Friday, February 19, 2016

Rusty Stormtrooper

Do not underestimate what you can do with a stock white vinyl figure. These are iconic shapes you can start with to explore your creativity. Here my design was inspired by Star Wars TFA’s Captain Phasma aka Disco Stormtrooper. My thought being what would happen if her shiny pimped out armour had gotten beat all to $#%! like Vader’s helmet. I’ve done a lot of faux metal painting projects in my day, but this is the first time I’ve done a full on rust effect.

I started with a base of black acrylic paint applied with a rough bristled brush so you can see the harsh brush strokes. This will add a wear and tear scratches effect when I apply the metallic coat.

If you’ve read this blog before you know I use a frame antiquing wax compound called Rub n Buff for metal effects. Here I’m using their silver leaf for the body and ebony for the eye lenses. As for application technique this stuff finds its way into every nook and cranny anyway so mostly I just squirt a bunch at the top, put on some nylon gloves, and massage the metal in. Metal wax is good for the pores.

This looks pretty slick on it’s own. But we’re going for a long forgotten/weathered look this round.

You can do effective rust effects with three tones painting in layers as follows: black/dark-dark-brown, muddy middle brown, then flamboyant orange. But hold on space cowboy you can’t just sling some acrylic on this thing expecting it to look like real deal rust. You need grit and determination...well mostly grit. You need to reproduce the texture of oxidization through a stippling brush technique and/or adding actual grit to your paint.

Sure there are plenty of specialized paints that just produce rust effects. But in my art studio we tend to slum it. So adding coffee grinds to the paint mixture it is.

This coffee tasted so bad I almost don’t even want to paint with it. 
Made with 100% arabica-ish beans.

Well you ruined it. Hope you're happy now...

Here I’ve outlined where the majority of the rust is going to be in my French Roast Black paint. It’s important to coat any raised edges and the majority of crevices. The other thing to note is even though the helmet is symmetrical things don’t rust in a perfect mirror image. So no need to be precise.

This looks more like a Stormtrooper dropped their helmet in a Space Latrine. Is that corn?

Now for the muddy midtones. Again the Mocha Frappuccino Black color I used is mostly a base/guide for the big time brown which will represent the majority of the rust. I’ve added a little red to it as a stepping stone to meld with the eventual harsh orange I want to finish with as a highlight.

Finally now it's time to go full Florida. Orange! This is really where all the texture pops.

Making metal Yoda proud.

Saturday, October 24, 2015


I plan on being Jon Snow from Game of Thrones this Halloween and I wanted to make a custom Longclaw sword because let’s face it - Most Halloween swords are crap.  Cheap, plastic, and as hollow as a chocolate bunny on Easter.  

You know nothing of hollow bunnies crow...

This is a 44” polypropylene combat “practice sword” which means it’s solid, and got some heft to it.  I guess you’d normally buy this if you had an orc horde problem in your neighborhood, and really need to get some practice swings on before you brought out your real steel in case of emergency.

Starting with this as a solid sword base I wanted to: sculpt a direwolf pommel using polymer clay (Sculpey), paint the sword silver, then add some suede and rope to fill out the handle.

Rather than sculpting the pommel, baking it to harden, then finagling it onto the end of the sword I decided to do a spot application around the existing pommel.  The process is harder, but it makes the sculpture a secured legitimate part of the sword.  And not something I just bolted on afterward.  That way after I have a few drinks, and really start swinging this around I’ll be comforted by the fact that the wolf head won’t go flying off before I get ejected from the party.

I start by making an armature of a basic head shape with aluminium foil.  I add layers, tamper them down with a hammer, and cover it in craft glue if some of the layers won’t stay down.

Look people Valyrian steel is really really hard to come by here so we gotta slum it.

I wanted to keep the shape of the wolf roughly hewn.  The concept of the sword is that the pommel was originally a bear (which is the crest of the original owner Jeor Mormont).  When the sword is passed to Jon they reshaped it from a bear to that of a direwolf which is an animal more aligned to Jon’s (questionable) lineage. To keep it honest I started off with a muzzle more closely resembling a bear then fudged it to look like a wolf.

Behold the rare smudgefaced terrier.


Vaguely canine

Once I'm happy with the sculpt I start blending it out with a q-tip and rubbing alcohol. This process: melts the clay a little, gets rid of my finger prints, and smooths out rough edges.

Final sculpt before baking.  Scary lighting added for dramatic effect.

Now I don't exactly have the option to throw the whole damn sword in an oven for 12 minutes.  Even if I had an oven big enough it's essentially a soft piece of plastic sitting on top of a hard - but also potentially melty plastic.  So it's time to use a heat gun.

Using the heat gun to bake pieces can be tricky.  You need to make sure all spots get hot enough to fully bake evenly.  You also need to make sure you don't scorch the smaller parts of the sculpture while trying to heat up the larger mass of it.  At the end of the day it involves waving a hair dryer on steroids in a circular motion at the sculpture for a good 15 - 20 minutes.

I burned the teeth a little. Luckily Westeros has some great dentists. Unfortunately many do not survive long enough to start their own practice.

Now for some painting.  I abhor metallic spray paints, and only use them when I have a large surface area to cover.  Instead I prefer to use metallic wax pastes/leafing products (Rub n Buff) usually reserved for antiquing picture frames.  Once applied you can generally buff the hell out of it to give it a more reflective surface.

Unless you want to look like you're slowly transforming into the Tinman you're going to need a lot of gloves.

I then touch up my sculpture with a bit of white paint (covering my scorch marks) and give the eyes some red.
Good dogie

Now for the rest of the hilt/handle. First I use some super glue where the direwolf meets the handle just to make absolutely sure it's not going anywhere.  Sit.  Stay.

The Nights Watch often patrol cold-as-hell locations at the ass end of Westeros.  So I wanted to give the handle a more barbaric quality to it than just straight steel.  For that I've taken suede lacing and wrapped it around the length of the handle.  I also added some braided rope at the top to kinda break it up a bit.

If you think this looks tedious that's because it is...

The end result is a decent looking prop that didn't break the budget and adds some flair to my Jon Snow costume.

Now all I need to do is practice my husky voice and  put on my best Jon Snow "staring off into the distance with a blank face" face.

 I mean, if I went 'round saying I was an emperor, just because some moistened bint had lobbed a scimitar at me, they'd put me away! 

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Boston (s)Tron(g) 2.0

Electric Run came to Gillette stadium, and I knew I had to do something special.  So I started drafting Boston (s)Tron(g) 2.0.  This project took about a month, and really came down to the wire (pun intended) the night before for the finishing touches.

As with most of my projects I start sketching what I intend the final outcome to be.  This design does evolve over time, and is really only meant to be a guideline (rather than an absolute plan) for how I'd like piece to appear.

1st and 2nd draft with chicken scratch notes

At some point in the design process I knew I wanted to incorporate three things:  
  • The blue and yellow ribbon on the front lower section just below the ribs
  • A blue and yellow Boston Strong EL Panel placed high up on the chest
  • A huge fricking unicorn on my back...
Obviously the unicorn was the most difficult design challenge so I started with it first.  This is usually how I work.  Whenever possible I start with the most difficult aspect of a piece.  If I can't nail it...absolutely nail it.  Then I know I can't continue on.  I wasn't going to settle for some misshapen "bluricorn".  I needed people to look at and  recognize it instantly with out a doubt.

The unicorn has been the symbol of the Boston Athletic Association since 1890, and this rare mythological beast has come to represent everything that is truly remarkable about the Boston Marathon.


Unfortunately the cardboard cut out I use in place of my own physique when
designing these things is far more impressive...

I estimated using about 40 feet of electroluminecent wire.  In reality I only needed a little over 38 or so.  I get a lot of my supplies from  They offer a lot of pre-built kits.  So even if you're not great at soldering electronics many of their product offerings are ready to light up and go.
That eight pack of AA's is a beast to conceal and carry
around but it's really the only thing that can provide enough
juice for this much light

I start by outlining my waistline, and key points of the design in chalk (blue and yellow in this case). Again these are only guidelines.  As I start putting wire to shirt the bends and curves may alter things.

Oh sure it looks great in theory, but in reality at this point I 
have no idea if I can actually make this work.

Tips on how to work with EL wire:  
  • EL wire is very flexible but doesn't like sharp corners or 90 degree angles.  Sharply bending the wire could damage it, and break the flow of the current often creating dim or dead sections.  There are ways around mimicking acute angles by looping the wire gently (we'll cover this later).  Think of EL wire as a wearable neon sign.  A continuous filament of light that somehow must to curve and shape to your body.
  • Common electric tape can create safe breaks in the wire.  This will be useful when we need to "black out" sections so we can run them underneath the shirt rather than on top of it.  This way the light won't shine through.
  • Clear fishing line works great for attaching wire to clothing and providing the translucency to appear as if nothing is holding the wire to the cloth.  I'm using 12lb test fishing line for this project (which is overkill but it's all that I could find on short notice).  It might as well be piano wire in this case as I've completed other projects using 3 - 5lb test fishing line just fine.  I also hear clear thread you can get at craft stores works well too, but because I'm running/moving around a lot in these outfits I like the security of the fishing line.
  • Keep the wire off most of the time, but turn it on every now and then to sanity check your work.  Also make sure you haven't broken anything.
Hiding wire:

You need to keep the current flowing through the wire in one continuous length, but your design may call for sections of empty space, or you may need the wire to transition to a different part of the shirt so it can start a new design.

  • Use a seam ripper to poke two holes in the shirt.  Where the wire should disappear then reappear.
  • Wrap that length of section with electrical tape.
  • Feed the wire through the holes and continue to stitch the wire under the shirt.
Not bad
Faking sharp angles:
No one has ever heard of a "safety" unicorn.  So no blunt end at the end of the spire of the horn.  But bending the wire risks breaking it.  So we loop or gently cross sections of wire over itself and hide the loop under the shirt covered in electrical tape.

This is actually the chin section but we're going to: 
  • Cover the rest of that loop in tape.  
  • Cut a small hole in the shirt with the seam ripper and push the loop through
  • Sew the hole shut and sew the loop under the shirt to the fabric as well so it stays in place

Now we're actually getting somewhere

 This is two lengths of EL wire about 10ft each.
There's a lot of looping around going on under there with the yellow.

After that the front of the shirt seems easy by comparison:

Scotch tape is your friend

Working with EL Panels:

EL Panels are made out of the same material as EL Wire just flattened out.  They usually come in a 4"X4" square, and are available in various colors.  They require more power than EL Wire so I usually run a panel like this on it's own battery source.

To make this particular panel work I:
  • Purchased a white EL Panel from
  • Printed the image of "Boston Strong" I made (above) on a piece of acetate (one of those old projector transparencies) 
  • Purchased a pack of DJ light gels that included blue and yellow.  Gels are pieces of film that theaters and DJs put in front of lights to give them color.
  • Cut out a rectangle of blue from a gel and a rectangle of yellow
  • Glued the gel pieces to the panel
  • Glued the print out of the transparency to the panel
  • Trimmed the excess gel and transparency material 
  • Adhered the panel to the shirt using glue on Velcro squares
Pro Tip: Do not use a cyanoacrylate based glue aka most "super" or "krazy" glues.  It'll eat through the color in the gel, and cause it to bleed.  Found this one out the hard way...  A normal white glue that dries clear should work just fine.

Other notes about this project:
  • I still don't trust my stitching... even if the strength of the fishing line is more than enough to keep something in place using poor stitches.  So I reinforce key areas of the shirt with a seam glue made specifically for clothing.  It dries clear, but I don't like how shiny it is.   So I then coat the same places in a matte finish black cloth paint.  The process makes these sections a bit stiffer, but that wire's not going anywhere.
  • After the race I loved hearing from people: "Where did you get that?" as in it didn't look like I was up at 2AM the night before cobbling this together.
  • I am a runner.  My legs aren't ready for the Boston Marathon at this time yet.  But so help me they will be.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Some light adjustments


I'm doing some night/glow runs in the Boston area and thought I should make some additions to my running shirt using an EL Panel.

An EL panel is a flat piece of luminescent material about 4"X4". If you print a negative image on a sheet of acetate (basically one of those old transparency sheets they used to use for overhead projectors) and glue it to the panel you can block out sections of the light to make a design.  The panel is then attached to the shirt using Velcro.

Still running. Even if times seem dark.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

No Light Cycle Required

I'm only a few days away from running in the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror 10 mile road race down in Disney World Florida and since it's at night and "costumes are encouraged" I'll be wearing a Tron inspired running shirt consisting of 30 feet of electroluminecent wire.

Even shows up pretty well with the lights on.


There are 4 separate EL wire lines in this costume: two ten foot blue wires, and two five foot "flame red" wires.  All four lines feed into one sleek small power source juiced by a 9v battery.  Much...much lighter than the 8 AA monstrosity I had wired up for the hoodie.

After checking multiple manufacturers I can't find honest to god true "red" EL Wire.   Everyone that calls their brand "red" is actually more of an orange red, a pinkish red, or a purplish red . Some sites even had their photos doctored to make it look more red and less what I've seen more honestly marketed as "flame red".  All that said EL wire is actually becoming more and more common.  You can but it at a local party needs store like iParty now all hooked up to a battery pack and ready to go.

I buy these cheap muscle shirts at Sears for various running shirt projects.  It turns out they don't actually guarantee you'll add muscle when you put them on.  I think it's false advertising personally.

If I had more time I'd do some basting, or essentially loosely "pre-sew" the wire to the fabric.  Instead Scotch tape and a bunch of string I'm using as a guide will have to do.  I also mark up some vital points in chalk.

The giant gap in the center is where my running bib number will go.  Originally I wanted to put an EL panel with a running design in it (basically a thinner/flatter version of EL wire that you see in the picture there) but apparently the rules for the race state that I have to have the bib number at the center of my chest and not on my shorts or lower torso.  I could maybe get away with it, but I'm  probably already going to stand out enough in this outfit.

Previously I used 2lb tensions fishing line for my glowing hoodie project.  This time I upgraded to 4lb.  I noticed even though I used the same brand it had a habit of tangling up more frequently.  With thickness and strength you sometimes sacrifice flexibility.

I use a curved needle most of the time. From what I understand curved needles are usually reserved for stitching upholstery, or fixing quilts.  Personally I just find it easier to use. 

 I sew like a blind nun with arthritis using a rusty fishing hook.  So I've reinforced some parts of the wire to the shirt with textile glue.  I don't like the fact that the glue dries a bit shiny, but I wanted to give my self a little extra insurance since I'm going to moving around quite a bit in this thing.

My design does loop from the front to the back a couple times.  Just trying to get the most out of the two continuous 10ft feeds of blue wire.

Even though I did take measurements from the seams to the wires I'm not too worried about it being perfectly symmetrical. Namely because the wire will naturally warp to how the fabric moves with the rest of my body.  Also the whole thing is pretty flexible so I can tweak the corners and bends a bit after the fact even if they're glued and sewed in place.

The 4 connectors all loop together in the back and feed into one wire which then goes to the 9v power source.

Unfortunately it's a little tight around the neck so I have to dislocate my shoulder like Mel Gibson in Lethal Weapon to put it on.  Once on it fits great though and should be comfortable to run in.

 That little bit of red that's crossing under the blue is nothing a little electrical tape can't fix.

Now all I've got to do is survive for 10 miles in this thing....