14 Nov 2016

Dusting off the crib

This Nativity scene of mine will soon be brought out from its cupboard and placed in my living room. It's the most recent crib I've built, and the biggest (the figures are 8 inch). Unlike the rest I didn't sell it or give it away; though it's my most ambitious so far, it does feature a glaring (ironically, very much not glaring) problem which will take major surgery to fix. You will see there are two lamps; one in the corner behind the donkey, which lights up reasonably well, and the other top centre, which is uselessly weak.
I was so proud of it! The design worked out near perfectly, unless you consider that the central column is a little too much in the way. The 'big idea' I had is neat in the execution, to my eyes at least. It's to do with the angel. It just seems better to have the angel looking down on the scene, rather than on a level with the other figures, and that's how the angel is usually sculpted. But then: where do you place the angel? The problem is that most cribs are constructed with a relatively short distance front-to-back, but lots of width, and the figures are arranged accordingly. If it's still to be the sort of Nativity scene which most people recognise, there's not a lot of room for manoeuvre. So the angel, usually a standing or kneeling figure, and in both cases gazing downwards, ends up on a higher flat surface, ie. a roof. And then you realise the angel requires x-ray vision in order to view the scene, because the roof is between the angel and the Holy Family (have you noticed how I've been avoiding committing to the gender of the angel so far?). Here's my solution. The roof is broken; after all, the stables are supposed to be ramshackle in the first place. This allows my angel to be above the scene at roof level (though in this case, on an up-ladder platform), and still clearly seeing the action.

That overhead lamp is crucial to the scene, especially since one would like it to look atmospheric with the room lights turned low, so the lack of illumination is disappointing. After all the creative effort put in to connect it up. The wires run through a channel up the middle of that column, up from another channel cut in the baseboard, from the battery compartment which is under the straw storage in the right hand corner. There's a discrete switch on the outside. It's been fun getting into these LED circuits, learning about soldering etc. But I guess I still have a lot to learn about resistance. Whatever you read, informing you how many resistors to place in the circuit, you still need some judgment according to the length of wire you use, because that offers resistance itself, and it makes a difference when your current is so low in the first place, as in these battery circuits. I've used button batteries sometimes - the current is minuscule. I will probably take the battery compartment apart to fix the problem, just not now. It's going to be stressful!

These figures were a little pricey; I just had to strike a balance between quality of finish and economy. It's certainly possible to pay a lot more. This set could have been very much more with a full complement of animals and shepherds. And prices rise exponentially with every extra inch in figure height. Anyway, when you build a scene like this, you start with the figures, because their size and number governs everything else. It's fun working everything out, doing the detailing and yes, the lighting. I'll be happy to do more work like this, it's just a matter of having a customer :) And the first question I will ask is, do you already have some figures you want to place in the stable scene?

7 Nov 2016

Artists Working in Miniature

I did say I wanted to look at other interesting miniature work apart from my own.
I've become aware of quite a number of actual artists who have taken to working with miniature figures. I don't know whether you'd call it 'trendy', exactly, but the idea has come to be taken seriously in recent times, more or less. Here's a piece by someone who calls himself Slinkachu.

I urge you to have a look at this and other works on show at https://little-people.blogspot.co.uk , from which there are links to other sites and pages. A lot of his pieces make a Banksy-style point; there's another picture showing this in a wider shot, with the Bank of England in the background. Other works are simply whimsical, his thing is typically to make use of street furniture and it's often clever. Also, he says he often leaves his installations in place, and it interests him sometimes to go and have a look at them later on, curious to see how much is left of them. Even pieces left in prominent positions aren't as depredated as you'd think. I could be wrong, but the figures seem to me to be from Preiser, who are famed for their huge range for model railways, in many scales, though mostly 1:87 which equates to HO, standard for European layouts. Slinkachu's figures certainly appear to be 1:87.

It's sort of amusing to me to see this happening. I can't be the only modeller who thought of this use of miniature figures pretty quickly after taking up scale modelling as a boy. And now you can call it art! Really, you're doing it albeit in an unthinking way, as soon as you organise a war with little soldiers across the terrain of the living room floor and its furniture. I think I first noticed it in the art world in the work of Jake and Dinos Chapman, who use military figures liberally in such pieces as Hell, and most of their work features the use of figure sculptures, sometimes miniature, sometimes mannequins. You'd think I'd be a fan, but after a while I came to the conclusion that occasionally tasteless is just tasteless. Like most of the so-called YBAs (Young British Artists) they have indulged in a lot of manipulative provocation in the media. Well, I'm very glad for them and their bank balances. They've been nominated for the Turner Prize, you know. You can Google them if you want. I'd much rather you checked out the work of Banksy who has himself made some use of miniatures.

Anyway, here's another piece, which I saw in Kiasma art gallery in Helsinki last year. This is only one part of a work which made use of various bottles and containers of cosmetics. Sorry, I can't recall the name of the artist but it was unsurprisingly a she. This was the only element which included a figure, very effectively in my view, particularly because the figure was so small that you were compelled to look closely to realise what you were seeing. It's very small. The figure may be crafted, or converted from a Preiser N scale (1:160) or even Z scale (1:220) figure. I can't tell, I don't have a powder compact to do comparisons with!