Wednesday, April 2, 2014

My Turtle Adventure

This is off-topic, but here is my recent personal pet project: I made a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle costume for Geoff and me, in preparation for a local Comic-Con!

I had seen some photos of someone else's home-made TMNT costume, and figured that I could probably do the same. My coworker donated a small container of papier mache glue right before February break, when she had heard me talking about my plan to stay around town and to possibly work (idly) on this potential costume over the break.

So, here it is! I actually did it!!! I took some photos along the way, and even though the photos I had found online were pretty detailed and I had done a lot of research in addition to looking at those photos, I encountered quite a few snags along the way that were unexpected and required some minor problem-solving. Initially, I almost gave up. (I realized during the process that I 1. had never taken a proper art class before, 2. had never done papier mache!! Go big or go home, I guess.) But, I am glad I stuck it out.

So, here's a little documentation of my adventure. My husband was amazed, because seriously, I have a very short attention span and he was expecting me to never have followed through on this.

Step 1: Proof of concept. Building a papier mache base from used newspaper, and putting 3 or 4 layers of papier mache on top. The base was actually really not easy to make, since it had to already form the basic shape of the turtle head and had to be big enough to fit over our heads. The photographed instructions didn't really say how to make the base look correct, so you have to just rely on your artistic instincts. I had to take measurements of our heads and to do a little estimation as well. It helped that, online, I saw that once you make a base, you can cover it in masking tape, and then massage Vaseline all over the masking tape. This makes it easier to rip out the insides when you're done, since the papier mache won't stick to Vaseline. You also have to wait until the papier mache is completely dry to take out the insides. I wasn't that patient, but it helped that our central heat was on during the February break, and I just left it in front of the heating vent overnight. (Be careful of fire safety though.)

Step 2: Once the base was dry, I created lips and eyelids using modeling clay. I taped over the clay details with masking tape, and papier mached another few layers on top.

Step 3: Since my husband's head is somewhat bigger than mine, I was shooting originally to make a mask to fit his head first. That didn't work. I had underestimated, since his head wouldn't fit through the neck hole, even though it would have fit the rest of the mask. So, I erred on the side of making the second mask HUGE.

Step 4: I painted them over with Gesso (primer for crafts), and then acrylic paint. The Gesso was great, since it really smoothed out the rough edges of the papier mache. I noticed that the masks were starting to get a little deformed from the weight and also from moisture, so I propped them up on wine bottles to help keep their shape while drying.

Step 5: Putting the fabric masks on was pretty tricky, as I had expected. They needed to cover the eyes precisely, which meant cutting out the eye holes beforehand, but not too much, and gluing them down without smearing glue everywhere. I glued the masks down with Elmer's all-purpose glue, but they were sticking up in some places so I had to rip them off and to re-glue a new strip. Even then, they were still a little bubbly/uneven because of all the details around the eyes, so I had to twist them in order to make them stay down. Elmer's glue is a little messy for this job. Glue gun probably would have been better, but at the time I wasn't sure how well glue gun would work on papier mache, or whether the heat might destroy the material.

With some research, the shells I made out of disposable turkey baking trays. I was lucky that when I went to the supermarket, they already had oval-shaped baking trays! I hammered them down to make the edges smoother, before painting them green and outlining the patterns using a paint marker. For minimal work, I was quite happy with them.

Step 6: For the front side of the shells, I used leftover cardboard and pieces of modeling clay to create some texture, and then I masking taped the whole thing down before painting it in yellow. I attached the front to the back side with leftover fabric, and moisture-sealed everything a dozen times. This is a photo of my husband hanging out on our rooftop on a Saturday, while I sealed the paint.

Step 7: I covered the eyes and mouth with wire frame, and used paint markers to fill in the details. The wire frame was a really great move, because the masks would have otherwise been really stuffy and hot! They were very breathable in the end. I did eventually invest in some glue and a mini glue gun. I used only the low-temperature setting when gluing everything together, but I used lots of glue to make sure there was no random wire pieces sticking out inside. (My husband was concerned about safety.) 

Step 8: We also ordered a green-man bodysuit from Amazon, as well as cheap sais and nunchucks. I also made a belt for each of us with our turtle initials on them, and I velcroed them to the front and back of the turtle shells. A detail is that velcro is strong, so I ended up sewing (by hand) the velcro to parts of the cardboard, since glue gun wasn't always reliable.

Here is us with a kid at Comic-Con! It was actually a lot of fun. People took a lot of photos of us, because they were either TMNT enthusiasts or home-made costume enthusiasts, or both! It was really fun to walk around Comic Con in our costumes.

My next pet project will be taking sewing lessons, because eventually I hope to be able to make my own sun dress. This time, Geoff doesn't know whether to believe my resolve, or not. haha

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