Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Vision of the Scarecrow

Neighbors and passer-by stare in wonder and awe as they pass our creepy yard, and the days until Halloween tick down.

Our good friend Mark recently helped add a crowning touch to the Scarecrow that we fashioned for the graveyard, bringing him to life in a new way. One of Mark's many talents is repairing consumer electronics, and when I told him about the scarecrow and the plans we had, he offered to help out in a small way by stringing together a few spare LED lights he had. All I had to do was figure out a way to insert them.

Fortunately, the scarecrow's construction is quite modular and easy to disassemble. When creating him, I was trying to get as sturdy as possible without permanently affixing things so that it would be difficult to store the scarecrow. One of the nice things is that with the plastic skull as a base (see the beginning), I could drill eyeball holes easily enough to glue in the LED lights. The head is supported by a 1" PVC pipe so I could run the wires through this, down into the body where the wire could be hidden by the creature's "clothes".

Mark gave me a nice long wire I was able to snake along and tuck into the crawlspace under our front porch, where there is some weather-protected electrical access. By taking an old 3.0 volt transformer, which the LEDs run off, I could simply plug this in and voila! Our scarecrow suddenly has beady red eyes!

This really brings it to life. I can just hear the Tales from the crypt theme music, and the Cryptkeeper laugh, "What are you lookin at??"

Like what we're doing here? if you have a Facebook account, cast a vote for us at a halloween contest being sponsored by a local real estate firm.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Custom Graveyard Monuments

This year our annual haunting of Humphrey House are growing a bit out of control. I blame the book How To Haunt Your House, Jen thinks its because I don't like work as much play. Whatever the reason, the scary props are growing.

Besides the scarecrow and the graveyard fence, we also decided to take some 2" foam board and make custom grave markers for our front yard. The store bought tombstones are okay and we always steered clear of cheezy ones, but ultimately the just look so, well... fake. To liven things up, we were inspired to create some of our own tombstones.

Armed with a wire heat gun, I sculpted the remains of some 2" rigid foam insulation into various custom tombstones, which we then embellished by melting in designs with a soldering iron (note: use LOTS of ventilation!). Jen came up with all kinds of cool fonts and designs. Next up was coloring the foam board.

Mixing the same colors used on the scarecrow, we came up with a nice gray that I blended with some old drywall compound. This was used to cover the sides and back of the tombstones. I first tried this on the front of one tombstone (the "Crane" one below), but quickly remembered that this material is meant to fill in holes and cracks (duh!). It filled in the front details far too much. But on the sides and back, it gives the tombstones much more weight and appearance of somthing sculpted out of stone. A regular paint mix (no drywall compound) on the front faces made the tombstones complete.

After drying, we used black paint for any recessed details and used a nice iridescent paint we had left over (from our condo 6 years ago!) to highlight certain aspects. Here are the results:

Bill Compton's tombstone.. May he rest in peace for all eternity.

The Van Tassel grave marker (inspired by Tim Burton's Sleepy Hollow) is one of my favorites. Jen's skull-head design and side markers turned out great with the iridescent paint.

This last marker is a bit unique. I had to get Green into this display somehow, so I figured I'd make more of a monument as opposed to a tombstone, for the green homes rating system called LEED that I work with. There are five areas of the rating system that are represented by icons:

  • Sustainable Sites (SS) represented by the leaf
  • Water Efficiency (WE), shown by the drop
  • Energy and Atmosphere, indicated by the asterisk
  • Indoor Air Quality (IQ), shown by the waves
  • Materials and Resources (MR) shown by the reduce, reuse, recycle triangle.
It's a bit corny, and I know I'm taking my work home with me here, but I figured I was investing the time so might as well make it a bit personal.

Anyway, once we had the props complete, we staked them out in the yard with insulation hangers (more leftover building materials!) and a piece of lathe behind each one for support.

One of the nice things about all this work for Halloween is that its done using materials that we already had laying around from the various construction projects, giving the surplus material a new, and haunting, life. Just wait until we show you the hologram ghost we're making!

Monday, October 25, 2010

A Grave Yard Indeed

This year we learned that tearing out the grass in the front yard makes for a delightfully creepy graveyard in preparation for All Hallow's Eve. With leaves starting to fall and make their way around the landscaping, we simply needed to put up our tombstones to start out with a ghostly yard. Some flowers were still blooming, making an excellent offering for a tombstone or two.

But with concerns about the rampant number of children that visit our block on Halloween, we decided some protection might be in order. Maybe we could erect a fence around our tiny yard to give it a more formal feel. We thought of doing this with PVC pipe but decided for a more recycled look. I still had a pile of lathe from the plaster walls we took down when we redid the kitchen. It didn't take to long to find the longer pieces, strip the nails, and erect a graveyard fence. Jen's brilliant touch was wrapping the top in some imitation barbed wire we picked up on clearance last November.

There was a bit still lacking though, so we decided to make some of our own tombstones. More on that in a later post!

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

The Scarecrow Comes Alive

The tortured soul that will oversee the front yard cemetery has slowly emerged and come to life. Our inspiration is the book, How To Haunt Your House.

Once the paper mache and mod podge applied to the skull had dried, we found some gallons of Oops paint we picked up for $5 a long time ago. This turned out to complement the yellows from the glue quite nicely.

A layer of brown paint wiped on casually with a foam brush, and then some strategic dark purple paint gives him a nice bruised-flesh appearance. A few highlights with an off-white around the eyes, nose, and sinew completes the look. The "neck" was a pants legging from an old pair of PJs that got the same paint treatment.

Next, I glued various rope twine pieces to the top of the head to give him some "hair". It appears a bit too much like dreadlocks so I'll likely separate these out for a more tufted appearance.

After cutting a hole in the skull just large enough for a 1/2" PVC pipe, an old 6-foot bamboo pole lying in the garage serves as a perfect stake for our scary beast. The PVC slides right on top, so I found a scrap plywood piece that could be the "chest" to which to attach the pole and a couple of "arms" fashioned from 1x2 cutoffs. I'm glad we've kept all kinds of spare lumber in the garage for just these types of events. A couple of electric conduit fasteners were just the right size to attach the bamboo pole (and allow for later disassembly).

An old burlap sack was hastily turned into a hat (reinforced with electrical wire and loosely sewn with string dyed black). Then, taking some scrap black fabric we had leftover and a spare chain, I dressed the scarecrow for the first time.

There are a few tweaks to make - puff out the body a bit, and shorten the neck, but you really get the idea here. I can't wait to see him in place in the front yard. Bwah ha ha!

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Preparation Begins

Those that have followed our blog for awhile know that Halloween is a big event at our house. This year, I've decided to take advantage of the many extra building materials we have and create some neat props for the yard.

We found some inspiration in a great DIY book called How To Haunt Your House
and have a few plans that include creating custom tombstones, a freaky scarecrow for the front yard, and a truly transparent ghost.

Before beginning, I needed to create a work area in the garage. I finally cleared off the old desk my grandfather gave me, which had become more of a shelf than anything else, and then added some task lighting to the area. Jen then got a number of craft supplies together, and we were ready to start.

First up, the scarecrow. A cheap $3 plastic skull serves as the base, and we're paper mache-ing him to give him a bit of torn skin and sinew.

Twine will be glued to his head for hair, and we'll take some old burlap and fashion it into a hat using some excess 12 gauge electrical wire for support.

We also took some old foam board a neighbor was tossing out and made some of our own tombstones. A couple ornate ones and a few cross-type as shown above. We'll be taking some old drywall compound and mixing paint to create "monster mud" to coat the foam boards and cover up the pink.