Posts Tagged ‘process’

Faux woodgrain on chairs

Original chair For the show, Night Sky, I was brought into the project very late, after the original propmaster had to depart. We had a tight budget and very little time to find furniture, which meant that I was shopping for shape, knowing that I could adjust the color later. The designer was very particular about wanting all the furniture to have the same chocolate brown finish.

As you see, this chair is honey maple. Now, if I had time and were going to do this right, I’d have stripped off the varnish at this point. But I found these piece the day tech started, so time was not my friend. I also don’t need it to look good forever.

Partially painted chairWhat you see here is a test of some different color palettes. The one on the right side of the chair (bottom of the photo) is mostly burnt umber. The darker stripe is about half burnt umber and half mars black. I also tried a spray and a rag treatment, neither of which I liked.

Finished chair For the final chair, I used a fluid satin acrylic “varnish” or medium to create a glaze. This allowed some of the original wood to show through for richness. That, combined with the brush strokes give a fairly convincing tightgrained wood. One of the tricks is to use a wide brush — in this case a three inch chinese brush for doing ink work — and long brush strokes. Any time you start or stop the brush it shows as a grain variation, so you have to either continue the stroke off the furniture or lift very smoothly.

The downside to this treatment is that it does scratch easily because it’s basically sitting on plastic. We’ve got a paint kit to do touchups, which is fairly easy, but it’s not something I’d recommend for a long run. With a long running show, taking the time to deal with the original finish would have been significantly more worthwhile. Or if this wasn’t a piece that was going to get a lot of wear, I could get away with this.

Making a dancing bear’s head

20090510194436.jpg I needed to make two puppets, a “dancing bear” and a blind man, for a show that Jodi Eichelberger and I are doing at the Puppet Playlist.  To begin with, I did a drawing to get relative scale of the things I was building. I’ll usually be a lot tighter with drawings than this, but since we’re only performing this show twice, I’m working fairly loose through the whole process.

20090510200836.jpg I’m using the same paperfolding technique that I used when I made the Coraline dolls. The process involves folding the paper and taping it as I figure out the shape. You can see here that it’s too large and I don’t have the angles quite right.

20090510201245.jpg I marked the areas that I wanted to change, then cut the face apart to make a flat pattern. Each V cut out of the pattern represents a dart in the paper.  I cut the pattern in half so that when I trace it I can flip it to get a more symmetrical shape on the next round.  I saved the side that was closest to what I want the final to look like.

20090510222709.jpg My next draft is closer, but still off. Again I mark the areas I want to change.

20090510223235.jpg Cut it apart into a pattern and try again.

20090511011802.jpg The third draft is close enough that I decide to glue it together as my “final.” If I were doing this for a client, I’d probably continue tweaking it to match the drawing more closely since the drawing is what the client would be expecting. Since it’s just me, I’m calling it good enough.

20090511244628.jpg On the interior of the head, I paste paper bandages across each of the seams so that it takes on a fairly smooth exterior.

20090511011820.jpg And here’s what my bear looks like from the front. I’ll post photos of the finished critter later.

Brief recap of rhubarb pies and dancing bears.

Today was fairly quiet. Rob had to work at the winery for the spring harvest, but just a partial day. We wandered up to the farmer’s market and then did a little bit of shopping for a show I’m working on. I tried calling my mom to wish her a happy mother’s day but she was out having a good time with my brother and dad.

(Happy Mother’s day!)

Back home, Rob made rhubarb pie while I made a dancing bear.  It was very relaxing. I’m taking process shots of the bear and will post them a bit later.  Now, I’m off to bed.

How to make entrails

To make entrails takes very few supplies. Your shopping list looks like this.

  • Unlubricated condoms
  • KY Jelly
  • Food coloring
  • Press and Seal wrap
  • Fake blood


Start by filling the condoms with KY Jelly. You’ll need about one tube of KY per condom. Add a little bit of food coloring, but don’t worry about mixing it evenly.  I use 1 drop green to 3 drops red, personally.  Tie each condom off making a whole bunch of individual of links.

Note: The KY usually makes really impressive farting noises.

I had a student helping me make these and she took some of the supplies home to finish up.  Her boyfriend came in while the room looked like this.

I think he was sad that he hadn’t been invited over earlier.

And you should see the people at the checkout line when you buy 20 boxes of KY jelly. It’s a fun job.

Lay the condoms out on the Press and Seal.  Normally, I don’t get specific about a brand, but this stuff is great for intestines. Because it’s self sticking, it adheres well to itself. The slight pebbly texture and the translucents can pass as viscera.

Notice how the condoms are all different colors. That helps create the illusion of food passing through.

Deckle the edges of wrap so that you eliminate a crisp line. Straight edges almost never occur in nature and certainly not in the human body.  Making the edge uneven also means that you’ll have varying degrees of overlap on the wrap so the opacity will vary.

Dip the entrails into stage blood, most of which has the lovely property of looking wet even when it’s dry.  Do test this and be aware that humidity will slow the drying down and make them sticky.  Once they’ve dried, they’ll look wet and freshly extracted but without all that messy residue.

If you leave them drying in the shower, as I did, I highly recommend that you leave a note so that no one, like say, your husband, is startled upon finding them. Highly, highly recommend this. Highly.

The slaughtered lamb

1231439383446_0.jpgHere are the much delayed and often promised pictures of the finish work on the lamb. As you might remember, I had to make significant changes to the taxidermy form. Once that was finished, I began covering the lamb with lambskin. I looked for a good fake fur version, but could only find them in black. Even from a distance, the fur is frequently the thing that gives the animal away, so I often wind up using real furn. This isn’t a pelt, mind you, so it isn’t shaped like a lamb. This means that I have to piece it together on the taxidermy form. Here I’m working on the leg and pinning the fur in place with thumbtacks while the glue dries.

20090110113358_0.jpgAs I work my way around the head, you can see both the foam taxidermy form and the way I’m piecing the skin together.

20090110120409-1.jpgOnce it is in place, I have to press the skin into the seam of the mouth. To orient you, the two divets above my fingers are the lamb’s nose. I widened the mouth area in the foam to allow space for the thickness of the skin. I’m using small nail to force the skin into place.

20090110123948_0.jpgHere’s the lamb’s face with the fur in place, but untrimmed.

20090110140210_0.jpgI’ve trimmed the fur, but not yet installed the eyes or finished painting it.

20090114102223_0.jpgAnd here it is, completed and in the position that the director wanted it to be in for the show.

Ironically, during previews, the lamb was cut from the show. This happens sometimes with new plays, but it always amuses me when it does, because it is inevitably the most expensive prop.

Sleep improves things.

The computer is up and running and I got two of the projects turned in. The other two are in process and ought to be finished in a relatively timely fashion.

Meanwhile, I’m itching to write something new. It took me a surprising amount of time to realize that the urge didn’t generate from anything more than the fact that I’ve gotten enough sleep for an entire week. I’d forgotten what it felt like to be rested. It’s fascinating and I highly recommend it.

The Moon

I’m too fatigued to generate content today, though I still have lovely photos of the dead dog process. Meanwhile, listen to this podcast of The Moon by Jodi Eichelberger and Mark LaPierre.

Coraline: Correcting a pattern

I thought I wasn’t going to blog about her legs, because the process is the same as her arms. But, wouldn’t you know it, not only am I going to blog about it, but it’ll wind up spanning more than one entry.

Leg testThe process of making the patterns is the same as with the arms. But, I made a mistake with this one, so I thought I would show you how I correct the pattern. You can see how the lower piece, which is her shin, overhangs the top piece on the left side. That’s her kneecap. I wanted those two pieces to make a smooth straight line down the front of her leg.

Trimmed legSo I trimmed it with an exacto and saved the piece that I trimmed off.

Trimmed leg patternI then laid that saved piece on the original pattern, traced it and trimmed it off the pattern. Voila! The next shin I made from the corrected pattern fit perfectly.

Reading “My New Leg”

For the past couple of days I’ve been reading My New Leg, which is a blog about the process of ordering a new prosthesis. This is wonderfully written, up-close-and-personal, and utterly fascinating. I’ve linked to the first post on the blog.

Dog days

I just added making dog ears to my plate. This is also a project for Mabou Mines, though this time I’ve been hired by the incandescent Emily DeCola. (I built monkeys with her back in February.)

I forgot to take process shots yesterday, but I’ll do it when I go into the Puppet Kitchen again.


I finished painting the largest wall of the dining room Venetian Red. We’ve moved the bookshelves back into place and have begun the process of unpacking books. It is quite clear that we have more books than we have space. We’re discussing were the additional shelves will go–clearly, we can’t get rid of any of these books. Don’t even suggest it.

The apartment in process

Okay, first of all, I have to say that you people are so impatient. Sheesh! Second, here are the photos.

The Apartment in Process

I’ve started putting the kitchen together, but have to hold off a bit until we mop the floor so we can put the pie safe in there. Right now it’s hanging out in the door between the living room and dining room.

Last night we went out for dinner at an asian fusion restaurant. This morning, we returned the truck, and walked back home through Central Park. It was very nice. There are sections were the traffic noise is no more noticeable than at Woodthrush Woods. My. It feels really good to be done with the truck. Arriving at home, we ate breakfast in the apartment–bagel for Rob and cereal for me. We still don’t have a clear table to sit at, but that should come soon. I’m hoping to have the dining room clear by this evening.

I’m looking forward to the point when I can write something.

End of June?

I got a call from the fellow with whom we are doing the house swap. The management company is proceeding with the process of making things difficult by giving him an obstacle course of hoops to jump through. He says the worst case scenario is that the move can’t happen until the end of June.

I’m glad we haven’t packed the kitchen yet.

Reading Aloud 15: Choices & Compromises while recording Rude Mechanicals

This entry is part 15 of 17 in the series Reading Aloud

When Bill Schafer at Subterranean Press asked me to read Kage Baker’s Rude Mechanicals, I was delighted, because I love the Company stories. I was delighted until I started reading the manuscript and realized that the point of view character was male. I skimmed forward, just looking at dialogue. Most of the characters were male.

I don’t mind doing some cross-gender voicing, but generally avoid it with the POV character, because I think it is confusing for most listeners. I agonized and then emailed Bill and told him that I thought he should hire a male voice artist, because that would serve the story better. He disagreed, and since I really wanted to read it, not much arm twisting was needed.

As I read the entire manuscript, instead of skimming, I realized why he wanted a female narrator. Ms. Baker uses direct address to the audience in a couple of places, so while the narrator stays with Lewis, it is clearly a separate narrative voice as opposed to an extension of Lewis. Know what I mean? So choice number one, was to have a female narrator.

This left me the freedom to pitch the narrator up, above my natural speaking voice. I also chose to make it very feminine to contrast with all the boys running around.

For Lewis and Joseph’s voices, I ran into some trouble. Joseph has more speaking time in some scenes than the narrator. Now, in the stories, Joseph is described as a bass baritone. Clearly, I wasn’t going to achieve that naturally, so we had to look at compromises.

Lewis was the less vocally dynamic of the two, so placing him at the bottom end of my range was easy; I didn’t need a lot of room to hit his emotional levels since he’s a steadier character. Joseph, our bass, on the other hand is very volatile and he talks a lot. I found that I could either nail the character or the pitch, but not both. When I pitched him down, he wound up sounding angry and dangerous, because of the audible effort involved in keeping my voice low. It doesn’t sound strained as if I were going to hurt myself, but the strain is nevertheless present as a tension that was inappropriate to the character. Most troubling, he wasn’t funny. Joseph is very funny in Ms. Baker’s story.

So after recording a test chapter with a lower Joseph, we decided to go back to the higher one because, aside from the pitch, that voicing was truer to the character.

It is true that we could have pitch-shifted my voice to get it to the right range. The software to do that now is good enough that if the voice is heard out of context, it’ll pass as real. However, in the context of the other voices I was generating, the pitch shift was obvious. Why? Because there’s this thing your brain does with a familiar voice, called psycho-acoustics, which basically waves a flag saying “Wrong! Something is wrong!” It’s a complex series of things that involve overtones, positioning, and other technical things that you have no idea that you are processing, you just know that it’s wrong.

To demonstrate, I have three clips for you.

The final Joseph choice.

Me, lowering Joseph naturally.

Joseph, pitch-shifted down 10% from the first clip.

See, even down 10% he doesn’t sound like a bass, but he sounds weird. The weirdness is even more apparent if it’s in the context of an entire chapter of natural voices.

The pitch-shifted Joseph, in context.

With all the other voices that are obviously generated by me, pitch-shifted Joseph sounds like someone else and is jarring. Given those choices, we went with the first voicing, feeling that the characterization was stronger there.

At some point, in a reading, you’ll probably have to face a similar choice and I think that you should go for the voice which will give you the most emotional range and be truest to the personality, even if you have to sacrifice some of the physicality.

Why can’t things be simple?

So, the fellow that we are doing the houseswap with just called.  He said that his landlord has told him that he has gone about the process wrong and that he can’t let us have the apartment.  They are sending him additional forms, which will hopefully resolve the issues.   Hopefully. Meanwhile, there is a definite sensation in the air that the whole thing might fall through.