Flowerbox Avenue--One of Papyrus Acres' nicest neighborhoods
It may take a village to raise a child, but it only takes one crazed artist to make a village. A paper village, anyway. Making little hand-painted paper houses has been my hobby for the last seven years. I know how I got started on this hobby. I just didn’t know how lasting my compulsion would become. I’m pretty sure my fascination with tiny houses and furniture started with the San Francisco Victorian dollhouse my mother bought for her four children in the 1970’s. For years afterward, my brother and sister and I had great fun buying and making dollhouse furniture, dishes, etc etc for it. The furnished and decorated dollhouse often graced the center of the buffet table at the big Christmas parties we gave each year until after the four of us headed for college.
In 2003, my mother gave me a trip to Italy for my fortieth birthday, and in return, I made her a little Italian villa out of paper as you can see in the photo below. (Yes, I know, it was a very equitable exchange of gifts. Also pictured are two smaller houses I've made.)
Mom's Italian Villa -- how it all got started.
I didn’t realize then I had just made my prototypical little paper house. I’ve given several of my subsequent houses away as gifts. Maybe I have a tiny frustrated architect inside me screaming to get out, but one house was not enough once I discovered how fun they were to make.
For me, the fun of these house projects is all in the planning and the making. Once I finish them, there’s an “Okay, now what?” moment, since I haven’t found a single truly useful thing about them other than to be on display as conversation pieces. You also have an objet d’art that is very good for taking up shelf space and catching dust. I have at least four currently stored in my closet, and I believe I’ve now made enough of them to create if not a village then at least a little resort for vacationing paper dolls. Every so often though, even with the storage problem these houses represent, the compulsion comes upon me and I just have to make another one.
Since making the little flat-roofed cube that is my mother’s Italian villa, I’ve taught myself quite a bit about paper house construction methods And my projects have expanded in complexity beyond the basic cube shape, as well. This is a photo of my most recent house project, completed in February, 2010. Roofing that house was quite a project in and of itself.
The Green Victorian
Green Victorian with Landscaping Thanks to the
Magic of Photoshop.
Normally, I’ll already have a good idea of what sort of house my latest project will be before I go shopping for the supplies, whether that’s my little Spanish Colonial….
Or another Victorian.
Little Yellow Victorian
In all cases, I make the kind of houses I'd most enjoy living in, if they were large enough. Victorians are almost my favorite kind to make because you can use pretty colors, and they have a lot of cool and ornate decorative details. I’ve built up quite a collection of plastic templates on my many stops to University Art, which is one of my favorite art supply stores. If I get out their door for under twenty dollars, it’s a miracle. I think I’ve helped them pay their rent, sometimes. I now have templates for circles, ovals, triangles, rectangles and hexagons, all of which have come in very handy.
When starting a house project, my method is to buy a large sheet of good, stiff water color paper which is stiff and heavy enough to stand and support its own weight. I then staple it to a sheet of foam core board, then get out my rulers which are transparent, and marked in sixteenths of an inch, my L-square, also transparent and marked in sixteenths of an inch, a drawing pencil and a kneaded rubber eraser which won’t damage the paper surface. Just as in an actual house, paper house measurements need to be precise and consistent, lines need to be straight and corners need to line up squarely or the finished project won’t fit together well or look good. Windows should be of a consistent size, and they need to line up at top and bottom, etc etc, and doors need to be larger than windows. It looks weird if they aren’t! A few imperfections give a house some character and an “I’m handmade” authenticity, but I try to keep those out of the planning stages. So I spend a couple of hours at least on making my initial drawing, after which, I use the kneaded rubber eraser all over to make the lines fainter, but not invisible, since I still need them as guides during the painting phase.
Next, I use masking fluid on any part of the future house that will be white on the finished project—window frames, porch railings, decorative details, etc etc. I have to think ahead at this stage. After the drawing stage comes the painting stage which is more fun, although I still have to be mindful of the way I want the finished project to look. I use watercolor paints in all cases. The basic rule in watercolor is work from lightest shades to darkest, and from large areas to small, which works well in this context. I'll often use a wide, foam rubber brush to apply the base coat, as that ensures a smooth,unstreaky finish. I also mix a lot of paint, and I make the mixture a little darker and stronger than I think it should be, as watercolors are always a shade or two lighter when dry. After the house base coat is completely dry I add the details—clapboard siding, or maybe shingles, and panels of different colors when I’m making a Victorian. Painting the windows is always fun—I always add at least one cat sunning itself in each house, often more than one.
Kitty Window Detail
Other favorite things to add are curtains, window shades, plants, vases of flowers etc etc.
After all these paint layers are completely dry, I use rubber cement pick up to remove the dried masking fluid, and outline the white areas in dark, blue gray paint. I try to be precise, but this is often the time where interesting little imperfections get in, as my hand is not completely steady. When all the paint is dry, I cut out the pieces of the house, give them a coat of waterproof spray, and then flatten them between the pages of a big, heavy book with more books piled on top. I always have little unpainted flaps along the rooflines of my houses, and at the corners where the pieces will be glued together, and the roof will be stuck down.
Roofing my small houses is easy, but on a larger project is a complicated stage in and of itself. I often have to invent and then make the cardboard support structure that will hold it up in the desired shapes. And then glue the cardboard skeleton into place before I can add the sections of the roof itself. I finally did learn that the easiest way to make a shingle roof is to paint a sheet of paper all over in the color I want first, let it dry, then carefully measure and cut each roof section from that sheet of paper and glue them in place. I add thin strips to hide the seams—and sometimes gaps—between each roof section. Only when the roof is completely glued in place do I paint on the shingles themselves. Clay tile roofs look great, but are somewhat tedious to make. There too, I give the paper a base coat of burnt sienna, roof the house, THEN add the details once the roof is fixed in place.
I’m always a little sorry to see any house project finished, as I then face the dilemma of what to do with the thing. Fortunately, I did find an alternative way to feed my fascination with my houses without creating too much additional clutter. I make a drawing of the basic rooms—walls, ceiling and floors, and then scan them into my computer. Then I create an imaginary interior for these houses using Photoshop, which is both my favorite toy and my favorite tool. Here is the music room I made for my little yellow Victorian:
And here is my blue Florida beach cottage with an appropriately beachy landscape added:
Florida Beach Cottage
I also use the photos of the little houses and create landscaping for them out of photos. Last year, I made a Christmas card for my fellow Nanowrimo friends, using one of my interiors:
Nanowrimo Christmas Card
I suppose it’s all a chance to make nicer little houses than I could actually afford to build in real life. But as addictions go, this seems pretty harmless to me.