Thursday, 31 October 2013

Happy Halloween 2013!

Well, it's that time of year again.  Have a great time everyone!  I plan to.

Here's a fairly decent photo of me with my paper mache horns:

Very metal!

Slightly less of a success was the hallucination dress I made to go with the horns.  I need to do some more painting on it, but I can do that.  Unfortunately my budget doesn't stretch to hiring models so you get to see another pic of my ugly mug:

Not a good photo, but actually the best one I could get.  It took me an hour even to manage this one so don't complain.

The black outer skirt hangs closed over the painting and shows bits of it when I move, and that works okay with the horns.  I guess it's not a total disaster.  Me wearing a dress is certainly scary and that's what Halloween is all about.

Wednesday, 30 October 2013

Finished Halloween mask

Well, here it is.  It's all finished, painted, and polyurethaned.  Enjoy!

Right side.

Left side.

The back of the skull.

From the top.

Paper mache mask and horns drying in the sun.  You can't see the mask so well but I like the light and shadow in this pic.

Tuesday, 29 October 2013

Channelling Leon Bakst

When I designed my Halloween costume for this year, I had Leon Bakst firmly in mind.  I’m a total sucker for anything Art Nouveau.  I also became captivated by how conceptual costumes could be in the Art Nouveau era.  Take this example, a costume design for The Firebird from Stravinsky's ballet of the same name (based on what was one of my favourite stories when I was a kid).

Firebird costume design, 1910

I think we can agree it's pretty spectacular and does a good job of communicating the firebird concept, but it's also very abstract.  On its own, out of context, you might not recognize what it's supposed to be.  In the 21st century, we tend to want our costumes to be more literal and self-explanatory, but I like this abstract approach.  I thought it would be fun to try it this year.

Then I got to thinking about how some researchers think that historic experiences of witchcraft, such as the events that happened in Salem, were actually caused by ergot poisoning.  Ergot is a fungus that infects rye crops and has hallucinogenic properties similar to LSD.  At the time, so the theory goes, people didn't understand they were simply having a bad trip and thought witchcraft was to blame.

What a great concept for an abstract Halloween costume!  So I decided I wanted an Art Nouveau interpretation of an acid trip.  What I actually had was some fabric paints and a couple lengths of cloth left over from other projects.  I had about the same timeframe for this thing that you see on Project Runway episodes, so I'm actually quite surprised I got it done.  In this photo I'm half way through painting the costume to represent a hallucination.  I've used form constants (basic shapes that are hardwired into the visual cortex and therefore turn up a lot when we hallucinate), and eyes, which are a staple of hallucinogenic imagery.  As a wee nod to the Art Nouveau fascination with Egypt and the East, I made them wadjet eyes.  I might add in a hymn to Ammun as well, but writing on that cloth is damn difficult.

Yes, the paints and the water bowl are sitting directly on the dress.  I like to live dangerously.

I'm using a water based fabric paint, which allows me to blend the colours with water and let the colours bleed out past the edges of the shapes. 

Sunday, 27 October 2013

Finally, some progress on my friend's mask

Right, let’s get back to that Baphomet mask on my to-do list.  I’ve done the skull, and I’m now adding some facial details.  And some corrosion cast veins, mustn’t forget those!

The veins are looking pretty good.

The jaw bone and horns were a bit tricky because they’re weak points in the mask until the paper pulp dries.  Once the paper pulp dries it’s actually pretty strong, but until then the horns were inclined to fall off when I picked it up to work on it.  But I went at it armed with masking tape and my choicest selection of Anglo Saxon expletives, and I’m rather happy with the result.  I like how the skin is moulded around the base of the horns.  These horns are made the same way as my own costume horns, which were the prototype for the mask’s horns.

Because the mask is built over a mould of my friend’s face, I already had facial features to work with.  I mainly used paper pulp to accentuate the shape that was already there.

Here it is drying out in front of the window.

Thursday, 24 October 2013

Paper mache devil horns: finished

My costume devil horns are all finished and painted.  I’ve used a mixture of ultramarine blue, raw umber, and burnt sienna, which I then covered with a black wash and a coat of polyurethane.  This means that the horns are water resistant.  They aren’t totally waterproof and I won’t be going swimming with them, but if they get rained on a wee bit it won’t be a problem.  This is an important consideration during a New Zealand spring.

I've got horns!  Being made of paper they weigh almost nothing so they're nice and comfortable.

There are a number of ways you can wear horns like these.  You can glue them to a headband, thread them on a piece of elastic, stick them on a bandana – whatever works for you.  Because they’re made of paper mache they weigh very little, which makes them comfortable to wear and helps to ensure they won’t fall off unexpectedly.

Here's the finished pair of horns

This pair of horns was essentially a prototype, and I think they’ve been very successful.  They cost nothing to make since I already had the materials at home, took as much time to make as it’d take me to drive to the costume store and back (drying time doesn’t count because I just get on with something else while a project is drying), and best of all they look totally badass.  Result!

Wednesday, 23 October 2013

Check out this website!

I can’t post the final instalment in my Halloween devil horns tutorial quite yet, because I haven’t had a chance to take any photos of me wearing them.  I’ll get onto that this evening.  In the meantime, I’d like to introduce you to an artist called Ethis.

Just one of Ethis' many stunning sculptures.  You can see them all on his website.

Ethis makes some absolutely stunning pieces that are very appropriate for the Halloween season.  This website came my way, as so many good things do, via Propnomicon.  It’s in French, but don’t be put off if you don’t read French because the pictures speak for themselves.  Truly, is a Halloween goldmine.  There are artifacts, zombies, and plenty of costume related items like this cool post-apocalyptic bandit mask:

Some of these awesome things are even for sale!

Monday, 21 October 2013

Paper mache devil horns: getting the right texture

This horn hasn't been painted yet, but you can see the texture already.

Texture is very important in sculpture.  Getting the overall shape how you want it is obviously important, but it's the texture that makes the difference between a result you're proud of and something that just isn't quite right.  However, you probably don't want to spend hours and hours getting exactly the right texture on something intended to be a quick and easy Halloween costume component.  I know I don't!  fortunately, this isn't a problem.  There's an easy and quick way of getting a decent texture on horns using paper mache, and today I'm going to show you how it's done.

You start by getting a toilet roll and wrapping it from one end of the horn armature to the other.  The coils of bog paper can be uneven and scruffy; this is fine.  As I explained in the last post, the horn armature is simply a length of kitchen tinfoil twisted into shape, with a bit of glued paper over top.

Wrapping the horn in paper.

Next, you want to spread thin glue all over the coiled paper.  I've used watered down PVA, which is what I always use.  Wrap a layer of toilet paper or tissues around the coils, and spread a nice thick layer of paste over that too.  Et voila!  You now have a nicely textured horn.  The picture at the top of the post shows you the ridged texture you get with this method.  The whole process takes about ten minutes from beginning to end, though of course you'll also need to factor in drying time before you can paint it.

Adding a final layer of tissue to the horn.

You can use other tissue or paper instead of toilet roll, but toilet roll of course has the benefit of being already in a long thin length.

Friday, 18 October 2013

Paper mache devil horns: the armature

Devil horns are a Halloween costume staple, but this year I want to take the concept to another level.  I want to make a pair of horns that goes above and beyond the typical cheap plastic pair and really kicks some ass.

I’m using rams’ horns as a model, and I’ll be making them out of paper mache.  This will make them lightweight, cheap, and easy to make.  I’ll post the whole process as a tutorial so that if you feel inclined you can make your own at home.

Ram's horn armatures, all ready to be given a nice ram's horn texture

I’ve started with two armatures made from tinfoil, and covered them with glued paper strips to give them a bit more strength.  At this point they’re more or less the right shape, but lack the texture they need to really look like horns.  I’ll talk about that next time.

Wednesday, 16 October 2013

Inside Die Kunstkammer

Last time, I showed you the exterior of my cabinet of curiosities.  This time, let's take a look at its contents.

The Feejee mermaid is always a classic, so I added one of those as well as an odd-looking spider.

Next, we have a mummified basilisk...

...and some strange plants sprouting out of pistachio nut shells...

...and finally, an insect emerging from a preserved severed finger.  It's actually a thumb.  My thumb, to be specific.  I made it by taking a cast of my thumb using paper mache and some mineral oil as a mould release.

Monday, 14 October 2013

Die Kunstkammer

Die Kunstkammer is German for "The cabinet of curiosities".  There's no special reason why I titled it in German; I just felt like it.

I made the cabinet out of a cheap second hand book.  Where the pages used to be, I added drawers to hold various bits and bobs.  I kept some of the book's pages and used them as a decorative element.

Next time, I'll show you what's inside the cabinet.

Saturday, 12 October 2013

Mummified Cthulhu

I haven't made much progress on my Halloween costume projects over the last couple of days because a) the weather in Wellington is so foul at the moment that I can't get anything to dry, and b) I'm not actually in Wellington right now.   I'm on holiday in Brisbane.  Don't worry though, I have a schedule of blog posts to keep you entertained while I'm out of town.  I won't be neglecting the Countdown! 

This is an idea that I played around with ages ago and didn't post for some reason.  I love mummified things and I love H. P. Lovecraft, so it just made sense to make a mummified Cthulhu (after all, if you can get Hello Kitty Cthulhu then why on earth not?).

A view from the back

In profile

Another profile shot

I'm particularly pleased with the colours on this sculpt.  The green-brown tones are very effective.  I used a resist medium to get the colours looking like that, and I think it worked very well, as you can see in the top photo of the sculpture's back.

Thursday, 10 October 2013

Good lord this thing is creepy with the horns on

I think it's because the facial features are quite indistinct at this stage.  You can see the vague outline of a face, but no real detail because I haven't sculpted it yet.  Somehow, that's more disturbing than if you could see the face properly.

Tuesday, 8 October 2013

I guess I should probably make a start on this year's Halloween costumes

Today’s post is going to be about how I make a mask that’s custom shaped to fit the wearer’s head.

This one is a helmet style mask that fits over the wearer’s whole head, and doesn’t require string or elastic to keep it in place.  I make sure it fits by taking a mould of the wearer’s head and build the whole mask on top of that mould.  I’ve heard of people making face moulds out of those plaster bandages they use to set broken bones, but I find ordinary kitchen tinfoil to be the best material for this job, not least because it isn't going to stick to anybody's hair.  I simply take a double sheet of foil and fold it around the wearer’s face and head.  Masking tape can be used to help make sure the foil keeps its shape.  It’s also quite important to have a Sharpie on hand to mark where the eyes and mouth need to be.  It can be hard to work out where the eyes are and it’s important to get the eye holes in the right place for reasons that should be obvious.

Mask mould from the front

From there the mask is ready to be covered with a couple of layers of paper mache to give it some strength, and you can get on with making it look like whatever you need it to look like.  In this case, it’s going to be a mask sized version of Bruce the anatomist’s head.  My friend wanted a Baphomet mask this Halloween, but then he saw Bruce and decided that was the look he wanted.  I’m very flattered, and really looking forward to making a mask version of Bruce.  I’ll be blogging about the mask’s progress during October, as well as my own costume and various other things.

Profile view of the mask mould

Saturday, 5 October 2013

Making imitation faience with polymer clay

My imitation faience beads, with a couple of fingers to show the size.

Today, I had one of those “why has no one done this before?!” moments.  I couldn't find anything, anywhere on the internet, about making imitation faience with polymer clay.  People use polymer clay for a vast range of stone, ceramic, and ivory effects, but nobody appears to be using it for imitation faience.  Surely I can’t be the first person in the history of polymer clay who’s ever decided to try faience?  Well, not to worry, I’m here to correct this oversight.

Before I start the tutorial, let’s take a look at what faience is.  Faience, or tjehenet to the Egyptians, is kind of halfway between a glass and a ceramic.  It was made with quartz and various colouring agents mixed into a paste and moulded, then fired in a kiln.  As the material was fired, the colouring agents effluoresced, meaning they underwent a chemical change that produced a coloured glaze on the surface of the material.

Faience came in a wide range of colours, but was most commonly somewhere in the blue-green spectrum.  It was produced as a budget-friendly substitute for lapis lazuli, but faience was a valuable material in its own right.  Ancient Egyptians regarded the process of making faience as a kind of alchemical transformation from the initial greyish paste to the final, brightly glazed product.  It symbolised rebirth and fertility.  The Egyptians were keen on these topics and the colours had significance too.  Blue was for the Nile and the afterlife, green was for regeneration, and red was for protection.

With these facts in mind, here’s how I produced the faux faience.

I’ve started with pieces of green, blue, and translucent clay and simply chopped them up with a knife.  As you chop the clay into progressively smaller pieces, the colours mix together.  You want the colours well mixed together, but you don’t really want to get a marbled effect.  If you look at faience artifacts, you'll find that although you get patches of different colours, you don't see marbling as such.  

I found it was best to carefully knead the finely chopped clay together, just to make sure the colours blended.  

In particular, you want the translucent clay to blend with the colours and give them some depth, but you don’t want large flecks of unblended translucent.  Finally, I rolled my coloured clay into a thin sheet.  This is a really thin sheet, you will note.  

Remember, faience has a thin coloured glaze over a greyish centre.  The “glaze” sheet gets wrapped around a core of grey clay, chopped into small lengths, and pierced through the centre with a wire.

Another method is to sandwich a thin layer of white clay between the grey core and the outer layer of "glaze".  This makes the colours a bit brighter and gives them a bit more depth.

I baked the beads as per the directions on the packet and coated them with polyurethane.  The polyurethane is important because it helps to create a vitreous glaze effect.  I don’t think the beads look all that convincing when they come out of the oven, but once they have a coat of polyurethane they look much more realistic.

For this project I used Du-Kit clay in Teal, Navy, Blue, Translucent, Yellow, White, and Stone, but the colours and type of clay you use aren’t particularly important.  You’ll want to try different mixes until you get a colour blend you like.  If you do a Google search for faience you'll see that the range of possible colours is enourmous, so it's really a case of working with the clay to get a shade that looks good.

Thursday, 3 October 2013

The Spooky Season could always use more disembodied zombie hands

And hey, I aim to please.

This is my dad’s new beer cooler.  It was actually finished a while ago, but I've only just got around to posting the photos.

Tuesday, 1 October 2013

Welcome to my 2013 Halloween countdown!

I’m delighted to be doing the Halloween Countdown again this year.  Most of my focus this time will probably be costume related.  I’ve got to make my own Halloween costume (the theme is “Fear and Loathing in La Belle Epoque”), and I have a Baphomet mask lined up for a friend.

I’m going to kick off the countdown by showing you a video made by my friend DB McGreggor, entitled Carnival of the Macabre.  This is one of the creepiest things I’ve seen in a long time, and is well worth a watch.

Don’t forget to check out the Countdown to Halloween page for a whole list of excellent blogs about all things Halloween related.  Go on, it’s not like you were getting any work done anyway.