Carving a dragon #2: building the matrix

Carving in quarter-inch scale proved to be impossible–at least for my skill level and the difficulty of this project.

Unwilling to give up, I decided to try to make a quarter scale chest out of a combination of cutting, casting, carving, and painting.  None of which I know much about.  After a few false starts, here’s how it went:

1. The basic shape was cut out of smooth Bristol paper (4 ply)–and glued to a base of the same material.

2.  Features were added to the basic shape–fins, wings, tail, tongue–using thinner Bristol paper (3 ply).

3.  A piece of art board keeps the whole thing flat, and a larger piece of heavy paper provides a base for building the box to hold the mold making materials.

It took a couple of tries to get all the shapes right–but the advantage of casting is that the hardest parts are not being carved–the basic shape, and the tiny openings.

1.  Cutting out the basic shape from Bristol Board (4 ply)

Cutting out the basic shape from Bristol Board (4 ply)

Adding a frame around the basic shapes

Adding a frame around the basic shapes

Adding the details to the mold

Adding the details to the matrix

4.  The matrix was molded in silicone rubber and then cast in resin.   If you want a great class in matrix building and mold making, Judy Andraka of Acorns by Oak offers some great classes–I learned the techniques I used from her.

Making a silicone mold and casting the "faux carved" piece in resin

Making a silicone mold and casting the “faux carved” piece in resin

The cast piece--very thin!

The cast piece–very thin!  You can see the light shining through!

More “faux” to come!

Carving a Dragon Chest in Quarter Inch Scale

In June 2013 I took a class from Ann High at IGMA Guild School in Castine, Maine, in which we carved a dragon chest.  Ann does truly amazing carving and is an excellent teacher, getting the best from her students–even the newbies.

Front of chest carved in class with Ann High at Guild School in 2013

Front of chest carved in class with Ann High at Guild School in 2013

The finished chest is about 5 inches long and a little over an inch high. This is the almost finished chest–all that remains is to add the final finishes over the stain.

Finished dragon chest

Finished dragon chest

Chest with tools by David Brookshaw displayed

Chest with tools by David Brookshaw displayed

The beautiful period-appropriate carving tools are made by David Brookshaw, who makes museum-quality reproductions of full-sized antique tools, as well as 1/12 scale miniature tools.

Being incapable of leaving anything in 1/12 scale alone, I tried to make one in 1/48 scale.  The results were not stellar.

Attempt to carve the dragon chest in 1:48 scale.  UGH!

Attempt to carve the dragon chest in 1:48 scale. UGH!

My carving skills were simply not up to the task–and the intricacy of the pattern–even with simplifications–was difficult to reproduce in wood, as small as it needed to be. So, what to do? Perhaps there is another way….

The Roof: finished!

The roof is finally finished, slate and copper and all!

Next up…. Bashing and painting grandtline windows, and adding window glass (gulp)

Roof 3

Another view of roof–copper tops of dormers just visible

Detail view of finished roof

Detail view of finished roof

View of roof--can just see the copper on top of dormers

View of roof–can just see the copper on top of dormers

The roof: copper touches

Second, the copper accents.  Working with copper presents two difficulties:  (1) making the actual parts, and (2) creating a nice patina.  [If you want to skip the first step, Builders-in-scale (CC crow) ( sells pre-made roofs in several model railroad scales.]

Shaping the copper required a few easy steps. The copper sheeting I happened to have is probably a little thicker than 36 gauge—and so it isn’t the easiest to bend and fold cleanly to get that sanding seam, or ribbed roof, look–but copper is a soft metal so it holds scribe marks well.  The steps were:

  • Flatten the copper with a roller
  • Cut the copper to shape with shears
  • Use metal straight edges to bend the copper (marking the fold line first with a craft knife or scribe helps)
  • Create curves using craft knives, tubes–anything in the workroom that provides cylinders for additional shaping.

The copper sheeting (fortunately) did not have a lacquer finish.  So it just needed to be cleaned up.  Gloves prevent skin oils from getting on the cleaned copper.  The steps were:

  • Remove oil and other dirt with a bit of solvent followed by lemon juice
  • Sand with 0000 steel wool (or non-metallic scrubby with the same rating) to open up the metal’s pores.
  • Apply a chemical to accelerate the process of creating a patina.  Verde Green from Sophisticated Finishes ( is readily available at local art and craft shops (plaza art is the local craft store here —  Other products for finishing metals are available from various sources, including architectural supply houses.  The internet has a lot of inexpensive suggestions that I tried first, without success (I never could get my experiments to work in Chem class in high school either).
  • Spray with lacquer, and (optionally) finish with wax to protect the finish.  I used a soft furniture wax–Howard Citrus Shield.  You want one that isn’t too greasy.

Materials used with copper

Raw copper pieces

Raw copper pieces

Finished copper

Finished copper pieces

Shingles and Copper gutter

The beginnings of the shingles with copper gutter

The Roof: shingles


The roof—the folded up part of the books on the left that Shannon designed—is very unique. The question was whether to leave it as it was, or cover it with something more roof-like.  Never being one for leaving well enough alone, I considered printable shingles, copper, or laser cut shingles.

Other alternatives to be considered: The printed asphalt shingles are from Clever Models  and the Laser Cut shingles are from Paper Creek. All good options!

A copper standing seam roof

A copper standing seam roof

Red asphalt shingles

Red asphalt shingles

Laser cut rustic wooden shingles

Laser cut rustic wooden shingles

Gray asphalt shingles

Gray asphalt shingles

Nothing seemed exactly right for this project.  The solution:  a slate roof complemented by (verdigris) copper flashing and gutters.

First, the slate. The idea for how to make the slate roof came from seeing the results of a class at IGMA School in Castine the first year I attended as a student. The 2006 class was called “Au Petit” and was taught by the amazing Pat and Noel Thomas (–who have graciously consented to let me share their ideas with you.  The students created the slate roof using a craft knife to lightly cut and then peel off layers of the strips of shingles.  My roommate was in the class, and I came home (after an evening drinking) to find her slaving over her cutting mat making shingles into the wee hours.  Her roof looked fabulous, though–so I gave it a try for this book box.  Again, my lack of painting experience will come back to haunt me.

Decisions to be made: the size of the shingle, the type of watercolor paper, and the color.  After lots of experimentation: the final choices: 140 pound cold pressed 100% cotton watercolor paper, 5/16″ W x 7/32″ H (overlap) shingle, and a mix of Delta Ceramcoat hippo gray and toffee brown.  After painting a light wash on the shingle strips to make it easier to see what was going on, a sharp craft knife was used to cut and then peel off pieces of the water color paper to create the distinctive worn shingle edge.  Once this VERY time consuming task was done, it was time to paint. Since painting is not my strong suit (have I said that before?), I applied a series of light washes and blotted them off before they were dry,  to have more control over the color and the density.   The final color is a bit more brown than would be ideal (perhaps because of the initial brown wash)–and certainly more brown than any slate roof I found a photo of on the internet.  But too brown is probably better than a more realistic gray would be, given the colors of the book box.

If you try this technique, I would recommend pulling a bunch of pictures of slate roofs down off the internet, to help with color and the wear pattern.

Too small, too large, just right

Initial strip and beginning carving

Sample strip- after carving

Finished strips

Finished strips

Art Deco Cabinet

For the Microminis yahoo group, Ladybug (Sue Anne Thwaite) designed and had a special cabinet made that could be used for a baby house in art deco. She kindly provided me with an unstained prototype, so I could finish it myself.  The first step was to attach some very pretty amboyna burl, and then stain the remainder a dark walnut brown.  The deco medallion at the bottom was also covered in amboyna, and the area inside filed out a bit to provide space for a 9 V battery.  The entire piece was then sprayed with lacquer and lightly sanded.   The plan is to run wiring up the outside back from the battery, and link into lights on each of the floors.  Because the lighting will bring down the ceilings slightly, the furnishings will be 1/120 scale.

When the time comes, this blog will chronicle some of the activities involved in filling the cabinet!

Amboyna Burl   Battery view   Front viewSide view

Flagstones, anyone?

The next step was to determine the type of landscaping.  A rough cobblestone sidewalk and path would have been ideal, and in keeping with the “quaint” look of the book box.  But clay and I are not really friends (barely acquaintances), so I always opt for real materials whenever I can.  Nature is much better with the palette and the knife than I.  In this case, a few hours with a mallet and some shale paving stones from the yard produced hundreds of tiny usable pieces.  The question was then:  How to create a level path, and how to adhere them to the base of the book box firmly.

Basically: the steps were:

  • make a slightly sticky surface using paper labels (just sticky enough to hold the stones in place, but not so sticky that it couldn’t be removed) glued to a piece of mat board
  • place the stones close together
  • spray with sealer over everything (so mortar doesn’t stick to label paper when you put it on)
  • drip mortar (spackle powder and paint and water) into place between all the stones, so no paper shows, let dry (try not to touch the stones, because they’re not well-secured to the paper)
  • make an edge to the desired height of the bottom (higher than the stones)
  • spread Moreflex or some other caulk or adhesive to the height of the edge; use cardboard to level off. moreflex is textured which is a nice look, stays flexible, and comes in different grays (although dark gray didn’t come in a small tube, so I used light gray, as you can see in the middle of the picture)
  • dry thoroughly!
  • remove the edge carefully, paint edges of Moreflex if needed, flip over and glue in place useing Weldbond or other water based glue (if use Moreflex, which is acrylic)
  • peel off mat board layer by layer (carefully) and then the label paper–if stones come out, just hold onto them and glue them back in later
  • use dental tools and craft knife to clean up the mortar if it shows
  • and add mortar as necessary. dry thoroughly
  • spray all with sealer or matte medium

It was a rather painstaking process, so you can view a more detailed tutorial here–or just see the finished product below!

To see tutorial, go here: Flagstone path

10. Tidy up mortar

Making 1/144 scale fireplaces

Here are some of the first fireplace mantels that I built.   They illustrate how different fireplace “Matrices” can be built from a variety of materials, and how they look once molded and cast.

The next post includes a “how to” for how to build the matrix for a fireplace, and what it looks like once molded, cast, and painted.

Later in 2014, my website will feature a series of 1/144 scale vignettes featuring these and other fireplaces.

Examples of the matrix for two fireplace mantels are below–along with the completed (but unpainted) fireplaces.



Working on the exterior

There isn’t a lot of choice in small books. So the books I gave Shannon to work with had a lot more color than she usually uses in her book boxes—particularly for one as small as this. A light coat of spray paint unified the exterior and made it a little more understated, so that it would enhance and not compete with the interior. A light coat of Golden Fine Pumice Gel was applied before spray painting, to give the surface some texture.  A little bit of gold mica powder was applied afterwards, and some of the paint was scratched off to emphasize the book titles.

The next questions will be: What windows to use?  How to finish the roof?  And how to landscape?

Shannon Moore Bookbox: out of the box

As many folks know, Shannon Moore ( makes wonderful bookboxes. A brave woman, she agreed to make one for me in quarter inch scale. A quarter scale bookbox poses a lot of difficulties, because the spaces are so small and difficult to work in and light, wires are not easy to hide, books are less stable and difficult to keep together, and the list goes on.

Shannon did an amazing job.  The lighting is perfect—all the corners are lit up but  not glaring, and the lighting itself is cleverly hidden away in the ceiling. There’s lot of access for furnishing the very small interior, and lots of visibility through the door, windows, and opening.  Shannon did many incredibly creative things with this project—including arranging the books to create a two part building (with the raised roof on one part), hinging and lighting the horizontal part so it swings open (providing additional access or view of the inside), putting the books on a platform to hold all the wires, arranging the books to create a niche for the fireplace, and the list goes on.  Everything is incredibly neat, with straight and parallel edges, and clean cuts.

Best of all, Shannon left lots for me to do—not only furnishing the interior. but landscaping the exterior, adding exterior lighting, and final finishing. Oh yes–the plan is to make this into a minishop with all handmade items for the home.  It will be called:  “The Artisan’s Table.”

3Outside opening

2Current roombox2

3Interior view