September 12, 2013

Smaug the Golden Dragon Costume

"My armour is like tenfold shields, my teeth are swords, my claws spears, the shock of my tail is a thunderbolt, my wings a hurricane, and my breath death!"—Smaug, The Hobbit, JRR Tolkien

"There he lay, a vast red-golden dragon, fast asleep; thrumming came from his jaws and nostrils, and wisps of smoke, but his fires were low in slumber. Beneath him, under all his limbs and his huge coiled tail, and about him on all sides stretching away across the unseen floors, lay countless piles of precious things, gold wrought and unwrought, gems and jewels, and silver red-stained in the ruddy light."

"Conversation with Smaug" 
by JRR Tolkien

Smaug the Magnificent

Smaug is first among dragons, for me. To a 10-year-old girl who turned into a 30-year-old woman known to everyone for loving dragons, Smaug is the dragon of dragons. He was the first talking dragon I encountered, before discovering Anne McCaffrey's Pern. He was intelligent and liked to riddle, and I liked thinking about dragons as something other than just fantastic beasts. He is even sometimes reported by Forbes as the richest fictional character. (Sometimes they say he is second to Scrooge McDuck.) Smaug is just plain cool.

The mask for Smaug is the same as the Black Dragon mask I made last year for Halloween, sprayed red and then covered with a mist of shiny gold microglitter. Gold horns, rubies, and pearls from his rich bed accent his face. 

A Vast Red-Golden Dragon

I struggled with deciding to make Smaug gold with red accents, or red with gold accents. Popular interpretations show him as simply a red dragon, but I felt that wasn't true to his description. In "Conversation with Smaug," Tolkien himself rendered Smaug as an orange-gold color with scales and wings only outlined in red. He is called "Smaug the Golden" for crying out loud. This lends me and a minority of other artists to view Smaug as a gold dragon. We are a very small minority, though, and with the growing popularity of the Hobbit movies, red Smaugs are winning the day. Therefore with my costume, I decided to go with a red base and strong gold accents as a compromise. 

What Makes A Smaug

"Smaug lay, with wings folded like an immeasurable bat, turned partly on one side, so that the hobbit could see his underparts and his long pale belly crusted with gems and fragments of gold from his long lying on his costly bed."

Clearly the distinctive feature of a Smaug is the gem-encrusted belly with bare area on the left breast, where Bilbo noticed he had missed a spot when letting the riches of his mountain become embedded in his belly for protection. This is likely the only way to identify a Smaug from any other red-gold dragon living in The Lonely Mountain. This chest piece is made of craft foam sections, sealed with glue and spray-painted, then covered with gems, gold coins, and glitter. Complete with a pale white bare spot on the left breast, just asking to be shot with an arrow.

There was a red scale ridge running down the center of the chest piece originally, but once I added the rest of the scales to the dress, the gems suddenly looked small and underplayed. I went back and pulled off all but the very top ridge scale, and filled in the empty spaces with more gems. The rest of the ridges I re-used on the head piece to make a type of cowl.

Batlike Wings

He's got some.

Satin on the underlining and backed in vinyl, for a nice leathery feel. The fabric was mounted on an articulating wooden frame. Unfortunately, I didn't mount the fabric in a way that actually allowed the frame to move, and ended up fixing the wing joints in place. The shoulder hinges still allowed them to fold straight back, but they could not furl or unfurl.

Claws Top and Bottom

To make the claws for Smaug, I used 2 pairs of rubber gauntlets from a Halloween shop. I cut the hand pieces from the bracers, and sealed them with Mod Podge, then spray-painted. The spray paint never dried properly and remained tacky, despite a second seal layer. It might have been the type of rubber, because I used primer and two different types of spray paint, painted on a very hot dry day, and gave plenty of time to set. They still worked decently, however, as long as I didn't touch them on things much. I used window and door foam sealant to fill in the empty spaces and attach them to a pair of shoes. For the hands, I hand-stitched the claws to a pair of red gloves.

The Shock of My Tail is a Thunderbolt

Because, he's a dragon. I made the tip of the tail have the same shape as Tolkien's "Conversation with Smaug" illustration. The structure of the tail was made from a large plastic toy snake, reinforced with rubber bands at the joints and wrapped with foam pipe insulation for bulk. The toy snake has a great jointed movement, which let the tail have a natural sway when I walked.

O Smaug the Chiefest and Greatest of Calamities

"I only wished to have a look at you and see if you were truly as great as tales say."
- Bilbo, to Smaug

Dragon*Con 2013
Atlanta, GA

September 10, 2013

Black Dragon Mask

The finished version of the black dragon mask made in Fall 2012. Dragon mask in progress.

October 23, 2012

Verisimilitude Sylva: Oneiric

Verisimilitude Sylva: Oneiric

Mixed media on canvas. Old book pages, watercolor, acrylic, gesso, ink, stamp. 

Deep into that darkness peering, long I stood there, wondering, fearing, doubting, dreaming dreams no mortal ever dared to dream before.
Edgar Allan Poe

 The hair started to go a different way, but wasn't working and ended up changing.

October 17, 2012

Dragon Mask in progress

This is a project I want to share that, while perhaps embarrassing to admit this level of nerdery, is challenging and fun. I'm developing a black dragon costume to wear for Halloween and possibly Dragon*Con 2013 (ahhh DragonCon /nostalgia). It is much like my gold Smaug dragon costume two years ago, but since then I have learned so much about costuming and seen so many inspirational costumes of all types that I wanted to revisit it.

One thing I've been learning is the difference between wearing a costume and costuming. I love Halloween, and love to dress up to celebrate. But wearing a costume for Halloween- even one I made myself- was no where near the time, effort, research, and technique I have seen go into costuming. And don't get me wrong: I don't fancy myself a costumer. The skill and creativity I've seen some people display is awe-inspiring, and I know my skills are not at that level. But it is fun to learn about the techniques.

Another thing I've learned: Face Off. If you're even remotely crafty and interested in special effects in movies, check it out. It's reality TV but very minimal on the drama, and maximal(1) on the art. Addictive.

Anyway, dragon mask.

I started with a basic plain white face mask from Michaels.

Creepy, no?

Sketched some guiding lines loosely based on miscellaneous dragon art, and cut off the jaw-area part of the mask so that I can talk/breathe/drink boozes.

And then started molding. I tried Crayola's Model Magic, mostly because a package happened to be hanging directly in front of my face as I was shopping at Michael's. It is really soft, and stays a little squishy even when fully dry. However, it is also really light, which makes it great for forming the structural base of the face. That rhymed.

Yes I know, it looks like a duck. Bear(2) with me. 

For these small spines and horns, I used Sculpey clay and baked it to hardness. Sculpey is good for fine details, and hardens with some natural shine. The Model Magic air clay is very matte.

The primer I used on the mask is flat black, despite looking silver here. I gently removed all of the clay pieces before priming, being sure not to lose the shape of the clay, and then used simple Super Glue to put them back in place permanently.

After all of the pieces were dried and glued in place, I worked on the horns and texture. The horns are store-bought and I made bases for them to rest in using a wet clay that air-hardens. I forget what it's called. Mostly because it was 1) super messy, 2) broke into semi-dried chunks as I worked it, and 3) is like a rock when it hardens. Each base is hard and heavy. I will probably toss them and replicate them with the Model Magic clay.

To get a really nice scaly-hide texture, I used Make It Stone from Krylon as a base, and then covered it with Oil Rubbed Bronze brushed metallic spraypaint, also from Krylon. You can see here that I used the jaw-area from the face mask (mentioned above) to also make a lower jaw for the mask. I don't know if I will wear it, but if so, it will match.

Then I used the Sculpey spines (pictured above) and duct tape to make side wings for the face.

And that is where it stands today, with two weeks left until Halloween (and only a few days until the first party). 

(1)Turns out that is actually a word, not just one that I made up.
(2)Little-known grammatical pet peeve: when people type "Bare with me." They should at least buy me a drink first.

October 16, 2012

Verisimilitude Sylva: Mimesis

Verisimilitude Sylva: Mimesis
Acrylic, gesso, book pages, watercolor, graphite, ink, digital, and paper on canvas. Sealed for protection.

May 17, 2012

Verisimilitude Sylva: Irenic

The first in my new mixed media series, which is titled "Verisimilitude Sylva." This piece is titled "Irenic." It was created with acrylic, gesso, book pages, watercolor, graphite, ink, digital, and paper on canvas. Sealed for protection.


April 13, 2012

Columbus Alive! mention

My 'Steampunk Columbus' skyline spotted in the newest Columbus Alive! issue.

Thanks, William, for the photo!