Monday, May 31, 2010

Arkham Sanitarium, Part Deux

I've moved from doing sketches of potential Arkham Sanitarium logos to rough layouts in Illustrator. There's still quite a way to go, but things are moving along. Slowly and painfully, but they're moving.

This is the first iteration, when I was still thinking of having a central design of the Rod of Asclepius with a psi symbol and lantern on either side. I inked the rod by hand and then scanned it in and converted it into a vector image. After doing a few sketches I finally found a shield design that didn't make the "Arkham Sanitarium" lettering look awkward.

The second iteration, with the Rod of Asclepius merged with the greek letter psi used to symbolize psychiatry and psychology. Looking at it now I think it's the best layout of everything I've tried. The curving arms of the psi nicely echo the shape of the shield, but the font is a little weak.

Third iteration, returning to the concept of using multiple symbols. The only thing I really like about it is the font. Everything else is pretty blah.

The fourth try. It's not working for me, and I think the motto is just a distraction.

This is the part of designing things that I have a love/hate relationship with. I've come up with a few elements that work (the proportions between the shield shape and the lettering, the snake and psi design), but I've also gone through a ton of things that look terrible. That's one of the reasons I haven't posted any of the variations using wreaths or the multiple lamp designs I experimented with.

The one great thing about doing the work on a computer is that it's so easy to add and remove elements and move things around. Personally, I'm a firm believer in Sturgeon's Law- 90% of everything is crap. A computer isn't going to make you better at anything, but it's a miracle machine at letting you work through the 90% so you can get to the 10% that's worthwhile faster.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Bound Spirit Skull

A spirit binding skull is a magical implement used to capture and hold non-corporeal entities. It's created using a set of obscure rituals performed on the skull of a killer that has taken a human life with his own hand. Once procured it's scoured of all flesh with black sand, sealed along the calvarium and eye sockets with a mixture of clay and bone dust, and empowered during a final casting session that consumes part of the creator's life force.

To use it the caster confronts the spirit he desires to trap and begins chanting the ritual of binding. He then exposes the foramen magnum, the hole at the bottom of the skull where the spine connects to the brain, and compels the final binding. If the spell is successful the spirit is drawn into the skull. The caster can then seal the magnum opening with more of the bone and clay mixture to trap it permanently.

I've had this prop skull for close to ten years. It started life, so to speak, as one of the defective anatomical skulls sold as Halloween decorations by the Anatomical Chart Company. The top of the skull is removable so that students can study the brain cavity, but mine had a particularly rough time coming out of the mold and had a massive gap between the skullcap and lower skull. I covered that up with a few windings of sisal cord, slapped a detail wash of black acrylic on it, and used it as part of my Halloween display until last year.

I pulled it out of storage when I needed something substantial for a paperweight on my desk. The old finish was fine for a background prop on Halloween, but since I was going to be looking at it every day it needed a makeover. The first step was giving it a wash with Golden Oak woodstain for a nice aged look. Then I formed the clay plugs in the eye sockets from epoxy putty. After hardening they received a quick coat of brown acrylic.

To add some more wear and tear I mixed up some griming paste in a paper cup using a few tablespoons of baking cocoa, a healthy dollop of PVA glue, and a good shot of dark green acrylic paint. Why green? The woodstain produced a warm orangish finish on the skull, so the faint greenish tint of the paste would add some contrast. I thoroughly stirred the mixture, adding more cocoa powder until it was the consistency of cake batter. Then I used a paper towel to apply the paste with a scrubbing motion, dulling the shiny finish left by the woodstain and producing more of a satin effect. To reproduce the look of the clay seal around the top of the skull I used a cheap paintbrush to slather a thick coat of the griming paste over the sisal and then wiped it off with paper towels. Once all that was dry I did a light drybrushing with yellow and antique white, followed by a spray coat of sealer.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

More Vintage Telephone and Telegraph Gear

More vintage telephone and telegraph gear from the 1922 Montgomery Wards mail-order catalog. These scans complete the page I started posting last weekend. Ultimately I'll be collecting all these together in a PDF of period equipment for adventurers, investigators, and experimenters.

Friday, May 28, 2010

The Innsmouth Look, Revisited

Last week I posted about this amazing bust of an Innsmouth native. Unfortunately, I didn't point out that the spectacular paint job on John Cherevka's sculpt was done by Rick Cantu. Which is rather odd considering I spent a goodly amount of time browsing Mr. Cantu's website, but somehow managed to totally ignore his work in the actual post.

Clearly, my mind had been addled by arcane influences.

I apologize to Mr. Cantu for the embarrassing oversight on my part. What makes it particularly galling is that his incredible detail work is a huge part of why the bust is so impressive.

The Yellow Sign

This is a roughly inked version of the Yellow Sign, based on the design from the early printings of "The King in Yellow" by Robert W. Chambers. The depiction of the King on the cover of those editions has been copied by hundreds of artists, but only a handful have used the inverted torch featured on both the front cover and the spine. Based on it's historical usage I think there's a strong case to be made that it's not just a random decorative element, but a depiction of the Yellow Sign. You can find more information on the subject, including the Sign's uncanny resemblance to an inverted Rod of Asclepius, in the Arkham Sanitarium post from earlier this week.

Before anybody asks, yes, I'm familiar with the three armed design created by the very talented Kevin Ross. He's a wonderful artist and I greatly admire his work, but he's open about the fact that his depiction is solely the product of his imagination. I prefer this alternate interpretation solely because of it's historical ties to Chambers' work.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Cthulhu Fhtagn! Mystery Edition

A kind emailer sent over this photograph, which appears to be a very nice Cthulhu idol in the process of being sculpted from polymer clay.

Googling the pictures filename (34353025_468ee76463.jpg) eventually leads to this "Alien" fan forum, but the discussion doesn't identify the artist and only includes a direct link to the picture on Flickr. Sadly, that makes it impossible to find what account originally posted it back in 2005.

Without any further information it becomes another of the "lost" Cthulhu idols, it's maker forever unknown.

Kurt pointed out in the comments that the picture can be found in the collection of "Dragon1" over here. Based on the other photos it looks like he's a Lovecraft fan that might have saved it while visiting the site of the original sculptor.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Oroboros and the Serpent

The snake is a popular symbol found in all sorts of esoteric belief systems, representing everything from forbidden knowledge to the great cycle of the universe itself. Artist "Ouroboric Brush" has put together a great selection of Photoshop brushes drawn from historical depictions of serpents, including the self-consuming Oroboros. You can download the entire brush pack at his DeviantArt page.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Monday, May 24, 2010

Arkham Sanitarium

I've started to put together some ideas for an Arkham Sanitarium project and thought you might find the process interesting, or at least entertaining. At this point I'm just sketching out some very rough ideas for a logo design, but the research part of the project is already well under way.

This page is a mish-mash of loose designs and notes. The logo sketches are very basic first impressions of the concept that will get refined over time. I've already decided that the caduceus, the winged Staff of Mercury, won't be part of the design. Why? A couple of reasons. First, up until the late 19th century the similar Rod of Asclepius (a snake wound around a walking stick or staff) was the accepted symbol of medical care. Conjecturally, the Sanitarium was founded before the change. Second, the caduceus has no historical connection to medicine, and it's adoption as a symbol was the result of a huge misunderstanding perpetuated by bureaucratic inertia. The Wikipedia article on the caduceus has an explanation of what happened.

You'll also notice some notes linking the Rod of Asclepius with the Yellow Sign. This is based purely on my own speculation that the inverted torch featured on the cover and spine of the initial printings of "The King in Yellow" is, in fact, the Yellow Sign. Here's a scan of the book from the Wikipedia article:

The symbolism of a torch consuming itself seems appropriate for the corrupting influence of Hastur in the Mythos. Outside of that, I think the inverted torch is a stylized depiction of the Yellow Sign, hence the notable lack of mass insanity among readers of the original book. The actual symbol looks like a tentacle (always with the tentacles!) spiraling around a spike- an almost perfectly inverted depiction of the Rod of Asclepius.

Finally, I started fiddling around with incorporating the Greek letter Psi, one of the symbols of psychiatry.

More rough sketches, with a couple of potential latin phrases. By this point I'm getting discouraged with my initial idea of having a shield shaped logo.

Some more iterations of the logo design. I've grudgingly returned to the round shape I wanted to avoid, but it certainly looks better than any of the shield designs. At the bottom are a few notes about how the accepted physical location of the Sanitarium in Arkham came to be. I'm increasingly convinced that both Lovecraft and Wilson drew on the history of the Dexter Asylum in Providence for that and other historical details.

There you have it- the rough beginnings of the Arkham Sanitarium project. With an emphasis on the "rough", as my misshapen sketches and horrifically bad handwriting attest. This is different from most pure design projects in that the attractiveness of the final logo isn't the sole criteria of success, at least to my mind. It also has to have a solid grounding in the history of both the real world and the fictional realm of the Mythos.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Vintage Telephone and Telegraph Gear

From the pages of the 1922 Montgomery Ward mail order catalog, a selection of classic era telegraph and telephone gear. Click through for the high resolution version.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Dwelling Deep and Dark

From "NDKARTWORK", a sculpt in progress from beneath the waves.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Demon Child

Artist J. Abegglen created this wonderfully grotesque preserved demon child. I can't quite put my finger on why, but this is one of the few gaffe-style works I find genuinely creepy. The subtle translucence of the body and the brutally convincing anatomical detail give it a very realistic appearance.

If you're interested in producing something similar, Mr. Abegglen has kindly posted a complete tutorial featuring step-by-step directions and photographs. Grab a block of Super Sculpey today and you'll have quite the weekend project.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

The Innsmouth Look

From artist John Cherevka comes this fantastically detailed bust of an Innsmouth native. I'm not sure which is more impressive- the sculpt, or the fantastic paint job by Rick Cantu.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Small Gods

Last year I mentioned how much I liked the resin Abubuju statuette from Nethercraft, but in the hustle of the holidays I never took any pictures when it arrived. I banged out a couple this morning, featuring the howling wood spirit and a few of his ne'er do well buddies. The last shot gives you a nice look at the excellent wood grain texture sculpted into the piece.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Vintage Printable

The always resourceful Alban sent over a link to Vintage Printable, a website collecting...well, a little of everything. Vintage ephemera, medical illustrations, classic alchemical texts, old magic posters...there are well over a hundred different categories of material. All of it in high resolution, free of copyright, and yours for the taking.

This is one of those great sites where you can spend hours just looking at what's available. Site navigation is a little wiggy, but that's a minor quibble compared to amazing quality and quantity of the collection.

Monday, May 17, 2010


Artist Jason McKittrick created this preserved werejaguar fetus. The anatomical detail of the sculpt is impressive.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Vintage Flashlights

More bounty from the 1922 Montgomery Wards mail order catalog- a selection of battery powered flashlights. Click through for the high resolution scan.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Vampire Hunter

This scan of a vintage tintype is part of the vampire project I mentioned yesterday. I've left the original outline intact to serve as a trimming guide.

You can create a reproduction tintype by printing photographs on clear decal sheets (available at office supply stores) and then applying them to aluminum flashing from your local home supply store. A less involved method is to have the photograph developed normally, glue it to flashing using a spray adhesive, and then trim to size.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Mummified Vampire Heart

All this week I've been working on producing a realistic mummified vampire heart as part of a larger project. After a few failed attempts I finally have something I'm happy with.

Isn't it icky? The large hole in the left auricle is where the ashen stake that de-animated this particular vampire entered the heart. Along the top you can see the stubs of the major vessels (pulmonary artery, aorta, superior and inferior vena cava) from when the heart was cut from the creature's chest.

Here's a shot from a slightly lower angle with a few dissection probes in the background. The white spot on the front is wear from the heart bouncing around in a box for a few decades. Click through to the high resolution version and you can see one of the clues to how it was made- the characteristic webbing produced by rubbing a thin layer of liquid latex.

A wider shot with one of the large statues from the infamous Bag of Cthulhu for scale.

Obverse side, showing the stake's exit wound. I love how old and leathery the heart muscle looks, just like a piece of beef jerky.

Looking down from the top. If you look closely you can actually see the interior of the heart through the stubs of the vessels and the stake entry wound. Layers of cotton fibers dyed reddish brown and mixed with liquid latex look amazingly like mummified muscle tissue when they dry.

Now I just have to figure out an appropriately creepy mount for it. I want to do a sideshow-style presentation, but finding the right cabinet is proving difficult.

The Package

A very nicely done prop tableau by Florian Mellies. There's an entire story encapsulated in this one shot.

Thursday, May 13, 2010


Vintage firearms ammunition, brought to you by the Montgomery Wards mail order catalog and the fine folks at Remington.

Deep One Amulet

Artist "Crazy Clayz" braved the depths to bring us this Deep One amulet.

What makes this work, at least to my eyes, is the cracked texture. Polymer clay is a fantastic material, but unless you're a master sculptor it's extremely difficult to pull off pieces with a smooth surface. The eye is naturally drawn to the minor imperfections in the finish and proportions produced by hand-crafted work.

I'm not saying that as a criticism of CC's amulet, which I think looks great, but as a general observation drawn from my own experience. Smooth is hard. Damn hard, especially with a material that becomes softer and more pliable as it's worked. When an inadvertent touch leaves a fingerprint or surface dent it requires an amazing level of skill (or multiple bakings, but that's another post) to make a smooth finish look good.

That's one of the reasons I like texture in polymer clay pieces. Even minor texturing adds enough visual interest to distract the eye from the imperfections that can make a piece look crude. Just a light once over with something as simple as a ball of crumpled aluminum foil can cover a multitude of sins, and I write that as someone well aware of his limitations as a sculptor.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Like Rich, Dark Mahogany

You know you're a prop geek when the highlight of your day is just how cool the patina on your mummified vampire heart looks. I still have to make sure the finish is stable, but right now it looks like aged and polished wood. Once everything dries I'll post some pictures.

A Good Nights Sleep

More from the vintage Montgomery Ward's catalog, this time a selection of camping furniture.

This is intended for filler in prop documents, but I also like its utility as a historical resource. None of the gear would look out of place today, and in some cases the vintage stuff is superior in strength and durability.

Reanimation Device

From artist Andrea Falaschi, a curiously organic reanimation device.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

H. P. Lovecraft: The Secret History

Alban sent over a link to this illuminating article about the secret history of H. P. Lovecraft. The entry, from the French Uncyclopedia, is filled with startling revelations and some impressive photographs.

Fiat Lux

More classic era adventuring gear, this time a selection of carbide lamps and camping stoves. Taken from the 1922 "Jubilee" edition of the Montgomery Ward's mail order catalog. Just click through for the high resolution version.

Monday, May 10, 2010


A period photograph of an initiate to the Esoteric Order of Dagon in Innsmouth, Massachusetts.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Arkham Sanitarium Postcard

A prop postcard of Arkham Sanitarium, based on a period painted-color example. To produce the finished prop, click through to download the high resolution version, download the back and postmark over here, and then:

1. Print the front image on cardstock and trim it to 4" X 6".
2. Adjust your printer document size to 4" by 6", flip over your trimmed card, and print the back side.
3. Apply stamp.
4. Run the back side of the card through the printer again to apply the postmark.

Optionally, you can follow that up with a rubdown with fine sandpaper along the corners and edges, then apply a light wash of tea to age the finished postcard.

Update: It escaped my age-addled memory that I had a new card back already finished. Just click through for the high resolution version.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Innsmouth Fetus

The incredibly talented Leo Dias sent over some pictures of his latest work, a preserved fetus suffering from the Innsmouth taint. As usual, it's quite impressive.