September 20, 2016

about inspiration, creativity & tips, PART III of VII

hi again my dear minifriends, it's part III of my series! If you've read the first 2 parts, you might have been waiting for some concrete tips after all the wordy stuff ;). It took a while to publish although it had been ready for ages. As you might remember it's part of a major post I wrote last year and split it up in 7 pieces, hence the title. This part only needed a few photo's of materials that I finally got to make.

today I'd like to share with you the first tip that might be of help to some of you. It consists of several tips and hints, but I think comes down to one principal, which is why I call it tip one. It covers basic stuff, but I think quite essential for getting the best results.
if you missed it, you can go to PART I and PART II by clicking the link and the parts up until now will also be in the tab 'Inspiration' added above. All 7 parts will be there in time for easy finding.
if you don't get the results you'd like - and only then - take time to look, really look. This sounds obvious, but I notice often that this can take real effort or is even difficult. To see what I need to see that is. Look again at the object you like to make or improve or at photo's and images of the real thing if you haven't. And if you have already: good! But still think something's off or you would like it to be better? Then look again and look even better or try to with a different eye (figuratively speaking of course ;) ).

how does it look, really look? When you look closer? And I don't mean closer regarding distance (although that can certainly help too), but closer as in looking at what makes the difference in what you would like to achieve to what you are actually achieving. Are there things you didn't notice before? Like certain details, or extra shades of colour, is the scale of details or materials right for example? I give some directions on this further below. 
example: this example has nothing to do with miniatures, but it illustrates my point well I think. It's about what difference looking can make, or maybe I should say: the difference between looking and seeing. My younger brother had homework for his drawingclass when we were in school. He had to draw a roll of toiletpaper in perspective. Yes, you read that right; a roll of toiletpaper :D, how inspired can you get? Haha. He could not draw very well. And he didn't know where to begin, no matter how simple it might sound. And his first efforts didn't go well, I have to admit... So I wanted to help him. Not by drawing for him of course, which would have been the easy way, but by giving advice and letting him learn.

and he did so well that his teacher - who knew his drawingskills - didn't even want
to believe he did it himself! How's that for possibilities?! 
and I didn't do much. I only sat with him and advised him to look, to really look, like I advice you to do in this post. And told him not to start drawing right away. Just look, at first. And I let him tell me what he saw. Duh, a roll of toiletpaper! Yes, but how does that look, what shapes do you see and how do they relate to each other and how about shadows and such?

shapes? Shadows? Aahhhhh... And when it came to drawing I asked him what was the simplest, most obvious part? Because that's always (or at least very often) the best place to start. And can keep you from being overwhelmed or loose oversight.

just start with one thing, the easiest/most obvious thing, then go to the next, etc. So he drew the inner circle. And then I told him to look again to see where other lines should come etc. It's no rocketscience of course, it's very simple, but it's what he couldn't think of himself. But it worked so well and he was só proud. It won't be a suprise he hasn't drawn anything besides schoolassignments, it just isn't a hobby of his ;).

but if he could make such a leap in his drawingresults, it must mean it applies just as well - and even more so - to things we DO like to do, and want to improve!

and more importantly:

this example also shows it's not all or even that much about skill either!
because he really didn't improve his drawingskills so quickly,
it's the looking and some hints and tips that made the big difference

so you don't even have to be skilled at something (yet) (a.k.a. a natural) to get much better at it with some help and get skilled that way. Aha!
also look at what others do that you like, what is it that they do that you ar not doing (YET) or doing differently, that might make a difference in getting the results you'd like?

some things that might help with all of the above:

1) is it about materials?
this is an important part of miniatures of course. It can and will make some kind, and sometimes a huge, difference to the final result. So do that whatever way you can. There're countless tips on this and there's a lot about it online to find, but here's some examples I can provide that might help you to some easy access-material:

  • fabric hankerchiefs, something I already mentioned in my tutorial for working Roman blinds. They often are of very soft and thin fabric, ideal for miniatures! And a lot cheaper than bying a piece of fabric (at least where I once found them), if it's even possible finding fabric that's so fine and thin. To make curtains, or bedding, or clothes. I've had these for years and came cheap from some discountstore. It's what I used for the lighter of my two mannequins (for the other one I used batiste, which is very fine as well, however the hankerchief had the look of very fine linnen that appealed to me).
  •  the leather of an old wallet, old gloves, old watch, you don't use anymore, because it's usually quite thin leather (sometimes only after you peeled of the thicker layer it's usually glued to) 
  • (thin) wood&stuff; nature provides gorgeous materials for us to use for an authentic look. You can find some yourself, but there's also several shops you can find stuf like thin treebark, driftwood, slices of wood, slices of mushrooms, twigs etc. You can find it in gardencenters and in stores that sell material for flowerarranging, but it might be at hobbyshops as well. 
  • old clothes or bags: I've had some old clothes or bags that weren't wearable anymore (or eligable for a second hand store for a second life which I always like things to go to), but has usable parts, like very thin fabric from a pocket, or non-worn/faded parts of the fabric (or worn/faded to use for an older miniature. But you can also use something exclusively for it, even when the item is still wearable, that is up to you (I've done that.. I'm not a saint you know ;) . I've also cut old bra's for their fabric or batting and everything fabric that is only good for the trashbin gets a good look to see if there's any material usable from it.
  • thin socks can be great material to make miniaturesweaters from: it's very finely 'knitted', like sweaters are This is an example of a 'socksweater' I made a few years ago. It's just a trial thingy to see if it would work, so it's not properly measured, made etc.It was just a quick look to see if it would work at all. But it shows thin socks can be great for mini-sweaters! It's a classic case of 'if you can't make it you fake it', haha ;)
there's so much more examples that I can't even come up with now, maybe I will do a post on non-obvious/cheap/free materials someday, to add to info already about that out there online. But every added tip about that is welcome I guess.

when it comes to not-obvious-but-great-materials or actually a lot when it comes to miniatures, thinking out of the box helps. Only this is hard to force ourselves to. From what I understand it's a very natural thing for us folks to not think outside the box and because of how our brains work and try to make sense of things. Trying to think outside the box is known to make it even harder :D. Motivating right? ;) But at least we won't have to feel bad when we notice this is hard - or even impossible - to do.

while sometimes we stumble on something that makes us think miniatures right away, other times it's because it's out of it's normal context and we can suddenly see it differently, an out-of-the-box-moment. Thinking outside the box can happen more often when seeing out-of-the-box-ideas from others. At least that's my experience. It somehow teaches, or maybe allows, our brain to jump to less obvious conclusions and it makes it easier. Which is always a great place to start of course and we all (or most of us) do that often already, just see what others do and use and develop your brain that way. So browse some more on Pinterest, blogs etc to get some great out of the box ideas that can maybe jumpstart some (more) of your own. 

2) is it about more layers?
with that I mean that when we look at something, you never see (most) details at first, that's normal. You see the outline, the basic colour, shape. I call that the first layer, the global visual of an object. Then looking longer or more closely/focussed you see the second layer, which is more detail, like other shapes within, other basic colours. And when you look even closer you see the third layer, smaller parts of whatever you're looking at, colourvariations etc. And depending on what it is, there can be more layers.

in miniatures we often can't replicate all layers (=details) that a fullsize object has, because of the scale. But it can also be a choice to keep it at just the first and not all layers. Or to add more of them. The more layers, the more realism. Mostly (but not always) meaning more parts. However sometimes it's hard to see the extra layers, there can be blind spots. I've noticed that often with myself and it can take some time to see certain details. As for most of us it takes some effort to see what you just don't see very conciously because you normally don't have to.

example: the first layer you'll usually see is the basic colour and the general shape of it. And looking better you will find more and more detail. Things you might not even have noticed otherwise. It can differ per person how soon you will 'detect' a certain detail. This can be for any reason, for example because of preference or experience. But the general idea is the same and makes sense I think. To show what I mean I illustrated it with two reallife cupboards. And although seeing things blurry and then sharper is not the same as what happens when looking better, it still illustrates the idea well I think. In any case it's the best way I could think of ;)

3) is it about finishings?
it's often a part of. I've seen wonderful objects, that I didn't realize or see right away, were 'just' very common and simple standard miniatures. And it was the finishing that made all the difference. Choice of colour, using more colours or more shades of a colour, choice for a bit (or much depending on what you like or what you're going for) weathering, adding, removing or exchanging ornaments, or other details. Sometimes the difference is just changing a bit of the 'factoryness'. This may sound obvious, but can also be a blind spot to a certain extent sometimes.

example: what I mean with 'factoryness' (:D) is for instance the bright yellow colour and the sheen of a brass ornament or the shape of plain wood of a furniturepiece. Changing that even a little might seem not that important, but can already make a big difference. I like to fire my ornaments on the stove. It blackens most metals and with brass it sometimes removes the excess of sheen and yellowness and I think gives it a bit of a different - more realistic and natural - shade and finish. But it gives a completely different effect with every piece as you can see. I picked this tip up once in a miniaturemagazine (for blackening regular metal wire), so this one is not my own. And the round ornament in the middle didn't shrink by the way :D, I only had a untouched one in a larger size.

be careful though, sometimes I think it's brass or tin, but it turns out to be something else with a brasscoloured layer (see the oval frame). Or it's even aluminum with or without a layer. Aluminum has two proporties making it very unfit for this option: it doesn't discolour in fire, making it useless to do it and it melts fairly quickly and you end up with a blob of metal ;) Yes, that happened more than once.. :D And always take precautions of course: tweezers and/or fireproof cookingtools (like a meatclamp) to hold it in the fire. NEVER touch it before thouroughly cooling off (dropping it from the fire in a small bowl with some olive-oil helps, not only cools it metal fairly quickly, but it sometimes also adds to a deeper effect of darkening/discolouring, giving it more character). And doing this always at your own risk, blabla.

it might seem strange to mention this here, but this has a direct effect on the finished miniature, so that's why. Wood always benefits from slightly sanding sharp edges. Not even new furniture has the sharp kind of edges that (blank wooden) miniature furniture always has. Even when parts are supposed to be very straight, they will have a very slightly rounded edge. And if you want it to be an older piece, then this will be more of course and you can sand it more before doing anything else with it. And think of where it will be more than in other places (like a chair, always has more worn seat than other places. The ends of the legs mostly more at the back (from dragging them) etc.. You can also choose to change or accentuate features, see my example of a an chair I still need to finish someday (but luckily hadn't, 'cause now I could use it as an example for this post). I think it's from Eurominie's.

and I remembered I had two chairs from a kit that I've done one of years ago and I can show you the difference with the other one. It's just simple what I did then, mostly rounding edges and defining etc, but makes quite the difference. While the instruction of the kit just suggested painting the wood.

what I also think makes an important difference is the choice for the final layer(s): varnish or other. How is it in reallife? Plants don't have a high gloss finish, or just rarely. Sometimes it's more a satin sheen, sometimes matte. Wooden miniature furniture is very often glossy varnished, but I personally don't think it's glossy in reallife, most often. Mostly satin or matte.  

4) is it about colour?
with that I mostly mean almost nothing is just one colour, although it seems that way because we usually don't look closer. And we don't have to, you can perfectly enjoy things without it. But when making miniatures and especially wanting them more realistic it can be important to see that there is. 
example: a golden or butterfly palm is green right? But looking closer you see it's not just one shade or colour. It has darker green, lighter green and different shades between them, some yellow green, and depending on how healthy the plant, some (or a lot :D) yellow and or brown. But most leavy plants have some brown in leaves, like specks or lines. Trees (foliage) or grass are never just one shade of green either, the same goes for dirt/soil, wood etc. This might sound very obvious, but I know isn't that logical, to me it wasn't anyway. It has taken me some time to look closely enough at things to realize how many colours one colour mostly has.

with this I leave you for now, hoping it can give some direction on how to improve things if that's what you feel you need. See you at part IV!


  1. I really enjoyed this post Monique, and I found your tips and tricks helpful too! Although I have aged metals with paint finishes I don't think that I have tried applying direct flame and so I may have to see how that works for the next time I need to add a layer of "history!" :)


    1. Thank you Elizabeth, that's so nice to hear! Using fire is a great way, it's easy and gives the most natural effect I think. I'm curious to how you find it to work for you!

  2. Replies
    1. you're so welcome Claude, I'm happy you think it makes sense :D

  3. Hello Monique,
    What very wise and helpful words. The truest saying really is Make what you see, not what you think you see. You made great points and I know it will be very helpful to many.
    Big hug

    1. Thank you Giac, that's really nice to read! :D Big hug to you too!

  4. Hi Monique, welkom terug, ik heb je gemist :)!
    Dat zijn wijze woorden en prima advies! Het klopt als 'n bus: maken wat je ziet, goed kijken is heel belangrijk. Dat geldt altijd en overal, maar vooral als je in miniatuur werkt.
    Groetjes, Ilona

    1. Hi Ilona, dank je wel en het is idd toepasbaar op alles ;)

  5. wondeful inspiration and lots of ideas! thanks..

  6. Hi Monique! I am late to comment... but now I am back from my travels and am trying to get caught up! Your tips are wonderfully perceptive! It is true that we often "see" what we "think" we should see... not what is really there! Your descriptions of how to "look" more carefully are really good advice... and cover so many aspects of making tiny things! I am always struggling with getting true proportions.... if I were willing to make tings over again I would do better the next time around! But I am often in a hurry... and a part of me likes that "doll world" look of items made almost right.... but clearly hand made and old and beloved! I have relied on that look a lot with my "lovely Old Dollhouse" because it is my childhood toy and i don't really want to see it made too "perfect"! But often I am trying to get the more realistic look and fail to make the layers thin enough or small enough.... I am learning! I have used old clothes often in my projects (and have even used new "people clothes" (specifically ladies printed cotton undies) for doll clothes because the patterns and knit are small enough! I must look for some old handkerchiefs... I am in need of some good old "linen" cloth! :) I am slowly.... snail-ishly making progress on your painted piece.... (I have not forgotten!) :) Thank you for all the tips and for your amazing attention to the tiniest details! You are an inspiration to me!!!

    1. Hi Betsy! I hope you've had wonderful travels and it's great to see you again! Although you know I'm a sucker for realism, I do totally agree with you about the charm of things looking almost right and hand made and a childhood dollhouse should definetely not be too perfect! What I also love is that we all have our own style, something really personal about our miniatures, something we should cherish. Ah, that's such a good tip about ladies printed cotton undies, I'll remember that :D, thank you!
      Haha, well that's really funny, because I HAD forgotten about the painted piece :D, so nice to have that to look forward to. And no worries, I'm patient and I know you have a million things to do and/or like to do and I don't want you to feel any pressure okay? And you are so welcome! My tips are nothing earth shattering of course, but anything that people know but are likely to forget and I can remind them of or give hints about is great right? It's great to be able to help each other getting better in what we love doing, like we all do in our blogs.

    2. And thank you so much for your last remark, you make me blush, but feels great! :D :D :D

  7. Replies
    1. you're so welcome Sin and thanks for your comment!