Cool Kevin: Getting What You Pay For

Let me share this magical experience with you. This is a quintessential moment of “you get what you pay for”. Yes, I absolutely knew what I was getting into when I picked this gem off the shelf.

You know it’s cool when you have to be told it’s cool.

It was half price, and cost me a whopping 6.50 Euros. Now, why¬†did I invest in this piece of cra … plastic? Those of you who have been following my blog for awhile have seen my adventures in the ball-jointed-doll making world. I really do enjoy dolls and miniatures and all things “mini”. I don’t know why it’s so much fun to see every day items made tiny; it just is. So I embrace my crazy little hobby with joy. ūüôā

Part of that hobby is getting down to the nuts and bolts (sometimes literally!) of how a doll is constructed. Awhile ago, I bought for myself a Made to Move Barbie so I could study how that particular doll moves and poses.

So much more flexible than they were when I was a kid!

I’ll do an actual review on this type of doll later on for those of you who are interested. But for now, I can tell you that I was quite impressed with the quality of the Made to Move Barbie and the range of motion that she has. Excellent pose-ability. She can even sit with her legs crossed! I really hope whoever designed her joints got a promotion.

I was curious to see what Mattel had for us in terms of flexible dolls with a male body type. And that’s where I ran face-first into disappointment. There are no Made to Move Ken dolls. That’s right. Barbie can’t do yoga or go cycling with her boyfriend because his joints are woefully inadequate to the task. (Note:¬†The¬†Fashionista¬†Ken¬†doll¬†line¬†used¬†to¬†have¬†flexible¬†joints,¬†however,¬†the¬†current¬†generation¬†has¬†the¬†old¬†stiff¬†joints¬†and¬†immovable¬†arms.¬†Why¬†Mattel?)

Now, in order to check out the joints of a “Made to Move” Ken type doll I could either shell out for something like this:

It’s brutally obvious who this is.

And wait for him to arrive in the mail just so I can peek at his joints. Or I could grab this hunk right off the shelf at Hong Kong.

Kevin wears a beautiful spring shade of ‘why even?’. The hot new look this season.

So, without further ado, let’s get acquainted with Mr. Kevin, first name “Cool”.

Cool Kevin’s hobbies include imaginary skateboarding. Imaginary skateboard not included.

There is literally no text on this box other than what you see here. No explanation. Kevin has been cast adrift in this world with no idea of why he was made or for whom. Kevin will have to make his own meaning, just like the rest of us. (Okay so there’s a warning at the bottom telling you not to let your 0-3 year old eat it.)

Kevin’s left leg comes wrenched at an agonising 90 degree angle with his pelvis.

Yes, his leg returns to that position if left unattended, in case you were wondering. Kevin has no idea what “socks” are. What are you talking about?

Kevin can almost cross his arms! Almost.

So that’s how far his elbows bend. On the upside, he actually has his fingernails sculpted in which is more than I can say for most Barbie dolls.

Kevin kneels for no one. Not even his manufacturer.

He can almost kneel.

He’s completely comfortable. Yep. Very chill.

He can almost sit. I had to put him on my leg to take the photo because he can’t quite get his legs at a 90 degree angle. Needs to be tilted forward a few degrees or he falls over backwards.

Okay his ankles are actually slightly more flexible than mine. Not bad.

Kevin didn’t choose the thug life. The thug life didn’t choose Kevin either.

His sleeveless sweater has a hood. Okay.

Just in case you forgot he was cool.
Straight outta the nursing home.

Yes, his Velcro “fly” is in the back. His pants conveniently fit over his adult diapers.

Kevin’s pants on their eternal journey toward his chest.

So … I’m fairly certain that whoever sculpted Kevin’s chest has never seen a man without his shirt on before. Pectoral muscles actually have connections under the arm and do not come to a point near the diaphragm unless you have your arms above your head. Thus, I can only conclude that Kevin’s chest is an artistic representation of surrender that the artist felt when the realised they weren’t getting paid enough for this.

Kevin ALWAYS skips leg day.

I … well I would give a warning for nudity but Kevin is incapable of being naked. Ever. And it looks like it wouldn’t matter even if he was.

Kevin’s leg transplant was mostly a success.

The only thing I can conclude is that these legs were actually sculpted for another doll who was smaller.

Well, that’s better than I can do. Good job Kevin.

We can rebuild him. Crappier and weirder, but yeah basically we can.

Kevin’s bionic legs. No attempt made to conceal the pins of the hinge-joints that let his legs and ankles bend. Or trim the excess plastic left behind.

Don’t try this at home. Or do. Whatever it’s your knees.

The leg joints are reaaaally loose.

Painting? Ain’t nobody got time fo that!

The slapdash paint job on his hair is really noticeable. Parts of his hair are left uncoloured while there are flecks of blond paint are all over his ears and forehead.

Kevin does what he wants. Your rules mean nothing.

The moral of the story is: pay your artists what they deserve. It costs a certain amount of money to create and ship a piece of merchandise. If you’re not paying that price, someone, somewhere up the line is getting cheated out of their money. That will show up in the quality of the product.

You can tell when the person who made the product didn’t care about the result. You can tell when something was pumped off an assembly line by people who just wanted to earn a pay cheque and eat and pay the rent. Those aren’t bad people. They’re doing an honest day’s work and they deserve their earnings.

There’s a market for 6.50 euro dolls. Many children are perfectly happy to receive Cool Kevin and play with him. But if you want something of higher quality, something that someone put a piece of their heart into and sent to you with pride, you’ll have to turn to small, independent artists. And, yes, you’ll have to pay us. Our goods come out of closet-sized workshops where we work alone, using single moulds to produce one-of-a-kind items one at a time. The piece that you’re buying didn’t just zip past us on a conveyor belt. We literally spent hours looking at it, working on the details until we were sure it was up to our standards.

We can’t hope to compete with the manufacturing power-houses of China. Most of us don’t want to. So, please, if you can’t afford an item that you want from us, just be honest about it. We know our goods aren’t within everybody’s budget. They’re not “too expensive”. They cost what they cost and can’t be made for anything less without us taking a financial loss.

If you tell us “I could get that at Walmart for a quarter the price!” or “I could make that myself for less!” then please do so. If you’re asking us to match sweatshop-labour prices for custom-made art: you deserve a Cool Kevin.

Little Wee Birdy

Here’s what I’ve got so far with my Raven’s Landing dagger. The icicle part is developing nicely but … I have to admit that the bird is simply too small for the size of the knife. That, and one wing is up a little higher than the other. I can’t really fix that so I’ve been forced to carefully saw the bird off the dagger and I will now have to sculpt another (LARGER) raven.

Don’t worry, the bird survived the removal and is doing just fine. I’ll keep it for some other project. Probably a Halloween decoration. I learned a lot with the first sculpting so I really don’t count it as time wasted.

Now I’d like to introduce you to this little whoopsie. What happened to this thing? First I need to explain why there’s a balloon. When you have a container full of liquid latex for moulding, you need to be careful of it drying out on contact with the air. That includes the air inside the container! How do you preserve your latex for as long as possible?

You inflate a balloon a little bit and stick it in the container to take up space. That way, you get much less air touching the latex and it lasts longer.

That’s all well and good when you use your latex before its expiry date. I … didn’t. *sad trombone* So when the latex began to solidify inside the container, it bonded with the balloon (because it’s also made of latex!). It also gave the balloon several extra layers of latex, so now the air is trapped inside the very sorry looking thing and it can’t deflate.

I will keep this little abomination as a trophy of my failures. I shall call it “Garbage Heart” because it looks like some manner of artificial organ and can’t be used for anything but a paperweight.

What else have we got going on this week? I’m troubleshooting a problem I’m having with the Arabian Nights sword circuitry. (Can’t figure out where I flubbed up the circuit so I just have to do it again.

Annnd I have to go fight with Posti because they’re holding onto my carving cups until I pay them the duty fee. Which I already¬†paid¬†to¬†customs¬†directly. Have I mentioned lately how much I hate shipping? Get it together you guys. Seriously. It’s really hard to do business in a remote country when I can’t get my freaking stuff.

Wish me luck!

I should take more pics

I got really in the swing of things last week and totally forgot to take pictures of most of the stuff I was doing! Silly me. Anyhow, I sanded and buffed the Arabian Nights sword. It’s ready for its light to be installed! I just have to go pick up the electronics this morning and then mill the slot for the electronics into the handle. I cannot wait to show you this project once it’s completed. I have some really great ideas for the handle.

I also got the first layer of air-dry clay on the Raven’s Landing annnd …

You can see the problem can’t you? Yep. I mounted him too far back. He looks like he’s falling off backwards! The handle of the knife needs to be in line with the blade or the middle part there will just bend and snap when it’s used. No good!

So I simply sawed off the top portion of the stick where the raven is perched, cut a diagonal piece out of the blade, and re-mounted it with epoxy. It took a couple tries to get the angle right. Now it has a second layer of clay on it and is awaiting my attentions when I arrive at the workshop today. ūüôā

I did a little more work on the witchlight prototype. I’ve been having issues with getting the “lid” to fit on it nice and flush so it’s not clear where the divide is. *grumble* Lots of tinkering because I have to wait for the air dry clay to dry in between each thing I change. Oh well. At least I should be done before the series ends. ūüė¶ And here I thought the electronics were going to be the hard part! I figured that out ages ago.

Anyway. I’ve got to figure out where this electronics shop is so I can go get my lighting stuff. Wish me luck!

Polishing Day

I have got some great news for you all. Check out my new baby!

What? You thought I had one of those stinking screaming mini-humans? Hah!

After I accidentally loaded my old vacuum pump with hydraulic oil instead of vacuum pump oil (oops!), it has never worked right again. Overheating. Loud banging noises. Foaming oil in the sight glass … It was bad. I needed a new one.

Thankfully, my buddies at Unicorn Tools had my back and got me a great price on a bigger, beefier vacuum pump. This one is getting pampered, I can tell you that much. They even sent along a spare container of the correct oil. Thank you guys so much! It takes about 3 seconds for this beast to pull all the air out of the vacuum chamber and it hums along like a champ under load. Love it!

Bask in its beauty.

And now that I have a working vacuum pump once again, I can cast things! Woo! Back to making swords!

Speaking of making swords …

Oh yes I did. Those of you familiar with my models will recognise Zaapiel, the exotic ring-sword inspired blade. The funky “spikes” sticking off of it are simply the little tabs that are created by the bubble traps in the mould. They get trimmed off before sanding and polishing happens.

Now this sword has some bubbles in it due to a resin issue I had, but the person it’s for said it looked cool as-is so we’re going with it. If you look closely, it looks like they’re some kind of magic spell firing down the length of the blade from the hand of some powerful magus.

ZAP!

That’s going to look really cool when it’s lit up. ūüôā

The issue I was having with the resin was that I was using Alumilite Clear Slow and this resin tends to “gel” up after a few months of not being used. If this happens to you, do not panic and do not throw it away. All you need to do is put it in a water-tight container and give it a hot water bath for a few hours and it will be liquid again.

I portioned out about 500mL of resin, stuck it in a Ziploc container, sealed it, and popped it in a hot water bath. Every now and then I took it out, dried¬†it¬†off¬†really¬†thoroughly, opened it up, and stirred it until it was the liquid consistency I wanted. Now, you’ll notice I emphasised “dried¬†it¬†off¬†really¬†thoroughly” and that’s because resin is really, really finicky about moisture. Even a little dampness. So you can imagine what a drop or two of water in the mix would do to it. Be careful when you’re handling it.

So I re-liquefied it, vacuumed it, and still got bubbles in the finished product? Yep. That was my fault. You see, resin cures faster when it’s warm. Annnnd I forgot to cool the resin down after its hot water bath. I just went straight to the degassing and mixing and pouring. Whoops. I got a little too gung-ho and eager to try out this new sword mould. So I should have gotten twelve minutes of working time with the resin but I had slightly less than that because it was quite warm and the bubbles couldn’t escape as well before it hardened.

But we still ended up with a really cool result so I guess I’m learning stuff about mould-making and handling my materials effectively. Yay for learning!

Today, of course, I move on to the next stage of the build and that means wet-sanding the whooooole surface and getting a consistent overall clarity and shine. And that means I’m working from home today where I have running water. Yup. Picture me standing in the bathroom with my hands in the sink for … let’s not think about how many hours. That’s my work day today. LOL

As a little bonus on the end here, check out where we are on the raven statuette!

Sorry it’s a little hard to see its features on camera. In person, though, the black paint makes it easier for me to see imperfections and correct them. I noticed that the angle of its beak was a little off on its right side so I had to do some sanding and filing and a little carving to get it the way I wanted it. This piece will be getting some more smoothing, re-painting (to check again for errors), and sealing before I move on to the next part of the project.

As a bonus-bonus, here is the current state of “Thorn” (working name). It’s so comfortable to hold.

When can we expect to see it appear in my Etsy store? Well … that depends on when the person who asked for it gets back to me. LOL

Okay, time for me to stop yammering and go pick up some more sandpaper. It’s sleeting outside so uh … wish me luck. XD

Little Wee Pokey

It’s so cuuuuute! This was a really good test of the new DIY paperclay stuff. Light, strong. mouldable, and sandable. I’m quite pleased!

This here knife is currently going by the name of Thorn, just so I have something to call it. It is double-edged for maximum utility (slashing or stabbing) and provides a little bit of protection to the hand while blocking another blade.

Yes, yes, panicking parents, it’s not actually sharp. I don’t make real weapons. I make art pieces. I do envision how a blade would actually work if it were real, though, so my designs at least make some logical sense. So many fantasy weapons just look … preposterous.

Like A: it’s half the size of your body; you’re never going to lift it, and B: if you managed to, you’re never going to successfully stick it in the other guy, and C: if you somehow managed to accomplish that (like if he was asleep or something) you would never be able to get it out again. Or quite possibly D: your dagger has six blades on it they’re all curved at an angle even a snake would find obscene and half of them are pointed back at you what are you doing with your life?

Much more practical.

What else have I got for you today? Well, I put some more reinforcement on the wings of the raven.

Cause a cross-guard needs to actually … guard. Yeah. This one is more decorative than anything else though if I’m perfectly honest. I’m okay with that. ^_^

Alright, off to the workshop. Wish me luck!

Clay Days

So! My vacuum pump has finally bit the dust. Poor thing. ūüė¶ I am going to try to get the filter cleaned and looked at and maybe something replaced but I wasn’t willing to take the thing apart until I knew I had a nice new pump on the way that I could be sure would work. Cause let’s face it, it’s better to have a pump that sort of works for a short period of time than a pump that doesn’t work at all.

I have ordered that new pump and I am awaiting its arrival. Hopefully it will come soon! What am I doing in the meantime? Some design work. Some experiments with clay. Annnd slowly progressing on that neato raven sculpture I’ve been working on.

I’ve been reinforcing the raven statuette with DAS paperclay. You might remember me mentioning that most of the sculpture was made with Sculpy. I got to the point with it that it was too wiggly to safely work on the details without smushing the back of the wings or vice versa so I just decided to bake it and finish the detailing in an air dry clay.

I’m quite pleased with how it’s going.

Behold! A rock!

It’s a lovely rock. I know what you’re thinking. Ethan’s finally snapped. Now he’s showing us his rock collection on his work blog. But before you stage an intervention, let me reveal to you that this rock has a secret!

It’s hollow! Remember that DIY paperclay recipe I said I was going to try out? Well, I did and it is fantastic for creating stone-like textures. It’s quite hard but I found I was able to hollow it out quite easily with a small carving tool. This is to be the beginning of my new witchlight model.

Betcha thought I forgot eh? Nope! I’ve just been struggling with the execution of the project. It’s a rather demanding thing to accomplish and I really want to get it right and make it look cool.

Here’s the video of the paperclay recipe I used. I followed it precisely. It turned out great! After five-ish days or so it got stiff and lumpy so I had to add some more water to it and beat it up a little to get it going again. It was still chunkier than it was when it was fresh so I’d very much recommend only making as much as you need and using it within a day or two. I’ll let you know how the rehydrated clay works, versus the fresh stuff.

So I mentioned design work! I’ve had a request for the tiniest little Seraph Blade I’ve ever made. 15.22cm (6″) total. I was stumped as to how I was supposed to make something that wouldn’t look ridiculous and end up with the handle being longer than the blade. But then my wife mentioned skinning knives to me. Those are short but wide and have a really nice curve to them.

I took some inspiration from various models I looked at and came up with this design. The middle, ring, and pinkie finger rest on the handle proper while the index finger goes through the hole in the blade. I added a thumb guard to keep the hand safe from sliding onto the edge of the blade when it’s all slippery with demon ichor. ūüėČ

Demons thinking they’ve caught a lucky break and found a Shadowhunter unarmed will be in for a nasty little surprise. It might be intimidating to get that close and personal with the infernal, but a hunter’s gotta do what a hunter’s gotta do. I know some of you will have the moxie to pull it off.

I’ll have some more progress pictures for you soon. Everybody cross your fingers for a quick shipping of my new vacuum pump so I can get that pretty Arabian sword cast in resin! Can’t wait to show you the completion of that project!

Blades and Birds

Hoo boy do I ever have a lot of pictures to show you today! First, we get to look at the newly created mould for Zaapiel for the super cool Arabian Nights project. Yay! I am so very pleased with how it turned out especially because my vacuum pump was dyyyying throughout the process of degassing it. (Seriously, I need a new one. My wallet is sad. ūüė¶ )

What lurks beneath this slab of blue goo?

It’s a sword! (As if anybody had any doubts about what it was… LOL) That’s the first side done. I actually managed to remember to take photos of the mould box this time.

Let’s have a little peek at the anatomy of this mould box here and explore some money-saving tricks! The straight parts near the handle are simple MDF board with laminate on one side to keep things from sticking to its porous surface. The wiggly parts all around the blade are flexible plastic sheet. The upside of using this sort of sheet, is that I can make it the shape that I need instead of one big rectangle every time. This saves money on silicone.

The downside of using the flexible sheet is that it takes longer to set up and it’s more fiddly. It also takes more hot glue to stick together and fill gaps. The wooden sticks you see are there to keep the plastic sheet at a 90 degree angle so the two halves of the mould will actually line up. The wire that stretches across the width of the box in three places helps those six reinforcement sticks from bowing outward when the weight of the silicone starts to push on the walls as it’s poured in.

If you choose to use this method of moulding, take a moment to consider how much you charge (or would charge) customers for your time per hour. Think about how long it will take to get the mould box the way you want it. How much will that time cost? Now compare that to the price of the silicone you will be saving by shaping the mould box more closely to the object you’re moulding. Which will be cheaper?

In this case, I saved approximately 100 euros of silicone. Since I charge 10 euros per hour for my time, and it took me less than 10 hours to fiddle with the mould box, I saved money by using the plastic sheets. Your results may be different, so it’s worthwhile to check!

Back to the pictuuuuures! Here’s the crazy silicone sandwich we all have come to know and love. I’m proud to say I didn’t have any leaks throughout the entire process. Gosh I’ve come a long way from where I began. It seems like only yesterday I —

… you know what, nevermind. Let’s go back to the pictures. Shush.

It’s a win! Two beautiful, bubble-free halves of a sword mould. I cannot wait to get resin into this baby and see what it can do. Will my new bubble-trap design work? Is everything truly straight and perfect? I don’t know! We’ll have to find out when I get my new vacuum pump so I can degas the resin properly. No skipping steps! That’s the way to get a crappy result.

Now, I mentioned birds in the title didn’t I? What was that all about? Well! I’m ready to reveal to you the beginnings of a new project. It has nothing to do with Shadowhunters. (*gasp!* I know. It’s crazy isn’t it?) This new project that I’ve been so secretive about is part of a creative vision that has deep personal meaning to me. I hope to share this dream with you so we can all enjoy it together.

If you guessed “raven” you are correct! This bird is fully baked now so the clay is hard. It still requires a lot of detail work, smoothing, and tinkering, but I had to render the clay stiff enough to support my sculpting tools fixing and fussing around on it without getting bent out of shape. The rest of the shaping will be done with either an air-dry clay or Milliput. I haven’t decided yet.

This project has a long way to go still, I hope you’ll stay tuned for its evolution. Until next time, wish me luck!