Tips and Tricks for Making Buildings & Accessories

This is the 2nd of my technique tutorial series covering what I teach in person during classes at a local store. The first of the series was a listing of my favorite tools and supplies. Once again, you may want to check back with this tutorial periodically as I will update it any time I learn a new tip that helps me build a house or if I remember any that I use, as until now I haven’t written them down. I too am always learning new ways to do things. Many of the tips and tricks I list below came from suggestions by students in my classes.

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Supplies

In my class I always hand out a list of supplies. This list is ever changing as I discover new items, so check back often. However, if you are about to make your 1st Putz style house and you are not sure you are going to enjoy it, do NOT go out and buy a bunch of supplies. Go to the Dollar Store and buy a small bottle of tacky glue, a couple of paint brushes, and a few colors of acrylic paint. If you want to glitter your house, buy a bottle of Modge Podge and glitter (they usually have a few seasonal colors.) Only after you discover if you enjoy making houses should you buy more supplies.

Opening & Organizing Kit/ Cut Pattern

Whether you have bought a kit or cut out the pattern yourself on your cutting machine, take a few moments to organize your pieces. I always have the students in my class compare the pieces in the kit to the cutting guide I have in the instruction packet to make sure they have all the pieces. If you are cutting one of my free patterns, you can compare it to the PDF included with the pattern. Below is the cutting guide for the Gingerbread Tudor as an example. Note that you will have either the Regular Back, Bottom & Trim OR the Putz Back & Bottom, OR the Solid Back and Bottom, not all 3!

Next, before doing any painting, match the trim to each side so you have a clear idea of what goes where. It may be helpful to keep each side or portion of the building in separate marked envelopes so you don’t glue the wrong trim pieces to the wrong sides. I do suggest that before you start painting you read through the entire instructions to get a clear idea of how the building is glued together.

Folding

Once all of the pieces are laid out like in the diagram above, turn each over and make a small X with a pencil on the back side. This is the side you will NOT be painting. For pieces with score lines, the front is the side with the score lines, and the back is the side without the score lines.

To get sharp creases on the fold lines, lay your clear 6″ ruler along the score line, and fold TOWARDS yourself. Then flip the piece over, place your ruler against the crease, and again fold towards yourself. You should now have a sharp crease with the tabs folded towards the back (mountain fold.) Even in situation where you need the tab towards the front (valley fold), fold twice, once towards the front and then towards the back. Then fold once again towards the front to get the valley fold.

If you feel the score lines are not deep enough, you can use your Bone Folder to make the score lines deeper or more visible. Always do your folding before you paint your pieces as the score lines can disappear under the paint.

When I have a very tight fold, I find it helpful to grab with flat nose jewelry pliers and fold against the pliers.

Texturing Your Walls

There are multiple ways you can texture your walls before painting. To create a siding look, you can use a bone folder and mini scoring board. If you don’t have the scoring board, you can just use a ruler.

If you are cutting your own pieces, you can follow this tutorial on using a debossing tip or scoring stylus to texture and cut your building.

If you own a manual embossing machine like a Sizzix Big Shot and embossing folders, you can texture the walls using the embossing folders.

You can create a stucco look on the walls of your building by adding fine sand to your paint. However, I prefer using Winsor & Newton Galeria Acrylic Medium Sand Texture Gel for the stucco. Brush on the texture gel before you paint. I only brush up and down, never side to side.

Stencil on brick or stonework using Translucent Grit Paste by Tim Holtz/Ranger. For this option, I paint the walls my grout color before I stencil on the bricks. Follow this tutorial on stenciling bricks onto the walls of a building.

Painting Your Pieces

Think through your colors before you start painting. What color do you want your walls, trim, roofs and chimney? Do you want your walls 2-tone? Will all of your trim be one color, or different colors? Do you want your door to be a different color than the rest of the house/ trim? Are there additional pieces like a porch or steps and do you want them to be a contrasting color?

If you are going to mix up a custom color, mix extra. It is better to have too much of a color than to try to mix paints to match the same color again. You can buy small plastic cosmetic containers to keep your extra custom colors in.

I know people who glue their buildings together before they start painting, but it takes good eyesight and a steady hand to then paint your trim contrasting colors. I prefer to paint my pieces before I glue them together. Paint your walls first, then your trim, and then your roof(s), chimney and porch. By the time you finish your roofs, the walls and trim should be dry so you can start gluing. Do not glue your building together until the paint is dry.

To avoid your cardboard buckling, paint on two thin coats instead of one thick coat. You can use a sponge brush to paint your walls, but you can also get a suggestion of siding by using a wide flat paint brush and either painting just up and down or just side to side.

Paint slightly into the tabs on the walls so that no white will show once you glue your building together. You do not need to paint the entire tab. Make sure you paint the edges of the buildings that do not have tabs, as those edges will show once the building is glued together. Also paint the edges of the trim, not just the front. If my trim is going to be a different color than the walls of my building, I do not paint into the edges of the window openings in the walls. Instead, once I glue my trim onto the walls, I touch up the inside of the window openings with the same color as the window trim.

Paint the inside of operable doors. I usually glue a 2nd door onto all operable doors to make them stronger. Remember to paint the edges of the doors.

Paint in from the edge on the underside of a roof if that roof has an overhang.

You do not need to paint the bottom insert piece as it will not be seen.

Gluing

Less is best. When you glue, you want a thin layer of glue, otherwise it can seep outside your gluing areas, take longer to dry, and may buckle your cardboard or paper. Even clear glue can leave a sheen that does not match the rest of your building. Consider painting on your glue using a fine paint brush as this will give you more control than using a glue bottle.

Take your time gluing. Match your seams as close as possible, and hold them together with your fingers until you are sure the glue has caught and the seam won’t shift. I use plastic clips to hold my pieces together when I can’t hold them with my fingers.

General order of gluing. In some cases a building may need to be glued together in a different specific order. Refer to the building instructions.

  1. Glue the trim and door onto the walls while they are flat.
  2. Paint the edges of the walls around the window openings to match the window trim.
  3. Glue the vellum, pictures or acetate onto the inside of the windows.
  4. Glue the walls together.
  5. Glue in the bottom insert.
  6. Glue on the roofs.
  7. Glue on chimneys, stairs and porch.

Stairs

Stairs are one of the more difficult elements, and while I love the look, they can be quite frustrating to fold and glue together. If you have trouble making stairs, consider buying some small square dowels in the appropriate size for your scale and cutting them to the width you need. Glue them together with wood glue and paint.

When I make stairs out of cardboard, I always cut my stairs out of a lighter weight cardboard or cover cardstock than the rest of the building since the stairs have such tight folds. Glue the stairs together before painting them. Accordion fold the stairs. Starting with the top stair, glue each riser of the stair to the sides. Hold the piece together with your fingers until you are sure the glue has caught and will not move, before gluing the next step down.

Shingling a Roof

For a more realistic look, cut your shingles out of textured cardstock. Starting at the bottom of each roof piece, glue on the shingles. This is easiest while the roofs are flat, but there may be times when you will want to shingle a roof after you have glued it to the building. An example of this is when you use shingles to hide gaps in the roof. If you are going to use Ranger Distress Inks or Distress Crayons to add color or to age your roof, seal with Krylon spray before adding snow, otherwise the snow will be stained by the inks.

Fixing Mistakes

Gluing Mistakes

Taking your time to glue your building together, as well as making sure you know where each piece belongs before you glue anything together goes a long way towards avoiding any gluing mistakes. If the worst has happened, slip the blade of your craft knife into the seam of the items you have mistakenly glued together, and use the blade to gently pry & slice the two pieces apart. If you are lucky, a fresh coat of paint will hide where you had to make a fix. If the damage is more evident, consider ways of disguising it with glitter, a plant twining up the face of your building, or adding some washi tape trim.

Painting Mistakes, or the Colors Aren’t Working for You

On every building I always need to do a little touch up of my paint once I finish gluing the building together, usually of edges I forgot to paint. A bigger problem I have is not being excited by my paint colors after I finish gluing the building together. There are several ways of fixing this.

Glaze: Sometimes the colors just look flat. I will use a clear glaze on the walls, or only on certain elements like the window trim to give them more pop.

Dragonfly Glaze: Dragonfly Glaze is a color-shifting glaze, and does not fully cover the color of the base paint, but gives it an iridescent shine.

Glitter: You can glitter all of the building, or only parts of the building. I use Matte Mod Podge and Fine Glitter. I like to brush on the Modge Podge one side of the house at a time, and tend to use a Sponge Brush. Then I sprinkle with a fine clear glitter so the color of my house still shows through. This is also a great way to hide gluing mistakes.

Washi tape: Add strips of washi tape to the house to give it more interest. I glue on my tape as I worry about the tape’s adhesive peeling over time. If you don’t have washi tape, you can cut strips of decorative paper.

For the model below, I used DecoArt Triple Thick Gloss Glaze on the window trim, Folkart Glitterific Fine Paint on the front door and stair railing, Dragonfly Glaze on the walls, and a strip of washi tape at the base of the house as a decorative foundation.

One last thing about mistakes: embrace them! Everyone, no matter how experienced at making houses, still makes mistakes. Turn that mistake into a decorative element. If there are gaps in the roof, shingle it. If there is an ugly wall seam, glue a plant in front of it. Some of the cutest elements of houses I have made are due to the need to hide a mistake.

That is all I have for now! As I think of other tips and tricks I will continue to update this page.

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