Saturday, June 13, 2009

WOW! It has been two months since my last post. I am sorry to say that too much real life has gotten in the way of my minis. What with some home improvement projects, the NAME National Convention coming up and a few other things, time has just slipped away. Well, I promise to get caught up and (hopefully) stay caught up this week.

I just wanted to take a minute to thank all who have followed me and asked where I have been. Please check back next week as I start musing about minis once again! Thanks,

Sunday, April 5, 2009

It Begins With One Step. . .

Previously I spoke of my early attempts at miniature making. I recently ran across some old pictures of some of those first tries. (I still can’t find the picture of the first dollhouse made for my niece, but I’m sure I’ll come across it in time.) For now, this is a picture of some wall hangings I made. They were made from strips of Redwood 1/4" thick by x 2" wide and represented storefronts from an old western town. (I'm sure you all knew they had a Toy Shop [far right] in the old west towns!) Although they were not to scale, I knew it and I was taking a bit of “artistic license” to create an impression, rather than an accurate depiction. At the time I thought they were really good and surprisingly, several others must have as well, as I won a first place at the Harvest Fair in the Wooden Art category! In addition, a number of people wanted to buy them from me and I ended up selling a couple dozen individual buildings and a couple entire street scenes with several shops tied together.

Looking back on them, I have to chuckle at my naiveté. Okay, so they weren’t that bad, but they sure lacked the detail and preciseness that I strive for now. In those tight monetary days, I made all the doors and windows and trim work from balsa wood so it was a learning experience. About the only real miniatures I used were in the store windows or as accessories on shop fronts, and they were not of the highest quality, but they fit the bill. It was during this time that I was doing my shopping at my local miniature shop, and as rough as these were, the owner encouraged me and provided me with tips to improve upon what I was doing. She was never critical of the amateurish nature of my creations, and I think that encouragement is what kept me pursuing the hobby.

I think it’s good to look back on where we’ve come from in our stride to perfection. It is through those early attempts that we’ve learned and grown. I encourage you to share some of your early trials and errors with other new miniaturists and always remember that we all started in the same place in this hobby; unsure of our skills and abilities and not knowing exactly where to look to find the resources and answers we sought. But, through the encouragement and support of others we started down the path of a journey of discovery, and what a wild ride it’s been. And the best is yet to come. . .

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

You Never Know Unless You Ask...

Someone once told me, if you want something, ask for it. Sounds simple enough, but so many of us either fear rejection or worry that we may be imposing on another. That doesn’t seem to be the case in the mini world, and I never cease to be amazed at how frequently I have found a source, solved a problem or received a piece I needed, simply by asking. Miniaturists are by nature giving people who love to help each other. We also derive a certain amount of pleasure and self satisfaction by knowing that we have helped out one another. In that respect, I think we are even more caring than many other hobbyists out there.

I try to support the local NAME events in my area and the “Summer In Tahoe” State Day is a favorite. In appreciation, the club that puts it on sent me a complimentary kit from last year’s project. It was a Wizard’s Room, based on Dumbledore’s room in the Harry Potter series. As I began looking through all the pieces of the kit, I realized that the window in the room was a traditional window. Having never seen a Harry Potter movie (I know, don’t say it), I had no idea what this room should look like, but I assumed that since it is supposed to be in a castle, the window would not be one of a regular rectangular shape. It should be a Gothic window I thought, but I don’t think I have ever seen one available, and after a short bit of research, I determined I was right; it should be Gothic and there are none to be had.

All miniaturists know that if something is not available (or not affordable), you make it yourself, but a Gothic window was going to be a bit of a task. I had a basic idea and further researched some windows. I found a couple styles that would work and figured if you cut two identical pieces, one slightly smaller than the first, then layered the smaller one on top of the other, it would create a three dimensional effect. My problem would be how to cut this. Doing it accurately by hand would be difficult at best. I needed a way to cut identical pieces, with curves, both smooth and neatly. I needed a laser cutter. If you need something ask…

I suddenly remembered that I knew someone who made laser cut kits and had a laser cutter. But would she be willing to take on a job this small – just one window? Only one way to find out; I emailed her a couple drawings along with a description of what I wanted and asked if she could do it and for what cost. To my surprise and pleasure, she sent me back a picture of a proto-type she made and asked if it was okay. The price was very reasonable, but she said if I wanted to buy in a quantity of 10 or more, I could get 40% off. Wow! With none of these available and the popularity of wizard and castle themed projects, I could be the only supplier of Gothic windows; so indeed, I ordered 10. Now, if I ever need another unusual window I know where to go.

The point here is that I encourage you to always put out the word when you need something. Ask friends; post to your Internet groups; post to the NAME Online Region if you’re a member, whatever it takes to reach as many people as possible. You will be surprised at the number of replies you get as well as alternative suggestions. I have yet to put out a request for something that has gone unanswered. Like I said, we miniaturists love to help each other. Anyone looking for a Gothic window…?

Sunday, March 29, 2009

It's Not Just About The Sale

I attended a Mini Flea Market & Potluck this weekend hosted by a club in the San Jose area. These types of events are becoming more common in my part of the country and I suspect, given the current economy, probably in other areas as well. Over the past few years a lot of local miniature shops have closed and shows are shutting down, so for many of us these events fill our obsessive need to enlarge our mini collection. However, there is usually a reason people are getting rid of things, and much of the time it is because it j.d.l.r. (you remember “just doesn’t look right” from my earlier post). So often the shopping is, at best, hit or miss. But if you are observant, you can frequently find a bargain that will make your day, and the challenge of the hunt is what keeps us going.

You can often tell a lot about a miniaturist just by what they are selling. One of the tables contained a plethora of boxes filled with half finished projects, kits with missing directions, and a lot of empty, but fully built shops and houses. As it turns out, the seller was moving from a full sized house to an apartment, and space was now an issue. Sometimes you can also tell how far along in the hobby a person has progressed. For example another table contained lots of new, unopened packages of “almost scale” mini items from places like craft stores and so on. You remember the days when you first started mini-ing and anything small appealed to you. Now you look back on some of those early purchases and ask yourself: “What was I thinking?” These are the things that now end up on a flea market table in the hope someone else will see a more creative use than you did.

The real draw of these events is the potluck. But it isn’t the food, although most of the time there is a very good assortment and it all tastes good as well. But it is the potluck concept that brings folks together to share. It makes it a more relaxing day and gives us a chance to visit friends we don’t see as often as we’d like, discuss projects with each other, and catch up on the latest mini happenings. For many of us who are not in clubs, or whose clubs are inactive, these sales are a social outlet, and that interaction with other miniaturists is far more important than the sale itself. We love to sit and share our purchases with each other, no matter how insignificant they are. And we share the latest news of what we are making, or planning, or what in real life has kept us from doing what we really want to do. Outside of a miniature show, or a club meeting, it is the one time I can socialize with others whose eyes don’t start to glaze over when I talk. If you don’t have one of these mini fleas markets in your area, why not try and start one?

All in all, for me it was a good day and I look forward to the next one in May. For those in California, it’s at Sacramento’s Elegant Dollhouse on May 2nd, and the happy hunt for the elusive, ultimate mini been happening for almost to 30 years now! Maybe I’ll see you there.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Please Don't Xerox The Minis

I am finding out rather quickly that it isn’t easy to come up with something to write about every day. I thought it was going to be so easy, but when forced to produce, the muses frequently desert me. So, this is the part where I ask what you’d like me to write about. If you have a question, are searching for a product or technique, need a supply source, or whatever, feel free to drop me a line. I’ll see if I can come up with the answer or point you to someone who can.

I think that sharing is one of the greatest things about this hobby. Those who are true miniaturists are so willing to share their tips and techniques with others. NAME has even made sharing a key element of their motto: “Only through sharing can we really enjoy our treasures”. Sharing is what sets this hobby, and the people in it, apart from so many other pursuits. Most miniaturists love to tell you how they solved a problem or created something unique out of scraps and pieces. And we all love to watch in awe as someone shows us their methods, most of us knowing that we probably won’t be able to recreate it in quite the same manner. And that is what makes the hobby so fun… even when we see how it is done, we still manage to create a totally unique piece from the original.

It never ceases to amaze me how a room full of miniaturists can sit down with the exact same project, and still create a dozen different pieces, none of which look like any other. That is yet another reason I have to chuckle to myself when the subject of copying comes up. Now let me say right off, that I do not condone any one making identical copies of another artist’s work, and it is blatantly wrong, but that being said, there are those artists who become so over protective, that they seem to think they invented the wheel! I mean let’s face it, a rose is a rose, is a rose. No one person created that rose, and any one of us can make one in miniature, and chances are 1000 to 1 that no two will ever look the same. Yet some people think that if they make a Tabby cat, or a chocolate cake, or a Rubber Tree plant, that suddenly they own the rights to that object, and no one should be able to make another one. Now as I said, if you make a unique piece, I would not approve of any one making an exact duplicate, using the same style, color, and contents. But for myself, I am happy to share the techniques of something I’ve made, and the odds are that the copy will never turn out the same as mine. Perhaps it might even be better. And perhaps that is what these controlling “artists” are afraid of; that someone may actually be better than them. But, as a prime example, there have never been any art forgers good enough to have gotten away with copying a Vermeer for very long without being detected. So it’s a pretty good chance you’re item will still stand on its own merit and quality, well above all the imitators. So lighten up a bit, share the knowledge and have fun with the hobby…

I ran into a friend a few weeks ago and we were both lamenting the fact that our club has been inactive for some time and we really don’t have anyone to “play with”. It seems at some point last year we decided to take a brief hiatus, as one member had work schedule issues, another had upcoming family plans and yet another had health concerns. We decided to take a brief break and vowed to get back together soon. It has been over 9 months and we have yet to resume our monthly meetings.

Along with the deadline issues I spoke of yesterday, I also need people to work on minis with, in order to get things done. It is more fun to work on a project when your goal is to take it to “show and tell” at your next club meeting. Without that motivation, for me making minis just isn’t as stimulating or as much fun. I often wonder if people who do not belong to clubs feel the same way. If you have never been part of a mini group, then perhaps you don’t know what you are missing. Or maybe you aren’t missing any thing. I don’t know. How do you feel? Do you find it more enjoyable and do you accomplish more working in a group, or are you just fine working on your own? As for me, I think I’ll go call a few mini friends and see if they want to get together…

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

These UFO's Take Up Space

Well, if you’ve made it this far, you now know pretty much my entire mini history. Oh there are bits and pieces I left out, but at some point as we go along, I’m sure I’ll touch upon them. But for now, it’s time to focus on the present.

I promised to talk about ideas, tips, projects and suggestions through this blog, and believe me, that is a tall order. One hardly knows where to begin. I guess I could start with what I am currently working (or planning to) work on; my U.F.O.’s. Of course I am referring to my Un-Finished Objects. We all have them, and we are all going to finish them, even though we will probably need to live to be 120 in order to do it (and still that will require working around the clock for a couple of those years!).

I have never stopped to count my UFO’s; I don’t want to know how many there are. I know of a club that held a contest to see which member had the most, and the winner had 186! I envy her, because I knew she has been a miniaturist for a long time. Normally people would probably draw the conclusion that miniaturists are procrastinators; not so. We are actually “Visionaries with short attention spans”. In our minds we come up with wonderfully creative ideas for projects that we begin in all earnest with the best of intentions. Then suddenly, we see a new idea, or attend another workshop, or spot another project that draws us in. We set aside the current project just for a moment (we’ll get right back to it) and start collecting pieces for the new project. And before we even realize it, the cycle begins anew.

Rather than admit that I have a problem, I have invented a creative way to justify it. I have convinced myself that I probably don’t have all the right bits and pieces that I will ultimately need to create the perfect vision I have planned. Therefore, when I tire of a project… excuse me ... when I find I don’t have all the needed items … I place all of what I do have in a neat little plastic shoebox and label it accordingly, so I can add to it, as I find the “missing” necessities. So currently I have boxes labeled Chinese Restaurant, Penny Arcade, Egyptian Museum, 50’s Diner, Miniature Mini Shop, Pet Shop, Bakery … well, you get the idea. Yes, I do have my share of UFO’s. Then, of course, there are all the boxes that are filled with miscellaneous pieces of all types and labeled according to category, such as “plants” “western” “food” and so on, which are meant for projects yet unknown. Okay, so I may be a little slow in completing things, but I insist on credit for being organized.

Now this is not to say that I never finish anything. But in order to really see anything to completion, I need a motivation. That usually translates to “deadline”. Most of the projects I have finished have gotten done because they had to be completed to be given as a gift, exhibited in a show, or entered in a contest. If it weren’t for deadlines, I might never finish a project. But whatever the reason, on occasion I do finish projects. And most of them turn out just fine, even though I am sure I should have waited until I had just the right piece that was probably missing…

This 50's Boy's Bedroom Had To Be Finished For This Year's NAME State DayWorkshop In Sacramento

Monday, March 23, 2009

A Fair To Remember

My first stop during any visit to the County Fair was always the Arts and Crafts Building. Here are exhibited everything from paintings, to pottery to poetry and everything in between. It is a crafters delight to see all this creativity on display in one place. But in the summer on ’98 there was something even more special. In the very middle of the hall was a large exhibit, about 8 feet wide by 12 feet long and sitting about 4 feet off the floor. It was surrounded by a Plexiglas wall and there were crowds all around it. I inched my way through the crowd and up to one of the side walls to see what all the interest was… and then it saw it. A perfect 1/12th scale replica of a 1950’s era trailer park that had obviously seen better days. There was a main driveway down the center that led to a combination office/ laundry room and lining each side of the drive was every conceivable model of trailer imaginable. Each trailer was open on the top so the viewer could see into the interiors. Some were worn but well kept, while others were clearly destined for the scrap yard. It was the most awesome miniature exhibit I had ever seen. At the entrance to the exhibit was a sign that read: “Ticky Tacky Trailer Park” made by the Mirror Image Miniature Club.

Miniature club? In that single moment I realized there were whole groups of people out there who were interested in the same thing I was. Who were these people? How come I had never heard about them before? From that moment, my single purpose in life was to find these people and learn how I could become a part of the fun they were having. No one who worked at the fair knew anything about the exhibit, except that it was displayed by a local group, but they had no contact information.

By this time I had been shopping at a local miniature shop long enough to have finally gotten on a first name basis with the owner and who now realized that I really was a budding miniaturist. That afternoon I made a point of stopping by her shop to inquire about this group knowing surely she would know who they were.

“How come you never told me there was a miniature group around here?” I excitedly inquired.

“Well,” she responded “it’s mostly a group of older ladies and I never thought you’d be interested.”

“Interested? It’s just what I have been looking for.”

She explained that it was a small group, limited to 12 members and she believed they had a waiting list to join. But, she gave me a phone number to call and wished me well.

I anxiously called the number and practically told my life history to the answering machine that I got. Then I just sat back and waited for the return call. Given my enthusiastic message I knew that it would only be a short time before they called me back.

That short time turned out to be 2 years, but I never gave up hope. At last, I got the call that there was an opening in the membership and would I like to join. The next month I attended my first club meeting and I knew that at last I had found my niche. And to my surprise, it wasn’t all older ladies, but a mix of wonderful people who welcomed me into their group.

Over the next few years I met many other miniaturists who have since become best friends. I attended my first miniatures show; another thing I never knew existed, and I joined NAME and became active in its workings. It’s been a long journey to get where I am today, and I only wish that I had taken that first step a lot earlier.