Thursday, February 17, 2011

Boys and Their Toys

What ever happened to GI Joe? When I was a kid he was a towering 12 inch figure who had his own wooden footlocker and wardrobe that included a space suit. Nowadays he’s been reduced to a 4 inch molded plastic visage of impotence. What a sad sorry little man.

Well anyways, boys still love to make gun sounds and pretend explosions no matter what the size of the army man. My son was no different. He amassed a large battalion of miniature warriors and all the jeeps, tanks and guns to go with them. What was missing? Hmmm, let me think… of course, burned out buildings and concrete bunkers.

Off to the stockpile of foam computer packaging and printer inserts. I found a great piece to start, grabbed some left over insulation board and off to the cutting table. If you want to do projects like this, a hot knife or hot wire foam cutter are invaluable and probably carried by your local hobby shop or craft store. They slice through the foam with the greatest of ease. It also allows carving out ridges and slopes without having the mess of static filled shavings sticking to everything when using a regular knife. Slopes are cut with nice smooth edges using the wire cutter. 

We cut two levels to give the impression of the bunker being in a hillside or beachhead.

To hold everything securely we used a little foam glue around the edges and coarse drywall screws to keep it from coming apart. Next we needed to fill in the gaps and add some texture. For this we used some Dap Lightweight Spackling leftover from household repairs. You can sand it and the foam if needed, we liked the rough texture. 

When it had dried we wanted to add some rocky gravel in the recesses where these things would naturally gather. You can use something like coarse ballast for model railroads or what we had from our pet geckos, Lizard Litter. It’s made from crushed walnut shells and for the price conscious modeler; you get volume for your money. 

Use elmers or a thick craft glue and sprinkle the “gravel” on and even push it into the glue. Once everything is painted it’ll be secure.

We did poke at the foam and roughly broke out small chunks to give it a “used” feel. You can paint it with latex or acrylic paints. Many hobbyists will basecoat foam pieces and then spray them with a black basecoat. This prevents the spray paints from “eating” away your structure. Some spray paints will not dissolve the foam, but its better to be safe than sorry. Either test it on a spare piece or use interior latex house paint to basecoat it. We always check the mismatched paints at Lowe’s and Home Depot for any gallons that were mixed incorrectly and therefore on sale at a greatly reduced price. We scored a can of light gray and one of dark gray for only 3.00 each!

Joshua did the final touches of black weathering and the bunker number. 

He also used toothpicks in one of the larger holes to simulate rebar showing through the broken concrete. 

Then he added some gun emplacements and was off to battle. Don’t fret over getting the right tones and dry brushing the textures just right. Remember, this project was for a functional solid battlefield accessory to play with. 

He enjoyed many hours of storming the beaches and defending the homeland and I probably helped attack once or twice myself. Now, if we only had a burned out building… ;]

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

A Time of Reflection

We get up, go to work, go to lunch, go home, have dinner, relax if there is any time left, hit the sack for a couple hours and then do it all over again. Every day starts looking the same after a while and it’s always good to stop and smell the orchids. Ponder life for a minute. 

We here in the Pittsburgh area are fortunate to have a great deal of cultural wonders right in our back yard. There is a plethora of historical sites and markers along the road. Stop and read one every now and then. How about taking in a concert or play, there are three theatres in the downtown area alone. Heinz Hall, The Benedum and the Byham. Other impressive places to visit include The Carnegie Museum of Natural History, The Heinz History Center, The Carnegie Science Center and Phipps Conservatory. All are just a short drive away. The Scaife Gallery, Warhol Museum and a vast array of small galleries also dot the Greater Pittsburgh area.

I recently took a day off and went for a time of reflection at the Phipps Conservatory. Their current exhibit is the Orchid and Bonsai show. So in keeping with the art theme here at Hendersonworks, they also had several pieces on permanent display from Dale Chuhuly’s blown glass collection. The pieces are displayed amid the beautiful foliage, plants and flowers which we'll get to soon.

The very first area in Phipps, past the gift shop and lobby, is the original entrance, the Palm Court. I spent a good amount of time just sitting in the Palm Court staring at this….

There was a bird in the next room singing so beautifully I thought it was a recording. 
Two large urns were continuously overflowing with water leaving a melodic trickling in the background. 

The setting was positively serene. 

Moving through to the Sunken Garden room and into the East Room found me once again sitting on a bench gazing at this…

The simplicity and beauty of the natural world are a wonder. Life used to be run here and do this, run there and do that, never pausing long enough to notice the things around us. I'm making it a point to stop and take a look with those I love and love to be with.

Well how about the beauty of artwork. 
Dale Chihuly had an exhibit at Phipps in 2007 called "Glass in the Garden". His work is included in more than 200 hundred museum collections worldwide. The depth of the glass is amazing and beyond description. Pictures do not do it justice. You need to see them for yourself.

Joshua was able to get some creative shots of these pieces…

And in keeping with the art theme, here are a few close-up photographic expressions of the botanical environment to behold at the Phipps Conservatory.