Saturday, August 29, 2009

Transi - Work in progress

I was feeling the urge to sculpt, so guess what I did?

exactly! I satisfied this urge!

The project I'm currently working on right now is a small oil-based clay Transi. A transi is a type of funerary monument which were most popular during the XVth and XVIth centuries, however examples of this type of monument started to appear during the XIVth century.

Unlike the popular gisant, which is a life-sized statue of the deceased in a peaceful, sleeping position, the transi presents the deceased as it truly is; A horrible, decomposing corpse, its skin tightly stretched over dry bones, in an eternal skeletal grin.

I absolutely ADORE this type of funerary monument, for it presents the true horror of death, without romanticizing it as with the gisants.

Of course, I'm not yet ready to do a full scale transi; my idea was to make a smallish sculpture, mold it, and cast candles from it. The symbolism of the body slowly melting and burning away as the candle burns goes hand to hand with what the traditional transis symbolizes.

To begin, I needed clay; I used the same type of clay with which I made my tsantsa, a cheap oil-based clay sold for 2$/pound. This type of clay won't dry, is very firm when cold, and softens as it heats up, making it perfect for detailed sculptures.

I use very few tools during the sculpting process; A small "ribbon" tool (I don't know the english name, but it's called a mirette in french), a knife, a wooden modelling tool (called an ébauchoir in french, I don't have any idea what it's called in english), a brush with alcohol to smoothen the clay, and a few toothpicks and needles.

I also fashioned a stand out of thick scraps of wood so I don't have to bend down as much while working on the sculpture.

Reference when doing anatomical work is also very important; During the sculpting process, I refer to the fifth edition of Gray's Anatomy. My copy is from 1870, but new editions are easy to find on ebay and amazon. However, I don't recommend this book if you're not familiar with human proportions, as it does not contain full-body illustrations.

As you can see, I'm also using a skull replica as a guide; the fact that it is in 3D makes it more practical.

Here's an example of what kind of illustrations you can expect to find in gray's anatomy. Although very detailed, only smallish parts of the human body are represented.

Once you've got all your tools, pictures, anatomical models and whatnot, you're ready to start!

Sculpting is like drawing; it's easier if you do a sketch first. There's no hurry to work on the details.

Here's a view of the front and back of my "sketch". The goal is to simply map out the pose, shape and proportions of the body. As you can see, I've left the head out. I personally prefer to work on the body first. There is also no legs nor arms; I'm not planning to add any, I only want a torso and a head.

Once this is done, you'll want to start working on the musculature; filling up some parts and removing clay from others to make it actually look like something. Knowing what to add and what to remove is a matter of practice, actually; most beginner sculptors will be afraid to remove too much clay, and end up with blocky results.

This, however, is a bit too skeletal for my tastes. I added small pieces of clay using my anatomy book as a guide to plump up the sculpture a bit.

Here, you have a shot of the back. Another common mistake is to work damn hard on the front without caring about the back, which can cause distortion and other problems in the finished product.

I've worked a bit more on the general shape of the body, and added a lump of clay on the neck so I can begin the head. Since the lump of clay I used for the head is still soft and warm from being kneaded, I let it cool down and harden a bit before working on the skull.

Here, you can see the skull slowly taking shape.

I still have a lot of work to do, but this still can give you an idea of what the finished product will look like.

I'll keep you updated when I finish the sculpture, with info on sculpting the details.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Happy plane makes me happy

You just gotta love this picture.

Steampunk skull - part 1

Here's the situation: I just ordered a plastic human skull from ebay, and let's just say that I could be more satisfied with its looks. Its jaw is slightly too wide, it has a little underbite, its teeth were filed down too short and some of the detail has been lost.

However, for 17$ bucks, I can't expect much better.

Before I gather some cash to get myself a quality replica (which can be between 100$ and 300$), I plan to experiment a bit with this 17$ skull and see if I can make him look like a thousand bucks.

The process will be like this: I'll stain the skull, hinge its jaw with brass hardware, and fashion a brass and wood stand to support it.

This should be enough to give it some much needed flair and a slightly steampunk aura.

So let's start out with the staining, will-we?

This process is really simple; it's just a matter of having the right materials.

read it again. The RIGHT materials.

I didn't read it enough, personnally, since I disregarded all the info I found on the subject of staining plastic bones and bought the first kind of walnut stain I found instead of trying to get gel stain.

So here's the materials you need:

- A plastic skull
- A rag
- GEL wood stain. (A dark walnut or antique oak looks great)

There you go. Now the process is quite simple. With your rag, apply a liberal coat of stain all over the skull. Be sure to get it in every nooks and crannies.

It's hard to see, but I realized why I should have used gel stain about at the time I took this picture.

The stain I'm using lacks opacity, and is RUNNY AS HELL. Also, it's oil based, so it's not easy to clean up. But I digress. back to topic.

Once your skull is covered, let the stain sit a few minutes, and simply wipe off the excess with a slightly damp rag.

Here's the results. I'm not 100% satisfied; It's not as smooth as I wanted and I was expecting slightly less reddish results. However, all is not lost; I'll try giving it a white wash to smoothen the color a bit, and will go over with a nice golden oak stain to bring out the yellowish tinge of the skull. This combination of colors will probably do the trick.

Stay tuned for the next part!

UPDATE: Link to part 2

The Wolfman - Trailer

I'm almost as excited as when I saw the trailer for Burton's Alice in Wonderland.

Go watch the trailer HERE

And take a look at the official website HERE

Found it on Cryptomundo

Friday, August 21, 2009

Molding Skulls

I just found a great tutorial for molding a plastic skull and casting plaster copies. There's lots of pictures and detailed instructions. The most expensive part is the liquid latex (if, of course, you already have a nice skull at home), but the 20-30$ it'll cost you in materials is well worth the massive amount of skulls you'll be able to make!

from The Creepy House Next Door, which also contains many more interesting tutorial revolving around creepy halloween yard decoration.

For painting the skull, I strongly suggest this step-by-step demonstration, by Dave the Dead from The Shadow Farm. He uses an urethane skull, but there's no reason why it wouldn't work on plaster. I'd suggest applying a coat of sealer to the plaster first, however, so it doesn't soak up all the paint.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Making a hardcover out of a paperback

Rev. Marx at Marx Designs posted a great tutorial on how to cover a cheap paperback with boards to give it the look of an antique hardbound book. It's quite simple actually, and his instructions are more than you need to figure out how to do something like it. Definitively worth checking out.

Link to the tutorial

Found on Propnomicon

Thursday, August 13, 2009

It's time for book reviews!

Is there a better feeling than sinking into a comfy couch a dark and stormy night, resting your feet on the tanned bear skin's head in front of the fire place*, opening up many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore and reading 'till you nod, nearly napping?

Well yeah, there's better feelings, but this one's pretty darn nice anyways.

That's why I read a lot, and I thought I could share my recent findings(in terms of litterature) with you. There's some old, there's some new, but it's all good.

1. Paint It Black - Voltaire

A guide to gothic homemaking, he says. Damn right, he is! Although this little gem is a bit too tiny to my likings, it's filled with great info and ideas for transforming the most boring dorm room into a somptuous gothic den. From modifying toys to covering walls with draperies, you can be sure this book will help you. However, it's a quick read; a few more projects should have been included to justify the asking price (about 15$cdn on amazon).

2. Brothers Karamazov - Fyodor Dostoievsky

Every one needs to read a good russian realist novel now and then. Although a big piece to chew, Dostoievsky's masterpiece is definitively worth your time and concentration. The story is about three brothers, who's father is assassinated. It covers every subject from love, money, honor and fraternity, to murder, justice, depravity and religion. And these russian names sound awesome!

3. The Metamorphosis and Other Stories - Franz Kafka

Oh man, Kafka is awesome. I mean, really, he is. After Stephen King and Eddy Poe, he's probably my favorite author.

Just go read this book and tell me you liked it (I won't believe you other wise). It is filled with short, witty, surreal stories, which makes you think as much as it entertains. A salesman waking up as a giant cockroach (or whatever it is)? yup. Jackals asking a white man to kill a few arabian guys with rusty scissors? It's there. and there's many more stories present. If you like surrealist tales, you'll like this book by Kafka.

4. Dieu et Nous Seuls Pouvons - Michel Folco

If you can read french, it is one of the most enjoyable novels you can read. This book tells the story of the Pibrac, the greatest (fictional) family of french executioners. The story is told with great attention to historical accuracy, with a touch of dark humor. definitively a 5*****.

5. Secrets of the Sideshows - Joe Nickell

If you have any interest in the world of the sideshow, this book might just quench your thirst for knowledge. It covers every topic from natural freaks to sword-swallowing tattooed hotties. It also explains a bit how different types of sideshows were organized, and how certain stunts were performed. A must-read for the sideshow enthusiast.

Ok, so that's about it for now. I might give a short review of more books later, since I still have to go through a pile of unread volumes. If you want to know more about any of these books, just ask!

Monday, August 10, 2009

Tsantsa; from clay to shrunken head

I love shrunken heads. I really do. These little guys are creepy, look great, and have that mysterious tribal vibe to them. And let's face it, they are damn cute. And after reading my 1925 copy of Up de Graff's Head Hunters of the Amazon, I decided I just HAD to have one.

Of course, buying a real shrunken head is out of my price range, but I wanted my own little tsantsa, and there is no better way to get something than to make it yourself.

Using sulfur-free oil based clay, I had a blast sculpting this little guy over a few hours. I won't go into details with the sculpting process; with a little bit of artistic talent, it's quite easy to do. The sculpture done, a mold must be made. It shalt be made out of plaster, said I!

I made a dividing wall with thin aluminum pieces (the bottom of a pie plate), and covered the head with plaster and strips of burlap. Unfortunately, I didn't take pictures of this process, so you'll have to imagine. I then sloshed some liquid latex inside the mold, following by the lengthy process of letting it cure, then removed and powdered the latex cast with baby powder.

I gave back a little color and tackiness to the skin using brown and orange grease makeup (applied thinly so that the wrinkles and pores aren't filled out), and following the information I had about the methods used to make shrunken heads, I blackened the head with charcoal.

I then applied a good layer of fixative. I personally like to use ultra-strong TRESemmé hairpsray. Following this, I sewed the lips and the back of the head shut with thin cotton rope, which I dyed a yellowish brown with coffee earlier.

I still have to decorate it a bit more and find a way to put hair on it (punching hair into slip latex is quite difficult; I'll have to find another solution)

However, I'm quite happy with how it looks like right now! It was quite a simple process, with plenty of info that can be found online, but if you want to try something similar and need any help, advice is just a comment or an email away!

Here is a great website about shrunken heads

and on here you'll find a friendly community willing to answer most of your questions about molding and casting latex props

Bottled specimens

Here's a great tutorial for making fake, antique bottled specimens by the folks at Propnomicon: Clickety-click!

HERE is another one by Baron Von Fogel at Indy Mogul.

Both would make great props to store in your wunderkammer. (you DO have a wunderkammer, don't you? if no, I might elaborate on the subject later.)

Tuesday, August 4, 2009


I just found via The Steampunk Home a great shop, located on melrose avenue in LA, called Necromance.
It features an eclectic assortement of natural history items, curios, antiques, books, jewelry and other amazing stuff.

Definitively worth checking out; their online catalog is full of great objects of all kinds, with great prices!

more details here