I escaped! BWAHAHAHAHAHA!

So the doctor didn’t say that I couldn’t go back to work when I had my last checkup. I may have ‘accidentally’ forgotten to ask. I have been bored to tears sitting on my duff, waiting for my silly body to fight off infection and heal up properly. All I’ve wanted to do for the past three weeks is just go to the workshop and make stuff!

Yesterday, I did just that!

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The heck are you doing Ethan? That’s not a sword.

Yeah I know it’s not a sword, but here’s the thing: silicone and resin are both really expensive materials and I’m using a lot of new equipment at this point. So I realised I needed to do something small first to make sure that everything is working properly and the materials are doing what I expect them to do.

This’ll be a little sci-fi computer chip thingy that I can use as a coaster on my desk. I’m going to be testing out the silicone moulding compound, the Alumilite resin, and the resin dye that I bought. That’s right! This will be the first time I’ve done transparent resin in another colour! I’m excited. 🙂

I’d also like to take a moment to thank all of you who have been poking me for sword commissions. I’m so, so sorry for taking so long to get back to you. I’ve been struggling with this medical thing and it’s been no fun at all. I’m going to ask my doc if it’s at all possible to postpone the next surgery until the new year so I can continue working at my job for the rest of November and the month of December

I’m definitely not in danger of losing my workshop. I just want to make that clear so you don’t have to worry about that. But it would be really nice to at least be able to cover the cost of my rent with sword sales instead of taking it out of my own pockets as I’ve been doing.

I also want to reassure you that the medical thing isn’t a degenerative condition or anything. It’s just a quirky little birth defect that we’ve been working on correcting to give me a better quality of life. 🙂 The only reason I’ve had to go back for more corrections is because there were some complications with the healing. Apparently, the body took offence to the doc trying to do too much correction all at once so we’ve had to slow down and do the fixing-up in smaller steps.

That’s rather annoying for me cause it means I have to keep taking time off work for two weeks here, three weeks there to heal from each stage. As anybody who knows me well enough can tell you: I am not good at sitting around doing nothing all day.

In other news: the metro station near my house has opened up and that means I can get to and from work much more easily and much faster. Yay for less travel time! Instead of waiting for a bus, taking the bus to the nearest metro stop, taking the metro to the neighbourhood where I work, and then taking a bus from there to as close to my workshop as I can get, I can simply take the metro from home and skip the whole first bus leg of the journey.

Speaking of journeys … workshop tiiiiime! The workshop is my happy place and I can’t wait to get there and make some cool stuff! Catch ya later guys.

Skin Dyeing: For Body Paint That HAS To Stay Put!

So, last year I posted an article about the struggles of cosplaying a DrowHow in the world can you get pasty beige skin to turn an obsidian shade of blue-black? On the face? No problem. On the hands … well, if you don’t need to touch anything you haven’t got a problem. But eventually you’re going to have to pee, or open a door, or eat something …

If you’ve visited a cosplay forum recently searching for solutions to this problem, you’ve been probably come across someone asking “Hey is there any way I can dye my skin black?” Or green. Or blue. Or whatever colour is required. And you’ve been disappointed to find a bunch of people crying “No! Don’t dye your skin! It’ll be there for weeks!”

How do I know? Because I did that. I do it every year to see if someone has come up with anything better than alcohol activated paint. AA paint is great! But it still rubs off on high-traffic areas like the hands.

That’s because your skin refreshes itself faster on the palms of your hands and the soles of your feet than anywhere else on the body. Those areas get the most friction and pressure because they come in contact with the world a lot. You walk on your feet (obviously) and pick up objects with your hands. If you have good hygiene, you’re washing your hands multiple times a day. That means that poor paint is going to take a beating and you’re going to have to touch it up periodically. Unless …

Unless you’re insane like me.

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Ethan what the crap did you do?! Don’t panic. I used a few bottles of Inkbox freehand ink. Why? A few reasons.

  1. I am crazy.
  2. I’m hosting a Halloween party in which I will be serving food. That means I have to be washing my hands thoroughly several times over the night especially because one of my guests has severe allergies.
  3. I am self-employed, I’m 33, and I’m an artist. That means I don’t give a fluff what people think of my weird black hands for the next two weeks. It’s not going to jeopardise my job or get me into trouble with my parents.
  4. I am scheduled for a minor surgery on the Monday after Halloween and I’ll need 2 weeks to recover at home. Yep, your memory is correct. Inkbox lasts only 2-3 weeks maximum. Even if I did have to worry about my job, it’d be gone by the time I get back to it.

Why didn’t I dye the entire hand? Well, sadly 1 ounce of Inkbox freehand ink doesn’t go very far when you’re covering every square millimetre of skin rather than just doing a design. So I did the practical thing and dyed only the areas that will face the toughest test: the fingers and the palm. The back of the hand doesn’t get beaten up nearly as much so it’s quite fine to simply airbrush some alcohol activated paint from there on up. I don’t go around rubbing my face on things so it’s not necessary to dye that either. AA paint will do fine.

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You might be wondering what’s up with that purple-blue marbling effect. That is a result of the ink’s gel-like consistency. It was very difficult to get it to spread on evenly. It did not want to cooperate. Imagine trying to get an even layer of sunscreen or grape jelly all over your hand. It’s not as easy as you might think. There are areas where it’s not quite as thick and consequently, they don’t dye as darkly. I still have a little ink left that I can touch up the marbled bits with or I can just spray a little AA paint on it. Frankly, I don’t think anyone will notice.

So what do you need to know if you want to do something insane like this?

  1. What is the product made of? If you’re using Inkbox, awesome. Go nuts. It’s 100% fruit-based and will not hurt your skin. If it’s henna or jagua, go nuts. Those are safe. Any other inks/dyes? You have to know what’s in it. HAVE TO. I’m not kidding. Some hair dyes and similar things have additives that will lead to permanent scarring, rashes, permanent chemical sensitivity, chemical burns … it can be bad, okay? If you don’t know what’s in the product, find out. Please. It’s worth it.
  2. Got a skin safe product? (Or one you’ve researched thoroughly and you’re pretty sure it’s fine.) Okay. Test a wee dot of it somewhere inconspicuous. Wait at least an hour. Wash it off. Look for any signs of skin irritation. Wait a bit longer. Still no signs of irritation? Okay. Test a bit more of it. Make a little doodle. Same procedure. If it still shows now sign of rash or swelling and it’s not itchy or painful, it’s very probably fine and you can proceed.
  3. Don’t dye any more of your skin than you have to. Pick the areas that are going to give you the most trouble and get those first, especially if your supply of dye is limited.
  4. Dye only one hand at a time. You will inevitably have to pee. Yes I know this from experience. LOL!
  5. DON’T. TOUCH. ANYTHING. I have smudges of ink on my right forearm, my left shoulder, and a wee bit on my CHIN from my little dyeing adventure. I have no idea how these transfers happened but I must have touched other skin areas accidentally while I still had ink drying. Just … put on a marathon of your favourite show and try not to fidget. That’s also why I suggest not dyeing any more of yourself than you have to. It … wanders. Somehow. It’s annoying. LOL
  6. Do you have an employer/parent/teacher/authority figure you have to deal with in the next 2-3 weeks who will NOT be okay with your re-colouring experiment? If so, this might not be for you. You might have to either clear this in advance with them, or stick with alcohol activated paint.

Who should consider skin dying as a solution?

  1. Anybody doing a multi-day convention who wants to save time on makeup application in the mornings and not have to touch up their body paint during the day.
  2. Anybody doing a multi-day LARP out in the forest or the back end of nowhere who doesn’t want to fuss with makeup when they’re going through the inconvenience of camping and limited potable water.
  3. Anybody doing a theatre or film production who has to wear body paint and prosthetics many times who wants to save time on makeup application.
  4. Crazy people like me. LOL

Any questions? Feel free to ask! I’m here to satisfy your cosplay and LARPing inquiries and I don’t mind testing products. Together, we can find unconventional solutions for tough costuming challenges. 🙂

Runes That Stay Put

Hi everyone! I’ve been doing a bit of product testing with the Inkbox freehand tattoo kit. This is a type of temporary tattoo that is very much like traditional henna but black instead of reddish brown. It looks exactly like a real tattoo and it will not come off no matter how much sweating, scrubbing, or scraping you do!

I was curious to see if this stuff was really as robust as advertised so I put it on the most high-traffic area of my skin: the palm of my hand. I wanted to see if Inkbox could prove itself under the harshest conditions. Hand-washing multiple times a day with regular soap, dish-washing, wearing work gloves and operating power tools, sweating, showering … I was not gentle or careful with it.

So how did it perform?

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This image was taken the day after I put the temp tattoo on. Oct. 13th.

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This image was taken on Oct. 17th. Hasn’t budged at all. (The wee smudge of ink over by my pinky finger is marker from a project I was working on. Not related to the tattoo.) As you can see from the rough scrapes on my skin, I was not coddling it at all.

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Here’s a pic from this morning, Oct. 20th. I tried to get a nice close photo so you can see that it’s just starting to fade now.

So how does Inkbox work? Pretty much the same as henna. You doodle it on your skin, let it sit for an hour, then go wash it off with regular soap and water. No special treatment needed. The design will look faded when you first wash it off, but don’t panic. It will darken in a few hours/overnight.

This is because Inkbox dyes/stains your skin but don’t let that put you off. It’s a fruit-based dye that is completely harmless. It will fade naturally over 1-3 weeks as your skin cells refresh themselves.

How long it lasts depends on how thick you put on the ink. The tattoo on my palm is the result of spreading on the “goo” about 2-3mm thick. I did another test on the back of my hand with only 1mm thickness. Let’s take a look at that one.

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After 1 day, Oct. 13th.

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Some barely-noticeable fading on Oct. 17th.

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And this morning, Oct. 20th. It’s noticeably faded but still obvious to anybody looking at it.

So there you have it! Doodle, wait an hour, wash it off, and you will have runes you don’t have to touch up or worry about smudging no matter what you do. No mess, no weird smells, no needles, and best of all no regrets. It’ll be gone in three week’s time.

Are any of you being Shadowhunters for Halloween? I’d love to see your rune-drawing skills!

First Hiccup

So, the vacuum pump I got to degas the silicone (and after that, the resin) isn’t working. Yep. And because the seller is in China, I have to wait a day between each response via customer service. So I’ve lost a week of work now.

See that pressure gauge on the big ol’ bucket there? It’s supposed to be dropping. It’s not moving. Boo.

What’s the next step for me? I go through the troubleshooting process, see if we can get this machine working and, if not, I return it. Whether I get a replacement from the same company, or buy from someone else in hopes of getting a more reliable product remains to be seen. We have to determine what the problem is first.

If it’s a simple “whoops! we put the fan on backwards!” then, no problem. If it’s “oh yes, some of our models can be a little leaky …” then I’m probably going to have to consider other options.

Why didn’t I buy locally? You might ask that. Well, because this vacuum pump kit cost me only about 200 euros. Comparable ones sold in Finland are at least 1000 for the pump only. No attachments or chambers to hook it up to.

It’s frustrating, but I’m stubborn.

Now, if it would only stop raining… Wish me luck!

Final Moulding: Clariel

Hey guys! I am really excited and nervous today. I’m using my brand new vacuum pump and taking the final mould for the Clariel model sword. (I hope.) It has taken way longer than I thought to get that plaster sword prototype as smooth and shiny as I possibly can.

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The glossy varnish I have needs about 12 hours to fully set before I can put on a second coat so you can imagine how long it took to get multiple coatings on and then polish the thing.

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I think it was worth the extra effort. 🙂

Now, the next step is getting it fitted into the moulding box nice and snugly. That took a long time as well. Why? Because you saw how sloppy my first mould was. Let’s not have a repeat of THAT nonsense! We want the two halves of the mould to line up all straight and smooth and beautiful so that I can easily clamp them together with no leaks or weird seams.

To do that, I have to find the exact middle of the object I’m taking a mould of. That’s tricky when it doesn’t sit flat on the table. It’s chubbier in the middle than it is at the point of the blade or the pommel (butt end). So that makes it do a see-saw thing when I try to lay it flat. To compensate for that, I have to put a cushion of clay under the blade and the handle to make it sit perfectly level. Then, I have to cut a piece of laminated foam (or anything else that’s flat really … could be wood but I used foam) to fit in the space between the sword and the edges of the box. That’s so the silicone doesn’t fall down through any gaps and fill the whole darned box. That would trap the sword inside and I’d be really sad. (Hey! Give me my sword back!)

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And that gives us exactly one half of Clariel to make exactly one half of a mould. Yaaaay!

But what’s all that green stuff in there? No one said there would be green stuff aaahhhh! Don’t worry. that’s just clay. Some of those clay noodles are touching the sword and some aren’t. The ones that are touching Clariel are air vents. Those allow the bubbles to escape from the resin when I pour it into the mould so (hopefully) they get out of the sword and don’t get stuck in there.

The noodles that aren’t touching the sword are what we call “findings”. You know when you’re closing a plastic container of leftovers and putting it in the fridge for later? Take a look at the lid sometime and you’ll see there’s a trench all the way around where it fits over the edge of the container. That makes a nice snug fit so air doesn’t get inside and so you know the lid is in the right spot before you push down on it for that nice satisfying “click!”. Container closed and ready to go. Like your plastic sandwich box, the two halves of the mould need to fit together nicely and the findings help you figure out when both sides have lined up just right.

And then I pour 300 Euros of silicone into it. Haaaaah … yeah send me Luck runes guys! You can probably see why I’m a little nervous of screwing up! Haha!

Well, that’s enough procrastinating for me. I’d better go Iron Brother it up in the workshop. (I’m just kidding. I love talking to you guys. LOL) Oh, and if you’re a Matthew Daddario fan like me, don’t forget to wish him a happy birthday if you haven’t already!

Ciao for now!

A Pure White Blade

What an amazing ride last week was! Here’s where we left off with my last update:

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That’s the second prototype of Clariel curing in its silicone and plaster jacket. No way of telling if it worked or not. If it cured all the way through. If it cured with giant bubbles in it … So, it’s time to reveal what was hiding in that plaster cast.

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Ahhhhh it worked! It worked! It’s really rough on the surface there but the plaster is solid all the way through and the imperfections that are there are really small.

Let’s take it out of the mould.

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Aw yeaaah! Hello me beauty! I’d recognise that shape anywhere. No time to gloat though; let’s get sanding.

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Ah, now that is just a lovely sight to behold. You can see a shift in colour where the handle is because I poured the plaster in two stages. Plaster cures with an exothermic reaction. That means it gives off heat while it’s hardening. I didn’t want to overwhelm the rather shoddy mould I’d made so I decided to do it in two pours instead of just one. Next time, I’ll do it all in one go as I’m more confident that the materials can take it.

There are tiny imperfections on that blade though I really doubt you can see them. I vibrated the mould while it was curing to jiggle the air bubbles up and out of the plaster so there really aren’t many bubbles and the ones that are there are really small. Still, this prototype has to be perfect. Any imperfections left will be present in every Clariel from now until I make a new mould.

The Iron Sisters aren’t known for their “okay” craftsmanship. 😉 I demand excellence!

This week, I am correcting the remaining errors in Clariel prototype 2.0 with a very fine spackle and … yeah … more sanding. Then it gets sealed and polished up just as shiny as I can make it. Then, we take a mould with the expensive professional moulding silicone. That mould will be the one that makes all my Clariel swords from now on.

Yes I’m terrified but hopefully we’ll have just as much luck as we had last week! Cross your fingers for me folks.

That’s all from me for now. See ya later!

Learning Experiences

Wow! This past week has been a steep climb for me with learning the skill of mould making. I’m beginning to understand exactly why there are no commercial manufacturers of Seraph Blades. Let me tell you a bit about why the project is logistically really demanding.

If you’re going to cast something crystal-clear and bubble-free, typically, you’d want it to be small enough to fit in a pressure pot. Those are about the size of a big ol’ soup pot. As you’ve already guessed, no dice for me. Perhaps little wee Remiel would fit, but everything else is too big!

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The best resin for casting beautifully crystal clear objects is PMMA (acrylic resin). That’s a polyester resin and those are notoriously stinky. Like, not only will you have a headache but so will everyone else in the building kind of stinky. Obviously these kinds of castings are done in purely industrial environments where you can have your workers in protective suits and a nice big, badass air filtration chamber to keep that stench locked down.

I have a workshop sandwiched between a tailor’s shop and a ceramics maker. Again, no dice. I have to pick something that’s not horrifically smelly. See what I mean when I say that 95% of my job is problem solving? Hehe, I wasn’t kidding.

But it’s not all doom and gloom guys! I’ve got stuff to show you.

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That is the inside of the silicone mould I made. It seems that the mould release agent I got didn’t work. On the right side, I used wax, and that worked rather well. On the left, I used a spray-on release agent and … uh, well it ripped almost all the paint and some of the foam off the prototype that I made. (That prototype is NOT in good shape right now and I really hope I don’t have to take yet another mould of it cause I dunno if it will survive!)

Now, as you can see, the bottom of the mould stuck together. That’s not a deal-breaker and I know why it happened. I should have used probably about a half tube or a full tube more silicone per side than the amount I used. Whoops! But I had no idea how much it would take so I had to guess. So the silicone mould is thinner than I would like it but on the upside, I now know the exact amount of silicone to use for making the final mould. That’s really valuable information because professional grade silicone is really expensive! I paid over 300 euros for just 10kg of it. Aren’t you glad I’m not making your swords out of silicone?! No one would be able to afford it!

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Now here is the silicone mould clamped firmly in its plaster jacket. The rigid jacket is necessary to force the floppy silicone to hold its shape while I pour in the plaster. Yes, more plaster. Not resin just yet, because the prototype that I take the final mould of must be perfect. Any mistakes I make with that last prototype will be present in every single sword that comes out of that mould.

Now, there are some things that have me worried about this setup. 1. I forgot to put in an air vent so I’m going to have to pour super slowly. That means mixing the plaster in small batches and putting a lot of water in it.

What can go wrong? There is air in the mould. Of course there is! There’s air in the rest of the room too, haha! And when I start pouring in plaster, that air has to burp out somewhere or it will get trapped inside the mould. Annnnd that means the prototype sword that comes out will have holes in it where the bubbles were. Boo! We want holy swords not holey swords. (Okay that pun was awful, I’m sorry.)

2. I’m worried that the plaster might leak out of the mould all over the place. This mould is ugly, cheap, and very lumpy. It’s not nice and flat and easily clamp-able like it should be. And that’s okay. I only need it to work once. But it has to work at least once!

This is the principle of Rapid Prototyping. Use cheap materials and quick techniques to yield progressively better results until you’re satisfied with the final product. I’ll talk more about rapid prototyping later for all you enterprising prop-makers. 😉

3. I’m not really happy with the type of plaster I’m using right now. I’ve used a German brand (Knorr I think?) before and it took absolutely beautiful and accurately detailed moulds and I think that might be the kind I want to use for this. The kind I have (you can see it sitting in baggies in the picture of the silicone mould) is very thick unless you add double the amount of water it says on the package. It also cures really fast.

That’s great for things like making the hard jacket for the mould. I don’t need that to pick up fine details. I just need it to be done quickly and strong. So I’m not miffed that I bought a bunch of it form the hobby shop. I just don’t trust it to do what I need it to do for a prototype.

But the brand that I like is more expensive. (Story of my life.)

So what happens if this moulding doesn’t work? Well … the Iron Brother takes a deep breath and lets it out slowly (probably with a stream of his favourite cuss words) and starts the process over again. At that point, I have two choices. 1. I fix up the foam prototype and do the mould-making again from that without making the same mistakes that I made with this mould. (Too little silicone. Wrong mould release. Plaster jacket not straight and flush. Forgot an air vent for the bubbles.) or 2. I go with my original idea of crafting a perfect prototype first with a wooden core and polymer clay exterior polished to a high shine and coated in high-gloss varnish.

Which will I choose? That depends on exactly what kind of screw-ups happens with this casting! We’ll find out today folks. Are you excited? I’m terrified. Let’s go! Wheeeee!