Sunday, July 31, 2011

Sleestak Halloween Costume

I have been meaning to post this for awhile. I wanted to share our process for creating G's Sleestak costume in 2009. I really enjoyed working with the concept, and I think he enjoyed being a Sleestak, although he was disappointed that so few kids knew what he was. 
First of all, the backstory. No, we were not trying to imitate the (at that time) recent Will Farrell vehicle Land of the Lost; we were referring to the original, the one and only, the faintly-remembered television series from the seventies of the same name. The weekend before school started that year, we were at the public library, and G came across a box set of the entire series on DVD. The beginning of the school year is always exhausting for me as a teacher, and for kids, too. Each day, when I came home from school, we found ourselves popping in one of the DVD's and mindlessly vegging out to the adventures of the Marshall clan in their parallel universe controlled by strange and cheesy magnetic forces. All of us could sing the theme song by heart after a couple of days. I think Rich and I suggested G be a Sleestak for Halloween and he quickly agreed. 

Here's how we did it. 

Time Needed: We did the work in pieces over two to three weeks. It could be done in less time, but allow time for the plaster mask to completely dry and for a couple of coats of paint to completely dry.  

Materials: We just used what we found along the way.  Be resourceful and come up with your own ideas as you go!
  • Plaster-coated craft gauze (two packages-- the 4" wide stuff-- I think we only ended up using one, though.) 
  • moldable lightweight wire mesh (for crafts) 
  • blue painters tape 
  • one pair of flimsy, ridiculously oversized novelty sunglasses. Dismantle them and cut out the lenses to the shape and size you need.
  • 4 sheets green craft foam 
  • 1 large sheet green felt (2' x 2' or whatever the standard package size is) 
  • green kids'-sized fabric gardening gloves (we found these in the dollar bin) 
  • green long underwear (we could only find olive color) 
  • sturdy flip-flops (these were ones we already had, and he was able to continue using them after we dismantled the costume.) 
  • Velcro squares 
  • acrylic craft paint: yellow, brown, green, black and flesh-colored
  • needle and green thread 
  • duct tape 
  • paint brushes and sponge brushes 
  • scissors 
Mask: Basically, you are forming a plaster mask around the head of the person who will be wearing the costume.

Begin by finding a comfortable place for the person to sit who will be wearing the mask. They will be sitting for a while-- it might be nice to have a drink with a straw nearby. Cut the plaster gauze into strips in preparation. Some can be wider than others. Much can simply be split down the middle or into three strips.

Form an upper lip (like a frog's) out of lightweight cardboard such as an old cereal box. Combine with wire mesh and your lens cut-outs to stabilize the eyes and create a foundation for your mask.
We used sports adhesive tape to hold everything together-- I figured it might hold up to the moisture involved with the plaster. (See photo below-- this is hard to put into words). 

Wrap the subject's head in plastic wrap down to the hairline and secure with a clip behind the head to keep the plaster from sticking in their hair.  Wrap the back of the head down to the neck-- this mask will cover the main part of the person's head.

Read the tips on the plaster gauze packaging for creating masks. As directed there, I began by forming an X shape in the front center of the mask on my son's face, placing a few layers in a criss-cross pattern to create stability. Then I worked my way around his face and head with the plaster gauze, creating crossing patterns with the gauze wherever possible to create strength. I left an opening for his mouth under the wide upper lip, but covered his entire head, including ears and chin, with the gauze plaster. I tried to create at least two layers of gauze wherever possible.

 You can see I did cover the back of his head.  We let the plaster harden for a while, and then used large scissors to cut a slit up the back of the mask.  Be careful!  I cut a chunk of hair off his head doing this!  Cut the slit just long enough to be able to slip the mask on and off easily later.  The plaster gauze will always be a little bit pliable, but you don't want to have to break it or crease it to get it on and off.

We let the mask dry at least overnight before the next steps.  At some point, after it was dry, I cut the back with scissors to create a shape that allowed my son to take the mask on and off easily, but for it to still cover a lot of his head.  To create the horn, we used more of the wire mesh and fashioned a horn shape.  We then taped it to the top of the mask, and plastered over it with the same plaster gauze so that it became part of the mask.  The wire mesh was pretty easy to work with, since it cuts with scissors. 
Decoration of Mask:  Protect the eye lenses with blue painter's tape.  Then paint!  I don't have any great tips for this, really.  We did a base coat of green over the head, and used a flesh color at the lips and horn.  We used internet photos of sleestaks and tried to include the major details on the mask.  We used yellow, gold/bronze, a fleshy color, brown and black in our decorations.  The kids helped, and it was a lot of fun!
For the main part of the outfit, we used acrylic craft pain on the long underwear to create a "lizard chest" look.  The paint doesn't wash out, we found out, and my child now sleeps in his sleestak costume, lizard chest and all, so the long johns need not go to waste!

Then we created a signature lizard/frog creature design using felt and craft foam.  The acrylic craft paint worked fine on the foam as long as it is not getting constantly bent up and whacked all over the place.  Anyway, it's the same paint you used for everything else and you can always repaint the parts that get all cracked up from siblings whacking each other with sleestak hands!  

For the hands, we cut out sleestak hands from green craft foam, and then roughly sewed them to the fingertips of the gardening gloves.  Cheap winter stretch-knit gloves would look great, too.  We painted the foam hands to give them a little bit of texture and make the color look just a little more "natural" (it's all relative here, right?)

For the feet, we used a similar method of fashioning sleestak feet from the craft foam, then using duct tape to tape them to the flip-flops.  I just faced the duct tape upward from inside the flip-flops, and then pressed the foam down onto it.  You just have to feel your way through it a little, but staples can help keep it all together longer once you get everything taped on.  We were able to remove the foam feet after Halloween and G was able to use the flip-flops again.  Where we live, it is still warm well into November a lot of times.

For the finishing touches of a collar and tail, I used the large piece of felt.  I don't feel that we got it to fit perfectly, but it was close enough.  We cut a long rectangle so that it had a neck hole and two strips which went down my son's back.  I cut scales out of green and brown felt, layered them, and sewed them along the outside edges of the strips going down his back so that it looked like he had scales along his back.  As I did this, I created a tapering effect down his back.  The front, I cut almost like a Kermit the Frog collar.  We made a tail out of, I think, the rest of the wire mesh turned into a sort of cone shape and coated in some of the remaining plaster gauze. We covered it with felt, stapled it to the end of the green felt, and the whole thing became a single piece G could put over his head and it would become the collar, scales and tail.  We had to staple it to his long johns in a couple of places so the collar wouldn't weigh down and sort of gag him, but we made it work. 
Trick or Treat!

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