The Art of Darkness

“Monster After Dark” Lampshades

June 30th, 2016 by Cobwebs

Fish Lamp

Matt Mets used paper cutouts on both the inside and outside of a lampshade to create a cute “monster after dark” effect.

This kind of fun with silhouettes is ripe for all kinds of customization: A crescent moon with bats that appear at night, a castle haunted by a nocturnal ghost, and lots of other now-you-see-them-now-you-don’t options. A reverse effect might also be possible, where an innocuous-looking doorway could have spooky eyes glowing from within. (The only caveat might be that the cutouts for the eyes may still be visible when the light is off.)

You could do something a little more permanent using stickers or even paint, but I kind of like the idea of temporary paper cutouts that can be changed as the whim suits you.

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Dinosaur Hunting License

May 31st, 2016 by Cobwebs

Dinosaur Hunting LicenseThe Museum of Hoaxes has scans of a dinosaur hunting license that was issued in Vernal, Utah in the 1950s. Vernal is rich in dinosaur fossils, and the Vernal Chamber of Commerce handed out the licenses to drum up tourist interest. They’re apparently still available (the site that MoH links to is down, but here’s an updated license), although I notice that the name of the Deputy Lizard Warden has been changed; apparently Kids These Days haven’t heard of Alley Oop.

Something similar to this would be easy to create on a home computer, and you can change the license to the monster or cryptid of your choice. Just be sure to specify bag limits and other restrictions; you wouldn’t want to wipe out the local vampire population by over-hunting. They’d be a cute party favor, and would also look nice framed on a wall.

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Mummified Fairy How-To

May 26th, 2016 by Cobwebs

Dead FairyI mentioned the Dead Fairy Hoax a while back, opining that something similar might be made using a miniature skeleton as a base. I finally decided to take a crack at making one, and I have to say that I’m rather pleased at how it turned out.

The project was much less difficult than I’d feared; there are a fair number of steps, but each individual one is pretty easy. (Also, it’s supposed to be a half-rotted corpse; if you mess something up, how would anybody know?)

If you’d like to try your hand at something similar, I’ve posted a tutorial here.

(This post was first published in October 2009; earning me a spot on BoingBoing and allowing me to sport a Been Boinged Nerd Merit Badge. To date, it is my most popular post by a margin almost too wide to measure.)

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Cemetery Terrarium

May 11th, 2016 by Cobwebs

Cemetery TerrariumUncialle’s Halloween Darksite is a trove of spooky inspiration. I love the originality of her ideas and her vast enthusiasm.

One of her projects that I’ve been itching to try is the Pocket Cemetery: A terrarium made over into a miniature graveyard. She’s made tombstones out of Sculpey clay, uses bare twigs as miniature trees, and even plants grass seed in early October so that the cemetery can be properly grassy by Halloween. My very favorite touch in her cemetery is the little plastic skeleton buried right up next to the glass, with a tombstone appropriately positioned aboveground.

Now for the fun! There are countless things you can add. Go wild in a miniatures shop! In her Pocket Cemetery, Uncialle has placed a tiny red wagon with two pumpkins in it, as if a small child had visited, and perhaps run home, frightened. Two tiny, glowing red LEDs are monster eyes, hiding in the shadow behind a tombstone. Miniscule black paper bats hang from “invisible” sewing thread in the tiny trees. A tipped-over vase beside a tombstone spills out dried flowers, while a miniature white pitcher holds “fresh” flowers. Tiny stones can create a stone wall. You could even put in a witches’ hut, a tiny hand reaching from the ground, miniature people, a goblin, or a mummy going for a stroll!

I’ve been saving various odds and ends for a terrarium of my own: A marble pestle that broke in half is eventually going to be a ruined obelisk, and I have miniature bones ready to strew about. Now that the last of our tropical fish is sleeping with the humans, I’ve informed Shadow Jack that the aquarium is mine. (He’s learned not to argue when I get that look in my eye.)

A miniature cemetery like this would be an intriguing focal point for a room, particularly if it were in a Victorian glass terrarium or a Wardian case. Add a blue lightbulb for moonlight, and you can have your own little pocket of gloom to meditate on even when it’s perfectly sunny outside.

(This post was first published in November 2007; I’ll be doing a few days of “blast from the past” archive posts in a probably-vain effort to catch up with real life.)

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Hallouija Board

May 4th, 2016 by Cobwebs

HallouijaAs I’ve mentioned previously, I run the Secret Pumpkin gift exchange, an annual event which seeks to bring participants a little out-of-season Halloween joy. The exchange has become an April highlight for me, particularly when I’m matched with somebody amazingly talented like Cat from Spooky Moon.

Last week I received a comically oversized package in the mail, which proved to be a custom-made Ouija board covered in Halloween-y symbols. Cat has a full post with build notes on her site, including lots of photos. She did an amazing job, festooning the board with haunted houses, cemeteries, skulls, and spiders. In particular, I love that the board’s alphabet is adorned with spooky images starting with the appropriate letter: The Z has a zombie hand bursting from its base, the J has a jack-o’-lantern perched on top, and so on.

The board came in a black velvet bag, with a separate little bag to hold the candy corn-shaped planchette. The detail is amazing, and I adore the creativity involved. (The fact that her husband opined, “You’re gonna be so sorry when a demon eats her entire family,” is something that I’m choosing to ignore.)

Thanks, Cat! You’re the best.

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Steampunk Band Patches

April 19th, 2016 by Cobwebs

Steampunk PatchA while back, Trystan of Gothic Martha Stewart made a steampunky lady artisan’s apron and decided to cover it with faux “band patches.” She eventually decided to make cross-fandom patches (including a Holyhead Harpies Quidditch team patch and a UNIT insignia), but her original intention was to use band names made up from Victorian novels.

She made a list of potential names, and although I think “Mina and the Harkers” is still my favorite, “The Madwoman in the Attic,” “The Wildfell Tenants,” “Lucy Snowe’s Secret,” and “The Desperate Remedies” are 100% bands that I would go out of my way to see.

Similar patches would be a great way to add a little life to a boring jacket or tote. If you have access to an embroidery machine or like to hand-embroider you can make applique patches. There are also many companies who will make custom patches with a small (usually 10-piece) minimum order, so if you want to club together with a few friends you can get professional-looking designs (you could probably also sell the excess on Etsy). If you have an inkjet printer you can also use printable sheets which can be ironed on to fabric. That option is a bit cheaper and would also allow for greater detail in your patch design.

Obviously, if Victorian novels don’t appeal to you there are dozens of other fandoms from which to draw inspiration. I’d pay good money to see “Captain Jack and the Empty Children” or the “Leaky Cauldrons.” It’s a fun, subtle way to show off your fannish tendencies.

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Candy Terrariums

April 6th, 2016 by Cobwebs

Candy TerrariumHere’s a cute idea that could easily be turned to darker ends: Terrariums made of edible materials. Sprinkle Bakes did a tutorial for Etsy which uses chocolate cupcake “dirt,” candy rocks*, and succulents made from candy clay. It seems to me that you could make other objects from the same candy clay. Like, for instance, tombstones.

Little individualized graveyards would be a fun party favor, or you could make a large one in a glass compote as a table centerpiece. You could use chocolate cookie crumbs rather than cupcakes for the dirt if you prefer, and switch out the candy clay with fondant or gum paste (Craftsy has a good overview of the differences between them).

The tutorial features a plastic deer as an additional decoration, but there are plenty of spooky miniatures–such as vultures and snakes–that could be used instead. The terrarium could also be made more child-friendly by using a clear plastic container (a goblet would be neat) instead of glass.


*Because the tutorial was done for Etsy she links to them for the rocks, but they’re also available on Amazon.

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Edible Flower Lollipops

March 30th, 2016 by Cobwebs

Flower LollipopsJust in time for spring (in certain hemispheres), the Geyser of Awesome recently profiled Etsy shop Sugar Bakers Bakery which offers a selection of candied flowers, including lollipops.

If you have access to edible flowers, similar lollies are easy to make at home. They have a lovely Victorian feel to them, and would be perfect at a tea party.

This is apparently a fairly popular project, since there are a zillion tutorials available online. PopSugar, Sprinkle Bakes, and Fancy Flours have good ones, and if you search “how to make edible flower lollipops” there are plenty more.

You don’t have to use a lollipop mold–the Sprinkle Bakes tutorial outlines a method using powdered sugar, and you can also pour dollops of the candy on an oiled marble slab–but using a mold makes the process a lot easier and results in a more uniform candy with clean edges. You can find inexpensive molds at craft and baking-supply stores, or online.

In addition to making sure that the flowers you use are edible, also take care that they haven’t been sprayed with pesticides or similar chemicals. Gently rinse them, then dry thoroughly on paper towels before using them in a recipe.

Instead of flowers, you can use small sprigs of herbs. And in addition to lollipops, you can candy the flowers in sugar. Sugared flowers can be eaten as-is, but they’re also fantastic decorations for cakes or cookies.

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De “Cat” Pitated Head Cat Toys

March 23rd, 2016 by Cobwebs

Cat ToysMost cat owners know the joy of their murderous hellbeasts fluffy sweethearts gifting them with small animal body parts. Now you can re-create that special feeling with felt catnip toys.

Materials

  • 1 9″x12″ sheet of craft felt for each head (I chose grey for the mouse, gold for the fish, and yellow for the bird; you can get two toys from each sheet of felt if you cut carefully)
  • Scrap of red craft felt for the neck
  • Scraps of craft felt for details (pink for the mouse’s ear, white for eyes)
  • Embroidery floss
  • Yarn (I used all red, but you could use a mixture of white, pink, and red to suggest various dangly innards)
  • Scrap of cotton fabric (optional)
  • Catnip

Instructions
(Click to enlarge)

Fish 1 Download the desired pattern (Bird | Fish | Mouse) and cut two of each pattern piece from the appropriate color of felt. Sew the eyes on the head pieces with an X of embroidery floss (if desired, omit the eye piece and just make an X right on the head, as for the mouse). If making the mouse, sew the ears on with straight stitching.
Fish 2 Make a small pouch from cotton fabric (fold a piece in half and sew two sides), fill with about a tablespoon of catnip, and sew the final side closed. This will keep small particles of catnip from leaking out through the felt. (Note: Make sure the pouch is small enough to fit inside the toy.)
Fish 3 Cut 4 pieces of yarn, each about 5″ long. Sandwich one end of the yarn strands between the felt neck edges, and stitch across a couple of times to secure in place. Make sure that your stitching is near the end that will be hidden under the edge of the head.
Fish 4 Place the two head pieces with wrong sides together. Sew around the head with embroidery floss, using a short straight stitch, leaving the neck end open. Insert the bag of catnip. Place the red neck edge into the neck and stitch across the neck end, making sure to stitch through all four layers.
Fish 5 And…done! These are super-easy to make so you can turn them out for all of your furry friends.

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Homemade Orange Peel Firelighters

February 23rd, 2016 by Cobwebs

Rose FirelighterIt’s technically almost spring in the northern hemisphere, but here in the DC area we’ve had a very Godfather-esque relationship with winter this year: Just when we thought we were out…it pulls us back in. Our fireplace has seen a lot of use recently, and these firelighters are a handy way to get a blaze started. They’re easy to make–kids can help–and they’re pretty enough to give as a gift.

Dried citrus peels contain enough residual oil to make firelighters all by themselves, and unlike the popular DIY pinecone firelighters they don’t contain much creosote (which can build up and cause chimney fires). Dipping them in wax is optional, but it lets you choose the color and also gives you the opportunity for a little fun with chemistry.

Orange Peel Rose Start by cutting the peel off an orange in a spiral, and wrapping it into a rose shape. A picture is worth a thousand words here, so take a look at this photo tutorial from Good Home Design (click to enlarge).
Fresh Peel Place the wrapped peel in a cupcake tin (using a paper liner is optional, but will be handy later on). Put the tin in a warm, dry place and let the peel dry thoroughly. The peel will last indefinitely once dry, so you can continue adding peels to the tin as you use up oranges.

Note: It’s okay if you can’t get the peel off in one long piece; just wrap it all back up together. The cupcake tin will hold it in place as it dries and the wax will stick it back together for good. (Also be careful not to cut too deeply into the flesh of the orange as you’re cutting; if you wind up with a lot of pulp on the peel, scrape it off. Otherwise it tends to mold before it can dry all the way.)

Dried Peel When you have enough dried peels, melt some wax. Something Turquoise has instructions for making pinecone lighters which includes details on melting (and coloring/scenting if desired) wax. Their method uses soy wax flakes, but you can also use paraffin (often found in the home-canning section of grocery stores) or candle stubs. I had some half-burnt black candles, so I used those. Note: It is really easy for melting wax to catch fire (that’s what it does), so be sure to melt it over a double boiler instead of direct heat, and have a fire extinguisher to hand.

If desired, at this point you can mix one of several Common Household Chemicals(tm) with the wax so that it burns different colors when lit. Chemicals and their corresponding burn color:

Borax Powder [Yellow-Green]
Sea Salt or Table Salt [Yellow]
Epsom Salt [White]
No-Salt (Potassium Chloride) [Violet]
Strontium Chloride (found at pet stores in the aquarium supplies) [Red]

Use ONLY ONE chemical. Mix in about 1 Tbsp per C of wax.

Dipped Roses Remove the melted wax from the heat and dip each peel, rolling it around to thoroughly cover. You can use tongs, but the temperature of the wax is fairly low; I just dipped them in with my fingers. Let the excess wax drip off and set them on waxed paper to dry. You may want to re-dip them two or three times, letting them firm up in between, to get a nice all-over coat.

Once dry they’re ready to use, but I like to give the bottoms one final dip and then place them back in their paper cupcake liners so they’ll stick to the bottom. Then you can light them just by putting a match to the edge of the paper liner.

If giving these as a gift, pile a bunch in a glass jar or wire basket.

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