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1  MISCELLANEOUS TOPICS / Discussion and Questions / Klutz on: April 09, 2016 07:36:04 AM
Does anybody else here like the Klutz/Scholastic crafting books/kits?  For those of you that may be unfamiliar, they're little art sets that typically come with a full-color, how-to book in addition to the supplies/materials that you need to make the projects in said volume, and they cover a wide range of artistic disciplines/media.  I keep buying these things . . . and then, because I like wasting money and I'm incredibly lazy/unmotivated, I never make anything with them (I do read the books though--gotta justify my hoarding somehow you know). 



At the moment, I've got the pictured "Toolbox Jewelry", "Paper Fashions", "Friendship Bracelets", and "Making Mini Books" kits.  I almost bought a pipe cleaner one recently too, but the voice of reason finally won out when it sternly reminded me that I haven't done jack with the sets that I already have.  Judging by the photos inside, they're primarily marketed to the tween/teen crowd, but I think they're fun/informative for more experienced crafters/adults as well, especially if the theme/discipline is something that you've never tried before and want a relatively-inexpensive tutorial with supplies included.

Someday, I will make friendship bracelets, someday . . .
2  TOYS, DOLLS AND PLAYTHINGS / Toys, Dolls and Playthings: Completed Projects / I'm bucketloads of trouble! on: March 22, 2016 08:14:51 AM


Magic Broom

I "fake-swapped" (i.e., worked on a themed project without actually exchanging it with anyone) this figure for Craftster's Disney & Pixar Swap. Cursed with an indecisive nature, I often have difficulty choosing a character/thing to focus on, but, in this case, it so happened that the Magic Broom from Disney's 1940 Fantasia film had been on my "to-do" list for ages, I still had the reference images for such a project, that I'd collected in the past, saved on my computer's hard drive, and, in the last few months, I purchased a plush Apprentice Mickey Mouse toy and Random House's 1973 The Sorcerer's Apprentice children's book, so, the stars were in alignment. While I like it, I haven't ever watched Fantasia start-to-finish, but I have seen many of the individual segments repeatedly over the years (unless my memory is playing tricks on me, I believe that, in my youth, the Disney Channel used to air truncated versions of them pretty frequently). Speaking of which, viewing some clips, on YouTube, of Fantasia, while doing research for this project, was almost the Magic Broom's undoing, because, when I saw all of the lovely kentaurides (female centaurs) in the Pastoral Symphony (a piece by Ludwig van Beethoven) cartoon, I very nearly changed my mind in favor of modeling one of them instead, and this blue lass, with a peacock-like tail, in particular:



The Sorcerer's Apprentice symphonic poem was composed by Frenchman Paul Dukas in 1896-97, which was in turn based upon German poet Johann Wolfgang von Goethe's 1797 work of the same name. In the musical world, it's Dukas' best-known piece, and Disney's 1940 Fantasia did much to increase its recognition with the general public. At first, Walt Disney had intended for his interpretation of Dukas/Goethe's work to be a stand-alone Silly Symphonies short, with the goal of revitalizing the Mickey Mouse character, whom he felt was suffering a decline in popularity at the time, but, as the cartoon grew too ambitious and costly for that format, Disney expanded the concept into an animated feature film, and thus, Fantasia was born.



The plot of Disney's take on The Sorcerer's Apprentice is simple, but memorable. While taking a break from his toils, novice Mickey Mouse witnesses an impressive display of magic being performed by his ancient master, Yen Sid (who, in my opinion, has the creepiest-looking eyes ever.) When the sorcerer retires for the evening, setting aside his enchanted cap, Mickey decides, against his better judgment, to try out the mysterious conical hat for himself. After placing said garment upon his big-eared head, Mickey proceeds to give life to a broom (which grows a pair of arms) and supplies it with his two buckets--the rodent's shortsighted idea is for his creation to finish his chores for him, namely refilling the room's cistern with water. Everything goes well at first, and Mickey is quite pleased with himself, but, it being late, and the back-and-forth labors of the broom monotonous, the mouse plops down into a chair and soon falls asleep. Alas, his tireless wood-and-straw minion continues to fill the cistern while he dozes, eventually to the point of it overflowing and flooding the room, which rudely awakens Mickey. The apprentice frantically tries to stop his single-minded laborer, but, he lacks the knowledge and power to do so, thus, in desperation, Mickey resorts to chopping the broom apart with an axe instead. Unfortunately, the magic he invoked is too strong to be stopped by even that extreme measure, and every single splinter of the shattered implement soon rises again and reshapes itself into a complete broom creature, identical to the original, forming an entire army of the things--who promptly return to emptying buckets of water into the submerged cistern, despite the absurdity of continuing with the completed task. His problems increased a hundred-fold, Mickey is overwhelmed and almost drowns in the resulting deluge created by the relentless brooms. It is at this point that Yen Sid, sensing something amiss, makes his timely reappearance and sees the disastrous results of Mickey's foolish actions. The sorcerer immediately, and easily, puts a stop to the whole soggy affair, dispelling the water with a few gestures (parting the "sea", much like the biblical Moses) and changing all of the wooden workers back into a single, inanimate broom. Having learned his lesson, the sheepish mouse gingerly removes and straightens the bent magic hat and offers it back to its rightful owner, who angrily snatches it from Mickey's grasp. The apprentice then picks up his buckets and slowly begins to slink away to return to his duties, but not before the smirking Yen Sid can deliver a well-deserved swat to his irresponsible protégé's backside with the troublesome broom, which sends Mickey bolting up the stairs and out of the room. While there is no spoken dialogue in the cartoon, in the final pages of the previously mentioned children's book, Yen Sid also offers this sage advice to the departing mouse: "Don't start what you can't finish."

As I wasn't eager to repeat Mickey's mistakes (and lacking the safety net of Yen Sid's presence to save me if things should go awry), I made my Magic Broom figure without the benefit of any spellcraft. I began this project by fabricating the hands/arms out of newsprint and white glue, fashioning them around a piece of bendable wire to provide articulated movement.



Next, I developed the broom shaft betwixt said limbs.



I was still indecisive at this point about what approach I wanted to take with the bristle feet (amongst other things, I was mulling over the idea of using embroidery floss), so I started in on the buckets instead. I used marker caps, as forms, to mold the shapes of the squat, hollow cylinders and fashioned the handles from more bendable wire, wrapped in newsprint. I also used my woodburner a bit at this point (the brown "stains" in the photo), scorching lines into the buckets and smoothing/hardening surfaces. Without feet, the creature looks more like a ghostly spirit to me at this stage of the proceedings.



Ultimately, I figured, for consistency in appearance, I should probably model the broom bristles in papier-mâché too, so, that's what I did. I also made the bucket rings at this point, burned more wooden slats into the buckets' surfaces, and increased the length of the broom handle body, which finished things off.



Here's a look at the action figure and its accessories disassembled, just prior to beginning the painting process:



While the finished Magic Broom was capable of standing, its "feet" weren't flat enough, so, the toy was unstable and tipped over easily. As such, I was going to mount the figure on a transparent plastic disc base, as per my usual, but, this time, I did something a little different instead. I placed two small blobs of white glue on the "soles" of the broom bristles and affixed the figure to a CD jewel case (Smash Mouth's 1999 Astro Lounge if you must know--it's hard for me to believe said album is that old already; where does the time go?), then, when those had dried, I popped the Magic Broom off, and, as I had planned, the applied glue had become small, flat, transparent surfaces that are sufficient to keep the figure reliably erect and are much less conspicuous than a large, circular, plastic stand would have been. Said technique wouldn't be an effective solution for every figurine I make, but it worked out well in this particular case.











Materials:
Newsprint, tissue paper, white glue, wire twist ties, and acrylic paint.

Dimensions*:
5.0 cm (2.0") wide (including buckets) x 5.9 cm (2.3") tall x 2.5 cm (1.0") deep.
* The measurements given will vary slightly depending on how the joints are positioned.

Articulation:
Nine points; Shoulders, elbows, wrists, waist, and bucket handles.

Time:
Two days; March 18th and 20th, 2016.



3  TOYS, DOLLS AND PLAYTHINGS / Toys, Dolls and Playthings: Completed Projects / It's Panda-monium! on: March 14, 2016 10:30:18 AM
Genma Saotome (Panda Form)



I "fake-swapped" (i.e., worked on a themed project without actually exchanging it with anyone) this figure for Craftster's Anime and Manga Swap Round 9. "Anime" is the Japanese adoption, and truncation, of the English word "animation" and "manga" simply means "comic/cartoon". I was very enamored with Japanese animation when I was younger, but I seldom watch them anymore (except for the occasional clip on YouTube), but I still read manga fairly regularly (in fact, I purchased a couple of back issues of Shounen Jump recently).

As usual, I hemmed-and-hawed for quite a while, trying to decide what I wanted to do, and I ultimately settled on Rumiko Takahashi's romantic martial arts comedy Ranma 1/2 as my subject matter. I feel that the comic series that she finished prior to starting Ranma 1/2 was better, but, while that story (a young man's misadventures as he repeatedly attempts to woo a beautiful young widow who also happens to be his landlady) has its zany moments, Maison Ikkoku had a much more realistic setting and characters than Ranma 1/2 did, so, despite liking it better, I have to admit that, as far as design goes, the cast was fairly pedestrian (in other words, none of Maison Ikkoku's characters are unique or weird enough for me to want to model them; Ranma 1/2, on the other hand, has several suitably strange individuals!) I've only seen the pilot episode of the Ranma 1/2 anime, but I read the first 17 trade paperbacks (translated into English) of the manga (it's been a while, so, I can't remember if I didn't finish the rest of them because I got bored with the storyline, or if I just had trouble tracking down the later volumes), and I also enjoyed the three Super Famicom (SNES) fighting games. The manga's original run (in Japan), was published, in 38 volumes, from September 1987 to March 1996 in Weekly Shounen Sunday magazine. Incredibly popular, the Ranma 1/2 comic was also adapted into two animated television series (as well as some feature-length films). The first TV show only lasted 18 episodes, in 1989, but a revised, second attempt was much more successful, ultimately spanning 143 installments that aired from 1989 through 1992.



Genma in both his panda and human forms.
The sign reads "Gao-!!", which is a Japanese sound effect used for roaring beasts/monsters.
Is it even possible for a panda bear to be terrifying?


Musabetsu Kakutou Ryuu ("Anything Goes Martial Arts") master Genma Saotome was training, with his teenage son, Ranma, at the Jusenkyo springs in China when both of them had the misfortune of falling into two different magically-cursed pools. The patriarch tumbled into the "Spring of Drowned Panda", and, as a result, whenever he gets doused with cold water, Genma instantly changes into said bamboo-munching mammal (hot water reverses the transformation, returning him to human form). Ranma, on the other hand, fell into a pool where a girl died, so he switches genders and becomes a young woman when he gets wet.



A panel from the manga.
Akane Tendo, Ranma's arranged-marriage fiancée (and, yes, that was Genma's doing too), is less-than-impressed with her future father-in-law.


Unlike Ranma, who very much wants to be rid of his curse (although he's not above using his female form if it will further his goals), Genma doesn't seem to be too concerned about their shape-shifting problems at all and goes about his business as usual, regardless of whether he's a man or a bear. And, to be honest, if I could turn into a panda whenever I wanted, I'd probably spend a good part of the day as one too.

While he's an accomplished martial artist, Genma is also a notoriously lazy, cowardly, and irresponsible oaf that's often more concerned with filling his stomach than anything else. He frequently douses himself with cold water on purpose so that he can weasel out of his obligations or avoid situations that he'd simply rather not deal with (nobody expects anything from a panda bear after all). For example, fearing her reaction [and rightfully so, as he promised to commit seppuku (ritual suicide) if he failed to train Ranma as a "man-amongst-men"], Genma continuously avoided telling his wife, Nodoka, about what had really befallen Ranma and himself, concocting an ongoing lie that female Ranma was Akane's cousin "Ranko" and that he was her pet, "Mr. Panda", whenever Mrs. Saotome was around. Needless to say, Genma's approach to matrimonial harmony is as questionable as his parenting (did I mention that he "values" Ranma so much that he has happily traded his son for food on multiple occasions?)



The pictured sign reads, "Genma da!!", which means (in an informal tone), "It's Genma!!"
If you're curious, the pair of kanji that make up Genma's first name literally translate as "Mysterious Horse".
"Horse's ass" would have been a more appropriate choice, if you ask me.


Aside from the general hilarity that ensues when one suddenly becomes a giant, fuzzy, black and white bear at inopportune moments, the Genma character is also well-known for another running joke: Since pandas can't speak, he can instantly and miraculously produce wooden signs, with messages scrawled on them, to convey whatever it is he wants to "say" at the moment (a la Looney Tunes' Wile E. Coyote). Conversely, Genma has also been known to conveniently use the "pandas can't talk" excuse to avoid any question that he doesn't want to answer (and he desperately hopes that, in the heat of the moment, the interrogator forgets that Genma could easily respond with a sign if he wanted to).



I based my Genma figure off of this sprite, from the 1992 "Ranma 1/2: Hard Battle" SNES video game.
The sign reads "Ei", which is a Japanese sound effect that an individual makes when they are exerting considerable force doing something physical, like fighting, although it's obviously much more literal in this case, as Genma is actually striking out with the sign it's written upon!


I began this project by making a rough sphere out of newsprint wrapped around tissue paper (the body) and gluing a thick papier-mâché snake shape on top of that (the arms).



Then I added a couple of tapered chunks (the legs) and refined the body a bit more.



Next, I started in on the head. I liked the look of the alien-esque "antennae" (the precursors to the ears) at this stage, but, as my goal wasn't to make a "green panda bear from Mars", they had to be cut down to size.



This is how the figure appeared after developing the anatomy some more (eyes, claws, etc.) I also fabricated the sign accessory at this point so that I could get the fit of the grasping hand right for the shape and diameter of the cylindrical handle.



Here's a look at things midway through the final painting and assembly process. I figured I'd probably mess up the "e" and "i" Japanese hiragana characters if I tried painting them directly onto the sign by hand (my college biochemistry lab partner nicknamed me "whiskey fingers" for a reason), so, I drew them on 3-ply newsprint, cut the hiragana out, slapped a coat of acrylic black paint on them, and then glued the characters onto the sign's surface. And, if you're wondering why I shoved a sewing needle up Genma's posterior, no, he didn't need an emergency prostate exam, that's just so that I'd have a handle to hold onto while I was finishing the panda (an object painted white gets discolored from dirt, oil, and perspiration on my hands very easily if I hold it with my fingers while I'm working on it).



While there's always room for improvement, I feel that the finished figure came out pretty good. My Genma is a little more stout than I'd like and the pose could be better, but, I think I did a fair job of capturing Rumiko Takahashi's creation. This was also the first panda bear I've ever modeled.













Materials:
Newsprint, tissue paper, white glue, wire twist ties (ears only), and acrylic paint.

Dimensions:
6.8 cm (2.7") wide (including the sign) x 4.6 cm (1.8") high x 3.2 cm (1.3") deep.

Time:
Two days; March 8th and 12th, 2016.

4  CRAFTSTER CRAFT CHALLENGES / CHALLENGE 112 ENTRIES / I just mopped; stop French-kissing the floor! on: March 05, 2016 06:44:59 AM
Tongue Imp



Possibly the laziest demon species you'll ever have the misfortune of meeting, once a Tongue Imp plops down, and balances upon, its enormous forked tongue, the creature never moves from that spot and the fiend only flaps its bat-like wings just enough to keep its unnatural body aloft. Indeed, these monsters are so lethargic that they'll seldom even bother to defend themselves, or counter-attack, if someone, or something, assaults them. However, as you may have already guessed, a Tongue Imp is far more dangerous than its careless behavior would seem to indicate. These infernal things project a short-range [roughly a 10 feet (3 meters) radius] invisible "drain field" that will rapidly leech away the life of any organism foolish enough to get too close. As such, the bleached bones of unwary humans, and other monsters, who thought that a Tongue Imp would be easy prey, often litter the ground surrounding these winged terrors.

Now, you may be thinking, "Fine, I'll just strike at them from a safe distance.", which would be an excellent strategy, but, unfortunately, Tongue Imps are only found at the beginning of From Software's 1998/1999 Shadow Tower Sony Playstation video game, when the character that you control doesn't yet have access to projectile weapons (bows and crossbows) or magic spells, just short-ranged implements like swords and clubs, so, if it comes to a fight, you'll have to subject yourself to the monsters' life-siphoning power when you go toe-to-toe with them (if they actually had toes that is). And battle them you shall, because two Tongue Imps have the "Fat Mole" (that's the rodent's real name, I'm not making fun of its' weight), one of the very few friendly creatures residing in the Shadow Tower, trapped in an alcove in the back wall of a secluded room in the "Cursed Region" of the Human World (while there is both a door and a hole leading out of said room, Fat Mole can't reach either without getting drained by the Tongue Imps). You'll just have to wade in, slash or bash the flapping horrors, and then quickly retreat outside of the perimeter of their deadly auras, to give your stamina bar time to refill (for another attack) and minimize the amount of damage that you'll suffer. Provided that you have a fair amount of hit points, and some healing potions on hand if the encounter goes badly, the fiends should drop before you do. There are additional Tongue Imps residing in the surrounding caverns, but, as there's more room to maneuver in those open spaces, and no other talking moles in distress, you can avoid them in you wish (I always exterminate the creatures--what kind of hero leaves nasty demons unchallenged, especially when they might be carrying rare item drops?)



In-game "Creature Book" entry for the Tongue Imp.



I died a lot getting these screenshots.  Loitering next to a monster that's rapidly sucking you dry isn't terribly good for your health or career as a photographer.



Won't somebody save Fat Mole? Someone other than me, that is--I'm too busy wiping demon drool off of the soles of my boots!

I began this project by making a forked papier-mâché snake with internal bendable wire reinforcement (over time, the tongue would probably wilt under the weight of the body without that metal support). Next I added two more pieces of wire, one for the arms, the other for the wings, and bulked up the body a bit. The shape looks like some kind of weird plant at this point, eh?



And here are the wings and arms further developed (I added some more wire when I did the fingers too).



Next, I made the head. I modeled the open mouth around a metal rod, and then cut a slit in the bottom of the jaw, so that I could later fit the head around the tongue during final assembly. I also decided that the tongue wasn't quite long enough and proceeded to extend it. This was accomplished by severing the structure, inserting another small segment of wire between the two cut pieces, and then building the tongue back up again into its proper shape.



This is the finished model, prior to scorching it with my wood burner (to harden/smooth the papier-mâché) and painting it.



In order for the figure to stand unassisted, I had to glue the bottom of the tongue to a transparent plastic disc base. I could have avoided using a stand by making the tongue's bottom significantly larger/heavier, to offset the weight of the body, but I wanted to keep things on-model.



















Materials:
Newsprint, tissue paper, white glue, wire twist ties, acrylic paint, transparent plastic from a memory card package (base only), and super glue.

Dimensions*:
5.5 cm (2.2") wide x 7.1 cm (2.8") high x 3.0 cm (1.2") deep.
* The measurements given will vary slightly depending on how the limbs/wings are positioned.

Articulation:
Eight points; wings, shoulders, elbows, and wrists.

Time:
One day; March 4th, 2016.

5  TOYS, DOLLS AND PLAYTHINGS / Toys, Dolls and Playthings: Completed Projects / Strange Aminal on: February 01, 2016 08:05:16 AM
Strange Aminal



I "fake-swapped" (i.e., worked on a themed project without actually exchanging it with anyone) this figure for Craftster's Junker Jane-style Dolls 3 swap. Junker Jane (Catherine Zacchino) is an Oregon artist that creates atypical plush figures out of mismatched pieces of recycled fabric. Her works tend to be equal parts whimsical and dark (and she also does paintings/prints in addition to fabric art).

As for the title I gave this piece, when my eldest niece was a little girl she had trouble pronouncing "animal", and it came out "aminal" instead, which I found to be both hilarious and adorable. Thus, aminal has become a part of my vocabulary ever since and that misspelled word also struck me as a good moniker for an unusual-looking creature like this one.

Initially, I intended to make a humanoid doll figure. This was my first attempt (just the head). I only did a single running stitch around the perimeter, so, of course, the pointy melon started to unravel on me when I inverted it. That ticked me off and I discarded it.



I immediately made another attempt. This time I reasoned I'd do the entire body at once, rather than trying to construct the figure piece-by-piece, and simply stitch different colored/patterned fabrics on top of that afterwards to achieve the appropriate Junker Jane look. You can't see it in the photo below, but the reverse side of the figure is a completely different material (the mottled dark stuff seen in the previous example in fact) than the front--I was planning on making each side of this doll a unique "person". I also double-stitched this one, and that made a big difference. The figure was a HUGE pain to invert (the neck dimensions are way too narrow, as I had to fit the entire body through it, which, let me tell you, was no small feat) but I didn't rip any seams in the process, unlike the Goldfish Swordtail I made last time. That was doubtlessly a result of the double stitching, so, I was pretty pleased about that at least (once in a great while, a little bit of wisdom penetrates through my thick skull and I actually learn from my mistakes). However, after ruminating over the resulting figure, it struck me as being too skinny/simplistic and it didn't match the shape of my pattern very well either. That's one of my biggest frustrations with sewing: what I stitch together never looks like it should to me. I realize that's a direct result of my lack of skill/knowledge and questionable techniques, but, as someone who's comfortable modeling things in three dimensions in other media, getting poor results with fabric irritates me. I want what I sew to look exactly like my pattern when I'm done, and that just doesn't ever happen.



After contemplating the mysteries of the universe for a bit, an idea occurred to me: if form is the problem, then why not create the shape I want first, and then apply the fabric directly on top of that? I've never done any taxidermy myself, nor do I ever want to (I don't like to kill anything, not even insects), but its practitioners make mounted heads and full figures in a similar manner, placing the animal's fur/skin over a pre-shaped form. Essentially, I envisioned doing a plush figure in reverse, making the "stuffing" as a solid object first, and then sewing the scraps of material around that. I whipped up the papier-mâché form in one evening, using nothing but newsprint and white glue (believe it or not, there's no armature of any kind inside of it, wire or otherwise). The surface is a bit rougher than what I'd normally do, but, as I was just going to apply fabric over it anyway, I didn't see much point in smoothing it out. Anatomically, I see it as mostly horse, but there are some bits of other animals mixed in there too.



Next, over a two-day period, I tacked my carefully-fitted material scraps (mostly pieces from old T-shirts and pillow cases) into place with white glue, creating a cohesive "skin". Here's the animal form midway through the process of attaching said fabric bits into place on its surface:





Sewing all of those scraps (twenty-five by my count) together turned out to be much more difficult, and time-consuming, than I had imagined--said process took about eleven hours, over a period of four days, to accomplish. Because of the curvature of the body, many areas were challenging to get a needle in-and-out of, and, in some instances, I even had to use a pair of tweezers to manipulate the implement, as my fingers simply couldn't get into the spaces to pull/push it through the fabric. Other difficulties included inadvertently piercing (and getting stuck in) the underlying papier-mâché body and accidentally looping the trailing thread around the limbs, tail, snout, and ears. I'd speculate that the ideal thing to use for this type of project would be one of those curved needles (which is what I believe taxidermists employ), but, while I thought we had several of them, I could only find one of those in the house, and, unfortunately, its' diameter was too thick for a figure of this size (said tool was probably made for working leather, or similarly thick materials, as it just tore large holes in my fabric). Earlier, during the modeling process, I contemplated giving this creature wings too, but I'm sure glad that I didn't, because if I had, I'd probably still be sewing!

I also considered removing the papier-mâché, which I would have accomplished by soaking the finished figure in water for several hours, to get the paper/glue inside to turn to mush, which I could have then easily(?) scooped/squeezed out of the fabric skin, through an opened seam, and filled it back up again with more traditional stuffing, but then I would have had to run wire through the body too, to ensure it retained its shape, especially the tail and legs, so, I figured, why go through all of that trouble when it's already fine as-is?



All-in-all, while far different from what I had originally envisioned, I feel that this project turned out okay. I don't think I'd ever want to sew something like this again, simply because of the amount of time required and how tricky it is to maneuver needle-and-thread around the surface of a 3-dimensional object, however, I do like the resulting mismatched, patchwork look, which is something I might explore further some other time, but probably only through adhesives alone (i.e., découpage) not sewing.













Materials:
Fabric scraps (from T-shirts, pillows cases, and long underwear), sewing thread, half of a metal snap (an eye), a plastic button (the other eye), a plastic vacuum-metallized heart charm (tail tip decoration), a fuzzy synthetic feather duster decoration from the end of a novelty pen (mane), newsprint, and white glue.

Dimensions:
4.7 cm (1.9") wide x 18.3 cm (7.2") long x 25.7 cm (10.1") high.
Excluding the tail and mane, the figure is 18.2 cm (7.2") tall.

Time:
Six days; January 26th through the 31st (2016).

6  TOYS, DOLLS AND PLAYTHINGS / Toys, Dolls and Playthings: Completed Projects / Some dogs are all bark, some birds are all beak! on: January 23, 2016 06:46:44 AM
Great Beak



Carnivorous flightless birds, with tremendously large and powerful beaks, that can be encountered in various Dragon Quest titles. Great Beaks, and their palette-swapped cousins, debuted in Enix's 1988 Dragon Quest III: And Thus Into Legend . . . Japanese Nintendo Family Computer (Famicom) roleplaying video game (RPG), which was subsequently translated and released in North America (on March 12, 1992) as Dragon Warrior III for the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES).

Today, Square-Enix publishes Dragon Quest games with the franchise's proper title, but, years ago, Simulation Publications/TSR had a tabletop RPG product on the shelves, also named DragonQuest, so, Enix wasn't able to release their games using that combination of words in the North American market, due to the resulting trademark conflict, hence the usage of the slightly different title of Dragon Warrior (isn't corporate litigation fun?)

Despite its moniker, this creature really isn't all that great (although, like any monster worth its salt, it will do its best to convince you otherwise). Physically, it's the weakest of the three feathered fiends that share Dragon Quest III's bipedal bird sprite, and the Great Beak exhibits no special abilities whatsoever, nor does it know any magic spells. Which is not to say that they aren't dangerous to battle, particularly for less experienced adventurers, but, in the context of Dragon Quest III's entire bestiary, they're more pigeon than eagle.



Below is the official Great Beak illustration, drawn by Akira Toriyama (of Dragon Ball fame). While the programmers changed the colors of the creature in the game, I opted to paint mine to match Toriyama's, as I feel that the original artist's work is the definitive source material.



And here's another image of a Great Beak, and an assortment of other monsters, surrounding a party of adventurers, taken from the Japanese Famicom instruction manual:



As usual, because I really don't like making them, I started out with the legs. I simply rolled up long papier-mâché snakes, bent and cut them into the proper configurations, and then built those skeletons up with additional strips of newsprint and clumps of tissue paper. While the legs may look like they contain some, I didn't use any wire at all to construct this model!



To fabricate the upper and lower beak halves, I compacted a piece of aluminum foil into that shape (to use as a form), glued several layers of newsprint around that, and then pulled the resulting hollow paper sheath free of said aluminum support and cut it down to the proper shape/size. I then glued the upper and lower beak components onto the roughed-out head shape as shown.



That done, I moved on to developing the features, adding eyes, the feather head crest, and other details. Finally, I went over everything with my woodburner (to smooth/harden the papier-mâché and do a bit of surface detailing) and permanently attached the legs to the body. Here's the fully assembled Great Beak before I painted it:



For the most part, other than some asymmetry here-and-there, I'm happy with how the finished figure came out, but I think it would have looked better had I covered more of the head, especially the back, with the spiked feathers, rather than just limiting them to a "mohawk" crest. I was also contemplating flocking all of the white areas, but I was afraid I'd lose some of the body's shape/definition in the process (or make it too bulky-looking in appearance), so, I ultimately decided to leave things as-is.















These are digitally recolored mockups (done with the GIMP art program), made to match the NES sprites, to show what my Great Beak figurine might have looked like had I gone that route. In retrospect, I think I would have enjoyed the Avenger Beak color arrangement more than this one. However, given my incredibly indecisive nature, if I had done so, I'd probably be writing right now that I wish that I had made my Avenger Beak as a white Great Beak instead--yes, I'm impossible to please like that. And it's at times like this that I can also see the benefits of making a mold, as that would have allowed me to make multiple casts of the creature, so that I could have one of each possible "flavor". Who doesn't want an army of big-beaked, rainbow-hued, flightless birds?







Materials:
Newsprint, tissue paper, white paper, white glue, ink, and acrylic paint.

Dimensions:
2.8 cm (1.1") wide x 4.1 cm (1.6") long x 4.8 cm (1.9") high.

Time:
Two days; January 20th and 21st (2016).



7  SEWING IN GENERAL / Sewing in General: Discussion and Questions / Rice as stuffing? on: January 18, 2016 07:52:30 AM
I've been contemplating various alternative things that could be used as stuffing in a plush doll and the idea of (dry) rice popped into my head.  Out of curiosity, would that work, or is that just a horrendously foolish idea?  Obviously, the rice would become a soggy mess and rot (and might even burst the seams) if the stuffed item were ever washed, but would it be okay if the item never got wet?  I suppose it's also possible that the dry rice might attract hungry insects/rodents . . .
8  TOYS, DOLLS AND PLAYTHINGS / Toys, Dolls and Playthings: Completed Projects / I don't know whether I should ride or swat it! on: January 11, 2016 08:23:31 AM
Rocking-Horse-Fly



Well, it only took me four months (when it comes to producing artwork, I'm awfully lazy these days), but I finally got ambitious enough to make a new figurine!

The Rocking-Horse-Fly is one of the many strange creatures that Alice encounters during her adventures in Wonderland. The buzzing filly's design amounts to a simple, but highly-effective, pun on the names and physiology of a child's rocking-horse toy and a horsefly insect. The diminutive beast first appeared in the pages of Lewis Carroll's (the well-known pseudonym of Charles Lutwidge Dodgson) 1871 Through the Looking-Glass, and What Alice Found There, but my figure is based on the cartoon version seen in Disney's 1951 Alice in Wonderland animated film, which, while not strictly accurate to the printed source material, is still my favorite rendition of the story and characters. For example, in the case of the Rocking-Horse-Fly, it easily flits through the air on its wings in said movie, but, in the book, its method of getting about is described as swinging from branch-to-branch, which would seem to imply that the creature wasn't capable of achieving flight at all (although, when it comes to Wonderland, it's probably best not to make assumptions about that or anything else). Interestingly, Carroll's tome also informs us that the animal's diet consists of nothing but sawdust and sap and that the Rocking-Horse-Fly itself is made entirely out of wood (as my figure is mostly paper and cardboard, which both come from trees, at least I'm in the ballpark as far as that little tidbit of the fiction is concerned).



Below is a screenshot, from said movie, of Alice being startled by the bizarre insect/horse hybrid:



And this is the original black and white illustration (by John Tenniel) of the Rocking-Horse-Fly from Through the Looking-Glass, and What Alice Found There. I find it interesting that the artist chose to incorporate dice shapes, and their pip marks, into the horse's body. I believe real horses can be spotted, but, otherwise, I'm not sure what the connection could be between dice, horses, and flies. Gambling maybe?



The initial ink sketches/measurements I drew up prior to beginning work on my figure:



I started off by fabricating the runners, which consist of 4-ply cardboard, from a box of cereal (Peanut Butter Cinnamon Toast Crunch--yum!) and newsprint glued together into 3-Dimensional sandwiches. Next, I began work on the horse's body and head/neck (which looked an awful lot like a seahorse to me at this point). I cut the equine shape out of cardboard and then roughed out the anatomy by applying several pieces of my "Kleenex Putty" (white glue mixed with tissue paper) to both sides of that flat form.



Next, I wrapped the body in strips of newsprint and further developed the head (adding ears, nostrils, cheeks, a mouth, and eyes). With that part of the anatomy pretty well done for the moment, I turned my attention to the limbs. All four legs started out as hollow, 2.5 cm long, newsprint tubes (formed around the shaft of a fine sewing needle) which I then modified with the addition of more paper (both newsprint and tissue) to create the hooves and bone/muscle structure. The limbs also have bendable wire running through their entire lengths, both for internal structural support (long, narrow shapes like those tend to break if you so much as look at them funny) and to allow me to later tweak their positioning after they had been joined to the body (which was important when it came to mounting the hooves on the runners).



Here's what the horse and runners looked like fully assembled and after being smoothed/hardened with my woodburner (the darker brown areas are scorch marks). Ignoring the hooves, the animal kind of looks more like a classical depiction of an Egyptian jackal to me at this stage of the process (Anubis, and the other gods and goddesses, had to get around on rocking chair skis, what with Egypt being buried under several feet of snow year round and all). This was also the cutoff point where I stopped working on the model for several days (remember: lazy).



When I finally got back to this project, six days later, I fabricated the saddle, tail, and wings, and began the final painting and assembly process. I sketched out the wing shape and veins on a sheet of lined paper (pictured below) and then laid a piece of transparent plastic (from a toy package) over that and traced/embossed the lines onto the plastic with a pen and then cut them out.



Unfortunately, the runners snapped off of the hooves while I was painting the horse, which, while slightly annoying, did make things easier, as I didn't have to worry about accidentally getting the yellow paint onto the red, or vice versa, and the runners were easy enough to glue back onto the hooves afterwards, so, no harm no foul.

The mane is embroidery floss that I carefully glued into place, in small bunches, one at a time. I contemplated doing the tail the same way, but I reasoned that it would probably be difficult to get the floss strands to lay together in the shape that I wanted without also applying some kind of adhesive or styling product to them, so, I went with a solid sculpt instead. The thread is a lot brighter red than the paint is, but I can live with the difference, and brushing her soft locks with my fingertip is very relaxing, so, it was totally worth it.



I was sorely tempted to leave the big, wild hair in its original state, instead of trimming it down, because I liked the way that looked, but I ultimately went for accuracy. Her mane also reminds me of Uncanny X-men Storm's 1980s mohawk, which is my favorite look for that particular comic book character.



Here are some more images of the finished product. I don't own an actual Alice doll, so I made do with my MGA BFC Ink Nicolette instead.

















Materials:
Newsprint, cardboard from a box of cereal, tissue paper, white paper, white glue, wire twist ties,
transparent plastic sheeting from a toy package, embroidery floss, ink, and acrylic paint.

Dimensions:
4.2 cm (1.7") wide x 5.7 cm (2.2") long x 7.5 cm (3.0") high.
Excluding the wings and mane, the figure is 4.7 cm (1.9") tall and 2.0 cm (0.8") wide.

Time:
Three days; January 2nd, 8th, and 9th (2016).
This was my first art project of the New Year!





9  MISCELLANEOUS TOPICS / Completed Projects / Ninja Bamboo Gardeners are a Cut Above the Rest on: September 08, 2015 06:59:59 AM


I'm not sure why, but I've always wanted to make a video game diorama that incorporated standing bamboo. And, when I think of scenes that reflect that, my first inclination tends to be Jubei Yagyu's homestead from SNK's Samurai Shodown, but that'd entail fabricating a heck of a lot of those plants, not to mention his house and water well, so I chose a simpler location from the first level of Sega's 1991 portable Game Gear version of Ninja Gaiden instead.



Speaking of which, it strikes me as more than a little odd that Sega would license Tecmo's Ninja Gaiden intellectual property when they already had their own successful ninja video game franchise, Shinobi. That'd be like Disney paying to use Warner Brothers' Daffy Duck cartoon character instead of just using their own iconic Donald Duck instead.



Anyway, on to the construction process: This is the layout I drew up for the geometry of the three-tiered foreground structure. It's a relatively-busy, 12-sided polygon, so I color-coded it and numbered all of the tabs, and the corresponding facets that they'll be glued onto, in order to make absolutely certain that I had everything orientated correctly prior to cutting it out and assembling the structure. If this looks too tricky, you can make fabricating a tiered object like this significantly easier by simply gluing together three progressively-smaller rectangular cubes, one on top of another, instead.




 Rather than my usual approach of using the game's graphics for this type of art project, I made everything myself from scratch. That's mostly because I was (1) too cheap to pay a dollar a page for color print-outs and (2) too lazy to rip and edit the game's sprites/backgrounds in order to create the sheet of digital art assets that I'd be printing in the first place.

 Pictured, the ground structure has been assembled and I've glued sand/dirt to all of the vertically-orientated planes, to give them an earth-like appearance (the resulting granular texture is also a bit pixel-like, appropriately enough), and I'm in the process of placing embroidery floss flocking (I minced the thread up into fine fluff using cuticle scissors) on the tops of the tiers to approximate dry grass/leaves.



Here are the sky and mountain background layers (assembled, but unpainted), the papier-mâché Ryu Hayabusa mini figurine (the protagonist of the game), the beginnings of the three thinner bamboo shafts, and the finished tiered foreground structure. Maybe I'm just hungry, but that thing kind of looks like chocolate cake garnished with browned, shredded coconut . . .



The bamboo presented a bit of a design conundrum. The source material is 2-dimensional, so the shaft in the foreground was rendered larger, and the ones in the background smaller, by the game's artist(s) to convey the illusion of depth. Therein lied my problem: Do I copy the game's approach (which is obviously what I ultimately chose to do) or make all of my 3-dimensional bamboo roughly the same size/diameter instead and trust in the real distance between the plants to give the same effect?



I wish I could say that I planned it that way from the beginning, but it was only a happy coincidence that the larger bamboo shaft in the foreground just happened to be the perfect place to mount the removable "floating" status bar. Initially, I was going to attach that particular element by hanging it from the front of a big rectangle that would have covered the entire top of the diorama and used all of the bamboo shafts as supports, but I feel that the small, single panel I finally decided on is much less obtrusive, and, even better, it keeps the environment open and allows light to freely enter, whereas my other idea would have created a big shadow over everything. Said status bar was the one thing that I really regretted not printing out, because painstakingly making all of those tiny letters and numbers by hand, using the tip of a small sewing needle as my "paintbrush", was not fun.

 Oh, and if you're wondering, I didn't make Ryu any enemies to fight because the first level is populated with nothing but boring, gray-clad ninja opponents that really aren't much different than Ryu in appearance. With the exception of the monstrous, six-armed, third-form of the final boss, Siragane, the adversaries in this particular Ninja Gaiden game are all pretty dull and uninspired in my opinion, especially compared to Tecmo's products.

 The finished diorama:

















Materials:
 Cardboard from a cereal box, lined notebook paper, newsprint, brown paper from a grocery bag, white glue,
super glue, sand/dirt, embroidery floss, acrylic paint, ink, and transparent plastic sheeting (base for Ryu only).

Dimensions:
 6.1 cm (2.4") wide x 5.8 cm (2.3") deep x 5.4 cm (2.1") high.

Time:
 Three days: September 5th-7th, 2015.
10  TOYS, DOLLS AND PLAYTHINGS / Toys, Dolls and Playthings: Completed Projects / Donatello Rearmed on: September 02, 2015 09:24:23 AM


On August 26th, I bought several secondhand toys and a 4 oz. bottle of white glue (I can never have enough of that stuff) from one of the local thrift stores. The two larger ladies pictured are both 2010 Disney/JAKKS Pacific fairy dolls, Fawn (left) and Rosetta (right), that I believe came from a big Target-exclusive Disney Fairies boxed set (Tinker Bell, Vidia, Iridessa, and Silvermist rounded out that assortment). Fawn's wearing Rosetta's pink dress and Rosetta has Iridessa's yellow outfit on (that's what they were wearing when I purchased them, but I swapped their clothing around after taking this photo--I still need to braid Fawn's hair how she usually wears it too, but I've been too lazy to untangle and comb out her locks). The brown-and-gold robot is a 2004 Hasbro/Takara Transformers: Cybertron Autobot Landmine figure, and the other, smaller doll is a 2002 Bandai/American Greetings Strawberry Shortcake Berry Sweet Princess rendition of the titular girl. And, last, but not least, as he's the focus of this project, is the first 2012 Viacom/Playmates Donatello action figure, which is based on his appearance in Nickelodeon's current, computer-generated Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles cartoon.



As he's a loose, used figure, Donatello didn't come with any of his original weapons, but, on a whim, I decided to replace them from scratch. Now, that's not something I usually do, as I'm constantly buying toys with missing pieces, so, if I were to attempt to make every one of them "complete" like this, that'd be a never-ending job that would consume vast amounts of time and quickly burn me out. That said, I am rather fond of fabricating toy weapons, and I haven't made any for a while, so, Donny got lucky.

If you buy this version of Donatello new, his bou (pole/quarterstaff) is ready to go, but all the rest of his weapons [naginata (a glaive-like weapon), sansetsukon (three-section staff), and two shuriken (throwing stars)] are still mounted on their sprue tree (which is how they're arranged when they come out of the plastic-injection mold at the toy factory in China), so you have to twist/cut them free yourself. They're also all cast in the same brown color, 'cuz Playmates couldn't be bothered to paint them. Although, to be fair, that's the same approach that the company took with the accessories in their original TMNT toy line back in the late 80s and early 90s, so they may have simply been trying to replicate that look for nostalgia purposes. I did find it particularly disappointing that Don's sansetsukon is one solid piece, rather than the separate, chained elements that it's supposed to be. And lest you think I have unrealistic expectations on that account, I owned a 1989 G.I.JOE Snake-Eyes action figure that came with a fully-functional sansetsukon when I was a kid--if Hasbro managed to do it twenty-six years ago, and with a smaller figure to boot, I don't think it's unreasonable to expect the same from Playmates today.



Anyway, in the interest of "correcting" those gripes mentioned in the previous paragraph, the two improvements I really wanted to make on my weapon set were to fully paint them and to make the sansetsukon work like it's supposed to.

Here are the roughed out papier-mâché bou, naginata, and sansetsukon. I fabricated the sansetsukon's chain links from paper clips and I put a metallic veneer on the naginata's blade (using a Pop-Tart wrapper of all things) to make it look more realistic.



I had intended to make the pair of shuriken too, but, after laying/measuring out a template and doing the math, I came to the conclusion that, given their fairly intricate wheel-within-a-wheel design, they'd be more time-consuming and aggravating to fabricate than they were worth for a little side project like this, especially if I gave them a chrome veneer like I did with the naginata blade, so, I nixed them.



Here are the finished results. Donatello is well-equipped to wail on Shredder's Foot Soldiers once again!













Scale comparison with a miniature Donatello action figure I made years ago:



Materials:
Newsprint, white glue, cardboard from a cereal box, a Pop-Tart wrapper (chocolate fudge--yum!), paperclips, acrylic paint, and pencil.

Dimensions:
Bou: 9.6 cm (3.8") long x 0.4-0.5 cm (~0.2") diameter.
Naginata: 10.0 cm (3.9") long x 0.3-0.5 cm (~0.2") diameter.
Sansetsukon: 11.0 cm (4.3") long x 0.4-0.5 cm (~0.2") diameter.

Time:
I made all three implements on September 1st.

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