The first Garden of Earthly Delights Edition triggered a number of commissions from Bosch fans as well as a few Pieter Bruegel the Elder requests which I am currently working on.
Filtering by Category: Studio
Created with a traditional spiritualist theme in mind The Davenport Brothers edition captures the mystery and trickery of the day in the form of a miniature spirit cabinet.
The Davenports began in 1854, less than a decade after Spiritualism had taken off in America. After stories of the Fox sisters, the Davenports started reporting similar occurrences. Their father took up managing his sons and the group was joined by William Fay, a Buffalo resident with an interest in conjuring. Their shows were introduced by a former "Restoration Movement" minister, Dr. J. B. Ferguson, a follower of Spiritualism, who assured the audience that the brothers worked by spirit power rather than deceptive trickery. Ferguson was apparently sincere that the Davenports possessed spiritual powers.
The Davenports' most famous effect was the box illusion. The brothers were tied inside a box which contained musical instruments. Once the box was closed, the instruments would sound. Upon opening the box, the brothers were tied in the positions in which they had started the illusion. Those who witnessed the effect were made to believe supernatural forces had caused the trick to work.
The miniature version of the brother's box illusion mirrors their larger original with the ability to make musical instruments play from within, move objects and even make the curtains twitch in response to questions.
I discovered this truly bizarre 'toy' by sheer coincidence, or fate you might say. When you're in my line of business you get to meet some wonderfully eccentric people and a recent FeeJee Mermaid commission led me to a client who had one of the strangest collections I'd ever seen. I delivered the mermaid personally to a location near Nottingham as they don't travel well, especially when dropped a dozen times by a disgruntled courier. The client was over the moon with the new addition to his menagerie and we started to discuss other pieces of my work such as The Swami Spirit Altar. I explained that the piece was inspired by the 'Zoltar' fortune telling machines that pepper the esplanades of many seaside towns and that I loved the aesthetics of these quirky amusements.
He then disappeared to make a cup of coffee and returned a few minuted later with two mugs of scalding hot beverages and an old box tucked under his arm. “Here, you can have that”, he said and thrust me the coffee and the box. When I looked inside I was confronted by a plastic demonic face grinning back at me nestled on top of a pile of cogs, dusty springs and dead spiders. “I bet you've never seen one of these before”, he exclaimed to which I replied a resounding “No!”. He sat back in his chair, lit his skull meerschaum pipe and started to recount a tale that not only amazed but also perplexed me. “If you don't believe me, read it for yourself”, he said and pointed at the battered box. Amongst the chipped devil-red Bakelite and flame emblazoned rusty metal was a hand written note of what the mysterious contraption used to be.
'The Devil Made Me Do It', was a 'toy' manufactured by the obscure US Silver Shamrock Toy Co. in 1951. Fans of John Carpenter may recognise the company name as the manufacturer featured in Halloween III: Season of the Witch. In the movie Silver Shamrock Novelties was a mask and novelties company that had a very evil agenda so it was fitting that he may have named it after the original 1951 company. 'The Devil Made Me Do It' was the only item ever produced by Silver Shamrock and the production run was limited to an estimated 40 units. Colman Joyce, the company proprietor was a Baptist fanatic and although 'The Devil Made Me Do It' was made with the good intention of teaching children the evils of dealing with the devil, his venture backfired. After the events I am about to discuss almost all of the 'The Devil Made Me Do It' toys were destroyed and Joyce closed the factory and vanished never to be seen or heard from again.
The concept of the toy was simple and was meant to serve as a moral lesson demonstrating that if you leave your mind open to evil thoughts, the Devil can make you do things beyond your control. The world's first and last possession toy and definitely not something you'd find perched on the shelves in Toys-R-Us. The original machine came with a deck of cards which contained images of sins being committed such as theft, murder, blasphemy, hatred and all of the things you'd expect to find in a child's game created by a religious fruitcake. The child would mix the cards face down and select three at random, placing them in front of the Devil. Taking the Devil's red right hand the child would then move the hand left, right or centre so that it pointed at one of the three chosen cards. Once a final card had been selected the Devil's eyes would eerily light up and he would reveal a ticket naming the chosen card before it was even turned over. The child would then turn over their randomly selected card and it would match the ticket every time! Thus proving that the Devil could make them theoretically commit the sin on the card without them even knowing if they ever veered from the righteous path.
The folk on the bible belt loved the 'toy' as its demonic facade scared the hell out of the kids! Joyce traveled from parish to parish giving demonstrations of 'The Devil Made Me Do It' at Sunday Schools all over the deep south. And as you can imagine, the orders came rolling in. Nobody seemed to ask or be bothered how it worked, they just saw it as a tool to keep the kids on the straight and narrow. The kids also saw it as a challenge and tried to outsmart the Devil, but whatever card they selected the Devil already knew which one they had picked because obviously, the Devil made them do it!
After a year on the road touting his satanic toy to the masses things took a turn for the worse. On the 6th June 1952 in the small town of Prospect Hill a few miles east of Greensboro, North Carolina a young man named Bobby Kelly walked into his local Sunday school with a loaded revolver and gunned down 5 of his friends. As the rest of the class hid under tables to take cover he walked up to the blackboard and scrawled 'The Devil Made Me Do It' in chalk before pointing the gun at his head and firing the sixth bullet. The words on the blackboard struck a disturbing significance with the town as Joyce had only been there months before letting the Sunday school kids play with his 'toy'. Others also saw the date of the murder, the 6th June and that six bullets had been fired as not a coincidence but a sign that the Devil had indeed made Bobby Kelly kill his friends in cold blood. Other rumors circulated that when Bobby had a go on Joyce's toy he had picked the 'Murder' card thus confirming that this had been the catalyst behind the multiple homicide.
Colman Joyce became a hunted man and he was on the most wanted list in three states. Every parish that had purchased a copy of 'The Devil Made Me Do It' performed a blessing and burning of the strange device until nearly all traces of the toy were destroyed. Neither the law nor the church ever caught up with Joyce although it is thought he made it back to his factory, emptied the safe and then vanished. Joyce was never seen again and to this day he is still held responsible for the Prospect Hill murders. Some even believe he actually was the Devil using his toy of terror to infiltrate the church and corrupt it from the inside.
The account you have just read was compiled from the notes of Reverend Morrison who had traveled to the US in the mid 60s as part of an exchange program. He bought the battered remains of what is believed to be the last of Joyce's toys in existence back to the UK. In his notes he comments that the toy had been discovered under the floorboards of a storm damaged church in Wallins Creek while it was being rebuilt. Morrison had been sent to the area to help rebuild the church and provide support to the community, some of which had been made homeless by the storm. Intrigued by the box of broken parts Morrison decided to delve into their devilish past and soon discovered that Joyce's toy was still fresh in the minds of some fearful locals. What remains of 'The Devil Made Me Do It' were discovered by my client at a house clearance in Mansfield UK, the home town of Reverend Morrison. I've no doubt that he bought the toy home where it remaining in storage until his death at the ripe old age of 96.
And so I sit here writing this blog post with the grinning red Bakelite head staring at me wondering if all of this could be possible? A device that can predict something you've chosen before you even know what you've chosen? Does it predict or does it actually influence your choice and if so how does it influence the user? As a designer of illusions I have no idea how it works, but neither has anyone else apart from Colman Joyce who took the secret to his grave.
Regardless, I feel compelled to rebuild and restore this last copy of 'The Devil Made Me Do It' to its former glory and maybe I can finally solve the mystery myself. Every time I look at that head on my studio desk I can almost hear it begging to built once again but unfortunately not all of the parts appear to be there and I have no reference material to work from regarding what it originally looked like. The box contains the following parts -
a red Bakelite head
a black Bakelite cloaked body
a red Bakelite hand and pointing mechanism
6 sin cards – these are individually numbered as 12, 32, 17, 5, 6 and 38 so I assume there must have originally been more than 38 cards
a wooden enclosure that the cloaked body would have been mounted on. This still has some traces of stickered artwork showing the Silver Shamrock logo and some pretty cool looking hotrod style flames around the base
a power cord, probably to power the lights for the eyes although no bulb is present
the rest of the components appear to be an electronic/clockwork mix
Luckily my wife's Uncle in Germany repairs clocks so I'll be shipping the mechanical parts to him for an inspection and hopefully some idea of how they originally worked. To date nothing actually reveals how the prediction/influence mechanism works or if indeed there is one which also leaves open the possibility of it working supernaturally like the Ouija Board. It's a restoration project from hell with a pretty horrific past so it only seems fitting I attempt to resurrect the 'toy' even if it only acts as a demonic conversation piece in my collection.
Has the Devil made me do it? Probably, but Joyce's demonic toy deserves a second chance.
I'll be posting the rebuilt 'The Devil Made Me Do It' on the blog soon so stay tuned!
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I've been aware of Guillermo del Toro's 'At Home with Monsters' exhibition since the news was announced and I blogged about it a few months back.. Due to the vastness of his collection it never even crossed my mind that some of my work that resides in Bleak House would be included.
Last week I received an e-mail from a curatorial assistant at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) along with a photograph of the Ectometron I made for Guillermo a number of years ago. To my utter befuddlement he told me that my work was part of the exhibition and that he wanted the caption information for the display piece! To be part of the exhibition and to be selected as an influential piece from such a huge collection is both an honour and privilege, it's almost beyond belief.
The exhibition is accompanied by a fully illustrated catalogue published by Insight Editions. The 144 page volume is edited by Britt Salvesen, Jim Shedden, and Matthew Welch with contributions by Guillermo del Toro, Keith McDonald, Roger Clark, and Paul Koudounaris. The hardcover catalogue is $29.95 and is available at the LACMA Store and Art Catalogues. It's not available just yet but should be around the 31st July when the exhibition starts.
Following its presentation at LACMA, the exhibition will travel to its co-organizing institutions: the Minneapolis Institute of Art (February 26 – May 21, 2017) and the Art Gallery of Ontario (September 30,2017–January 7,2018).
Here's everything you need to know about the exhibition...
(Los Angeles—April 26, 2016) The Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) is pleased to announce Guillermo del Toro: At Home with Monsters (July 31–November 27, 2016), the filmmaker’s first museum retrospective. The exhibition explores del Toro’s creative process by bringing together elements from his films, objects from his vast personal collections, drawings from his notebooks, and approximately 60 objects from LACMA’s permanent collection. The diverse range of media—including sculpture, paintings, prints, photography, costumes, ancient artifacts, books, maquettes, and film—totals approximately 500 objects and reflects the broad scope of del Toro’s inspirations.
“To find beauty in the profane. To elevate the banal. To be moved by genre. These things are vital for my storytelling,” said del Toro. “This exhibition presents a small fraction of the things that have moved me, inspired me, and consoled me as I transit through life. It’s a devotional sampling of the enormous love that is required to create, maintain, and love monsters in our lives.”
“By bringing del Toro’s notebooks, collections, and film art into museum galleries, we acknowledge the curatorial aspects of his approach to filmmaking,” says Britt Salvesen, curator and department head of the Wallis Annenberg Photography Department and the Prints and Drawings department at LACMA. “On one level, he carefully constructs and stages his films in the manner of an exhibition. On another level, he fills their plots with commentaries about the social, psychological, and spiritual power of objects. In this retrospective, as in his extraordinary filmography, del Toro demonstrates the energizing effects of cross-pollination.”
Michael Govan, LACMA’s CEO and Wallis Annenberg Director, says, “This retrospective is a wonderful example of Art+Film at LACMA. Del Toro encourages us to ignore our traditional art-historical narratives and hierarchies of high and low culture, just as he blends and reinvents conventional genres in his films. With his ability to collapse time and space, history and fiction, nature and fantasy, he taps the latent potential at the core of our institutional mission.”
Guillermo del Toro is organized into eight thematic sections. The exhibition begins with Childhood and Innocence, exploring the central role children play in many of del Toro’s films. Often, these children can perceive alternate realities and give expression to unfiltered emotions in ways that adults cannot. Del Toro does not insulate his young protagonists from fear, abandonment, harm, or even death. At some level, del Toro’s films endlessly revisit his own childhood, which he felt was marred by a strict Catholic upbringing and bullying classmates but redeemed by books, movies, and horror comics. He began drawing at a very young age. To this day, del Toro maintains his early habit of keeping a notebook at hand to record ideas, phrases, lists, and images. Resources for his films, these journals are also essential to his evolution as an artist.
Victoriana, the next gallery, references the Romantic, Victorian, and Edwardian ages, as well as latter-day interpretations of the Victorian era. Charles Dickens, the quintessential Victorian writer, inspired the name of del Toro’s personal residence, Bleak House, a curated space from which many objects in the exhibition are borrowed. Dickens’s blend of realism and fantasy, fascination with the city, sense of humor, and predilection for taxonomy, multifarious character types, and intricate plot twists resonate in del Toro’s films. This gallery also demonstrates del Toro’s interest in the Victorian relationship to science, in which humans attempted to exert dominion over nature through meticulous categorization. As suggested by his extensive collection of insect specimens, images, and trinkets, del Toro has inherited a fascination with such creatures, although the insects in his films tend to break free of human control in spectacular ways.
Visitors will subsequently experience a version of Del Toro’s Rain Room (not that Rain Room), a favorite spot in Bleak House in which del Toro has installed a false window and special effects to simulate a perpetual thunderstorm.
The next section explores del Toro’s interest in Magic, Alchemy, and the Occult. His films are full of puzzles, talismanic devices, secret keys, and quests for forbidden knowledge. Many of del Toro’s characters are scientists, contemporary successors to the monks and alchemists who explored the boundaries between the holy and unholy. He cites the influence of H.P. Lovecraft, the idiosyncratic American writer whose work is considered foundational for the genres of horror and science fiction. Lovecraft’s vivid evocations of madness, transformation, and monstrosity continue to be a major source of inspiration; for the last decade, del Toro has been attempting to adapt Lovecraft’s novella At the Mountains of Madness (1936) for the screen.
Movies, Comics, Pop Culture delves into del Toro’s obsession with cinema, from B movies and horror films to directors Alfred Hitchcock and Luis Buñuel. Del Toro’s voracious appetite for film is matched by his enthusiasm for comic books and his admiration for a wide range of illustrators such as Moebius (Jean Giraud), Frank Frazetta, and Richard Corben. He has directed several comic-book adaptions, working closely with Mike Mignola on two films based on his Hellboy series. Always, del Toro refuses to abide by the traditional hierarchies between high and low culture.
Frankenstein and Horror reveals del Toro’s lifelong love affair with the tale of Dr. Frankenstein and his monster. He first absorbed the story as a child, via James Whale’s 1931 film, impressive in its Expressionist-inspired visual beauty. As a teenager, he read Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley’s novel Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus (1818), which emphasizes the monster’s essential fragility and vulnerability. The story became a touchstone for the young del Toro, who identified powerfully with the creature’s outsider status. The filmmaker now finds in Frankenstein an analogy to his directorial approach. Like the monster, his films are amalgams of used, discarded, and diverse source materials, given new life and purpose.
Del Toro’s fascination with monsters of all types is showcased in Freaks and Monsters. He sees some monsters as tragic: beautiful and heroic in their vulnerability and individuality, they mirror the hypocrisies of society and bring to light corrosive standards of perfection. Though he identifies with the tragic type of monster, del Toro is also adept at creating truly terrifying ones. He begins by thinking of a monster as a character, not simply an assembly of parts. It must be visually convincing from all angles, both in motion and at rest. In his notebooks, he constantly records ideas for distinguishing physical features that may come to fruition only years later. In addition to drawing the initial concepts, he is closely involved in fabrication—he entered the movie industry in Mexico as a special-effects artist—and has often expressed his preference for practical effects as opposed to computer-generated imagery.
The final section is Death and the Afterlife. Growing up in Guadalajara, Mexico, in the late 1960s and 1970s, del Toro had a number of disturbing confrontations with death, seeing corpses in the street, in a morgue, and in the catacombs beneath the church. His strict Catholic grandmother instilled in him the notion of original sin and even submitted him to exorcisms in a futile attempt to eradicate his love of monsters and fantasy. The pursuit of immortality—promised in Catholic doctrine as the reward for following the church’s teachings—is often seen in his work as a misguided, arrogant desire, destined to bring about the downfall of those caught up in it. Del Toro’s films often include characters acting entirely out of self-interest alongside others who are forced to make sacrifices. His flawed or damaged characters frequently find purpose in community: they take responsibility for their own survival and that of the individuals and environments around them.
Since its inception in 1965, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) has been devoted to collecting works of art that span both history and geography, in addition to representing Los Angeles's uniquely diverse population. Today LACMA is the largest art museum in the western United States, with a collection that includes over 130,000 objects dating from antiquity to the present, encompassing the geographic world and nearly the entire history of art. Among the museum’s strengths are its holdings of Asian art; Latin American art, ranging from masterpieces from the Ancient Americas to works by leading modern and contemporary artists; and Islamic art, of which LACMA hosts one of the most significant collections in the world. A museum of international stature as well as a vital part of Southern California, LACMA shares its vast collections through exhibitions, public programs, and research facilities that attract over one million visitors annually, in addition to serving millions through digital initiatives such as online collections, scholarly catalogues, and interactive engagement. LACMA is located in Hancock Park, 30 acres situated at the center of Los Angeles, which also contains the La Brea Tar Pits and Museum and the forthcoming Academy Museum of Motion Pictures. Situated halfway between the ocean and downtown, LACMA is at the heart of Los Angeles. Location and Contact: 5905 Wilshire Boulevard (at Fairfax Avenue), Los Angeles, CA, 90036 | 323 857-6000 |
As I entered through the castle gate the courtyard seemed eerily quiet. The horse drawn coach that had just taken me over the treacherous moors galloped into the distance while my shadow grew fainter as the sun slowly set. Sneaton Castle sat high upon the cliffs of Whitby overlooking the icy North Sea and the vampire infested fishing town below. It would soon be dark and the once busy streets quickly became deserted. Something gave me the impression that I also needed to follow suit and find a safe sanctuary before darkness fell
I had been summoned here by telegram some weeks earlier. The mysterious note, written in a strange ink that I could only assume was a fetid concoction of fish oil and blood, informed me that an annual gathering was about to take place. Once a year, on a given day when the stars align, a door shall open and strange adepts from remote corners of the globe will gather to share dark secrets and partake in forbidden rituals. Today was that day.
Although my invitation gave a date and location there was nobody at the castle gate to greet my arrival. My coach driver thought it unusual that I had been invited here as he proclaimed that, “The old Sneaton place had been empty for years. Nobody in the village dare go up after dark, what with all the screaming and strange lights an' all.” I shrugged off his superstitious clap-trap and apprehensively started to explore further.
In the center of the courtyard stood an old gypsy caravan, the doors wide open as if someone had been unloading its contents. On the sides, painted in a quirky carnival font were the words 'Dr. Diablo' and the figure of a man with a unnerving grin. I took an inquisitive look inside to see various instruments of magic. The smell of warm latex and talcum powder hung in the air like a perverted fog. Swords and torture devices hung from the leopard skin lined walls, from this alone I knew that the mysterious owner must be from Liverpool. With no sign of the deviant owner I continued my search.
The castle towers loomed over me like watchful stone giants as I ventured up a cobbled lane flanked by empty buildings. Then I smelt it. A faint scent of burning wood and the chatter of voices. Red embers floated in the humid night air and I followed the sound and scent like a bloodhound on the hunt. I came to the end of the row of small buildings and I cautiously peered around the corner. I could see fifty or more figures silhouetted against a large fire pit. The cackle of insane laughter mixed with the crackle of the burning logs became louder and my head started to swim as an intoxicating rhythm began to pound in my ears. It was then I saw the leader of this disturbing 'fire ritual'. A short stout man with a sweaty complexion and nipple tassels jeered at the crowd as they chanted the words, “Mind Wraith! Mind Wraith!” repeatedly until the strange dwarven whipster walked slowly through the flames, unscathed by the hellish furnace.
I was so transfixed by the hypnotic spectacle I had not heard the approach of someone or something from behind. Suddenly, a heavy hand slammed on to my shoulder and I spun on my heel to confront a tall chiselled man who spoke with a German accent. “Velcome to Doomsday! You're just in time for ze burning!” As he manically laughed I started to feel myself sweat as a cloud of overwhelming humidity descended on me. What was this strange magick? My legs gave way beneath me and my vision began to blur whilst the world around me started to slowly fade.
As my eyes finally closed, in the distance I heard the German voice once again,“Voodini! Oskar! Come give me a hand! I've found a sacrifice for ze altar!”...
For the past two years I have been the event organiser of Doomsday, the annual gathering of bizarre magicians, story tellers and adepts of the alternative arts. Originally conceived by Roni Shachnaey seven years ago, Doomsday is the best convention of its type in Europe. Every year people from all over the world make the pilgrimage to Whitby for a weekend like no other. What other magic convention can claim to be hosted in the home of Dracula AND in a castle?
Doomsday has started to see a dramatic increase in attendees proving that our shadowy corner of the art is alive and more popular than ever before. It was wonderful to see familiar faces and new blood on the scene as well as meeting the rabble of regulars. Although it is promoted as a convention it is and always has been more of a family gathering. The newcomers were welcomed with open bat-winged arms and I am sure they will return year after year.
Quite a few attendees arrived in Whitby on the Thursday so that they could explore the town and take in all of the Gothic charm. The walk up to the abbey is a must and for a measly £3 you can experience stellar attractions such as The Dracula Experience, so bad it's good! For our overseas visitors there is plenty to see and do in the days prior to Doomsday so you can even make holiday of it and most do.
In a bid to save my liver from a heavy first night of socialising I headed south to Scarborough to see Roni Shachnaey. Unfortunately Roni was unable to attend Doomsday due to health issues so Alex Wallace and I decided to take Doomsday to him. Over a wonderful meal cooked by Laraine I was enlightened about the dark origins of Doomsday and how it is the estranged lovechild of another gathering that is ironically not as immortal as the name suggests.
This year we kicked off with a new event. On a small patch of land in the castle grounds two tons of wood was tossed into a pit and set alight for the Doomsday Fire Walk! Iain Jay and his industrious team of circus performers created the most memorable start to Doomsday to date. I must admit that virtually everyone was rather apprehensive at the idea of walking through a 10 foot pit of fire but it only took one volunteer to go for it and nearly everyone followed. Rather like lemmings I suppose! As the majority of us are destined to go to hell it was a nice preview of what's to come and I made two trips across the burning pit with nothing more than sooty feet and a huge grin.
We then returned to the castle for the first lecture of the weekend. Never before has there been a more suitable lecture for Doomsday. Matteo Borrini, Forensic Anthropologist and star of the National Geographic documentary series gave his personal account of the 'Plague Vampire Exorcism'. My personal highlight of the weekend was meeting Matteo who's knowledge and persona encapsulates what nearly every bizarre performer strives to be. He is a truly unique person and an asset to the community.
Doomsday then officially opened with Dr. Diablo's Carnival Macabre presented by the funniest chap I know, Michael Diamond. From a personal perspective Doomsday would not be the event it is today without Michael and his team, the charming Katie Trickett and Bendy Bendini. Nothing sets the scene more than some good old sideshow acts to amaze and disturb the punters. Human Blockhead, The Radium Girl and Bendy pushing an unhealthy amount of needles into his face; now that's entertainment!
The Doomsday ethos is certainly work hard and play hard with most of the crowd finally heading to the bar to 'catch up' until the early hours of Saturday morning. It was going to be a long day and what better way to prepare yourself than stocking up on pizza and ten pints of Hobgoblin ale? Of course, not everyone drinks alcohol and the convent next door supplied holy water on tap. I like to think it was this that gave me the 'dicky tummy' and not the Lobster Tikka Masala I had eaten a few days previous. We are denizens of darkness after all!
What better way to start Saturday morning than with a session designed to get everyone up on their feet, whooping and hollering. I knew Saturday morning would be tough for some of the Friday night party animals so I added Ian Harvey Stone as the first lecture to get the blood moving. Ian's lecture 'Finding your voice in the magical landscape' was a workshop on how to vocally present yourself on stage professionally and in the 90 minutes that followed I learnt lots. Although I'm no performer I still lecture regularly and the areas that Ian covered were worth their weight in gold. Ian served his slice of how to command the stage with energy, humour and lots of audience participation making an unforgettable and valuable start to the day.
World record breaking strongman Stuart Burrell then took to the stage to give a whole new meaning to the phrase 'he couldn't punch his way out of a wet paper bag' by ripping out of ca hained and padlocked chainmail vest. He also demonstrated ripping a tennis ball in half and breaking free from cable tied wrists. There was even a bit of real blood much to the crowds delight.
Roger Curzon then recalled the tale of Uncle Albert's Box and the dark contents concealed within. Delivered with Roger's much loved deadpan northern charm it was Doomsday's first magic performance and a satisfying one it was too. Roger is a Doomsday regular who I remember performing years ago so it was wonderful to see him back doing what he does best.
Setting up a complete cabinet of curiosities exhibition for one of the UK's largest horror conventions in 3 weeks is a challenge right? Well Andy Cooper, Nik Taylor and Tristan Stothard managed to do just that AND make money from it AND make it so popular they are also doing it again this year. Andy and Nik gave a light hearted account of how they created some intriguing exhibits to shock and disturb the punters. A possessed Mr.Punch, a mysterious Oracle and Winston, a terrible example of taxidermy all made an appearance and gave us all a motivational kick of what can be achieved with lots of enthusiasm and very little time. Unfortunately Tristan was unable to attend Doomsday this year but I'm hoping he'll bring is Psychic Pain to Whitby next year.
A swift but hearty lunch provided the Doomsday crowd with some much needed energy although a double helping of dessert left me with a post-lunch sugar crash big enough to down an elephant. Dealers dealt while arcane knowledge was whispered and shared amongst the adepts before Luke Jermay took to the stage.
To watch Luke lecture or perform is a captivating experience. His knowledge and confidence of character pushes you down into you seat and commands your attention for the entirety of the lecture. As I mention previously, I'm not a performer although every time I see Luke it makes me want to pick up a deck of cards and at least have a go. And in the past I have to much success, that's if you consider baffling your Gran and elderly Aunt successful. Other Doomsday members though who do perform will have taken huge amounts of inspiration, methods and ideas away with them. Luke even shared some routines that he'd never revealed before especially for the Doomsday crowd. It's my birthday next week and a Marksman Deck is on my list for sure!
The great thing about my good friend Oskar is that in the UK nobody has a clue who he is. Yet, back in Sweden he is the star of the TV show 'Mysteria'. Only in Sweden can you get away with a kid's TV show where a group of wizards run around Stockholm trying to catch an accidentally summoned demon with the aid of random children. They also conduct a séance with a group of 8 years olds as well as invoke the ghost of a witch. Good, clean family TV. Oskar and Robert Dahlstom, also a star of 'Mysteria', gave translated excerpts of the series and demonstrated some of the amazing props Oskar created specifically for the show.
The final act of the afternoon was Doomsday veteran Tracy Wise. Every storytelling magician should look at Tracy's act and take note as her ability to captivate the audience and spin a good yarn is impeccable. 'Nursery Crimes' presented the dark origins of some of our favourite childhood nursery rhymes while intertwining magic and music to create an unforgettable performance. Those attending Doomsday South in November will see more of what this very clever and beguiling lady can do.
The 2 hour dinner break gave the crowd a chance to head into Whitby to sample what the local fishermen had dragged ashore, served with chips and lager. The typical gloom of a British seaside town gave way to the unusual spectacle of sunshine and everyone came back fully charged for an evening of entertainment.
The Hex Factor was born out of numerous requests from magicians wanting to perform at Doomsday. Rather than stick with the usual gala show format I thought it would be more interesting to create a whole new event that would see performers competing head to head for a hideous prize. And so the Hex Factor was born and the first 8 contestants stepped up before a foaming crowd and a trio of steely judges.
The standard of the Hex Factor performances proved that those who don't normally perform for a large crowd actually should! Ewan Callison gave the evening an edgy start by talking to 'dummy', his small ventriloquist doll while performing a eerie dolls house séance. For Poe fans, Kevin Lynch's fast paced tale of numbers and messages from beyond the grave had the audience scratching their heads. Jim Critchlow not only created a great performance but also spawned a demonic mascot for Doomsday, the mighty Wucifer. The horrific helium filled satanic symbol hovered over the stage for the duration of the evening. The last slot before the interval was a touching performance from newcomer Luke Robson who's spirit slate routine about a dearly departed friend simultaneously touched and entertained.
After 20 minutes of liquid refreshment we kicked off with Matteo Borrini once again with a tale of savage Liverpudlian lycanthropy. Representing Belgium was Wino Caestecker whose performance would eventually win The Hex Factor by a considerable amount. Emotional and devilishly devious, Wino played the audience like a pro to the point where I thought he was going to have a nervous breakdown live on stage. But of course it was part of the act, or was it? Either way Wino scooped the first prize and highly deserved it was to. Adam Daniel followed with my personal Hex Factor highlight as he produced the old Victorian board game classic 'Guess Whom'. A clever, humble performance delivered with a Derbyshire drawl which reminded me of home well, the rough parts anyway! Finally Les Brown performed his Russian Roulette with BB guns routine. We all uncomfortably watched as Les fired pistols into his mouth, eyes and head, empty ones at least. He successful dodged the last bullet and poor Pauline missed the life insurance payout once again.
The Hex Factor is here to stay and entries for 2017 are already being booked. It's about time that our dark corner of the magic world had its own competition and Doomsday is the place to come if you want to win the newly coveted award.
The dates for Doomsday VIII are already set and tickets will go on sale shortly. Put a big fat cross in your diary and make sure the weekend of 19th - 21st May 2017 is free. Don't be one of the crowd who always comment on how they wished they could've been there, just do it! As always, the venue is limited on size so tickets will be limited and this year we were almost at maximum capacity so book early to avoid disappointment.
And for those unable to wait another year there is always Doomsday South in November. Set in the gothic surroundings of Simon Drake's House of Magic this will be another event not to be missed. There is more emphasis on occult & paranormal subjects than just magic so expect a diverse crowd and an excellent opportunity to network with all walks of life from the world of alternative arts. Confirmed lectures and acts for the first ever Doomsday by Gaslight are Reece Shearsmith, quarter of the award-winning comedy team The League of Gentlemen and star of Inside No.9, David Farrant will be giving his account of the Highgate Vampire incident, Scott Wood from the South East London Folklore Society will discuss urban tales of the London Underground, Matteo Borrini returns to give his Plague Vampire Exorcism lecture so be sure to bring a strong stomach! Tracy Wise who is not only an accomplished magician and forensic scientist but also an expert on OOPArt (out-of-place artifacts) will present a lecture regarding ancient objects found in a very unusual or seemingly impossible contexts. Luke Jermay will also grace the House of Magic stage with feats of mystifying mentalism and finally film director David Chaudoir will be presenting a private screening of his short 'Bad Acid', the dark tale of a washed up cabaret hypnotist who gets what he wished for, but not in the way that he wanted.
The weekend ticket includes lunch and a private Jack the Ripper walk around Whitechapel on the Friday night before the event. For those arriving early myself and Freddie Valentine will also take you on a personal tour of some of London's darkest and mysterious locations followed by the obligatory social at the Ten Bells and Dirty Dicks. If that wasn't enough to tempt you there will also be a prize draw to win a copy of Dolly Darko MkII so if you win you may need to book another seat on the train, she likes to sit alone...
Doomsday awaits those who dare, but be aware; no one who attends remains unchanged!
Another Box of Astaroth leaves the studio featuring the famous print by the great Mathias Merian. My client wanted a box for a performance based on ancient magic and Alchemy so we agreed that the Emerald Tablet would be perfect.
The engraving, Tabula Smaradina (“Emerald Tablet”) is Merian’s interpretation of the alchemical cosmology, a schemata and representation of the order of things. It first appears in Johann Daniel Mylius Tractatus III Seu Basilica Philosophica (1618) and makes subsequent appearances in other works by the author, as well as in Lukas Jennis’ Musaeum Hermeticum (1625).
In its simplest interpretation the Emerald Tablet shows the opening of a complex heaven and the delivering of the philosopher’s stone to the earth.
In this piece, the spirit bell is suspended from a ribbon rather than a hook so not to detract from the image inside the lid. All of the components are antique and pre 1890, the interesting pewter pot dates from 1853 and is hand engraved.
Here's the long awaited Dolly Darko update you've all been waiting for. I know that I said that this would be Dolly Darko MkII week, however I totally forgot about the bank holiday and that we had family visiting. This means my usual studio time has been spent entertaining the troops, although even given the limited time I have made great leaps forward in the design process.
Dolly's new cracked ceramic finish still retains the nasty pallor of the original but gives it a new look that I think is an improvement. The previous painting method could not be used as it would melt the 3D printed doll parts, this method also produced inconsistent finishes. Once painted there's no way of telling she's a 3D printed model, in fact she feels a cross between delicate porcelain and traditional paper mache. The original Dolly weighed a ton, this new one is a fifth of the weight. In true Wurzel Gummidge fashion the heads are also swappable allowing users to tailor performances and it also gives me the opportunity to exploit a marketing opening and produce a collection of heads!
Without giving too much away technically the chips I use inside Dolly can be programmed very easily, by simply plugging in a USB cable you can define -
The angle the head turns
The delay from pressing the button to the head turning.
The time it waits looking left or right before returning to centre
The speed in which her head turns and much more
I'm also working on making her arms raise as is she is begging to be picked up. Space inside the doll is limited but theoretically the triggers that make dolly move can be either manual, remote control or by sensor .i.e movement or light. The programmable chips also mean that future updates, new features and custom performance programs can be installed by the user with ease.
The floating version of Dolly Darko will be a separate product. The prototype at this stage can lift her head, stand, walk and then float seemingly unassisted. Some clients have contacted me worried that this turns bizarre performance into some form of strange puppetry. I have reassured them that the story that accompanies Dolly Darko MkII gives a certain validity and reason for the 'puppet show' whilst still maintaining a visually disturbing yet entertaining performance.
Those attending Doomsday VII in Whitby in two weeks will hopefully be able to see Dolly Darko MkII on display. You never know, she may even look at you and wave...
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For those waiting on news of Dolly Darko MkII here's something to give you a creepy doll fix. Ann: The Haunted Doll as you will soon read has all the typical tropes of a routine we bizarrists have been conjuring up for years. The mental asylum, the caretaker, the doll, the death of a young girl – I could've written this myself, but I didn't! Do think it's true or just a publicity stunt to boost viewing numbers of The Haunted Collector on Destination America? I'll leave that choice up to you...
People often think of ghosts haunting buildings or people, but haunted objects have fascinated GHOST HUNTERS for ages. Now, the network that brought you EXORCISM: LIVE! is giving ANN: THE HAUNTED DOLL her own live webcast. Destination America is devoted to telling the stories of the unknown, from alien encounters, to the quest for Bigfoot, and now, Ann. DestinationAmerica.com has partnered with THE LINEUP - a hot new digital destination for fans of true crime, horror, the mysterious, and the paranormal - to broadcast ANN: THE HAUNTED DOLL to the masses, 24/7. Check the live stream any time in the next two weeks at DestinationAmerica.com or THE LINEUP to check if Ann moves, blinks, cries, or does her signature move, waves.
Ann is currently living in The Lineup's New York offices under constant surveillance via web cam, and the office has already reported strange occurrences since Ann's arrival, such as hearing faint cries and experiencing technical difficulties with the feed. After two weeks, it will be time for Ann to move on to a new, loving family. Anyone interested in giving Ann a proper home can enter to win by stating why they would make the best caretaker for ANN: THE HAUNTED DOLL.
So who is Ann? The original Ann was a 13-year-old girl treated for tuberculosis at Waverly Hills Sanatorium in the early 1900s. One of Ann's caretakers a very devoted and attached woman named Lois. When the children succumbed to their illnesses, it was believed that the spirits followed Lois home, hoping she would continue to care for them. Lois began her doll collection to help house the unfortunate souls, and while she has since passed, she kept a detailed journal about all of her dolls. Lois claims that Ann was terrified of the dark and that her spirit, who lives on in the doll, still cries out in the middle of the night. Paranormal investigators called in to examine Ann have reported a severe drop in temperature and strange odors in her presence, and there have been reports of a tear running down Ann's cheek, as well as waving motions in her right arm.
No one is more fascinated by haunted objects than John Zaffis, a paranormal investigator and demonologist who has specialized in this type of haunting for nearly four decades, and works to remove any unwanted ghostly objects from peoples' homes. His research is the focus on HAUNTED COLLECTOR, currently in network premieres on Destination America on Tuesdays at 10/9c. In HAUNTED COLLECTOR, John and his paranormal team travel to help various people in need by identifying and removing any trigger objects that may the source of unwanted activity. Through the years, he has amassed thousands of possessed objects that he keeps in his bizarre museum, where visitors report feeling an evil presence upon entering the building.
We unboxed Ann, who was wrapped tightly in bubble wrap, without incident. (Watch the video.)
Over the next couple days, we worked around Ann, setting up the camera feed in a large storage closet, where she’s currently living. During that time, a few strange things happened.
• Two coworkers, whose desks are against the wall that separates the main office space from Ann’s room, heard a faint whining noise. One person even asked the whole room to be silent because she was positive she heard a child crying. No one else heard this noise.
• Two different coworkers set up an EMF sensor near Ann while they were working in her vicinity. The meter was silent the whole time. Then one of them asked her a direct question: “Hello, Ann. Welcome to our office. Do you like your new home?” Twenty seconds later, the detector’s light started flashing and wouldn’t stop. We haven’t seen it light up since.
• The day after the live feed was finally established, a coworker arrived at the office and noticed the feed had stopped at 8:27 p.m. the previous night. He went into Ann’s room and saw the magnetic power cord that attached to the laptop had been physically disconnected. No one was in the office at that time.
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The highlight of my career without a doubt is not only completing a series of private commissions for Guillermo del Toro but delivering them to Bleak House and getting a personal tour of his entire collection as well as Bleak House 2.
From July part of his collection will be featured at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA). Although I have no idea if my work will be part of the 500 selected pieces you can see Dolly Darko and Crookes' Residual Ectometron in his book 'The Cabinet of Curiosities'.
Though the house serves as inspiration and a point of reference for del Toro, his wife and daughters want no part of it. They don’t live in Bleak House or Bleak House 2, which serves strictly as a work space. But there’s certainly an audience for his beloved collection. The exhibit will live at LACMA between July and November. After that, it will head to Minneapolis, Toronto, Mexico City, Barcelona, Paris, and New York.
I'm very proud to credited as an Occult Consultant on 'Bad Acid', the debut short film from writer/director David Chaudoir.
The story of a washed up cabaret hypnotist, it blends hypnotic suggestion, hallucination and demonic apparition in a wry, tragically comedic, dark fantasy, exploring the fleeting nature of fame. Marvin gets what he wished for, but not in the way that he wanted.
Bad Acid references the magical number three; three failed performances, three wishes and finally three deaths.
Bad Acid is the writer/director’s love letter to the films of Amicus and Hammer from the 1970s.
David Chaudoir, writer/director, has worked for 25 years in UK Broadcast Television and associated crafts. He has directed award winning promotions for “The Walking Dead” and “The Wire” and music videos for bands such as Athlete and Starsailor.
Sukey Richardson, producer, has produced/production-managed a range of features, documentaries, commercials and short films including Toby Stephen’s In Vitro (2015).
Bad Acid stars Tristan Beint as deluded narcisist Marvin Maskelyn, Madeleine Bowyer as his long suffering manager and Tiffany Haynes as the ill fated Bella. Detective Chetwyn is played by William Kempsell.
Those attending Doomsday South in November will also be privileged to see a private screening as well as meet David. We also interviewed him in the pre-production phase on The Mystic Menagerie Podcast Episode 7.
Nothing conveys the spiritual struggle between good and evil and the rewards and consequences of heaven and hell more than a Hieronymus Bosch painting. The prevalent theme of death and the afterlife in his art has always been something I've wanted to incorporate into my work. A recent commission for a Box of Astaroth came up and I found a beautiful antique glass panelled box. Rather than board them up I decided to fit the two outer panels from Bosch's triptych 'The Garden of Earthly Delights' with very pleasing results.
The Box of Astaroth is my own interpretation of the classic Astro Ball Cabinet. All of the components are antique and pre 1890. Rather than spending hours ageing wood and distressing metal I spent the valuable time sourcing the parts to create something completely unique and undeniably old.
As well as the standard 'ball to glass' routine I have added a spirit bell. Once the spirit it present, the brass bell is hung inside the cabinet and it will ring back in response to questions in typical séance fashion. The bell can be substituted for any item that makes a noise such as a music box or tambourine, even whispers or the faint sound of a child singing. Of course, you can still perform the 'sponge ball into glass routine' if channelling the dead isn't your thing. Like all magic, once you have great mechanics the only limit is your imagination.
This particular piece has a cremation urn and the doll of an old man, the spirit of the man is summoned and asked to place the doll inside the urn. The eeriest part of this performance is hearing the scuffs, knocks and bangs as the doll climbs into the urn, all out of sight of course. The drawer also contains photographs the a genuine receipt for the purchase of a grave plot dated from the early 1900s.
Since I posted the images and demo video on my Facebook page last year I have had a huge influx of requests for 'The Box of Astaroth' and a waiting list is growing! If you'd like to join the 'Box of Astaroth' waiting list please contact me here and I will offer the boxes as they become available.
After some tinkering in MeshMixer the first Dolly Darko head 3D print was faultless. As the print is completely hollow the print time was less than an hour which opens the possibility of printing a full doll in a single day.
The print is also extremely light with the fully painted head weighing in at only 24 grams which means a complete doll should weigh around 200 grams fully clothed. For people worried about the weight and feel of the doll, you'd be surprised it was made of plastic as the material once painted feels more like traditional paper mache. In no way does it feel or look like it was made using cutting edge technology.
The paint finish on the head is slightly over the top but I wanted to see how battered and nasty I could make her. A more toned down, cared for antique look will also be available to the more faint hearted.
The printer is currently churning out the torso so a full doll might feature in next weeks blog.
Dolly Darko has come a long way since I discovered her dusty body in a Parisian antique shop over a decade ago. She's been entombed in silicone and cracked and dropped so many times the original bisque doll is a sorry sight. The moulds used to create the forty or so Dolly Darko dolls are also on their last legs and have begun to fall apart.
In an attempt to immortalise Dolly in the digital realm I have started the task of 3D scanning all of the parts. Not only will this allow me to reproduce Dolly once again without the need of casting and moulding equipment but I will also be able to digitally restore any damage thus making her perfect once again. At some point in the past her right thigh was totally destroyed however, through 3D scanning I've been able to scan the left thigh and mirror it via the software editor to make a brand new right thigh.
Once all of the components are scanned and saved I can print Dolly in any size and colour but more importantly, I can print her with a hollow torso and head. This gives me the opportunity to install servos and other gadgetry that will make Dolly even scarier than her resin counterpart. It will also make her 80% lighter than the original which introduces the possibility of puppetry. A doll version of Losander's floating table anyone? By implementing this amazing new technology it is all possible, although the journey to get this far has been one hell of a steep learning curve!
As well as capturing Dolly Darko digitally I have also started to capture all of my other existing antique doll and vent doll heads for future projects. Even if one should become lost or damaged I'm only a few hours of printing away from a new one. It's a facility that will become invaluable in the studio and I'll never have to endure my collectibles to the rigours of silicone and latex ever again. As strange as it sounds, the ability to scan and reproduce any object leaves you with an almost god like feeling!
Next time I will compare a few test prints with the original parts of Dolly Darko in terms of detail and weight. It finally looks like Dolly Darko MkII could be a chilling reality, only this time she'll be much scarier than before...
After a few years of successful 3D printing the next logical progression was to purchase a 3D scanner. I had been monitoring the market for a while but nothing was available that fitted my criteria at a reasonable price, that was until the Einscan-S came along. This scanner adopts structure white light scanning technology, which features faster scanning speed (3 minutes /circle, much faster than similar desktop 3d scanners), lower noise, better details (accuracy ≤0.1mm) and safer for eyes compared to laser scanning technology. What does this mean to the non-techie? It means I can scan a human face, manipulate and print it at any size. So like me, if you're in the business of making creepy dolls this type of tool creates endless possibilities.
Taking inspiration from Evelyn Poole's collection of voodoo ventriloquist dolls from Penny Dreadful Season 2 I have started a mini project to 'vent' myself. There's something very peculiar about holding an exact copy of your own face in the palm of your hand. The process is quick and significantly less messy than entombing someones head in alginate and creating casts with buckets of plaster. The first scan was printed in white ABS and once the eyes were added my face came alive. Followers on Facebook will have seen me attaching my 'mini me' to various dolls with truly disturbing results.
When you invest money into a piece of kit like this the first thing that crosses your mind from a business perspective if how you're going to recoup that money. Having only played with my new toy for 2 weeks I can see that 3D scanning and printing will become the workhorse of the studio and my mind is overflowing with ideas and possibilities. Personalised ventriloquist dolls are just a start and I already have people lining up to donate their faces and be immortalised in plastic. I'm one step closer to my Braavos 'Temple of Many Faces'. Valar morghulis!
Next week work begins on Dolly Darko MkII...
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.
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.
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.
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.
As expected, I woke up to discover that the air dry clay was still slightly damp however, it will be fully dry by the afternoon. For the morning task I thought I would make the fins and spines so that they are ready to fit at a later stage.
I decided to scrap the Milliput spines I made yesterday as although dry they were still pliable and bendy. I decide to use polymer clay and then paint them with bone coloured acrylic spray (Army Painter Primer)
The fish fins are made from baking parchment and are very realistic once complete.
Just cut a large piece of baking parchment, lay it flat on a table and spray both sides with Rust Dirty Down Special Effects Dye. The first pass should be uniform and even.
Then create spots on the paper by spraying a few millimeters away from the surface of the paper, the aim is to create spots of dye saturation in a random pattern.
Then let the paper dry.
Finally, cut the fin shape and fold repeatedly to create a fan. Then fray the fin tips with scissors. I’ve decided to go to town on the fins and create a head crest and fin ears but you'll see these when they are fitted later.
Once the fins are fitted to the mermaid they will be given a coat of gloss canvas varnish. This will make them translucent and enhance the colour making them even more realistic.
After lunch the weather warmed up so the air dry clay finally dried! You can see, as a result of rapid drying large cracks appeared -
To hold the clay together and fill the gaps I gave it a couple of good coats of liquid latex to act as a skin.
I’ve also decided to go with the classic FeeJee Mermaid pose and set the limbs into position with tape, a hot glue gun and epoxy putty.
With all the major foundation work complete we can start to bulk out the body, apply the skin and textures.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!