Friday, 21 December 2012

Fun with search terms

One of the fascinating things about having a blog is that you get to see the search terms people have used to get to your site.  This week, along with the usual expected terms such as "Mayan skull", "skull chalice", "making a skull chalice" and the two of you who wanted to know about "painting zombie hands" (I know getting the colors just right can be tricky and I  hope my post on that was helpful), no fewer than five people got here by searching for "demon vulva".

I'm afraid there are no demon vulvas on this site, but don't be discouraged.  Rule 34 is your friend!

Wednesday, 19 December 2012

Mummified head Mayan mask

I've now got this project from concept sketch to finished product. 

It has a kind of double personality, this mask.  The skull side has a fun, stylized Day of the Dead type of vibe, while the head side is much creepier.  It's disturbing.  I like it!

I'm very proud of the eye on this side

This mask came together a lot more rapidly than the previous one, largely because the design didn't require me to stick hundreds of tiny paper dots all over it.  Moulding paper pulp into a cadaverous head shape is a much quicker process, although I did decide the hat/crown needed that mosaic texture.

Thursday, 13 December 2012

Mayan mask with feathers

Well, I finally got it all done and here it is.


I think we can all agree that the feathers are a nice finishing touch.

Why has it taken me so long to get the finished photos up?  You're thinking "laziness", aren't you?  Normally that would be the answer, but in this case the courier lost my feathers.  I bought some very nice feathers from Feathergirl and waited for them to arrive... and waited... Big thanks to the awesome people at Feathergirl for going above and beyond the call of duty to sort that out!  Their customer service is just amazing, and I highly recommend them.  If you're in New Zealand, Feathergirl will also work out cheaper than going to a craft store or Spotlight, and they offer much more variety.

Monday, 10 December 2012

Perfect Sunday morning

Sitting in the sun with a bottomless mug of coffee, working on a commission and watching TV shows about dinosaurs.  If there's a better way to spend a Sunday morning, I don't know what it is.

Friday, 7 December 2012

I have a logistical challenge

The latest challenge in my ongoing series of apocalypse party masks is making a mask for a friend who wears glasses.  In the last post I showed you the concept sketch and the artwork that inspired it.  I'm happy with the concept, he says (possibly unwisely) that he doesn't mind what I do, so I'm good to go.  The difficulty here is how to get around his glasses.  The guy needs his glasses to see with, and he has some complicated eye problems that mean contacts aren't really an option.  Either the mask goes over the glasses, or the glasses go over the mask.

The glasses won't fit over the mask.
My solution to this problem is to fit the mask over his head like a helmet, so that the face part hangs down in front of the glasses.  This is where the sturdy crown/hat arrangement you see in the concept sketch will come in quite handy.

All my masks start out with a piece of aluminium foil moulded over the user's face.  In this case, it's moulded over the head as well.

Here's the front:

And here's the side:

Everything else will be built over top of this aluminium structure.

Wednesday, 5 December 2012

Another mayan mask

Can you guess what the theme might be this time?  If you guessed skulls, then you've clearly been following this blog.  Here's the concept sketch:
It's based on this actual mayan mask which is half skull, half mummified face. 
Picture courtesy of
The crown on top is based on these mayan stone heads from the Merida museum in Yucatan.  My faux jade effect worked out pretty well, so I'll be using that again for the crown.
Picture courtesy of

Tuesday, 4 December 2012

Pictures taken in the Wanganui district

A story in pictures:

Like all the best creepy stories, the implied ending is that one of these could be in your house right now.

Thursday, 29 November 2012

Preliminary sketches

These are some abstract pattern sketches I spent some time mucking around with last night.  I did some stylized sea foam and wave patterns.  They're just preliminaries, so they're a bit rough around the edges (they're also rough around the edges because they're mostly scribbled freehand with a stylus), but I hope to use these ideas as decorative elements at some point.  I'm thinking it would be nice to do more with abstract decorative elements.

This one's based on sea foam

And this one's based on waves

This is why you shouldn't keep a computer in your bedroom.  Every morning I wake up and tell myself I will go to sleep at a reasonable time tonight so as not to feel like shite the next morning, and every night I muck around on the computer until the wee small hours.

Tuesday, 27 November 2012

Random cool photo of the day

It's a may bug standing on a roll of masking tape.  I'm particularly fascinated with the fur on its back and the veins in its wings.
This random cool photo was brought to you by Wikimedia Commons.

Friday, 23 November 2012

Painting faux jade

In this post I'm going to describe how I got a jade effect on my mask.  Searching Google trying to figure out the best way of doing this tells me there are a few people out there who want to know how to paint faux jade, so I'm going to share my method.  
Here's the finished product

I started out painting the whole thing white.  Not just any white: bright titanium white.  The white base coat can be a little patchy, but not too patchy.  I've then got viridian, ultramarine, and yellow ochre.  I've put some splashes of ultramarine and yellow ochre on the white, and splashed a watered down mix of white and viridian on top, with some darker viridian areas.  I've used a brush with stiff bristles in a stippling motion, which helps the paint to layer and blend nicely.  It also makes sure you get a nice stone texture with no tell-tale brush strokes.
These pictures show a close up of the blotchy blue and yellow undercoat, and a close up of the final effect before I glazed it with structure gel (I'll get to that in a minute).


I finished up by smoothing structure gel all over the surface.  The gel dries smooth and translucent, which gives some depth to the stone effect.  The secret to getting it on nicely is long, gentle strokes with your finger and not too thick of a gel layer.  You can always do another coat.

A wash of very dark red-brown is also helpful for showing up the mosaic effect I put on the skull, and adding some depth to the "jade".  This wash really improves the realism of the effect, but if you're doing this you'll need to make sure it's very, very thin.

Monday, 19 November 2012

Experimenting with teeth

This time, instead of eyes, I’m mucking about with teeth.  This one is a human molar made with polymer clay.  It has a little hole drilled through it so it can be put on a string.

In general I’m not a big fan of using polymer clay to make teeth.  Polymer clay on its own isn’t very strong or durable, so it’s not a great choice for teeth even though it is easy to get a nice shape and colour with it.
These teeth are made of paper mache.  They’re made by laminating about thirty-odd sheets of tissue together with glue, and they dry like concrete.  However, you get a certain amount of shrinkage and they’d need to be really aggressively sanded and carefully painted before I could get a result I would be happy with.  As you can see, the surface is very irregular – this is because of uneven shrinkage as they dried and there’s no way round that.  I don’t like this and frankly I can’t be bothered spending an afternoon sanding these things.  I have a shortcut.

What I’m going to do is wrap the teeth in a thin layer of translucent polymer clay and bake them.  As I’ve discussed before, you can bake paper with polymer clay without encountering any problems because the temperatures needed to bake polymer clays are well below the combustion point of paper.

Here they are after baking.  Yes, they are saber tooth cat teeth.  Why do you ask?

To be exact, they're homotherium teeth.  Homotherium was one of the more successful saber tooths.  It survived for around 5 milion years, during which time it colonised Eurasia, Africa and the Americas.

Saturday, 17 November 2012

Stone mosaic effect

I've decided I want my mask to have a stone mosaic effect - either jade or turquoise*.  How do you get a mosaic effect with paper mache?  Well, it turns out this is quite simple.  You get a hole punch and remove the little paper circles that are in its collection tray, then you glue them all over the surface of the thing you want mosaicked.

Fundamentally, this is a lazy little work-around that prevents me from having to tackle the irritating task of smoothing the paper mache surface so it resembles stone.

*This really depends on how the paint effect works out.  I'll be shooting for jade, but who knows?  I've never done a jade effect before.

Tuesday, 13 November 2012

Mayan skull mask

The main project I'm working on at the moment is a paper mache mask.  I think it's a safe bet that nearly everyone reading this has made a paper mache mask at some point, probably at school.  It's quite a relaxing task and reminds me of the very few occasions when I didn't completely hate being at school.  And that makes me happy on a whole other level, because it reminds me that I never have to be at school again but can still make a paper mache mask if I want to.  Seditiosus 1, School 0.
I'm actually making a series of masks for the purposes of partying like it's the end of the world this December.  You know how it is: you have a few drinks with some mates, someone says "Hey, you know what would be really cool...?" and it all just kind of snowballs from there.
Here it is half finished, and it's already gratifyingly creepy.

The eye holes are lined with thin cloth that works on essentially the same principle as a two way mirror.  The wearer can see out of them, but other people can't see in.
Here it is when I first started it.  With the shaping for the eyesockets and very little else it looks like it's wearing spectacles.


Tuesday, 6 November 2012

More things I really like

Today's theme is skulls.  Lots and lots of skulls.  Halloween may be over, but the Mayan apocalypse is just around the corner, as the conspiracy theorist in your life has no doubt already informed you.  In honour of the event I'm having a Mayan themed party and have invented a special chocolate-chili cocktail that promises to have truly apocalyptic after-effects.  Mayan art strongly appeals to me (it's the skulls, in case you hadn't figured that out yet), so this is a great opportunity to dress up in kick-ass costumes while demolishing the aforementioned cocktails of doom.

Here's a skeletal underworld god:

Image from the Dresden Codex, by way of Wikipedia

Here's a skull covered in torquoise mosaic:

Image from Realms of Chirak

This little guy is my favourite.  There's just something about the idea of a skull with eyes.

Image from Frontiers of Anthropology

I definitely have to do something with the skull-with-eyeballs theme.  Watch this space.


Monday, 5 November 2012

Things I really like

I'm mostly going to spend this post showing you some cool photos of things that are really inspiring me at the moment.

I’m currently excited about mappae mundi.  Probably the most famous one is the Hereford Mappa Mundi, created around 1300AD and pictured here.
Image courtesy of Wikipedia
No, they didn’t think the world really looked like that. The mappa mundi wasn’t a “map” in the sense that we understand the word. In fact the closest term we have today would probably be “infographic” –mappae mundi were visual encyclopedias and typically distorted the landmasses in order to show Jerusalem in the centre of the world (it being the Holy Land, and thus the spiritual centre of the world), with the places farthest away from it out to the edge of the picture. The point of a mappa was to show kingdoms, events, and prominent people from all over the world in one convenient image. Symbolism was more important than accurate geography, which is why you find Jerusalem at the center and the garden of Eden (depicted as a little round island) up top in the east where Jesus is shown as the lord of creation.

This one is the Psalter Map from the late thirteenth century.

Image courtesy of Wikipedia

And this one is the Vinland Map, also courtesy of Wikipedia.  It’s either a medieval map showing the part of North America the Vikings visited and called Vinland*, or a sophisticated 20th century forgery.  If you’re interested, Ohio State University has a good and very comprehensive summary of the scientific evidence to date.  It concludes that the map is genuine.  My personal view is that the map is more likely to be genuine than a forgery, but that’s not really the point of this post.  The point is that I want to play with the map.

I want it in relief, with some added extras, because as medieval maps go the Vinland Map is pretty crappy. It's just an outline with some place names and notes. A lot of early cartographers were artists and designed their maps to be visually appealing, but this one is intended to show landmasses for the purposes of navigation and that's it. There's no symbolism in the Vinland Map, and the only story it tells is a story about geography.

Wednesday, 31 October 2012

Happy Halloween everybody!

I hope you've been enjoying this year's contdown as much as I have.  I'd like to celebrate October 31st with my take on the Jack o'lantern: the shrunken head lantern.  Enjoy!


Tuesday, 30 October 2012

Mummified demon specimen

This one is a very traditional European type of demon, generally humanoid in shape with a pair of bat-like wings.
My fascination with mummified demons comes from Japanese examples, and it's a theme I keep coming back to.  Japan's vibrant history of mummified monsters is one I think Western culture could learn from - can you imagine how awesome it would be if your local church had a demon mummy? 

Monday, 29 October 2012

Experimenting with eyes

We're only a couple of days away from Halloween now, so let's look at a cool little thing you can do fairly quickly for use with your Halloween decorations.

I'm talking about eyes here.  I like eyes a lot and like to just sort of sprinkle them everywhere in places they don't normally belong.  Happily, it's easy to make very effective eyes and they don't take very long to make.  Today, I'm going to talk about how I do that.

A while ago, I made lizard eyes.  I’m pleased with my lizard eyes, but I also wanted to try making something that’s a bit more like the glass eyes taxidermists use.
So, here is eye prototype number two.  I made them with a glass pebble over top of a painted iris and pupil.  I placed those on a bottle top and wrapped a small quantity of translucent Sculpey round them to hold everything in place and form a sclera (the white part of the eye).
Sculpey is baked at a low temperature, so the glass lens, bottle top and painted paper iris can all be baked together without any problems.  I haven’t needed to use any glue here, because the Sculpey keeps everything together.
The results are pretty good and I'd be more than happy to have a few of these peeking out from around my garden plants.  However, I think they could be even better, so I decided to make another pair with acrylic cabochons.
These cabochons are used in jewellery making.  They’re designed to have a small image placed underneath them, and this makes them perfect for sculpture eyes.  They’re much clearer than the glass pebbles I used for my previous prototype, so they distort the painted eye far less than the pebble does.  That means I have to be more detailed when I paint the iris, but it also means the eye looks better.  I could also use a printed picture of an eye, which would be an easier and quicker option if I had a suitable image to use.  I also discovered that for best results it's a good idea to paint the pupil of the eye directly onto the cabochon.

The really important thing to remember here is that you can't use any kind of polymer clay with acrylic cabochons.  They won't survive the baking process.  Instead, I've used clear glue and air dry clay (DAS is pretty good).

Thursday, 25 October 2012

Halloween how to: severed ear prop

Now that the ear prop is nice and dry, it’s time to paint it.  Here it is, all finished:
These ears look great nailed to your door or front gate
First up, I’ve given it an all over wash of very thin yellow ochre paint. 
Next, I’ve added raw umber and burnt sienna to give it a nice dark mummified appearance.
Finally, I’ve simulated some dried gore where the ear would have attached to the head using clots of ultramarine and burnt sienna.  Obviously, you can also use a natural skin colour and fresh gore; it's just a matter of personal taste.

Monday, 22 October 2012

Halloween how to: severed ear

Today's tutorial is all about making a severed ear out of paper mache.  I know ears are kind of a complex shape, but don't let that put you off.  This is a Halloween prop: we're not looking to recreate Michelangelo's David here, we want something that looks like it's been hacked off with a weed whacker.  The trick is to look at where the ridges are in a human ear, follow the line of those ridges with some twisted paper, and paper mache over top.  As always, Google image search is your friend.

I find with ears it's good to start off with the cartilage.  In this picture, you can see how I've glued a sausage of paper mache on a piece of tissue in the shape of the cartilage.  I've made the sausage my smearing glue onto a piece of tissue and twisting it up.  I've used straight PVA glue here, because anything more watery will cause the tissue to disintegrate.  It is important to use tissue and not, say, newsprint, because tissue is soft and makes a nice skin-like texture.

As you can see, the shape is simple, but it already looks like an ear.  In the next two photos, you can see how I've paper mached over the "cartilage" to put skin on the ear and help form it into an ear shape.

By now, it's probably going to be quite soggy and fragile, so I'd recommend you put it aside to dry for a while before you finish working on it.

Next up, you want to use the tip of a pen to gently poke a hole in the tissue where the earhole should go.  The hole needs to go in behind the "cartilage" lump you made at the beginning, as shown in the picture.

As you can see, it's already starting to really look like an ear.  The next thing is to turn it over, so you can add a curved ridge of gluey paper around the back of the earhole like this:

After that, all you need to do is tidy up the edges and make an earlobe out of a lump of glued tissue:

Next time, I'll talk about how you can paint the ear to make it look both realistic and incredibly disturbing.