The Making of Lady Octopus!

Making the tentacle headpiece for the Lady Octopus shoot took weeks of trial and error. This is how I got from this: 

Aldo the Hydrocal bust.

Aldo the Hydrocal bust.

To this:
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My main goal with the tentacle head dress was to make sure that it would blend seamlessly

 into the skin, so the forehead of the piece had to transition from prosthetic application to fabrication easily.  

I started sculpting the frame of the tentacles out of armature wire using a hydrocal bust as the base. I looked at Carnivale and Mardi Gras head dress bases online as a guide for how to structure the wire that would hold the expansive work in place. After I had a frame that wrapped around the head and extended out into tentacles, I wrapped the entire frame in cotton batting.  Once the cotton was applied, I started papier machet-ing the frame with paper towels soaked in liquid latex. 


The photo above shows plastic wrap taped tight to the bust as a barrier. This way the latex would peel off easier from the bust.

Learning how to manipulate the paper towels so that they laid smooth and created organic shapes took many layers and many failed attempts. You can see a green layer above the forehead-- that was a failed attempt at using tulle as a textured skin. It lacked structure and would not hold any latex. Tissues were my original layer, but they proved too thin and too easily clumped together. 

When I finally settled on paper towels, I tore them into uneven jagged strips so that I'd have organic shapes and no hard edges. Covering the entire piece took almost 50 ounces of latex. After the first layer make a skin, more latex was sponge stippled over every inch to help create a texture. I was using reference photos like this for the skin texture.


As I stippled latex for texture, I started bringing thin layers of latex down over the forehead of the bust, the same way one would stipple latex as if making a bald cap.

Once I had a skin over the whole piece, it was time to start thinking about suckers. 


Since the surface area that required suckers was a huge amount of the piece, I needed to think of a way to quickly make a lot of suckers in sculpy clay, in uniform shapes, sizes and thicknesses. I sculpted different size suckers out of chavent caly in a grid on a woodent board. I had about 14 suckers sculpted, ranging from silver dollar sized suckers to a few about the size of an M&M. They each had slightly different textures and centers, since I wasn't sure what shape I was going to like best. 

I built a wall around the sculptures and poured a mould our of tin silicone. I added UFC to set off the tin silicone in minutes so that I would have two identical mould quickly. I was lucky tis time-- but I forgot to spray mould release the first time I poured the cast-- the silicone thankfully peeled away easily without damaging the sculpture so I was able to pour a second, but that could have gone south fast. 

Once I had the moulds, I pushed sculpy clay into the negatives and immediately pulled out a positive that I could bake and the eventually glue to the head dress. Once again, these were in an experiment in trial and error. Some negatives produced terrible looking positives, and as I held them up the tentacles for placement ideas, I realized I had not sculpted any that would be nearly small enough for the delicate thin ends of each tentacle. Many were usable, many were not, and a great many more were sculpted individually using my finger tips and a tiny stylus tool for the smallest ends. 

Once they were all cast and baked, it was time to break out the hot glue gun. 


The largest ones were arranged closest to the head and descended in size as they radiated out to the tips. In the photo above you can also see where I started to experiment with a little extra cotton batting soaked in latex to create raised veins. Laying each sucker on all eight tentacles took...uncounted hours. Again, a part of the project that was stretched out much longer than I expected, but, oh what we have learned!


So with the skin created, the suckers attached, and the "bald cap" portion was stippled. All I had to do was paint! Simple, right? 

Oh my oh my oh my....

My original color scheme plan was a yellow and green combination. Green ove most of the octopus which would transition into yellow around the sucker tracks. The first layer of paint was always intended as a sealant to protect the latex and make sure it didn't inhibit any other compounds I might use in the make up later. I mixed acrylic paint with prosaide to make a PAX paint, and started stippling.

I hated it. The yellow and green I thought would look sea-like and organic just looked drab and sloppy. So I tried something new.

Pink and purple skin, and orange suckers.

I hated it.

This next bit would take a long time to explain...suffice it to say, it basically involved multiple color changes, concept changes, new choies that would influence costume styling and character, repainting each sucker several times, costing myself a considerable amount of extra time, sometimes painting and the repainting to go back to the color I had just covered....

It was a learning experience. But this as the ultimate result that I was quite happy with:

The gold dust was added to help achieve the decadent and almost translucent quality. 

The gold dust was added to help achieve the decadent and almost translucent quality. 

The finishing touches included lots and lots of gold and bronze dust, and a pearl glued into every. single. sucker.

My friend and costume queen extrodinaire, Caroline Martin, had agreed to be my model. Caroline made a FANTASTIC costume for this year's mermaid parade (as she does very year). She agreed to wear part of the costume she had made for her Undersea Queen Elizabeth creation for the photo shoot, which was the perfect compliment to the aristocratic half lady/half octopus concept.

Caroline in her amazing  Queen Merlizabeth costume, with mer Abrham Lincoln.

Caroline in her amazing  Queen Merlizabeth costume, with mer Abrham Lincoln.

Once the details on the head dress were completed, it was given about five coats of Crystal Clear to not only protect it and make it more durable, but also make the pearls and gold dust more stable.

The mouth pieces were sculpted out of friendly plastic beads, which was the perfect material to achieve thinness and translucency I was looking for (that was after sculpting a full set out of wire and sculpy...did not work). 

With lots of borrowed pearl jewelry, a big seashell also covered in gold powder, we were all set for photo shoot day, and voila.

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If I make another one of these again, there is A LOT I would change. I'm happy hat as a learning experience for this first hybrid appliance/fabrication, it turned out so well. I'm excited to tackle something like this again in the future armed with the knowledge from my mistakes.