Monthly Archives: July 2011

Now Introducing… Hamster-Bot, Skull-Monkey, and Electrode-Boy!

So following up on the cutie “skullified” piggie that I carved out of a copy of one of Nefarious’s Littlest Pet Shop figurines, and also the Monster High / Barbie mod amulets I guess, I’ve done a bit more carving. I actually did some of this while I was in the hospital — I’m always nervous pulling out a knife in places where people don’t expect it but so far it’s gone smoothly. Maybe whittling is a better word than carving, and I think it matches the sort of zen relaxation element of what’s going on better. It keeps my mind off the pain, a nice mix of focused and sharply aware with calm nothingness.

In any case, these two characters are a monkey toy that I’ve done a half x-ray mod on, and then since I figured I do too many skulls and zombie and such, the other one, a hamster that I’ve half peeled back the skin of to reveal its true robot form. Maybe a terminator sent back in time to kill the leader of the hamster resistance.

And electrode boy, well, he is not whittled, but the whittler. On these most recent tests they totally wired me up with various electrodes recording my brainwaves (sleep states primarily), muscle tension in my neck and shoulders, motion in my legs, a temperature sensor that measured the air temperature around my nose to decode my breathing along with stretch-sensors around my chest and abdomen. I probably forgot some but as you can see in this wiring interface box picture, there was a good chunk of data being recorded, and all this went along with video and audio (at least in theory — I don’t know for sure if this is included in what the doctor who requisitioned the study gets).

Like I said before, I don’t anticipate these test showing anything bad. Hopefully everything is fine because I need to “do well” on this test to get my pain treatment moved up to the next (pharmacologically dangerous) level.

Custom-Made E.T. the Extraterrestrial Rings!

I’m pretty thrilled with how this project turned out. It’s actually the first cast metal jewelry that I’ve made that I consider a true success so it’s an important step in my learning curve. Caitlin has an old wind-up E.T. toy and I noticed that the size of the head was perfect to make a ring out of it (like a skull ring, but instead of a skull, E.T.). So I took a quick mold of the head using silicone putty (PoYo putty, which I like because it’s so fast and simple) and then cast it in plastic. In addition, I added some two-part epoxy clay to change the shape to rounder and shorter (E.T.’s normal skull is quite long). I think I then made another mold and did my finally carving of the details in a second generation of plastic copy. I also sized it to about a size eight, since that’s roughly Caitlin’s size. Then I made a two part mold out of Dragon Skin 20 (a very soft but tough platinum silicone), carefully brushing the silicone into the details to ensure the mold was as perfect as possible.

After a test copy, the first thing I made was a lead-free pewter ring. It took a few tries to clear out the oils and other bubble-and-imperfection causing agents, but in the end I got a ring that I was quite happy with. I also gave it a black patina, which I gave a quick sanding with a rotary 320 grit wheel on the Dremel, bringing much of the metal back to shiny silver but with the details much darker.

Here is the final product:

And a few other angles as well. To stay honest, these photos were actually taken a bit earlier because I made the ring too loose originally and I had to resize it to make it perfect for Caitlin. Luckily the pewter has a low enough melting point that it wasn’t too hard to additively melt/weld a layer inside the ring’s diameter using my soldering gun. But in these early pictures I had been a little more aggressive in sanding the patina so these shots are more silver than the “real” version above.

The weirdness on the back of the ring, the two nubs that you can see above and below, and the wrinkles on the side, are directly lifted from the original toy version of E.T.’s head. Don’t ask me what part of his anatomy it is. For all I know it’s where his kind keep their balls.

In addition to casting the ring in pewter, I did a second copy in Smooth Cast 325 plastic resin. It’s naturally translucent, but I dyed it black and mixed it 1:1:1 with the third element being silver nickel powder, that is, suspending loads of powdered metal into the plastic matrix. You can’t really tell from the pictures because it didn’t photo well, but when this is sanded it looks a lot like oxidized metal. The real advantage though to this material is that it’s much simpler to cast and more importantly, does a superb job in capturing the details with a minimum of post-release cleaning.

I mostly made these as a present for Caitlin but I’m not inherently opposed to putting some up for sale if she doesn’t mind, and there actually is an interest…

This little piggie got x-rayed

Tomorrow I have to spend the night in the hospital because they’re concerned — without basis I believe (and hope) — about me dying in my sleep so they want to monitor me for a night. Perhaps they’ll solve some snoring for Caitlin too. It’s not my disorder causing my death in this case, it’s just a precaution to be sure that they’re not pushing my medication beyond what my body can handle. But like I said, I don’t have any worries. For better or worse, I do have a pretty good idea of the drug tolerances of my body and I’m quite certain I’m still well within them. Anyway, I’ll bring along the second J.L. Bourne zombie novel, Beyond Exile, the follow up to Day By Day Armageddon. After being beyond disappointed at the (shockingly well reviewed) steaming pile of shit from Max Brooks (World War Z… complete junk… a dead-boring ham-fisted horribly written and arguably racist pathetic and desperate attempt to be literate), it’s been a great read, the best zombie fiction I’ve read (not including Walking Dead of course).

Last night I had some fun carving a piggie head that I cloned in plastic resin from one of Nefarious’s Littlest Pet Shop figurines. Obviously it’s half “x-ray”, with the left half of the head revealing the skull, and the right half being “stock” (sort of inspired by the artists making posters of the skeletons of various cartoon characters). It was a lot of fun to make and I like how it turned out. The skeletal ear (don’t lecture me about the anatomy) has got a hole through it so that it can be worn on a chain by the way.

Maybe I already mentioned this, but the highlight of the past week was driving up past Barrie to visit our friends’ cottage. It’s on a beautiful sandy beach and Nefarious and her old schoolmates spent a lot of time leaping off the raft. But I also sent them on a “find pretty stuff” mission with the promise that what they brought me I’d turn into jewelry for them. There is a lot more to post but let me first share a couple of earrings that I made for Nefarious out of a pair of matching shells.

We also have a handful of rocks that are currently tumbling in a cheapo Toys’R'Us rock tumbler. The reviews online were dubious, split between “this thing doesn’t work” and “great results, if you’re willing to wait a few weeks”. I assumed the latter was closer to the truth, and upon spending some time peaking into the canister, it’s actually working extremely well and I’m eagerly awaiting what I’m certain will be beautiful results.

I still have one more neat thing (that deserves it’s own entry) to post today so stay tuned shortly.

Long Time No Post: Summer Projects, Building and Crafts

Gosh, how things have changed. Not so long ago it was a time where I spent every moment online and not a day would go by when I didn’t blog at least a dozen entries on various blogs. Now though it’s not unusual for a day to go past without me looking at the internet, and I’m struggling to manage even a single post to my personal blog per week. I just find myself drifting further and further away from the online world. That said, the fact that it’s 36°C outdoors in the shade, and way hotter than that in our skylight-heavy studio, doesn’t endear me to baking in front of a monitor while I melt into a sweat drenched sponge of a couch. But on that note, today Caitlin and I took our air conditioners (two window units and a rolling portable that spits hot air out a tube) and did some sort of white trash engineering and installed one along the bottom of our garage door and hoisted the roller up into the loft and attached it to a custom made vent and about twenty feet of five inch tube (I had lots of fun with the rivet gun). The last one actually made it into a window. Miraculously this is actually managing to drop the temperature in here to something livable, so I’m glad we finally did this, and very glad we didn’t make the mistake of dropping the $4000 or so it would have taken to repair the big industrial A/C unit on the roof.

Of course I have spent much of this week continuing to build stuff, and I’d like to show a small sliver of that stuff-pile beginning with this “frog ring” that I made for Nefarious. I started by taking a mold from one of her Littlest Pet Shop frogs. Then I used two-part epoxy tool-repair clay to add some bulk to the lower jaw so I could reshape it with an open mouth, and drilled a finger hole through it so that it would look like the finger was going into the mouth (or out of it like a tongue I guess). After carving and sanding the prototype to satisfaction, I took a final mold, cast a plastic copy and painted and coated it with a protection layer. I’m very happy with how it turned out:

Do you like the fly fingernail paint?

I have a couple of (perhaps) even cooler rings that I’m making for Caitlin but those are posts for another day since they’re not done yet and I’m still working on the wax masters — these will be my first try at lost wax metal casting. But speaking of jewelry, late last week Nefarious and I were sitting in High Park having a picnic lunch and we saw a woman walking through the park dropping stuff as she went. Upon investigation they were little golden coins and other treasures. After shouting “please don’t pick those up” at us, she explained that it was a scavenger hunt sort of game that she was setting up for the day camp she worked at. The dual good news is that it turned out to be the camp affiliated with Nefarious’s old school, so there were friends to catch up with, and also that the woman let us have one of the coins. When we got home we cut it in half and turned it into a pair of earrings — unfortunately a little too late for the day we went to see the new Pirates of the Caribbean movie.

Afterward we all (old school friends and we two) went to the High Park pool for a swim. Actually had some stress there the other day that at least had a good ending. After a solid two years of the waterslide being broken, they finally had it turned on. I couldn’t believe it at first, and was excited to happily line up. When we got to the front we were very disappointed to find out that Nefarious, who is 51″ tall and a superb swimmer who has always passed the deep end test, was too short to go on the ride. They’d set its minimum height at 54″ inches. They told me that if I wanted to complain I could call the city, but these were “the rules” and “they didn’t make the rules”. The shield of the bureaucracy-loving coward.

That said, when I looked at the posted rules, they said nothing about a height requirement, and for comparison, the commercial water parks locally (Ontario Place, Wild Water Kingdom, Great Wolf Lodge) are set at 48″ or below. So I asked the manager where the apparently unofficial height requirement — which was just marked with tape on a broomstick — came from and they said that park maintenance had given it to them and told me again to call the city if I didn’t like it. After fifteen minutes of sitting on hold and figured I’d try the “ask someone else” approach and went to the office to ask a different lifeguard. They pointed to a second official “WATER SLIDE RULES” board that they had in the office with the very first rule saying that the minimum height was 48″. So then I pointed this out to management and they assured me that it was set at 48″. The lifeguard standing next to it said the same, to which I replied, “are you only four and a half feet tall, because if this pole is really forty eight inches, that’s how tall you are.”

Even though they all knew it was much higher than 48″, they refused to change it, saying it would have to be measured. After this went on for fifteen minutes I offered to get my tools from the truck and measure it for them. They refused. Eventually after they couldn’t stall any more, they changed the story to saying it was supposed to be 54″, because that was the depth of the water. Clearly this made no sense, since if anything, the depth of the water should relate to the maximum height allowed, since the deeper the water is, the safer the slide becomes, since everyone on the slide has already passed a deep end test. It was obvious that they were completely in the wrong, but it was also obvious that until they were forced to do their job and allow smaller kids on the slide, nothing was going to change. They also fabricated a “rule” that children were only allowed to go on the slide twice per day. Anyway, we go to the pool sometimes daily, so it wasn’t worth burning bridges and getting in a fight over it, and when I got home I went over their heads.

I wrote a lengthy letter to the city (thanks to them for reading it all!) explaining the problem and how I felt it should be fixed, and CC’d it to CityTV just to add an “I’m not going away” subtext. The next day I got a very nice letter back from the city letting me know that the rule had always been 48″ and that they had personally ensured that the height marker was corrected. Horray! I also got a call from CityTV letting me know that they’d be happy to help as well, so it was just very nice all around. That said, when we returned to the pool a few days later, they had closed the water slide. No one could explain to me the reason. The conspiracy part of me thinks they’ve closed it out of spite for being forced to work harder (according to various online review sites, the lifeguards at that pool have a horrible reputation), but assuming it’s open next time I’m there I’ll buy the “maintenance” story. I think that slide may be cursed.

Speaking of cursed slides, when we were at Ontario Place (which they say is “free” this year, but still charges you a small fortune if you want to do anything more than walk around) they shut down the cool funnel slide because someone got a scratch on it. I suppose now some guy has to rappel down it examining it inch by inch with a magnifying glass for cracks in the gelcoat. When I was a kid, the slides at Ontario Place were made of concrete and you had to ride on a little foam rubber mini-carpet. If you fell off, which was a common event, you would be red with scratches from road rash by the time you got to the bottom. How times have changed. Still, a good day.

I managed to make it up the slide stairs three times. The park was virtually empty (speaking of virtually empty, we went to see the final Harry Potter movie on the opening Saturday and the comfy “UltraAVX 3D” theatre was half empty, which I found bizarre) which might seem good, but it meant that the lines moved fast so the climb was complete hell. I desperately needed to take breaks and go slowly, but the kids behind me did not like that one bit. Even though I took long breaks between the slides, I still completely destroyed myself. Pretty much couldn’t walk the next day and it hurt more than I can put in words. I’m actually feeling pretty horrid right now, in part because installing the A/C stuff that I mentioned above forced me to do some ladder climbing, and in part because I did some grinding and wrecked my hands and arms as well.

That said, it was all worth it. Nefarious found a couple of cicadas and we cast them in clear plastic. Other than some air trapped under the wings and minor imperfections, it’s totally bubble free and looks amazing. It started out square though, and I ground it down to this round paperweight shape on my belt sander (and then did some finer sanding and buffing and clear-coating to get it perfect). Because it’s a gift for Nefarious’s friend that we’re visiting tomorrow at their cottage (bigtime looking forward to that!) it also has a sweet note mounted on the bottom, and it all had to be finished today so I exerted with more force than may have been sensible. But the end justifies the means I hope.

I actually had a doctor’s appointment today which was a little frustrating on one hand because there’s a temporary stall in increasing my pain-control medication as a sleep study needs to be done to make sure I won’t die from the treatment (my heart is healthy at least). But I’ve been at this long enough to know that things never move as fast as you think you need. The good end of the appointment was discussing some other possibilities in treating me from an anti-aging or sports-medicine point of view, for example, using steroids to try and cut down my healing time. Because my muscles are all restricted and mangled with calcium grids, I think what’s happening when I over-use them like I did today, or the day at Ontario Place, is that they just get ripped to shreds internally. So speeding up healing would be good. There’s also been some talk of medication that can cause my muscles to fire more “completely”, but I’m worried that even though this might make me feel stronger in the short term (as in the first fifteen minutes of activity), I suspect it would just more quickly and more completely destroy the muscles. Not good. I also have appointments coming up with a couple of myopathy and neurology folks, which is desperately needed because it’s steadily progressing and I’m starting to pick up some unpleasant later-phase symptoms. For the purpose of other rare disease folks doing web searches, my primary problem (I wish it was my only problem, haha) is tubular aggregate myopathy, and I’m happy to talk to anyone with the same diagnosis.

Let’s see… As I said, making lots of stuff. Something else I haven’t posted before, Nefarious and I are also working on a cool dog mask for her. It’s about half done so far and I just sprayed it with primer:

We started with a balloon with a plastic cup (the snout) stuck to it and then plaster bandaged it. Then we sculpted and built-up the shape with tin-foil and coated it with a second layer of plaster bandage (those are photo links) and before the picture above was taken I used a little bit of clay to detail the nose, lips, teeth, and eyes. Next we’ll smooth it a tiny bit and then cut it open and make it fit well and create eye holes, and finally paint it. Fun project. My arms are at the point that my legs were at last year, so I’m quite certain that this is the last summer I will be able to do any of these things, so I am really filling the calendar as much as I can handle. I’m suffering physically for this decision, but I know I would suffer so much more with regret if I didn’t, and the joy more than masks the pain.

In less productive activity, I dropped my iPhone so many times that I finally destroyed it. Shattered the case and everything. So I replaced it with a combo of an iPhone 4, which I’d expected would be a tiny step from my 3GS but has actually been a wonderful improvement, as well as a Samsung Galaxy Tab, a little Android (flash-capable, unlike my phone or Caitlin’s iPad) tablet for $200. Even though Caitlin has almost completely dumped her laptop in favor of her tablet, I wasn’t sure if I’d be as sold on it, but in fact it has been very nice. I have to admit that I think my favorite thing might be how well I can use VLC to stream movies to it while I’m in bed. Oh yeah, and on the phone, I really like the front facing camera, and have been quite eager to install the “Trimensional” 3d scanner ap. It does so neat tricks, shining light on your face from different sides (kind of a poor man’s Kinect) and using the shadows to make an educated guess at the 3D shape it sees. I’m not sure that the $0.99 even gets me a mesh that’s worth printing on a Makerbot, but I do like the bizarre animated GIFs it makes:

If you really want to for some messed up reason you can click those for a higher quality version.

Anyway, I haven’t done any painting lately because my focus has been on sculptural work, arts-and-crafts, and most importantly just having a good summer, but when we stopped by Badur’s house to pick up some of his superb tattoo lotion for Caitlin‘s new Arrested Development calf tattoos, he had one of my old paintings (2003 I believe) hanging at his place, having been asked to store it for another friend. I’ve posted about it in the past — it’s titled “The Pigs Will Survive” and is based on an old nuclear war survival booklet. There was a previous aborted attempt to redo it, but I think when I have the paintings that are already on the go completed, this is the one I want to tackle and get right. For starters, the little girl will have full length legs, haha…

Well… We’re going to finish watching the premiere of the new season of Breaking Bad and Big Brother now, and then off to bed. Tomorrow is going to be a long difficult and pain-inducing day, but I sure am looking forward to it. Our friends have a wonderful cottage up north on a lake with a sandy beach and we’re all ecstatic for the invitation. As always, sorry for the absence, and sorry that I never proof-read any more. And sorry if I scarred you (scared you?) with those horrible animated GIFs.

Carved Plastic Faces

I think a while back I posted pictures of little amulets or broaches or keychains that I had made by taking molds from the faces of various Barbie-type dolls that Nefarious has. Since school has been out, we have been spending almost every day at various Toronto parks, usually either High Park or down by the Lake, and typically at one of the free pools. It’s nice to have fresh air instead of our hot stuffy studio (surprising given how massive and open it is), and getting five hours of exercise per day, punctuated by plenty of reading breaks, is great for both of us. My body is not doing as well as I would like and I am afraid that this is my last summer to enjoy like this so I am trying very, very hard to make the most of every moment.

Anyway, as well as bringing my own books to read while Nefarious is in the pool or whatever, I’ve been using a pocket knife to whittle those doll faces into new forms. I posted one a couple entries back, but I have carved quite a few of them since that I’d like to share here. These first three — the cyclops, the exposed brain, and the blindfolded skull — are all carved from the same source mold. The one that’s unpainted was cast in plastic resin mixed 50:50 with nickel powder, so it’s “sort of” metal.

These two faces, a male skull and a clockwork mechanical superhero — he has glowing red eyes (scroll down to see that) behind his silver mask and a gear-filled brain, and I flattened the planes of the face to make it more angular — are also both carved from the same source piece.

I also turned one of my bug-eye guys into a skull. Also in the photo is the very first one I made. These of course are made from different faces and I haven’t yet made anything else from them.

Finally, a few of these contain glow in the dark pigments. The unpainted one that I’ve featured before is made out of clear plastic that I mixed green glow pigment right into. The bug-eyed fellow’s eyes are painted with a few layers of glow in the dark paint, which gives it a rough textured, and I also covered it in a fine pattern of polka-dots in transparent fluorescent yellow paint. Finally, the robot — which I forgot to mention also has “DOMO ARIGATO” in red embossed text on the back as a hat-tip to Styx — has powerfully glowing red eyes. I did two thick layers of zinc-based red glow-in-the-dark pigment in a base of superglue. It’s very striking.

I recently picked up some other glow pigments. In addition to the red, I also have an amazing looking purple, and some pink and yellow as well (plus the green and blue that I already had). I’m looking forward to making some new items with them. That said, I can’t even begin to tell you how horrible the red pigment powder smells (until it’s encapsulated — the items I made are odor-free). It’s got to have a hefty dollop of sulfur in it, and it is depressingly difficult to wash off ones hands.

Tomorrow — although that may be delayed a day due to the weather forecast calling not just for horribly sweltering temperatures and humidity, but thundershowers as well — we are making a trip to Ontario Place. It’s free all summer to celebrate its twentieth anniversary (although the “extras” like some rides and IMAX aren’t free), and this year Nefarious is tall enough that she can go on all of the waterslides. The “funnel” where at the end of the slide you get flushed down a giant toilet looks especially fun. I don’t even want to think about how much I am going to regret it (and how few trips I can even manage), but I am going to push myself very hard to struggle up the stairs a few times because I just love waterslides.

That reminds me — if anyone knows of a water park that is handicapped accessible, please let me know. If there were waterslides I could enjoy without having to climb stairs, which is almost an impossibility these days, I would be in paradise I think!