One of my model testers, Laura painted a narrowboat model for me, entirely her choice of design. The name chosen may be appropriate as sales of my range of models – 17 different boats and aircraft – are almost non-existent.
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.
Animal Masquerade quilt
Still sorting out work from a year or two ago, this quilt was made in 2018, there was also an artist’s book using similar mask images. The animals are all British Isles native apart from the grey squirrel, although that has been here for quite some time now. I haven’t done much work for the last two months and sorting out old pieces, repairing or completing them feels like a way back in to making some art. These are sketches of some of the mask images, drawn on a tablet, or drawn on paper and scanned and manipulated in Affinity Photo. The bamboo silk fabric was digitally printed and I also screen printed some tiles but the results were messy.
Many people have reported how the early part of the Covid crisis was a period of stimulus and creativity, I felt that but in the second UK lockdown I felt quite depressed, especially with our government incompetence and found work difficult. I did start work on a fairly large piece – another art quilt – but progress was slow and I have put it aside for a while.
The next and final step is to make a border, this will need to be a dark material and quite wide I think. The quilt was to be a practical piece for a child’s bed but didn’t get finished and so wasn’t used that way. I try to use organic fabrics, usually from the Organic Fabric Co. in Wales but this isn’t always possible; I like bamboo because it is grown without herbicides or pesticides and is really versatile, takes dye and print beautifully and is widely available. The quilting (wadding) is also bamboo.
Here are some details.
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.
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.
I’m still looking for varities of ships and boats to make into model kits. The dredger seemed interesting so I started with a basic hull, a shape I’ve now used many times and then added the dredger structure. The rotation was simply and the winch I’ve used before seemed to work but getting the bucket and the bucket arm to stay in place proved more difficult.
Above all I want the kit to be easy to assemble for a six year old and so any mechanism has to be as simple as possible. The kit also needs to fit onto four A5 sheets of 3mm plywood. Play value is also essential, my young testers check out this and other aspects of the design, especially it’s durability!
After some false starts I have used a living hinge and a cog arrangement on the bucket arm to rotate the bucket. The arm itself is also rotated with a similar cog winch but is held by a gravity pawl, giving just enough resistance.
This model will soon be available from Miller Toys and Models for just £18, 42 parts of press-out 3mm plywood, pva glue and string included.
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.
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.
Miller Toys and Models
My new website – Miller Toys and Models – is up and running – thank you Bristol Web Design – and during the lockdown I have designed a further seven plywood models plus two variations and two steampunk(ish) models. But I haven’t been able to cut any of these because if my cutters at Basically Wooden are working they are working on protective equipment, not toys.
Of course until I cut and assemble the prototypes I can’t go any further. There are always some errors in the design, no matter how much I check them on screen or make them in construction board. Construction board is soft and bends easily of course and so model parts can appear to fit when in fact they don’t.
On a positive note CATO Press in Easton, Bristol is reopening soon and I will be able to do some print making. Time to get some collagraph plates ready.
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.
Models and printing
I’ve been working on several new models and now that we have lockdown for the foreseable future – in the UK anyway – I’m spending even more time on these. I’m lucky enough to have a (dry) studio at home. But the laser cutting at Basically Wooden in lovely Devon has stopped for now.
Cato Press (of which I am a member) is closed but some plate making can be done at home, especially for collagraph which only needs card and paste, at it’s most basic. Great examples at the Collagraph World Wide Facebook page.
Living in Redfield, Bristol
I live just off the A420 which is the road to Chippenham, the climb out of the city is known as Two Mile Hill and it heads out through the unbroken urban sprawl to Kingswood, a high point oft described as a, ‘charming village’ – but only by estate agents. My house is in the Redfield area, once a market garden supplying Bristol, the soil is red silt and will grow anything. Like much of the city housing it was built circa 1900 to stable the railway boomers. A little further in towards the city centre is Barton Hill, once notorious as a village hideout for ne’er-do-wells it offered a quick escape from the Bristol law south to Somerset, across the nearby river Avon. Does anything change?
Just across from the end of my street is the Noh Quan Do (I think that’s the correct spelling) martial arts centre, next door eastwards is the Bristol Hindu Temple and on the other side is Miss Millie’s; all three are very popular. Every taxi driver in the city knows Miss Millie’s, possibly because it may occasionally be used as a meeting point by drug dealers and their customers. The fried chicken is unspeakable, and popular.
When I first moved here in 1997 the main street was severely run down, the only place to get a cup of instant was a greasy spoon cafe a few meters towards town, but gentrification has improved things no end, even the broken glass in the street gets swept up now and then. Things began to improve that year with the arrival of Weatherspoons in an old cinema which had been in use as a pound shop but left boarded up for quite a while, a fate it shared with many other former shops. This offered cheap food and drink and was enthusiastically seized on by locals – who it seemed could actually afford to eat out, to everyone’s surprise. It was followed by a small Tesco, and eventually by several pleasant cafes, Aldi and Lidl and more recently a couple of restaurants, a bakers, and a more pleasant pub – at least more pleasant than those frequented by local fascists. These latter seem to have largely departed the scene.
The eastern boundary of Redfield is marked by a crossroads and on the other side is the lovely St George’s Park, a most cherished survivor of our Victorian ancestors, without which the area would be unlovable and liveable I think. Many activities take place there, some of them quite legal.
A large part of the improvement was due to a grant of over £50million which was received from the EU and some obscure government fund around the turn of the century. This resulted in big improvements to local recreation ground, the Barton Hill community centre, help for small businesses, a new health centre and so on. It co-coincided with the arrival of many Somali refugees – Bristol was one of the three settlement areas for Somali people – and that may have been a factor in this windfall. Local people were encouraged to get involved, in fact to decide on the spending and this proved to be popular and successful over the following 10 years.
I moved back to the house early this year, it having been rented out since about 2007 when my son and his partner moved in. I renovated the place in 2012 and rented it commercially. My most recent tenant was a lovely, feisty woman who challenged the letting agents and kept me on my toes – I like her a lot and she was popular with the neighbours.
All human life appears on Church Road – the name of the A420 in Redfield and St George – along with some that could probably be classified differently. A novelist’s dream I should imagine, and a challenge to the gentrifiers. Street drinking is de rigueur as in much of our fair metropolis and luckily there are many outlets to cater for this trade, some Polish, some Romanian, some German and so on. My nearest such is Pat’s News and Booze, some 40 metres from my door and a thriving hub, situated as it is just opposite the aforementioned Miss Millie’s and with a bus stop adjacent. Many people call in for essential refreshments, often on their morning way to gainful employ it seems. I myself have been known to drop by, for the newspaper or milk. Pat and his wife are the hardest working people I have ever seen, but he does close up on a Sunday afternoon. The buses at this stop are frequent through the day but often crowded, being just 20 minutes walk from town; I prefer to walk if the weather is clement. Temple Meads station is just a 25 minute stroll.
Various groups gather along our urban corridor from time to time – not all drinkers – to exchange in merry banter, display prized possessions ( often other people’s), or engage in what I assume are mating displays, sometimes involving edged weapons. Being a main route to the ‘burbs means that the wail of sirens disturbs the peace many times a day. Another consequence of the thoroughfare is the pall of traffic smog which hangs over us all, although I personally probably couldn’t breath anything else, having been raised in the Black Country in the 1950s and a victim of the various Clean Air Acts.
Redfield is an area of dense terraced housing, Barton Hill has more recent tower and other blocks and adjacent to both is the Nethan, a recreation ground which borders the Kennet and Avon canal, just where it meets the river. Parallel, just the other side of the canal is Feeder Road and then a large old industrial estate which runs down to Temple Meads and the rail station. The Nethan has a thriving sports scene with soccer and cricket in season – Bristol Pakistani Cricket Club home ground – although it can be hard to get the information on recreation events as the Nethan is run by the City Council and they seem to keep that a secret.