Since May I've been on a quest for a magic potion.
My search started because of this, a mummified vampire heart. It was made using techniques shamelessly stolen from some of the old time carny shows. The kind that would let you catch a glimpse of freakish anatomical wonders, or "gaffs", if you were willing to hand over a greenback. I was extremely happy with how the heart came out, but it was missing the deep, rich finish of those old school attractions. What did I need to do to get that tanned, leathery look?
I spent a few weeks trying to duplicate it with everything from wood stain to ink washes and came up empty. Stains could reproduce the rich colors, but once the gaff was varnished or shellacked the effect went flat. Liquid acrylic could build up depth, but after a few coats it looked like a shiny film of plastic. As my own experiments fizzled out I continued researching the history of gaffs looking for a clue. What was the secret behind those rich colors? These were guys that went from town to town putting on shows for most of the year, so it's not like they had a chemistry lab available to cook up some secret elixir. It had to be something cheap and readily available.
And it is.
The secret to getting that deep finish is something I noticed back in May, but I didn't make the connection until last month. You want the warm, buttery look of fine leather? Then you want to use the same compound that gives leather it's richness. The secret is wax. Plain old paste wax.
Ordinary shoe polish will do in a pinch, but basic powdered pigments mixed with paste wax gives you more control over the colors. Need a grungier, more aged finish? Add some powdered chalk to the wax and you get the perfect aging compound. It's opaque, it sticks in crevices and wipes off raised surfaces, and you can add twenty years of dirt and grime with a few minutes of buffing.
Here's what the mummified vampire heart looks like now. Just click through for the high resolution versions of all these pictures.
Isn't that awesome? The heart has a much richer palette of reds and browns, and the waxing really brings out the details and textures. The stake was waxed with a little burnt umber pigment and the results there are just as impressive.
Seriously, click through and look at the high res versions so you can see just how much of a difference it makes. The finish provided by the waxing technique takes a good prop and kicks it up into greatness. That's not me patting myself on the back, but an appreciation of just how useful an aging technique this is. Considering that it's been in use for centuries on gaffs like the Jenny Haniver I feel like an idiot for not trying it sooner.
The last shot is my favorite. This is what the black corrupted heart of an inhuman monster looks like.
Tomorrow I'll show off the rest of the project.