Chisel & Mouse Sept 2017
September sees Spaceman’s Creative Director,Andy Green, visit the team behind Chisel & Mousefor ‘Those Who Design’. They talk architecture, the history of model building and Terrainscapes. So settle into your favourite chair and read on….
After a couple of hours of driving, I find myself travelling further and further into the West Sussex countryside until I reach the beautiful setting of Hooklands Farm. After meandering the long tree lined driveway I pull up at Chisel & Mouse. This
unassuming set of barns is home to a team of passionate and skilled individuals headed up by brothers Robert & Gavin Paisley.
Robert, thank you so much letting me visit the workshop today, I’m really looking forward to seeing how the magic happens! So for those who are unfortunate enough to not already know, what do Chisel & Mouse do and how did it come about?
Hi Andy and thanks for visiting. Well, Chisel & Mouse design and hand make model architectural sculptures, cityscapes and what we call Poparc, a mixture of wall hung architecture backed with bright colours with a nod to the world of pop art. My brother Gavin, who couldn’t make it today, has always been completely obsessed with buildings and happens to be highly skilled with 3D modelling. We ran a successful software company producing software systems and asked ourselves what else could we do. Originally we dabbled in just 3D printing but felt the final quality was a little ‘throw-away’ as well as the price point being way to high and so started experimenting using plaster instead. The process was a massive success and we launched Chisel & Mouse.
Impressive, from software developers to architecturel sculpters, that’s quite a transformation. Where does the name come from?
Actually it’s quite simple. We wanted to reflect the tools we use to create our product. Chisels we use in the final process of shaping the models and Gavin’s weapon of choice is the mouse.
Ok, now you’ve explained it I probably should have guessed!
The workshop is completely unassuming from the outside and now I’m inside, again it is very simple. The dim light gives an instant feel of calm and the slight haze from the plaster dust playing on the light makes me feel like I'm on a film set. I’d more liken this to Demi Moore’s loft apartment in Ghost, with pottery lining the walls and light beams dappling the floor than a factory churning out hundreds of architectural models! And of course, there’s no Demi!
Ha!, no more’s the pity. Well of course although we do produce hundreds of models, they are made by hand, packed and sent out from here. Gavin originally came up with the plan to make the models out of plaster moulds from the 3D prints. As you can see we don’t have the printers here, they are kept off site due to temperature and as you quite rightly pointed out, the dust! But once we have decided on a building, Gavin pain stakingly draws a 3D model of it, prints it and that creates the mould. The mould is then filled with plaster which creates the master. From then we are in full production. Once the specific building is made, any metalwork we need, for windows etc is designed and ordered from our supplier in Scotland and we then spray it and glue where necessary. Steve and Ben here then hand finish every model before it is ready to be shipped off.
I have to say they truly are works of art. The guys are working on such intricate and tiny scaled buildings as well, and achieving such smooth and perfect results. It’s very impressive.
Thank you, yes well the guys are passionate about what they do just like Gavin and I, it really is a labour of love. There are actually 3 product ranges currently available and the team work on all of them. We have the scale models, around 80 or so available, 9 cityscapes and of course our new range, Poparc, which we are really pleased with.
Steve, I don’t want to interrupt your work but you are working with the tiniest buildings I’ve ever seen, it’s pretty impressive.
Thanks Andy, As you can see, this is London which is our biggest seller, maybe for obvious reasons considering our main market place. The cityscapes are 1:5000 scale normally so yes, very delicate and we work in a plaster called Jesmonite which enables us to get a smooth architectural feel across the ranges. New York and Chicago are actually the hardest because the buildings are so close together and having lots of height makes them difficult to remove from the master mould without breaking.
Very interesting, thanks Steve. So Robert, do you also work with architects on models for their buildings?
We don’t do a huge amount of conceptual buildings for architects but for clients such as Michaelis Boyd Associates we created ‘thank you’ models for when one of their projects was complete which was nice to work on. We have also created residential models for architects before where perhaps they own more than one house and want a model of them displayed. These can be really fun to work on, using 3D printing to create the interiors and even adding lighting to give that wow factor.
How do you choose cities and buildings?
We do get approached often. The Michelin building for instance, that we were asked to do by Conran. It's really buildings we love, there are lots of difficulties with certainly architectural styles like Gothic for instance, so we tend to steer clear, fortunately we aren’t really into that anyway. Far more into Art Deco so the simpler the better. There’s some obvious buildings and some that were bespoke in the first place and then find their way into our main offering.
I was interested to see Farringdon station as one of your models, something many people reading this would be familiar with on a daily basis and also Battersea Powerstation. I suppose Battersea is the more obvious choice so was interested to find out where Farringdon came from?
We were actually approached by London Underground for the 150 year anniversary. They wanted to commemorate that with 3 models. Mornington Crescent, Sudbury town and Farringdon. 3 eras of underground architecture. But Battersea Powerstation was a big opportunity for us because everyone who purchased a 1st phase or 2nd phase property off plan received a model. That, the Bauhaus building and Arsenal are probably some of our most popular.
The models really are stunning. Have you ever thought about having them in full colour?
We have dabbled. Plaster though bleeds paint and so accurate lines are hard to apply. We have also coloured the pigment of the plaster but aside from it not working that well we don’t actually like to add colour. The pure white of the plaster accentuates the architects design. That said, we used to have Windsor Castle and the loss adjustor who was working on the fire in 1992 spent so long on the account that when he retired he was bought one of our castles but we were asked to set fire to it first! It takes all sorts I suppose. We make to order so although the product range is pretty large we have a very flexible approach so can make what people need without effecting cost or lead time too much.
So the cityscapes, they are beautiful. What’s the most popular?
Yeah we love them too. London is by far the biggest selling. London, New York and then Paris. These are reflected in that most overseas orders go to France or the US but our biggest market is the UK. But it really depends on how well the shops that stock the products promote them. In the UK for instance, although we have worked with companies like Liberty’s in the past, often the products are displayed and used as window dressing which although is still fantastic, companies like Aram & SCP are probably our biggest buyers in regards to actually selling products.
Yes, I’ve been into Aram as an example many times, and even bought a couple of pieces but it feels like you are as likely to buy accessories as much as furniture walking around their showroom store, which is great for you guys I’m sure.
So Steve and Ben here, are still rather expertly and delicately finishing the plaster models. They seem to be doing it by eye rather than off a plan. Is there ever a chance that the Gherkin suddenly ceases to be a part of the London skyline?!
No! To be honest 99% of the model comes out nicely from the mould but of course these guys repeat the finishing, sanding and chiselling of models and the cityscapes over and over again so know exactly what they are doing. It really is a labour of love but certainly a lot of labour!
Are you constantly thinking of new architecture to model? Or do you have a specific plan your following?
Bit of both actually, we mentioned the Michelin building earlier which fell into our laps but we have had a number of people’s own houses and flats to do as well but we have a huge list of buildings we’d love to do and the cities are arguably more obvious to choose from.
For instance, Gerald Hines 90th birthday. Gerald is a prolific American architect and founder of Hines, in Texas, Houston and we were asked to produce a huge bespoke model of 50-60 of his most famous buildings, all put together to form a fictitious city scape. The model was presented to him on his 90th birthday. We had to ship it bit by bit and assemble on site, it took about a week to put together in situ but was an amazing project to work on .
Another nice project was creating the Hudson side of New York City for realtor Hudson Yards. They wanted to show off their architectural plans with 400-500 3D printed buildings onto their grid system.
B&B Italia, we are producing models of Paris, New York and London to go into their showrooms. We work with quite a few furniture companies in the industry. So as you can see, we have a very varied work load, some of which we choose and some is chosen for us.
Great to be so busy and with such a varied client base too. So Ben, watching you use that scalpel with such precision, presumably you’ve always had an eye for detail, did you come to Chisel & Mouse from the creative world?
Ha! Not quite Andy. I’m actually a lorry driver by trade and worked at the airport and all over really, you could say I was a ‘Jack of all trades, and master of none!’ I was looking for a challenge and knew Robert and Gavin. They asked me if I wanted to come and do some temporary work here and I just never left. Ironically as a kid I had no patience for making models but I love doing what I do, there’s such a sense of achievement after each model and of course pride when we get such nice feedback.
It’s very clear that the love of what you guys do comes through in the quality of the product. How about competitors Robert?
Not competitors as such but the most well know individual in our very niche expertise would be Timothy Richards. As I mentioned before, my brother is the one who has the love of architecture and models and actually had a couple of Timothy’s pieces, so you could say that's where our love of working in this medium came from. His work is very different to ours as he uses colour and his models are very exact, detailed and extremely intricate. Interestingly a project we are working on at the moment is for the Sir John Soane’s Museum. It’s a mini temple which is to scale of an original by a team called Fouquet et Fils in the late 18th century. They would travel the world and then come home and make these models. All made out of plaster. They would create priceless models with perfect detail and actually Timothy is the only man on the planet who can be brought in to repair them, so you could say he is the 'don' of this medium!
It's so interesting that this craft has been carried out for hundreds of years. Whats next?
In a word…Terrainscapes.
So the idea is to model Mont Blanc, the Rockies etc. The idea was born from being approached by a company that dress chalets and asked if we could create these scale models of mountain ranges so they could show the people who are staying in the chalet where they were in the relation to their surroundings. That project didn’t come off in the end but this new range is going to be launched from that opportunity which we’re very excited about.
Love that idea, can’t wait to see them!
Thank you so much for having me at the workshop today, it’s been such an eye opener and I can’t recommend your models enough, they are simply beautiful.
Ok, stuck in a lift with the Chisel & Mouse team, it’s a little cramped, enemies for life of BFF’s forever! Let’s find out…
Modern or Art Deco Architecture? Modern - 1/1
Tea or Coffee? Tea - 2/2
Films or books? Books - 3/3
Do you like quiche? Yes - 3/4
Email or phone call? Email - 4/5
Staying in or going out? On the fence, staying I guess - 5/6
Thoughts on gherkins? Shite - 5/7
Bright colours or monochrome? Bright colours - 6/8
30 St Mary’s Axe (can’t write gherkin twice in one interview!) or The Shard? Shard - 7/9
Starter or Dessert? Starter - 8/10
A resounding 8/10, aside from a slip up with the love of quiche it looks like the team at Chisel & Mouse are our new BBF’s….
If you're interested in the Chisel & Mouse beautiful sculptures, visit chiselandmouse.com