Sunday, 30 November 2014

Getting there!

A Little Re-Cap In 100 Words…   
Twelvemo is an articulated female form in 1/12th scale.  Each one is cast in resin, drilled, fitted and finished by hand. The figure was designed as an animation puppet and lay figure but the project developed its own momentum and the figure its own personality. Miniature, human figures are important to many cultures and items like this have a potency when handled that is more than just play... The Twelvemo figure is a highly expressive and eloquent object and can be fantastic and freaky, or strange and surreal when posed with out-of-scale props and whatever else you come up with.

Please follow, share, and spread the Twelvemo word!

Etsy Twelvemo Shop             
Twelvemo's facebook page   
General Creative Practice     

The Longer Story (in roughly 893 words)

Once upon a time I was a child and I liked dolls. Well, I liked a doll that didn’t exist. In my mind it looked like a female human but was articulated like the best Action Man, Little Big-Man and Spiderman type of action figures. It was important to me that it should just look like a normal, female, human, not a superhuman. Barbie didn’t fit the bill (ridiculous proportions), Sindy was not much better (baby faced tweenager) dolls house dolls (always looked a bit rubbish) and Spiderman was too spidery. And male, and red and blue…  

The nearest thing I ever saw to what I really wanted was a carved wooden figure in Strangers Hall Museum when I was really quite young.

I really loved this item... 
It was part of the inspiration for the Twelvemo Figure, though strangely I had forgotten all about it for many years, until I visited the museum as an adult and saw it again with a jolt of recognition.

When my daughters were young I began sculpting an articulated doll figure using Miilliput modelling compound. I made the first few casts myself, very badly, with many, many flaws and imperfections. The nearest I’ll get to winning the National Lottery was getting some Millennium Artists funding that included a bit for professional casting services. So Steve Cole at Articole Studios got involved and  helped me make a few dozen. ( He did great work for me but I think I put him off working that small for ever!

So… A few more years passed. I’ve used the Twelvemo Figure in my own work quite a bit. I’ve made some very short animations and arranged Twelvemo Figures in strange collections and situations. ( I have made one into a mermaid, and etched several with floral scrimshaw, I have painted some, given one an orange Mohican  and dressed another in leather dungarees and bomber jacket made from old kid gloves (the fingers as the trouser legs and sleeves, ready made).

I am trying to keep this brief, I really am!

I had long dreamed of getting them manufactured in large numbers, abroad, so they could be more affordable. I like the idea that Twelvemo is a Fine Art product that has a mass appeal and could be mass-marketed but still retains its value as an expressive and important object to handle. So… I wasted a ton of money trying two different factories with no luck. (One was a con-man the other just couldn’t do what I wanted.) I’d got people interested and buying the Twelvemo Figures, the ones I had left still, and one day I sold one of my two best examples to a customer who had already bought a Twelvemo from me earlier that year. But, when I realised that the second Chinese factory could not come up with what I wanted I began to regret selling her this particular one.

When I asked if I could possibly buy it back, because I was concerned that I only had one other good model left… This person thought very hard about it and said she wasn’t prepared to sell it back to me, no matter what promises I made about giving her a replacement or two when I had production working somehow… However they (the customer) really wanted to help me develop the Twelvemo project, despite her reluctance to let me buy back the figure, and so she offered me £2000 to make up for some of my losses with the factories in China.

How AMAZING is that? I nearly fell off my chair…

No strings, no demands, just an extremely generous gesture towards supporting a project she thinks is creatively worthwhile. And what I decided to do, with my patron’s support was to somehow or other start making the Twelvemo Figures again myself. I am fortubnate in having a decent sized workshop in the garden where I live, and I began to get it equipped. I have designed a small spin caster which I am still learning how to use, I have bought a vacuum chamber to get the bubbles out of the mix and I am still working on this, learning that warming the resin speeds the cure, that cold weather slows it, that clamping the two halves of the mould the right amount is an art in itself (and all other variables….) 

 The first batch are not perfect, but they are all my own work. Each one has taken at least 18 years and two days to make, hence the price but I’ve sold several  (having given the very first one to my kind patron) and I now need to make some more, so I am on to making a new mould (the old one broke eventually). When it’s working right it’ll be better as I have refined some of the joints. That’s the theory anyway… Crikey, it’s still pretty laborious but I think I am getting there! Photos coming along soon...

Thanks for reading this far. I actually do LOVE you for it. 

I am going to be showing one or two of these ‘Maid in England’ Twelvemos in a couple of places in Norwich in the pre-Christmas period. And some other items too at some of these events! There’s always my Etsy shop to visit if you want to make purchases without leaving the comfort of your own home…

5th-8th December
The Una Gallery at the Fabric Warehouse
8 Swan Lane, City Centre, Norwich NR2 1HZ

1st-13th December 10am - 5pm
Arts and Crafts Collective Christmas Exhibition
St Margarets Church
St Benedicts Street Norwich
(I’ll be there on Wednesday morning the 10th of December and also Saturday 13th in the morning too.)

I'm going to ths whether I have any work in it or not. It'll be the most fun Christmas shopping you can do probably!
11th December 5 – 9pm
GET STUFFed! Pop-Up Makers Market
At Stew Gallery
40 Fishergate Norwich NR1 1SE

Please follow, share, and spread the Twelvemo word!

Etsy Twelvemo Shop             
Twelvemo's Facebook page  
General Creative Practice     

Wednesday, 2 July 2014

In the Box!

I've spent a lovely afternoon designing a box I could cut on the laser cutter, and was quite pleased when I thought of cutting the name into the box top. Now I can cut these as and when I need, instead of scrabbling around for cardboard tubes and sticky labels and bubble wrap and stuff!

I posted the first one to my wonderful sponsor who funded the start up costs of buying and making the spin caster, the vacuum chamber and the raw materials. (Thank you so much!) And I have sold one Twelvemo from the Etsy shop! Both figures have been received and they are loved already I think. 

"she seems sturdy, moves beautifully, stands with ease"
"the texture you have achieved feels almost like soapstone"

Both figures are going to be used in various creative and expressive ways as their owners are accomplished artists. Can't wait to see what they come up with and hope to share some images when they do. 

Please like and share and follow the blog, the shop or the Twelvemo Facebook page if you want to support this project, which, as you know, I have fair bust a gut over!

Twelvemo on Etsy 
Twelvemo on Facebook 


Saturday, 7 June 2014

Twelvemo Figures for SALE at last!

Look what I have come up with! Twelvemo Figures, 6 of them, going on sale in my Etsy shop for £250 each right after this posting has been published! This is an introductory price, and if I don't get quicker and more efficient at making them it might have to go up!

OK, so I have made 9 altogether but the very first one is going to my super-kind sponsor who put up the money to get equipped to do this whole thing. Hopefully it will be the first of  a great many Twelvemo Figures! And two I am going to keep for myself, you know, for the archive...

So, what do you think, people?

I have been learning loads and loads about the de-gassing chamber and spin-caster, the raw materials of silicone rubber and polyurethane resin, how the casts are affected by heat, cold, moisture, what my MOOD is, and  so on. Most of all I am learning about making the moulds. Ultimately, this is where is where ALL the answers lie, pretty much, and I have a MUCH better idea, now, how to make the next one. This is good. It means less guessing than when I first started out on this venture. The moulds that made this lot are no good any more but the next mould I make is going to be better. 
So a fair amount of blood sweat and tears and money have been invested into these Twelvemos. They are not perfect and flawless but they work and hold together well. They stay in position. The parts will come apart if you want them too (gently, please!) and they go back together again with a gentle twist and a little pressure. I have dropped bits on the floor a few times and nothing has broken (don't go trying this at home though) except if the resin part is fresh out of the mould and hasn't had time to cure properly. Each part of each figure has been finished by hand, lovingly and rather laboriously. 
The flashing and sprues (where the reisn goes into the mould and air vents from it) have been filed and smoothed. The tiny air bubbles that have sneaked in have been filled, sanded and smoothed.The whole figure has been painted with several diluted coats of Milliput, to blend the white of the resin with the more opaque white of the Milliput. I have a pplied a finish of beeswax to the joints and lightly all over. THis has mellowed the white colour, but is mostly there because it makes the joints nice and stiff and grippy so she holds her poses really well. The beeswax would cause problems with re-painting though, so if you want an un-coated figure please ask me. (No reduction in price)  andI can instruct you how to do the beeswax in the joints yourself when you have painted because it makes a big difference to the pose-ability. 

Ah.... I have mre photos showing process but I can't wait to publish this posting and put them for sale, so they'll have to wait. Anyway, I am in Brighton this weekend, having a little break! Shouldn't be working at all to be honest!

I'd be delighted if you share the Etsy page or this blog posting, or TWEET about Twelvemo on my behalf, if you are tweeting type. 

I am pretty happy with how things are going at last, and owe a great deal of gratitude to my lovely sponsor, who will soon be receiving the first Twelvemo Figure. It was their generosity and faith in the project that have made this latest development possible.

Wednesday, 14 May 2014

Frustration and Fun with Rubber and Resin!

So… I’ve been making progress and here’s my new machine

Sarah’s Simple Spin-caster

My friend at Roundhouse Engineering in Norwich (no website, so pm me if you want contact details) made the turntable from a slab of aluminium. He also made the bits that hold it onto the motor shaft, and constructed the frame to hold it all together and lift the motor off the work surface. It’s got to have plenty of air for cooling as it runs. The smaller purple unit is the ‘interrupter’ e.g. the control and tells me how many rpm it’s doing. That and the labour cost way more than the motor but I’m not telling you how much! It weighs a ton, but that’s good because it needs to be stable. 

It's now bolted to the floor and has a fence of cardboard constructed round it to stop spraying the whole workshop with a fine dusting of sticky resin!

And here’s my other machine, the vacuum chamber for degassing mixed rubber and resin before pouring it into the mould. This is the photo from the listing when I bought it as I haven't taken a pic myself.

It came with woefully inadequate instructions and I think I deformed the clear acrylic chamber but vacuuming too much, because they don’t say what it will stand or should go up to. What’s the point of a dial if I don’t know what they mean? I have emailed the suppliers pointing this out and asking for a bit more guidance. I have used this for degassing the mixed rubber. It’s great seeing the bubbles appear out of no-where and get larger and larger till they burst. Every bubble bursting is one less to cause me problems when casting!

The silicon rubber I bought is ‘Platinum cure’. It’s the most expensive but gives least shrinkage. The other sort is ‘tin cure’. You mix (accurately) equal amounts together. You can get another sort which is called 'Condesation cure' and can be used in wet situations. I want to cast a fish for a friend (that's another story entirely!) but the some guy I spoke to said you can't use this kind in the same environment as the other kinds so maybe I'll re-think that...

The rubber and resin comes in two parts. One tub is yellow and the other blue. I went out and bought loads of containers with different coloured lids so I can make sure I don’t muddle up the utensils used for each tub. You have about 15 minutes with this to mix and degas and have completed the pouring, which is a challenge but not as bad as the resin where you have about 5 minutes. The resin is a polyurethane one. THis is stronger I believe, than polyester resins. Both the resin and rubber are ‘prototyping quality’ of materials, e.g. they cost loads but should give excellent results. Got them from Moldlife in Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk ( where they give excellent advice too.

The resin and rubber are so expensive that I needed to know how many times I could make a complete mold before I’d have to shell out and buy some more, so I did some maths. (Actually felt rather pleased with myself as maths was never my strong point.) I worked out the volume of rubber and the volume of the area I thought I would need for a complete mold. I divided the first by the second, and reckon I can get make 4 whole molds from the 2 kilo kit I bought. I may find that I need more space than I anticipated, now I have started experimenting…
I have been thinking SO hard about how to go about making the molds… You have to think about the direction the viscous liquids flow in, both for the moldmaking and the casting. These are not the same directions because one is the inverse of the other! And you have to think about the fact that you turn the mold over while making it too, which further complicates things. I think...

I thought I was really faffing about  and prevaricating, but I am glad to have thought about it so much because there have been a few moments of realisation; ‘Ohhhhh I see… I can’t do it like that… I’ll have to do it another way…’ I got a load of Twelvemo part ready t pour rubber on, and suddenly thought that it would be a good idea to try embedding a single piece of a less good Twelvemo, you know, just in case I got the wrong rubber and it sets like concrete around the parts… That kind of thing.

It’s so slow, at the moment.... Every time I pour rubber molds I have to wait about 24 hours to be sure it is properly fully cured and set. It’s also cooler down in the shed which makes it take longer…. Patience, patience… (I am writing this to put off prizing apart the cast, which is the first one I will pour resin into and actually see what happens. I am scared the resin will be too thick, and I’ll have to make clunky great holes for it to flow through…  

Here are a few shots that show my progress.  The first casts were a bit dispiriting.... 

But I was not down-hearted! Noooo! 
  It took me a while to realise all the variables that can be adjusted. Mostly it's in the mold making where you have to think really hard about how the liquids pour and flow at various parts of the process: The silicone rubber to make the molds, the resin inside the moulds, the air vents to allow any bubbles to escape, the vacuum chamber (shockingly bad instructions), the spin caster and the speed at which it revolves, and the amount the mould is clamped down is crucial too. Too loose and the resin get in between the layers of the mould halves, too tight and the mould is deformed in the process.  

And I have devised a way to warm the moulds once resin has been poured in as this helps make the pieces stronger. I'm using a box lined with blankets, warmed with three very hot water bottles. This does help loads, partly because the warmth makes the resin less thick and viscous and it goes into all the spaces of the moulds better.


I have been making this is three moulds. One for the body and heard parts, one for  the larger bits of arms and legs, and one for all the really smal parts (neck wrist, ankles, hands, feet etc. Haven't got photos of all the moulds. Sorry.

This one above was one that didn't work out right.  Strangely the first one to give anything like a reasonable result was the one with the smallest parts in, shown below. This was encouraging, as last time I tried casting Twelvemo FIgures myself about 15 years ago, those were the parts I had the most trouble with. 

It's a bit of a jump, admittedly, from the photos above to the next photos. The figure is very far from perfect and every part is flawed to some extent. It's partly holding it's position by virtue of tiny bits of Blu-tac inside a few of the joints, but what is encouraging is that if I can make them like this then I can make them better. I'm learning loads rather fast! 

All parts for one figure need to be made from one single mould, so that is next, bringing all that I have learned together in one new mould. Three separate moulds means three separate loads of prepping, mixing, pouring spinning, de-moulding. This all takes quite a bit of time and I really need to be able to make a figure in one single go.  
I was trying to be very economical with my use of the rubber for mould making but now I know better what I am doing I also know that more rubber and space around every part helps the moulds keep their shape when getting clamped in the machine and when spinning. I'm all out of my first lot of rubber and resin, but next time I order I'll get a resin with a longer 'pot life' (longer time before it sets too much to flow in the mould).

The resin mix doesn't give very consistent colour so far... Sometimes it is more translucent than others. I don't really mind if one whole figure is a bit paler or brighter white than others but it would be good to have every figure a consistent colour within itself. 

The resin colour can be changed using oil paints I am told.... That's nice and simple but I think I'll try just using some proper powder pigment, as that's what oil paint is coloured with and I have some of this in various earthy hues. In the very beginning I wanted a pure white Twelvemo. I wanted the figure white to go in a book with white pages, and a hole cut out to house the figure. The idea was to have replaced text and image with a blank canvas of a human form, that the handler/user could project their own narrative on. At the time I couldn't get resin in pure white. Now I have got it I want to change the colour! (I might still make the book thing though. It's still a quite cool idea.)

After getting this figure put together yesterday I was pretty chuffed, then I awoke this morning to a message from someone via Etsy asking if there was a waiting list for ordering Twelvemo Figures, which is very encouraging.  

I'd tweet about this if I was any good at Twitter, but look at me! 140 characters? You're joking aren't you? If anyone else wants to tweet Twelvemo's slow journey into public life please feel free to do so and point them in this direction.  So... Watch this space as I'll be back in a week or two with more and better news!

Tuesday, 1 April 2014

Machines in the Making

Spring is sprung and I have been busy...

After a fair amount of research I bit the bullet and bought a brand new motor and an inverter to make my own spin caster with. Now they are with an engineer friend who is making the adaptations I need. 

You might ask why I didn't just go and buy the machine ready-made… The reason is that I don't think you can! All the spin casters I have seen are either really small, for dentists, jewellers and war-gamers, and are designed to cast molten metal at high speeds, or they are much larger and more complex than I need, and cost thousands of pounds. (That was my experience anyway. I'm not sure if I want anyone to tell me anything to the contrary...) 

Above is the motor. Below is the inverter, which will control the speed and direction the motor shaft turns in and tell you the revolutions per minute that it's doing. My friend is mounting the motor with the shaft pointing upwards. On top of the shaft will be a fitting to hold on the aluminium disc onto which will be bolted the circular two-part mold, made in a spring-form cake tin.  That's the plan, anyway!

And I have bought a vacuum chamber (for taking air bubbes out of the resin). 
And I have bought some exceedingly expensive silicon rubber, some resin and some sulfur-free clay for the mold-making. I can't afford to get this wrong too often, not at the amount the rubber and resin cost! It's all taking for ever, but I am really looking forward to having a go at making the Twelvemo Figures myself, again, finally, at last….

Other News?

I am joining in a One-Day Only Pop-Up Shop at the Birdcage Pub in Pottergate (Norwich, UK) Saturday 5th April, with some bits and pieces of stuff… 

Bony bits of jewellery and  other interesting items including the most delicious-looking SKELLIE FRIDGE MAGNETS (Like boiled sweets!)

Some things have NEVER BEEN SEEN BEFORE and others are at REDUCED PRICES, so if there were some things you fancied but couldn't afford back in November you might be able to manage it this time.

And Finally...

Nah… There isn't anything else to add at present, so I'll bid you goodbye for now!

Tuesday, 3 December 2013

A Week of Shop-Keeping

Hurrah, I did it. And it was a laugh, sitting in the shop all week, if a bit chilly! 

The shop/gallery is in a pretty old street in a slightly shabby part of town, but let's think of it as a little bit 'Rive Gauche' `(as in Paris) rather than shabby, shall we?

It was in Nunns Yard on St Augustines Street:


Interesting to see what people liked, bought, thought about, talked about.  I had a couple of very interesting conversations with random passers-by. One was with a man who spent £3000 on a piece of art last year and hasn't told his wife, and doesn't know what to do with it (the artwork). And he thought my work was too expensive! (I had things from £1.00 up to £950).  And he kept asking 'What d'you do with it though? What's it for?' He got slightly annoyed with me because I wouldn't tell him how much my laser cutter cost. Bless him though. I can't tell you more or it might identify him and then he'd be in trouble with the missus!

Do visit my Etsy shop if you want to do some Christmas shopping. Or if you are in the ast of England come and see me and you can have a cuppa and browse the items in my front room! 
How many of your 'rellies could you sort out for Christmas with a few Skellies? Or flat-pack snowflakes, candelabra and Christmas trees? Easy!

Bright Little Skellies £10 each  (3 inches)
Middle Sized white Skellies £30
Colourful Skull brooches £20 (not on Etsy yet, you'll have to private message me about these if you want one.)

Here are some photos of the inside of the shop and the goods for sale. 

 Christmas Skellie bauble £90, not on Etsy yet

Enlarged parchment roses... Well, why not? Eh?

Twelvmemo Glass Casts which are from an artist's residency I did for the Millenium!  Some one with exquisite taste bought two of these (£50 each, but she got a little discount, just a little one.)

People did seem to like these acrylic and mdf in-laid feathers and I sold several of these at £10 each

Simply haven't ever managed to get a good photo of this piece of work, so a couple of details are all I shall give you for the mo!

(It's the piece in the middle of the wall, below the beam in this picture. Trouble is there is so much mirror that you can't take the whole thing without being in the picture too, which ain't quite what I want!)

So, just thought I'd let you know how that went. Now I have done it I need to get on with a few other things. 

Like Twelvemo manufacture! 
And making a centrifugal casting machine

Went and spoke to a chap in a proper, clanky, messy, greasy engineering shop, out of town, where they actually make engines of various kinds. Anyway, I think I may have found the motor and interrupter that I need for my machine. 

I almost forgot to write this development up so if you read all the way this far I'd like to congratulate and thank you!

The motor is nice. Not too loud,  with a longish shaft ( the bit with red tape on sticking out to the left. The motor needs to be mounted to point upright.

The other thing, the interrupter, is way more expensive. That's the bit I really want. It will allow anything from 1 rev per minute, up to 3000 revs per minute, controlled by a dial that feels smooth and nice.  Have sent the info to my engineer friend who will help me adapt it. 

Will keep you posted on what happens next.

Don't forget to go shopping. You know it makes sense!

Please spread the word! 
Please pass it on! 
Please show and tell! 

I am so sticking my neck out on this self employment lark I have got to make it work! You  people can help!