Monday, May 5, 2014

Preserved Dragon's Egg

We bring to you today a preserved egg of the Northern Armored Drake (Dracorexus loricatus), one of the more elusive species of dragonkind.  Just right click on any of the photos below to open up the super-sized version in another tab.

This was a fun little project. The egg itself started life as an Easter toy. After epoxying the seam I injected it with expanding foam to give it a nice, solid feel. As much as I like "Game of Thrones" I absolutely hated the scaled texture treatment they gave their dragon eggs. I wanted something leathery studded with bony protrusions. After sanding down the plastic to give it some tooth I applied the first layer of skin with paper clay. The leathery texture was a simple matter of mixing up the paper clay slightly wet, waiting for a "skin" to form while it dried, and then pushing and prodding it to get those nice organic folds.

While the paper clay was still moist I applied the armor studs. They're shells, more precisely the shells of Patelloida Lottiidae, the star limpet.  I wish I could take credit for the idea of detailing gaffs with seashells, but it's actually an old technique I stumbled across.  Once the skin was dry I added some more texture using paperclay and then gave the whole thing a once over with shellac.

Have I mentioned how much I love shellac?  It not only provides a warm, aged finish, but it's amazingly tough stuff.  Back before the invention of things like polyurethane and acrylic it was the the go-to sealant for gaff makers working in paper mache.

Once the egg was finished I needed a suitable container.  This started life as a box for bath salts painted with the most insipid faux-Chinese imagery imaginable.  While they skimped on the art design they invested heavily in getting the toughest, most solvent resistant paint imaginable.  I tried sanding it off, but the paint had actually seeped into the unsealed wood.  After removing as much as I could I taped off the panels and sponged it with a mix of red, dark brown, and metallic copper acrylic.  I followed that with a coat of stain.

With the terrible paint job fixed it was time to tackle the cheap hardware.  The original fittings were bargain basement brass-plated steel.   I replaced them with leather strapping attached with copper studs.  The "dragon tooth" catch is an antler tip that got the once over with a Dremel carving bit to roughen it up.

The final step was buffing down the box and hardware with Schmutz.  That's my standby mixture of furniture wax, burnt umber oil paint, and ground up pastel chalks.  It fills up any indentations with grime and produces a warm patina on any flat surfaces.  Take a look at the large versions of the pics to see how it brings out the grain and every imperfection.

If you like this piece it just happens to be available on Ebay


gndn said...

Your box is beautiful. The grain shows up really well. How is it hinged?

I've been staining unfinished boxes with vinegar and steel wool, and then applying shoe polish. It gives a nice effect. The only down side is I have to remove all the cheap hardware, age it with Brass Black, then reapply it with aged brass nails instead of the original screws.

CoastConFan said...

I like old-fashioned gaffs myself and using unexpected materials like sea shells is a nice way to get an effect. Shellac can also be induced to crackle and by rubbing in some brown stain to simulate age-old dirt, you can get an extra layer of age. The shellac itself can take stain while in the liquid state.

The antler tip clasp is a good touch because antler is so underrated as a material for props. To doll up boxes, you can also add brass corner protectors, which can be aged nicely. Also most people forget that a box can stand on little brass feet, which are also easily available. Another possible feature is a stand for the box itself if you want more presentation. Spanish Moss is a good packing material. Being porous, I wonder about the difficulty of dying the material for different effects.

I was just thinking for extra fun, since it was an empty Easter egg base is putting in one of those battery powered cat toy gadgets inside or as a base. These days they are calling them a “weasel ball”. When you hit the hidden switch the “egg” moves in the box like something trying to get out: Decades ago when this was a new idea we took a McDonald’s bag and put the ball inside with the weasel hanging out. Crimp the bag around the animal and it looks like a creature crawled inside the bag, half hanging out. It was silly but effective as a “creature” thrashed around in a bag. Part of the stagecraft was the fact it was a real McDonald’s bag.

Propnomicon said...

@ gndn

I used leather strapping to form flexible hinges. I'll try and get a shot of them later today.

If you have some pics I'd love to see your aging treatment.

@ CoastConFan

I've grown to absolutely adore shellac. One bizarre project I've been thinking about is recreating the non-metallic swords from Raymond E. Feist's "Riftwar" novels. Kelewan is a metal-poor world, so weapons are made from natural materials laminated with natural resins.

damanoid said...

At last the question "can an egg be terrifying?" is answered. Imagine a beastie trying to lay a clutch of these things! No wonder dragons tend to be so tough, so rare, and so ill-tempered.

Propnomicon said...

@ damanoid

It's all a matter of scale. When you're 30 feet long a 4" egg is a lot easier to pass through the laying vent. Then again, passing a few dozen at the same time might be problematic.