Props: Elizabethan helmet

Our next and final play this year will be Much Ado About Nothing – particularly suitable as I’m the official illustrator for Portsmouth University’s ‘Much Ado About Portsmouth’ festival to celebrate Shakespeare’s 400th deathday! 

As we’re building up our own Wardrobe dept at school, I’m trying to make as many re-usable costumes for the Outdoor Shakespeares that have become our end-of-year tradition. We have a really good stock of Elizabethan-style shirts, pantaloons, and a few gorgeous dresses that were originally standard fancy-dress fare until I modified them. 

Having learned to sew so that I could make costumes for the last show, I thought I’d have a go at another skill, so have tried my hand at armour from Craft Foam.

The type of helmet I wanted to make I had a clear idea about. It’s for Dogberry, who is so innocent and wide-eyed in our performance I wanted to give the actor a fun prop that would add to the character. A slightly-too-big pikeman’s helmet with an oversized fin, that, if possible, will keep tipping forward.

The basic frame was actually very easy to make (and as I did it on a whim during the second read-through of course I forgot to photograph it in progress) but if you fancy imagining it, here goes: take a piece of A3 craft foam and bend in half to two A4 pieces. Holding the two sides closed, it luckily fit the actor’s head. I cut a curve to  match the shape of the helmet, then used pieces of masking tape to hold the shape together along the curve. I tried it on the actor and cut along the base to create a higher ‘peak’ at the front, like the helmet in the picture.

The fin was then modelled from another piece of A4 foam: I drew around the shape of the helmet where I wanted it to come out from, then drew a tall fin from that line. I left a 1cm margin at the bottom, which I snipped into tabs. I slit the masking tape along the very top of the helmet and slotted the fin in, bending the tabs side to side inside the helmet and taping them down.

The brim of the helmet was easier than I expected. Again, I drew round the helmet, the base this time (stretched out to the circumference of the headband) and then drew a 4cm brim around it, culminating in a point at the front and back. I then simply used masking tape strips to hold it on. Had I had a glue gun with me I think I could have used that instead, but like I said, this was a whim during rehearsal.


  Ok, imagination over. When I got home, I missed up my normal PVA glue mix (1 part PVA to two parts water) and sloshed it onto the foam before layering kitchen paper over it (my last rolls of Star Wars) and adding more mix. Making sure the paper overlapped and went under the brim into the helmet’s insides, I left it to dry out near the radiator, making sure to keep the sides held apart to keep the shape in case of shrinkage.

  As with all my kitchen-paper projects, the final finish was pretty rough. However, as this needed to look like metal, I tore up some smooth magazine paper (the Vogue edit from last Spring, in fact) and soaked it in mix before applying it in small pieces and stroking it down. It ended up being nice and smooth – and very tasteful 😉  

  At work, I gave it a coat of silver spray paint. The PVA seals the paper and foam so it doesn’t drink up the paint. So now it was lovely and shiny, and very boringly silver.


 Back at home, I used some Silicone Glue to add details: ‘welding’ at the join of the fin and round the edge of the brim, and a couple of ‘rivets’ in the sides. (Seen below with the Beauty and the Beast mirror)

Finally, after a day of drying, the silicone was ready to paint.  I used a dull silver Acrylic paint to go over the silicone, and also dry-brushed it over the rest of the helmet. Once that was dry, I brushed a medium-wet mix of black and green into the crevices, along the silicone ‘weld’, and around the rivets. I brushed off the excess with water and paper towel. Then, taking a dry brush of the black-green mix, I brushed roughly over the rest of the helmet and inside the brim, before rubbing off with paper towel again. This really brought out the battered texture I wanted, and made the helmet look pleasingly old.  
It just needed something more: a bit more age.

Adding a blob of bronze Acrylic to a blob of burnt umber and mixing with a fair bit of water, I washed this with a dry brush all over the helmet in stages, buffing most of if off straight away afterwards with a piece of kitchen roll.

ET VOILA.  Pics of it in use later in the year.



Props: Beauty and the Beast mirror


 Since costuming A Christmas Carol (and building and working The Ghost of Christmas Future, which I’ll have to post pictures of at some point), we’ve now started the Junior production: Beauty and the Beast, the Disney musical. It’s adorable really. Plus, as we’ve hired most of the costumes from a local youth theatre group who did it a few years ago, it’s almost stress-free.

A few pieces aren’t supplied with the costume hire or the staging hire, so I’ve put together a few things with the help of my Backstage Club. The Magic Mirror is one of them.   

From these reference photos, the mirror has certain features that need to be replicated: the applied detail at top and sides, the ‘beast’ face at the join between mirror and handle, some crossover vine details around the handle, and the fleur-de-lys on the back.

I started by cutting two mirror shapes from corrugated card. The top one I cut out the recess that the mirror would sit in. As this is a kids stage show, I just used a layer of tinfoil between the layers to create the mirror. I used PVA glue in a decent layer to glue the layers together. 

 Next, using the reference pictures to design them, I cut out the shapes for the sides, top and handle. These were then also stuck on with PVA, front and back, and left to dry. 
Then comes the papier-mâché. I’ve discovered that the hair tinting accessory kits you get from the Pound Shop are ideal for holding the PVA-water mix (about two parts water to one of PVA) and brushing it on. Nice. Paint the mix onto the card, then apply your paper. Note: I needed a smooth finished surface for this project, which is why I should have used newspaper. However, I only had kitchen roll. Star Wars kitchen roll. It’s a bit rough, but covering the whole dried project in another layer of neat PVA generally fixes this. 

In any case, I applied a few layers of paper to the card, brushing the layers flat but making sure there was a lot of overlap of the paper to keep it strong. When sticking over the raised details, I made sure to stipple the brush closely around the raised areas and into crevices to make sure the paper didn’t hide the shape. 

I forgot to take pictures while I was papier-mache-ing, so here’s the glue mix instead.

Finally, after leaving to dry by the radiator overnight and then applying a coat of neat PVA to smooth the surface and prime for painting, I wanted to add some additional detail: the vines and facial features on the Beast ‘face’. For this I used Silicone Glue, applying it in a line through a nozzle where needed and leaving to dry. It dries to a hard-jelly-like substance that can then be painted. I also used it to add detail to an Elizabethan helmet I’m making for our next play, Much Ado About Nothing.

Now I’m just waiting for it to dry…

MISS, ARE THOSE YOUR *GUTS*?! Or, how to make (edible, if you feel like it) guts for your Hallowe’en costume

Recently, we had a ‘Haunted Library’ at work for the First and Second year students. It was all the work of our wonderful librarian, who turned our school library into a walk-through Haunted House, filled with willing participants – staff in various sates of costume – who were looking forward to scaring the wits out of teeny tiny pupils…

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The Friday Morning Jelly Explosion, or ‘How to make edible zombie brains’

‘Tis the season…for Drama Club to do an assembly. A zombie assembly.

Let me explain: last Summer, Drama Club made a zombie film, written and directed by one of my sixth formers, and, despite me then painting their faces to look like zombies on Open Day, when we showed the film (and when parents and prospective parents also come have a look-see what we’re up to), we were asked to do an assembly on it for the new 1st years, whom hasn’t seen it.

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Cover#4: Adelaide’s Pop Psychology from ‘Guys and Dolls’

Our school play (musical) is ‘Guys and Dolls’, which is a darling of a show with incredibly upbeat numbers and period styling as it’s set in the 50s, and is one I produced back at University … unfortunately in the days just before social media and digital cameras.
One of the two pairs of romantic leads is Adelaide, the ‘comedy’ female lead. She has a brilliant number called, rather unimaginitively, ‘Adelaide’s Lament’, where she is reading a pop psychology book that explains that her constant cold is actually a psychosomatic response to having been engaged for fourteen years but not actually getting anywhere near the altar. This is clearly a sore point for her, despite her comically chirpy outlook, as she’s already written to her mother about her five kids and her husband’s promotion. The lyrics are a delight: here’s a version of it (at 6.18) with the scene leading up to it beforehand…

Continue reading “Cover#4: Adelaide’s Pop Psychology from ‘Guys and Dolls’”