Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Dirty Martinis

Hey all! Sorry for the delay in a new post. I worked on a commercial shoot these last two weeks that completely took up my time. Please enjoy this week's post!

Materials: Acrylic Water (the kind florists use), Martini Glasses, Toothpicks, Sculpey, Acrylic Paint, Spray Paint


So, this is a project with a couple of issues- one was an I-D-10-T error (I was being an idiot) and one was more about being unfamiliar with the materials.  I'll explain both when we get there.  These martinis were made for  Milwaukee Repertory Theater's production of  'Cabaret.' We needed spill proof champagne and martini props for the Kit Kat Klub patrons to wave about while they caroused.  I did a few samples before I settled on the Acrylic Water. Neither Smooth Cast 325 nor the year old Zeller Opti-Kleer that I had in stock was water white or bubble free, so I ran over to my favorite floral wholesaler, and picked up a bottle of Acrylic Water.  This is a two-part acrylic resin that is used in the vases of silk floral arrangements to simulate water.  It is easy to work with, water white, virtually bubble free, and has a beautiful refractive quality in a glass. I've never used it before, but I was eager to give it a shot, and I'm glad that I did. (There was no MSDS, and I didn't have time to request one, so I took the same precautions as I would with any two part resin. I used the appropriate PPEs, and worked in a ventilated area.) 

Jim Guy, my boss, and Props Director Extraordinaire, found these acrylic martini glasses at World Market.  Aside from having a nice look, the thick stems are sturdier than a typical martini glass, which helps to keep them from breaking or tipping when the acrylic makes them top-heavy.  Aside from the glass, the most important identifying characteristic of a martini is the olive.  These olives are made from white Sculpey brand polymer clay. 
Aren't they hilarious? White model olives!
White was the only color of Sculpey that I had on hand, so I had to paint them.....but I'll get to that later.  I shaped the olives by hand, and used a pen cap to give them the round impression that looks like a pimento. I decided to put two olives in each glass, to add color and help take up volume. Then, I made a stupid mistake. 

I decided to put the two olives on skewers before baking them. This was not the stupid mistake.  I went down to our stock hoping to find metal toothpicks. Faced with the decision between wooden toothpicks and plastic toothpicks, I chose plastic. The voice in my head said "Don't do it, they'll melt in the oven," but the tired part of my brain that had been working too hard said "Nah, it'll be fine." STUPID!  Here's something I've learned in theater and life. If that little voice in the back of your brain pipes up, it's usually right, don't ignore it.  So I baked the Sculpey olives on their plastic toothpicks, and I melted the plastic toothpicks. I didn't melt them entirely, just enough to make them misshapen and saggy.  Stupid.  Since I was working with limited time, I did my best to straighten them out, painted them silver, and carried on, hoping that the refraction of the acrylic in the round glass and the distance to stage would help me out.  Luckily, for the most part, they did. 

Olives before baking.

I also painted the olives. For the green of the olives, I used Design Master spray paint, for the pimentos, I used red acrylic paint.  I probably should have given the spray paint a bit more time to cure, but as I said before, we were pressed for time.  I dropped a skewer of olives in each glass, mixed the acrylic according to the directions, poured the martinis, and left them to cure for 24 hours. 



Once cured, the acrylic is beautiful and durable,  The overall effect from stage is actually very good. There was no reason not to send these martinis on stage. There was, however, a swirl of paint coming off of the olives into the martini.  It looks pretty cool actually, but it isn't part of what I intended the martini to be.

See? GRRR!

I think that if I were to duplicate this project, I would use green and red Sculpey instead of attempting to paint white Sculpey. As it was, we said that I meant to do it, called it a dirty martini, and sent it onstage. I highly doubt that the audience, or even the performers, noticed that anything was amiss.  It wasn't  the perfect prop that I would have liked it to be, but I learned a few things, and got to try a new product, so I can't complain too much.  But hey, if I did it perfectly the first time, what would be the fun of doing it again? Cheers!

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Pickled Herring with Onions

Materials: Paraffin Wax, Candle Pigments, Microfoam, Fake herbs




This is one of the dishes that I made for the engagement party scene in 'Cabaret.'  In the scene, the counter is covered in party food; punch, sausages, St. Lucia rolls, fruit bowls, and pickled herring.  This pickled herring is made of a material newly discovered to me- paraffin wax.  Well, okay, I knew about paraffin wax before, but the idea of using it to replicate translucent foods is on the newer side. My boss suggested it last season for a smoked salmon platter that was on the list, and I decided to use it for this project.  The paraffin is nice because it is easy to carve with an olfa knife or carving tools, easy to tint with candle coloring, has a great translucence for things like fish, and you can buy it at the grocery store. Also, you can melt it down for re-use.

 I started by finding a few research photos.
This is one of them.    

Next, I went out and bought some candle pigments. Okay, I asked our shopper to go out and buy me some candle pigments. Candle colors come in packets of small, intensely colored wax diamonds, like tiny diamond shaped crayons.  I bought my pigments from a candle supply company in my neighborhood which I will now shamelessly plug. Not only can you find candle and soap making supplies at The Candlemaker, you'll also be dealing with a small, local and web-based business run by a delightful woman that boosts tax revenues in my neighborhood. Also, she's really nice.  Please check her website out for all of your candle making needs.  Again, that's www.thecandlemaker.com

Okay, the shameless promoting is over for now. After buying the pigments, I carved the paraffin wax into pickled herring shapes. I carved the shapes with my trusty Olfa knife, and used a clay carving tool to smooth them.

Like this.
 Once the shapes were carved, it was time to add some color.  Using a makeshift double boiler (tin cans in a bath of boiling water) I made three wax washes; one yellow, one gray, and one black.  The yellow was just to cut the bright white color of the wax, the gray and black were to give the appearance of skin.  Keeping the colored wax warm and liquid, I used acid brushes to paint it onto the pieces of "herring."

Like this!
 Once the herring was finished, it needed some garnish to make it believable.  The dill was easy, I just pulled some plastic fish tank plants out of our stock.  The onions were more fun. I cut microfoam packing material into thin strips, and glued it into rings using rubber cement.
Neat, huh?

Once I had herring, onions, and dill in hand, I just had to glue them down. I used a combination of hot glue and rubber cement to do this. Turns out, rubber cement doesn't stick to wax, and hot glue doesn't stick to microfoam. Fun, no?  Anyway, once it was all together, I was very happy with the effect. 

Not too shabby.