Best of British
Meet the brothers who have made plaster casting cool
An in-demand architectural model-maker
ROBERT AND GAVIN PAISLEY’ S architectural models have earned a cult following. Leading architect Alex Michael is of Michael is Boy downs several, as does the New York veteran modernist Richard Meier. Each model is a precise replica of a real building, whether it ’s a landmark like Battersea Power Station – their bestseller – or a private home. These aren’t just for design buffs, though. They possess the Lilliputian charm of a doll’s house, which holds universal appeal, as their rising popularity – 70 per cent year-on-year increase in sales since 2014 – proves.
It was the seemingly limitless potential of 3D printing that spurred the brothers to swap their computer-programming business in Nutley, East Sussex, for model making in 2011. At first they experimented with using purely digital technology to create the models, but they soon decided against it. ‘Although 3D printing is expensive, the results didn’t feel expensive and the models lacked that luxury craft touch,’ recalls Gavin. After taking a plaster mould-making course, they settled on a combination of analogue and digital to create the models, as encapsulated by their brand name, Chisel & Mouse – chisel for the handcrafted and mouse for the computerised.
To begin making a new model, they draw up the building from photographs using Sketchup 3D-modelling software. ‘ It ’s really important that the reproductions are exact, we’re not trying to do an abstraction,’ says Gavin. One of the ways he achieves this is by counting the bricks alongside the window panes to ensure the proportions are correct.
Next, the rendered computer-based models are sent off to be 3D printed (this is too costly to do in-house) and the 3D model they receive is used to produce a rubber mould. This is then checked for precison and, after correcting any errors, the process is repeated and a second rubber mould is created. This will be the master, used to cast the model.
Casts are made using a type of plaster c all edj es mon i te because it’ s very strong. ‘It has a lot of resin and acrylic in it, which can take a bit of battering,’ explains Gavin. Finished by hand, the models require light sanding and any surplus protrusions are chiselled off. Metalwork for windows and doors is made in Scotland and fitted by Robert and Gavin in their Sussex studio.
Developing a new model can take a few months, but Gavin has been working on his favourite London building for two years. He hopes his ambitious 24in-tall model of Christchurch Spitalfields, an 18th-century church in east London, cut away at the back to reveal the interior, will be finished next year. chiselandmouse.com
Clockwise from top A model of the Bauhaus art school in Germany; tools of the trade; brothers Gavin and Robert Paisley. Interview by Bethan Ryder. Photographs by Aloha Shaw