Dollhouse Miniatures: Achieving Realism with Houseworks Components (Aged Oak)

Hi! Are you entering the Creatin’ Contest this year? I am, and that means doing something I don’t normally do: using Houseworks (or, really, any prefab) components. GOOD TIMES. Do you sense my sarcasm? Apart from other, maybe more obvious issues, these things are made with cheap wood and by “cheap” I mean it’s meant to be painted. You might’ve encountered the same problem, in “normal” scale homebuilding: excitedly stripping away decades’ worth of accumulated crud only to discover…that the wood underneath was even worse. Yes, even This Old House-type houses have their foibles. Much of this was, and is, cost-driven–and while you might spring for the good stuff in your own actual living room, chances are you aren’t looking to spend as much or more on your hobby.

And, honestly, even if you are…don’t. I went through a purist phase, with my materials, a few years ago and wasn’t pleased with the result. There I was, saddled with the same scale-related issues, only poorer. Some woods have a tighter grain than others, but an oak is still about 100′ tall. You’re much, MUCH better off redirecting that energy (and budget) toward getting creative with your finishes.

Now, by way of a supply list, first I’ll share my “recipe” and then we’ll discuss tools.

Aged “Oak”

  • MicroMark “Age It Easy” (brown)
  • LifeColor Liquid Pigments (wooden deck darkener)
  • AK Interactive Weathering Pencils (chipping color)
  • AK Interactive Weathering Pencils (dark chipping for wood)
  • AK Interactive Weathering Pencils (smoke)

These are the colors I’ve used on this project, and will continue to use, to recreate the look of oak. How “aged” the oak gets, of course, depends on how one applies the colors. Here, I’m recreating shutters that’ve definitely withstood some weather. In my next project, however, I’m planning on–yes, sticking with oak but–going a little lighter. A good rule of thumb, in general, is to start light and stay light. Start with the brightest, least saturated pigments in your palette and only venture away from them with a VERY light hand. You can always go darker but working with stains means each decision is permanent. Sanding can unify choppy transitions between colors, to an extent, but it can’t work miracles.

Of course, you don’t have to use these same colors! AK Interactive can be hard to find; please feel free to substitute watercolor pencils, or really any kind of watercolor. However, I’d urge you to stick to the same (or at least a roughly similar) palette. DON’T USE BROWN. MicroMark might call their product “brown” but as you can see from the picture below, it’s actually more of a green.

Here, what’s happened so far (mostly) is I’ve given all six shutters two coats of “Age It Easy.” AIE is a great product but…not for aging? This pretty perfectly replicates brand NEW oak, especially after a light sanding. Now, in those areas which’d naturally darken, I’m going in with the dark chipping for wood. This color, in contrast, is quite red.

There’s no reason you can’t use the pencil, itself, straight on your project–I just don’t. I, personally, prefer the control I get with a brush. So, what I typically do is dip my brush into some water, brush it over the tip of whatever pencil I’m using, and go from there. Sometimes I add more water, sometimes I apply the pigment and THEN add more water. My advice, here, is to experiment with a few different techniques. Whatever works best for YOU, as an individual, is what you should use.

Applying red over green, we start to develop a very nice, rich brown.

The next step is to start adding in our second darkest shade, smoke. You can also use Payne’s gray. Just like with regular, old painting on canvas-type painting, we want warmth in our highlights and cool tones for our shadows. Payne’s gray, for example, works because it isn’t actually a gray but almost a blue. True, neutral grays are almost always to be avoided; they suck the life right out of most compositions.

At this point and, really, throughout the process I used a distressing tool from MicroMark. I love this thing…now. It took a while to get the hang of, honestly. I find, though, that it’s great at creating a new, scale-appropriate “grain.” Using it between coats (even successive, pale washes of the same color) yields great results, allowing each striation to stand out.

Here we are, after first applying the pencils, then doing some distressing, then–finally!–giving everything a light (light!) pass with a small section of sanding sponge. I cut mine up, before I store them. They cost the earth, and with projects as small as this they’re honestly too big to be useful. So, win win!

Again, oak reddens with age so were I going for–for example–someone’s kitchen I’d have swapped out dark chipping for wood with more chipping color (as the latter is also quite green).


At this point, the question becomes: just how gross are we getting?

For those who want to get TRULY gross, it’s time to introduce the…LifeColor. LifeColor is a really great line of paints that most miniaturists don’t use. I’ve selected wooden deck darkener, which is a charming greenish black the color of duck poop. On these shutters, I’m applying it extremely sparingly and only in those areas bound to collect grime. The warm/cool contrast, again, provides a nice sense of depth.

REMEMBER, AS YOU’RE WORKING: most shutters, these days, at least in America are hung upside down. The slats face down (down!) when the shutters are closed; if they faced up, they’d shunt the water directly inside instead of redirecting it. These particular shutters will, in fact, be closed but most dollhouses, indeed, feature them in the open position.

Don’t forget the sides!

One down, five to go….

What do you think?

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