Friday, June 26, 2009

My Ouija Board (WIP)

Many years ago (around 1992), three friends of mine got together and started playing around with a Ouija board. They supposedly contacted a spirit who gave them several very explicit instructions, including instructions on how they should go about creating their own custom made Ouija board (to better communicate with him). The spirit was very explicit in his instructions, right down to the kind of wood that should be used for the project.

They followed the spirit's instructions (on several topics), and began construction on their custom boards. They bought a single piece of high grade hardwood plywood (of the type specified by the spirit) and divided it into fourths. The three of them each took one piece to make their own boards. Though I was not involved in their sessions with the spirit (I was told the tale afterwards), they offered the fourth piece to me.

My recollection of the details may be a little fuzzy from all the years that have passed (and there is no guarantee that what I had been told was in fact the truth), but as I recall, one board was completed and used several times. The second may or may not have been completed, and the third was not completed and may have never been started. I'm pretty sure I only ever saw one of the three boards personally. It was of a fairly standard design, which was also specified by the communicating spirit. One thing I am fairly certain of, is that all three of those boards have since been destroyed. My friends, fairly soon on, had a falling out with the spirit in question.

Mine is the only board still in existence. It has also never been finished. As I was not a party to the communications with this particular spirit entity, and was thus not following any directions for its construction, I decided to make some radical changes to the typical design. I began by making a round board with an underlying pentagram that would serve as a containment circle for whatever spirits might be evoked. I planned on combining eastern and western symbolism into the design, using Chinese characters at the points of the pentagram (though I mistakenly used the character for "ghost" instead of "spirit"), and a Yin & Yang symbol at the center for Yes/No, Hello/Goodbye, etc. I intended to use the Enochian alphabet in a circle of disks, which would encompass a smaller ring of disks containing the Arabic numerals 0-9. The outer circle of the pentagram would be inscribed with my personal magickal creed in Theban script. These were all painted on by hand with artist's oil paints.

I worked on the board on and off from 1992 through 1994, then because of several moves, it was packed up and was never completed. It has since been sitting around, unfinished. I do expect to work on it again some day, and it may actually be completed at some point, but I have no intentions on ever using it. I'm just not that into Ouija boards for spirit communication. I prefer to divine using tarot cards.

Lamp Shade

Just a very quick note about this little piece of back-catalogue. This is a lamp shade that I made for the store's grow-light a few years ago. Like I mentioned, I can't keep plants alive for more than a few weeks, so I eventually gave up on the indoor plants, and the grow light, and so the lamp shade was retired.

It was made from a plain craft paper lamp shade that I got from the craft store. I used a hammered metallic black spray paint on it. Then I cut out holes in random locations using a 50 cent piece as a template. From the underside, I glued pieces of colored cellophane over the holes. Then, I glued large river-stone shaped clear glass disks over top of the holes. I finished it off by drawing a leaf and vine pattern over the surface with black glitter puffy-paint. It looks quite nice when it is lit up, buy I'm not going to bother setting it up to show you.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Our Garden

Well, it's not exactly the kind of creation I usually post about here, but I did make it, sort of.

I usually have a black thumb. I can kill snake plants, all manner of house plants and even aloe vera. The only thing I have ever had much success at growing was mugwort (which by all accounts is a weed). This spring, my daughter and I decided to plant a garden in the empty lot next to my house. We had some spare bricks lying around, so we made raised beds. The soil in the lot was all rock and ash (at least it looks like ash), so we brought in bags of top soil to doctor it. We planted tomato seeds (which didn't come up, so we replaced them with seedlings), sunflowers, pumpkins (the kind that make 200 pound gourds), watermelons (again, the largest ones we could find), green peppers (which also didn't come up, and were replaced by seedlings), cucumbers, radishes, cantaloupe, green beans, yellow beans, lettuce, and carrots. In all we made five beds. My daughter and I are very excited about how well things are going so far. I'm still not holding my breath that we will be able to harvest anything, but at least there is something growing.

I won't post a bunch of pictures of plants here, that's not what this blog is for, but if you are interested here is a link to my "garden blog". My daughter is out of state visiting relatives for a few weeks and I promised her I would post pictures of the garden so she could monitor its progress. Enjoy.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Notorious B.I.C.

The Notorious B.I.C. (Big Inflatable Cthulhu) was created in the summer of 2005 as a replacement for the retired BSP. As with its predecessor, it turned out nothing like the original concept. It began its life as a vintage olive drab nylon army surplus parachute that I purchased off of eBay. I had not seen a real parachute since I had been in kindergarten. I remembered them as being big, but I figured a lot of that was due to the fact that I was very small at the time. Not so. My mother and daughter and I took it out to a parking lot to open it up so I could get a visual idea of how much material I had to work with, and how the seams ran. Holy crap, this thing was HUGE! We couldn't even get it completely opened up, because the wind was starting to take hold of it, and it was easy to see that the three of us were going to have a problem keeping it under control if we got more than a slight breeze. It was nearly dragging us across the parking lot at the smallest gust.

My original design was along the same lines as what the BSP was supposed to have been (which should have been an omen). Actually, it would have looked a lot like my Cthulhu Snowman sculpture. I guess my imagination likes to get it's moneys worth out of a design idea. It was supposed to have a round body, topped by a round head with face tentacles. Then there would be arms and legs, hopefully with fingers and toes this time, attached to the side of the body. Over all, it would have looked a lot like those snowman blow up lawn decorations, but green, and Cthulhu. The body came together fine (which should have been another omen). Actually, the seams of the parachute worked to my advantage. I t was basically a big sphere. I held the seams together with safety pins and installed a large box fan at the rear seam to inflate it while I conceptualized the rest of the build. Once inflated, it filled up the entire basement of my mother's house floor to ceiling. It looked like a giant green pumpkin. I had left an opening at the top for airflow. This would allow air to fill the head segment.

Next I began work on the head. It would have also been basically a sphere, so it should have been easy to make, but there was a problem. Every time I through the next piece of material over the top of the body, expecting the air hole at the top to buoy it up so I could shape it, the whole thing deflated. At most, I figured, I was blocking the air hole, which should have made the thing inflate more. To block that hole should have increased the air pressure inside the body. But, every time, it deflated. I tried it over and over with the same result. This was going to be a problem. How was I going to attach a head and keep the whole thing inflated? After about two days of frustration, my mother made an off handed comment as she passed by to do the laundry. "Why don't you make that the head?", she said.

I'm not the kind of person who can roll with the punches easily. I am loath to revise my design once I figure out what I want. Physics be damned. But after another day of frustration, I had to concede defeat. The deflating problem was not going to go away. I started thinking of ways I could get away with not putting another section on top of this one. That brought me back to what my mother had said. I could put my face tentacles on the body, and make the whole sculpture into a giant Cthulhu head. Not what I originally wanted, but feasible.

Now, I had to add features to this giant green pumpkin, to sell it as a Cthulhu head. I used a marker to sketch out where I wanted things like the eyes and face tentacles to go. I had planned on using darts and pleats (and other improperly named sewing techniques) to create shape. In that vein, I created a sort of pocket that ran horizontally all across the front. This would become the eyebrow. I created it around a bent pool noodle, which would fill out the brow and give a menacing scowl to the eyes. I kept the pool noodle bent to the proper curve by running a piece of string through it's center and tying the ends together to create a bow (as in bow and arrow). The design was still very fluid, so I only safety pinned the brow in place until I got things finalized. I had saved the light up eyeballs from the BSP, and planned on reusing them for this project. All I needed to do was to create a little sculpted pocket for them to rest in.

The face tentacles were a little harder to create than I had expected (isn't everything?). I decided on four large tentacles (just like my snowman sculpture!) that would come straight out of the face at around floor level. Sewing them together was difficult just due to their size. It was very hard to see what I was doing and to keep everything lined up properly. It all just looked like a giant wad of fabric. The outer tentacles were supposed to be larger than the center ones, though they did come out a little larger than I would have liked. They almost look big enough to be arms. One little innovation I snuck in during the sewing stage, was to run a piece of mason line (string) down the length of each tentacle. I'll tell you what it is for shortly. To attach the tentacles, I decided to pin them to the inflated sphere, sew them in place, by hand, then cut holes in the sphere (from the inside) to allow the air to fill the tentacles. At least that part of the plan went off reasonably smoothly, though my hand sewing leaves a lot to be desired.

Once the tentacles were in place,the basic construction was finished, sort of. I did still have to test the eyes. More on that later. So far everything was held together with safety pins, except for the tentacles' seams were sewn and they were sewn to the face. Remember that I said I cut the holes to let air into the tentacles from the inside? the rear seam of the "pumpkin" was also held together with safety pins (lots of them). If I unfastened a few near the bottom, and entered quickly, I could get inside of the thing while it was inflated. AWWWESOOOMMME!!! I get excited by things like that. And remember those strings in the tentacles? Those are for making them move. Once inside, I could tug on those strings and make the tentacles move around. MOOORRRRE AWWWESOOOMMMME! You've got to love being able to mess with people from inside a giant Cthulhu head!

I wasn't sure what kind of fan I was going to use to keep the thing inflated, and I wanted to stay flexible, so I decided to use self stick velcro to seal the back seam. This would allow me to make the opening for the fan as large or small as necessary, and would also allow easy access in case anyone wanted to get inside to work the tentacles. The top and bottom of the sphere (and part of the seam) and the eyebrow pocket are actually still held together with safety pins. I had always intended to sew them up proper, but never got around to it. Hey, they work.

Once basic construction was completed, I deflated the sculpture and drug it out to the garage and re-inflated it for painting. I started with some flat black sprat paint to give it shape and definition. I made large black patches around the eyes to give the illusion of depth. I used florescent green spray paint to give it highlights and the same iridescent sheen that the BSP had under black light. I also used some air brush paint for more subtle details, but honestly, you can't really see them, especially in a dark room.

And now for the eye fiasco. Originally, I intended to have the self contained, battery powered illuminated plastic orbs that I had used on the BSP, sitting in a pocket like fold under the eyebrow. This is basically how they sat in the BSP. It didn't take long to see that plan wouldn't work. The eyes were far too heavy, and actually a little too small for the head. Since weight was the main problem, I decided to construct something to take up the weight. I spent several hours constructing an elaborate wooden stand to hold the eyes from the inside of the head. It was a plywood base, with a 2x4 post coming up from the middle, off of which swung two movable 1x2 arms with steel plates on their tips. I intended to put the stand inside the head, point the arms to where they eyes should be, and have the eyes attached from the outside of the fabric with magnets. A very complicated solution, that worked for crap. Unfortunately, I was out of time. I had to leave for Origins the next day. I would have to somehow fix it on the fly. I was beginning to have BSP flashbacks.

Once on site, I tried again to make the magnet pole-thingy work. It didn't. Even when I could keep it from falling over, it looked like total crap. It actually looked better with no eyes, just the dark sockets. So, that's how I left it for the first few hours. Then, in the midst of my disgust, I had a brain storm. At the moment I thought of it, I thought it was a stupid idea, and that it probably would look terrible, but what was I out to try. I grabbed a spare piece of florescent orange poster board from my supplies (I always come over prepared. Ask anyone). I cut out two large circles, cropped at the top, and with a big old cat's eye slit drawn on in black magic marker. It looked like it could have been made by a fourth grader. I tucked the top edge up under the eyebrow ridge, and secured them to the fabric with a little piece of doubled over duct tape. Holy shit! They looked awesome! And surprisingly, with the black light reflected off the florescent orange, they were about ten times brighter than the light up ones would have been. Even at a distance, with the room lights low, it looked like two very large glowing eyes peering out at you from the corner. I still use those same poster board eyes.

And thus, Notorious B.I.C. came to life. He was an instant sensation. People liked him even better than the BSP. Several people figured out that you can lay on the floor in front of it, with the tentacles over you, and it looks like you are being eaten. People love to have their pictures taken that way. I should charge for it :)

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Cultist Robes

I've nearly caught up with all my back catalog of creations (that are able to be posted anyway), but I still have a couple left. Here is one from a couple of years ago. It is part of the Rogue Cthulhu project. If you are new to this blog, Rogue Cthulhu is my gaming group that, since 1999, presents Call of Cthulhu role playing events at the Origins Gaming Convention. It is the reason for many of my creations, including the Necronomicon Pages, and the BSP.

I decided our gaming group needed some distinctive apparel that both identified our Game Masters and set the mood for our Call of Cthulhu games. Other gaming clubs wear printed t-shirts or custom embroidered polo shirts. I thought we needed something more; full flowing black cultist robes with cowls and stoles!

They were hand made from heavy black cotton cloth using a Tau Robe pattern taken from a book about creating magickal tools as used by the Golden Dawn hermetic lodge. The robes pull over the head (which makes them a little inconvenient) and are really too hot to be worn with clothes underneath during summer (though they are actually quite comfortable if you go commando). These two points are largely why they did not see a lot of use after the first year or two.

The cowl hood is a separate piece. basically a loose cloth tube that can be worn around the neck and pulled up over the head. The stole is made from purple cotton cloth and tapers to a point at the back. It has an iron on backing that gives it stiffness and weight. The symbols running down the stole are hand painted with black fabric paint, and are edged with a glow-in-the-dark dimensional fabric paint (puffy paint). At first glance they look like a cryptic cypher, but they are actually just a highly stylized font I created. They read, "Rogue Rules". The stoles are usually safety pinned to the robe at the shoulder, as they tend to migrate as they are worn.

The ensemble is finished off with a belt made from thick white nylon rope, sometimes with wooden prayer beads hanging from them. We were quite the spectacle. Unfortunately, they are all but retired now. I pull one out for use at Halloween from time to time.