Sunday, March 29, 2009

Sketch Book BoS with Puffy-Paint

I'm not really a big fan of puffy-paint (aka, dimensional fabric paint), but I wanted to spice up these sketch books a little bit, and I didn't want to invest a lot of time or effort into them. They started out as Alvin brand large format sketch books, that I bought in bulk at Marc's. These things normally sell for $10-$20 each new at the art supply store (depending on where you shop). I found them on sale for less than half that, so I bought all that they had (at three locations). These sketch books make great Books of Shadows. For those of you who don't know what that is, a BoS is a grimoire. It is a spellbook/diary for a person who practices magick (I'm talking about witchcraft, not stage magic). They can be plain, or ornate, and are usually personalized to some extent.

I started off by making a stencil of a triquetra, and a pentagram, using my photocopy and vinyl contact paper method that I also use on glass etching and marble etching. Then I spray painted the designs in gold and silver. I left them like that for several weeks, content to let that be the extent of the mod. I figured, a blank book with a pentagram on it is worth a couple of bucks more than a blank book with nothing on it. I put four of them on the shelf that way, and sold one. When the others did not sell after a month or two, I decided they needed something more.

I used a black Sharpie to sketch out a vine pattern on the cover, intertwined with the emblem. Then I traced this design with iridescent green puffy-paint. Then I outlined the emblem with iridescent silver puffy-paint. I didn't like the way the silver emblem showed through the leaves, so I decided to paint in the leaves. Lastly, I decided to add some leather snap closures to the cover. I had never used snaps before, so I had to do a little experimenting with them to see how they worked. I added the snap base to the front cover, one near the top, and one near the bottom of the closing edge. Then I put the other half on a piece of green leather, that I glued into a strip, doubled over. The other end of the strip I glued (using Barge brand cement), and then riveted, to the back cover.

One the one with the gold pentagram, I decided to skip the ivy and add some corner pieces like I use on the prop books I made. I did use puffy-paint to outline the pentagram, and I made the same type of leather closures, but I used brown leather and brass snaps.

I've already begun modifying some of these large format books with some of my more involved recovering techniques. I have two of them in production right now. I should have them finished and ready to post in a week or so.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Paperback Recover #2

Here is the second of my series of Cthulhu Cycle book re-covers. The process was exactly the same as my first paperback re-cover, so I will not bore you with a play-by-play of the process. The only thing I did differently with this book, is I used ripped up pieces of craft paper, instead of one single piece. The final product was largely the same, but I think I like doing it in one piece better. This volume has just gone up for sale on ebay. I actually like the way this one came out better than the first one. Something about the green and gold works well for me. Also, Instead of using a cast resin piece for the front cover centerpiece, I cut a glyph out of chipboard and painted it to look like aged brass. This has the advantage of keeping the front cover flat, so that it will rest nicely against the other books on the shelf. I will probably continue with this style for my future volumes in this series.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

The Right Stuff

Just in case any of you were wondering what the hell that grimy looking paint covered mess is all over my work table (visible in some of my recent project photos), it is the unsung hero of my workbench, Reynold's brand Plastic Coated Freezer Paper! This stuff is awesome. It comes in a large roll, plenty to work with, and is cheap. I use it to cover my work area for every project I do. It allows me to be as sloppy as I need to be, and ensures that I always have a nice clean work surface. I never have to scrub and scrape the table top to get rid of paint, or wax, or glue, or whatever. When my paper gets too dirty for my liking, I just rip it up, throw it away, and tape down another piece. I don't have to worry about where I lay my paintbrush, or about letting the glue drip, or anything like that.

It comes with one side coated in plastic, so I can decide if I want to put the plastic side up, or down. If I put it down, I can use it like a piece of scrap paper, use it for doodling designs, noting measurements, mixing paint, unloading my brush for dry-brushing, etc. If I put the plastic side up, I have a nice slick water resistant surface that wipes off easily. Whichever side I choose to put facing me, there is still one side coated in plastic, so the paper is mostly non-permeable to liquids, which means the table top remains clean no matter what. Yeah!

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Rites of Azathoth

At the moment, I have about 14 projects in various states of completion on my workbench. This one was just completed a day or so ago. I call it "The Rites of Azathoth", mostly for the front cover centerpiece (which I call the Eye of Azathoth), and because it felt like it needed a name when I posted it on eBay. It combines the "exterior only book prop" of the Baphomet Tomes I made a couple of years ago, with the new paper decoupage covering technique I used recently for the Faux Leather Pentagram Book, and the Singers of Strange Songs Recover. I took a few pics during the construction process.

This book started out as Volume 20 (U-V) of the World Book Encyclopedia set. I got this set for a pittance at a garage sale last summer. I like their size and weight, and especially the gilded edging. I plan to turn all of them into prop books over the next year or so. The first thing I did was to rough up the cover with some 150 grit sand paper. Then I cut strips of chipboard and glued them to the front and back covers to create a frame. This would add character and detail to the covers. The frame would show up under the decoupage cover to create an embossed effect. I used the crumpled kraft paper and glue technique like I did in the Faux Leather Pentagram Book, and the Singers of Strange Songs Recover. The whole thing got a base coat of black tempura paint. Then dark green acrylic paint was stippled on with a sea sponge, leaving a little bit of the black to show through for depth. Highlights were dry brushed on with light green and silver acrylic paint.

For this book, I decided to install a black cloth ribbon bookmark. Normally one sees bookmarks glued into the spine, but since the text block was already attached, I decided to glue the bookmark to the back cover, under the end paper. This has the advantage of the bookmark laying nice and flat when it is in place, rather than having that twist at the top of the book like ti does when it comes out of the spine. I was originally going to cut the end of the bookmark in a V shape and sew metallic gold thread along the cut edge, but I couldn't find metallic gold thread (at 4am), and my attempts at sewing the edge proved pitiable. I decided to cut the V off and bind the end with an adhesive backed copper foil, used for soldering stained glass. I think it looks a whole lot better than my sewing attempt.

For the end papers, I used a light gray speckled paper that I found on sale at Marc's (a local discount store). The original end papers were gray, so I thought it a good choice. The book is designed to remain closed anyway, so it really wouldn't matter if I didn't put end papers in at all, but I thought it would be much nicer to finish off the rough edges from the recovering. This way, it will look much nicer if someone should decide to open it, even though the interior will still be an encyclopedia. I like to think of it as an eldritch tome of all occult and forbidden knowledge,.. that begins with the letter "U".

To adorn the front and rear covers I chose to add corner pieces that I cast in polyurethane resin from an original piece I sculpted out of clay. I used these same corner pieces on the second Baphomet Tome. Of course, I painted them with my ubiquitous bronze finish. One of these days, I'm really going to have to learn something else. Here are a few pics of the casting and painting of the corner pieces.

I applied the corner pieces on the inside edge of the frame border I created with the strips of chipboard. Normally, I would put them all the way out to the corners, but I've been trying to shake things up and try different styles and designs. I have a tendency to get into a rut when I find something I like. For the center piece, I used a small piece, due to the cramped space. I tried several different pieces for their aesthetic and geometric fit, and decided on one I call "The Eye of Azethoth". Actually, that's what I call any design I create that has an eyeball with radiating tentacles, and I have several. This is a resin casting of an original I made out of sculpy several years ago. The original had a blue glass stone in the center and the whole thing was painted a garish orange and purple. I think it looks much better in bronze.

Because the corner pieces do not go out all the way to the edges, the book looked unbalanced to my eye. Too much bronze bunched up in the center of the cover, and not enough towards the edge. To correct for this, I decided to make a bronze colored title plate for the spine. That would add just the right amount of color to bring it back into balance. The plate was made from chipboard, that was given a heavy coat pf enamel primer to seal it. The lettering was created with a hot glue gun and a very careful hand. I had seen hot glue used for these kinds of design elements by other people, but I didn't have any experience using it. I was fairly pleased with the results. I used glyphs from the Lovecraft's Diary font. It doesn't say anything in particular. I just used ones I thought looked goo together. The plate was given the usual bronze finish, and topped off with a little gold Rub-n-Buff to brighten it up a bit (which meant I had to do the same to the other pieces so they would match).

The book is held closed by a brass hasp. This had to be custom fitted and married to a brass hinge via a piece of black leather and a few brass brads (and glue). The raised border did make fitting the hasp a little harder than usual, it not too bad. The has is finished off with a small brass padlock, which I coated in a translucent glaze to darken it. One small personal confession: I have a padlock fetish. I love tiny padlocks. I've bought dozens of them over the years, though I hardly ever have anything to use them for. A year or so ago, I found them on sale at Marc's (my favorite place to shop), so I bought a bunch. And by "a bunch", I mean around 200 of them. What can I say, they were 3 for a dollar!

Sunday, March 8, 2009

The Big Steaming Pile

The Big Steaming Pile (or BSP for short), was the centerpiece to the Rogue Cthulhu multi-media production I like to call the "Really Big Show", from 2002-2004. It was one of those projects that I despised, but that everyone else seemed to love. Absolutely nothing went right on this build. The construction was a nightmare, and the final product was so far from my original concept as to be unrecognizable. I hated it. I was completely prepared to chuck it in the dumpster before it was ever unveiled. But, I have to admit, the old guy kind of grew on me (like the slime mold that grew on it).

It was my intention to construct one of those vinyl inflatable toys like you see in people's pools. Mine would be in the shape of Great Cthulhu, and would be about 8 feet tall. Of course I had no vinyl, and no experience with this sort of thing, but I got it in my head that it would be easily accomplished with heavy gauge black polyethylene sheeting and one of those hand held heat sealers you use to keep your potato chips fresh. The best laid plans...

I found out several facts, that I had previously not acknowledged, pretty quickly.
Fact #1. I have absolutely no talent for creating and cutting patterns. I guess that semester of Home Econ. I took in 9th grade just wasn't enough to prepare me for the big leagues.
Fact #2. Hand held heat sealers that you see advertised on TV suck! After scouring the internet and paying $20 too much for one, I came to find out just how ineffective and poorly constructed these things are. Getting a perfect air tight seal is very difficult. getting one over the hundred or so feet of seams that I was going to need to construct this monstrosity was impossible.
Fact #3. Polyethylene is porous. It doesn't look like it, or seem like it would be, but it is. Even with a perfectly air tight seal (which I did manage to get a few times on small test pieces), the air will slowly leak out through the pores of the material over time.

What I expected would take me about a day or two turned into five of the longest, most torturous, days of my life. It was hot that summer. Very hot. Like 95-100F hot, which is pretty hellish for Ohio, with the humidity and all. I couldn't work for more than 10 minutes without taking a 15 minute break, and I must have drank a gallon of water per hour while I was working on that thing. After a few hours of experimenting with the heat sealer, it became pretty obvious that my plan was not working. There was no way this thing was going to stay inflated on its own. So, I started looking for other ways to achieve my goal. I didn't like the idea of stuffing it, but what else could I do? Then, I got a stroke of luck. I was cruising through one of my favorite discount stores (Marc's) and I found a vinyl inflatable sofa (love seat) for a couple of bucks. Once inflated, it was about 6 ft. long and about 3-4 ft. wide and deep. It was just the right size and approximately the right shape for the body of Cthulhu. I could stuff it with something inflatable! I scavenged through the pool toys and found a giant (4ft. diameter) beach ball, and several cheap pool rafts.

My new plan was to construct a skin out of the black plastic sheeting and stuff it with the inflatable items. Should be easy, I thought. The hard parts (the air tight seals) were already done for me. but of course, nothing is ever as easy as I think it is going to be.

I continued to use the crappy hand sealer unit, up until the point where it broke. Then I had to switch to contact cement. Since the thing didn't have to hold air any more, it could be made in pieces (and would likely have to be). I had intended for the arms and legs to look like... well, arms and legs. But my limited skill at pattern making was a serious impediment. I ended up making both the arms and legs into tentacles. For those of you who remember my Cthulhu Snowman Sculpture, this is the same problem that plagued me with that project (with predictably, the same result). Actually, the BSP and that sculpture look a lot alike, largely for the same reasons.

The main body was going to be basically, a squarish cylinder. I inflated the sofa, stood it on end, and wrapped it with two or three layers of carpet padding (foam rubber) to even out the shape. Then I wrapped it in the black plastic sheeting. Tada, a rectangular solid. Doesn't look much like Cthulhu, but it's a start. The body would be disassembled and deflated for storage and transport. We used a small shop-vac motor, which was reversible and could be used as a leaf blower, to inflate it on-site.

The legs I decided to stuff with the inflated pool rafts. That sort of worked. However, the legs were an odd shape and far too big for one pool raft each, so, I ended up stuffing the remaining room in the legs with whatever I could find, news paper, packing peanuts, Kraft paper, empty milk jugs, foam rubber,.. anything. I was getting pretty desperate by this point, and didn't care much what it looked like. The legs wouldn't actually be attached to the body. They would just sit next to it, with the thighs pressed up against the hip area. It would look like it was attached. Obviously, these could not be unstuffed or deflated and had to be stored and transported as they were.

The arms were just smaller tentacles. I stuffed those with foam packing peanuts and Kraft paper. They were attached to the body at the shoulder with industrial strength sticky backed Velcro. They would also remain stuffed and sealed for storage and transport.

I made the head into a large sac, with four tentacles coming out of the mouth area. These were stuffed with foam packing peanuts and sealed off from the inside, so the peanuts wouldn't fall out. The rest of the sac, I would stuff with the giant beach ball (which was only about half inflated) to form the head. This would just sit on top of the body and be held in place by a piece of black gaffers tape at the rear. The head needed a lot of on-site finessing to make it look decent. It had no eyes, as I had another special idea in mind for those. I took two 4in. clear plastic globes (designed to be Christmas tree ornaments) and painted them red with translucent paint. Then I wired up a flashlight battery to a couple of AA batteries in a battery clip from Radio Shack. One of these would go in each of the two globes, which could be opened. Once the head was in place and finessed into shape, I would nestle the globes into folds in the plastic at the side of the head. To me, they looked like giant glowing cicada eyes, but they did look kind of cool. The batteries were good for about a day. The eyes weren't actually attached, and the beach ball could be removed and deflated for transport and storage. Only the mouth tentacles remained stuffed.

Of course, most people don't think of Cthulhu as being black, but I had a plan for that as well. I bought a couple of cans of florescent green spray paint, and just let it mist down over the whole thing. In the light, it just gave the black plastic a dusty green tint (though a fairly heavy one), but in the room, with the black lights on, it glowed an eerie green!

If you haven't guessed by now, I named it the Big Steaming Pile because I that's what I thought of it by the time it was finished. I never got a chance to fully assemble it prior to its introduction at Origins in 2002, and I fully expected that it would look so crappy that I would just abort the project during setup, and chuck it in the dumpster. In the full light of day, it looked a lot like an 8ft. tall pile of stuffed garbage bags in a roughly anthropomorphic shape. That wasn't far from the truth. But in the dim interior of the Rogue Cthulhu room, with it's colored floodlights and black lights, and the glowing eyes turned on, it didn't look that bad. Well, it looked bad, but not that bad. Of course, since no one else was doing anything even remotely like this at the con, everyone who came and gawked at it thought it was cool as hell.

In 2003, I made a modification and added some wings. I had always intended for it to have wings, I just didn't have time to make them on the original build, and given how disgusted I was with the whole thing, I considered it a miracle that it got finished at all back then. The wings were a separate piece, that could also be broken down into smaller components for transport and storage. It was constructed mostly of pvc pipe. The part that was visible was made from two 1/2in. pvc pipes, with 45 degree elbows in the middle of each. These were covered with foam pool noodles. The pool noodles were draped with black plastic roll table cloth. The kind they use at parties and wedding receptions. The trailing edge was cut in a scalloped pattern to make it look like the membrane of bat type wing. The two pvc pipes came together in the middle and attached in a T joint, which had screws added to it to keep the joint locked together tight. Then the bottom of the T was joined, with a reducing coupler, to a vertical 2.5in. pvc pipe. That pipe was about 4ft. long and was attached to a plywood base plate that sat behind the BSP.

The BSP was unique among Cthulhu props, in that it came with its own slime. Between seasons, I had to store the thing outdoors under my car port. Every year it would get wet, covered with leaves, infested with spiders, and get more and more mold growing on it. It all added to the authenticity, I thought.

In 2004, I had seen enough of it, and was tired of storing it, hauling it, and repairing it. I vowed to make something better, and to make sure that I didn't rest on my laurels, I vowed that the BSP would not be returning home with me after the show. I had intended to throw it in the dumpster at the convention center, but as my team was tearing down the room, and I was making one quick lap through the dealers hall, some convention attendees, who said they were from Toledo, expressed an interest in taking it home with them. They said they wanted to use it at BashCon, though I don't know if they ever did. We gave it to them, lock stock and barrel. I don't really regret giving it away, but sometimes I do miss the old guy.

UPDATE: OK, so I can't confirm this, but here is what I have been told. The BSP never made it to BashCon. In fact, he never made it home with his new owners. As the story goes, the new owners were on their way home from Origins with the BSP stuffed into their car, damn near filling every available space. On the way home, they got into a car wreck, and from what I am told, the extra cushioning of the BSP stuffed into their car cushioned the impact and may have helped save the driver's life. I don't know if it is true, but it makes a good story, and makes my memories of this big pile of trash bags even more precious.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Paperback Recover #1

I just finished posting this item on eBay a few hours ago, and it has already sold. Yeah! That being the case, I thought I had better post a little something about its construction.

This is the book that I started out with. A new copy of "Singers of Strange Songs". It is a collection of horror fiction stories that celebrate the author Brian Lumley. It is published by Chaosium, and is part of their Cthulhu Cycle series of titles. It is a soft cover book, about 8.5 x 5.5 x 0.5 inches.

I have had the idea of recovering these types of books for some time now. I have made a couple of aborted starts on other books, but this is the first of its kind that I have completed. I planned to build a hard cover around the existing book, and marry the existing soft cover into the new hardcover. I started by measuring the exisiting book, and figuring out the dimensions for my new spine and front and back book boards. I cut these out of chipboard. Davey board (the standard for book boards in the book binding industry) would have been better, but it is too expensive for me at the moment. Then, I laid the pieces out on a piece of heavy watercolor paper and glued them down. Unfortunately I don't have any pics of these early stages of the build.

It is important to put the item in a press when gluing, to prevent the paper or boards from warping as the glue dries. This needs to be done at each stage. I don't have a press, so I use a couple of sheets of hardboard and a stack of encyclopedias for weight. Don't forget to use sheets of waxed paper to keep the glue from sticking to anything else.

Once the main boards were laid out, I cut out other detail pieces from chipboard. These will create a sort of frame around the border of the cover. Because of the kind of finish I had in mind, I decided to glue these on to the boards before covering the whole thing with paper. Putting them on afterwards, would have given a different look, but would have also looked good. Here is a pic of the left over bits from cutting out the design pieces. I had already glued and covered the actual pieces before getting out the camera. I glued the borders on front and back, and also added some small strips to create bands along the spine. Then the whole thing goes back under the encyclopedias to dry.

The next step was to cut the underlying watercolor paper to the proper size, and wrap the whole thing with brown paper and matte medium. This is the same technique I used on the Pentagram Journal. After that was allowed to dry under the press, I gave the whole thing a base coat of black tempura paint. I don't usually use tempura, but I was running out of black acrylic, and I knew I was going to be painting over it anyway. Here is a pic of the whole thing, wrapped, painted with the black base coat, and dried.

Next, I used a sea sponge to paint the cover with dark red acrylic paint. I left some of the black show through to give the final finish depth. Then I dry brushed the cover with brighter red and silver, to highlight the edges of the relief and the veins in the paper, just like I did with the Pentagram Journal. This is also about the time that I glued a red cloth ribbon to the inside of the spine, which will serve as a bookmark.

Then I glued the original paperback book into the new cover, just like I would if it were the text block of a book I was making from scratch. I treated the original soft cover as if it were the mull on the text block. I did have to sand the gloss off of the soft cover and trim down its edges a bit, or they would have came too close to the edge of the new cover and looked bad. In future books, I will trim this back even further. I needed to bury the soft cover and hide its edges under new end papers, which I made out of black card stock. Again, don't forget to put your book in the press at each stage where you have glue drying.

Before gluing in the end papers, I decided to add some additional decoration in the form of brass rivet heads. I used brass wire brads for this. Using an awl, I poked pilot holes through the cover in strategic places and pushed the brads through, giving each a tiny dot of superglue as it went through. Then I pulled it tight from the bottom side with needle nose pliers, and after the glue has a chance to set, I clipped off the excess from the underside. I gave it a quick grinding with the Dremel tool to make sure it was perfectly flush, so they wouldn't create bumps through the end papers.

As a final touch, I added a cast resin embellishment in the form of a dragon ouroboros. This I had pre-painted in an antique brass finish. This was cast from the same mold as the one used on the Tarot Box. Actually, this is the same finish I usually call bronze, maybe a little on the bright side, but it matches the tarnished brass tack heads almost perfectly, so we'll call it a brass finish for this project ;)

So that's it. I hope you enjoyed this rather wordy tutorial, and I hope you like the final product. I plan on making quite a few more of these kinds of hard cover mods over the next few months. I have a lot of books and gaming supplements that could benefit from this kind of treatment.