Hudson’s Bay Christmas window displays – Part One

Canadian retailer Hudson’s Bay Company is one of the oldest department store chains in the world. Its origins date back to the early days of Canada, when explorers traded furs to earn their livelihood. While lesser department store names like Eatons and Sears have been torn apart by the whirlwind of change in the retail business, The Bay is still going strong.

The Hudson’s Bay flagship store on Queen St. in Toronto exemplifies the golden age of retail, when there was no Internet and department stores were the go-to destination for a family’s clothing and housewares needs. Like all proper department stores, this one features several large window displays at street level.

Window displays are the department store’s visual greeting to the prospective buyer. A well-done display not only shows the products being sold, but says something about the store and the type of shopping experience it offers. And naturally, this is all done with the bottom line in mind: a catchy display can turn a passing pedestrian into an impulse buyer.

On the cusp of the 2017 Holiday Season, Hudson’s Bay has reignited the glory of traditional retail with a stellar collection of window displays adorning its Toronto flagship store. As diorama artists, we know that window displays are simply large dioramas. The combination of professional talent and generous budgets behind these displays can yield spectacular results, and we can learn a great deal by studying them.

The first display we’re going to look at features three vintage style streetcars circling a stylized Toronto cityscape, complete with a Christmas tree, City Hall and skating rink. To give you an idea of the scale, the streetcars appear to be about O Gauge. They aren’t running on track, but glide elegantly along a loop circuit with no visible means of locomotion.

I’ve spoken before about how light and motion can be used to increase the impact of a diorama. This one checks both boxes. In terms of motion, we have not only running streetcars, but a rotating Christmas tree and animated skaters. Lighting is also used to good effect: the tree, skating rink and building windows are all illuminated. The near total absence of colour gives the display a distinctive look. A uniformly white palette creates a magical, wintery atmosphere and blends all the elements together into a visually cohesive whole.

If you like to build dioramas and want to learn more about how to optimize the visual impact of your work, you might like my new book, Diorama Design. It’s available in both ebook and print formats at Amazon.

-Ivar

 

Ground Blur display bases from Coastal Kits

Coastal Kits has come up with a simple and effective way to create a diorama with the illusion of motion. By mounting your model aircraft above a Ground Blur display base, the streaked photo-quality backdrop creates the impression that the aircraft is flying at high speed. This is the same motion blur effect which would be achieved by a photographer panning with a flying aircraft while taking the picture.

The bases are a foam board/plastic/vinyl laminate construction and various backgrounds are available. Although Coastal Kits shows the bases in tabletop configuration on its website, you could mount the base on a wall just like a painting, provided you had a sufficiently strong support rod for the aircraft. Since there always seems to be a shortage of space when it comes to displaying dioramas, the wall mount option is an appealing alternative. Just don’t put it in a high traffic area where visitors run the risk of knocking their heads against your aircraft model! See the Coastal Kits website for more information.

If you like to build dioramas and want to learn more about how to incorporate the illusion of motion into your work, you might like my new book, Diorama Design. It’s available both ebook and print formats at Amazon.

-Ivar

Second Anniversary

The release of my new book, Diorama Design, marks the second anniversary of Creative Dioramas. It’s now available on Amazon in both ebook and print formats.

Diorama Design is a practical guide to design theory for modellers who like to build dioramas. I explain key design concepts and show you how to apply them, using actual dioramas as case studies. Diorama Design will teach you how to think like an artist and increase the visual impact of your dioramas.

If you’re a regular visitor to this blog, thanks for your continued interest. Feel free to browse the catalogue of previous posts in addition to whatever’s on the home page, and use the search box if you’re after a specific topic. Here’s looking towards Year Three!

-Ivar

Diorama Design is now available on Amazon

I’m pleased to announce that my new book, Diorama Design, is now available on Amazon in both ebook and print formats.

Diorama Design is a practical guide to design theory for modellers who like to build dioramas. I explain key design concepts and show you how to apply them, using actual dioramas as case studies. Diorama Design will teach you how to think like an artist and increase the visual impact of your dioramas. Fully illustrated with colour photographs.

-Ivar

Charming minimalist dioramas from Platz

The Miniature Animal series from Platz puts a unique spin on the diorama. These tiny, carefully composed vignettes of domestic cats at play have a unique look, owing to the tall base and single background wall framing the main subject.

What makes these dioramas so refreshing is their very zen-like design. Like a Haiku poem, each scene is stripped to its bare essentials. Although obviously aimed at animal lovers, these products are an excellent case study in design for all diorama artists. Too often, dioramas are crammed to the brim with enough bric-a-brac to fill a small attic. The spare composition of the Miniature Animal series shows what can be achieved with a few elements precisely arranged for optimal aesthetic effect. Truly an example of “less is more.”

Most pre-assembled dioramas come with three walls, in an attempt to create a panoramic background. This type of design is visually clumsy due to the sharp 90° creases where the side walls meet the back wall. Platz has solved this problem by eliminating the side walls altogether. The single back wall is spare and elegant. It works remarkably well.

The Miniature Animal series is available through HobbyLink Japan at https://hlj.com/.

-Ivar

Announcing my upcoming book on dioramas

I’m currently putting the finishing touches on a new book. The focus of this book will be optimizing the visual impact of your dioramas. Whether you’ve built a few dioramas or are just starting out, this book will show you how to think like an artist and take your dioramas to the next level.

If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you may be wondering if the book is simply going to catalogue the posts I’ve written here. I can assure you that the content is all new and hasn’t been covered on this blog. I’ll also be including lots of photos which haven’t been posted before.

The book will be about 75 pages in length and will be available through Amazon. It will be illustrated in full colour. Stay tuned!

-Ivar

Revisiting SHADO Yards

This is a follow-up to my original post on SHADO Yards from May 24, 2016. This diorama features moving parts, so I’ve decided to show what it looks like in motion. It was inspired by the 1970s TV series UFO.

SHADO Yards is half diorama, half model railroad. I had long thought about building a model railroad. But I realized I wouldn’t be satisfied with a conventional layout using off-the-shelf rolling stock, and decided I wanted to go with a science fiction theme instead. So the “train” in this diorama became a launch pad, which carries a factory fresh Interceptor from the assembly building to its launch position. I realized it would be less expensive to use an electric motor with a chain and sprocket drive, rather than a DC or DCC equipped locomotive, which would require an expensive controller. As you can see from the video, the transport mechanism moves at a constant speed.

The video also shows off the lighting to good effect. The sound effects were added in post production.

SHADO Yards

-Ivar

Dioramansion prefabricated displays from PLM

PLM has just announced new products in its Dioramansion series for upcoming release: Savanna, Western Ruins and Halloween (August), and Skating Rink (October). These full colour displays are intended to be used as backgrounds for children’s dioramas and include a base and two backdrop walls, each measuring about 10x10cm. Notice I said two walls, not three. The base has been rotated so it’s a diamond instead of a square, so only two walls are needed to create the background. This is a clever design twist which reduces the number of vertical creases in the background. There’s still one crease where the two walls join, which works fine for interior scenes, but not as well for outdoor ones.

PLM’s products offer the young modeller an accessible path into the world of dioramas. They remind me of the dioramas at the Lego Store—colourful and not too fussed about realism—and are aimed at a similar demographic. By adding some action figures or toy vehicles to a Dioramansion, a simple diorama can be created in minutes.

PLM’s Dioramansion series is highly recommended for young modellers and is available through HobbyLink Japan at https://hlj.com. A great introduction to the world of dioramas.

-Ivar

Diecast replicas, instant gratification, and the vanishing art of model kit building

Today I had an interesting conversation with the manager of a local store specializing in aviation related merchandise. This store just underwent a major revamp. The most striking change was a huge increase in the amount of floor space devoted to ready made diecast aircraft replicas. This section was not only expanded, but also moved to the front of the store. In contrast, the plastic kit section was shrunk down in size and relegated to the back of the store.

When I asked about this change, the manager confirmed that diecast replicas were outselling kits by a huge margin. He went on and on about the quality and fine detail on these replicas and how much they’ve improved over the years. I pointed out another trend, which is that people are losing the patience to build kits. He agreed with this but didn’t seem concerned.

In our world of instant gratification, it should come as no surprise that fewer and fewer people are building model kits. Instant gratification has become a core Western value, and you can see it in the short-term planning that corporations use, the tactical (rather than strategic) mindset of politicians who can’t see past the ends of their own noses, and the effects of technology.

Communication technology is probably the biggest cuplrit in training ordinary people to expect instant gratification. While everyone blindly praises the uninterrupted 24/7 contact which digital telephony has enabled, no-one seems to have noticed the ugly side effects.

For the first time in human history, verbal conversations are being replaced by snippets of text. These text messages are to face-to-face conversations what finger paintings are to a Rembrandt. They’re devoid of poetry and depth, not to mention basic punctuation. Instead of witty banter, we have emoticons. No wonder children are so easily addicted to smart phones. These devices are a grammar-free playground of reassuring smiley faces, ideally suited to short attention spans. As our minds are remapped to favour brief, careless messaging over communication with content and substance, we are reverting to our preschool selves.

The other danger of this new technology is the way it undermines our mental focus. A mobile phone conversation is invariably conducted while running for the bus, ordering at a restaurant, or doing any number of other activities. So only a fraction of the user’s attention is focused on the conversation. This is akin to an Olympic sprinter running a race while trying to tie a shoelace at the same time.

Harried urban drones like to flatter themselves as multitaskers. Although the term “multitask” sounds full of promise, the hard reality is that the human brain is akin to a one-CPU computer. We pretend to multitask by switching frantically from task to task every few seconds, only raising our blood pressure and shortchanging the task at hand. We ignore the fact that the human brain is simply incapable of concentrating on more than one thing at a time.

So back to diecast replicas. For those lacking the motor skills or hand-eye coordination to build a model kit, there’s a place for these products. But most of the time, they’re a cop-out. The buyer is taking a shortcut to the end result, not realizing it comes at a cost. Gone is the joy of artistic creation, with all its ups and downs, and that sublime moment at the end when you can proudly display something you made with your own hands. For those who thought about building a kit and succumbed to the instant gratification of the diecast option, it’s a choice they’ll eventually regret.

-Ivar

 

Hydrocal plaster diorama kits from Dioramas Plus

US-based Dioramas Plus was formed in 2008 by Randy Pepprock, who is known for his Downtown Deco model railroad buildings. Dioramas Plus is unique in offering kits with hydrocal plaster castings rather than injection or vacuform styrene parts. Hydrocal is a lightweight casting plaster which holds detail well. In addition to hydrocal parts, most of the kits also include laser cut wood doors and window frames.

Like MiniArt’s Dioramas Series kits, Dioramas Plus kits are aimed squarely at the armor modeller. And as with MiniArt, the kits allow the diorama artist to customize the scene by adding their own vehicles and figures.

What separates Dioramas Plus from MiniArt and other manufacturers is the build process. Working with hydrocal and wood requires specialized adhesives such as superglue and epoxy. And hydrocal is porous, so slightly different techniques are needed for painting and finishing. For the modeller venturing beyond styrene for the first time, there will be a bit of a learning curve. But there’s a benefit: hydrocal is a solid casting and is more suitable than thin sheet styrene parts for modelling walls, rubble, etc. It’s also rigid, and doesn’t flop around like a piece of vacuformed plastic.

Having used hydrocal before, I was impressed with its light weight and the ease with which it can be worked. Hydrocal is so soft and easy to sculpt that it invites experimentation—it will release your inner sculptor!

The Dioramas Plus kits are well designed and provide an excellent starting point for creating a custom scene. For the intermediate diorama modeller ready to expand their horizons and go beyond styrene, they’re worth checking out, at http://www.dioramasplus.com/site/.

-Ivar