Bringing authentic detail into your miniature school room
I have been making these 12th scale school desks for a good few years now, they are one of my best sellers and they still always make people smile when they see them at fairs. I am beginning to see a few copies around and I like to think I may have had an influence on the amount of graffiti that has appeared in the miniature world these days.
This is how I achieve a gentle worn detail which is very lifelike.
Safety – As with all use of tools and sharp equipment there is an element of risk involved. If you wish to try this yourself; please take care that your work is secured and wear appropriate protective equipment including safety goggles. Do not breathe dust and work in a well ventilated area
Adding some wear
Take a standard dolls house school desk and you will see that it looks a bit too shiny and featureless.
First I give it a full length pencil groove in the middle of the top piece. Take care if clamping the desk as the back is fragile and the lid is at an angle. I cut a v shaped groove then file it to a nice round finish.
Find an appropriately sized eyelet for your inkwell and drill a hole for it towards the right hand side of the desk using the groove as a starting point. Make sure it fits snugly but don’t put it in yet.
Now picture a boisterous schoolboy rushing up to it, swinging his satchel round and slinging it over the back, plopping down on the seat and scuffing his feet about; imagine him giving his neighbour a sly kick across the way, poking the girl in front with his ruler through the slats at the back and slamming down the lid when the teacher catches him having a quick read of his comic.
We need to reproduce years of this by wearing away the varnish, smoothing the crisp edges, knocking off the corners, adding scrapes and bumps – but gently, they weren’t actually supposed to attack the desks with hatchets. I use a wire brush, sandpaper and a tiny file to get the effect I want. photo
No graffiti here though please, that comes later.
Now for the dirt
Do the next bit in sections so the paint doesn’t dry as you work and remember we just want to rub in some dirt, not paint the surface so use watered down model paint in pale to mid brown; brush on lightly, getting into all the corners and then rub off with a piece of damp tissue or kitchen roll leaving a patina of age and a build up of residue in the corners. If it is too pale you can repeat or use a darker shade just round the edges. If it seems too dark rub hard with wet tissue or lightly sand till you get the effect you like. photo
To finish off round the inkwell use a soluble blue felt pen to colour the rim of the drilled hole and a little way along the pencil groove on each side then with a fine, slightly wet paintbrush feather the edges, mopping up any excess to make it look natural.
Glue your snugly fitting eyelet into your inkwell, gunmetal is the best colour for metal or cream if you prefer a ceramic looking pot. Photo
That looks much more mellow and authentic and it will sit happily in your schoolroom if you want to leave it like that.
And finally the graffitti
If you would like to add some graffiti please remember that this was NOT ALLOWED and anyone caught doing it would be punished, in addition anything obvious or rude on the visible parts of the desk would probably be removed, more than likely by the offending pupil in detention after school. So, unless you are deliberately going for the “St Trinians” look, keep the desktop quite subtle; a few small initials, a line or two scored in the corners, an accidental ink spill teased into a tree shape. Photo
Save your creative ideas for inside the desk lid but do a bit of research to make sure your graffiti is appropriate to your time period. Apparently Kilroy wasn’t actually “here” until around the Second World War and, on a separate note, Wrigley’s chewing gum was launched in the UK in 1911!
I use a sharp point to scratch through the varnish and let the colour stain the wood grain but thin enough to represent a 12th scale line. Then, again doing a small section at a time, colour the graffiti by writing firmly into the lines with a soluble blue felt pen and immediately wipe off with a wet tissue so the colour is only in the actual score mark.
And there you have it, a lovingly crafted desk that reflects the wear of generations of schoolchildren and will bring a glow of human detail to any miniature school.
Hope you enjoyed the process; I would love to hear how you get on if anyone tries this.
Distressed and dressed desks available in the Mini McGregor Shop, check out the details here.