26 January 2011

Arbuckle Rogers - Venutian Ventilators (Nerf Repaints)

Short post today, sorry.  I'll make it up next week when I do the first in a series of leather demos suitable for all genres of costuming... in the meantime, hie thee to the armoury!

I didn't have the budget for one of these from the wizards at the WETA workshop (Follow that link if you've never seen the Weta raygun collection. The advertising videos alone are worth the trip!)  I  also, sadly, didn't have the time to trawl thrft stores looking for just the right lamp bits to make one of these beauties.

So, like thousands of raygun-craving steampunks before me, I picked up some spray paint and went hunting for just the right Nerf gun...

In keeping with the theme, they are a repaint of a Nerf gun that's rarely seen and probably discontinued, a single-shot Nerf Tech Target pistol which has delightful Atomic Age lines and once I hit it with a bright metallic gold spray paint and just as I did with the helmet, I treated it with a wash of burnt umber FW acrylic drawing ink to deaden the glow-in-the-dark shine of the gold, they look as if they're old brass.
It occurs to me that a proper "antiquing your props" article needs to happen.

I also made a custom wet-formed leather "gunslinger" gunbelt for these and between this and the leather masks I make (which use a very similar process) I think I'm about ready to do the wet-formed leather tutorial I've been meaning to do for quite some time now.

(Coming soon!)

Eventually, the mood might strike me and I'll make myself a scratch-built set of dueling pistols, but for now, I'm content to focus my attentions elsewhere and in the meantime, it's nice to be able to pummel my friends and enemies with foam darts.

24 January 2011

Arbuckle Rogers - A Space Helmet (repaint/mod)

The jetpack is, of course, the iconic prop for any sci fi setting, but when I was a kid, the thing that fascinated me the most about Star Wars and the like was always the cool helmets everyone got to wear.

Put it this way: If I'd been Harrison Ford, I'd have insisted that they add a cool helmet to my wardrobe.  Sacrilege?  Maybe, but it was sincere sacrilege at least...

Since I don't have the facilities to do vacu-forming (yet) all of my helmets so far have been modifications (sometimes pretty serious ones) and repaints of existing helmets.  

NOTE: if you decided to do this, don't expect them to protect your head when you're done.  The goal is to achieve a fun, cool-looking prop, not a piece of genuine safety equipment, even if you started out with one.

I decided early-on that in order to really sell the idea of a steampunk "Buck Rogers", I needed a helmet.  

As is so often the case, I returned to the iconic "Spaceman Spiff" helmet sometimes worn by Calvin in the comic strips.  I think Bill Watterson was working from the same childhood aesthetic as I when he created that (as well as most of the props for Calvin's imaginary exploits). 

For my helmet, I hunted high and low for one with the right lines and ended up choosing a child's snowboard helmet that I picked up at a thrift store for a couple of bucks.  I chose it for its art deco profile and resemblance to the "Spaceman Spiff" style helmets in my imagination.

The vented sides are one of my favorite elements.  Combined with the aerodynamic lines, it really sells the space-opera effect I was going for.  The knurled brass knob seen below is a bit of added bling that I picked up at the hardware store.  It secures the lining and chin strap into the helmet.

I'm a huge fan of subtle design elements.

I've handled a number of reproduction and real helmets both real and decorative and even once got my hands on a Victorian-era brass fire helmet.  All of the ones I liked most had embossed patterns worked into them, usually in an Italianate viniform motif.  The Victorians loved this kind of decoration, and almost everything was decorated.  In metalwork, however, they tended toward playing with light and shadow rather than gilding and paint like the suit of armor at the end of that second link.

To accomplish this effect, I painted swirling designs in thick acrylic paint between the first and second coat of metallic copper spraypaint.  Then when I went over the whole helmet with washes of FW Burnt Umber acrylic drawing ink that I then ragged off, the ink remained in recessed areas and the raised areas remained bright, giving the illusion of greater depth than is actually here.

After the inkwash dried, I worked several thin washes of forest green into the creases to accentuate them even more and imply the sort of verdigris that builds up over time on real copper.  This also had the effect of dulling the fake metal-flake effect given by the spray paints even further until the whole thing was virtually indistiguishable from the real copper wastebasket in my bathroom.

With all of the styrofoam yanked out, it fit my head much more closely than a ski helmet, which is one of the reasons it doesn't scan immediately as a repainted plastic ski helmet.  I sewed-up a quilted cap liner out of linen to replace it.  Naturally, this invalidates it as a crash helmet, but it fits more like a classic helmet this way and since it's only for costume use, I figured what the heck, why not?  And Styrofoam's not very Buck Rogers anyway...

21 January 2011

Three Recent Steampunk Costumes

Capt. Arbuckle "Buck" Rogers, Aeronaut
Translating classic sci fi into the steampunk milieu is a time-honored tradition.  The happy meeting between my love of steampunk and my love of fifties sci fi.  So when an chance to go to Seattle's Steamcon II rolled around, I brought out a steampunk iteration of everyone's favorite time-displaced individual, Captain Buck Rogers.

Throckmorton Q. Calabash, Aeroship Gambler

I grew up in Missouri, land of river boats and Mark Twain.  I envision a steampunk milieu of 19th century St Louis, port for paddlewheeler airships and haven of riverboat gamblers and hair-brained inventors of Throckmorton's sort.

James Quartermaine, "Gentleman Adventurer" (read: Feckless Ne'erdowell)

A man of means fallen on hard times and gone on the lam, James Quartermaine is a persona I've adopted off and on for years.  Of James, little is known and less is understood, but his gadgetry is as ingenious as those he stole if from and often used to relieve lonely matrons of their jewels.

19 January 2011

The Toymaker

The creative impulse takes many forms and often comes from a place of frustration with what's out there not living up to the potential you can see.

When I was a kid, I made many of my own toys.  All of my favorite toy guns came from the crates of miscellaneous junk beneath my grandfather's work bench, not Toys-R-Us.  This isn't because we were poor, but because I thought the toys I envisioned in my head were just that much cooler than the ones you could buy at the toy store.  For instance, the 1980's were woefully short of space helmets and other spaceman spiffery.  I was born twenty years too late for the real teeth of the space race and all the very cool toys that accompanied that space-borne fervor.

Thankfully, my parents and grandparents encouraged this sort of thing.  At least until I went as far as getting into pounding heated nails into tiny swords for my GI Joes.  Dad drew the line at me becoming an eight-year-old blacksmith.

Even those toys I did buy or was given eventually went under the tools.  All of my favorite GI Joe and Star Wars characters and vehicles were custom amalgamations to suit my own fancy, characters in my own extended storylines.

As an adult, I transferred this into sculpture and artwork, but really these are all extensions of the same brain frequency, the translation of a mental picture into a three-dimensional object.  I've made props for renaissance faires and small theatrical productions and science fiction conventions.

My name is Scott and I like to build neat stuff.  I am a Maker and a Modifier, in short, I am a Toymaker and these are my toys.

17 January 2011

Corsetry: Just How Common Was Whalebone In the 16th Century Anyway?

Corsetry generally falls outside of my realm of costuming, but I've been meaning to post this tidbit of research I did on the prevalence and availability of "Whalebone" in the 16th century after the question came up on the Elizabethan Costuming Tribe over at Tribe.com.  Yes, Tribe still exists, and is still limping along as it always has.  I encourage you to click that link if you've any interest in Elizabethan constuming in general or this topic in particular.  A wealth of information -- an embarassment of riches to be certain.

So, on the topic of whalebone.  What was called "Whalebone" was really Baleen, the fine vents of keratin that some whales use to filter krill and other organisms out of sea water as they swim.  Keratin, as I believe I mention below is the same thing your fingernails are made of.  (I've handled the stuff and yes, it basically feels like a giant splintering fingernail.)

The Muscovy Company held the monopoly for North Sea and Channel whaling for most of the 16th Century. The practice was regulated out the yinyang even then to control (and thus tax) the enormous amounts of revenue it generated.
Incidentally, I hear a lot in historical costuming circles that the Queen had automatic claim to any whale beached in England or Scotland.  This apparently only sort of true.  According to this article written by TIME Magazine at the time the law was overturned by Parliament, the Queen's royal monopoly on whales was specifically for the tails.  The King (if there was one) got the head, which is where the baleen is found.  Maybe the king gave it over, or had it made into corsets as a gift to his queen (or his mistresses for that matter). 

I know TIME is hardly authoritative on this matter, but I found it amusing.
My favorite reference librarian Racheal dredged up an intriguing article called "A Genetic Analysis of 16th Century whalebones Prompts a Revision of the Impact of Basque Whaling on Right & Bowhead Whales In the Western North Atlantic" (Phew, these titles, I swear...). It's rather long and involved and postulates results for the entire North Atlantic from the analysis of one small sampling of whalebones recovered from a wreck off the Labrador Peninsula that cetacean depopulation predates the onset of large-scale human whaling by the Basques (the first large-scale whalers). Which is interesting enough, and certainly controversial, if only for the broadness of the authors' intent to refute what is largely considered settled history... but not really germane.

As is often the case, though, some really interesting bits are to be found in the extraordinary dissent.

A refutation of that piece, published by Aldemaro Romero and Shelly Kennada (which I, sadly, can no longer find on the open internet) pretty much tears apart their analysis and assumptions. But genetic analysis isn't really why we're here... what's germane to our discussion is the numbers they put up for pre-1611 whaling (when the Muscovy Company received the aforementioned monopoly of the Svalbard whaling grounds... The Basque whaling fleets ranged the whole of the North Atlantic, depopulating an area and moving on like seaborne locusts, killing between the generally-accepted minimum of 25,000 and what he and other historians of the topic I’ve read feel is the more realistic total of 40,000 whales.

Baleen yields for the two most prevalent kinds of whales taken are as follows (according to the delightful site for kids called www.enchantedlearning.com) Bowhead: 350 pairs and Right Whale: 200-270 pairs. Accepting the 40,000 number and assuming an average 310 pairs of baleen yield per whale captured, that’s approximately 24 million individual pieces of whalebone put on the European market put there by the Basque whalers alone. Remember that to make stays, a whole piece of baleen would be split into (at a guess) ten – twenty stays each.

CAVEAT: Corsetry wasn’t the only destination of a piece of ‘whalebone’ (baleen) but with a conservative estimate of 24 million whole individual pieces of baleen on the market in Europe from the Basque whalers alone… do the math.

Rebecca asked about processing the stuff. Baleen is made from a fibrous protein called keratin of a hardness very similar to our fingernails (hard but flexible). It was fibrous so it could be split almost infinitely, and steamed and then cooled to retain a shape. The Tudor Group - as I think I might've mentioned - gets baleen from the British Goverment and you can see some pictures of their tailors working with it on their site: www.tudorgroup.co.uk/index.html

So let’s do some math and play with the numbers a little, because math is fun, right? (crickets chirruping...)

www.Tacitius.nu estimates the 1600 combined populations of France, Spain, Portugal and England (countries where corsetry was ascendant pre-1600) was approximately 34.8 million people, over half of whom were women. So assume 34.8 million women. Even assuming a booming middle class, I would feel comfortable saying that barely half of those 34.8 million women were in the market for a corset, probably more like a quarter of that number, but that’s a guess (all population estimates pre 1800 are guesses anyway, so why not?). Take that and the fact that those 24 million pieces of baleen would be split and split again… you have quite a voluminous commodity, arguing strongly (IMO) that it was moderately expensive but hardly scarce.


Addendum: A link and some amazing and quite all-inclusive information provided by my dear friend and fellow costumer Noel Gieleghem: http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m2279/is_n159/ai_21029550/

As always, if anyone has any additional information of links, I'm happy to post them. The Tribe discussion ran the gamut and is well worth a read as well.

A message to my readers

Oh dear!  I have been gone a long time, haven't I?

The last time I posted was over a year ago.  In part this is owing to some health issues that are finally beginning to (sort of) resolve themselves, but mainly it's because I fell down the clockwork rabbit hole into steampunk.  I's still doing renaissance costuming, but I just haven't made much new stuff in the past year.

Rather than continue to allow this blog stand idle for long stretches while I'm working on things unrelated to the renaissance, or creating a whole new blog and let that one stand idle while I come back here to do renaissance or other stuff, I'll be broadening the focus of this blog to include all of my costuming and garb making. 

I hope you don't mind. Never fear, my dabbling in the renaissance is not over by a long shot.  As you can see below, I'm in the 2011 promotional video for the Washington Midsummer Renaissance Faire  (Guy with a big nose bouncing around like a maniac)


Anyway, rest assured, the quality renaissance costuming content is not nearly at an end. I have a leather doublet on the drawing board that I'm gathering bits for and will begin as soon as I find the right buttons or closures to complete it!  So my rennie and SCA readers can look forward to that.

Incidentally, in case you don't like pawing through the steampunk or sci fi stuff to find the renaissance stuff (or vice-versa), never fear; each period or genre will have its own tag that will be applied to all posts of that milieu.Renaissance, Steampunk, Science Fiction, Prop Making, Leatherwork, etcetera.  Some of them might have more than one category, but I'll try to keep overlap to a minimum.

My standards for costuming in any period remain the same:

1. Good garb feels natural when you’re wearing it.
2. Good garb won’t kill you to wear in the August heat (or the halls of a convention center).
3. Good garb is clothing you won’t hate putting on in the morning.
4. Good garb is just as durable as the other clothes in your closet (or better).
5. Good garb weighs style against wearability and strikes a healthy balance.