Wednesday, 2 May 2018

Turkish Bathroom

I am aware that my castle chapel is supposed to include many religious ideas, but it doesn’t include any Islamic motifs. I wanted to balance this by creating a bathroom in a Turkish style - a ‘Turkish Bath’ room - cleanliness is, as they say, next to godliness. Victorians often fancifully used Islamic tiling (eg, Leighton House), so I knew it were possible that a room in my castle could had been decorated in this way in the nineteenth century, but not necessarily in a genuine Islamic way. 

I bought some postcards from the Victoria & Albert Museum of some blue and white Iznik tiles there, and ever since wanted to include them in the castle. On a trip to the Pergamon Museum in Berlin, I bought another postcard of more Iznik tiles that seemed to fit in style and colour. I then found a plastic bath bought as part of a beauty regime kit, which I decided to paint copper with gold legs to match the orange of the Pergamon tiles. You can see the V&A tiles on the upper level of the back wall, and the Pergamon tiles forming an oriental half-onion on the wall above them.

These elements inspired a long search online for all things Iznik, and a visual trawl through Moroccan palaces, and Turkish mosques, in order to find ideas for the rest of the room. I wanted the sink to be based on a Moorish fountain. I wanted ottoman tables, rugs and cushions, and hanging lamps, so that the cool glistening of the blue-white tiles would contrast with deeply coloured rich fabrics.

Eventually I chose to divide the space into two rooms, firstly a more Moroccan themed windowed atrium with cushions and octagonal tables, and beyond that the bathroom room itself with my original postcards of Iznik tiles making it more Turkish. The dividing wall would form a screen with two spiralled plant stands from the Dollshouse Emporium incorporated as pillars. 

After much debating with myself about which tiles I liked best, I eventually scaled down and printed the images and stuck them to the walls, pillars and floors.

The blank walls and ceiling I decided to plaster with polyfilla before painting, so that they have a more genuine Mediterranean texture than paint alone would provide. This however proved tricky, as the room’s dividing wall was a structure I had cut out from corrugated cardboard and foam (so as to be lighter than wood), and I had to cover that in glue before the ‘plaster’ would stick, and add glue to the plaster mix too. Flattening it to a smooth surface was also a challenge; I found that doing two layers helped: the first layer I roughly smoothed with a small flat plastering tool; when this was dry, I applied the second thinner layer and smoothed it down with a damp sponge before it dried. 

I inserted the lid of a cotton bud tub into the ceiling, painted gold with acrylics, just to add a bit of simple decorative variation. I made the Moroccan style lamps out of beads with grain of wheat bulbs threaded inside. 

Now I know what you’re thinking: you have a bath an a fountain for a sink, but where’s the TOILET?! Well, I hope to disguise that under the cushion-bestrewn ottoman in the first room...

Thursday, 31 August 2017

My Dutch baby house

This is the tiniest project I've ever attempted. It began with a coincidence.

In May 2017, I finally gave in to the demands of friends, and started reading the bestselling novel The Miniaturist; at the same time, I happened to be trawling the net window-shopping for 1:12 scale Dutch baby houses (from Bespaq and in Hong Kong). The more I read the book, the more I knew I needed a Dutch cabinet house so that my castle had a dolls house within a dolls house, in 1:144th scale, and at least partly in the style of Petronella Oortman's original dolls house. 

I began ogling at images of her house online, and I fell in love with some of the rooms - the working and best kitchens, the painted drawing room, the hallway - and I decided to base some of my rooms on those. But I also wanted my baby house to reflect other famous dolls houses that have inspired me, especially Queen Mary's Dolls House in Windsor Castle, and the National Trust dolls house in Uppark House which belonged to Sarah Lethiuellier.

The first step was the cabinet itself, and after trying to import an unfinished Bespaq cabinet from the USA, and failing (Bepaq had run out of stock), I eventually opted for a different brand from

I was nervous about making furniture in so tiny a scale, so I ordered some brilliant kits from in the USA. I also ordered some tiny LED bulbs from her brilliant website. Along with the import duty from Hong Kong and the USA, this was proving to be a pretty costly venture, just as Petronella's house had been! I had to be very careful not to make any mistakes making it from here on in...

Once I had my cabinet and knew the dimensions of the rooms, I trawled online images of wallpapers, pillars, landscape paintings (Claude Lorrain's in particular), portrait paintings, flooring, tiles, as well as photographs of Oortman's and Queen Mary's Houses. These I cropped and shrunk down on the computer to the right size, and put into a word document ready to be printed and cut out. I then folded the walls, floors and ceilings so that they could be slotted into the rooms. This was sometimes painstakingly difficult, especially where the room was slightly narrower on one side than expected. If you are trying this yourself, be aware of the thickness of the paper at the corners which, at this minute scale, makes a big difference!

Then I began making Cynthia's kit furniture, adapting it where necessary or desired. For example the shelves in her library kit were too big for my room as they were designed for a Bespaq cabinet, so I left the side panels off and had to trim the fireplace to make it fit. I also shrunk and printed different upholstery for the chairs and sofas. 

I chose my own paintings and portraits and put them in Cynthia's kit frames. One room has 'Petronella' herself with her parakeet having above the fireplace, and on either side her merchant husband, and her sister-in-law dressed in black. 

Since childhood I had always loved gazing at the guidebook to Queen Mary's Dolls House which my mother had brought back from a trip to Windsor (I eventually saw the house myself last year). I particularly loved the library and the King's Bathroom, so I decided to base my baby house rooms on these. I cropped, shrunk and printed photos of the library's books and paintings to adapt Cynthia's kit. 

I did the same with a photo of the end wall of the bathroom, and then marbleised a strip of paper in green, layering it over with cut white card for the panelling. I decided not to marbleise the bath as Cynthia's kit bath had legs. Was this the right choice? 

Then came the really fun part: making tiny ornaments for each room! I was fortunate with another coincidence: I found on the pavement one day a 'gibbetycatch' (I don't know the real name for it). 

Each knob of this plastic fastening would be a perfect vase if painted white with blue Sharpie patterns dotted onto it. And the catch section would make a table lampshade.

I used other 'vases' from this as decanters, drawing on the 'brandy' or 'wine' with orange or red Sharpies respectively. I made tumblers out of see through new clothes tags, cut about 1mm high. 

I also made a cardboard Gouda cheese and wrapped it in a piece of rizzler (I don't smoke but an acting colleague left one on the table in our digs where  I was working, so it was fair game!) I also made a brush out of a longer bit of clothes tag and the end of a flossing brush.

I also made all the green furniture in the working kitchen myself, all out of cardboard. Bear in mind that the whole room is only 1.6cm wide and you will realize just how tiny all this is! 

The final touch was the lighting. Cynthia's tiny LED bulbs are about 2mm wide, so they were the right shape and size to be picture lights. I decided to use them as lights over the fireplace pictures in most of the rooms as that would place them high up enough to light most of the room, but the effect is actual a little like candlelight. I coloured the wires in gold with a gold pen.

But I also wanted to experiment a bit, so I tried a chandelier in the music room: I threaded a few tiny see-through beads onto some gold thread and tied them in a circle to glue around the bulb. Then I threaded a couple more beads over the wire and glued them in place, to give it a more tiered look. Because I bent the bulb to face the ceiling, I like the way it lights up the ceiling painting above it.

I also attempted to light up the fire in the stove of the working kitchen. I fixed the bulb into a thin red straw and then painted black around the fire opening. I added tiny strips of black card for detail and painted them black too. The wire, also painted black, became the chimney.

So here is the whole cabinet lit up... enjoy all the pictures!

The bedroom, I should add, is really just a fantasy room of mine based on many red damask walled rooms in stately homes. But I have a portrait of Sarah Lethieullier above the mantelpiece in honour of her English dolls house in Uppark House. 

The hallway has a lantern I made by folding up black card around an LED bulb, and four Canaletto's of Venice.

The dining room has a rotting sugar cone in honour of The Miniaturist's storyline: it's the tip of a cocktail stick painted white with a black Sharpie mark on it.

The library has a portrait of Queen Mary, on whose dolls house it is based, on the left hand wall.

Saturday, 25 February 2017

The Shakespeare Oriel Window

As the oak staircase room was dedicated to Shakespeare, the oriel window which I planned to take up a whole wall of the room required a Shakespeare theme too. When I visited Cardiff Castle on tour, I was struck by the stained glass figures in the oriel windows in the entrance hall there - of Richard III, Jasper Tudor, George Duke of Clarence, Henry VII, Henry VIII, and their respective spouses, notably Anne Neville whom I played in Propeller's touring production 2010-11. It seemed like an extended role call of characters from Shakespeare's Richard III, so I knew when planning my oriel, that I wanted to include stained glass of some of these figures in the topmost panes. 

I debated whether to construct a Gothic Oriel like the ones at Cardiff, and at one of  my favourite houses, Athelhampton in Dorset (below). 

But I also loved plainer, Tudor oriels like those found in Oxbridge colleges, and I eventually opted for the latter as it seemed easier to make (see the architectural drawing I used as a basic model below).

I didn't want the walls to be too thick so I used a new method to make the stonework, just layering up sheets of card: I had tried this in making the tomb of Paganus in the chapel, and I found it a lot easier than the folding card method I had used on the chapel windows, which did not allow for any curves in the arches. 

First I drew the design on graph paper (below). 

Then I put cereal packet card under the graph paper, and pricked through the graph paper design with a pair of compasses onto the card beneath, to form the pattern of the sheet to be cut out. Then I drew the dot-to-dot pattern with a pencil, filling in the lines between the pricked holes on the card. Then I cut this pattern out with a craft knife. Repeat this only 12 times and you have all the card sheets you need for an Oriel window! 

There are five layers of card on each side of the windows (3 for each of the four windows and then 2 more on top as a binding frame), so once finished, the window will be 10 cereal packet sheets thick plus the see-through packaging of the 'glass'. 

For the stained glass, I used the see-through front of a Christmas Cracker box, and cut it to fit the size of the four windows. Next I shrunk down photos of Cardiff Castle's windows on the computer, printed them out, and put the see-through sheet on top, fixing the two together temporarily with some masking tape. Then I traced the image onto the see-through sheet using Sharpies. I altered the name of Jasper Tudor (who doesn't appear in the play Richard III), and called the image Edward IV instead (who is in the play). His wife then had to become Elizabeth Woodville too. So the only character not mentioned or appearing in the play was Clarence's wife, Isabel Neville. But I felt I had to include her, as she was Anne Neville's sister.

In my design I had left room for 16 stained glass roundels below the Cardiff Castle figures. But I hadn't decided what would go in them: perhaps the heraldry of Shakespeare's patrons, or representations of his theatres, or portraits/heraldry of his fellow actors, or scenes from his plays, or the coats of arms of the possible 'authors' of Shakespeare's plays? I realised I had to do more research into Shakespeare's life in order to know how to fill them, so I set about reading Ackroyd's thick biography which my Dad had given me years before in order to discover more. I found that, whilst very little is historically certain about Shakespeare, he probably had about 8 patrons during his career, so that would fill one row of roundels, and I reckoned I could find/invent some heraldry or symbolic representations of 8 theatres/stages in which his plays were almost definitely performed. But I really did not want to leave out his fellow actors: as an actor myself I realise the vital importance of ensemble playing, and Ackroyd's biography convinced me even more so that the plays were ensemble-pieces, if not co-created with the actors, then at least created with certain actors' talents in mind. So I also decided to etch into the lowest (and most 'reachable' panes) the signatures of Shakespeare's company and companions, along with the Bard's himself, as if they had all been to Hordle Castle and autographed/graffitied the window like a programme/playbill.

So this is my key to the overall stained glass design: 

8 Patrons roughly in chronological order from left to right, immediately below the Cardiff Castle figures: Elizabeth I (the Queen's men); Ferdinando Stanley, Lord Strange, 5th Earl of Derby (Derby's men); William Herbert, 3rd Earl of Pembroke (Pembroke's men); Henry Wriothesley, Earl of Southampton (Shakespeare's literary patron); then the 2 coats of arms of 3 Lord Chamberlains - Thomas Radcliff, 3rd Earl of Sussex; Henry & George Cary, Barons Hunsdon (Lord Chamberlain's men); then under Isabell Neville, who was not a Shakespearean character, I put the arms of Henry/William Brooke, 10th and 11th Barons Cobham who were never patrons of Shakespeare, but were the inspiration for the character of Falstaff, as their ancestor was Sir John Oldcastle, and Merry Wives contains digs at the Brookes' expense (Windsor's arms appear in the roundel below Cobham); and finally, the arms of Shakespeare's last patron, James I (the King's men). 

Then under the 8 patrons, I have the 8 theatres/stages Shakespeare's plays were performed at, laid out not really chronologically but representative of spaces played under the patron above: first touring (represented by a cart wheel, and a swan for Stratford, where Shakespeare may have joined the Queen's Men whose arms are in the window above); the Cross Keys (Lord Strange's men, whose arms are in the window above, often performed in this pub theatre); the Curtain and the Theatre (the Admiral's men and the Earl of Pembroke's men played here and sometimes combined companies); the inns of court, represented here by the arms of Middle Temple Hall where Twelfth Night was first performed; the Rose Theatre (Shakespeare may have played here under the Earl of Sussex, but not for long); then the Globe Theatre, represented by its original sign of Hercules holding a globe, with the motto etched around it, "Totus Mundus Agit Histrionem" (all the world's a stage); next, representing all his court performances, the arms of Windsor Castle, where The Merry Wives of Windsor may have been performed in honour of the Lord Chamberlain's induction into the order of the garter; and finally, the indoor theatre at Blackfriars which Shakespeare's company finally got shares in under James I - I've represented this with the arms of the Dominicans. All the roundels are surrounded with the colours of the heraldry of the relevant patron from the window above, except the Globe which has its own motto. 

Then below the stages appear the etched signatures of 15 actors, and a woman, from left to right: William Sly, Richard Cowley, Henry Condell, Will Kempe (I've added the graffiti, 'Merry Morrice' and a picture of him dancing his famous jig), Ned Alleyn, Richard Burbadge, Emilia Lanier (the dark lady?), Bob Goffe (thought to be the first Juliet), Augustine Phillips, George Bryan, John Sinkler, William Shakespeare, John Hemmings, Thomas Pope, Lawrence Fletcher, and Robert Armin. 

Ned Alleyn was not  officially part of Shakespeare's company but collaborated with them for joint productions at the Curtain and the Theatre (the roundel next to him and Burbage's signature is of the Curtain Theatre and the curtain wall next to it). 

I also included Emilia Lanier, firstly so as not to be all-male, and secondly because she is likely to be the inspiration for the 'dark lady' of the sonnets, just as the 'fair youth' could be the Earl of Southampton whose arms are on the window pane above her. 

So, with panelling made of coffee stirrers and a hinged seat in which to keep props, that was the interior complete! 

The exterior then needed to be 'made of stone' so I covered it in 'stones' I cut out of egg box (cutting off the corners so that they were not completely square), and then painted them in various tones of acrylic. The cereal packet was nearly the right shade of stone so I only dry brushed those 'stones' with paint.

 Eventually, I had to varnish the stonework with matt varnish, and then grout it all with polyfilla mixed with acrylic paints to give the right shade.

Below is the version I got with only a little paint, so I decided to try again adding a darker tone of grout.

The complicated stone shields are made of layered up cereal packet from a plans I drew on graph paper. I drew all the details of my 8 heraldic animals first before pricking through the graph paper to the cardboard beneath and using my dot-to-dot method before cutting out each of the five layers, doing two panels at a time. 

 The animals represent for me the seven chakras, with an eighth representing life beyond this one: a snake (the earth), a unicorn (for water), a lion (for fire), a green man (for air and connection to nature), a squirrel (for communication, like Ratatosk in Norse myth), an owl (for wisdom), a phoenix (for rebirth to another realm) and a dragon (a serpent again, but in a new form). Each heraldic animal here is less than 8mm wide.