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.

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!

Breakthrough!

Research is annoying, boring, and absolutely necessary. I bet you’re tired of seeing these little squares aren’t you? I sure am. Silicone and resin are both notoriously finicky substances. Each brand and each type has their own particular formula and behaviour. Luckily, I knew to expect this and bought extra to test and fiddle with before casting a big beautiful sword.

Always. Buy. Extra.

So what can you do when your materials are not behaving themselves they way they should? Search online for the answers, do some more digging, ask other artists, watch videos, read tutorials, contact the manufacturer. If it turns out that there’s more than one possibility, you’ll find yourself in the unfortunate situation I’ve been in for the past few weeks.

You have to make the best guess you can as to what went wrong and do it again changing only¬†one thing at a time. It’s tedious and frustrating and you’ll really,¬†really want to make it go faster, but it’s necessary to isolate the problem so you can fix it. If you change more than one thing and suddenly it works, (or messes up even MORE) then you’ll never know where the mistake happened in the first place! The ultimate goal is learning more about how the materials work so you’ll waste less and be more sure of yourself later on.

You’ve all seen my first attempt with Alumilite.

IMG_2231[1]
Why is it sticky!?
What happened? The resin was too cold. My workshop is only about 17-18 degrees Celsius. (Yeah it’s not so comfy this time of year.) That’s too chilly for Alumilite waterclear to cure and not even a heat gun on the mould beforehand made a difference.

For the second attempt, I put the silicone mould in my mini oven that I use for clay baking and propped the door open. This kept the internal temperature of the oven at a toasty 50 degrees Celsius.

File 12-12-2017, 9.35.03 AM

Well, it’s not sticky at least … It cured all the way through, nice and hard, but there were weird, flaky patches on the surface of the resin. What could possibly have caused…

Wait a second. Ah! The plaster “jacket” I made to keep the silicone mould flat and secure was made of gypsum. Why is that important? Gypsum doesn’t conduct heat very well at all. That can be really useful for some projects. For this one, though, it sucked. The plaster caused the temperature of the resin to be inconsistent.

Worse than that, the flaking of the resin actually scratched the silicone mould. That means anything I cast with that mould will have scratches all over it. Greaaaat. So I had to make another mould. I made it double the thickness of the original mould so it could stay flat and secure all by itself.

File 12-12-2017, 9.35.44 AM

Ah yeaaaaah! That’s what I’m talking about! The resin stayed nice and toasty throughout its curing and hardened all the way through. No stickiness, no weird bubbles, no probl- Oh. Yeah there are some dark flecks in there. It’s not a uniform pink.

Sigh.

Yeah, the dropper I used to put the dye in the resin had a semi-dried “booger” in it. (I call bits of congealed paint, glue, whatever that gets stuck in the nozzle of something a “booger”. I don’t think that’s the technical term for it.) So the clump of dye came out in the resin and failed to dissolve into it.

But I’m still happy. “Use a clean dropper” is a really easy fix!

As I always say: “There’s no such thing as perfection; only beauty.” So how can we feel better at being forever imperfect? Just have a look at where we started and see how much we’ve grown!

File 12-12-2017, 9.35.57 AM

Are you stoked? I’m stoked! Let’s get to the workshop and make cool stuff!

Yes, You Can Ask Me Cosplay Questions

I’ve noticed that I get questions now and then from people who want help with creating their cosplay props. I decided to make a quick post letting you know that it’s okay to do that and I will get back to you as promptly as I can.

You can ask me on my website, my Facebook page, or by email. I don’t mind and I don’t ask for payment for my advice. I don’t know everything but I have been doing this for a few years now and I can usually help track down solutions to problems people run into while crafting.

Fans gotta help fans after all. Just remember I’m doing it in my spare time kay? Good luck with your projects guys. ūüôā

How to Run a Writers’ Circle

It’s a bit of a departure from my usual “Ooh Shiny!” swords and whatnot, but ultimately, I am a writer and I do writerly things. ¬†One of those writerly things is providing support to my fellow creative people. For three years, I have run the Bonavista Writers’ Circle in Montreal: a group of writers of various skill levels and interests who come together to brainstorm, edit, critique each other’s work, and provide workshops for skill sharing. ¬†We’ve all learned so much together and come through as stronger, more confident writers.

I’m not able to run the Circle anymore because my wife and I are moving to Finland for work. I’m saddened at having to leave behind this amazing group of people, but I will look back on our time together with pride and a smile. The Circle has taught me a lot, and I’d like to share with you what I’ve learned about running a group like this. Chances are, if there isn’t a Circle in your area, you’ll have to do what we did, and create your own.

Continue reading “How to Run a Writers’ Circle”

How to Self Publish a Novel in Canada

I was recently asked the process one must go through to self-publish a novel as I did.¬†Okay. Let me see if I can make an explanation as easy as possible.¬†I shall be completely straightforward and honest so brace yourself! It’s better than getting nasty surprises later.

1. Get an ITIN.¬†You’re going to need that in order to claim the Canadian-US tax treaty and stop them from withholding 30% of your profits every time you make a sale across the boarder. Do this FIRST because it takes a full year for it to kick in once it’s processed. Do not baulk at the fee. This is a business. If you invest nothing, you’ll get exactly that in return.
2. Get an ISBN.¬†If you’re selling your book in more than one format, request more than one ISBN. I requested 3 because I’m selling my book as an .epub and .mobi (two different ebook formats, the latter being exclusive to Amazon), and as a paperback.

Continue reading “How to Self Publish a Novel in Canada”