When I first started collecting Calico Critters, I have to admit I had a bit of sticker-shock when it came to the buildings and environments. Not only can they be rather hard on the pocketbook, the line can seem quite limited. Right now the bakery available in the U.S. is more like a market stall than a full bakery, and isn’t really to my taste. However, a newish line of Critter-like toys called Li’l Woodzeez is quite widely available at Target stores and the playsets run about $20. I was initially turned off by the Woodzeez line because of the (to me) overly bright and cartoon-ish look. But on closer examination, I became interested in the “bones” of the structures and the wide variety of accessories that the playsets came with. So I purchased the “Tickle Your Tastebuds” bakery with the goal of renovating it to fit more with my aesthetic tastes.
Let me give you a sample of the “before and after” before I begin explaining my process and getting into the nitty-gritty.
Let me say first off that this customization was very detailed and tedious. It’s probably only a way to “save” money if you don’t put a dollar value on your time. (So what I’m saying is that the official Calico Critters environments are not overpriced if you like how they look. The cost of materials and time to customize the cheaper Li’l Woodzeez version is most likely more than what you would pay for a Calico Critters playset.)
I didn’t think to take pictures of my full process, so this will be text heavy until the end.
The first thing I did was take the bakery apart. These larger sets are constructed with screws up through the floor holding the walls vertical. (Note: the smaller sets are not constructed this way – they are permanently snapped together, making the customization process more difficult. Just FYI.) So I unscrewed the walls from the floor. (Make sure to keep the screws in a safe place!) I took stock of what I did and did not like about the playset. The floor is a nice chocolate brown, so I decided not to modify it. Also, the front windows are a nice woodsy brown and I wanted to preserve this color and texture. So I carefully and precisely covered all surfaces I wanted to preserve with masking tape on both interior and exterior sides. Across the windows, I made sure to overlap the strips of tape so as not to get any paint where I didn’t want it to go.
I then used Krylon Fusion for Plastic spray paint to paint the surfaces. (Warning: You must use spray paint in an outdoor, very-well ventilated area! The fumes are toxic. Wearing a respiratory mask is recommended. I also highly recommend wearing safety goggles and gloves as well as old clothes. You will also need to protect the surrounding surfaces because the paint will go everywhere. Think drop cloths or tarps. But seriously, spray paint is dangerous and flammable. Please read all safety instructions and follow them to a “T”! Here is the Krylon safety page.) I think I used the almond color for the structure. While I was doing the spray painting, I also spray painted several of the accessories brown (I think the espresso color.) I am definitely not a spray painting expert by any means, so it was a bit of trial and error for me. Several light coats are key, with drying time in between each coat. I didn’t do a perfect job (I’m super impatient) but so far I’ve been happy with the results. I did let the pieces dry completely for 24 hours before continuing with my project.
After the base color was dry, I began working on painting the details. In preparation, I had read various advice about what paints to use on plastics and found quite a bit of conflicting advice. So keep in mind that this is just my personal experience, and your preferences and results may vary. For some detail painting I used Citadel brand acrylic paints, marketed primarily for tabletop miniature gaming. It worked nicely, but Citadel has a fairly limited range of colors and with all I wanted to do, it would get a quite expensive. So I branched out to craft acrylic paints from big-box shops like Michaels and Joann. The color range is much greater and much less expensive (about $1-2 per container). Just make sure to purchase the multi-surface versions (like this or this) which are specially formulated to stick to plastics. Keep in mind, no paint is going to be as durable as the pigment that was embedded in the plastic. So be aware that over time, the paint may chip or flake if scraped or dinged. As an adult collector, this isn’t an issue for me, but be aware that with more vigorous play, your paints may not last as long!
The other item I highly recommend for doing such small detail painting is a very small hobby paintbrush. I use brushes around 10/0 and 20/0 size for the small details and larger brushes for larger areas. Small brushes can be difficult to find. Big box craft stores sometimes have them available, but your best bet is from small hobby shops with a focus on tabletop gaming or model railroads and airplanes. Just like with other paints, several thin coats of paint is better than one thick coat.
Once I was happy with all the detail paint work, I reattached the walls to the floor of the bakery. I also added some detail paint to some of the accessories to give them more dimension and added them back in.
Overall, I am very pleased with how this project turned out. As I stated above, I don’t recommend doing this in the hopes of saving money. The time, materials, and effort expended makes buying what you want a better “deal.” However, if you are like me and want to make something your own and enjoy the process, customization is a fun and satisfying undertaking.
Now for a whole bunch of before and after shots!