The last quarter has truly been an exciting one in Propslandia. In early September I got a call from a friend who was going out of the country and wanted to know if I was available for a gig she couldn’t work. I said yes, and after a single interview I began to work on this cool immersive theater project that David Byrne and Mala Gaonkar created and is currently at the Pace Gallery in Menlo Park through March.
My job was to sculpt and build this really cool diorama. Here are the pictures.
So, because I can’t show you the renderings, because they don’t belong to me, and I can’t show you the cool sketch that I got sent by DB himself, because duh… Here’s a little sketch I did of the topography of the land.
Yes, it is a screen cap from my phone.
So this should give you an idea of what the layout is like. The back wall is the bottom of the image, there are mountains that move into the distance, a pond, a river and a central railroad.
I decided to build on top of some platforms, rather than frames, that way we could sit on top of it while we worked. the topography is carved out of Styrofoam, covered with cotton batting and then paint and vegetation are added.
Helpers are great! This is the very beginning of the first coat of paint going down.
Paint and grass: check!
These platforms will eventually hold electrified windmills.
Look Ma! I’m making a lake. It’s worbla plastic and epoxy for the first few layers. Make sure you don’t pour too much epoxy or it will heat up and melt the plastic.
the finished lake and some derailed train cars. I ended up topping off the lake with some blue gel candle material to give it a more watery look.
And the moment you’ve been waiting for….The Finished Diorama!
Trees! Windmills and a railroad. I did add a few more details after this was done, here’s one of my favorites!
Sometimes I get a call to help with some last-minute work.
Yesterday Brian from Custom Made sent me an email because they were having a tough time with a prop and they were kind of stumped. They needed a knife that bled. The knife comes from a purse and then the actress stabs herself with it.
So, naturally it needed a resivoir rather than a pump and some tubing.
So I found a cheap hollow plastic knife, wrapped the handle in clay and cast both sides of it.
Next I used epoxy to make a positive, and put an eye dropper inside it. I epoxied the two halves together, re-shaped it and sanded the dickens out of it.
Then I painted it. Still needs a touch-up on the handle where I got sloppy with the chrome.
We did a test at the end of rehearsal and a little bit of blood comes out! Yay!
After much consideration I have decided to try my hand at custom printed fabrics. Those who know me, know that I have a real penchant for strangely patterned and colored leggings. So much so that my collection is currently stalling because I feel like the patterns out there are not “out there” enough for me. So I’m going to be taking a stab at making my own, which I have done before, but with fabric of my own making.
My love for critters of all kinds led me down the path of brightly colored sea creatures. I love how they squiggle and squirm far away from human eyes. I love the contrast of black water and perfectly lit transparent bodies floating in the void.
So I opened up my GIMP (a royalty free photoshop analogue) and got to editing.
I found some images from Google to work with and began skewing and placing my aquarium.
I watched this fantastic and straightforward tutorial by You Tuber Kara Skye, that outlines how simple it is to make continuously repeating pattern with no edges.
Now for the not fun part: I do not own any of the images I used in this collage and I don’t have permission to use them. I am not going to sell anything or make any money from anything developed from these images, it’s an experiment to see if I like the way it works. If I want to sell fabric in the future it will be composed of my own images and images that I have licensed.
That said, don’t take this image for your own fabric/ paper/ artwork and sell it as I’m sure you will be contacted by the professional photographers whose work is represented here. I’m showing the image to demonstrate my knowledge of photo manipulation. I am not responsible if you get caught making bank off this and it comes back to me.
Ok, now that all of that is over here’s the image, with an offset tile and repeating seamless pattern.
So, sometime in the near future I will have a pair of leggings to show you with this pattern on them. Till then…
These past couple of months seem to involve a common theme: foam. I find myself working with foam in all it’s various shapes textures. Since December I have worked with: pink insulation foam, styrofoam and the prop artisan’s pal- expanding foam.
Here are the things I’ve learned.
1)Foam can be messy. Let’s face it, cutting styrofoam with a surform or a blade can make an incredible mess. There is nothing quite like being surrounded in a tiny ocean of white foam beads, or worse, covered from head to toe with tiny dust particles. Always, always, ALWAYS use a dust mask or respirator when working with foam.
Thankfully there are are tools that make the job easier.
I have found that using a hot knife tool like those sold by fun foam works wonders, you’ll want to keep the mask on and go outside though, as burning foam does release some pretty noxious fumes.
In addition to this there are also special foam blades for your jigsaw that look like a little wave and cut down dramatically on the amount of waste and create a nice, clean cut.
2) There is more than one way to glue it together.
I have found that by far the best glue to use on hard foam, isn’t actually glue at all. Glidden Gripper Primer is a fantastic paint that you can use. Paint it on both surfaces and stick it together. When working with large areas this takes more than a day to dry, but also works great as a primer on the foam which allows you to spray paint over the top without fear of melting your sculpt.
If you don’t have the time to spend try gorilla glue. The downside: it expands, so you will need to clamp together the project, which may be difficult especially if you have carved some fine detail and don’t want to squish the foam.
PVA, craft, or Elmers glue works alright, it’s not as strong as the other methods but it’s not toxic either. Make sure to read the label to discern if it is safe for foam.
Lastly, we have Great Stuff, expanding foam in a can. It’s great for filling gaps. IT STICKS TO EVERYTHING AND IS IMPOSSIBLE TO GET OUT. So always wear gloves and your shop smock, it’s not fun to try and get it out of clothes and it basically has to wear off your skin if you get it on there. You’ll also have to clamp it too, because of its expanding nature, unless you want to harness that.
3) Pick the right foam for the right job. Because foam comes in a multitude of densities and textures, it is very versatile, but make sure you pick the right one.
Pink insulation foam (sold often as foam project panels) is good for smaller objects that need more detail because it carves very nicely.
Styrofoam is great for large objects and carving stone. Use that rasp and go to town! The naturally pebbly texture reads very well from the stage, and since it’s available in large sheets you can build whatever size giant rock you want.
Expanding Foam is a pretty light density and is good for hand props like bread or for anything that needs to be held high. It’s durable and doesn’t readily flake off little pieces.
High-density yellow foam is another great all-purpose foam. You want some nicely rolling hills in a distant ground row? BAM. High-density foam is your friend.
Upholstery foam has many uses beyond cushions. It comes in many thicknesses from 1/2″ to 6″ and is often sold in large sheets. Thinner pieces are great for creating a base for puppets and thicker pieces can be carved with a turkey knife or scissors to make dimensional food and other items.
4) Experiment and combine to achieve the foam of your dreams.
There is no wrong way (though there may be unsafe ways) to work with foam. Explore the possibilities.
Here are some of the things I’ve made over the past few months.
This is the culmination of the awesome casting project that I have been working on for months now. I am so exited! We just finished a successful World Premier of Lauren Yee’s Hookman.
Billed as an existential slasher comedy, Hookman is equal parts incredibly intelligent humor and pretty gruesome gore. The second part is my favorite because it’s so fun.
I will do a separate post about blood, but what we’re looking at today are the masks and hook hand.
Fair warning: this stuff is gross to some people, if simulated gore is not your thing, then you are in the wrong place.
Quit yer’ jibber jabber Devon! Spill the beans!
Without giving too much away, a character, Yoonji, has her face removed by Hookman. The action in our production occured behind a bench, so we were able to do a bait and switch. She put this mask on his hook and then put the second mask on falls on the bench. She then only reveals it later in the scene when a Lexi pulls her off the bench.
The second mask is a build-up on top of the first one and is a sculpt based loosely on her face musculature and also based on the director’s desire to look like “chopped meat.”
How did we get this far? Here are the steps from Katharine’s real face to the masks.
1) I did an alginate life cast of Katharine’s face. (our first negative mold)
2) I poured a gypsum molding compound into the alginate (our first positive)
Now you’ll notice that her philtrum (the little vertical valley divide between nose and lip) didn’t make it into the first alginate mold. That’s cool, I can fix it. This image is preparing for the second alginate mold. I have built up a water clay lip around the face to hold the alginate. (that makes our second negative mold)
3) Then I pour melted oil based clay into the alginate mold and end up with this (our second positive):
This is after I smoothed it out really nicely and added a philtrum as well as some skin texture.
Meanwhile I poured a second one of these (our third positive) and sculpted the muscles on top of it. You.ll notice that the normal face positive has some lumps. It’s cool. I smoothed those out and fixed the nose. Air bubbles happen!
Next we make our third and fourth negatives and then pour in the colored silicone (our final fourth and fifth positives?) to get the masks at the top. All in all, it was pretty rad.
Next we’ve got the stump. Hookman needed to hold the hook but also have a weird fleshy stump with “a flap of skin or something hanging off.” The glove was attached inside of Hookman’s jacket by a button. He still had his thumb free so he could safely wield the hook. In this first image the thumb is hidden. In the second you can see the thumb.
So that’s some of the more interesting parts of my Hookman designs.
One thing I learned: Don’t mix silicone and latex, the cost is prohibitive and the cure is prohibited.
This season is quickly coming to a close, and boy has it been a busy one. Here are some of the highlights from this year.
In addition to my regular freelance work I spent a lot of January working with the folks at Douglas Morrison Theatre in their shop on a production of Three Sisters. For this production I researched and recreated a Russian Newspaper and also re-finished some ugly modern pots to bring them into our world.
Here’s some of my work from Crowded Fire’s Season. The first is Late Wedding by Christopher Chen. Those white items in the boxes onstage were painted and procured by me with significant support from Stephanie Alyson Henderson. The second is a cool shadow puppett from Edith Can Shoot Things and Hit Them.
I also worked on the World Premiere of Lauren Yee’s Hookman. That awesome insanity will be covered in my next post, but here’s a preview, it’s a cast I made of a hand to create Hookman’s stump hand.
And finally, I stumbled upon an old USB which contained a few photos from Music Man (2014) and Pirates of Penzance (2012)
So one time I was recruited by my friend Erin Merritt (esteemed director and creative person) to Design a Set in Arizona for the world premiere of United by Toni Press Coffman.
The play is part memory part imagining of what happened on the plane on September 11th, 2001. So, unlike my previous design for Brahman/i I was presented with a unique set of challenges.
First: there is the plane. By itself this poses a challenge: how do we achieve both enough space to act, while also maintaining a feeling of the confines of the airliner.
Second: there is an in-between space where storytellers move freely. This space represents the place that is neither the here and now, nor the imagined events on the plane.
Third: There is the here and now where the main character Mariah, is trying to figure out if she was related to someone on the plane.
Fourth: The Plane needs to break apart and re-configure.
Fifth: the Stage is only 11 or so feet deep.
So this is what I came up with:
There are multiple configurations possible in the space because the walls are individual platforms. As the play progresses we see it come apart and go back together. The simple and sleek design allowed for our actors to move in space and to change it as they moved through it. As you can see in the featured image, we were able to accomplish as many different seating options as the space allowed.
Given a larger space I would have liked to play with some scrim like material on the backs of the units, so we could sometimes see inside the plane, other times not. But again, due to the space our lighting units were too close to the units to achieve an opaque look.
Special thanks to the folks at Winding Road (Toni, Tony, Glenn, and Maria) as well as Erin, without whom none of this would have been possible. Designing remotely is quite a challenge, and I’m glad that I was able to experience it with such a wonderful group of people.