In order to make the lekku, I started out with a frame welded from pipe and rebar.
It had to be strong enough to support the weight of plaster, clay, and eventually
a mold. The pipe was purchased from the lumber yard already cut to length and threaded.
The bracket had to be bolted to the plywood round, since screws pulled out of the
wood too easily!
Once I had the frame securely attached to the stand, I slapped a rough head and lekku
onto it with plaster. On top of the plaster I built up a layer of oil clay, which
was easy to work with as long as the weather was warm. Working with cold oil clay,
however, was like trying to sculpt old concrete. I also ran into the issue of measurements.
Latex shrinks by about 10% as it dries and cures, so I had a hard time trying to
figure out exactly how oversized to make each part of the lekku.
After smoothing the clay and giving it a "skin texture" by rubbing the back of a
spoon over a piece of textured vinyl (for hours and hours), I gave the whole thing
a coating of clear paint to seal the clay. Once that was dry, I built a clay dividing
wall and set to work making a two-part mold. At that point I ran into my first big
problem. The mold material, a plaster-like material called Ultracal, did not like
to stick to broad, smooth stretches of paint slickened oil clay. No matter how carefully
I applied the Ultracal, it just slid right off and pooled on the floor. It took 3
hours of tedious work to build up the Ultracal on each half of the mold, a job which
also included working strips of burlap into the wet Ultracal to provide extra strength
and support. It also involved a few choice words because the clay dividing wall didn't
like to stick to the oil clay, either. Three times I had to make major repairs to
the dividing wall before I was able to complete the first half of the mold. But,
eventually, I had a completed mold. I let it sit overnight, and then opened it the
next day. To my dismay the top half of the mold cracked where the lekku curve out
from the head. It was a minor crack, so I repaired the mold as best I could. Then
I poured in the latex, sloshing it often to coat the mold evenly inside. After letting
the latex sit in the mold for almost an hour (guessing on the length of time was
another issue), I poured the excess latex back into its container and let the mold
sit overnight to dry.
The next day I opened it, and... Taaadaaa!
My family was impressed. I am, however, a perfectionist.
The latex did not conform well to the shape of my head. It was too thick and heavy,
and the lekku themselves seemed fat and lifeless. So I went back to the metal frame,
cleaned everything off of it, and started again. I began this time by making an accurate
plaster copy of my head in the hope that it would help the headpiece fit properly.
I put my hair in a bun, wrapped it with a plastic bag to keep it clean, and then
had my husband help me make a cast of my head with plaster gauze. You can find a
tutorial about making a lifecast on our tutorials site. Just click the link at the
top of this page!
Once the plaster was set, we opened the two halves of the mold. Then I placed the
mold over my rebar and pipe framework and filled it with plaster. Then, I went through
the entire sculpting process all over again. As I worked I experimented with better
ways to create a skin texture because the vinyl trick was tedious, and the texture
it created didn’t show up very well in the latex. I settled on skin texture that
was created by rubbing various tools and stipple sponges over the surface of the
clay, followed by smoothing it with my hands. It still took hours and hours and
hours to smooth out the tool marks and then texture such a large area of clay, but
I was definitely starting to get the hang of making the clay look more like skin.
In the end, the difference that I saw in the new sculpture was definitely worth the
extra time and supplies I had to invest. I was so much happier with the results!
After I finished the sculpture I set to work creating my second two-part mold, making
sure to double reinforce the area that had cracked before. I opened the mold....
and it cracked in the same place again! AUGH!!! The crack was a serious one this
time and the mold was ruined, so I had to repair my damaged sculpture and make yet
another mold. On my third attempt I tried something different. I divided the mold
into three sections, placing a seam at the place where it had cracked both times
before. And, instead of depending on the burlap and Ultracal to make the mold strong,
I encased it in a fiberglass shell and used fiberglass to attach rebar support rods
down the sides. This time there were no cracks when I opened the mold. Well, no major
cracks, anyway. Ultracal just isn't intended for such long, narrow forms. The few
small cracks that did develop gradually grew larger, but there’s just not much I
could co about that!
By now it was well into the winter rainy season. The weather had become so cold and
damp that when I poured latex into the mold it simply would not dry inside. I ruined
two castings by opening the mold while the lekku were still wet down at the tips.
On my third attempt, I placed the mold next to the fireplace and kept a hairdryer
blowing inside of it for hours. After nearly a week had passed, I opened the mold.
The last six inches of the lekku were still a gooey mess. Feeling VERY frustrated
at this point, I put the mold away for a few months and concentrated on the rest
of the costume.
Then, finally, the sun came out, the weather warmed, and I decided to try
pouring the latex one more time. I'm glad I did.
Like I mentioned, though.... I'm a perfectionist.
I still wasn't completely happy with the design. I was also continuing to have problems
with the mold. It didn't have a tight fit at the ends of the lekku, so it leaked
quite a bit of latex and left seam lines that were very noticable. You can see in
this picture how much latex leaked around the tips of the lekku and at the sides.
So... once again I started a new sculpture, but this time I cheated. Instead of starting
over from scratch, I took a lekku headpiece and I filled it with plaster. Then I
cut the latex off and covered the plaster with a layer of oil clay. This saved me
from having to do a lot of sculpting and design work!
Once the clay was smooth and covered with a skin texture, I began making a new mold.
I planned out a three-piece mold using the same fairly successful design as the last
time. I was hoping that I had learned enough about the mold making process to make
the best mold possible this time. I started by building up the clay barrier that
would create the top half of the mold. I also included a retaining wall this time
to hold the Ultracal in and help the mold have smooth sides.
After the top half of the mold was complete, I turned the sculpture over and made
the two pieces of the mold for the bottom half. Before I took it apart, I sealed
all of the seam lines and then once again reinforced the mold with pieces of rebar
and a coating of fiberglass.
Did the mold work better this time?
In some ways, yes. It didn't crack when I opened it. I drilled holes and bolted the
mold halves tightly together, so no more latex leaked out of the ends. But... since
I didn't make the sculpture on top of a head casting, it didn't fit my head perfectly
anymore. I guess when I filled the latex headpiece with plaster, it warped the head
area out of shape just a little bit. Not badly, but enough that I could feel the
difference. The lekku looked great, but they weren't very comfortable to wear. I
also started thinking that I’d like to have a bit more curve to the top area of the
lekku. A thought like that just can’t be ignored; it’ll stick with a perfectionist
for months on end until they do something about it.
So what did I do?
Yup! I went back to the beginning... and I made a new sculpture and a new mold.
If practice makes perfect... I ought to be an expert by now!