Time taken: 20 hours
Materials: 35mm dowelling rod (2m long), 12 gauge mild steel wire, masking tape, newsprint, wallpaper glue, polystyrene ball, glass beads (for eyes), acrylic resin and paint (titanium oxide optional), Sculptamold, acrylic paints, finishing varnish.
Tools: drill, pliers, stick (for holding polystyrene ball while coating), knife for whittling, various modelling tools (including fingers), paintbrushes.
Techniques: Whittling, fabrication, modelling, painting.
Difficulty level: I’d say medium. Fiddly but straightforward.
These screenshots are the ones I used for reference. Don’t laugh at my mage’s silly hat, mmk?
First I bought a 35mm dowelling rod and spent about the time it takes for Hot Tub Time Machine to play whittling the end down so that it tapers.
I added some 12 gauge mild steel wire to holes drilled in the top and sides, to form the basis of a frame for the heads, then loosely shaped the wire to the desired shape and used masking tape to hold it in place.
I got this technique from Jessica over at Craft:g33k by the way. She used it to make her Staff of Violation. See, tutorials are helpful!
So anyway, then I remembered that the dragons are holding a ball in their mouths. I needed to come up with a method for making a ball without buying a crystal one because a) heavy and b) too expensive for a toy. Turns out a polystyrene ball painted orange would be perfect!
While the paint on that was drying, I finalised the shape of the dragon necks with masking tape to hold all the wire in place, then added the ball The wire ends were formed into ‘teeth’ that go into the polystyrene to hold the ball in place. It would have been much easier to do the heads and the ball separately and then put the ball in, but I couldn’t work out how to do that seamlessly. Then the next step was adding a bit of string for where the tails would go, mostly for a guide as to where to put the paper mache.
The next bit took a week, as I painstakingly built up layers of acrylic resin on the ball to make it look more like a crystal. Starting with a layer of orange, then using gradually less pigment and a tiny amount of titanium oxide to refract the light and make the layers appear deeper than they are. I’m relatively happy with how it came out but OMG SLOW. It takes 24 hours to dry between coats, in which I couldn’t move the staff because setting resin has the constistency of treacle and I had to prop it so the drips would accumulate in non-obvious places. And there are 9 coats. Nuff said. Luckily I was able to do a bit of paper mache-ing on the staff itself while I waited.
Then it was full on paper mache time. First the inside of the mouths. I knew I wasn’t going to be able to paint in there once it was finished so I bought some red paper and used that.
Next step – loads of paper strips and glue in that technique most of us, including me, haven’t used since primary school. Also, eyes. The original doesn’t have eyes as such but since I’d already used some artistic license to add more detail to the heads, I figure in for a penny, in for a pound, right? And I’d found these beads that had the perfect horizontal ‘pupils’, like horses’ ones.
And then with the plaster mache (Sculptamold). This stuff comes in bags of about 2kg, and it’s a mix of powderised paper, glue and plaster. You add water then quickly sculpt stuff with it, because after 30 minutes it’s starting to set and gets really hard to work with. But it sets rock hard and lightweight, it doesn’t crack and it solved the problem where the wire/paper setup was quite wobbly, which is not what you want when you’re waving your staff around trying to impress people.
As you can see, the plaster mache is kind of lumpy. There was a lot of sanding. This process took about a week as well – add a layer, sand it back, add some more, etc etc till I was happy with the shape. The thing got a whole lot heavier too. Finally, it was good enough but there needed to be some extra smoothing, so I used air-dry modelling clay to fill in the larger holes. It needed to have a bit of texture because it’s supposed to be bone, right? And bone is not smooth. But there’s texture, then there’s craters. So I used the clay.
Next, gesso, to fill in more rough spots and to create a good even base for application of paint.
And then.. ERHMAGERD ERHANGE!
WTF Tats? I thought you said dragonbone was dark red? Well yes, it is. The orange is a trick I learned from a painter years ago. If you cover your canvas in orange before you start, it gives the whole painting more warmth and depth, even after you cover that layer up with other paint. But I also had a particular technique in mind for colouring this.
Next layer is burnt sienna mixed with vermilion. It’s applied, allowed to dry a little, and then dabbed/wiped with a paper towel to let the orange underneath show through a bit. It’s definitely red, but not really dark enough, eh? So the next layer is burnt umber mixed with vermilion:
Now we’re talking. This is pretty close to the colour I was after. Now to just fill in the tricky corners and add some metallic copper highlights and Voila!
Full length shot. Sorry about the crap picture.
More head detail…
And finally, for authenticity, here’s a shot of me ‘wearing’ it with a silly hat and trying to look like a disgruntled mage.
It’s 6’6” long and weighs about 4kg. It doesn’t shoot lightning but if you swing it hard enough I reckon that head end would hurt your average hurlock…