Friday, December 31, 2010

Spooky Tree tutorial: constructing the Garden of Evil

Happy New Year, everyone!!! :D

Here we go- my first tut as per special request. Hope it's reasonably easy to understand! If not, feel free to ask away. :)

It's quite easy to get started- this piece is based on a 12 1/2" Sono tube. Decide how long you want your tree to be, but be aware that leaving it too long will be cumbersome.
We used a hand saw to put an angled cut on the bottom to lean the tree around 10 degrees. Then about 52" up the trunk make a dark line around the circumference, with a large hatch mark 180 degrees from each other. Then make another cut through the line between 10 - 15 degrees. Don't go any steeper than that. (I'll explain later). Now that you have severed pieces, you will notice that they are oval not round. So place the short section on the top of the long, rotate and line up the two hatch marks you made before. Now the ovals should lay on each other fairly evenly. Now get in touch with your inner Red Green and reattach the sections with duct tape, and then again with layers of strip paper mache for strength.
Here's why you don't go too steep on the angle, the photo isn't the actual tube I ended up using... after cutting and lining up the hatch marks we decided that the lean ended up being too severe and the tree too short. As you can see, the jagged detailing at the top has already been added.

The stand was built using the finished angle of the tube. Base it on whatever degree you like. But we set the sono tube on 3/4" plywood and traced the inside oval twice for a top and bottom piece. Then had (4) 2x4x36" cut with an angle to match the lean of the tree. Attach one to top and one to bottom with sharpest part of ovals facing the lean. In the photo there are (4) 2x4x30" feet attached to the bottom oval to support the tree and to give a base for "evil roots". 

Now you're ready to slide the tube over the stand, and wah-la, you have a free standing tree ready to work on! :)
Take your time in designing the face, the expression will determine the overall awesomeness. Go ahead and carve it with a rotary tool when you're ready.
Next, prime the interior, followed by two thorough coats of *flourescent* orange paint- we lovelovelove Wild Fire brand. You want to make sure the top of the stand is painted (see pic) and every little nook and cranny all around the tube up as far as you can go.
It's important to put a 'cap' inside the tube, so as not to lose light through the top. We used heavy cardboard, and paper mached over to secure it. I also mached around the features to smooth over any roughness- this is optional, but well worth it.

Nextly, you need to start giving your trunk an organic shape.
For the roots, cover your wood feet (and up the trunk a bit) with cello wrap. We used spray insulation foam to build up the detail. Taper the foam near the ground, and let it develop lots of lumps and bumps as you go. When it's dry- really dry, you'll be able to remove the foam from the trunk via the cello wrap. Now, against the trunk, continue the shape of the roots with foam or crumple paper mache, tapering it to blend. We added crumple mache branch stumps all over. Go crazy with detail- the gnarlier the better- just make sure you have a ton of good masking tape and duct tape.

foam & cloth mache roots in the final stage- getting paint work done

When you're satisfied with the shape of your tree, it will be ready for the bark detailing. Go to the thrift store and clear them out of well worn (this is important- NOT snappy new) bed sheets. We like white, no distractions. I'm pretty sure this tree took a good four or five twin sized sheets, and it only cost a few bucks. :)
Mix yourself up some thick paste. Easy- mostly white glue, some warm water, some white flour... don't worry,  it's hard to make a bad paste.
Working in manageable sections of sheet (about a third at a time is good), run it through the paste- squeegee off the excess with your fingers, but do not remove too much.
This is the funnn part!!!  Lay your cloth mache on the trunk with lots of drape, creating vertical texture as you go. Move it around, give it natural directional patterns. Don't forget the roots as well-  wrap that cloth around the back to conceal the foamy bits. FUN!!!! :D
Leave to dry for a day or two.

When the bark is super dry (hard), you'll need to bust out that primer again. Paint the entire trunk, making sure you get in all the grooves as you go. Now your tree needs to be painted in a true bark brown- a bit on the dark side is best, again, make sure you get in all those bark grooves to keep the illusion. (It's amazing how life like this looks in person!). When the dark brown has dried, you'll want to mix some of the leftover paint with a good dose of white. This gets ragged on, it will hit the high parts of the bark and add an excellent effect.

Now my friends, if you're still awake, it's time for arms!

Here we got kinda technical and dropped the duct tape. To frame the arms we used 5/16" threaded rod and cut them to 42". Using two small pipe wrenches, the rods were gradually bent to form branch frames, keeping them about 3" apart. Lay them on a table to keep them parallel and re-adjust where needed. If you have access to a welder it makes your projects easier. (sometimes) Weld the (3) 3" cross frame supports on to stiffen the arm frame. Otherwise, you can wire up the rods with mechanics wire. But don't bend the rod around to lock it in place as it does not have the give unless you really heat it first to make it pliable. 
**Just make sure that the rod ends that will break through the bark are parallel. This is very important because you will build some bracket supports that the arm rods will go through and if you have rods that are not parallel and you try to force them through the holes of your bracket, your neighbours will be learning all your new curse words. But most likely you will damage your tree.

Dashed line represents armature wire detail

With the arm frames finished, the next step is to transfer the desired position to the bark. With someone to help (unless you have three hands), hold the arm frame where you want it and circle the rod with a pencil. Then drill through with a clearance hole a bit larger than 5/16 such as 11/32 or 23/64.
Test the arm and make sure it passes through cleanly at least 3 inches.

If all is good than move on to the bracket supports.

Material 2x6x8-1/2 spruce. 3/4x2x6 plywood.

The arms may not weigh a ton, but it is smart to have some interior support to keep the rod's washers and nuts fom tearing through the wall. 

This is an edge on end view of the wood needed, 2x6x8-1/2. It shaped by a hand planer to reasonably match the curve of the sonotube inner wall. I know what you're thinking, why bother? I'll just put a 2x6 in and it will work. Sure it will. But it will also only be in contact at two points, whereas this exquisitly shaped piece gives full support with more weight distribution. On the outside I placed a 3/4x2x6 to further support the arm. Over tightening will inevitably distort and crush your tube and bark. Plus it looks better.  See comparitive image.

As you can see the block on the left that you took such time to craft sits flush in the tube and will give better support, far better than brand "X" on the right.
When the rods are placed through the holes of the support blocks, use a washer and a 5/16 nut to hold it in place. Tighten down but, do not over tighten as you will crush the bark.

When you have the frames mounted to the trunk of Spooky, grab a stack of newspaper and your masking tape, and go to town fleshing his arms out with crumple mache. Thicker near his trunk and tapering as you go keeps it believeable. Stop when you've mached up to the 'wrist' area. The fine finger branch detailing is done with armature wire. Double it up, and twist as much as you can. Snip the appropriate length, and attach to your arm by either wrapping around some exposed threaded rod, or jamming into your crumple mache. Again, tape the bejeezus at the connection to secure. Shape your wire to the desired position- nice and claw like. Repeat the cloth mache process along the entire length.
Since this is an illuminated prop, the next step makes this guy. Paint the areas you want to glow with white primer paint... it's necessary to have this base for the flourescent paint to be fully reactive. We wanted to acheive 'veins' up the trunk in a colour similar to what white fabric or paper looks like under blacklight. Usual white paint is uv inactive, so we mixed a violet shade with flourescent blue and flourescent magenta paint in a base of Wild Fire Luminous White. Paint this over the white details you added (I did several coats for optimal glow).

And finally, it's time to experiment with lighting! We placed a high lumen (140+) led flashlight in the mouth- it will sit perfectly on the stand (I like it facing the front of the tree). The outside requires a relatively strong blacklight... I super want a blacklight cannon, but until then, some compact flourescents worked just fine.

finished tree, no lighting

In retrospect one change I would have made would be to have the arm support blocks permanently mounted to the outside and inside of the body. Then lay the bark around it instead. Consider this as an option.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Christmas is nice...but Hallowe'en rules.

This is Darren from the Spookworks engineering dept. The boss left her computer opened so I hacked in. Well actually, she's reading her Christmas gifts "How To Haunt Your House." 1&2.

Now that Christmas is over, it is time to reflect on the difference I see out on peoples lawns. Personally, I love Christmas. I love the season, the food, the gifts and the f-f-f-family togetherness - two hours tops, and a game of Scrabble and get out!!!. Just kidding. Maybe.
However, I have seen how people decorate their homes for Christmas and I am curious why they cannot put the same effort into Hallowe'en. Is it because one holiday is a day long, and considered by some to be Pagan and immoral? Whereas the other, incidentally, also has hidden Pagan roots, is overwrought starting unofficially November 1 and has the uncanny musical ability to turn store employees and customers into mindless drooling zombies. Perhaps is Hallowe'en is not enough of a dreamy wonderland for some.

The fact is I love Hallowe'en, I don't know if it is the thought of what can we do on the front lawn or the actual building part. But I have never grown tired of the possibilities. Yet come November, there are a number of homes here in town that go nuts for X-Mas. Without hesitation they ditch a lame ghost or cheesy Michael's scarecrow for a herd of reindeer, cutesy snowmen up the wazoo or enough coloured lights on every tree, bush, twig, stray animal and tuft of grass to tan George Hamilton happily.

Sure Christmas is nice, but Hallowe'en is the time to unleash the warped creations from your darkest imaginations or fears. Just imagine being back in the dark times of Samhain celebrations, when people believed that the borders of shadow and light were gateways from which came the dead and creatures from the underworld so they could walk the Earth amongst the living for one night. Where hills would open up to unseen worlds of horror, or where those same gateways sometime led a hapless traveller to his doom.

This what we create in our yard haunts. This is the reason people come around to tour your yard. The vision that is built from a plan on paper to stand in your yard is the fear adrenaline that we all need.

I cannot say that I have had the same rush from seeing Frosty or Rudolf. Nor do I recall asking if the Santa on the grass is real or not. I do celebrate Christmas with my family and thoroughly enjoy watching my daughters turn on the lights that I hang from the eaves. No, I do not have a Santa on the roof, nor a snowman or ten foot candy canes leaning precariously. Call me a hypocrite. You may ask why can't I put the same effort into Christmas as I do for Hallowe'en? Simple, it has become too commercial and too long and drawn out. By the time Christmas does come around, we have been bombarded by the repetitive playing of canned Christmas music so much that we go numb to it. So sadly by Dec. 25, the lustre has faded.

In closing, I suppose I will have to bear the gingerbread flotsam that will hang wind blown and tattered until the unofficial close to the Christmas season...St. Patrick's Day.

Happy Haunting, Hallowe'en Rules.

Monday, December 27, 2010

It's Show and Tell time!!

Well fiends, life kind of happened in a big ugly way and progress in the monster pit (studio) got derailed for a while... but we're back on the map, and happy to start blogging again! For those who have been patiently waiting (for an eternity), we're putting the last bits together for a full Spooky Tree tutorial- watch out for it in the next day or two!!

In the meantime, did anyone get (or give) any spooky stuff for Christmas? Santa always leaves some Halloween goodness at the Brooks house... check it out :)

Cutest vampire bat evah for our own little Wednesday Addams. Made by the extremely talented Binkys on Etsy.

Hello new and improved foam props!! :D

*drool* For the few who don't already have these, go and order them now...GO!

Shirt No. 1 - from

Shirt No. 2- from a wonderful ghoul... you know who you are!

Shirt No. 3- by the amazing Eric Pigors of Toxictoons

Shirt No. 4 (anyone notice a pattern here?).

Shirt No. 5. Nikki, have I told you lately that I love you? *Huge grin*

For the germaphobic zombie ;)

Very interesting premise... will do a review when I'm through!

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Mad love for my bff (best freaky fiend)!!!

How cool is this shirt?! Big THANKS to my bff for sending it my way... Nikki, for knowing me so well, and always rocking my world, I humbly present to you the Awesome Person Award. :)

The bats even glow!! *squee!* :D

Monday, November 1, 2010

Only 364 days to get ready for next Halloween!!!

Hope everyone had a fangtastic Halloween!

Hector Spectre: the non-flying, non-crank ghost :)

Saturday, October 30, 2010

The countdown begins...

Getting Dusty ready to take his post.

Wardrobe provided by Goodwill (really! - it's an awesome Haunt rescource... more on that later).

Friday, October 29, 2010


 Woo hoo! Spooky Tree is near completion!! :D

I was working all hours last night up to my elbows in glue, laying the final cloth mache on his new arm branch. Tonight will see the flourescent violet paint details finished (I highly recommend Wild Fire UV paint- this is available on GREAT stuff).

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Haunted Honeymoon: a True Story

I believe. I didn't believe before, and I don't want to live to see it again, but we are not alone- that much is certain.

In the spring of 1993, my new husband and I decided to make our honeymoon a cross-country camping trip. As luck would have it, we were frozen and rained out much of the time. It was a welcome invitation when a family friend asked us to stay with her in Alberta on our leg back home to Ontario. Anything to escape another night in our sodden tent.

We called "Sue" from Calgary, and got directions to her home. After meeting and greeting, she told us that she and her children were in the process of fleeing to a new home to escape her abusive boyfriend. We were stunned. Quickly, before he returned, she loaded her effects, two young sons, and sturdy personal-protection trained German Shepherd dogs into her pickup truck. Once again, we were on the road, following her to her new house.

Mirror, AB consisted of nothing more than a crossroads, with one house on each corner- a desloate looking place if I ever saw one. We pulled up the drive, and took in the house. A crushing wave of desperation came over me. It was an inexplicably sad place. Sue had us carry some boxes inside, and offered a tour. To the left of the entrance was a large room, unfurnished save for a single rocking chair in the corner. One of the dogs started to enter the room when it suddenly froze, fixated on the chair, and quickly tucked tail and crept backward out of the room. Sue took us upstairs to a small room who's windows were painted black. I knew something was not right. Descending the staircase, we walked through a patch of frigid air. My hubby (much braver than myself) retraced his steps, trying to locate the chill. He stopped on a step, puzzled that he could no longer feel the icy air, when at that moment, it reappeared... passing through him. I hightailed it out of there. Back outside, the dogs let out great pained yelps as we crossed the path of the garage. It was then Sue came clean.

She bought this undesirable realestate on the cheap because of it's dark history. As it turned out, the former residents lost their son to a tragic farming accident. The father, a quadrapalegic in detiorating condition, fell into the throes of deep depression. He no longer wanted to see the sun, and so the windows were painted. The wife, without the help of her son, could no longer move her husband, and she converted the porch to a makeshift room where he would live out his days, refusing to see another sole. Such was the depravity, that the poor woman could no longer manage in this exsistance. She must have felt it was the merciful thing, and one day smothered the old man before ending her own life in the garage where she sat in her running vehicle.

Sue told us that she'd seen the woman regularly, and the description matched the neighbors. For this reason, she would not have her children sleep inside until the minister came the next morning to perform a blessing. Night was falling quickly, and we made dinner on the hibatchi before piling into her tiny trailer parked on the drive between a huge tree and the house. Like something right out of a nightmarish movie, as if right on cue, a violent storm kicked up, setting the trailer swaying, the tree branches scraping the sides like angry claws. Nobody slept a wink that night. I lay in a curled ball, my hands covering my eyes for fear of peeking. Someone finally got the nerve to open the blinds to see if daylight was cracking, when I heard a sharp inhalation. We all looked against our better judgement, and there, not eight feet away in the middle of the sitting room window, was an illuminated blue orb. We looked for rational explanations to sooth our nerves, but there was no electricity in the house. No moon in the sky. NO street lights or cars as far as the eye could see. And yet, the sphere glowed. There was no question that I felt eyes on me, and that none of us was welcome.

In the morning, we packed up and said our goodbyes. I could not get enough miles behind us fast enough.

None of this has been fabricated or exaggerated. It took years to be able to discuss that awful night in Mirror.

I believe.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

My mother-in-law is a model

This lovely hangs in our haunt's 'gloomy parlour' (porch) surrounded by candelabras and cobwebs. And no, my mother-in-law didn't model for *this* portrait... that would just be wrong ;)

Monday, October 25, 2010

A Tree Grows in Brooklin

Want to freak out your cat? Build a seven foot tall Spooky Tree in your basement. Place in sightline of her litter box. She won't talk to you for weeks, trust me.

The million dollar question is: will he be ready on time for Halloween? Only five days left- yikes!

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

It's okay, you can pet him... he's friendly-ish.

Meet Gaetan Gargoyle- one of my bigger mache sculpts.

At Saftey Village's annual haunted house. The caution tape prevents no child from poking, prodding, or in some instances, riding him.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

In the beginning...

I grew up in a *cough wheeze* normal family; a happy kid with a sunny disposition. More Gidget than Wednesday Addams. But something happened along the way. Was it the thrill of riding Haunted Barrel Works at Centreville amusement park? Too many hours spent watching MJ's Thriller video with my girlfriends? Fooling around with Milton Bradley's Ouija Board at recess- and the ghost stories that accompanied it? Perhaps it was the rush of turning my parents' basement rec room into a 'haunted house' every summer. I'd tape paper bats on strings to the ceiling, likewise paper 'knives' to my Raggedy Anne doll (shriek!), and play (unintentionally) hilarious homemade sound effect cassetes for good measure. Slightly low tech. The neighborhood kids were largely unimpressed.
In any event, the Scary Seed within me germinated like a mutant pumpkin in a mad scientist's lab.

Luckily, the fine catch I married also carries the Halloween Gene (very scientific, trust me). And so, we build haunted houses together-and the neighborhood kids are ALWAYS impressed.

Old timer at Haunted Barrel Works... with the horrifying fire extinguisher of terror!!
Stay tuned... things are going to get frightful!