Cold Porcelain

On the run up to Christmas I had a vague notion of making some Krampus ornaments for the tree. I started looking into resin casting and lost wax techniques, got excited, and then realised they’d take quite a bit of research and investment in materials before I could try them. Option 2 was to create a mould from a sculpt and then use some kind of air-drying clay to produce cheaper copies. However, all the air-drying clays and paper clays I’d tried in the past were a bit rubbish. Then I stumbled across ‘cold porcelain’ which looked for all the world like some kind of air-drying sculpey, but made from cheap common household materials. Must be worth a go, right?

I tried this recipe: which uses corn-starch, PVA, oil, and lemon juice or vinegar. It’s worth watching the video beforehand so you know what to expect: my old 800W microwave took considerably more fifteen-second zaps than the recipe says to get the gloop to the right consistency. After seven or eight I took it out of the bowl and started trying to knead it, but despite liberally dusting everything with corn-starch it immediately stuck to my fingers in a gloopy mess and refused to behave. I gave up, washed my hands, and came back to watch the video again because I was so worried that it just wasn’t working. It’s worth persevering though: I zapped it a few more times and then tried to ignore the bits that stuck to my fingertips while I kneaded the lump for 10 minutes or so, and at the end I had something like a very soft sculpey. I didn’t manage to get any photos of the process (hands covered in the stuff) but I’ll have a go next time.

Cold Porcelain Experiment 1I started small and made a lump-with-rabbit-ears to see how the stuff behaved. I followed it with a tiny rose: adding a bit of acrylic paint in to give the colour. It didn’t work brilliantly. The main problem was that the cold porcelain was too soft so the petals started to droop as I worked on them and I ended up with a slightly bloopy rose. Still- it dried fairy quickly and the result was quite strong- something like super sculpey but without that brittle feel.

CP Heads

A little experimentation later I tried sculpting a couple of heads. Turns out cold porcelain’s great for ears and horns. The chap on the right turned out quite well, but in the background you can see my second attempt which looks a bit like a grumpy axolotl with horns… For these larger pieces I found the air-drying nature of the clay a bit of a drawback. As I worked, the outer layer dried to a leathery consistency but underneath the CP was still very malleable, resulting in a face that slowly squished and distorted the longer I held it in any direction. The leathery outer layer would bunch and wrinkle, and it was nigh impossible to fix once it’d happened.  Hence axolotl-face there.

Cthulhu Cold Porcelain

I also tried using one of my old Cthulhu silicone moulds to see if I could use CP that way. Air-drying inconsistencies struck again as the base (the only part exposed to the air) dried and warped while the rest stayed wet. After a day nothing had changed so I carefully extracted him and let him dry outside the mould before giving him a coat of paint. He’s cute in an artefact weathered-by-time kind of way.  I think CP + moulds could work, but the moulds will have to be shallow to allow the air to get to as much as possible.

The warping seems to be a pretty major problem unless I want to start producing wrinkly monster dolls (not impossible, but also not quite what I was planning). I started making another face for a krampus-esque visage, but after a few minutes he started to warp and go bug-eyed. I stopped, leaving eyes and nose on a head-shaped blob. A couple of days later I came back and tried adding to the cured CP. I expected it to detach as it dried and shrunk, but surprisingly it seems to work. Here’s the result so far- he still looks pretty weird as the first half warped, but as an experiment it’s definitely been useful:

Krampus Cold PorcelainI’ll be playing with this stuff a bit more in the new year… I think it has potential.

Miniature Book Update

Miniature book production slowed down a little bit for the holiday season: working in a shop is always a bit exhausting at Christmas! I also got a little distracted by a new sculpting material (what a surprise), but more about that later. I’m pleased to report that having listed a handful of necklaces on Etsy in November, and having done zero self-promotion other than my posts here, I’ve sold a good few. Some online and some just through enquiries from people who saw me wearing mine at work!

Necklace Lineup

As always, I’m constantly researching the next possible upgrade or improvement to technique. Since November I’ve started adding hand-sewn headbands to all but the tiniest books. I think it makes them extra interesting, even if it’s incredibly fiddly and takes a while to sew.

Handsewn Headband
Handsewn Headband

I’ve also bought some nice hammered white 100gsm paper, and similar in cream, to make the pages of the books. Up until now I was using drawing paper left over from my art school days which was perfectly serviceable but I do like to know exactly what I’m using in case people ask.  It also means I can print onto the pages before binding.  So far I’ve only used this to add a logo to the last page of the miniature books (I was signing and dating them before) but it has the potential to allow me to print text on every page, and create an actual miniature book.  I’ll probably give this a go with short poems in the new year.

QueenHare Logo Page
Printing a logo on the final page of the book

Next I think I’ll try adding multiple books to a necklace: making a kind of miniature library accessory. That’ll be more of an aesthetic challenge than a technical one.

At some point I want to try embossing gold leaf onto the miniature books. I’ve lettered book spines at book binding courses in the past, but there we used hulking great machines to hold and heat the letters so adapting the process to a small scale without blowing my budget on a miniature stove will be a good challenge.

Etsy is Go!

I spent a while playing around with wrapping and boxes, but finally figured out that if I didn’t just go for it I’d spend the rest of the year trying to plan everything out perfectly.  So, I’ve reopened my Etsy shop.  I originally opened it way back in 2011 when I first thought I’d like to try selling on Etsy one day, and wanted to make sure I got the shop name.  I’ve just added these three so far:

BrownGoldSkull box tinyred box EvilEye Ep

The weather’s been so gloomy recently I haven’t managed to take any interesting photos.  I’ve got a little light box which is great fun, but the plain background doesn’t give much context for the scale.  I’ve tried adding a penny to a few of the shots, though as I put it upside down you can’t tell it’s 1p rather than 2p at a glance.  Oops.

QH logo

QueenHare on Etsy


Miniature Book Necklaces

A couple of years ago I made a batch of miniature books to sell at a charity craft fair. Since then I’ve been on a bookbinding course and researched a little on working with leather, and so I recently decided to give it another go.

Miniature Book Of The Dead

I’ve been trying to figure out how to take good photographs of them.  As they’re painted with gold and silver the light tends to obscure the designs if it’s too bright.  Practice practice.

Red Day of the Dead Miniature Book Evil Eye Miniature Book

Here’s a smaller, better version of the Slytherin miniature book I made for my Design Every Day Project last year.


I’ve finally got them to a point where I’m quite pleased with them and could consider selling them through Etsy.  The next step will be working out how to package them!

Book Review: Annihilation and Authority by Jeff VanderMeer

Ok, I’ll admit it. I originally requested these based solely on the covers (what a gorgeous rabbit-based design!) and a cursory glance at the blurb, “sounds vaguely sci-fi, I’ll give it a go”. I couldn’t have predicted how much I’d end up enjoying them; so much in fact that it’s taken me a while to attempt a review of Annihilation because I simply didn’t know how to put it into words. I still don’t, but if I don’t have a go at it now I’m not sure I’ll ever manage.

Annihilation *****


The central character, known only as the Biologist, has volunteered for an expedition into Area X: a stretch of coastline cut off from the rest of civilization for reasons that are unclear at the beginning of the novel. The book follows her trek into the increasingly strange landscape beyond the ‘border’, and the things she encounters there.

It’s been compared to Lovecraft for obvious reasons: it takes the form of an account written by a character who is trying to make sense of something unearthly. The writer is afflicted by a creeping dread, a haziness to reality and a sense of monstrous things just outside their field of vision. But rather than just pressing all the usual ‘atmospheric horror’ buttons, VanderMeer couples it with a haunting beauty captured in the immersive and almost poetic descriptions of the landscape from the biologist’s perspective, and this is where the book really stands out. It’s a short book but not an easy read and I found that quite refreshing. It doesn’t feel the need to conform to a predictable narrative. I’m sure that’ll throw some people, but it’s worth the extra effort for the richness you’ll get out of it. Area X has certainly stayed with me several months after finishing the book, and I’m not sure it’ll leave me even after Acceptance is published in September…

You can download a preview of Annihilation Here at Waterstones.


Authority ****


I’ve just finished reading Jeff Vandermeer’s Authority.

The first thing that struck me was the contrast to Annihilation, and to be honest it threw me a bit and it took a while for my brain to get back up to speed. The first in the trilogy had seemed to me a beautifully formed piece all on its own and I loved the way it had immersed me in the landscape of Area X through that strikingly vivid and surreal description. I suppose I’d been eager to leap straight back into that world, so at first the second book seemed almost drab and tedious in comparison.

 I’d empathised with the environment and the biologist in book one, her observations on the landscape and balance between objective analysis and delighted immersion. In the second book the environment is the (relative) normality of Southern Reach, the organisation and hierarchy. Part of me wonders if a reader who had worked in a similar obscure governmental environment or office would connect to Authority the same way I did to Annihilation.

But as I read on it occurred to me that the books are not all that dissimilar. If Annihilation shone with the living, gleaming terroir of Area X, then Authority sets down the opposing terroir of Southern Reach: the dysfunctional resistance so bogged down in reports and dusty files, internal intrigue and bureaucracy that you can’t help but question whether it achieves anything useful. But, as in Annihilation, the descriptions lay down a fertile mulch of information, glimpses and hints, secrets revealed just enough to leave you hungry for more. There’s an almost purposefully mundane office-y feel to many passages interspersed with a strangeness that keeps you on edge as though Area X is seeping in around the edges of the pages. Despite my slow start, by the last third of the book I was hooked and sailing through the pages, relishing the challenge of it. September and Acceptance seem much too far away!

 Authority is available from Waterstones Here.

Mask Making After Florence

I was buzzing to get started on mask making when I returned from Florence but it was going to take a while to gather the materials and equipment.  Luckily I still had a few old half-finished masks lying around from last year.  I’d left them in various states after booking my course in Florence, as I figured I’d probably learn more there than I would by completing them straight away.  I wasn’t too worried about ruining them as I’d learned a bit about how to design a mask to fit a face properly since making them!

I started on the old Cthulhu mask.  I managed to find a british equivalent of the paint from Florence that resulted in a much more controlled cracked effect than my attempts last year.  The paints used for the colour were a bit of a puzzle and I managed to make a bit of a mess with a cat mask before giving up with them.  It might just have been an error in translation, but I did some more experimenting and managed to layer up a selection of others for a fairly pleasing result eventually.

I also had a go at adding gold details to the last cat mask, and leaving the background white to see the result of the aging effect more clearly.  Although it looks better in real life than this photo makes out I still think I need to work on that a bit.  I also managed to cover this second Cthulhu in red fluff after trying to polish him too early.  Again, hooray for learning processes.

Then, finally, I had everything I needed to start a new mask, including a rare full day off work!  I made a new clay sculpture using my mask from Florence as a reference, cast it in plaster, and have left it to cure.  The real test will be in a week or so when I attempt to make a first mask from the mold.  Til then I’ll just have to amuse myself with other projects.

Mask Making in Florence

After my experiments last summer making masks I decided I wanted to learn a little more about how the papier mache mask is made in Italy. I scoured the internet and bookshop for related articles and texts, and quickly came across The Masks of Prof Agostino Dessi.

The book itself is beautifully produced, filled with full-page photographs and for anyone interested in masks it’s well worth obtaining.  By that point I’d seen a lot of masks and Agostino’s stood out to me as some of the best around: unique and far more like pieces of art than mass produced partywear… So, buoyed up by the mad artistic enthusiasm that grabs me from time to time, I got in touch and asked him if it would be possible for me to visit him and learn how he does it.

And he said yes.

So, I booked my hotel and flights and set off on my own for Florence at the end of March.  I’d only been to Italy once before, had a tourist-level grasp of Italian from listening to the Pimsleur Italian course for a few months (which I heartily recommend: no other language course has stuck in my mind so well.  Check it out of your library for free), and was travelling alone.  It was a bit daunting.  Especially when I made the mistake of looking up reviews for Expedia just after booking.  It’s a bit like looking up your symptoms to self-diagnose: you’ll always find links to the worst possible scenario and people don’t generally go online to post “actually it was all fine”.  So, to break the trend: it was all fine.  Expedia was great, communicative and easy to use.  London City Airport was fast, easy to drive to and navigate internally as it’s so compact.  Air France were friendly and the flight was pain-free which was nice: my hearing was impaired and my ears hurt for several weeks after the flight home from Venice last year.  So, credit where it’s due, even if it’s not as exciting as “and then the engine blew up on the runway and we all had to be evacuated”… an incident involving the same airline and airport about a week earlier that I’m glad my parents told me about after the trip.

Agostino Dessi's mask shop in Florence
Agostino Dessi’s mask shop on Via Faenza, Florence

And Florence was beautiful.  The people endlessly helpful, and I got chatting to so many more people than I would have if I hadn’t travelled alone.  I stayed for a week, touring the city in the mornings and studying with Agostino in his beautiful mask shop every afternoon.  I had the best time.  THE BEST time.  I learned so much, saw so much, and can’t wait to go back.  It’s a gorgeous city filled with incredibly talented people, so many of whom are based in the streets around Agostino’s shop that they seem to be forming an artistic quarter, which can only be a good thing.

I had my own little corner of the shop to work in
Agostino’s shop.  It took me a week of evenings to produce my mask from scratch, so I can only imagine the sheer quantity of man-hours contained in this one image.

One of the many problems I’d had with the masks I’d tried to make before was getting them to fit a real face.  I’d been making a clay replica of my own face and then building the mask on top, but then found that the finished item was too wide, narrow, too close to the eyes, or didn’t have enough space for a nose.  Just being able to recreate a face doesn’t mean it’s the ideal shape for a mask.

Sculpting the face in clay, then embellishing with details
Sculpting the face in clay, then embellishing with details

My first day at the shop was almost entirely spent getting the proportions correct according to a set of rules that should eliminate that problem.  Fingers crossed I can remember it all from my notes now I’m home!

After casting the sculpt in plaster I started to apply the papier mache over a couple of evenings.
After casting the sculpt in plaster I started to apply the papier mache over a couple of evenings.
Painting the mask
Painting the mask

Then I painted the undercoat for a cracked and antiqued surface, before adding the details and finish.

The finished mask
The finished mask

I’m really happy with the final result, and can’t wait to try recreating the whole process at home!  Watch this space.