Saturday, 31 May 2014

Right, now where were we?

Oh yes: the Beast from Beyond.  I haven't forgotten it or lost interest, I've just been making a new winter jacket.  A couple of years ago I made a very nice black and white one, but since then I've gone from 18 inches across the shoulders to a good 20, and it doesn't fit anymore.  It's not unusual for people in my family to grow right through their twenties, but the amount of growth can be surprising. 

Yesterday I finished making fins along the side of the beast.  I was vaguely thinking about cuttlefish, and also these deep sea tube worms, which live around the methane seeps off the east coast.  I thought fins would be a fun idea to play with.  This is the finished product,  
and I don't think it's at all bad.

I've made the fins by gluing strips of paper along the critter's side and plastering over these with paper mache.  It's a slow process, because the fins are very fragile when wet.  I found icould only do a small amount of shaping at a time, and would then have to leave the project to dry before I did any more.  But by using this method I was able to make delicate, fragile-looking fins that ripple nicely.  Next time, I'll paint the project.

Partially completed fins

Thursday, 22 May 2014

Tentacles just aren't the same without suckers

You can see here that the tentacles with suckers look much better than the tentacles without.

Don't worry about the book.  The beast from beyond is quite dry in these photos.

These little paper mache suckers are surprisingly easy to make.  All they require is a small ball of paper pulp, pushed into place with a stylus.  The stylus creates a round indentation in the center of the sucker.  This is a technique that could be done with clay, but on the whole I think paper pulp gives a better effect.  The paper pulp squishes unevenly into irregular, organic-looking shapes that you don't get with clay unless you put in a lot of sculpting effort.

I'm not sure what the stylus was originally designed for, but I'd guess it wasn't this.

When I paint the tentacles, I'll do it in a way that accentuates the suckers.

A nice atmospheric shot.

Monday, 19 May 2014

Propnomicon throws down the gauntlet

..and I gleefully accept the challenge, because since when have I needed much encouragement to make something horrible?

Lately, Propnomicon has been running a series on props inspired by the para-dimensional life forms in H.P. Lovecraft's story From Beyond (which you can read here).  Propnomicon's sculptures are sold through Ebay, and in the most recent post he challenged his readers to make our own nightmares from beyond the realm of ordinary human perception.

From Beyond isn't necessarily my favourite Lovecraft story, but it's definitely one of my favourite Lovecraft concepts, and I love what Propnomicon has been doing with it.  Propnomicon's sculptures are inspired by deep-sea worms.  Myself, I'm leaning more towards anomalocaris, but the head end is turning out a lot like a cephalopod.

Obviously, it will be painted once I've put the tail on.  It won't always be so white and boring.  I started with a mental picture of a scale worm and then just had a bit of fun with it, and then I added some tentacles because when I think of extradimensional horrors I think of tentacles, thanks to Terry Pratchett.  I contemplated not putting any eyes on the creature, but then I remembered that in From Beyond Tillinghast says the creatures are able to see.  These eyes are made from glass beads.

Thursday, 15 May 2014

The end of an era

I'm very sad that H. R. Giger has died.  He was one of my favourite artists and a lot of my own work is influenced by Giger on some level, although I don't have anywhere near his level of talent.

Giger is best known for his work on the Alien films, but he also did some directing.  This is Giger's Necronomicon from 1975, which I particularly enjoy.  This version was taken from a VHS tape, so the quality isn't the best, but it's still a fascinating film.  If you find a better quality version, let me know.

Wednesday, 7 May 2014

200th blog post: a challenge

This is the 200th blog post I've published.  Thank you so much all you readers who make doing this worthwhile!  

To mark the occasion, I've got a game for you excellent readers.  I've made a cryptographic puzzle and encoded it into the base of my Feejee mermaid.  

First up, a couple of shots of the mermaid sitting on its nice new base.  Sculpture looks so much better when it's mounted on a base.

The base is my acknowledgement of P. T. Barnum and his original mermaid, as well as being my signature.  There are 120 characters in total, which doesn't allow for a very large message, but there are several in there and in two different languages which is not bad for a piece of text smaller than a tweet.  I've used a mix of cryptography and steganography to encode the words, but none of the techniques I used are very sophisticated.  I'm not trying to recreate Kryptos here, I wanted to make something that any moderately determined person can figure out.

So, let's get down to it.  I mucked around with the contrast on these photos a bit, which will hopefully make it easier to see the letters -  as you'll see contrast is quite important.

Image 1

Image 2

Image 3

Image 4

Image 5

There is nothing encoded into the image files themselves or the blog text.  Most steganography today relies on hiding data in digital files, but I haven't used any digital methods because this is, after all, a sculpture.  If the message is actually hidden in a photo of the object, it isn't a cryptographic sculpture.

Monday, 5 May 2014

A base for the mermaid

I meant to get this post up sooner, but my parents decided to visit and we all know how that goes:  "Aaargh!  The floor needs vacuuming!  My fridge is a biohazard!  The toilet needs cleaning!  The bathtub has a ring around it!"   If you've ever seen the Footrot Flats movie, picture the scene* where Wal is frantically tidying up before his Aunt Dolly arrives, and you have a good idea of how I spent my weekend.

The Feejee mermaid, sitting on its nice new base.

Anyway, let's talk sculpture bases.  I don't know why it is, but here in New Zealand I find it almost impossible to get hold of bases to mount my sculpture on.  In fact I even have trouble getting suitable substitutes like lamp stands or doll stands.  But that's okay.  Orson Welles once said "the enemy of art is the absence of limitations".

Last time I mounted a sculpture on a base I used the bottom of a dismembered candlestick.  This time I'll be exploring the almost unlimited possibilities of cardboard, faux suede, and paint.

The base for my Feejee mermaid project is covered in decorative mosaic tiles.  I've simply taken a piece of cardboard and given it an iridescent coating in green and blue tones, then cut it into tiles that are 10 millimeters square, give or take the odd millimeter.  I found that lining them all up on 10 millimeter graph paper helped to keep them in line when I wrapped them around the base, which is simply a cylinder made of cardboard.  The cylinder is slightly raised in the middle, and the raised part is covered in fake suede.

Fake suede is a good material for covering a base because it doesn't fray too much, and it's thick enough that the glue doesn't tend to seep through and make marks.  Cut it on the bias and stick it down carefully, and you can persuade it to bend around almost any corner.  Felt or leather would also be good choices.

I've decorated the tiles with letters of the alphabet because I have a soft spot for using letters as decorative elements.  Also, since I'm making my own base, I might as well sign it.

Add a couple of wire posts to hold the sculpture in place, and we're done.  Next time, I'll put up some more pictures of the mermaid on its base, and a puzzle for you to have some fun with.

*The only clip of this scene I could find on YouTube is dubbed into German, but if you don't speak German you'll still get the gist of it.

Thursday, 1 May 2014

Feejee mermaids: mine and Barnum's

It's always fun to play around with the classics, and I've enjoyed making this Feejee mermaid.  When compared to the picture of Barnum's mermaid at the bottom of the post, I think mine holds up fairly well.

I've tried to make the humanoid parts of the mermaid look sort of human, but not really.  The clawed hands and large, fish-like teeth help generate this effect, and I've also added scales along the spine and on the head.  Overall, I think the head is probably the least successful part of this sculpture.  It's fundamentally quite hard to make a properly detailed head on this sort of scale.

A better view of the face

My specimen has a small tear in the skin, through which you can see part of the ribs and spine.

The Feejee mermaid is still an iconic sideshow gaff, but it became famous more because of Barnum's advertising than because it was intrinsically interesting.  It would never have become the public sensation it was if Barnum hadn't used a sophisticated marketing campaign to make people want to see it (see here for more details).  

He made the mermaid appear more scientifically credible by getting one of his associates to pose as a British naturalist and claim he had brought the mermaid back from the South Pacific.  Barnum pretended he had asked this "Dr. Griffin" for permission to display the mermaid, but the naturalist had refused.  Barnum also orchestrated a media circus and advertised the specimen using pictures that showed the traditional view of mermaids as naked young women.  He realised that topless women made for more appealing advertising than pictures of the mermaid itself, which looked like this:

Picture from the Museum of Hoaxes

No doubt there were a lot of disappointed punters.

For me, one of the interesting things about the mermaid is that, although it seems to have been well made, it wasn't fooling everybody.  In fact, Barnum's advertising strategy partially relied on controversy about whether the specimen was real.  The media circus he built up around the mermaid was fueled by debate about its authenticity, and many people who went to see it knew it was widely acknowledged to be a fake.  They paid the admission fee anyway so they could see for themselves and form their own opinions.