Monday, August 26, 2013

No time for minis...:-(

 I will get back to them, I promise. But school just started and I'm still getting back into my work routine. Plus the garden has been producing abundantly  this year and I am still canning and freezing. In the past two days, I froze corn, canned tomatoes, canned smooth pear sauce, chunky pear sauce, and pear jam. If I couldn't fill a jar with it the extras went in the freezer so I added tomatoes and pears to the freezer, too. I still have a ton of tomatoes and corn but I've finished the pears. Then I will have to freeze a whole lot of winter squash because we don't have a root cellar yet. We will eat well this next year but minis have to be on hold for a bit longer. I am reading all of your blog posts even though I am currently a bad blogger, lol. Back as soon as I can!

Friday, August 16, 2013

A New Way to Think About Miniatures

Dr. Bindy and I have known each other since we were kids. It wasn’t until recently that I learned about his custom action figures. The term “miniaturist” covers more than just those of us who work with doll houses. Some miniaturists build models or create gaming figures. Others, like Dr. Bindy, create amazing custom action figures in 1:18 scale. That’s very close to the scale of many vintage dollhouses. They are actually 1:16 or ¾ scale but 1:18 figures will work in those settings. I have three of Dr. Bindy’s figures – two in a vintage tin litho house and one in my husband’s radio room.

De: How did you get your start in custom work?
Dr. B: Purely by chance. I started out by customizing vintage 12” Johnny West action figures, after I found some of the ones I had as a kid. While searching for others online, I found a community of people who customize them. It looked fun, so I gave it a shot. I mainly did it to add real western characters to my growing Johnny West collection, like the Earps, for example. Many of the skills I have developed and use in the current 1:18 scale customizing are ones I first learned with Johnny West.
As for my current 1:18 scale work (which is mostly derived from the modern era of 4” G.I. Joe figures, but includes any in-scale items), it was even more by chance. I had already decided to pack up my Johnny West figures because of how much space they were taking. Then Hasbro began making new styled 4” figures based on the ones I had grown up with, as a 25th anniversary product, the same year my son was born. Thus, while going to Toys R Us for baby things, I found a new G.I.Joe toy unlike anything I had ever seen before. Of course I bought it “for my son”. Shortly thereafter I was putting my customizing skills to the test on these new items. I haven’t looked back since. I can justify to myself that they take up less space by being smaller, yet I have more room dedicated to this hobby now than ever before.
De: What is the process for creating a custom figure?
Dr. B: The fun part about this is that every figure brings its own challenge. First, you have to decide what you are making. Am I making a G.I. Joe character that simply hasn’t been made, or made well? Am I using parts from various figures to make a character completely unrelated (like a superhero)? Or am I doing something completely new? I do a little of each.
If I’m making an existing character, I research various ways they have been portrayed. Sometimes I shoot for an existing design, and sometimes I modify the look to fit what I want. If I’m creating an original character, I will sometimes sketch the look out, in advance. I also have a large number of sketches dating back to childhood that I pull design ideas from, or that I try to recreate in plastic form.
From there I decide what parts will work best. To do this you have to know how to take apart existing figures. Every type of toy has its own trick for doing so. I’ve made figures before that have source parts from as many as 8 different toy lines, not even counting any sculpting or painting of my own. And very few of the different toy lines are compatible, so I’m always modifying parts to fit each other with X-acto and dremel and glue.
Sometimes a desired look can be achieved by simply putting a new head on an existing figure. Others end up completely Frankensteined and repainted from top to bottom. One of my trademarks is that I often find parts outside of the mainstream to use for my figures. Recently I’ve been accomplishing this by buying Japanese “Gashapon” figures, which are actually little PVC statues. With the right parts on hand, I can articulate one of those to be a fully functional Joe-level of action figure rather than just a static shelf-warmer. Most of my work falls somewhere in the middle, but I feel there are no longer any limitations on what I’m able to make.
After the basic figure is assembled, I sculpt any missing detail (using Aves Fix-It, a 2-part apoxie based sculpt that requires no baking), then paint using all sorts of type and qualities of paint.
I’ve become a bit obsessed with having life-like eyes, even at this scale. I have a process for skin-tones which has really been helping them come to life of late as well. To finish or seal the paint work, I use plain old matte Mod Podge, watered down and brushed over the final coat of paint.
De: Most dollhouse miniaturists I know create stories about their dollhouses and the people who live in them. They often build a whole history for their mini world. I even have a couple of “mini me’s,” one as a child and one as an adult. Do your custom figures have stories, too? If so, can you share a bit of the background?
Dr. B: I almost always create a bit of fiction to go with the pieces I make.
About half of my customizing is geared towards existing characters from any form of fiction. For example, characters from Batman make up a big part of what I do. Same with the Avengers, and other comic book properties.
[*It’s probably a good time to point out that my corner of the hobby is probably best labeled as “Joe Customzier” (in fact the site I participate the most at is called However, I only rarely make customs of G.I. Joe characters. Instead, I am using the Joe construction style as a foundation for making other items. ]
What I, and a few other folks, do to distinguish our work, is to write the characters into one cohesive world. So in my “verse” there is a story to support how Batman knows Han Solo, as an example; the main military unit is supported by fighter pilots like Starbuck and Apollo, and I could go on. It’s a fun way to legitimize the way I played with these toys as a kid.
I actually have three different story lines going on at once, which I use as the format for presenting my figures. The one I started with is referred to now as “EXCAL”. It’s the name of a fictional organization made to bring all the heroes of the world together, like the Justice League, but on steroids. Lol. I put all of my contemporary pieces here, and it is based 90% on existing characters from any medium.
The second story is one for which I have dreams of writing into an actual novel, though I suspect I will have to settle for an amateur photo-novel instead. It is a science fiction verse made up entirely of originally created characters.
While it is traditional space opera at its core, I’m having some fun right now making figures of some pals at and writing them into some comedic side-scenes. It’s best to not take any of this too seriously, though it may sound like I am way too serious about it as I answer these questions. ;)

Lastly, a story I have started on is a prequel of sorts, where the EXCAL verse I mentioned above is recreated in a Victorian setting. It gives me a chance to make figures of some non-contemporary heroes. In this world, Sherlock Holmes takes the place of Batman, for example. This also gave me a good reason to make 1:18 scale figures of a couple of Johnny West characters, as well, to bring that back full circle.

De: There are many dollhouse forums and blogs online. I have met some great people that way and I’ve improved many of my mini skills by following their tutorials. Do you have the same kind of online support and friendships?
Dr. B: Absolutely. I’ve mentioned Joecustoms already, and I’ve become good friends with more than a few folks from there, well beyond just the hobby of customizing. But in terms of getting feedback and tips on my work, that is the go-to place. I feel lucky that I’ve been there long enough to have gone from the new guy asking for help to be one of the mainstays helping to give it. In fact, just last year I was given a “lifetime achievement” award for contributions to the community. I like to tell myself it’s like being in the hall of fame ;) I also have my own Facebook page under Dr. Bindy’s Customs, where I get to talk shop and show off a bit.
De: Tell us about some of the awards and rewards of your craft?
Dr. B: Have I mentioned that ‘hall of fame’ thing? ;) To take the question literally, I’ve been lucky enough to be named “Customizer of the Year” at Joecustoms, “Most Improved Customizer” 2 years in a row during my first two years in the hobby, and other awards for specific skills, like eye-painting. Also have had many specific figures win year-end awards, and have had various figures submitted as contest entries which have been winners as well.
Rewards come in many forms, but the validation I get when asked to do interviews like this definitely hits the mark. I’ve had designers at Hasbro post comments on my work before, which is very flattering, even if it only fans the flames of wondering if I could be doing this as more than just a hobby.
Perhaps the best reward though is having my son turn down an action figure bought from the store because he prefers the one I made for him.
De: Most dollmakers I know have a favorite they just can’t part with. Do you have any favorites among your custom action figures?
Dr. B: Usually whichever self-inspired custom I am utilizing at the time is the hardest to part with. That said, there are very few figures I’d not part with at all. I’ll say my Batman custom is near the top, only because it took me 5 years to get him to where I like him. I did a custom of a DC Comics character called Black Canary that people ask about the most. I mainly haven’t sold her because of how much time I spent making her fishnet stockings out of waterslide decals.
Otherwise, though, I have sold a lot of my work over the years. Sometimes I’ve moved on from a certain character or theme and will choose to place pieces on ebay, or sometimes I’ve simply been offered a deal I couldn’t say no to. Usually it comes when someone asks if I will make a copy for them. I am too busy to do commissions usually, so I will just set a price and sell off the original.
What I’ve learned to do, however, is to just make a new one for myself whenever I do find the time, and push myself to make the replacement even better than the original. It helps drive up demand that way anyway. 

De: If any of my followers are interested in having a custom figure created how do they contact you or see more of your work?
Dr. B: You can find most of my older work in the Gallery at (and some new stuff, I’m trying to get my submissions caught up), and most all of it is in the discussion forum under the critiques section, if you don’t mind digging. Otherwise, look up my Facebook page under DrBindysCustoms. You can post there if you have comments on any figures, or send me pms as well.
Thanks for asking me to do this!

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Stay tuned!

I am very excited about a new idea for my blog. I've been thinking about miniatures in various forms lately. I have an interview coming up very soon with someone very important to me who uses many of the same skills that we as dollhouse miniaturists use. I am just waiting on a few more photos of his work and then I will post the interview. Watch this space!

Monday, August 12, 2013

Busy Monday

Hubby and I took what was supposed to be a quick walk to the garden last evening. Well, that resulted in two heaping full harvest baskets and a 5 gallon bucket full of corn. So today I froze corn, tried a new sweet pickle recipe, and started a crock of sauerkraut. I've never made sauerkraut and I really don't care for it...but hubby does. So I am experimenting and maybe I will like the version I make. In any case, I am now enjoying a rest in the recliner with my feet up. Dinner is planned and won't take long to put together so I have at least an hour more to rest.

I start back to work on Monday and I still have a lot of garden veggies still to ripen. Minis may be on an extended hold. I hope to at least fit in some little projects. Fingers crossed!

Have a great week!

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

More uses for the fans

 At Walmart today I found ceiling fan pulls on clearance. They made perfect frosted globe light fixtures. I cut fan blades from the wooden fan. The third floor has a fan, too, with smaller blades.
This is the second floor fan. You can't tell in the photo but these blades are even angled a bit like real ones.

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Present from my husband

My husband is a ham radio operator and  he found this small drill press at a hamfest today. He thinks he can make a few modifications to make it work with my Dremel. Cool!

Friday, August 2, 2013

Then Again is open for business

 The stone work is finally finished...or at least all glued onto the building. I need to go over the seams once it's all dry but the time consuming part is finished. All the bottles and my antique iron are on the roof while the glue dries for the sandpaper roof. That may just be a base layer because I am not entirely happy with the way it looks.
 This is the wall I've been working on for so long. By the time I got to this one I was just tired of the cut and glue process. I reworked the big sign today also. It's now mounted on heavy matboard and looks much more polished.
At some point I still want to do the corner sidewalk for these two sides. But for now I am happy that it's finished. :)

Thrift store find

 I found this small cabinet at Salvation Army yesterday. It was my reward after having blood work done. It took pokes in one arm, both hands and two techs to get one vial of blood. Not I am going to make myself a small scale baby house. ;-)

It will work well with 1:24 scale furnishings. I'm not sure when I will get to this but I like to have a couple of things on the back burner for when I get a stretch of mini making time. The little cat came from the thrift store, too. It will go into a one inch scale setting at some point.