Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Port Said, 1922

The harbor at Port Said, at the entrance of the Suez Canal in Egypt. The domed building in the far background is the Port Administration and the city proper is to the right. In the foreground harbor workers refuel a steamer with one basket of coal at a time.

As the port linking East and West it's an ideal location for all kinds of pulpy goodness. It's one of the few cities outside the United States that was visited by one of Lovecraft's protagonists- Nathanial Wingate Peaslee traveled through Said on his journey to Australia in "The Shadow Out of Time".

Monday, November 29, 2010

Sunday, November 28, 2010

The Shining Trapezohedron

There are a plethora of 2-dimensional depictions of the Shining Trapezohedron from Lovecraft's "The Haunter of the Dark", but this glass recreation from Mystic Prism is the first 3-dimensional interpretation I've seen. The swirling colors created by the boiling glass technique are quite striking.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

What's Your Pleasure?

From 1922, a merchant's shop filled with treasures in the Khan El Khalili of Cairo . Who knows what strange items or ancient artifacts might be found in it's shadowed spaces. Just click through for the high resolution version.

Another journal stuffer photograph for the "Masks of Nyarlathotep" project.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Black Friday

The holiday shopping season has now begun. Or so I'm told by the dozens of fliers, mailers, and advertisements of the last few days. Mythos aficionados may enjoy my items available on Ebay. Among the offerings are some bottled specimens and the very last Antarctic expedition and Miskatonic University lapel pins.

Zazzle is also offering some pretty impressive discounts. From 6:01 to 7:00 PM PST (9 PM on the US East Coast and 6 PM on the West Coast) they're having a 50% off sale on T-shirts. You'll find my designs, including the various Miskatonic expedition logos, over here. The discount codes should be listed on the product page, but if they're not you can find them at Zazzle's sale page.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

The Necronomicon: Vhallennes Edition

Scholars have uncovered what appears to be a French translation of the Necronomicon in the small town of Vhallennes. The work dates back to 1751 and seems to be based on the original Arabic manuscript, at least according to the marginalia left by the translator. If true, this is incredibly exciting news. Not only for the knowledge contained within, but the possibility that more copies from the same print run may be discovered.

The first batch of pictures to be released are quite intriguing.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

It Floats

Dead things don't float.

Wait, strike that. Old dead things don't float. And that's a problem if you're trying to create a convincing preserved specimen or "thing in a bottle".

Here are some examples of the real thing from the Harvard Museum of Natural History, nicked from this excellent collection on Flickr.

Here's another one- a vintage preserved jellyfish from Oxford's Museum of Natural History (taken from here).

Wonderful, aren't they? Icky, vaguely disturbing, and, like all well preserved biological specimens, they're not bobbing around like corks. Which is where the problem comes in if you're trying to reproduce a prop version. How do you keep your lovingly created bit of nastiness from floating?

Unfortunately, most of the materials that are ideal for long term display in fluid are buoyant. Worse, even materials that are denser than water, like resin and most hardened polymer clays, will float if air is trapped inside. That can really come back to bite you at the worst possible time. Like when you discover your meticulously sculpted masterpiece acts like a life preserver because of the air bubbles in the loosely packed armature of aluminum foil.

The easiest way to get around the problem is to add enough weight to your specimen that it won't float. That can create some problems of it's own, since having your critter banging around on the bottom of it's container looks just as fake as it floating. Not to mention the potential damage that banging will cause of over time.

So how do you find the balance between too heavy and too light? You cheat.

I'll use this worm as an example. I know that, in general, silicone and latex are very close to being neutrally buoyant. That can change based on how much air gets trapped in them as they set up, but a good rule of thumb is that they're just slightly buoyant. That means the body of the worm will want to float. The resin teeth, on the other hand, are heavier than water. That means the creature as a whole is top heavy and wants to flip end for end.

So how do I tweak it to keep it's buoyancy under control? I add ballast, just like in a ship. While you could use anything heavy I think glass (specifically the little decorative glass beads used for flower arranging) is the best material available. It's cheap, readily available, and totally inert. A glass rod inserted into the body of the worm during sculpting will provide more than enough weight to keep it from floating.

Then, to counteract it's now considerable negative buoyancy, I add an air bubble to the upper body. Just like a dive marker or a crabber's marker buoy, the small amount of air trapped in the upper body keeps it pointing towards the surface and acts as a damper on the creatures inertia. Conveniently, a 9/16 plastic bead has just enough air inside to balance a glass bead of equal or slightly larger size.

Admittedly, making sure fake bottled specimens don't float isn't an issue for most people. If it looks creepy, so what if it bobs around? On the other hand, being aware of how to use buoyancy to your advantage opens up some really interesting techniques. If you're crafting a tentacled monstrousity it's pretty handy to know that putting a drop of hot glue inside the tip of latex tentacles will produce a cool floating effect.

Or you could just have someone else do all the work and admire the nifty bottled specimen on your shelf. Coincidentally, the plump worm with the toothy maw, along with some of it's relatives, will be on Ebay for Black Friday. And nothing quite captures the spirit of the holidays like a bloated, flesh devouring invertebrate.

Red Talisman

Hungarian artist Christian Hartmann brings us this wonderfully textured red talisman.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

AGM Heartland

Director Neill Blomkamp, he of "District 9" fame, has a nifty little viral video in the new digital issue of Wired magazine. As you would expect, the prop specimen is a wonderful piece of work. The acting and dialogue? Not so much.

From Many-Columned Y'ha-nthlei

Artist Casey Love brings us this Deep One bust. The shimmering effect of the eyes is incredible.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Black Friday

Traditionally, this Friday is a shopping frenzy marking the start of the holiday buying season. In the past I've had a "Black Friday Secret Master" sale and I'll be doing the same this year. Nothing big, mind you, but a nice little collection of stocking stuffers including a mix of journals, postcards, and stickers. Best of all, it's cheap- just $10 plus shipping.

Miskatonic Specimen Label

One can never have too many specimen labels. This 2" by 3" version has more of a late 1800s/early 1900s feel. I refrained from adding decorative elements because of the already small size. Just click through for the full sized image.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Kenya, Where the Black Wind Blows

Just east of Lake Taganyika in Kenya, natives fall to their knees. Do they fear the Black Wind, or hail it?

Another photograph for the "Masks of Nyarlathotep" project. This picture didn't need much repurposing, since it actually was taken where it says it was. It's from a 1916 British naval expedition transporting troops, equipment, and two entire patrol boats from the coast to Lake Tanganyika. Once there they successfully engaged the German naval force stationed on the lake. The story of the grueling transit of the Kenyan territorial interior, which just screams to be turned into a motion picture, was published by National Geographic in 1922. The caption says the natives are reacting to their first look at an airplane.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Laboratory Props

Tonight I will spend the princely sum of $1 to make my monthly lottery ticket purchase. I know it's a fool's game, with an infinitesimally small chance of winning, but hope springs eternal. As long as I keep it to once a month I figure I'm getting good entertainment value for my dollar.

On the off chance I do win, the one truly extravagant purchase I plan on making is a complete mad scientist's lab. I've lusted after after one since I was a child, and Stelter Creative is the place I'll be getting most of the furnishings from. This is what I dream of having when money is no object. Wish me luck.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Africa, 1922

A map of Africa taken from the 1922 edition of Winston's Cumulative Loose Leaf Encyclopedia. This is another of the journal stuffer paper props for "Masks of Nyarlathotep". You can download a very high resolution PDF over here.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

The Dead Shall Walk

The very talented Leo Dias has a handy tutorial on creating killer zombie makeup using very simple materials. You'll find the first part here and the second over here , with text in both English and Portuguese.

A zombie walk participant enjoys a quick snack.

One of Leo's insanely detailed urban zombie resin masks surrounded by various appliances and makeup supplies.

The basic technique using liquid latex can be adapted for a multitude of applications. One of the great things about it is the built in success rate. The first time you do it the results will be good, and the makeup will just look better as you get more experience.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Crass Commercialism

I have some items up on Ebay that you may enjoy.

Beyond the Mountains of Madness Goodies

Mike Fanara over at Geedunk Props has been cranking out some great supplemental props for Chaosium's published Call of Cthulhu adventures. He's whipped up some especially nice ones for "Beyond the Mountains of Madness", including a great certificate for the Shellback ceremony.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

The Road To L.

Innsmouthmania has an interesting post on "The Road To L.", a documentary about Lovecraft's mysterious journey to Italy. It's a very subtle bit of Yog-Sothery, and if you have a half hour to spare the entire short film is available on YouTube. The props are very well done and integrated seamlessly into the story.

Cthulhu Fhtagn! Poppe Edition

I'm familiar with Richard Allen Poppe's other Mythos sculptures, but I wasn't aware he'd done a Cthulhu idol.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Tillinghast Specimen

There's a reason for all those Tillinghast Field warning stickers. Fail to pay attention and you could find something like this gnawing on your flesh.

A quick and dirty shot of a critter I was working on over the weekend. The skin is latex over a silicone core and the teeth are epoxy resin. The gooey, chunky slime is cornstarch and water that was heated to boiling in the microwave and then cooled. Yes, it's essentially gravy. Heh.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Bottled Horrors

If you're here for the "Thing in a Bottle" material, you'll find the tutorials and techniques information under this category. The basic bottle labels are here.

(There's been a spike in traffic because Boing Boing linked to Kawfi's "Project Thing in a Jar" post. Boing Boing picked it up from Super Punch, which picked it up from yesterday's post here, and Kawfi's tutorial links back here.)

Miskatonic Class of '25

A selection of yearbook portraits for the Miskatonic University class of '25.

I've started scanning material from some vintage college yearbooks for the Miskatonic University project. It's interesting to see the things that haven't really changed in close to a century, like the endless pages of student portraits and group shots of every sports team imaginable. Then you run across something like the Engineering Society's annual minstrel show in blackface, or the Ku Klux Klan honor society at a respected University, and you realize it was a totally different world.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

The Edge of Time

The basics of aging paper are absurdly simple- use tea to stain the fibers and allow the sheet to dry. Like many others, I learned that method in grade school and have been using it with minor variations for decades. It's quick, it's easy, and it does a reasonably good job of reproducing the browning and oxidation of old paper.

With some minor tweaks tea staining can also recreate the darkened edges found in old documents. While your sheet is still damp simply sponge more tea along the edges, allowing the paper fibers to soak up more of the tannic acid in the solution. In essence you're accelerating the natural process of wicking that causes the edge discoloration/oxidation in real fiber papers and parchments.

When trying to create the look of something truly old, like an ancient scroll, you also need to create the ragged edge produced when tiny fragments of paper break off over time. In the past I've used a deckling blade to produce that effect, but I think I've stumbled on a better method.

Previously, I would rip the paper along the deckling blade to get a rough edge and then begin the staining process. Now I stain the paper, wait until it's almost dry, and then use the sharpened end of a bamboo skewer to flake off bits of paper. Just press the point of the bamboo into the edge of the paper and tear off small pieces using a flicking motion. It sounds tedious, but once you get the hand motion down the process goes quickly.

Here's a look at the results using a standard sheet of printer paper. Just click through for a higher resolution version.

The skewer technique produced a wonderful worn edge, and the exposed fibers soaked up another sponging of tea to create the darkened oxidation border of old paper. Here's a closer look.

I experimented with some internal wear and the results were generally good. The only thing I wasn't happy with was the paper bunching seen along the edges of the wear spots, particularly the one slightly left of center. The fix for that is easy- once you've made your initial tear use the skewer tip to rip small flakes toward the center of the hole instead of ripping outward.

This all might seem a bit picayune, but it's the little details like this that help make a convincing prop. Live action props are the most difficult kind to create, more so than anything on stage or film, since they're subjected to minute, detailed examination. Paying attention to the edge treatment not only produces something that looks more realistic, but feels more realistic.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Cthulhu Fhtagn! Bertmer Edition

Artist Florian Bertmer brings us this stylized Cthulhu idol. The design has an almost Art Nouveau look, and the weathering job is superb.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Project Thing In A Jar

Kawfi brings us a profusely illustrated tutorial on making a "Thing In A Jar". I love the gnarly, dripping wax seal.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

The Cthulhu Artifact

CoastConFan did a very nice writeup about the Arkham Sanitarium props. The post includes this picture, showing a nifty Cthulhu (Cthulhoid?) sculpture. What interests me about the piece is that it looks like something that was actually excavated from a dig, and that's a very tough effect to pull off. Cthulhu idols are normally approached as art pieces meant for display, so there's a natural tendency to craft idealized depictions that appeal to modern tastes. That's not a bad thing in the slightest, but this one goes in a different direction, both in finish and design, and I really like the result.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

The Big Time

I'm told that being a powerful and influential member of the new media is a gateway to all kinds of free swag. Marketers bombard you with product samples, review copies of every sort, giveaways...it's a never ending stream of freebies.

At least one company has now recognized Propnomicon as a true trendsetter and opinion shaper.

Them: Hello, we're a large internet retailer and we would like to do a giveaway with you. After careful study we've determined your audience would love our products.

Me: Great! What did you have in mind?

Them: We'd like to have a contest, and the prize is awesome- enameled cast iron cookware with a value of $75!

Me: Er...uh...cookware? Don't get me wrong, I love quality cookware, but it's not something the blog really focuses on. To be honest, the subject of cookware hasn't come up once. Have you actually, you know, looked at the blog? How about giving away a copy of the "Arkham Horror" game? It's available through your storefront.

Them: That wouldn't be a good promotional giveaway. Your audience is more interested in high quality cookware.

Sadly, I had to pass on this wonderful promotional opportunity. Heh.

Update: Damn, I just remembered there actually is some Lovecraftian "cookware"- the lead vessels used to hold the essential salts in "The Case of Charles Dexter Ward". I could have mined this for some real comedy gold.

The Radhost Complector

Laura sent in a link to "The Radhost Complector" from artist James Ewing. Put simply, it's one of the very best faux occult devices I've ever seen. It works on so many levels, from the design to the use of authentic materials (oak, copper, brass, and citrine), that I instantly fell in love.

"The pointer of the Complector is a shard of citrine quartz suspended in the middle of three spinning brass rings that revolve to show you where you are, or perhaps warn you that you are on the wrong path. The hand beaten spherical brass map is protected by a segmented layer of oak and then encased in a cage of dressed copper and brass. A small covered portal in the Complector' front can be opened in order to check your heading or you can open the top altogether if you are in fear of getting lost in the ether."

Monday, November 8, 2010

Hyperborean Weapon

Dale Bigford was kind enough to send over some snapshots of a truly remarkable prop- a recreation of the Hyperborean weapon from Mike Mignola's "Witchfinder". This isn't a resin casting. No, it's real wood, leather, sinew, and brass (there being a notable dearth of authentic Hyperborean metal in our world).

I'll let Mr. Bigford take it from here. Just click through on any of the images for a high resolution version.

No one is keeping the H.P. Lovecraft torch lit these days like Mike Mignola. One of his characters is a 19th century occult investigator named Sir Edward Grey. He has a very bizzare/sad future but Mignola hasn't explained that yet.

His first stand alone graphic novel is "WITCHFINDER: In the Service of Angels" In it a creature from Hyperborea origin returns from the dead and goes on a killing spree. Figuring heavily in the story is a Hyperborean sword/club. Mignola explained it as "a broken Hyperborean sword that some caveman turned into a great weapon". Being from the culture that created and oppressed the creature it is the one thing it fears.

It's basically a broken blade secured in a split wooden shaft and tied with hide and sinew strips. I made the blade out of bronze (in the book the blade is distincly yellow) and aged the wood and sinew accordingly. The theory is that even though the blade is thousands of years old the metallurgy is so advanced its sheen does not dim.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Miskatonic Swim Team

The Miskatonic University Varsity swim team, from the 1925 yearbook. And, yes, one of the top swimmers is from Innsmouth. Just click through for the high resolution version.

This is a retouched photo from one of the vintage yearbooks I've been collecting for the Miskatonic University project. It's not quite ready to launch yet, but it's getting close. In addition to the items that have already been discussed I want to include a goodly amount of vintage-style collegiate ephemera in the package.

Seeing the Unseen

Artist "Bone Engine" brings us this this intriguing monocle crafted from wood, leather, copper, and brass.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Miskatonic University Student ID

This is a first pass at putting together a Miskatonic University student ID. Most of the actual work went in to trying to reproduce the look of vintage printing consistently, which came out pretty well. It's not quite where I want it to be yet, but it's a solid start. Just click through for the high resolution versions.