Sunday, May 30, 2010

Herb Garden Re-Done: Part 3

So the final step was to put the bricks into the walkway.  This is a pretty straightforward process, but time consuming.  First dig up all the sod wherever you want to put the bricks.  Make sure you measure well, and it doesn't hurt to dig up a little extra to be safe.  Next, I raked the dirt to make sure all the roots were out, and started leveling it.  Leveling the dirt is moderately important, since sand will be used to finish the leveling, but at this time it's key to make sure no dirt is too high.  You can always add sand if you dig too low, but if you don't dig enough you'll have to stop and dig later on.

Once the dirt is level-ish, I added lots of leveling sand.  Something like an inch on average over the entire thing.  Some areas hadn't been dug enough and got more, some the other way around, but in the end I made sure the sand was pretty flat.  I used a broom and rake for that.
Then I started putting in bricks.  It's not hard to find some random pattern that will make the bricks look nicer than just lining them all up in a row, and it's not any harder to put them in.  While putting in bricks, I kept a bag of sand next to me, in case I needed to raise the level a little (this happened frequently).

The bricks went in fairly smoothly, with a little bit of tweaking to adjust for small gaps where the two garden sections weren't lined up quite.  The spaces between get filled in anyways, so it's not a big problem as long as the spaces aren't too big.  Much more important is making sure the bricks are level across the entire walkway.  This is not easy, and I'd say I did a moderate to poor job of it.  

Once the bricks are in place, it's time to add in sand/mortar.  I started by adding in more of the leveling sand I'd used in the first place.  This requires lots of brooming the sand back and forth to get it to seep into the cracks.  The drier the sand is, the faster this will go.  Finally, I added in some sealing sand.  This is supposed to keep out insects/weeds and help hold the bricks together (but still be flexible).  You apply this the same way as regular sand, but then get it damp a few times to get it to set.  The final consistency is sort of like the rubber under a playground, but it's fused sand.   

If you find yourself with a space that bricks just won't fit, you can chop them up.  A simple hammer and chisel can do this pretty easily (or so I've heard).  I just used an ice chopper, which is pretty much a huge chisel.  It didn't make clean cuts, but it got the job done.

Here's the final result.  Not the smoothest surface in the world, but I'm pretty happy with it, and it will definitely be a nice barrier to keep weeds out of the garden.  I decided to forgo the planks to divide the garden for now because I planted peppers and tomatoes in those areas.  The brick walk-way will also be very helpful for the strawberry patch (the closer of the two) which spreads like a weed if you can't keep an eye on it.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Herb Garden Re-done Part II

Once the large mystery box was removed from the yard, we had to put all the dirt back in place.

Rather than make a new, raised bed, I decided to keep the garden on the ground but re-size it.  The frame currently shared a wall with the strawberry bed, so when we cut down the size, we needed to create enough new planks to make a new edge.  This turned out to be easily done, and the two pieces cut off of the length of the bed were each exactly half the width of the bed.  Putting it all back together just took a few nails.

Because the bed is no longer going to be raised, I decided to put a nice wide edge around the entire project to help keep weeds at bay.  After going to Menards, I chose some brick pavers to use.  To put in the pavers, the sod around the area first has to be dug out.  If you haven't done it before, pulling up sod is not easy.  Each blade of grass has long roots that tangle about each other and make every inch of sod well cemented down.  On the plus side, once the sod is gone, we will not need to worry about grass growing into the garden (something which, again due to how well it sticks in the ground, is a major hassle).  Once the frame was in place, I was able to put the herbs back into the ground.  I used some spare boards to roughly frame where the dividers will go once I actually buy some more cedar planks to make a divided garden.  Having the garden divided will make it easier in the future to keep weeds out, keep track of what plants are where, and keep each plant from over-growing.  The space between the herbs and the strawberries will be paved just like the edges.

T-shirt Drawings

This project was inspired by my brother's friend, who makes amazing animal drawings on t-shirts.  It's really straight forward; you just need permanent markers (or fabric markers if you're fancy) and blank t-shirts.  Note: they do fade over time unfortunately

Friday, May 21, 2010

Herb Garden Re-done

The herb garden in my backyard is very overgrown and has been for years.  This year I decided to tear everything out, completely get rid of all the weeds, and start over with much smaller amounts of everything.  My plan was simple: Step 1) Pull out plants I want to keep and save them in pots somewhere, Step 2) Rip out everything else, Step 3) Put saved plants back in ground.  Of course, it did not go according to plan.

First I dug up the plants that needed keeping.  This was surprisingly challenging, and took well over an hour.  Many of the plants firmly believed they were not meant for being dug up, and made my life as difficult as possible by having roots which went in strange, unpredictable directions.  Also, there were weeds growing amongst the good plants, so I had to weed while digging, and the weeds were none to happy either about being up-rooted.  Half-way through this process, I decided it would be easier if before I finished I put a few more boards into the rectangular garden to make a sort of grid.
This way, each plant would have its own, pre-defined space, and would make keeping track of everything much easier.  We'll see if I ever get to that part.

After digging up all the plants, it was time to till and weed and get everything else green out of the patch.  This was not a very fun job, as it involves hacking apart ancient roots and digging up endless weeds.  But wait, there's more.

To my surprise, I discovered our garden plot is home to some mysterious metal tubes.  I started excavating, and realized the tubes were actually the lips on a large....some sort of metal trough (Note: I called the electric company and cable company to make sure I wouldn't kill myself if I kept digging around deeper).  I dug more and more, and slowly got the dimensions of the unknown object.
Turned out it took up most of the garden.  And was buried in over a foot of packed dirt, but at least it had a bottom below the dirt.  I started digging, figuring that whatever this was, it did not belong amongst herbs.  An hour and a half later, I had made almost no progress, and my friend Korey joined in the effort.  Step one: dig a hole in a box.  Once the dirt was cleared out of the box, we started working on digging around the sides of the box.
Another hour and a half later we discovered the box-like object had some sort of trailer hitch on one end.  Yet another hour more and we could finally pry the box out of its dirt home (along the way we made some hilariously mis-guided attempts to free the box before digging it out enough; totally my fault and totally unproductive).  Our best guess is that it is some sort of wagon you would attach to a tractor.  The age is uncertain.   

That concluded the day.  It had been something like 6 hours of digging for me, and the garden is arguably worse off than when I started.  At least now the buried wagon has been liberated and on the plus side the dirt has been very well churned.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Candle Carving: Moai

I was looking around for a short art project when I found my candles I had been using for pysanka.  Inspired by other wax carvings of moai (the heads on Easter Island), I thought I'd give it a try.

I used an Xacto knife to cut the candle.  This turned out to be a great way to go, as candles are soft enough to easily cut through.  I'm used to building sculptures, rather then carving them, so it did take a bit more thinking to figure out where exactly I should be cutting.

After a bit of carving I realized that the nose of the piece would need to be protruding out from the rest of the candle, so I would need to build up the wax.
At first I thought about taking carved off pieces of wax, placing them on the nose, and melting them on.  This turned out to not work at all.  A better solution was to stab a piece of carved off wax with the knife, hold it over the flame, and drip wax onto whichever part I wanted to build onto.  This soft wax could also be easily molded with my fingers (don't touch the wax too soon or you will get burned of course).

I then had to find some way to make the whole thing black, or at least not translucent white, because it was impossible to see.  Remembering working on pysanka, I figured the best way to dye the candle would be with...a candle.  I tried out briefly holding the carved candle over the flame of another candle.  The wax melted a little, which actually helped round out the edges, and the soot from the flame turned it a bit black.
I kept doing this until I felt the head was about as dark as it would get.  Whenever I heated part of the head, I would hold that part face down while the wax cooled.  This way, the melted wax collected on the extremities of the part being heated, and so there was very little loss of shape.

Finally, I rubbed the soot off of the part of the candle that I needed to stay white, and it was finished!

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Costumes: Spartan from 300 the movie

There is not a whole lot to the costumes from 300 the movie.  I made a spear, shield, cape and broach, and arm and leg guards.  The cape was pretty much just a red piece of cloth.  In fact it was exactly that.  The broach was made the same way the elven broach was made.  I carved the shape out of pink insulation foam, and painted it.  I painted the whole thing black, then added in a layer of brown, and then dry brushed on gold.  The gold and brown combination works well for a bronze final color.

The shin guards and arm guards were made from empty pringles cans.  I cut off the bottom, and cut the cans down the middle to open them up.  I spray painted them brown, then lightly gold, and stapled elastic bands onto the back.  They worked well for the arms, but unfortunately the cans are too short to make for good leg guards.   

The spear was a piece of PCV pipe with a wooden point glued to the top.  I spray painted it like everything else, but the PVC doesn't take paint well. 

The shield was by far my favorite part to make (and very simple).  I took a snow sled, the round sort, and drilled four holes into it.  I painted it black, then brown, then gold.  I used brown shoe strings to make arm holds.  If you don't have access to sleds, plastic trash can lids would probably also work well, assuming they don't crack when you drill them. 

Friday, May 14, 2010

Costumes: Sonic Screwdriver

Ever wish you had a screwdriver that had a blue light on it and was featured in Dr Who? I sure did, so I made one for Halloween.  It was very simple because I focused only on having a blue light on an otherwise metallic silver tube; that was the extent of my requirements to make the screwdriver.  Because you can see the blue of the sonic screwdriver from the side, the clear plastic end of the flashlight needed to protrude beyond the casing.

I at first assumed I would have to build this somehow, but then found a RAYOVAC pen light that actually fit the shape perfectly. 

  I had previously purchased some glass paint (it's cheap!) for arts and crafts, and I figured it may work to paint it onto a flashlight.  This turned out to be correct.   A layer of blue glass paint later and I was in business.  I should note that the pen has an LED light, which means no risk of the glass paint being exposed to too much heat.    

The glass paint is very fun stuff.  You can make fake stained glass, or decorate dishes in strange ways, and as I learned it works fine on plastic as well.

related: Dr Who TARDIS

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Costumes: Elven Brooch

A few years ago I made four of these for some hobbits.  No good cloak is complete without one, so here's how I made it:

I carved the main shape out of pink insulation foam.  It's not a great substance in terms of durability, but is very shape-able and fit my needs well.  The wire part is done in three pieces.  There are two half circles (a small and large) and the longer, winding piece.  It was a little tricky to get the wire to loop around through itself like that, but not terribly difficult.  I glued the wire down.  I then painted the leaf two shades of green to give it a little extra depth, then painted on the silver filigree and actually also painted the wire the same silver color.  I varnished the whole thing to give it a bit more shine.  I then glued a pin backing to the back of the piece so I could attach it to a cloak.  

Or you can just buy one

Monday, May 10, 2010

DIY (do it yourself) Costume: Spider-Man

A few halloweens ago I went as Spider-Man, the Marvel Comics superhero.  Rather than try to make a full body spandex suit I opted for the simpler and less awkward option of being Peter Parker ready to become Spider-Man.  This entailed making a Spider Man shirt, and wearing it under an open button-up shirt, as if at any moment I could whip off the shirt and go fight crime.

The shirt was pretty straightforward, but very time consuming.  I don't know how to dye fabrics, so I decided it would be a fun idea to take a white spandex shirt (the cheapest one I could find at Marshalls) and color it with permanent markers.  I colored in the red and blue first, then drew in the black spider and webbing.

For the red spider, I drew the spider first, then the blue around it.  The black spider was drawn right over the red.  I should note that I did this because I thought it would be a cheap and easy way to make the shirt.  It was fairly simple, but incredibly time consuming and I went through many many permanent markers. 

To make the webbing, I marked the collar and waist with where each line would go using a ruler, then connected the dots.  Once the webbing was drawn in with permanent marker, I traced over it with black puffy fabric paint to give it a 3D effect.

In all, the final product was quite satisfying, but using permanent marker to draw color a shirt is a very slow process and does not give a nice rich color in the end.  On the other hand, it's quite easy :)

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Green Stuff

There is a fun material called, coloquially, 'Green Stuff,' which is amazing for sculpting on a very tiny scale.  It is actually Epoxy Putty Tape.  It comes in strips of blue and yellow, and when you mix the two components you get a green putty that can be mixed to your own preferences (how sticky it is) and hardens over roughly 24 hours.  It is a great medium to work with for art.  You can also use it for fixing things.  

My first experiment with green stuff was this spider.  It's just a green stuff spider on a rock, which I then painted with a fake gold leaf.  

Becoming more ambitious, I made this Gollum, a la Lord of the Rings, who is on a barkchip rock.  I use densitry tools and toothpicks for shaping the material.     

Miniature Terrain: Rocks and Cliffs

So continuing with foam and plaster miniatures, here are some 'natural' looking things you can make pretty simply. 

Cliffs/Rock Outcroppings:
Like always, start with a pink insulation foam base.  Make the foam base about the size you want the final piece to be, as the plaster layer on top will not be very thick.  I recommend doing this on newspaper because the plaster will adhere to whatever you have the foam sitting on. 

Mix the plaster and layer it on.  First make sure that wherever you want plaster to be, the plaster is at least a few centimeters thick so you will be able to sculpt it.  As the plaster is drying, start carving.  One really easy way to make rock-like features is to crinkle a ball of aluminum foil, and press it into the plaster.  Toothpicks can also be used effectively to draw strirations into the rocks to make them look layered. 
If you draw the lines in with a toothpick, gently press the aluminum foil in afterwards to hide the lines a little.  One of the key factors to all this is to make the impressions when the plaster is dry enough to hold the shape, but wet enough to be moldable.  This may take some practice to get used to.  Once the plaster dries a little further, you can scrape off unwanted bits or carve stronger lines into the plaster.  

For painting these rocks, I used the same idea as I did with the Argonath, and started with black and added succesively whiter layers of paint untill I was just drybrushing white onto the surface.  The ground is just brown with green fake terrain grass glued on. 

Bark chip Rocks:

One way to make small versions of big rocks is to use barkchips or woodchips.  These have naturally fine layers of detail, which, when painted, do a good rock impression.  

To make them, first dry out bark or wood chips (I use bark).  Paint black.  It can be a struggle to get paint down into the finer crevices, but the more thorough a job you do here, the better the final product will be.  Now add a layer of dark gray paint, and don't paint all the way into the deepest crevices.  Next, a layer of lighter gray, again not painting as deep as the previous layer.  Continue this, and as you get lighter, use less paint on your brush each time to help keep the paint from dripping down.  Eventually, drybrush a layer of almost white to finish.  The samples I have here aren't great paint jobs, but show how different textures of bark can make different looking rocks.

Materials Used (or close approximation)