Barn Owl

A simple frame of florist’s wire – galvanised is best – covered with wet strength tissue, using pva, could use starch paste but then not at all waterproof. This owl is hanging in my cherry tree and hopefully deterring cats from my little garden.

Four Dolls

There is something I find satisfying and rewarding about doll making, although I can’t claim to know what that is. These four dolls are button-jointed in the Jan Horrox style, about 60 cm long, their clothes are made from embellished and embroidered scraps and may be much longer. The fabric scraps are often silk and satin and have many metallic threads but these shiny things do not show in these photos.

These dolls might represent both birds of the British Isles and the four regions, Scotland – Magpie, Wales – Red Kite, Ireland – Greenfinch and England – Tawny Owl. I think the Magpie, the first one I made might be my alter-ego, a Scottish Prince!

Crane Ship

Thailf

Some of the world’s largest ships are those which lift other ships, rigs and cargo, the largest of these is the Thailf, a Norwegian monster used to build and dismantle oil rigs.   Working on the rather smaller scale of 20 or so centimeters I have made a model kit Crane Ship which will soon be sale at Miller Toys and Models.  My kits should be challenging for a six or seven year old – they might need a little help – have great play value and provide a sense of achievement when complete.  Using 3mm laser grade birch ply means that the models can be robust enough to stand up to repeated play.

Crane ship, approx 22cm, 42 parts

The simple mechanisms help demonstrate how mechanical systems work and provide pleasurable toys. The kit is supplied with a grab bucket (not shown) as well as a hook. All my kits may be painted with acrylic paints, not supplied but widely available.

30cm Greek Ship construction toy

This construction toy is the largest I currently make and the only one I design and make that isn’t entirely 3mm plywood, in this case the sides are 1.5mm thick.

Greek Ship construction toy, 300mm long

High grade birch plywood gets more expensive as it gets thinner, a reflection of the manufacturing costs and the much smaller demand.  This model has a working winch/anchor and is supplied with pva glue although this is not essential. I try to design models which are a good introduction to model-making and have some play value.  All the models can be painted, acrylic is best and available from many low-cost shops.

Suitable for girls and boys over 3 years.  On sale at Miller Toys and Models. There are 10 models to choose from and as the Corvid lockdown eases I’m hoping to add at least six more, manufacturing is not possible at the moment.

Shadow Theatre

Some time ago I designed a shadow theatre and then laser cut a couple of them. But the design meant that there was a lot of waste plywood after the cut, and more problematically the dismantled theatre was bulky and not postal friendly. So I didn’t try selling it, other projects took precedence.

Recently someone contacted CATO Press, where I’m a member to say she was interested in shadow theatre, so I thought I would dust off the old design and try again.

To have some impact and to accommodate puppets a shadow theatre needs to be quite large, my first attempt was rather small. This time I started with the central idea that the structure would be fully demountable and would flat-pack to 700mm x 200mm or less with a pack thickness of less than 50mm. I would include a cloth screen and if possible a lamp of some sort, LED lamps make this a practical proposition, even a torch with a wide angle beam should work.

With the Corvid 19 lockdown on-going it is not possible to make laser cut prototypes, so I’ve made one in 5mm construction board, ½ size.  The final version would be 3mm plywood.  The slot-together pieces are not all shown, no screen and no decoration.  Screen would attach by velcro, scenery to hang from cross-bars which slot into the tops of the wings, for quick change.

Shadow theatre mock-up 1/2 size

In the distant past I made quite large shadow theatres decorated with dragons etc. from construction board, but of course they don’t have a long life, unless treated very carefully.  I used these working with adults with learning difficulties (a privilage) and had plenty of fun.  It was often surprising to see who could project themselves into the puppets, and who struggled.

Puppets can be bought and one or two sites provided designs for free, Adventures In A Box is one, and these may be cut by hand, or with a vinyl cutter or stencil cutter.  Making the sort of fabulous designs seen in traditional Indonesian shadow theatre is certain to demand time and skill, but far simpler things can be quite effective.

Sketching in Bristol

I recently joined the Urban Sketchers Bristol Facebook group and made a start with some images from the area I live in, Redfield. There are still a few chunky remnants of the railway age in this inner city area and the places near by although these are vanishing fast, converted into facades for new housing and other developments.  Bristol University is planning a new campus alongside the side of the canal, not far from Temple Meads station.

But during the Corvid 19 lockdown (and the excellent weather) it is easy to go out early and do some sketching, take some snaps. No one around at 6 am and not much moving except the gulls pillaging the dumpers and fly tipped rubbish.

At Barton Hill Settlement

Silverthorn Lane, Bristol