Sunday, August 27, 2017

Polymer Clay Skull Cane

This isn't so much a tutorial as an opportunity to learn from my mistakes and references that I found  helpful in my endeavors.  If I were a smart person, I would have started with simple cane designs and eventually work my way up to more complex designs.  I am not that person.  I jumped right into trying a skull cane, and big surprise it wasn't the most brilliant skull cane ever created, but it was a learning experience.  The beads above are from my second attempt, so let us travel back to my first round of mistakes and see how I ended with these.  For anyone else out there trying to short cut straight to skull canes, may the wind be ever at your back and your canes come out less deformed than mine. 

This is the base of my first cane.  I think it looks like an x-ray of Wallace saying, "Cheeeese."

Let's just go down the list of mistakes:

1) Thinking that reducing the cane was somehow magically going to make things look better. 
  • I believe the opposite is true, the more flaws, the more distortion you are going to have in the final product.
2) Having big gaps in the design. 
  • Again distortion as the clay pushes into those empty pockets.
3) Not filling out the negative space around the design enough.
  • I originally intended for this to be a round design, but failed to flesh out a full circle. As if the first two mistakes didn't distort things enough, this only made it worse.

I wish I would've watched this video before I did any of this.  She fills in all the tiny gaps and you'll notice she works the center components further reducing gaps, before moving out to the next layer. 

Not a skull, but I think this hummingbird is a prime example of starting off with a really good foundation. The design doesn't change much from the beginning to the finished cane.

And this is what my skull ended up looking like. After seeing how the skull was morphing I went with a rectangular shape.  Not anything close to my original idea, but alright in freakish octopus ghost-like skull kind of way.

I tried a completely different approach for round 2.  I was inspired by this Hello Kitty cane video, I liked the way she started with a solid form and cut into it to add components.  I started with a thick disk of marbled white and pearl clay.  Then I printed out my skull image approximately the same size and laid it on top of the clay.  Then just like carving a pumpkin, I made pin pricks along the lines of the image and used those as a guide for trimming the clay.  I forgot to take pictures, but the photoshopped image below should give you an idea.  The dotted lines are supposed to be the pin pricks and the black line represents where I cut straight across the clay.  That made it easier to cut out the eye sockets and also to insert the black clay. 

Once the white clay was the proper shape, I made black cylinders for the eyes, those I sized up by laying them on top of the image.  Those were trimmed to the same thickness as the white clay.  Then I fit thin wedges of black in between the teeth. Here I should have used the red mix between the teeth or stayed with the black, but added a thin line of black all the way around the skull.  For the red I marble together a bunch of colors; red, orange, gold and a little purple and black.  I rolled it out into a long strip, cut it the same thickness of the skull and trimmed around the edge of the skull, plus some added bits to make it a full circle.

For the outer edge I made a separate cane and reduced it down until it was long enough to fit around the skull. The cane was then cut into chunks the thickness of the skull and place along the edge. Here's what it looked like before I reduced it. You can't see from this view but it was only a half inch thick, by the time it was reduced to the proper length the red details were pretty skinny and all those little colorful swirls were almost completely lost.  Just something to keep in mind when you're planning things out. 

I added a thin strip of black clay around the whole thing.  It wasn't until I had squeezed everything together that I noticed I had two pieces of the outer cane backwards.  I made an attempt at fixing, but it was already fused together and I felt I'd do more damage trying to fix it then just leaving it.  I know its a sign that I'm mental that it still irritates me.

Then I reduced the cane, cutting it at various sizes. I found this video to be very helpful for reducing canes. I've seen quite a few videos where after reducing by squeezing, they reduce further by rolling.  I have no idea how they can do that without any twisting.  I tried that for a little bit and immediately started twisting the cane.  Also the ends of the cane start to look a little alarming.  I was nervous that things had gone terribly wrong until I cut into the cane.  I think it turned pretty well. 

So cutting the cane is a whole other thing that I don't have a good answer for.  I read a lot of different methods, so many in fact that I ended up ignoring most of them.

The few things I did do was to chill the cane to firm it up.  I used a fresh cutting blade.  I stood up to slice the cane.  I guess you are more apt to cut at an angle toward you while sitting. And I rotated the cane after each slice, so I wasn't always mushing it down on the same side. 

I did make even slices, but I still distorted them a bit when cutting.  I also made a few  thin slices and used them to cover balls of of scrap clay.  After I had all my slices, I put on latex gloves to prevent fingerprints and reshaped the slices a little to fix any squished or flat spots. To use these for beads I poked a straight pin about halfway through one side and then poked it halfway through the other side.  Once it was all the way through I replaced it with a slightly thicker head pin.  With the head pin in place I gave the bead a few light pats to make sure it was level and smooth. Then I flipped it over and did the same thing on the other side. Sometimes it took a few more flips, sometimes I had to adjust the shape of the bead after removing the head pin.  I'll be the first to admit it wasn't the most expedient process. It's possible to avoid all this by baking the canes whole and then slicing and drilling holes afterwards, but I like how working each slice rounded the edges and I don't trust myself to drill straight. I thought ahead enough to give some of the beads vertical holes and the other half horizontal.  I wish I had done a few of the square beads with parallel horizontal holes near the top and bottom. 

Then I baked at 275, using the tile and aluminum pan set up described at 

So that brings us to sanding. I found this video to be helpful.  I used 3M sandpaper in 400, 600, 800, 1000, 1200, and 2000 grit from the paint department at Home Depot. They came in packs of ten sheets and I've only used a half sheet of each so far.  So I have enough sandpaper to last a lifetime, but I wasn't impressed with what I read about other papers sold in smaller quantities.

I spent the most time with the 400 grit, sanding until both sides of the beads felt completely smooth.  I liked that part because there was a notable stopping point, it's easy to tell when you don't feel anymore rough spots.  After that I sanded both sides for 20-30 seconds with each grit of paper.  Was that enough? I don't know. Did I really need to do all six grits? Don't know, but I'm happy with the results and I'd do it that way again. This was a bit time consuming, I'm thankful for kids in sports. To sand on the go I would bring an air tight container with a screw on lid filled with ice water and a squirt of dish soap to dip the sandpaper and beads in.  My work surface was a piece of soft foam on a waterproof tray. If I were going to get fanatical about making beads, I'd probably invest in a tumbler, as it is I still haven't sanded the round beads. 

After sanding, is buffing and I used a scrap piece of denim leftover from my binder. The more you buff, the shiner it gets. Sanding gives the surface a dull look and I found that a vigerous 30 seconds on each side was enough to bring the color back, with more of a matte finish. The more you buff the shinier it gets.  In the first picture you can see that the largest bead has been buffed the most.

And what I said earlier about a smart person starting off with a easier cane? Now that I've started to think about what I'm going to do with all these beads, it would be nice to have some accent beads with a simple pattern using the same colors.  Just saying...

...but I'll leave that for another time.

Friday, May 26, 2017

Creepy Felted Easter Eggs

This is the last post about Easter stuff, at least until next year.  I've already covered zombie bunnies, this time it's creepy eggs.  The color mix of wool is the same as the bunnies for the rotten flesh, blood and bone.
[One great thing about hiring a zombie hand model for a photo shoot is paying an hourly rate for just the hand.]  

For the brain I started with an egg shaped.  Then I alternately snake rolled and needled felted pieces of pink wool until I had a long rope of it.   I swirled it around the egg and tacked it on with a few pokes.  Then I mixed some red and black and poked it into the crevices.

The eye started off as just a white egg.  And then the magic wool fairies showed up.  I really don't know what happened, I didn't expect it to turn out this good. 

The bunny skull also started out as an egg.  I thought if the egg was very loosely felted I could just felt the features into it.  Maybe I should have built the skull up around the eye and nose sockets instead of just trying to hollow them out.  Also the egg being narrower on top didn't help.  Those eye sockets are felted rock hard. It's so hard, I broke a needle.  Maybe I could have cut into the sockets to make them deeper. I just decided to quit before I made things worse. Oh well, better luck next time and I'm sure I learned something from the process even if I haven't quite figured out what it is yet. 

Friday, May 19, 2017

Felted Zombie Bunnies

Last time I wrote about how I learned to felt using basic shapes.  Bunnies are no different.  In fact I made the simplest bunny ever.  One body ball, one tail ball, couple of eyes, a nose and two ears. 

And then I decided enough of the cutesy crap, school time is over.  Let's get into the good stuff. I started with simple shapes again for the zombie bunny. Sphere head, flat triangles for ears; long cones for arms, legs and body. Note that the neck and where the arms and legs will attach is not as firmly felted.  It's easier to attach bits if you leave the wool a little wispy. 

You might think pink is an odd zombie color unless you are making brains.  When I thought I was going to make the most awesome hamster ever I bought a small package of pink wool for the ears and nose.  A small half ounce package is actually a lot and I had all this pink left over. I thought I could get away with using it as filler, which is what I did will the ball bunny. It looks mottled because I used pink as the base with white over the top.  I didn't realize how much I'd have to cover it in white for the pink not to show and decided it wasn't worth it anyway.  It's already cute, it might as well be pink too. For my zombie bunny I decided to use that to my advantage.

I went with a mixture of green for the zombie bunny's main color.  It's a lot of olive green, with some green green, a bit of tan and a smidge of dark green.  I just pulled bits of wool and randomly layered them together and did that a few more times to mix it all up. Don't ever feel like you have to use one color at a time, in fact I think it's more fun if you don't. 

Originally I bought just a few colors of wool for specific projects, but  then I ended up buying these multi-color rolls in the brights, pastels and earth tones.  Various craft stores carrying them packaged under different brand names, but as far as I can tell it's all the same stuff.  By mixing the colors I can get close to any shade I want and I have a better idea of which colors I use enough to buy separately. 

Update: Now that warm weather is upon us, I've been hitting the local farmer's markets and there is a lot of wool roving popping up.  The prices are better than what I've found in the stores, with lots of colors to choose from.  I'm no expert, but the quality seems better too.  The store bought seems a bit matted in comparison, maybe a result of the packaging process? Also pay attention to the type of wool.  My eye always travels to the Merino wool which is gorgeous and silky, but from what I understand is difficult to needle felt and used more in wet felting.  Romney and Corriedale seem to be the most popular for needle felting.  

And here is where I covered the pink pieces in the green mix. Some areas the layer of green wool was a little thin and after felting it disappeared into the pink wool.   

Here more green has been added until everything was as thick and firm as I wanted it. [I feel morally obligated to insert a "That's what she said." joke here.] All the pieces have been attached and just starting to poke in a few details.

After that everything came together so fast I didn't get pictures. More green wool was added to the face to fill out the cheeks, add brows and a nose. The teeth and bones were made with white wool mixed with a little yellow and brown. The eyes are a mix of red and black. 

The bloody bits are mostly red with brown and black. Needle felting is naturally conducive to making bloody wounds.  Whenever you poke the needle in it creates an indent.  If you want to make a smooth ball you have to keep moving it so you poke evenly all the way around.  If you want a bloody gash, you lay down a bit of red wool and concentrate your needle in that area. 

I don't have many pictures of this guy.  Sadly I had used up all my pink, so he started out as a white ball. Overall I think he's an adorable zombie bunny, but I have to say I prefer having meaty pink undertones showing through here and there.  Not at all ironic that in trying to use up the pink wool, I've found a use that will lead to me having to buy more pink wool.

He was just going to be a toothy zombie bunny head, but I didn't really think that through. It kept tipping over because of the big ears, so I gave him a body.  I used familiar shapes from my unicorn days.

Here is the white ball covered in zombie green.  I poked a line where I wanted the mouth to go, cut along it with small scissors to open it up and then kept poking the inside of the ball until the mouth was big enough. 

Otherwise the rotting green fur, the bloody bits and the crusty teeth use the same colors as the other bunny.  I used a mix of pink, red and black for gums and to attach the teeth.  He has a bunch of teeth you can't see in the picture. He also has a lovely neck gash you can't quite see that I'm quite proud of.  For the eyes I went with the cataract zombie look.  A little bit of light blue, grey and white over black balls.

While I'm on the topic of zombies and bunnies, I got the best book from the Easter Bunny this year, Pat The Zombie by Aaron Ximm and Kaveh Soofi.  Now I don't love just anything that's been zombiefied, a girl has to have standards, but this book is awesome.  It stays true to the original while creativity embracing the zombie theme.   

This book is so much fun, but one of my favorites is the scratch n' sniff remains.  I recommend getting someone else to scratch it, because the putrid smell lingers on your fingers, even after soap and water.  Reminds of that one time in Mallrats.

I don't know why, maybe it's the bloody trail, but the last page of Judy's survival manual makes me giggle. "Sss-sh! Bunny is creeping!" In the original it was "Bunny is sleeping."

Friday, May 12, 2017

Needle Felting

Frog Selfie in Hell
I couldn't get enough of zombies this Easter, some would argue tis the reason for the season.  But before I post about felted Easter zombies I'd like to share about my needle felting journey.

Way back, when my daughter was all into hamsters, I got it in my head to make her a toy hamster.  A friend suggested needle felting, which is poking roving wool with a barbed needle until it magically turns into something.  She gave me a needle and some felt and I proceeded to make a hideous looking hamster head. Which I then over-felted trying to fix it, until it was rock hard and completely unusable.  On the upside I was inspired to make a Cthulhu, but that was the extent of my felting until recently. 

I was at the library* researching another project when I came across Woolbuddies by Jackie Huang. I've seen his frogs before, but it never dawned on me that I too could make such wonderful creatures. Per the instructions, to make a frog all I had to do was make a ball, or three actually if you include the eyes, so I figured I could handle that. There isn't a lot of detailed instruction, but there are pictures of each completed step.  Since the Wool Buddies are basic shapes put together, with minimal but effective details, I don't think a lot of instruction is needed.

*Although I love the vast sea of knowledge the internet affords, sometimes I like to wade around in a small pond where the water is only knee deep and I can see to the bottom.  Thank you little local library.

Here are the frogs when they are not off touring Hell.
This is a video for the frog. Someone commented that it should be time lapsed but I disagree. I think one of the hardest things about felting, and maybe this is just as a beginner, is finding that sweet spot of where it's felted enough but not over-felted. You want it to be firm but not rock hard like a hideous hamster head we won't speak of.  The video gives you a realistic idea of just how much poking is involved.

The other thing I have a hard time with is gauging how much the wool will be compressed once it's been firmly felted. In the book every project lists the quantity of wool needed in each color, which I think would be helpful if you actually followed it.  Of course I ignored that, because that's what I do.  I made smaller versions because if I screwed up I didn't want to waste a bunch of wool. More wool also equals more poking.  The downside is if you go too small it's hard to fiddle with the smaller pieces and details.

These two buddies are perfect examples.  The dog's snout is about twice as long as it should be, so I had to add big feet to keep him from falling over.  And if I had made the shark the recommended size, I think I would have done a better job with the teeth. 

I finally tackled the elusive hamster.  The book shows how to make a guinea pig.  I made it a lot smaller, without the feet and added a tail, which resulted in the hamster on the far left.  The other two are later versions.  And then there was that one time they decided to vacation in Hell because their frog friends told them how much fun they had on their trip. [Scenic Hell was created at last year's craft party.]

Hamster Selfie in Hell.

Of course hamsters were so two years ago, now it's narwhals.
After the shark, a narwhal was super easy to make. 

And then she said, you should make a turtle...Which again not too difficult, now that I understood breaking it up into shapes.  Circle for the head and eyes.  Oval for the shell.  Cylinder for the legs and neck.  I realize that concept is Art 101, but it wasn't until now that it really clicked for me. 

Another thing I really like about the Wool Buddies are the eyes.  They have that crazy look, that I love, but they are also so easy to make.  I've made a few attempts at other eyes with mixed results. Starting out you can't go wrong with bulgy eyes and pinpoint pupils.  I also appreciated that many of the Wool Buddies had asymmetrical eyes.  I can't make eyes any other way, so it was nice to have an excuse to embraced that. 


I realize now my first hamster attempt failed because I went straight to complicated details, when I should've remembered KISS [Keep It Simple Stupid].  It also helps to go with the flow. This started out being a cat, then ended up looking like an owl.  But it didn't look enough like an owl to actually be one, so I had to go rogue and now it's whatever this thing is.  The point being if you don't confine yourself to reality, you can make anything work. 

Saturday, May 6, 2017

Catnip Zombie Peeps

The only thing crazier than being a crazy cat lady is making Peep catnip toys when you don't have a cat.  I love cats, but I guess since I married a guy with cat allergies I must love him more.  Not only did I marry a man that's allergic to cats, but he comes from a long line of feline allergy prone males and together we even spawned a human male with, you guessed it, cat allergies.  So no cats for me.

I on the other hand not only come from cat people, but I have numerous friends with cats. Which is good news for me because then it's not quite so weird that I'm making catnip toys. Right?

Bonus points if your friends hate Peeps and get to watch them being mauled by an attack kitty. 

I found the original craft at I scaled the template down to two different sizes a slightly smaller 4.75 inch and an even smaller 3.75 inch. My neighbor cat tester was given both sizes and in his esteemed opinion, size does not matter. 

I made bunnies with pink, yellow, blue, purple and green felt.  I have only seen green Peep chicks in the wild, never bunnies.  Of course the only logical explanation is that green Peep bunnies are infected with a zombie virus and quarantined deep in the bowels of the Peep factory. I submit this video as evidence, at the 1:25 mark green infected bunnies as far as the eye can see. I believe Peep is a subsidiary of the Umbrella Corporation

Warning: The zombie bunny on the far left has eyes, stitches and bloody bits made out of wool roving that has been needle felted on.  I would think an animal could potentially pull those bits off and possibly swallow them. This bunny is stuffed with stuffing and is just for me to play with and not animal safe.  The other two are filled with catnip and decorated with Sharpies. 

This is how the "normal" bunnies turned out:

And then I thought the zombie bunnies look really hungry and should have brains.  Not having any embroidery experience this is what I came up with:

[The brain bunny isn't filled yet I just tucked the loose ends inside for the picture.]

Because I like numbers and quantities:

I was able to fit two 4.75 and three 3.75 inch bunnies on each 9"x12" felt sheet.  I used the ironed on freezer paper method for cutting them out.  I was going to cut them out as needed, but I noticed after a week or so the freezer paper was starting to come loose.  Rather than have to drag out the iron again, I cut them all out before they completely peeled off.  [After the Marines I swore I'd never use an iron again, which isn't realistic but I do manage to use it quite sparingly.]

One thing of embroidery floss in each color was plenty with some leftover. I didn't sew all of them but I cut thread for each of them and sandwiched it between two slices of bunny and packed it all away for next year.  I cut about 4.5 feet for the larger bunnies and 3.5 feet for the smaller ones. 

The 3.75" ones held about a teaspoon of loose catnip.  The 4.75" held about twice that. A rough calculation based on potential number of Peeps, actual Peeps filled and the amount of catnip leftover leaves me to believe that I could have easily filled all 25 felt Peeps with 0.5 oz. of catnip. I bought a whole ounce which might not sound like much, but it is.  I've read storing it in the freezer will help it keep, but can't find a consistent answer on how long it will keep. 

During my catnip journey in Google land I also discovered that people eat, drink and even smoke catnip. I'm always leery of medicinal properties assigned to herbs and other natural substances that haven't been fully vetted. If they just didn't work that would be one thing, but some substances can end up be downright deadly.  [As my mind tends to wander I think an Edward Gorey style ABC book of natural poisons would be brilliant. A is for Arsenic, B is for Belladonna, C is for Cyanide...]

Disclaimer: I'm not a medical professional, some would argue that I'm not even sane, so I am not responsible for any actions you take based on the rantings of a catless madwoman. 

Catnip is supposed help with everything from menstrual cramps and headaches to indigestion and insomnia. The one consistent trait that everyone seemed to agree with is that it has a sedative effect on humans.  For this reason drinking it before bedtime seems to be a common practice, although I read it also acts as diuretic.  So it'll make you really sleepy and have to pee a lot?  Why doesn't that sound like a good match?

Curiosity got the better of me and I couldn't find anything to suggest that catnip would kill me, damage any internal organs or cause unwanted hair growth, so I made tea with it.  I steeped one teaspoon of dried catnip in a mug of hot water.  I've tried it steeped for 5 minutes and for 10 minutes. The longer steeping time didn't make much difference in flavor. To me it tastes like a mild green tea. I will definitely drink it again when I want a caffeine free tea.   

I'm probably not the best test subject for any "relaxing" tea, I'm pretty mellow. Any more mellow and I 'd be comatose.  Maybe that's why when I tried it before bedtime, I felt a little fuzzy around the edges.  I've had similar experiences with valerian root and chamomile. Or maybe it's because I was already tired or maybe it's just all in my head.  I tried it during the day and I was totally chill afterwards. Of course that being my natural state, I was already chill before I drank it.  And I did have to pee, but that's not uncommon when I drink tea or anything.  Yeah, I'm probably not getting the Nobel prize for my extensive scientific research on the usage of catnip. 

Here are a few of my favorite zombie Peeps:

Walking Dead entry in the Washington Post diorama contest. There's also an homage to Twin Peaks. 

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Palm Weaving More Cowbell Edition

A few years ago a wonderful woman, who has been like a mother to me, invited me to join her and her friends in weaving palms on Good Friday and I've been going every year since.  It is a religious craft, but I haven't burst into flames yet, so don't believe everything you see in the movies.  It also works out that most of the people in my life that don't appreciate my creepier crafts, love getting these palm weavings. It's nice, if not a little weird, to see them genuinely excited over something I've made. 

This year I combined the crown of thorns I learned from the ladies, the flower I figured out last year, and a cross weave I found on the internet.  In other words, a palm cross with more cowbell. 

And here is another variation on the cross with more loops.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Creepy Elves on the 13th Day of Creepmas

For the last day of Creepmas I have something special.  I'm lucky enough to live across the street from a house full of brilliant artists.  This Creepmas delight is the work of the youngest daughter who is currently in middle school. I didn't have skills like that at her age, ok I don't have skills like that now either.  I hope this becomes a tradition, because I would love to see more Creepmas creations from her. 

What's going on with the creepiest elf of all? Well the other day I spotted this yellow raincoat in the store and it immediately sent shivers down my spine. You might wonder why of all things, would an elf who can't go outside except to travel by magic to the North Pole, need a yellow slicker?
Well I have a sneaking suspicion, as anyone else familiar with the movie Alice, Sweet Alice probably does as well.  I saw it decades ago as a kid and for me the killer's disguise of transparent mask and yellow rain slicker is just as eerie and iconic as those of Michael Myers or Jason Voorhees.  There is something most unsettling about a killer with dead eyes behind a mask completely void of emotion. 

Kind of like this guy. Yay, let's give him a yellow raincoat and turn him loose.
What could possibly go wrong? 

Speaking of creepy outfits. I love dressing up for the 1st day of Creepmas,
but this would take it too far. I'm pretty sure I'd freak myself out if I wore this.    

Elf Morphsuit

I keep waiting for kids rebel against Elf on the Shelf.  The little bastard gets away with things their parents would never allow them to do and then has the audacity to sit there and judge them.  I'd love to hear reports of parents waking up at 3am to find their kids making flour angels and doing shots of maple syrup. 
Until then I guess this guy is the next best thing.

I found this video to be oddly satisfying. 
What is inside the Elf on the Shelf? Demons? Hot cocoa? Children's tears?

I'd like to leave this Creepmas season on positive note, so here is
a creepy cute and cuddly Elf that you can have for your very own. 
Devilish Elf by TerrorTedsStore