There’s two dragony ‘how to’s to look forward to, this is the first and is mostly about the actual making of the helm. Part 2 will be focussing more on a separate helm that I made, and mostly about the painting and finishing aspects.
This project had a brief that it was to be a dragony head-covering thing. With emphasis on covering. She wanted it to obscure her face as much as possible, whilst still being able to see and speak/eat etc. The open jaw was something I didn’t do on the first one that I made, but I knew that to cover her as much as possible, I was going to have to attempt it.
So, whilst I don’t have pictures of the very first stages, it was actually reasonably simple. To get the size/shape right, I took a long 1.5inch wide strip of reasonably thick plastazote (I think it was about 12mm) and wrapped it around my forehead to the back (biggest circumference) of my head. Leaving a good bit of space (able to fit my hand comfortably inside, you really do appreciate the space when it’s done – the latex layers really do make it thicker) I glued the strip into a circle that fits around my head.
But of course, if you’ve made it big enough that it won’t be too small, it doesn’t just sit nicely where you want it to, it falls down over your head and becomes more like a collar than a headband. So, to stop it from falling down and to get the right head depth, I took another two strips of foam and made them span forward to back across my head, keeping the band around the circumference of my head at the right height, and then side to side, to keep the right oval-ish shape, because heads aren’t spherical, we’re kind of wonky oval shaped.
Anyway, once I had the general shape that it had to be, it was relatively straight forward to cut out the panels that would fill in the gaps. Working from the back, I cut out layers of panels, gluing one on top of the other like a tiled pattern. (See picture>>) When I got to the top (so that the whole back was now enclosed) I cut out the longish nose panel, that stretched all the way from the top of the skull right the way to the nose, and followed the strip of plastazote that spanned from the back of the head to the front – keeping everything straight).
The jaw section had to be far enough out from my face that eating and talking wouldn’t be an issue, and I had to experiment with shapes for it. In the end I had a 3 piece jaw – the two long sides where held it onto the main helm, and a small flat bit between them to give the squarish shape, as opposed to a pointy shape that just didn’t look right when I tried it. It didn’t follow the contours of my face very well.
From then, with all of the structural stuff sturdy and ready to go, the fun could begin with making it look pretty. I took a lot of my inspiration from dragon skull pictures on Google, one of which had the scale pattern that you see on the long nose piece and I liked it so I stole it. The little wings at the back were inspiration from the same google picture, giving a bit of balance to the design as all the real fancy stuff was at the front.
Teeth came next, but I didn’t feel that they covered the face enough. I added to it, curving them down like sabre teeth, criss-crossing across the face. I think it worked quite well. Using slightly stiffer foam helped them keep their shape a bit better too, although they did still bend out of shape a little – I’m not sure there’s any way to stop that and keep them soft enough not to poke out eyes.
I used the similar tougher foam for the horns, opting for straight, grooved horns on this one. I cut into the helm to make an indentation to glue the horns into, to make them a bit stronger, having sanded them into a nice roundish shape and cut grooves down them to make them look a bit more like bone.
My very favourite tool that I’ve recently discovered (still not as beloved as my spray gun and air compressor, mind you!) is my pyrography tool. It turns out that if you have a thin-ish nib on a pyrography tool, it burns foam neatly and lets you ‘draw’ on patterns, rather than having to carve it with a scalpel, which leaves far more angular and clumsy patterns. You can see the scales on the helm that have been pyrographied on, It’s really good for finishing touches that are just a bit more subtle than a scalpel can give.
Finishing touches done, it was time for latexing. Spray gun to the rescue! It got a good 3-4 thick sprayed layers of black latex (Always, always mix some black poster or acrylic paint into your latex for the base coats – it goes on pale gray and dries black, so you know when it’s dry, and it also – in my opinion – gives the latex a thickness that makes it a lot easier to work with.)
So with the base layers on, it was time for painting. I find painting both fun and incredibly stressful. When you mix the poster paint with latex, the colours go sort of muted and paler, but they don’t dry that way! So when I’ve mixed up the colour, I usuall stipple a really thin bit of it onto whatever’s close to me (usually table or my trousers) and hair-dryer it dry so I can make sure the colour is okay.
With this one, she wanted mostly black with blue/purpley highlights. Now, that was hard. Black looks brilliant when it’s isoflexed as I’ve mentioned earlier, it gives it a proper depth. But all black? I needed to pick out the detail. In the end, I think the blue ended up too bluey, but I still like the overall effect. It’s actually a mite darker than it looks in the ‘bright sunlight – in Glasgow!’ pictures below, but still quite blue/purpley. She was happy with it, though, so I’m not complaining!
Finally I gave it a couple of coats of isoflex that made it all shiny and she was done!
Hope you enjoyed seeing the process of creating the dragony helm (Number 1)! I’m still an amateur at all this though, so I’m sure some folk have better ways I could do things. Feel free to leave a comment with your thoughts! I’d love to hear from you.
Keep reading on to Dragon skull helmet – Walkthrough Pt 2 where you can read about painting with latex and primarily achieving a bone effect.