I started working on the alchemist’s room about a year ago and a raging lack of success and focus made me put it on the back burner for a long time. So, what I decided was to do the easy stuff and then go from there.
Alchemists are funny people. I kind of envisioned a sort of wizard/Dumbledore’s office/the potions room at Hogwarts/an astronomer’s room, a chemist’s room and a scribe. Yup. That’s going to fit just fine in a ten by ten inch square room. So, paring down was needed. While I wanted a pensieve and cool stuff like that, I decided against it. Too much of the castle was in this world, so I decided to keep it that way. I figured, make the bulky stuff and see what fit in. I had a friend who studied alchemy also explain that alchemists usually did either astronomy or chemistry. Rarely both. Oh well, mine would do a little of everything. For reference, I used the Harry Potter movie versions of potions rooms and Dumbledore’s office as an inspiration, but found plenty of medieval period woodcuts with good input. The only problem with them is that they really thought alchemists were idiots or flat out crazy, so they were usually depicted with helter skelter eyes buried in a mess of the tools of the trade. Also, I had learned quite a lot about sciences of the Middle Ages from SCA.
First, I decided to sidetrack into something mindless. I needed something mindless to keep me occupied. So, I made books. Lots of them. Now I know in reality, this many books would be unheard of in a castle this size, but hey, the old king was really smart and thought it was really cool to have a really learned man and besides there were all these garage sales. Oops. No, there weren’t. Anyhow, the books were made by folding lots of tissue thin paper into approximate book shapes, glue together and then trim. The covers were made a number of ways. Mostly, a cardboard base was covered in one of a number of different scrapbook papers. They really have a good selection and once again it was a case of using the accurate material or using the material that made it look accurate. The second usually wins out. This stuff looked and felt like leather or fabric.
Next I made a simple worktable. Pretty easy and unfinished with the intention of destroying the top since that’s the way a workshop table would be. Eventually, I spent one evening hacking at it with various tools, using a bag of black tea to stain it in various places and rubbing charcoal on it. I even took a few nicks out of the legs.
A furnace would be necessary for a lot of reasons. The other two rooms in the tower need no heat, but this one would. Also, a furnace would give the alchemist a place to mix up stuff. I tried a lot of different materials. Mostly plasters and stuff to look like stone. Annoying and didn’t look right. Then, after rejecting the obviously stupid, I realized something like this would be made of brick. Duh. Terra cotta colored polymer clay at your service. I took a lot of medicine bottles and traced the tops and then used these as templates for each layer of bricks. Then after mortaring them together, I charcoaled the front and wired up the inside, placing a few logs in sight.
One of the most important pieces of furniture is the bookshelf. The parts under the window were solid for stability. I made the top parts with columns so the light would be better that way and you could see the pretties inside.
I made the alchemist’s chair and table really nice with scrolled wood trim. I would think he would sit there a lot and so I thought it should be fancy – not a throne, but pretty classy. (As a teacher, learning is huge for me. It’s no accident that the learned room of the castle is on top of the armory and not the other way around.)
The Alchemist’s Room Continued – May 2012
Okay. Back at it. First of all I came to realization that I will be moving in about a year, so it’s time to get this thing done. Usually when there are large gaps between when I work on it, it’s because I was frustrated and needed time to be away from it to get what needed to be done. This was true here. I had to start by taking a step backward first. All those shelves I worked so hard on look stupid to me now. I wanted them to be open enough to see all the stuff inside. Unfortunately, open looks too busy. Also, I had made too many of them. I took out a whole shelf and the room seems much better proportioned. The rest I replaced with shelves that looked like ordinary shelves.
One thing I was really putting off was making the glass jars for the potions etc. and the distillery equipment. I blow glass, but this seemed rather daunting. These were going to be really tiny. I was used to blowing much bigger. Once I gave up the idea that they would be perfect, they went pretty well and I liked how they turned out. There was a lot of breakage. (And me, too. For some reason this process caused more breakage than usual and I am typing this with various Band-aids all over my hands. ) There were probably 50 attempted for the twenty or so that I got. I blew retorts and bottles for the most part. Then I filled the bottles with bits of cork and various weird odds and ends – everything from fake flower pieces to salt. I just wanted a variety.
More Alchemy – August 2012
The way to make a room look good is to fill it with clutter, so I did. After the bottles, I did the fabric stuff. I made bags. Lots of them. Little and big to mimic stuff stored.
Most of them were stuffed to make them look full. Mostly they were made from a linen kind of fabric dyed in various shades of brown, mostly with tea bags.
Next I made wood things. Mostly I made various boxes, which for the most part are wooden squares with lines carved down the middle. I made a small set of drawers with string pulls. These worked and I left a few open so it looked more used.
I wanted this alchemist to have all the tools of a calligrapher or illuminator. I took a bunch of tiny shells and put a little paint in each one. I took a toothpick and glued paintbrush hairs on one end and then tied thread around the hairs. I found tiny feathers due to the sad demise of some poor bird around the birdfeeders and trimmed them to quills, one of which was stuck in a set of two beads glued together. For the papers, I cut up a lot of pretty drawing papers and made piles of them for the shelves. I looked up various alchemist images online and made rough estimates and shoved them in various places in the roughly shelved piles sticking out so it looked like all of them were written on.
For the alchemist’s astronomy tools, I found some a little difficult. First I completed all the drawings. That part was easy as the internet is full of medieval alchemist drawings. The second was the actual armillary spheres and astrolabes and such. Failure. Failure. Failure. I tried so many different ways to get all these things done. Nothing seemed to work and even my new Bronzclay let me down. Everything either looked awkward and clunky or simply broke. Thus, the desire for accuracy was jettisoned. I ended up using various bead findings, various beads and earring circles. Together they made some almost interesting armillary spheres. Then I took a couple of weird beads, glued them to pedestals and made them seem like something else.
Bronzclay is a great invention, though. I made a ton of tools out of it including various knives, bowls, prodding tools, non-working tweezers etc. I even made a set of scales with little weights.
Putting the whole tower together was somewhat daunting. Having kept it separate for so long, making the flooring and wiring permanent was scary. I did it carefully. First, make sure each and every wiring circuit works. A few re-dos were necessary, including routing out the backs of the floor/ceilings. After it was together, I went back to the storeroom and added food hanging from the ceiling, which hadn’t been possible before. The hooks were polymer clay around wire for strength. The meats were combos of clay. The fish were painted clay.