colored leaves came from the parent spray of this “lilac bush”. It came with the little beads glued on to the leaves, and some sections had very few beads on them and so I scraped them off in order to use the leaves with other flowers.

The small blooming tree, which gives the impression of a crabapple, also “blooms” with beads. Sometimes, if I like the blooming shrub potential of a spray, but I feel it just isn’t quite full enough, I’ll slide more sections onto the stems to fill it in.

Below is another blooming shrub. This time I used the leaves and flowers from the same spray together. I liked how it looked like two plants growing closely together.

I also like using the leaves from this particular spray on their own.

Their light, gray-green color, shape and texture give a good contrast in the miniature garden. You’ll note that I’ve used some that are full length and others I’ve cut to varying lengths, this gives more of a feel that the plants are actually growing.
I’ve also planted a couple different grasses. The taller grass is actually plastic grass I found at a craft shop. It comes in a square, and whenever I need some tall slender leaves I’ll pull a clump off the plastic base. The other, shorter grasses are actually from an evergreen spray or a fern, I can‘t remember which.
You can also see how I used the plastic grass, this time with the red clustered flowers.

I used the same flowers with different leaves to give this look.

If I recall correctly, the original spray had the beaded clusters in a close mass, I just pulled them apart.
Speaking of pulling apart, here’s another bunch of mini blooms I use in small segments. Do you recall seeing them as tiny flowers growing between the reindeer moss bushes?
I liked the spray, but it was too stiff to use in a mini garden, so I pulled the clusters off the stems.

The pink shrub planted in front of the Bungalow porch was the pink version of this yellow flower. I gathered several of the pink stems together to make a fuller bush.
You know, you can get an awful lot of plant material from one artificial spray. The leaves of this stem are kind of big for mini gardening, and they fray at the edges, so I kept some of the better ones, just in case I’ll want them for a fantasy setting, and threw the rest away. Sometimes the leaves that come on a spray just aren’t usable.

Here’s an interesting looking plant. It’s the tall, spindly, weedy looking thing. When I saw it’s parent stem I said to myself, “what a great weed”, and here it sits, outside the garden fence.

A cutting from the same plant is growing here, next to the tall grass by the Gnome’s Cottage shed. This particular piece was a little tamer looking, so I used it inside the garden, to add visual interest.

The next picture is a section of the Gnome’s Cottage garden, and this bit fits next to the section in the previous picture. In other words, this is what’s growing at the end of the garden next to the shed. My real life yard is full of tended trees, shrubs and planting beds, but at the back, it blends into the woods behind my house. I wanted to give the same effect to the gnome’s garden. Her little garden fence ends just as it hits “the woods”.

Here’s another nice looking weed. I haven’t had occasion to use it yet.

And here’s some leaves. I think I’ve got enough of these to last me a lifetime. They’re off a plastic hanging plant that came complete with a little pot. I got it for 50% off so it was quite a deal. I think I’ll mostly be using them by the leaf.

Do you recognize the parts of the plants in the foreground? Back along the wall I’ve paired my “plastic grass” with some other blooms.

Here’s a nice little evergreen. Plastic evergreens can be a little tricky to work with. They’re so stiff, and when you take them apart, they look so sparse, but if you can find the right spot, and gather them in the right way, they can add a lot to the minilandscape. When I find a piece with potential at a 50% sale, I’ll buy it.

Here’s a close up of the Great Stuff foam groundcover I mentioned in a previous post. I think I forgot to mention that I usually cut it with my old electric kitchen knife.

Here’s some more of the two kinds of grasses, and reindeer moss, together with some big leaves, the same ones that “grow” at the back of the garden. Ordinarily, I’d say that the big leaves were too big for 1:12 scale, but for a gnome’s cottage they were fine.

Finally, here we have a clump of evergreen, which is actually from a plastic fern, a weedy plant, three kinds of groundcover (reindeer moss, sponge and Great Stuff foam), and a pine cone. I liked the pine cone. It seemed like just the right thing to have by the gnome’s front door.

Miniature Landscaping part III

Mulch, soil, flowers and plants
Many people like to use dried, used coffee grounds or dry used tea leaves to simulate soil. Personally I prefer paint and sand.
If just a little dirt is to be showing, I’ll paint the area with a dark, dull brown, like burnt umber, and while it’s still wet I’ll work in just a little black. If more soil is meant to be left showing, I’ll treat the area the same way I like to do my grass, painting the spot with brown umber and letting it dry, then brushing on glue, sprinkling sand, and repainting with a bit of brown and black.
Why don’t I just glue on the sand, then paint it? In short, I think it’s easier and less aggravating than trying to work the paint into every tiny crevice. This way there’s already a base coat of color, so there’s less work later.

I do like to use the tea leaves and coffee grounds as mulch. I discovered that if I blended them, the end result looked a lot like the mulch I have in my real life garden. The coffee grounds alone look like dark, fresh mulch, the tea leaves are lighter in color. I paint my base a dark brown, spread on a bit of glue, sprinkle on my mulch mix and let dry. When it's dry, I'll turn the board over and dump off the extra mulch. In the pictures you'll see coming up, you'll notice I don't worry about covering the whole exposed flower bed with mulch. I don't think it's necessary, but you can if you want to.
Be sure to use only used tea leaves and coffee grounds, and be sure they are completely dry before you use them in your landscaping.

There are two kind of miniature gardeners, the ones who insist a flower or plant look just like the real thing, and those who just want a splash of color and an interesting looking settitng for their dollhouse. I belong to the latter. You won’t find any of my miniature plans or flowers in a garden book, they all come out of my head and the artificial flowers section of a craft store.
Here’s a picture of part of my gardening stash. Although it doesn’t look like it in this picture, the plastic box is one of those big plastic storage boxes that’s about knee high. The plastic bags are gallon sized. Right now I’ve got 2 full, big containers and the rest overflows into the crisper drawer from my old refrigerator.

Every time I go to Michael’s or AC Moore (my local craft stores) I check out the artificial plants and flowers. If I’m lucky, I’ll find quite a few things that look like they have mini potential and the store will be having a 50% off sale.
Of course, I look for small blooms, checking to see if the little blossoms remind me of anything. It might help if you look at the flowers through a small tube, as if you were peering through a telescope. Don’t worry about people thinking you’re some sort of nut, if someone stares at you just tell them that you’re a miniaturist looking for proper materials, and we do this sort of thing all the time. Use the phrase “miniature artisan” if you want to, or “an artist working in miniature”.
Keep in mind that some little flowers work in the mini garden better than others. There are some widely seen little floral bunches that I’ll never use unless I’m doing a fantasy garden. These flowers may be quite pretty, and look small, but in a 1:12 garden they’ll still look enormous. You want to look for flowers that are no more than ¼” wide, remembering that translates into real life blossoms that are 3” across. A 3” wide flower is a big bloom.
One way to acquire tiny flowers is to look for artificial stems that feature flowers that come in clusters. Below is one example. You can use these as is, growing in a tight cluster, or you can cut the stems apart, using the flowers singly or in 2’s or 3’s. The stems on this example are a bit short, others have longer stems.

The leaves shown are the ones that came with this particular floral spray, and I used them together for the Gnome's Cottage garden. In actuality, the leaves are too big, and I would not have used this pairing as a rule, but it suited the gnome fantasy, and therefore was just fine.

The next picture shows another example of these kind of flowers that can be cut apart. If you look carefully, you’ll see how they were cut at the stems. The petals of this flower were dipped in some sort of solution and came in white, pink, or purple. I w3anted some yellow flowers, so I painted the petals of some of the white ones. Some of the petals of silk flowers can also be touched up with paint to change their hue.

Another example of clustered flowers paired with leaves. This time the leaves were from a different spray.


More clustered flowers below, paired with leaves from other artificial sprays.


The last two pictures featured the leaves shown below. I found these twice, once in a darker green, and later in a slighter lighter shade of green. You can see how they’d work to form a small shrub, and also how they can be cut to form a group of 3 leaves. I’ve even cut them down to 2 or even used the leaves singly.

So how did I get the flowers and leaves to stick together into blooming plants and then stay put in the garden?
Usually I used a drill, hot glue and round toothpicks. If you’ve ever taken an artificial spray or two apart, you’ve seen that they slide onto the plastic stems in one way or another. I’ll take advantage of this and slide them, whenever I can, onto a toothpick.
Sorry about the fuzzy picture, somehow I accidentally changed the focus on that shot.

So I’ve selected my flowers and leaves and am ready to plant them.
I can either plant them directly into the garden, meaning attach them to the garden base, or to another piece of plywood if I want to be able to move this garden bed around.
I’ll drill a hole, the size of the toothpick, into the plywood. Next I’ll snip the sharp ends off the toothpick, cutting the pick to whatever length I want it to be. At this point I can use hot glue, or, since the toothpick is wooden, a bit of wood glue, to insert and attach the pick. Sometimes I’ll use a short length of thick floral wire instead of the toothpick, in which case I use hot glue. Next I’ll slide on the leaves. Sometimes I’ll want to attach a single leaf into the arrangement, so I’ll hot glue it into place. When the leaves are arranged, and sometimes I’ll glue a leaf or spray of leaves to the mulch or dirt, I’ll add the flowers. They will either slide onto the toothpick, or have to be attached to the pick and leaves with hot glue.
When I plant trees or shrubs, I’ll drill a larger hole. Sometimes I’ll stick the stem of the shrub right into the hole, gluing it into place, other times I’ll need the help of a dowel. It all depends on the plastic stem of the spray I’ll working with.
With larger plants I find I usually need a thicker base. If I try to glue into a ¼” sheet of plywood, the stem won’t go in deep enough and the bush starts to tilt. When I planted the trees and bushes for the bungalow garden, I used a ½” thick plywood panel, si it wasn’t a problem, but otherwise, I would have cut a small piece of plywood which would be glued to the base, drilling through the double thickness so the “trunk” of my tree would have more surface to glue on to. I’d later cover the extra piece of plywood with some sort of groundcover.
I first got the idea for this method when I was setting up my Dickens Christmas village. I wanted some trees, and something to suggest a small wood. I drilled holes into a thin piece of plywood, then arranged my little trees, covering the plywood base with polyester batting “snow banks”.

Here’s a picture of reindeer moss as it comes out of the bag. The last bag I bought had a lot of neat clumps in it, the last one had only a few, the rest were much looser in form.
You can see how the clump on the bottom left would make a perfect little bush just as it is.

Here are some bushes, my tea leaf-coffee grounds mulch and some little flowers using my favorite leaves.

Next comes a tall treelike shrub that I used for the Bungalow.

I really liked this next spray, though I wasn’t sure when I would be able to use it. The flowers are pretty big when you think of it in 1:12 scale, but as I was working on the Bungalow garden it struck me that this would pass as a wonderful exotic specimen plant.

Next time I’ll continue with more on the subject of flowers and plants in the minilandscape.

Continue to landscaping part 4

Genevieve: a dollhouse story


Genevieve

The broken doll house sat for over 100 hundred years, alone, neglected, covered in dust, festooned with cobwebs, mold growing on her once elegant wallpaper. Only the mice and other vermin visited her rooms.

Once, she had stood in the light, in glory, in a sparkling shop window admired by all who passed by. Then, a day came when she was placed in a box and carefully brought by carriage to a tall house, where she was displayed in a grand room lit by a hundred candles, their lights flickering in her shining glass window panes. The soft music of violin and pianoforte wafted over her. She basked in the admiration of the many splendidly dressed people who stopped to look at her, and the beautifully wrapped gifts that surrounded her.
She knew she had come home, and rejoiced in her happiness.

Then the girl arrived. Screeching and screaming she tore open gifts one by one, tossing each one aside with a snort. The doll house wished she could run and hide, but luckily, the girl left her alone.

Later a man dressed in black carried the elegant doll house upstairs and placed her in the corner of the nursery.

From then onwards life was miserable for the unhappy doll house named Genevieve. The mean tempered girl would build towers with Genevieve’s lovely gilded furniture and never put them back into her rooms. A cabriole leg would break off a tea table, the back of a rococo dining chair would snap, the posts from a dainty bed would crunch underneath small feet. One day the girl even tore off Genevieve's pretty little curtains to make a cap for the family cat, something that even the cat did not appreciate. One by one Genevieve’s lovely furnishings were destroyed.
To add to Genevieve’s misfortune, on yet another occasion, the girl and her friend played horse and driver and knocked the poor little dollhouse off her stand, breaking off her cupola and two shutters.
Then one day two boys came to play and used her as an enemy fort for cannonball practice. They broke out all her window glass, and that was the end for poor Genevieve. The man dressed in black came and carried her up to the attics and left here there, alone, unwanted, and unloved.

After many years the tall house was shut up, abandoned, and alone, in the attic, Genevieve brooded. She could not weep, as she had no window glass. Slowly, spending year after year in her dark and dirty prison, she went silently mad.

Decades passed by. The house was sold. The mantels, moldings, cupboards and doors were ripped out and carried away. Someone found the doll house up in the attic and carried her outside. Genevieve’s wallpaper was tattered, her cupola, trim and shutters gone, her glass was broken, she was ashamed to be seen in the light of day. But the warmth of the sun felt good upon her damp roof, and she fell into a restful, dreamless sleep, for the first time in many years.

She awoke to find herself on a battered table attended by a woman who poked, prodded and turned her this way and that. During the weeks to come the woman repaired her sagging roof and strengthened her walls. She made her a new cupola and shutters. She glued in dainty new wallpaper and gleaming wooden floors. One day she gave Genevieve sparkling new window glass, and that night the pretty doll house cried herself to sleep with tears of happiness, not of woe.

The next she knew she had a dainty parlor set, and a kitchen stove and lace and dimity curtains. One by one her rooms were filled with the beautiful things a little house like she deserved.
The madness of the attic years faded away.

Then SHE came, in her satin lined wicker basket, her sleek fur gleaming, and her name was Absinthe. Her mistress, Mrs.Hogworthy, was going on another spa vacation, and she was leaving her precious darling with Genevieve’s lady.
Absinthe always won the blue ribbon at all the cat shows. Her picture had been on the cover of Cat Fancier’s Magazine, and her form graced the month of July on the Meoux Cat Food company calendar.
Absinthe ruled all she surveyed. Whether it was in her house or anyone else's house, Absinthe knew her place, and her place was to be the center of the universe.
When she stayed at Mrs.Treadway's, she drank poor Snowball's milk, ate her tuna, scattered her ball of string and destroyed her toy mouse. No one but Absinthe and Snowball knew how poor Snowball came to be covered in ink.
After her stay with the Goodbody's their little kitten Gracie hid in a crate in the basement and wouldn’t come out for three days.
After just two days of a long weekend Absinthe spent at the Dunwoodies’ their cat, Lord Arthur Dunwoodie, ran away from home and was never seen in town again.

Absinthe strolled slowly about the house, both pert nose and tail in the air, looking for amusement. Suddenly she spied Genevieve.
Absinthe knew the little house was for her pleasure, and hers alone. With smug self assuredness she strolled towards the little house and pushed herself into the tiny dining room, breaking the table and chairs and pushing out the tiny glass doored breakfront with her fat tail.
Suddenly there was a shriek, a squeal and a deep throated gurgle. Fur was scattered on the floor beneath the little doll house and Absinthe lay limp, her head hanging out of the dining room, her dead, glassy eyes had a look of horror never seen before or since on any cat.

No one could guess what had happened, no one knew. No one but the pretty little doll house named Genevieve.

Miniature Landscaping part II

Previously, In Miniature Landscaping part I, I mentioned using foam and plywood to make rises in the land to cover your dollhouse foundation and to create visual interest in your minigarden.

Blocks of scrap wood can be a big help too. I’ll use bits of 2 x 4’s or 1” inch thick lumber scraps to build up areas. I round off any edges that face away from the foundation. Flat edges are great against walls, they fit snugly, and if you glue them to both wall and base, they’ll help strengthen your structure. On the other hand, cover a right angle cut with foam or reindeer moss and you’ll find yourself using more and more foam or moss to make it look right. I like to cut some curves and round off the edges of my wood blocks.
Another thing you can use is Styrofoam. I save the good sized pieces that companies used to pack just about any piece of electronic equipment my husband brings home.
To glue Styrofoam to wood, I use Weldbond glue. When I was working on Miss Nutkin’s tree trunk house, I learned that wood glue and white glue just don’t stick the Styrofoam all that well. I don’t advise using hot glue either. To use it, you need to apply it to the wood, let it cool slightly, then stick on the Styrofoam. If you wait too long, it won’t stick. If you don’t wait long enough, you’ll melt a hole in the Styrofoam.
Of course, if you’ve used builder’s foam to make a project, use leftover bits of that. In other words, you can use just about anything.

This picture shows how I used scrap wood and home made paper mache.


Please keep in mind that before this the only paper mache projects I had ever done were those ones in elementary school, the kind where you cover a balloon or something with layer upon layer of newspaper brushed with paste or glue.
I started with a long piece of wood and glued it along the foundation. Then I started tearing up newspapers into skinny strips. I had no idea what I was doing, I just sort of learned things as I went along. I learned that trying to tear up paper in a blender doesn’t work very well. I got tired of tearing paper, so I decided to try using a paper cutter. It did make things go faster, but it left a distinctive looking paper mache. I wound up liking the way it looked anyway.
I mounded the paper mache along the wood strip, making a slope towards the base platform, then I waited for it to dry. I waited and waited and waited. For several days I waited.
Eventually it did dry, and I painted it. I used a couple of shades of green, some yellow and just a little white. By the way, you’ll notice bits of white in the “bank”. The paper mache shrank more as it dried over the following weeks, days or months. It was quite a while before I noticed it. Someday I’ll probably touch those spots up.
I made the little plants out of sponges and reindeer moss. I cut small blossoms of artificial silk flowers off their stems to stick into the sponge plants. I wanted a springtime feel, something that would remind me of daffodils, so I painted the fabric flowers with a little watered down yellow paint before gluing them into place.
The airy pink flowers are dried sprays of baby’s breath from the craft store that I cut up.

Getting back to sponges, here’s one of my first efforts, a tidy sponge bush.
The picture was taken with a flash which really shows how I used different colors while painting the bush. In real life the varying colors aren’t really noticeable.


I had mentioned that I’ve also used natural sea sponge. The plant in the right hand corner that’s sort of climbing upwards against the post is made from one. Sea sponges give an airier look, because they have more big holes.

In order to make your plants blend in with your base better you can either simulate soil or mulch, or use a darker green paint to make the plant appear to be growing out of the midst of very short groundcover. I used one of my old brushes to pounce and blend some dark green underneath where some of my plants will go. Notice that I don’t do the same thing everywhere.

In the next picture you can see how I mounded some of the lighter green paper mache up and over the edges of the steps. I then mounded some reindeer moss for an interesting contrast.



The paving stones are cut from very thin plywood, and I pulled off bits of the moss to make it look like plants growing amongst the stones.
You’ll notice that I did not encircle each and every stone in order to hide the plywood layers. If you give the eye enough to look at, it won’t notice every tiny little flaw or detail.

I had mentioned using reindeer moss in a tree, and here it is. I went out into my yard to look for an interesting twig with which I could make a small tree. I hot glued the moss to the twig to simulate thick clumps of leaves.



The plywood base is meant to simulate closely cut grass. I painted it in mottled shades of greens and yellow, coated it with a thin layer of glue, sprinkled on sand, then added some more paint. If you paint your grass in mottled shades, it’ll trick the eye into seeing it more like real grass than if you just painted it a flat green.

Here’s an example of plywood paving stones nestled in moss. In this case I surrounded the stones with moss, because they were butted up to an area that was covered in it. Sorry the picture’s a little blurry.



Before I forget, there’s yet another foam product that I’ve found handy in minilandscaping. It’s Great Stuff insulating foam. It comes in a can and you can get it at the hardware store. It’s meant to be sprayed into hard to reach areas where you want to add some insulation. It has a thin straw that you stick into the nozzle and the stuff comes out through the straw, sort of like DW40, the lubricant you spray on squeaky hinges, etc.
Now, I must warn you, Great Stuff is very, very sticky when wet, and it whooshes out of the end of that straw and grows and grows. It’s meant to fill crevices, you see.
I had bought a can once to fill up a gap in the mortar of the foundation of our garage. A mouse had gotten into the garage that way, and from there it was only a foot to another little gap in the mortar to get into the basement. After using what I needed I found I still had half a can left. You can’t store the stuff once the can has been opened so I decided to play with it. I found out that once the foam has dried you can slice it rather neatly. It makes great thin groundcover, just slice, paint and glue, then dab on a little more paint to blend the foam with the “grass“. It’s the low growing stuff in the foreground of the picture. It bends down over uneven areas well and doesn’t spring up like the reindeer moss. It’s also much easier to cut thinly than sponges.
I also noticed that some little globs of dry Great Stuff look like they'd make nice round rocks. They have a smooth shiny surface, and would need to be primed before painting. I haven't needed any rocks like that in any projects yet, so I haven't tried painting them. Any readers who decide to try it are welcome to let us know how it turned out.

I think I’ve pretty much covered the basic knowledge you need to go and start a minilandscape of your own. You’ve gotten tips on grass, slopes, bushes, groundcover, steps and stepping stones.

Next will be how to make assorted plants, flowering plants, soil and mulch.

Continue to landscaping part 3

Miniature Landscaping part I

I have a need to add landscaping to each of my dollhouses.
I’ve spent a lot of time over the years designing and working on the gardens for my real homes, and find miniature gardening much more rewarding. After all, when you “plant” your mini shrubs and flowers you know exactly how tall they’ll be, they’re always in perfect bloom, and if you don’t like the way something looks, you just pick it up and try something else.

In minilandscaping hiding an ugly foundation is easy as pie. Is your yard too flat? Make a little slope, no trudging around with wheelbarrows full of loam or sand. Is your house crying out for stone front steps? You don’t have to pay a stone and gravel company, just use some balsa wood.

Yes, a minilandscape is a pleasurable thing.

I’m going to show you some of my landscaping skills and tips. Let’s start with the Pumpkin House, simply because it’s in my living room and handy for picture taking.

Yes, I know, the picture is not up to my usual standards, but in this case that’s a good thing, because I think it lets you see the basic elements more clearly.
I started out with a fake pumpkin glued to a piece of plywood. The first thing I wanted to do was to “wed” the pumpkin to the ground. I couldn’t think of a better word offhand, but wed sounds good.
I’ve used scrap wood, home made paper mache, and Styrofoam to build little higher portions in my landscapes, but this time I started with spongy foam. Since the pumpkin is round, the foam would be easier to cut to shape.
I just used scissors, cutting the foam into a semi circular shape to fit around the base of the pumpkin. I didn’t worry about cutting it just right, because I knew I was going to add something else on top of it.

I also visualized the front garden as being terraced, with various levels stepping down to the plywood base.


Here you can see the plywood base and the foam platform at the bottom of the picture. The foam I used was the usual yellowish stuff. I painted it with green acrylic paint. If you prefer to use a handy can of green latex paint, that’s fine too.
We’ll get to the painting part shortly.


Here’s a closeup of the same sponge that was in the previous picture. Notice the jagged edge. If I want my sponge to have a smooth edge, I’ll cut it to shape with scissors, pinching tiny bits off with my fingernails to round off the edges and make them appear more natural. Other times I’ve even tried nail scissors. I’ll find a picture later to illustrate what I mean.
In this case, however, I wanted a rougher look, so I cut the foam to size, then started pinching off pieces till I was satisfied with the result.

HOW TO PAINT SPONGES
You can’t paint them with a regular brushstroke as if you were painting a wall. I like to use an old larger sized artist’s brush, because that’s what I have handy. You can use a small paintbrush like you’d buy in the paint department of the hardware store if you like, although, it’s better to use an older brush. The reason is because you will be applying the paint by pouncing the brush up and down, over and over again. Wear latex gloves if you don’t want green paint under your fingernails.
I load the brush with a nice woodsy, leafy, lush green grass color and start pouncing on the paint. You have to push it into the little holes and the only way to do it is just to keep shoving it in with your bouncing baby brush. Don’t worry if you see little bits of the sponge’s original color show up just when you thought a section was done, you’ll be applying more paint later.
Generally, I like to paint most of the sponge, then let it dry before I paint the rest of it. The sponge absorbs the paint and it can get rather squishy.
Remember, you don’t want a nice glossy, smooth coat of paint on your sponge. It’s best to practice ahead of time and let your sponge dry so you can see the end result if you’re unsure of yourself.

To make your sponge turn into something that looks like living plantlife you need to apply more colors to create shadow and highlight. You can apply the
next colors while the sponge is wet, or let it dry and do it then. I’ve done it both ways, depending on the circumstances.
While the paint is wet, I’ll dip the tip of my old artist’s brush in a bit of black paint, rub off the excess on a paper towel and pounce on a bit of black towards the under side, inside deeper cuts and just a hint here and there. If I made a section to dark, I can wipe it a bit and add more green. If using black is too scary for you, and I can see your point, try mixing a little black with your green paint, or just use a darker shade of green. When applying the accent colors, I do advise the use of an sturdy old artist’s brush, or maybe a very small stencil brush. You should experiment and see what works best for you.
Next you want to apply highlights. I like to use a good shade of yellow. I’m very picky about my yellow paint. I used to have a yellow that was perfect for highlighting leaves and grass, until it got discontinued. After that I just kept buying bottles and tubes of yellow paint trying to find another version of the right color. I should add a list of paint colors that I like to use for greenery, but not right now, I’m on a roll. If I stop to look for the paint, I’ll find something else that just has to be done before I can get back to writing this.
In any event, I’ll add the yellow paint in pretty much the same way I used the black paint, except I’ll use it mainly on the higher surfaces of the foam.
Sometimes I’ll also use a bit of a blue-green before I use the black and yellow. Adding blue-green to some plants is a good idea, especially if your little landscape has a lot of foam plantings. It makes it all look a little more interesting.
If you prefer to wait, and let your sponge dry before you apply highlights and shadows, you’ll need to add a little watered down green paint to the sponge before you add the other colors. This will let them blend in better so you don’t get that dabbed on paint look. If you’re using some blue green, apply it right after you put on the primary green, then let the sponge dry.
A word of warning…………Painted sponges can take quite a while to dry. Depending on the size of the sponge, and the humidity, it can take a couple of hours or overnight.
Once painted, sponges stiffen up, depending on how much paint you used. They never get hard, though. Remember, if you find that after your sponges are dry, you have the original color of the sponge showing here and there, you can just touch those spots up. On occasion, I’ve even left a hint of yellow sponge showing on purpose.


The arrow shows you a spot where I did just that. In this case, the little bit of yellow sponging peering through blends in with the yellow highlighting.
By the way, although I prefer to use the yellow or yellowish sponges for mini landscaping, I’ve also used red ones, because that’s what I had handy.

While writing this, it occurred to me that these sponges might be used to create granite steps. Here in Maine, granite front steps are quite the thing. They’ve been quarrying granite in my area for a very long time. Here in Kennebunk they say that if you live on the seaward side of the turnpike you’ve got sand, on the other side of the turnpike you’ve got granite. Either way, it’s a pain for gardening.

As I looked at this piece of painted foam, it occurred to me that if it were painted gray, it would probably look like a rough edged granite step.

BUT LET’S GET BACK TO PLANTS.
Reindeer moss is a dandy thing for mini gardening. I’ve used it as ground cover, I’ve made small shrubs out of it, I’ve even stuck it in a tree.
The stuff comes in two colors, green, and yellow-green. As you can see, I like to use them both, it creates a nice contrast. I’ve found that if I need to use a lot of it, I can even tint it, thereby creating several shades of greenery.
I buy reindeer moss at a craft store like AC Moore or Michael’s. It comes in a bag, and if you dump it out on the table you’ll see that some of it will look smooth and compact, like tiny evergreen bushes, and some of it will be rather loose and airy. I’ll save the rounded compact pieces and use them as small bushes, or cut off bits of them if I want small bits of neat, compact edging. The airier stuff can be spread out, bunched up or torn into suitable bits.
In the picture above, I placed more compact sections close to the pumpkin wall, to hide the gap, and spread the rest out in a mound below. I tucked bits of it into the section between the foam and the steps, and between the two “terraces”. I use hot glue whenever I glue foam or “plants”.



Taking a look at the above picture, you’ll notice the steps end on another little “terrace” This one is cut from a piece of scrap plywood. I cut the outer edge in a semi circle, covering the cut edge with a thin strip of foam. I painted the foam, then glued it on when it was dry, touching up with more paint as needed. It doesn’t show up in the picture, but the yellow foam color does show through a bit here and there.
I like to use sand to simulate a close cut grassy look. I’ll brush a thin layer of wood glue on to the plywood, which has already been painted green, then I’ll sprinkle on some sand. When the glue is dry I’ll paint the sand.


Here’s a picture showing how I used just foam and reindeer moss to give a variegated look to the garden. I had two kinds of foam sponges. One had very small holes and was rather compact. The other sponge had bigger holes. They’re just basic sponges, the kind you can buy at your supermarket or hardware store. I’ve also used natural sea sponges on another project. With them you get an entirely different look.
An important point to remember when making an artificial landscape is to use many different shades of green, layering color on color to give your work depth.
Since we’re looking at the picture, I might as well cover a bit about steps and stepping stones.
I used balsa wood to make the steps. I bought a bag of assorted balsa pieces once and had a couple of the chunkier blocks left. I cut them to size with my saw, making them a bit irregular, not quite square. I used my large disc sander to carve the blocks in order to make them look more natural. You can use a hand held sander, though it’s a bit trickier to do. You could also use a utility knife and hand sand, or use a Dremel sanding attachment.
When I was satisfied with the general shape of my stones I sanded them smooth, then applied a light gray basecoat. When the paint was dry, I sanded again.
The next step is to apply colors that will give the stones a more realistic look. I chose to go with a bluer color, some may prefer browner tones.
I don’t recall exactly which colors I used this time. I know there was white, black and a dull blue. I’m pretty sure it was Soldier Blue by Accent. I use that color for lots of projects. I probably used just the teensiest bit of a dull brown, like burnt umber. Green is also a good color to use in stone painting. The best choice is probably green earth, though some might use sap green. I use just a breath of brown and or green when painting bluish gray stones. If you practice a bit, you’ll probably see what I mean. If it all sounds too confusing, forget all about the brown and green tones and your stones will still turn out nice.
The effect you want to achieve is one in which all the colors blend so well that it looks like one color, until you look at it closely.
The stepping stone at the bottom is cut from a thin piece of balsa or basswood. Sometimes I use scrap plywood to make stepping stones, and they work very well. There’s one thing to remember about using plywood, though. You can see the layers on the edges. No amount of paint or sanding can disguise them, so do what I do. Use reindeer moss or tiny slivers of sponge to make a groundcover to surround the stones. It’ll hide the cut edges, and looks really nice too.

Continue to landscaping part 2

My mother's little kitchen

Last year I wrote a bit about a miniature Lithuanian cottage kitchen I made for my mother. When I was a child she had a little cottage roombox that I used to play with, and gradually the little pieces came unglued and eventually it disappeared altogether. I made my own version of a cottage kitchen to make up for that broken one.


A few years after making that kitchen I found an ad in the back of the April 1947 issue of Good Housekeeping.

The price was $4.95, postpaid.

My mother passed away in late '08, and while clearing through her things, my sister found a cottage roombox tucked way back atop my mom's refrigerator. My daughter knew the story of the cottage I used to play with, and she wondered if the thing my sister found could possibly be it, so she took it home with her.
Well, my daughter finally remembered to email me a picture of it, and here it is, and yes, it is the cottage kitchen that I used to play with and thought I had destroyed.

At first I wasn't sure I recognized it. Then I noticed the little red candlestick laying next to the chimney, and I recalled the funny looking wooden structure on the left side wall. I never knew what it was supposed to be. It always looked like bunkbeds that had lost their bedding, and that's what I think they are. By the way, the table just happens to be resting on the door. The room was laying on my daughter's bed when she took the picture.
I'll be restoring this once I get my hands on it again.
And have you noticed? It looks like it was part of a series together with the one in the ad.

You can read about the restoration of the Lithuanian kitchen I made for Mama here.

To read more about the 1940's shadow box click here.

Dollhouse Books

I thought I’d share a list of some of my favorite books about dollhouses.
These books may be available at your local library, if not, try interlibrary loan. I've found quite a few interesting books through my online state library catalog.
You may also be able to find them for sale at Amazon.com or ABE books



If you’re interested in both dollhouses and history you’ll enjoy Mansions in Miniature, four centuries of Doll’s Houses by Leonie von Wilckens. It’s a good sized book, and has 252 pages, mostly pictures. Most of the pictures are black and white, but they’re big and it’s easy to see the tiny details.
Published 1980.



The Vivien Greene Dolls' House Collection, by Vivian Greene with Margaret Towner is full of gorgeous color pictures of Vivien Green's personal dollhouse collection. Ms.Greene has been described as "the undisputed authority on English dolls' houses of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries". Published 1995.


The Collector's Guide to Dollhouses and Miniatures byMarian Maeve O'Brien is full of information and pictures of old dollhouses. Some of the pictures are in color. The picture quality isn't as good as in the previous books listed, but they're still nice to look at, and there's a section devoted to furniture. Published 1974.



The Ultimate Doll's House Book, by Faith Eaton is full of big colorful pictures, though not as thick as the other books listed above, only 143 pages. In addition it has a section about the Playmobile dollhouse, a Japanese dollhouse, a Tibetan dollhouse, and a Guyanese one too. Published 1994.



Decorative Dollhouses, by Caroline Hamilton,also about 143 pages has wonderful color photos of over 25 dollhouses,many designed by the author. There's quite a bit of helpful information about how she designed and built her houses and quite a few miniatures tips. Published 1990.



The Decorated Doll House How to design and create miniature interiors by Jessica Ridley, helps you do just what the subtitle says. It's full of big beautiful pictures of miniature rooms and packed full of instructions like, how to make a patchwork quilt, making modern kitchen cabinets using styrene sheets and thatching a cottage roof with mop heads. Published 1990.



The New Dolls' House Do-It-Yourself Book, by Venus and Martin Dodge, is full of instructions and plans for dollhouses and furniture, plus other tips. This book has been reprinted many times. I got my copy at a craft shop that had a miniatures department.



Dollhouse Decorating, by Nick Fordner is a bit on the skinny side, only 79 pages, but it does have nice pictures, all in color. It illustrates 12 miniature interiors, which include an Egyptian bedroom, a Swedish Gustavian bedroom, a Mackintosh bedroom, a Bauhaus room and a Santa Fe store. Published 1994.