Dan Baines

Fairy Rings and Monstrous Things

Filtering by Tag: FeeJee Mermaid

The FeeJee Mermaid Sideshow Barker Box

After exhibiting the FeeJee Mermaid at numerous events over the past few years you can imagine that I became tired of explaining what she was, where she came from etc, so I had an idea...

I found an antique church collection box and installed some mp3 electrikery to create the 'Automated Sideshow Barker'.  Just insert an old English penny and an informative tale ensues!

Here are a few additional images of completed Feejee Mermaids.  Anyone familiar with my Mummifed Fairy Workshop kit I funded via Kickstarter a few years back may be interested to know that a Feejee Mermaid project is also in the pipeline so watch this space.

FeeJee Mermaid in 5 Days, Prop Build Project Day 5

Well here it is, day five and what a journey! The mermaid dried perfectly overnight and all that was required this morning was a quick coat of varnish on the claws and a final dry brush to the face. Part of being an artist is knowing when to stop and deadlines make that decision for you (which is why I like them!)

As my mind ticked over in bed last night it occurred to me that to the uninitiated most won’t have a clue what the mermaid is. This usually happens at events where I exhibit my fairies, I have to answer the same question multiple times - “what is it?”, “is it real?” etc…

To pre-empt those questions I thought that with the remaining time I would create a small display and ‘dress’ the prop with artefacts and interesting items that tell a story to the observer.

In addition to the newspaper clipping and faux ivory mermaids I added yesterday I also added a few aged sailor’s personal items such as a maritime compass and sundial and a bosun’s call. I framed a small photo of a Victorian chap standing next to another FeeJee Mermaid and finally added some aged signage to the plinth and an upturned antique tray I had lying around.

Underneath the tray I added an mp3 player and speaker which plays eerie carnival music for added atmosphere.

The whole ensemble creates an eye-catching exhibit worthy of any travelling sideshow and I’m over the moon with the results.

Over the past 5 days I have tried some new ideas, some worked and others didn’t but that is the essence of prop making – experimentation and developing existing methods.

I hope you’ve enjoyed following the blog over the past week. If you have a go yourself please drop me a line and let me know how you’re getting on, I’d be very interested in having a look at your work.

FeeJee Mermaid in 5 Days, Prop Build Project Day 4

Time certainly flies when you’re working to a deadline! I was worried last night that I wouldn’t have enough drying time to complete by Friday however, I awoke to glorious sunshine and a baking hot day in tropical Kent! Perfect weather for today’s antics!

My silicone fish scale texturizer has set and everything on the mermaid from yesterday was dry and ready for the next stage.

I mixed a batch of Herculite plaster and some brown powder colour pigment, thicker than you would use for casting. This was about the same consistency as Angel Delight (if you’ve ever eaten that muck!).

 I then painted the entire mermaid in a thin layer working it into the rubberized tights skin.

This was then left to dry.

The next stage involved mixing another batch of Herculite, thicker this time. It was the consistency of wet clay so it could be picked up and spread over the mermaid’s body by hand.

Working from the head to the tale, covered small sections at a time, I smoothed the plaster and then textured the surface with a damp piece of crepe bandage to create a goosebumped skin effect.

To texture the tale I used the silicone pad I cast yesterday. The silicone was lightly pressed on to the plaster. It needs to be noted that the texture left behind is not an exact impression of the silicone scales. It creates a much rougher pattern but with a slight element of regularity. The true effect will not be seen until the final stage.

Once the entire mermaid had been coated and textured it was left to dry in the morning sun.

Now to turn our ghostly white mermaid into a mummified relic of the sea! I use two types of Dirty Down Special Effects Dye for this stage – Ash Blonde and Rust.

The Mermaid was given a coat of Ash Blonde. The plaster is very ‘thirsty’ and soaks the dye up very quickly. I gave her 2 coats and then left her to dry for 10 minutes.

I then gave the mermaid a coat of Rust. The same technique is used here that I used to create the baking parchment fins. Spraying the body at varying distances to create lighty covered areas and spots of saturation. I would spray areas like the eyes & mouth as close as possible to create darker pigmentation and lighter, further away sprays for the underbelly. You’re effectively shading with the spray can.

The spines were coated exactly the same way and the tips were wiped with a damp cloth to create the gradation of colour.

The tail and fins were then attached with liquid latex and rapidly dried with a heat gun. The latex was then also given a coat of Dirty Down to blend it in.

Ear fins and a dorsal fin were also attached.

The mermaid was then given some fresh air and sunshine for a further hour to dry.

The fins and spines were sprayed with Windsor & Newton gloss canvas varnish. This, when applied to the baking parchment on both sides makes it translucent and also enhances the colour.

Additional coats of Dirty Down and varnish were applied until the right look was achieved.

To create a taxidermy fish semi glossy finish to the tale I lightly brushed the tail with polyurethane gloss varnish. Using the same principle as dry brushing to only deposit varnish on the raised textured sections. The varnish makes the plaster & dye turn almost black and finally reveals a fish scale type pattern.

Once all of the messy stuff was over with I removed the protective cover from the base and aged the bright red baize with more Rust dye.

I had a couple of faux ivory resin mermaids in the studio I made a couple of years ago for another project. I decided to also mount these on the base and added a reproduction newspaper clipping featuring the exhibition of a FeeJee Mermaid.

Right, that’s enough for today. I’ll let everything dry and I’ll come back with a fresh eye tomorrow and apply the finishing touches for a final photo shoot.

FeeJee Mermaid in 5 Days, Prop Build Project Day 3

We’re almost at the halfway mark and it’s time to finally give our mermaid some character by adding the skin and creating a face.

A matt black acrylic undercoat was applied to the whole mermaid.

To add some 'skin' to the bones I used a pair of tights.

I cut one leg off and then removed the foot section. The foot section was used for the head while the remaining tube section of the leg was used for the body.

The tights were then stretched over the skeleton and tail and secured with elastic bands, these sections will be removed and cut away later. The whole mermaid was then given another coat of liquid latex, this will secure the ‘skin’ to the bones and tighten slightly to reveal the bone structure underneath.

To accelerate the drying process a number of hot air blowers where arranged around the mermaid.

I then wanted to create a fish scale texturizer for the final skin layer. I rolled a piece of polymer clay and created a fish scale pattern with a sculpting tool.

I then covered the clay with a thick layer of plaster and once this was dry I covered the plaster in another layer of plaster coated crepe bandage to create a hard shell.

Once the plaster was dry I removed the polymer master and poured a thin layer of silicone rubber into the plaster mould. This will give me a flexible scale texturizer that I will use over the whole tail section during the next stage.

Once the latex skin was dry I could apply the spines and work on the face by applying teeth and modelling the eyes.

Using a scalpel I cut slits for the eyes, nose and mouth and rolled back the rubberised tights to create lips and eyelids.

The teeth were created by taking real fossilized shark’s teeth and splitting them with pliers to make sharp shards.

To insert the teeth I simply lifted the lips and placed the teeth behind the skin with a dab of superglue to secure.

The spines were positioned with a hot glue gun and then coated around the base with latex to strengthen the join.

I’ve left the mermaid to dry over night as tomorrow I will apply the material that will give the mummified effect.

FeeJee Mermaid in 5 Days, Prop Build Project Day 1

This 5 day tutorial was originally released on the blog of one of my previous business ventures 'Pyewackette and Pecke'.  It was a dark cousin of Etsy, a site dedicated to hunting down the best alternative artists and collectors and providing them with a platform to showcase their dark talents and products.  The project folded due to high demand for my own personal work so rather than spread myself too thinly I decided to focus my creative efforts here. 

I have received a huge amount of e-mails requesting the tutorial to be republished so here it is.  Enjoy me hearties arrrgh!

Unlike other artists I know, I work best under pressure and within time constraints however, I’ve not left this project to the last minute by choice. It’s been so busy here at Pyewackett HQ that I’ve merely lost track of the hours, days and weeks and possibly even the year! Anyway, next Saturday is the Alternative Market in Derby hosted by Curiouser & Curiouser and I was planning a nice big centre piece for my display, namely a FeeJee Mermaid. One thing has led to another and as you may have guessed I’ve not even started so I had an idea...

Over the next few days I will be posting a daily blog on the build of the mermaid. It needs to be complete and ready to ship to Derby on Friday so it’s going to be tight! I’ve made many bizarre props and creatures over the years but never a FeeJee Mermaid so I will be pulling together a whole host of building methods, techniques and idea I’ve never realised to hopefully create something worth displaying this coming Saturday.

Not enough people in the prop building community share their ideas which is a shame. Some people guard their techniques like Smaug sat on his hoard of Dwarven gold. If we don’t share then our precious methods die with us. As Adam Savage mentioned at MakerFaire 2014 – no secrets!

In his own wise words -

"nobody is going to take your technique and then steal your ideas, nobody has a monopoly on being you and if you think that your technique is what makes you interesting you’re being ridiculous, so share your techniques! When you share an idea, somebody may come back to you with a better way of doing it and you’re going to learn something from them and develop your own techniques even further."

So, I’m going to cover what I do right here. If you want to try it for yourself and go for it, if you know a better way of doing something let me know! Either way sharing, experimenting and learning is what prop building is all about, so through my blogs and workshops I hope to promote that way of thinking.

Right, let’s get to it…

Here's what I've achieved at the end of day 1.  We'll then look at what I did to get this far and any challenges faced....

I wanted my mermaid to be true to the original size which is about half a metre in length, I also had to consider mounting options at I did not have a display case or dome in stock.

The mermaid is built around an 18” medical skeleton model, a resin cast of a human infant skull and tail made from armature wire, tin foil and air dry clay.

Hands

In the past I have had to source real magpie or crow feet to obtain claws for fingers. Thankfully I can now just 3D print a bird’s foot, claws n’all without harming a single creature. I use the Up Plus 2 printer and using black ABS filament I printed 4 sets of Osprey feet. To get the shiny claw finish I brushed each foot with pure acetone. This also smooths out any imperfections and bumps let over from the printing process.

Each printed toe and claw was then snipped and attached to a wire hand armature. As mentioned before, I like to make the skeletons of the creatures I make fully poseable so that I can mess with the dynamic posing before any other materials are applied.

The hand shape was filled out with white Milliput and the original skeleton hand was replaced with the new larger clawed mermaid hand.

Skeleton

As I discovered from my mummified fairy hoax, then best way to replicate a corpse if to use a realistic skeleton to drape you skin over. Don’t bother making your own, just an ‘off the shelf’ school biology model will do. You just need to make it poseable. I just deconstruct the skeleton, removing all screws etc and rearticulate it with armature wire and tape. To bend the spine into position I just heat it with a heat gun, bend to the desired position and then immerse in cold water to set it.

The signature feature on a FeeJee Mermaid is the oversized freaky head. I removed the standard skull from the skeleton and cast an infant skull in resin. I then modelled a nose and closed eyes with Milliput. The ears will go on later.

After a lower jaw section was cast and attached, the head was then screwed to the articulated skeleton.  The upper torso is now starting to take shape and the over sized head and hands already give the FeeJee mermaid that signature look.

Tail

I’ve never tackled a fish tail before (excuse the pun) so this was new territory for me. To gauge the desired length I cut a large piece or armature wire, twisted one end around the pelvis of the skeleton and then cut to what looked like the right length for a mermaid’s tail.

With the remaining Milliput left over from the hands and face I rolled a number of spines that I will use later to model a dorsal fin.

A rough tail shape was then modeled with tin foil wrapped around the wire.  Tin foil was also packed into the rib cage cavity and and abdominal area to give additional strength and to act as a key for later applications of modeling material to grip to.

Base

At this stage I needed a base. This would allow me to handle the mermaid safely, dynamically pose the skeleton and allow it to dry without any contact with surfaces which may crumple or alter the position.

The studio is full of remnants of old projects and bits that I keep in hope they may come in handy one day. I had a nice large and heavy diorama base from an aborted Golden Demon Awards project so I roughed it up on the belt sander and gave it a quick dusting with 2-part crackle paint.  A red velvet baize was then fitted.

To mount the mermaid I took an antique wooden candle stick and dismantled it. I then drilled a hole in the plinth and screwed the candle stick to it.

A steel rod was fitted into the rib cage of the mermaid and a hole was drilled into the top of the candle stick allowing the mermaid to be mounted securely but also removable.

Tail Part 2

Once the mermaid was securely mounted I could continue modelling the tail. This was done with air dry clay, not everyone’s favourite material but it allows me to sculpt what I want quickly. It does crack when it dries however, I will cover what I do to get around this on Wednesday when it will hopefully be dry.

I continued the vertebrae from the upper torso and down the fish tail and added some rough texture. Most of this will be covered over the next few days with layers of latex and plaster so a neat finish is not important.

As you can see from the image above, the base has been wrapped and taped to protect over the coming days.

The main aim of today was to complete the foundations of the mermaid figure and get it mounted.  I'm hoping the clay will dry by Wednesday morning at the latest although I have bought the mermaid into the house in the hope of speeding up the drying process.  Depending on how she does over night will dictate what I cover tomorrow!

© Dan Baines 2016