Thursday, November 27, 2008

Felt the Need

The last two nights I've stayed up until 4am gluing whiskers into a little caterpillarie puppet. Did I mention the whiskers were real?

The venerable pet, Catalina, seemed to drop whiskers over the span of her 18 years of life and for some reason they seemed too cool to throw away. I would stick them into a bulletin board next to her photo and every so often I'd chuck them into a little box.

When Paul said he missed Catalina and named the puppet after her I thought I'd go ahead and use the tips of the real Catalina's whisks (I was surprised to see a couple hundred in the box) as only real whiskers taper to nothing at the very tips. This could be the weirdest thing about me.

I poked holes with a needle and then tried to jam the whisker tip into the end of the one inch long felt puppet with glue. I liked the way the wild splay of them (as it was last night on left) looked similar to some types of woolly hairs on real caterpillars, their feelers.

Today I finished the felt ears and added a striped tail. (the rear view on right shows the crawl away angle--and that IS what you think it is!) I changed the felt color to suggest a Tabby breed, gray by dusting with graphite powder and a whisker brush's worth of black and white paint.

This is sure to be Halfland's smallest puppet of all. While it doesn't look very much like her, I like having this tiny tribute to her in it.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Herman's New Sweater

Herman has a new plaid sweater that buttons up nice and cozy.

The idea to add little twig buttons (like the ones I made last summer for a rustic jacket with matching woodland bracelet, shown below) to the rubbery caterpillar puppet, named by Stephanie as, Herman! (Rich added the !) came over me as great fun. But when I went to find him to do that he had disappeared. In one of those obsessive moments I kept looking for Herman! where could he go? Paul thought the cats ate him.

When I found him, I felt so glad that I spent some time sprucing him up. To get wooden buttons small enough, I tried slicing tiny dried twigs and toothpicks as dowel, but they each and all split, no matter what tool I used to cut them. I tried using punch tools on thin wood veneer to get little round wooden cookies but they wouldn't stand up to drilling micro button holes with a needle. I tried cutting reed beads in half but while they were a better scale, they didn't read as being buttons. It wouldn't have been clear what was going on. I finally overcame my aversion to plastic and used store bought mini buttons in bone color that I aged with, what else, walnut ink. Works every time.

I also improved the uneven texture transition from Herman!'s woolly felt coat and his shiny latex belly by using colored flocking fibers. He was looking a little rough there so the flocking allowed me to paint a line of glue just where I wanted to neaten up, at his hairline(s), on his back, and dust it with flocking sifted through an old tea strainer. I got into the technique and now his sweater has a plaid pattern. I like to think he's wearing a little cardigan for winter.

I used four of the sliced reed buttons that I had cut as eyes for the two fellas. They really have a comic personality now that I like. Paul named the little one, Catalina, after his pet cat that passed away a while back. He said he missed her, I didn't know. I may add whiskers on that one.

Belated Art Bonus (made last June)
Great linen jacket came with ugly (plastic) buttons. I went to the massive Halfland tree branch supply, where there are branches, well dried out, ready to use, in any size imaginable. I chose the porch support branch diameter and sliced off a bunch of twig buttons, drilled holes. Replaced the jacket buttons and went crazy crafting a matching bracelet accessory with a small hand carved wooden bird bead and antler beads on a base of soft dried vines.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Mini Cooper

(A cooper is one who makes or repairs barrels) hee.

Two days to make one prop? a.) It's an important prop that features a lot in the film over several scenes. b.) I'm now enjoying the satisfaction of starting and finishing things for the film in a single push and finally getting things done.

I've been worried about how I was going to make this rainwater barrel for Rana's porch for over a decade. So, now instead of having to worry about it, it's done. I had the idea to use a carved base block of Floral foam [1] reinforced with 2 layers of Durham's water putty and tissue paper (in my favorite plaster maché technique) so the shape would be durable enough to be used as a mold for the barrel's shaping.[2] It worked and became sturdy and rock hard when dry. I sketched where the rings and staves might go. I thought I would use real copper for the rings that I bought for that purpose in New York But watching several barrel making videos on YouTube (! praise G-d for internet references!) I realized the four rings would be minimal and there wasn't enough of it. [3] When the balsa wood planks I bought to use were far too brittle to curve over the barrel shape, I got resourceful and decided to use a piece of scrap 1/16" hardwood snagged from the trash somewhere and cut it up into the right size using a straight edge and utility knife. [4] I deliberately used the board's frayed rough edge on the top edge for added texture and detail. The videos taught me that each stave had to be narrowed at each end in order to conform to the bulging shape of a barrel at its middle.

In order to get the shaped wooden staves to shape themselves around the blank block I used the combination of Gorilla duct tape and long nails hammered into the block's ends. [5] Then, in order to keep the planks shaped that way I had to find banding material that was strong enough to corral boards that would want to resist and sproing out if they weren't there to keep things that shape. I came across a stash of magnet tape in house that could be riveted into hoops and looked exactly like iron with a rust patina when finished later on. [6] While the ends were still firmly capped with tape, I slathered on a thick layer of stainable wood glue to fill in all gaps and to secure the rings to the wood so they wood be permanently fixed together as one unit. [7] In the morning, after the glue had dried I carefully wrenched the tape and nails off of both ends with pliers. [8]

Like cracking a poached egg, I cut through the hard shell of maché at the top and tore off the top third of it, leaving the interior of the wood to show above the "water line" that will appear to be in the barrel later on. [9] I scooped out the rest of the green foam all the way down to the bottom of the barrel (don't anyone dare say it o-0) leaving the hard maché shell in place. Gave the inside a thick coating of more wood glue. [10] Made a paper pattern of the barrel bottom, used it as a template to cut out more wood, glued it securely in place. [11] Stained the whole thing when dry with watered down acrylic and walnut ink. [12]

When I placed the finished barrel on the set where the cottage porch will be, it really brought the place to life. Very exciting! It will be used to keep the mermaid in during her visit at the cottage and also on the trek through the desert to see the wise man, strapped onto Rana's back with a fabric sling.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Tip the Scales

Halfland's Pink Snail, a semi-sensuous, fleshy, undulating garden background character with an elaborately self-sufficient home on its back. The larger, fully furnished shell house, complete with aged wallpaper and portrait of mom, was completed back in New York. But the snail sculpt is still just a fired ceramic that needs casting into a suitably flexible material. The little snail was made all day yesterday.

Trying to sort out the best way to make the puppet, I made a mini test snail out of fluffy air-dry foam clay that stays flexible and lined its underside with black metal foil that is used to direct gobo spotlights (Shel kindly threw me a swatch of it). All I wanted was to get the ruffled edges of the snail puppet to ripple. It works perfectly well. Then, in a reckless move I decided to go ahead and make a full replica of the Pink Snail's shell, you know, since I had the small one and all. You ever notice how such simple innocent (foolish) ideas just crunch about 10 fold the amount of time the idea could possibly take? Yeah, so it was 10 hours on the mini snail. Doh.

I was determined to finish it in one go, especially since there wasn't any reason for making it and I had wanted to do something on the set that made a larger impact of progress. Now that the .25land scale snail is done I'm kind of glad because I can throw it on the actual set, and animate it in the background, in the distance. Then I can use the larger one for cut away close up garden trail-making action on larger scale greenery. Shrug.

I got the idea yesterday too of needle felting the mighty magnets and wire armature into fuzzy woolly little flexible caterpillars. I made one (the left 2 photos above) just an inch long. His gallop across a silk leaf as a test last night below (Please click play twice to see it once it's cached as it's so brief.)

gallopinginchworm from herself on Vimeo.

I also built up the worm puppet from the other day and gave it additional flexi-layers of latex. But I wasn't satisfied with the texture, shiny layer and then a woolly fuzzy layer, kept going back and forth. Finally I needle felted him a striped woolly coat for his back and built up tiny leg nubbins on his underside. (clip below shot late last night shows the result which I like, please click twice to see it as it's very brief.) Again, there was no call on Halfland's character production list for a caterpillar puppet but now there's one done. I guess it was just one of those days.

Caterpillar, now with legs. from herself on Vimeo.

Bye, from Halfland, hoping your projects are fruitful.

It looks like I'll have another chance at the set tomorrow and I bought the materials today to build the important water barrel prop for Rana's porch. The project lust I feel is intoxicating on a daily basis.

Monday, November 17, 2008

The Worm's Turn

Made a little build up puppet earthwork for Halfland today. Took some nice black rubber flexible tubing, filled it with a twisted a length of the fine aluminum wire the brilliant Nick Hilligoss sent me, and added a couple of the crazy smallest Mighty Magnets I've seen to both ends.

I glued and wrapped the outside with fuzzy wool yarn and wire to shape the body segments, painted it and liked how the frizzles of the yarn looked when painted. Added more yarn and wire then dipped the whole critter in gloss medium and left it to dry.

Even through all the layers, the magnets hold pretty well on metal (see it crawl over the bench vice anvil in the shop). This gives me the option for animating it in the background of the garden sequence on fabric leaves by using additional magnets or metal on the back of the leaf or stem.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Taste Test

Now, {hyperubertalent designer/artist} Stephanie {who requested I post this test clip in the last post's comments}, this test doesn't begin to show what can be done. I was just chucking veggies every which way to see what it all looked like.

I can totally imagine that your boiling clear liquid in a clear container, with bubble beads moving just so, and certain clever lighting... total realistic art.

Go for it!

Hair gel Hair Gel HAIR GEL!

I bought cheapo bargain stuff and was afraid the horrible fragrance would be noxious (as Christine had her trouble with the awful peach stuff she bought at the 99¢ store for the stream in her first film, Blood Tea Red String) but this one smells bearable so far and won't break down like naked gelatin would.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Fancy Food Fully Finished Finally

I feel gratified to announce that I believe and declare all food for the film is now made. Today I finished the last few morsels.

I wouldn't have felt complete without an avocado for some reason, so, done. tremendous fun to make, I used 3 shades of green rubberized oven-fire clay with a seed sculpted over the right scale bead. The skin was textured with a piece of dried avocado skin before baking which looks utterly convincing in person. I love it when the props fool my own eye for a second. I'll pick one of them up and think it real--only 2/3 too small to be real.

The chunk of cheddar cheese, another blend of baked rubber clay, walnut ink, and clay crumbs added as patina after baking, looks for all the world like what it's supposed to. I took a bite of it upside down so my bottom teeth would scale for Rana's top teeth.

I hadn't planned on making a pumpkin almond pie but now that I wrangled fluffy air dry clay into the right scale mini tart tin I found this summer, on top of a painted air-dry earthen clay crust, and topped with little sculpted almonds, I'm glad I did it. It'll rest on the kitchen window sill to cool, of course.

Bottom right is the first of dessicated real flowers that will fill Rana's vases. I pick them on walks and park them in silica powder for a few days to dehydrate. Works well.

I improved the pomegranates. They had become too dark on their interiors to where the individual seeds weren't reading on camera. Being as it's now pomegranate season, Paul and I have been feasting on them. Looking more closely at a real seed (upper left) I thought it could be better replicated by using a white seed bead coated in a diamond clear gel that was tinted. I used an intensely rich fuschia silk dye to make a transparent coloring for a select number of accent seeds intended to break up the flatness of the darker beads. The result, finally arranged on a stained muslin tea bag lining my cake pedestal creation, made from metal odds and ends found at Canal Surplus in NYC, looks drastically more natural. yay.

It feels wonderful to have truly completed a big category of tasks for the project, especially since much of the food had begun 15 years ago (Paul did the math).

*There were a few fails today as well such as; an attempt to make the pink snail puppet ended up a sticky mess. I blended a lot of pink out of bake and bend clay (flexible oven-fired clay) pressed it over the ceramic snail sculpt that I'd made back in Ojai and baked it. It came off the sculpt nearly in one piece but the rubber clay wasn't flexible enough to animate as I'd hoped. I'll have to forget about the sculpt I'd made and try instead to make it as a build up puppet out of foam. I could always make a proper mold of the sculpt and cast the snail in latex, etc. but because it really is such a background character it doesn't seem that time would be well spent. Unless creating a build up puppet would take up the same amount of time. I'll find out.


Monday, November 10, 2008

Rooting for Me

Had a blast over the weekend and finished off several more vegetables, many of them root veggies, for Rana's abundant kitchen! Really pleased with how they turned out.

I had sculpted the yellow squash, turnips, carrots, and apples way back in New York circa 1993 but only completed them, and made others from scratch, just now. It was a lot of fun to sculpt in the leaves and greenery onto the vegetable bodies inspired by nature. In the upper left background above you can make out the blurry root bundle I added to the vegetables as tails. You see, I had grown a plant cutting a couple years ago in water that grew a nice root system but then I kilted it by mistake. Never to be one to throw possible Halflandian gear away, I saved it. So this weekend I spent snipping off little curly bits and gluing them into poked holes in edibles. yay.

I'd like to tell you what I learned from this Halfland episode, it's something that I've been coming aware of about the project, something probably everyone's project does for them. Profounditty alert: I've noticed that as I begin to craft the various elements for the project I become more aware of the object(s) in question. I don't mean that I simply see them as I'm out and about, like a reticular activation phenomenon. I mean that I slowly begin to see and understand their creation in an expanded way.

Example: I've been sub-consciously thinking of crafting say the flowering vines on the cottage, well, I'll not only see flowering vines in neighborhoods while I'm outside but I'll begin to notice the ratio of blooms to greenery on certain varieties. Or I'll suddenly understand the structure of the flowers and their relationship to the birds and their seeds, etc. It's like an awareness moves in my head and I enjoy a greater understanding about creation.

How this surprisingly showed up as I was painting and making the vegetables, was that silly little things, that probably most people already know but that I had no idea about before come more clear. Like how the roots are not to be colored because they wouldn't get light underground. Or that often the coloring in the greens of an edible plant will telegraph the nutrients in the growing thing, if one could decipher its "label". Point is, everything we eat has it's own method of perpetuating itself and insects and animals adapt to utilize those systems and vice versa the plant adjusts itself over time to be better used. It's all so utterly gorgeously integrated.

It isn't that I attempt to precisely reproduce anything for the project, it's ultimately going to be whatever pleases me to do rather than accuracy. In fact, the visual style in Halfland is extremely rustic and primitive and above all textural. It's my visual expression of nurturing and contentment. But the added benefit of gaining a little more understanding about this world is a definite unforeseen bonus of making it all. [end of insight]

The vegetable soup was very successful! I had the little round wooden box painted along with all the other kitchen ware for Rana from the early days but it wasn't yet a kettle until now. First I had to route out the interior with a nasty drill bit that looked like a miniature mace, chomp, in order to push out the vertical sides like a kettle's would be. then I used (a very handy tool) the hand drill to pilot holes for the handle rings on each side. To make them I cut an "s" hook in half (HA!), glued them well in. The handle ended up being strong pounded wire, formed the ends with my jewelry making tools to have opposing hooks (how I knew to make the hooks go into the loops in opposite directions I'll not know). These were both finished with coats of steel paint, saw dust, and black acrylic wash to imitate sooty iron.

The soup's chopped vegetables were made of things like chucks of white airdry clay sprayed with walnut ink and then cut to make convincing mushroom pieces or painted yellow neoprene foam squash with their mangled centers and painted green and white seeds, and green crinkled wax paper cabbage shreds. The whole lot got sprayed with a clear spray sealant [The first tox thing under protest but it was essential as tests proved the soup would return the naked chopped props back into blobs; respirator; on back staircase.] then mixed into a batch of strong hold hair gel tinted with sheer walnut ink to make it a rich soup stock color.

Serve on a plank with whole wheat bread, baked back in New York, animate a few times this afternoon and you've got some steamy good eatin'!

My roots are showing in a basket on left, one of Rana's water jugs in back of her clay jar of cured and herb olives, mini loaf of wheat bread up front. (image processed with fabulous free French Polaroid image maker, PolaDROID)

Friday, November 07, 2008

Lettuce Have Peas

I was on the couch this week but managed to complete a few more of the food props for Rana's kitchen.

A yellow platter holds a sculpture of green peas that were built up from layers of porcelain and paint on real flower seed pods that grew here at some point.

I spent a lot of time finally finished the ravaged ripe pomegranates, my favorite food. Each little seed bead encased in a drop of clear glaze. The hardest part was adding layers of porcelain coating to create the white rind over the round seed pod bases.

The red leaf lettuces were made by gluing embossed fabric leaves around a styrofoam ball, making them rigid with porcelain liquid and finishing with paint.

Lastly, I took apart a red silk dahlia, cut down the rings of petals, painted them with many layers of porcelain and white paint, sculpted lotus centers and sewed and glued them into two little lotus blossoms ready to be added to the Time Frog's pond near their floating pads and roots.

Still wobbly, but staying in again tomorrow with high hopes for planting some growing things on the Halfland set.

A Political Note, at this historic moment for my nation:

Of all the very moving sweeping grand and beautiful images of Barack Obama in the news this week, this one, by campaign photographer, Callie Shell, taken late during during the 2008 US presidential campaign reaches in for the gripping essence on my emotions. It captures the faces of two small African-American boys at the end of their many hours long wait to see this candidate, their eyes drinking in, memorizing, watching every movement Barack made as he passes near them. Their expressions tired, scrutinizing, yet also having a quality of dignity with them. The power of a man to inspire and influence the young as never before. In that, this has become, to my mind, a whole new day.
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