Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Project Thing In A Jar

Just what did I do now?

Every mad scientist seems to have a whole rack of "things in jars". Weird shapeless organic-looking objects suspended in cloudy fluid and cryptically labeled. What are these specimens and what are they used for? Is that a finger? A bug? A cow fetus? Who care's it's creepy. Let's make one.

  • 1 Large Jar - Previously contained pickles. Label removed.

  • 1 "Specimen" Label - You can design and print out your own, but propnomicon has a free, and very official looking one ready to go that I'll be using here.

  • 1 "Thing" - This is where you can get pretty creative. It needs to be creepy, vaguely shaped, and preferably have as many tentacles as possible.

Original label created by: propnomicon

Labeling the label
After printing, and cutting out a specimen label I then use a regular ball point pen to fill it out (I would have used a fancier pen but it's all I had on hand). I'd advise against using a non-waterproof felt tip pen or a sharpie as the ink may "bleed" too much during the aging process.

The label by design will mostly be illegible. But I'd like to leave a strong adjective or two at least somewhat readable to keep people guessing. So think of words you usually see in a chemistry lab like: "Highly", "Caution", "Warning", "Corrosive" etc.

Aging the label
For some reason these jars are almost always really old. Who knows maybe they just came with the lab so they're more for evil scientist ambiance. Some people collect commemorative plates... some the ancient embalmed remains of unborn plaxidalian snot-vipers... who am I to judge?

I've soaked the label in a cup of tea and coffee grinds for about 20 minutes. I then dry the label rapidly with a heat gun, crumple it up after it's dry, then repeat the process once more. After that I used an ordinary glue stick to affix the label to the jar.

To deter late night snacking replace your cookie jar with one of these.

But we're not done yet. Yes it looks kinda old right now, but we need to really simulate the wear an tear of years sitting on the world's most disturbing looking spice rack. For that we'll be sanding the corners and random areas around the lettering with fine sandpaper. To finish I applied a couple of drops of the coffee/tea mixture to a few areas and dried it quickly with the heat gun. This allows the glue to soak through the paper a bit more and naturally add to the discoloration.

Ask your doctor if "thing in a jar" is right for you.

Now all we need is a "thing"
Here I've taken scraps of clay, wire, foil, wood bits, hot glue, and a cork to shape out the "thing". Basically I just took anything that was lying around on the floor of my workshop and fashioned it into whatever you'd call this shape.

Weird but not very menacing.

I then cover the thing in a mixture of liquid latex and coffee grinds (for texture).


Now that this thing is sufficiently gross we're going to prime it and paint it a base color. Priming should help give us a clean slate in which to paint a fleshy pink base.

I've named this color "Krang from the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle's Pink".

Now we add some shade, accents, and highlights to this monstrosity. To finish I glued on a few random strands of wig hair and painted on a creepy eyeball.

If they ever make a horror movie about evil tape worms I could really make some money off this. Then again I think that's sort of what the Alien(s) franchise has boiled down to for years.

The latex and paint job can probably hold up to being submersed in fluid but just for some added protection I've given it some gloss sealer. This only adds to it's already disgusting wet sticky look.

The preserving fluid
At this point the left over bilge water I clean my brushes with would probably work fine, but in an added twist we're going to make the fluid black light sensitive. This involves sacrificing a highlighter, and squeezing the florescent ink from the felt tube into the water. Because maybe it's a radioactive "thing"... and I haven't made this project creepy enough yet.

I don't think "make your dorky weird hobbies glow in the dark" is listed as one of the intended uses of this standard piece of office equipment, but it works.

Topping off:
The jar's screw on lid should prevent the contents from evaporating, but lets face it I don't want to open this jar EVER again for any reason. So I'm going to super glue it shut. After that we'll be sealing the top with wax from an old candle.

The wax was harder to work with then I expected, but I didn't exactly make it easy for myself by trying to use a heat gun to melt the candle over the jar on the fly. I probably should have done this the old fashioned way and melted the whole candle down at once by slowly melting it in a pot. It did produce some funky wax dribblings down the sides though.

To finish everything off we ever so lightly hit the whole project with little white, gray, and black spray paint to simulate dust/age.

Never eating pickles again...


I wonder. If you poured in a can of your favorite energy drink would you get the same effect?

I'm ready for my close up

This endeavor was originally inspired by a walkthrough on propnomicon. Check it out theres all sorts of good stuff over there.

Using the heat gun on the latex coffee grinds combo produces the smell of French Roast with a touch of ammonia. You can combine latex with all sorts of things in order to make funky textures.

Really should have painted/primed the jar lid white. I spent quite a while trying to get enough wax on there to hide the bright blue lid, and even then had to resort to some paint.

As an alternative to the wax you might be able to find a piece of burlap or rough cloth and tie it around the jar lid with some rough twine. It'll make it look like the thing in the jar needs to "breathe" a bit.

Nasty things like these have probably survived a lab fire or two. So as an alternative to aging the label you can try burning the edges of the paper. I'd also like to do some testing with getting the ink to run in a controlled manner. So the label would be smudged just enough to hide it's secrets.

Great use of a "thing in a jar" in the original Japanese version of One Missed Call. A little too intense to make it into the American remake.


  1. FYI, quinine water also fluoresces under UV light.

    Hooray! No more yellow fingers!

  2. I will def use this info for some creepiness next year. I like to make intestines for zombie costumes by stuffing condoms full of cooked oatmeal... (My mom taught me that.)

    1. Ah, parents. Teaching their kids to use condoms one zombie cosplay at a time.

    2. Thus, remembering the benefits of vulcanizing your "tool"

  3. You could probably work a blacklight LED into the lid. Every time I get a checking package from the bank it comes with a little blacklight LED. Just take it apart and hide the parts in with the wax, perhaps work the button under some liquid latex on the lid so you can click it on and off. Awesome work.

  4. Do you think a green atuomotive radiator fluid would work for the liquid?

  5. Personally I wanted to keep the fluid as non toxic/non flammable as possible. Just in case I accidentally dropped it. I'm going to try out tonic water next time. You can also color water with food coloring and/or a small amount of paint.

  6. I did something much the same, based on the propnomicon pages. I also have an old fondue pot that works exceptionally well for melting the wax, though I suspect that I may be better off using clear hot-melt craft glue in the future.

  7. Thanks for your awesome tutorial dude.

    Here is my best shot at it:


    Latex modeling was based on a Stellar spawn of cthulhu, when i upload it to my website, I'll be posting it on here ;)

    Thanks again! It's just awesome

  8. How long did this take to make, can it be done in a day?

    1. This took me about two days, but could likely be done in one. You can use a heat gun or hair drier to cut down on the latex and label drying time. I'd recommend letting any paint you use dry on it's own. Good luck.