Monday, October 22, 2012

Make Tombstone Progress

As we count down the days 'til our Halloween party, it's good to see the progression of William's work on the aged and weathered tombstones. He's kept at it for almost two years. And even when he ran into setbacks, he's been single-mindedly determined to achieve the look he was aiming for... I think his effort is really paying off.

Hey, maybe this actual rain we are enjoying will enhance the decayed appearance of the markers.

First William cut construction foam, then carved them with a Dremel rotary tool. Painting them has been very labor intensive, including finding the right application method, and technique, for applying the layers of time... highlights and the green mossy-growth.

Soon, he will be boring holes in the bases, to install PVC, which will act as sleeves for the pipes we will drive into the ground. Then, each marker can be slid onto the PVC in the ground, and we will have tombstones standing and steady in our All Hallow Cemetery. Add real moss, fallen leaves, fog, and nearly full, Hunter's Moon and I think we are going to have something quite chilling!

Keep up the good work, William!

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Make a Pumpkin a Familiar Face

This post originally appeared in Chickenblog, October 2010. It's too good not to share again!

Inspired by a pumpkin past, I challenged Alex and William to re-visit their face carving stylings, but this time with someone we know and love:

Happy Stimpkin Day!

Here he is, when he is not a pumpkin, but a dedicated and inspiring physics, and history teacher, and most honorable Paradox coach and mentor. That's right: I threw in a Robotics plug!

Team Paradox is full of good people, exceptional teachers and mentors, and I thought for sure I would find a post specifically about some of them, like George S… evidently I made George S. and robotics synonymous, which is appropriate, but he deserves to be singled out. Like I have said before: This man is FIRST. He teaches it, lives it, exudes it, and his students love him for it.

And it is the team's great fortune that there is more than one dedicated and awesome teacher looking out for robotics and the Paradox. Jason B., I have just the picture of you that would make a pumpkin glow!

Making a pumpkin into a favorite teacher takes planning, daring, humor, and a team effort. Gee, robotics really does prepare us for all of life, you know?

Step One: Find a good pumpkin. Sound, steady, dignified. It should already exude those qualities you plan to accentuate from your subject.

Step Two: Someone has to get in there and clean things out.

In deference to the beret, a signature accessory of Mr. S., I cut the top in a beret-like shape. Trust me, all of this is thoughtfully designed.

Maria, resident Mini-Paradox, was more than happy to help with the scooping.

Now comes the pattern. This picture came from the last all-nighter of the 2009-2010 build season, when the robot had to be finished and crated before 8 am. Mr S. looks to be in good spirits, right? Good spirits is a specialty of 2102 Team Paradox.

Step Three: William played with the original photograph, converting it to black and white, then he used the threshold tool in Photoshop to contrast and highlight Mr. S.'s features.

Step Four: Transferring the image onto the pumpkin.

Someone wished to remain anonymous for as long as possible. Shy. This actually provided some hilarious moments, when we realized how much trouble we could get in if any of our intentions were misinterpreted.

This part is important and time consuming, and also causes hand cramps...

which is why it is so nice to have two or three people working on it.

William did transferring, and I did transferring, and Maria offered to do transferring. Gently poking the tiny holes in the pumpkins skin created an outline so that we could then carve away the lighter sections.

Step Five: Carving away the light sections. This is the part that can cause you to lose hope, give up, surrender, quit. For one thing, we did not have good tools. Again. So, just like when the boys did this three years ago, we were using a variety of inadequate kitchen gadgets, and losing confidence in the outcome.

Step Six: Never give up! Never surrender! Seriously. Working up close with the pumpkin and concentrating on the details in the pumpkin flesh makes it impossible to appreciate the impressionistic effect of this kind of pumpkin carving. So, it pays to be patient, and to see it through to the end.

Because when you turn out the lights, and illuminate the pumpkin from within, then step back...

It works. Somehow, it works, and suddenly you see your teacher glowing back at you, and you can almost hear him asking, "If you're on a frictionless lake of ice, with nothing but you and a cat... what do you do?"

Friday, October 12, 2012

Make Tombstones

William makes faux tombstones. They are works of art with a reverent nod to history, and All Hallo's Eve. He has been working on these grave markers since last year. He's done a lot of research... for historic accuracy and also to learn the best techniques, in carving, and painting, and to determine the best materials. I cannot say enough about how much care and attention goes in to each and every piece.

This is one of the first ones he carved. This was done free hand, using construction foam. He likes to model his designs inspired by genuine graveyard motifs of the 18th century.

Rebekah and I followed William into the carport to see the faux column he is constructing, and when I realized my cousin hadn't seen what William has been doing, I asked William to show her his art.

I can write about how impressed and proud of his work I am, but what I really want is for him to take over, here, and explain his thought process, his methods, the challenges, the successes. It's been a long labor of love, and he has a diligence and determination to adhere to high standards. It makes me reluctant to even try and describe what he is achieving, because I know I won't get it quite right.

Ask him! Anything. Do you have a question about his choices, or how he gets them to look the way they do? They are unfinished. He has more plans for aging them. I am hoping that he will write a post and answer our questions, because I would love to have his thoughts recorded, here.

He's made a lot of them... gravestones, markers, foot markers, headstones... each unique, each nearly completed.

This is the one we came out to see, specifically. He asked me to photograph it before he paints it.

The foam pieces are hand cut, and then were glued onto the concrete tube form. The cheap vase was a thrift shop score.

Do you know about Ouroboros, the ancient symbol depicting a serpent or dragon eating its own tail?

It might be hard for William to find time to write a post for me... he wants these finished as soon as possible. We want to spook up the garden for Halloween.

He's working very hard.

I promise to keep you posted on his progress!*

*I promised an update on William's progress with his tombstones. Actually, shortly after the post about the tombstones, he had a small crisis of faith. He's put so much time and thought into these, that finishing them, and achieving the quality, aged look that he wanted to get began to feel, for him, close to impossible. He's learning as he goes, and his paint sprayer was malfunctioning, and stuff was... you know doing what stuff does... not working the way he needed it to. I was no help, because all I could see was what looked like a success... really cool, good looking markers. But he was determined to achieve exactly the authentic, realistic, and weathered look of actual cemetery headstones, and he was not about to settle for really cool.

And he was right. The next level is remarkable. He's pleased, too. It took many experiments, and adjustments, and now he is finding the right colors, textures, and layering methods to make the headstones look as though they have been worn by time and nature, by slow decay, cold nights, damp summers.

He's making great progress, and we are seeing a project many, many months in the making come to a happy conclusion.

Construction foam, research, regard and respect for historic craftsmanship, a Dremel- high speed rotary tool, paint, paint, and more paint... he's brought all of this together to great effect.

Somehow, finished with William's great care, these seem so much more than a Halloween prop. They really do convey the thoughtfulness, and esteem shown for the loved ones who have passed on. The motifs, the time spent to create those original pieces... it makes me reflective and mindful of the beauty conveyed in these traditions, and remembrances. Well done, William.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Make A Floral Crown

Una feria de flores!

Welcome to our little flower fair! We've been making floral wreaths... they remind me of leis, of October fest, and the flowers of Mexico... coronas de flores! They are pretty! Imagine how beautiful they would be if I made them with real flowers... oh, yes, very pretty.

Since real flower wreaths only last a day, and because I wanted to practice my method, before (possibly) destroying any genuine blossoms, I hit the dollar bin at the craft store. I went for the least fakey looking fake flowers. Maria's corona is made from a bunch of chrysanthemums that came with fern-like leaves.


Wire Cutters
Flexible wire... ours is floral grade
Floral tape... it comes in green and white, and it's tacky, and will stick to itself
Hot glue, or E6000... hot or stinky, your choice!

After I made Maria's, she definitely wanted to play too. I felt a little more confident about her trying this, without suffering too much frustration, since I had figured out the basics, and which parts took the most patience.

So... want to try?

Steps 1-2-3

Measure enough wire to fit around your head... not tight, because you'll be making the wreath smaller as you tape, flowers, and ribbon. I suggest at least half an inch of looseness. Unwind enough wire to twist around three times... I did this because one loop of this light wire would be too weak, too flimsy. So consider the strength and flexibility of your wire and make it as rigid as you think will be comfortable to wear around your head.

Cut the length of wire you need, and now twist it around itself, into the wreath form. I was not especially meticulous or fussy about this. The form will be covered in tape, then flowers, and finally the ribbon, so kinks and warps in the wire are not a big deal.

When you have your form, grab the floral tape, and snuggly cover the form with the tape. I added this step to Maria's wreath, so she had a more uniform piece, with no wires to poke her. The tape stretches, and adheres to itself, so pull it taut, as you wrap it round and round the entire wire form. This part was a bit of a coordination challenge for Maria, so sometimes she would hand it over to me, and I would get her back on course.

See what I mean about the wire? I didn't obsess over how it looked, but to keep anything from poking, we covered all of this up with the floral tape.

It's a wrap! Maria is making her flower crown for her doll, Josefina.

Steps 4-5-6

Cut the flowers off of the long stems. This may require wire cutters. Leave 1-2" stems on the flowers, and if you want to include the leaves, then slide the leaves up the stem, closer to the flower.

The next thing you need to do is to glue the flower to the plastic stem. You may have already figured out that the flowers are not always affixed to the stems, and they can pop off easily. Once the flowers were cut, I then added a drop of E6000 around the base of the flower, to really stick it to the stem. Then I let it dry for about five minutes. Now they are ready to be wrapped onto the wreath.

Working from the center and front of the wreath, we placed a flower along the tape wrapped flower, setting the stem faced toward the back of the wreath. Then we start wrapping about 6-7" of floral tape from the flower base, around the wreath, and all the way down the stem.

Remember to pull the tape taut, while holding the flower to the wreath form. It may take a few passes, and let the tape overlap itself to really secure the flower to the wreath form. Again, this may be a bit much to coordinate. I was stepping in quite a bit with first few flowers, but Maria did get the hang of it.

I don't mind letting Maria know when I find a project challenging, too, and then we feel easier about helping each other, and working through the trouble spots. Sometimes the floral tape twists, and gets stuck to itself, so we would pull that short length off and start over. No problem! Each flower was laid down, with the stem going toward the back. The we started the second row, from the front and filling in from front to back.

Josefina is a little doll, so we used the smallest flowers, and no leaves.

Once all the flowers were wrapped in floral tape, it was time to wrap the floral tape with a pretty ribbon.

Step 7!

A dabbed a bit of the E6000 to the end of the narrow width, black ribbon, and secured it to the wreath form, just below the last flower, then I began wrapping the ribbon, overlapping it, and going all the way around the form, until I had the whole back of the flower crown covered.

I go back and forth between calling it a crown and a wreath. I suppose it would be more of a "wreath," if we had added the flowers all the way around the form, and then it would be worn on top of your head. Since we only added flowers part way around the form, maybe that is more like a "crown."

Josefina and her corona de flores!

Step 8 is all about the finishing touches. Maria chose decorative ribbons that we glued to the sides, just behind the last flower. The ribbons drape around Josefina's face, adding to the festive look of her corona.

This corona is for Dia De Los Muertos... an irresistible Halloween suggestion from my cousin, Rebekah. I can't wait to finish it.

I hope my instructions don't throw anyone off, or read too daunting. It turns out to be a pretty simple project, with not too many supplies. Might be a fun thing to do with friends, on a rainy day!

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Make Ghosts

Halloween is twenty-two days away!
But the ghosts have come already,
They could not wait another day!

They come in all shapes and sizes,
Some small, some tall,
All gossamer and ghastly
In their cheese cloth disguises!

Writhes, phantoms, apparitions,
In legends and in literature,
In our vivid imaginations,

The specters we have conjured
Are of a friendly nature!

They are as light as a feather, but stand easily, freely. We may hang some with thread. They cannot get wet though, or they'll suffer the same melting fate as that Wicked Witch!

Would you like to scare up a pair of ghosts for your haunted house? They are really easy to make, and a lot of fun to decorate with. I learned how to make these a long time ago... when I was just a scary little kid. Gather your supplies, and give this a try!

Cheesecloth: by the yard at some craft and fabric stores, or at the market in the baking aisle

White glue, and a dish to pour it in to. It's just the regular old stuff you used in school

Some bottles, varying sizes

Wax paper, for easier clean up

A bit of aluminum foil, or any thing that can add shapes to the bottles

A pair of scissors

Once I have all of my supplies on hand, I tear off a few sheets of wax paper and lay them on the work surface. This will protect my counter from spills, and give the ghosts a place to dry.

Then I pour some glue into a dish, and add just enough water to make it a bit runny. If it's diluted too much, then the ghost will be less rigid, so only add enough water to make it slightly more fluid-y.

William measured enough cheesecloth over a tall bottle to cover the bottle, and leave some cloth draping. The part that drapes will create the base, so the ghost can stand. If you want to suspend your ghost, then you don't have to be as concerned about creating this base. William cut the portion he needed, and moved over to the glue dish.

Next, William balled up the cheesecloth and gave it a gentle dunk into the glue, then squeezed out the excess solution. Once the cloth had absorbed the glue and water, he spread it apart and prepared to drape it over his form.

Here we go! William is making sure the cloth is spread all around. You don't want to be too rough with the delicate cheesecloth, but any tears or pulls really only enhance the tattered shroud of your ghost, so don't be too fussy about it, either.

With smaller bottle and props, we add extended arms. A round dome of foil on the top of narrow necked bottles will create better proportions for heads.

This is the fun part... when you drape the damp cloth around the base, and get the arms to float and reach out. The next part is to let them dry. We did this right before tooth-brushing and story time, so the ghosts were dry and ready to greet us in the morning!

Speaking of dry and ready to greet us...
We found this little imp haunting the dryer!