Taking a week out of town during the month of October after two months of hyping myself up and working on projects was a good idea–it was a break, a reset, and a reason to get laser-focused as the big day was then almost upon me. I’d finished my costume before I hit the road, which meant that I only had about a bazillion small projects left on my list and one big one: a working Nightmare Before Christmas town fountain.
I already had the stuff I’d determined I needed to build it: a kiddie pool, giant sheets of home insulation foam, a fountain pump, a fountain hose, pvc plumbing pipe, chicken wire, and expanding foam, but I was also a little daunted by the build. I’d never made anything like this before, and it had the potential to go really rage-inducingly badly. Volcanically badly. But it was either buckle down and build it now or let all of these materials go to waste, because realistically, it’s not like I’d be more motivated to work on it in November. So I buckled down.
I used a hot wire to cut bricks out of the home insulation foam, which I glued together into a wishing well shape, and once the whole thing was dry, painted it gray and weathered it with black. I also half ass painted the kiddie pool edges–it’s something people mostly wouldn’t see at night or from a distance, but a bright yellow fish swimming on a purple pool tends to stand out and detract from the overall effect. I then eyeballed and cut the pvc pipe into roughly the shape and height I wanted, running the fountain hose through it as I built it because there would be no easy way (or potentially no way at all) to run it through the pipes when they were all assembled, owing to all of the sharp bends. I then shaped some chicken wire around the pipe to give the body some bulk. Then it was time for the part I was really dreading: filling the body out with expanding foam.
If you’ve never used expanding foam for any home projects, it’s essentially a monkey’s paw in a can, twisting all of your hopes and wishes into a sticky nightmare. At some point after I moved into the house, I thought I’d be clever and fill some of the gaps in our downstairs doorways with expanding foam, and almost from the first spray, I knew I had made a huge mistake. But I kept at it and made it much, much worse. By the time I had determined I was finished, about ten minutes later, there was almost impossibly sticky goo everywhere. Cans of expanding foam say not to expect more than one use from it, as they claim that it tends to seal itself shut. I posit that a can only gets one use because it causes such frustration that a use is always immediately followed by the user attempting to throw the can into the sun. But there I was, clasping that blasted monkey paw all over again and swearing that this time, my wish wouldn’t be corrupted. I was right…sort of. The foam did cling to the chicken wire like I’d hoped. Not very evenly or very well in some spots, and it was impossible to get it to come out of the can at a consistent thickness, but it did mostly do what I wanted. There was a portion near the bottom of bare pipe that I’d hoped to fill out with foam–I really should have bought more chicken wire but really, really didn’t want to make yet another trip to the hardware store. The expanding foam didn’t want to bulk out, instead choosing to slop right off the pipe onto the ground below–thankfully I had learned from last time and laid down some protective barriers for just such a scenario. I ended up covering the bare area with fun foam to give the illusion of bulk.
Once the expanding foam had completely cured, I tried carving it down to an even surface with the hot wire tool, which I’d been led to believe was something that would cut through expansion foam, and of course, it didn’t. So, instead, I hugged it to me like a lover with one arm while hacking bits of it off with a knife with the other, which I quite enjoyed. Admitting to that online is probably the sort of thing that will get me put on a watchlist, but you know me, I’m committed to the truth and elaborate hilarious lies, whichever the situation calls for.
After the body was reasonably even, the time had come to cover it with scales. If the hot wire tool had easily cut the expanding foam (why can’t it work more like a lightsaber and just lop off hands and whatever else I want it to?), I would have considered carving the scales out of the expanding foam, but as it was, I’d have to make them from something else and adhere them. I’d made scales of sorts for the shingles of my Zero tombstone out of pink home insulation foam and that was a complete and total pain in the ass and this was a MUCH larger surface area, so I decided to cut the scales out of fun foam and adhere them with hot glue. I started with about two hundred scales, figuring that’d probably cover most of it. Not even close. Every time I cut two hundred more out and brought them to the workshop I thought certainly it had to be the final two hundred, that there couldn’t possibly be any more surface area to cover, and I’d come up short. Some part of me is still cutting scales out of foam in foam purgatory, which is like hell only foamier.
Once all the foam scales were on, it was time to carve the head. I’d adhered five rectangles of insulation foam together, and once they’d cured, I busted out the hot wired tool and started roughing out the shape. I’ve never carved material like this before and it turned out to be both satisfying and fun, taking away hunks of material until I had something wholly unlike the original starting material. And, bonus, it turned out pretty close to what I was trying to carve. Once the head shape was done, I cut teeth out of fun foam and glued them in as that was much easier than attempting to carve them out–I’m a foam dabbler, here, not a Renaissance artist. I also cut out a foam tongue and horns and attached both to the head before fitting the head onto the body. Once the head was attached, I made and attached the wings, tail, arms, and hands, and once it was all dried, it was ready for paint and weathering, and when THAT was dry, it was time to put the whole thing together, fill up the kiddie pool with water, and hope that it worked.
It did. By gum, it did. And I finished it in enough time to cross another thing off my decorating list–make monster silhouettes for the downstairs windows and back them with a bright shower curtain so they’d stand out, and also so people couldn’t see into the downstairs which is by far the least cute part of the house. AND I had time to make some food for the party as well. Some food, not all of it. I’m thankful for restaurants with same day catering to take some of the pressure off when it comes to feeding up to twenty people (which is my “small” game night, it is possible I’m struggling with the concept of “small”) plus getting the house and yard ready and me into a costume with a decent amount of makeup and answering the door for trick or treaters.
Speaking of trick or treaters, the candy wheel was a hit–I had some kids come to my door and say they’d heard about the wheel from their friends, and at least one parent told me that my house was on their “must stop” list because of my decorations. It’s exciting for me because I love spreading the Halloween spirit, and it’s nice to know that my hard work has been noticed and appreciated.
Since it was a game night and I’d invited people over to “test their luck”, there were a few games of chance throughout the night, and the winners could choose from the gift cards arrayed on the table or one of two “mystery boxes”, because who can resist the allure of a mystery box? The contents of one of the boxes was the game in which my likeness appears, and the other contained two dog biscuits and a note letting the recipient know they’d chosen poorly. Hey, they can’t all be winners, right?
For my costume this year, I decided to revisit the witch, and ended up in a very different place from my swamp witch costume. I thought about doing a similar transfigured arm and nail claws, but since I was throwing a party and not just attending one, I figured I’d probably need that arm and hand for things like making food, so that idea went by the wayside. I used a dress, leggings, and boots I already had (why spend the time making something if I have something that already works for that purpose?), bought the mask on etsy, the hat from amazon, and made the rest myself: the belt, the cloak, the necklace/cloak clasp, and the hat accessories. The time consuming part was definitely the feathers–I wanted the look of giant feathers to go with the giant bird skull, which meant making them. They were all individually cut out of (you guessed it!) fun foam, textured with an x-acto knife, given a rachis of hot glue, and then painted matte black. I spent hours cutting, texturizing, gluing, and painting feathers, and once I started sewing them on, I realized that I would need to spend the rest of forever making foam feathers if I was to cover the entire shoulder to floor cloak in overlapping feathers. (Sensing some sort of pattern, here?) Additionally, I realized that many flipping feathers would make the cloak ridiculously heavy, especially for the frail 80 year old me who would finally be donning it after making all those feathers, so I decided to do the front panels and call it a day, which meant I actually had a few feathers left over for things like tucking into the hat and keeping in a scrapbook to remind future me of why I’ve got arthritis. I sewed a wire into the neck of the cloak in the hopes that it would hold itself on, but with the weight and relative flexibility of the wire, that was a futile hope. Enter the cloak clasp, which is made of a base of floor mat foam for thickness and strength (not enough strength to keep from ripping on the day of the party, heyooo), with a decorative design in apoxie sculpt and a cabachon of resin. The apoxie sculpt was coated in rub n buff to give it a silvered appearance because I’m a one-trick pony. If I’d had more time, I would have considered making a woods-y staff with glowing purple crystals, but getting the fountain finished was my first priority as it would have far more impact than a costume prop that I’d have set aside for most of the night.
All in all, I’m super pleased with how it turned out, and I’d wear and swoop that cape around again anytime. Maybe around the house, just because.
…After the party broke up for the night, things got a little weird.