HEMP HOUSE project

Hi Everyone,

   I'm going to archive the Hemp House process here on this page. Come back and visit often to see how the house is progressing!

Jan. 31, 2016:

On another front, I'm very pleased to announce that I've been invited to create a very special object for an important conference on Industrial hemp that will be taking place at the end of this month. You can read about the program here: http://www.hempnycity.com

The Faerie house that I am building for the raffle is going to be really special because except for the base, and for the lights, I hope to make the ENTIRE house out of hemp and 100% hemp products!  I've been gathering my materials for several weeks now and will go into greater details about them in my next blog, but for now I can show you the base and some of my sketches just to let you in on the process if you want to come along for the journey.  

The hemp papers, twine, yarn, stalks and fibers that I've gathered and that growers have kindly donated (BIG thanks to Joel at Vermont Hemp Company ) are now all here and I've been examining the plant materials especially for inspiration. The first thing I've realized is that the plant is very robust and grows strong and straight, for the most part, so the house will need to reflect some of those qualities. But, they are also rather fragile for my construction purposes as I plan to use a lot of paper for this construction so I decided to begin building my structure on a solid base to give the piece some stability and mass. I chose a very blonde Cypress root for the upright part of the base and a special slab of Buck-eye hardwood for the horizontal base. These two pieces of wood should compliment the hemp materials nicely in terms of colour and solidity. I love the upward movement in the Cypress root.
Here they are as they will be fitted together soon:
The hemp house is going to be a tree house of sorts. I wanted to make something that was unconventional and seemed to defy gravity a bit...looking a bit rebellious seemed like a good attribute to try and bring into the piece!  I made some sketches here:

 But these are just ideas... everything can change once I get going and see what these materials can and cannot "do" for the design. I can't wait to get started!  I'll keep you posted on this project as best I can. If you want to buy a raffle ticket for the house, you can do so here: http://www.hempnycity.com/#!raffle/pyxfm

(PLEASE NOTE; the photo they are using is NOT the house they are raffling ...the house I am building right now will be the prize! )

That is all for now... I gotta get building! 

Hemp House project Step 2:

Now that I have my basic design concepts it is time for me to gather my materials and do some research. This project is quite different from my usual work because I've never worked with hemp before so I have no previous experience upon which to draw to help me get started... it is all new to me. Here are some examples of the materials that I received from Joel at Vermont Hemp Company:

 I'm sure you're wondering how in the world is this going to become a Faerie House. This is what is so much fun and so challenging about the project!

I realized that I might want to bring in a bit of color so I ordered some hemp cording that is often used in jewelry-making. There were several different thicknesses to consider and the color ranges too. I found a nice assortment at an online shop and made my order:

I also found several different selections of hemp paper from other suppliers which I gathered and collected. One paper had to be ordered from Japan (I hope it gets here in time!)

Since I had never worked with these materials before, I needed to do a bit of testing. But before that, I just sat with the materials and let it speak to me. I smelled the fibers. I rubbed the rough strands and soft cottony material on my cheek. I nibbled on the seeds, chomped on some stems and explored the materials by bending, playing, breaking and stretching any and all of the pieces I had. It was very educational and inspiring!

  One surprise was that the structure of the very dense woody stem is not square, but is diamond-shaped in cross-section. Here is a photo of a larger stem which I cut with a very fine-toothed saw:
I was delighted with this discovery as it gave me my first design feature/element; how to shape the windows!  Here I've made my window templates. I wasn't sure what size(s) I might need so I made a range of 3 variations and hoped they would be close to what I'd need for the house I have in mind.
For my next test I wanted to see how the very thin papers were going to respond to the various glues I wanted to use. I was hoping to find a way to make some semi-translucent windows so that the light glow from inside the house would be very visible thru the windows without resorting to plastic film or the sheet mica that I've used before in other houses. After all, one of the challenges I set for myself was to see if I could use just the hemp and hemp products for the building of the house. I realized I'd have to make a few structural concessions such as the wood base, glues and other adhesives, the wiring and lights but I set myself the challenge of making this house without any structural materials except for hemp if I can possibly manage it.
  So here are the tests I made for strength, translucency and shrinkage on the very thin hemp papers that I had purchased for this project:
I did think about making one exception to my rule as I wanted to try using some dragonfly wings as doors if possible because the scale was right. I had some dead dragonflies that I had found last fall by the side of the highway. Around here, dragonflies collect in great "flocks" to do their fall migration. They often congregate along roadways and seem to use the open-space of roads as a corridor of sorts. I'm not sure if it because of the warmer air rising up from the hot tarmac or if there are more food insects that also use the roads, but I've noticed this for years. A sad reality is that while dragonflies are fast, sometimes they do get hit by cars. I'm forever scanning the sides of the roads in the fall for fallen dragons. I take them home and dry them out for possible inclusion in Faerie house constructions. Here are the two biggest ones I hoped might work:
Sadly, the first test that I did with the wings did not give me the results I had hoped for. The paper wrinkled and curled and the beautiful glittery quality got lost in the glue.

 It was good to test this out, but I'm not sure this idea is going to work. More experimenting will be required!

Finally I was ready to begin actual construction....sort of!  Usually I just start building, using my systems and methods that I've developed over the years (and which I'm writing about in my new book- but that is another story!) but this time I knew I'd have to make a paper model first to get all the shapes right and positioned where I wanted them on the base. I'll leave that for the next post!

Feb 12th 2016:
 I'm having so much fun with the Hemp house project!  
 I left off last time saying that I would need to make a paper model of the house before I began construction, so here we can see that model at last:

and another view:
Now that I had my model, I could take apart the sections for my pattern pieces and make each window section individually. As you may recall, this was a brand new material for me to work with so that meant I had to do a lot of testing first to see what was possible. In this picture you can see some of those early tests:

#1 shows the raw, dried stems that I got from Joel at Vermont Hemp Company. The stems have a lot of strength and are quite dense so I know I'll use them as structural supports. The pile of straightened material ( #2) is what I developed by taking the raw bark-like strands that are shown at the very top. These are the fibers that are used for rope and fabric making. They are very long (sometimes over 3 ft long!) and the strips are somewhat malleable, but they first have to be dampened and straightened, which is what I did to get the thin strips in #2. This took quite a bit of time to achieve, but the golden-honey colour strips are fun to work with once you get them. The back-side has a shimmery creamy white appearance so I wanted to use both sides if I could in my designs.

I used some strips to weave a panel # 3 and # 4 in the image above, #3 shows all the strips with the same side up and #4 shows using the front side/back side up in an alternating pattern.  

#4 shows how I then trimmed a woven section to fit my paper pattern shape to begin the window walls for the house. #5 shows another treatment which was just laying down several strips in a row and laminating them to the hemp-paper pattern directly. I use epoxy for this process as I don't want the strips to come off the support and the epoxy seems to work really well for that.

I took all the pattern pieces and tackled the window and door panels first since these give the main shape to each of the projections that come off the base. Here you can see all the finished window panels:

it was important to me to make each panel a little different but because they are all made from the same materials they all have a nice harmonious balance, design-wise. Except for the glue holding them all together, these are 100% hemp.  The door panel required a little different treatment as I wanted it to be a bit more sparkly.

There were several trials with real draongfly wings as mentioned previously. I had hoped they would work as "glass" doors, but I just didn't feel confident that they would be durable enough and I thought it would be such a shame if down the road something happened to the doors...it would ruin the whole sculpture. So to be cautious, I used the same concept only with different materials. I had some photographs of dragonfly wings that had been printed on clear acetate. These are what I ended up using. They were the same idea, just very strong. Here they are installed with their glass "jewels" in place to add a bit of sparkle. The white stuff is the fluffy hemp that is used to make thread. I rolled/spun it very loosely to make a fat length and then cross-stitched it on with some decorative hemp cord. This whole panel is very small, less than 4 inches tall...the door itself is about 2.25 inches tall. After this step I added a few Austrian crystal micro beads sprinkled on the white fluff arch, to add a bit more sparkle. I don't have a photo of that yet.
    Next it was time to tackle the roof sections. I was absolutely thrilled that the hand-made paper from Japan arrived. It was gorgeous and this photograph does not do it justice but it is the back-ground in the photo below:

Here we have all my roof patterns transferred to the hemp paper support panels, cut out and laminated. Each roof section is made from two sheets of the heavy hemp paper and is then glued together. In my experimenting, I discovered that hemp paper will take a bit of manipulation when it is wet and when it dries will hold the shape if white glue is used in the dampening process. So each roof got a bit of molding and shaping while it was wet and then the pattern was traced onto the dried panel and cut out as you can see above. I was very excited about the curly, turned up ends that this process allowed- it was a bit like my birch-bark curls I sometimes add to my other faerie houses so this was an added bonus. The diamond cut-outs will be places where the interior lights will be allowed to shine thru the roof, a bit like sky-lights in reverse. Since I had no idea how I was going to cover these roofs, I had to do more experimenting! And here is the horrible, yet very instructive result!

This is not an actual roof but a piece constructed to test several techniques - there are actually SIX tests in this single piece. It was a bit discouraging at first because all the things I thought I was going to be able to do, did not in the end work out. But with more trials and tests I finally found a solution that I was quite pleased with..... but I'll save that for next time!!
 Feb. 20th, 2016
  I'm so excited because the Hemp house is finally finished. But before I do the big reveal, here's how it went together:
     I took the off-white hemp-paper roof panels and overlaid them with several layers of the fancy, green Japanese papers. Between some of the layers I collaged in some bits of a the darker hemp paper to give a more organic look. I added curled ends for a bit more whimsy and a corded edge under the final layer to give the outer edge a bit of extra strength. Here are all the new roofs:
 As you can see the original cream coloured paper is still visible in the inside of the top-right roof.

Next I took the front panels and matched them up with their corresponding roof panel just to make sure they were all fitting together nicely. Many small adjustments had to be made to get the roofs to fit snugly around the wall panels, but eventually they were all paired up

 However, I did not glue them in place because if I did I would not be able to install the lighting. But I did add extra batting around the edges so the light would not leak thru at the joints. Here you can see a detail of how that worked:

 The pink arrow points to the rolled batting material that made a fat, felt-like worm that was glued in place. When the wall panel was laid in place, it would rest against this baffle and eliminate any small places where the light would leak out because the joints might not be a perfect match. The blue arrow shows how the original pattern had a cut-out design that was now covered over by the outer skin. That will play a very important role once the house is complete. Here you can see one of the windows from the back:

I did this same process with all seven windows. It took many days to get them all ready for installation. Now it was time to do the lighting but in order to do that I had to know exactly where each window was going to be placed, so the work of installing the windows and the wire with the lights happened in the same (painfully slow) step. 

  I took the base and created a small space where the batter pack would go by carving out the vertical portion of the base where it met the horizontal burl slab it all sat upon. Then I drilled holes into the base to feed the tiny wires up to the first window. There was too large a gap from that first window to the next window so I figured out a way to drill from one window to the next, but it was very tricky. At last the wire could be passed to the doorway panel which you can see below. Once I had all the positions of the windows figured out, I installed pegs which led up the rood sections by way of a small "floor".  Here you can see the wire is in place and the pegs are as well.

The actual door way is connected by the one wire you can see, but there are more wires in the frame of the doorway for additional lights. You can see how the wire is taped to the base and winds around. I wanted to make sure the lights were reaching every window with no lights being seen in between the windows (though it was OK if the wire could be seen as I could disguise that later). This took a lot of fine-tuning to get right. (the top of the vertical section is covered because I grab this part a lot as I work on the piece and because the raw wood is so absorbent, it would have become discolored by the time I was finished making the piece)

Here you can get a feel for how each window is configured:
The roof of the window sits on the pegs that are affixed to the vertical base by way of a small floor that adds strength and keeps the roof spread out at the proper width. It is then carefully glued and matched to the uneven wood surface of the vertical part of the base. With the front wall being removable, I'm able to gain access to the interior and make sure that the joints meet absolutely flush and is sealed very well. Another fat roll of baffling is installed where the roof meets the vertical wood, just to make sure there is no light leakage there.

Finally, all the windows were in place after several more days of detailed work. Here you can see them all on the base. The front walls are not fully glued in place just yet, because I need to make sure everything is right where I want it. Once the wall is glued in place I am no longer able to make any adjustments.

Next it was time to test it and make sure it was all working as I had hoped.... drum roll please....

YAY! It worked! Now you can see how the cut-outs from the under-layer allow a pattern of light to come out of the roof, a bit like a sky-light in reverse.

I was really pleased with how this was going. The test done, I glued all the front panels in place and let them dry for an extra day.Now all that was left was to add some trim around each of the windows and some landscaping details...that comes next!!

Feb. 21, 2016
  And now we get to the fun part! The final landscaping and "dressing" of the Faerie house with all the little details is always the most enjoyable part of the process and this house was no exception. The challenge however remained to incorporate as much hemp as possible... which meant hemp stones, of course! 

  I took some of the fluffy hemp and rolled it into small rounded pea and bean sized balls and then wrapped them in the coarse, thin fibers to make my "hemp pebbles". They had a fun an pillowy look which I liked.
I did have a bit of trouble getting the fine strands of hemp however... as BB had decided that he liked the hemp for his own pillow.

Finally I needed a way for the door to have some sort of entrance ramp or stairs. I had envisioned a spiral ramp and did make one. 

But it had a problem in that when viewed from above, the ramp hid all the beautiful details in the wood base. That seemed a shame so I went back to the materials to see what I could come up with to give a sense of a staircase. I ended up fashioning a sort of a tree fungus, mushroom and emerging mushroom out of the hemp batting. These were installed and they worked much better without hiding the wood burl details:

The final step was to add some sparkle. I had some nice pale green beads that were wired into a vine but the green paper covering the wires was too bright so I took more of the hemp paper and re-wrapped all the wired vines to help them blend in better. It was a small detail that took hours to do but in the end was well worth the effort. 

Here we are beginning to see the final result. The hemp "stones" are in place, the mushroom steps are working well and the sparkly greenery is adding a nice softening effect while pulling the whole sculpture together.

And here it is! 

and with the lights on:

and at twilight:

as an extra treat, here you can see it in the round at the end of this post!  

Thanks Everyone for reading about the hemp house construction. Now for a final bit of drama.... this house is for sale! Actually it is being raffled, as I mentioned. If anyone is in New York city, you can go see the house in-person as it will be at the "Art on paper" show March 3-6 at Pier 36 ( link to the show is HERE ).

Tickets for the raffle are just $20 or 5 for $75 and you can get them here: http://www.hempnycity.com/#!raffle/pyxfm 

Thanks everyone!

As for the video below, I'm not sure why but blogger has compressed the video so much that it looks terrible when seen full screen. Such a shame.
If you'd like to see the video in youtube you can click HERE to go see it. Unfortunately, I cannot control the video clips that are offered after my video is finished. Youtube chooses those and I was not pleased with what they chose to follow my presentation. My apologies for the confusion.

Feb 21, 2016

  I thought you might like to see the individual 360 views of the Hemp Faerie house so I've put all the images into this one final post so you can see it from all angles in good clarity. Hope you enjoy it!


Marilyn Filter said...

Pauline it is too scrumptious!!!!The colors, the techniques, taking us through the whole process. Green papers, whimsey and sparkle. Great work and thanks for sharing!

Sally J Smith, Environmental Artist said...

Thank Marilyn so very much! I'm glad you enjoyed the process. If you liked this you may also want to check out my new book coming out soon:

thank you so much!


Jan Albright said...

Sally, once again you have created a most magical and marvelous faerie house! I am in awe of your creativity! thank you so much for sharing the process and posting the photos, really very interesting! I send my condolences too for the loss of 2 kitties in your life. May your heart heal and expand! Jan

Welcome to the enchanted world of Environmental art and Faerie Houses sculptures created by Sally J Smith. Here you will find photos of the artist's unique art-forms and hear some of the stories from behind the scenes as she shares with you her creative process.