Steampunk inspiration and resources

Posts tagged “Arts

Tips for Makers: You Can Fake it When you Make it Part 3, “Plastic is Your Pal”

Plastic is an incredibly versatile material and it is everywhere. With a little ingenuity and elbow grease you can make it into just about anything.

By HeroscapersFirst off, there are toys. At any Steampunk cosplay event you can be sure you will see souped up Nerf guns and squirt guns that look like they walked right out of an H. G. Wells story. But keep in mind that if you want to paint a plastic gun that spray paint will chip over time. If you scour your plastic surface ahead of time with steel wool, sand paper or even a kitchen scouring pad you will create pores for the paint to adhere to and it will last much longer. Kinex is a line of plastic engineering toys so it is a great way to get lightweight and cheap plastic gears that you can paint to look like metal.

At the Form and Function session at The Asylum one of my favorite items was a remote-control Dalek toy that a maker Steampunked by adding metallic paint and little makeshift boiler on the back.

Doctor Quicksilver Power Glove

Major Quicksilver Power Glove

Plastic pipes like the ones you can find at the hardware store are also really useful. Just like plastic guns, they need to be roughed up before you paint them, but they are relatively easy to drill into with a small electric drill so they are easy to embellish. Major Quicksilver had an amazing “power glove” that he built by attaching a leather work glove to the interior so the fingers were flexible even though the gauntlet was rigid. It was enhanced by flexible plastic tubing and a leather strap that attaches to the upper arm.

You can also get the look of rivets without having to use real metal. If you search for “half pearls” on eBay you can find these great little half-spheres that look just like metal rivets, sometimes without having to paint them. The Major warns that you can find one with adhesive on the backs, but they are much more expensive than getting the kind you glue on yourself. And if you are attaching them to EVA foam hot glue will hold them on really well. An audience member also mentioned that dried peas or lentils can also do for rivets in a pinch, as long as you don’t mind a little irregularity in the shape.

Quicksilver flexible hand

Quicksilver flexible hand

Another great use for plastic is if you have to make something hinged. Sure, you can use real metal hinges that require screws but if you want a quick and easy hinge you can just cut plastic packaging like the top from a butter tub or the like into strips. Attach one end of each strip to the pieces you want to hinge and you will have a flexible and lightweight connection. The amazing giant hand at right had metal hinges on one side and plastic on the other. He was able to manipulate the fingers by pulling strings attached to a leather glove on the other side. In case you are thinking of doing something similar, he let us know that the thumb was the most difficult part to get to move, so he used his pinky finger instead, ergo the three-fingered hand.

The good Major also told the crowd all about a wonderful malleable plastic called polymorph. It comes in the form of little beads and you can melt them in boiling water on your stove. After they become gel-like and come together in a glob you have about 5 minutes to mold it into any shape you want. And if you don’t like the result you can just put it back into the hot water and start again. Of course, you have to be careful about burning yourself when you take the polymorph out, so if you use something like welders gloves it will protect your hands. It usually comes as a transparent plastic, but you can add dyes or paint it later. Once it is solid it is a great material to drill into or file.

If you want an antiqued look to your paint jobs you can use a dry brushing technique. This is done as the second layer to add a bit of a weathered look to your surfaces. For instance, if you are trying to get the look of copper armor that has begun to oxidize, you should start with a solid layer of copper paint before you add the touch of turquoise to make it look tarnished. To dry-brush, add a glob of paint to your brush (this is a good use for old brushes) and remove most of the paint on a newspaper, magazine, etc. Even if you remove most of the paint there will still be just a bit left on the bristles, and you can apply this to your finished project.

Do you have any suggestions for working with plastic? Please comment below!

For more tips about creatively cutting corners, you can check out parts 1 and 2 of this series.


Tips for Makers: You Can Fake it When you Make it Part 2, “Foam is Your Friend”

Quicksilver's table-o-goodies

Quicksilver’s table-o-goodies

During the “Creating with Quicksilver” session, the Major couldn’t say enough good things about a material called Ethylene Vinyl Acetate (EVA) foam. My only experience with it has been with bedrolls and yoga mats, but he demonstrated several ways to use it when you are constructing costumes.

My Science Box eva foamEVA foam comes and many different colors and thicknesses. There are floor mats that are popular for kids to play on and these often have texture on one side which can add interest. Unlike many plastics, this foam also readily takes to hot glue without extra treatment. It is easy to draw on it with permanent markers, and can be cut with scissors or for more accuracy, a craft knife. It will dull your blade pretty quickly, though, so if you plan to make repeated cuts it is a good idea to invest in a craft knife that allows you the change out the blade easily.

If you do end up with rough edges you have a couple options. You can use something like a Dremel or other electric tool to grind them down, but it will be very messy when the foam starts flying. Major Quicksilver advises running the blunt side of a scissors across any rough parts to smooth it down without the mess.

Indy MogulEVA is especially good for things like armor that need to look heavy and sturdy but you don’t want to weigh you down. There are tons of patterns out there on the web for different kinds of armor, and the foam is great for layering so you can add bulk to your character easily. It is also easy to mold when heated with a heat gun, or even a hairdryer and holds it shape like a dream.

There are some foams, like polystyrene, which are even lighter and readily available, but be advised that there is often a chemical reaction with certain paints that can actually melt the foam. It would be a shame to build a whole suit of armor just to have it disintegrate while you are adding the finishing touches! EVA, on the other hand, is great for painting, especially with spray paint. But beware that the more a part of your project has to bend the more likely it is that your paint job could crack and flake.

Here are a few Steampunk examples I found on the web to inspire your own creations.

 


Tips for Makers: You Can Fake it When You Make it Part 1, “Gathering Resources”

I hope you have been enjoying my Tips for Makers series based on the sessions at the Weekend at the Asylum festival so far. “Taming Metal” parts 1, 2, 3 and 4, were for the people who want to use real metal in their props, costumes and gadgets, but that’s not for everyone. Sometimes you want things to look a certain way but you don’t have the time, materials or skills to make it happen. And there is no shame in cutting corners or substituting one thing for another. I know some people are all about the “authenticity” but Steampunk should be a bit of silly fun and lack of know-how shouldn’t keep you from trying your hand at making something cool.

I went to a session hosted by “Major Quicksilver” during my great weekend in Lincoln and he had tons of advice about materials and how to get them at an affordable rate. The most important thing he told the audience was if you see something, buy it right then and there. Don’t wait for a project to start gathering materials, because chances are when you go back to get something it will be gone, or it will have gone up in price. I have been moving around a lot in the last few years so I have been holding off from gathering too much myself, and I can’t wait until I get settled enough to amass the craft room of my dreams.

"Sky "Shadowbox by ForWhomTheGearTurns

“Sky “Shadowbox by ForWhomTheGearTurns

But even with my space restriction I can’t help myself from going into overstock and scrap store I come to, and I usually leave with at least one treasure. It may take years before I use it, but whenever I start a new project I take infinite pleasure in going through my materials and rediscovering things that will enhance my work. For instance, I started collecting pieces of chandeliers because they were crystaline and shiny. Then I discovered if you turn them upside down they make wicked mini hot air balloons. Some of the scrapbook paper in this piece were from the first pad I ever bought years ago.

There are lots of random things around your house that can be put to new uses. Pill bottles, for instance, can hold tiny things like beads or screws, and the covers can be used as knobs or dials on a jet pack or ray gun. I made a pair of aviator goggles for my toy poodle and I used the caps from pill bottles as the makeshift lenses. He was never going to let me put goggles on him for real, so it didn’t matter if they were functioning. Unfortunately he and the goggles are back stateside or I’d post a photo, so you’ll just have to take my word for it that they are adorable.

Want to add a little brass? The wire used for hanging framed art comes in a brassy color and you can get it for pretty cheap. There are also a lot of old cameras and other gizmos at your local thrift store just waiting for you to take them apart and find all the goodies inside. Drawer pulls which can do double duty as various cosmetic adornments and come in lots of shapes, sizes and finishes and there are often bucketloads of these are scrap yards.

So get on out there and start gathering your resources, you never know when a project will come up!

Here are a few places where I get my arts and crafts supplies. (Sorry UKers, I mostly make and therefore shop in the US).

Ax-Man (4 locations in MN)- hands down the best place to get random mechanical parts that actually function, or just look cool. Glass bottles and beakers, circuit boards, switches, leather scraps, magnets, you name it, they have it and it is SUPER cheap.

ArtScraps (St. Paul, MN)- When I got married I made my own wedding invites by getting cheap art prints and cutting them down to size. They have stamps, fasteners and bulk randomness, plus classes and birthday parties for kids.

The Scrap Box (Ann Arbor Michigan)- This is where I got all those pretty chandelier dangles that I use in my shadowboxes. There is a back room where they charge you by weight so you just go in, load up a grocery bag and it may cost you $5 for a full one.

Scrap Creative Re-Use Center (San Franciso, CA)- This is advertised as a great place for teachers to come and get supplies for their classes. In addition to overstock and bulk goodies, there are magnets, wooden blocks and whiteboards.

Urban Ore– This is a pretty hardcore scrapyard with lots of doors, furniture, marble tiles and other home

Do you have and advice about where to find cool and useful stuff? Please comment below!


Tips for Makers: Taming Metal Part 2, “Treat and Heat”

One of my very first sun-catchers.

My favorite of the sun-catchers that I have made

Last time I covered some of the kinder, gentler ways to work with metal. In this post, I want to tell you about soldering. This is the metallurgical technique with which I have the most personal experience. I have used it to create silver jewelry and to attach transistors to electrical components like circuit boards, as well as making stained glass sun-catchers and sculptures.

Soldering

    • Solder, a metal alloy used to join other metals together, comes in different varieties that have different melting temperatures, and your solder must always have a melting temperature lower than that of what you are joining.
      • There is soft solder (melting between 190 to 840 °F) and hard solder (840 °F and above), which is sometimes called ‘silver solder‘. When working with high-temperature solder it is often referred to as ‘brazing.’ When a joint is particularly delicate (ie, joining two very small things or a small thing to a large thing) or the finished item is going to see a lot of wear and tear, it is better to use a harder solder and more acidic flux.
    • In some cases, once your solder hardens it may actually be stronger than the materials you are joining. (This is also true of wood glue, by the way. It is usually easier to break the wood that you join than the place where it is joined.)
    • Solder is often in the form of wire on a spool that is unwound and cut to the size needed for a particular joint. I have also used soldering solutions where tiny bits of solder are suspending in a liquid (see ‘flux’ below).
    • There are two different kinds of tools you can use to melt your solder. A soldering iron is more or less shaped like a fat pen and is held as if you are writing. Be careful with this kind because once gets hot it stays hot as long as it is on. A soldering gun is shaped like a pistol and has a trigger that the artist presses to heat the tip each time. In both of these cases, the tip of the tool comes in direct contact with the solder and melts it so it can flow into the crack between whatever is being joined. When I making circuit boards, I used a hot air soldering iron that was held like a soldering iron but it had an open tip where air was heated and forced through, so the tip never came in contact with the solder itself. This was used with a very low temperature tin solder that has a high rate of conductivity which made it is ideal for electronics. Some hard solders may require a torch instead of an iron or gun.
    • Before you can solder, you have to treat the joint with flux. This is a slightly acidic solution that takes away residue left from handling with bare hands, and it facilitates the solder’s flow into the joint. It is only mildly acidic, but if it gets into your eyes it can cause discomfort (trust me, I know from firsthand experience.)
  • Safety: It is a good idea to wear gloves when soldering, especially if you are using a soldering iron which stays hot between joints. Stained glass soldering works at a low enough temperature that I have never gotten a blister from contact with the iron, but I have gotten sore, red fingers that last for a couple days. Keep in mind that the longer you have to apply the heat to the solder, the more the surrounding metal will also heat, so you can get burned if you are holding the materials you are joining with bare hands. Also, when flux heats it can sometimes spit like bacon grease in a frying pan, so if you may also want to wear goggles to keep the hot liquid from getting into your eyes.

Tips for Makers: Taming Metal Part 1, “Glues and Screws”

Friends, makers, cosplayers, lend me your ears! (Or eyes as the case would be) I attended several different sessions during my awesome convention experience in Lincoln, including three that were all about making the cool props, costumes, widgets and gadgets that can add that extra zing to your Steampunkery. This is the first installment of a multi-part tipfest for those of you who like to get your hands dirty just in time for Halloween.

I have taken many art classes in my time, and I was a fine arts major in college before I injured my drawing hand too badly to continue. I still minored in Art History though, and to qualify I took one of my favorite classes of all time, Intro to Sculpture. We worked with a variety of materials over the summer, but my absolute favorite was metal. I love it for two reasons: under the right conditions it is totally malleable, and when you are done it is incredibly strong. And shiny of course, let’s not forget shiny 🙂

Herr DoktorAt Weekend at the Asylum there was a session called “Taming Metal” that was run by a panel consisting of “Herr Doktor“, Trevor Frank and “Dr Quack.” They started with the easiest way to join two metal pieces together and moved to the more involved techniques as the session went on, and they also touched on some important tools and safety tips, and etching advice. The following bullets are based on my notes that I took during the session.

    • Metal can be joined in many ways ranging from “glues and screws” to welding. The stronger the joint you are looking for, the more sophisticated the equipment and the more safety precautions you need to take. There are serious safety concerns when working with torches, both for burns to your skin and to your retina which can result in temporary blindness and serious long-term effects on vision, so NEVER cut corners when it comes to safety. “Metal doesn’t care how old you are, or how experienced you are.”
    • Epoxy often looks like two syringes that are connected.

      Epoxy often looks like two syringes that are connected.

      But let’s start with the easier stuff. Epoxy is more effective than other types of glue for adhering metal to other metal, or metal to other materials. And what is epoxy, you ask? It is usually a combination of two resins that are only mixed at the time you are using them and any extra must be disguarded, unlike glue that can sit on your shelf forever and more or less stays the same (though of course, glues to dry out over time).

    • Any time you are going to use an adhesive rather an a screw, solder or welded connection make sure that you rough up your surface. The little scratches left behind by sand paper or steel wool will give your glue more to grip and create a better seal. And to give your glue its best shot, try to find a way to clamp or weigh down the connection point for at least a day or two while the adhesive sets. To preserve the look and texture of the metal while clamping, it is a good idea to put a cloth between your material and the shoes (or holdy-onny part of your clamp) or use a clamp with rubber covering the shoes.
  • A few shapes that nuts can take.

    A few shapes that nuts can take.

    Nuts and bolts are a great way to hold metal together, but you will probably need to drill holes before you start. Dremels and other small, handheld drills can get through most thing sheets of metal, but watch out for shavings that can be sharp. But, it can be hard to find nuts and bolts that are the right color or type of metal (most are shiny, stainless steel like those at the right) to go with steampunk designs, so you may want to pre-rough them up if you are planning to add paint or use rivets instead.

  • Rivets are cool and very steampunk. Unlike screws and nuts n bolts, rivets are more or less meant to be permanent fasteners. The look a bit like a screw, but the shaft is smooth. The shaft is put through a pre-drilled (or pre-existing) hole and the tail end get smooshed to create a little barbell that holds your materials in place. If you like the look of rivets but don’t want to take the time or find the right tools for the job, I will give you some advice about how to fake rivets for cheap in my “Creating with Quicksilver” post next week.Rivet01

Check out Part 2: “Treat and Heat”


Weekend at the Asylum: Steam Bears

When I was reading through the program for Weekend at the Asylum I was intrigued by the competition category for “Steam Bears.” These are stuffed animals (mostly bears) that were dressed up or modified especially to reflect the Steampunk aesthetic. Maybe if you make the trip to Asylum VII you can enter one of your own!


Albert Robida

Robida aerial houseAlbert Robida (1848-1926) was a french illustrator and science fiction writer. You can find a good article about his life here. Below is a small sampling of this prolific artist’s work.

Robida opera

“Going to the Opera in the Year 2000”

Robida_telephonoscope

1880 illustration of something eerily like a flat-screen television

323px-Robida_Gate_tower_Switzerlandfloating palace robida