Another finished project! In our first story of the Verdigris Saga told in 2014, the family gravestones were not moved to California when Castle Brittahytta was moved. Since I didn’t need to make new physical gravestones for our display, I took some of my favorite elaborately-carved foam Haunted Headstones from past years and digitally changed the epitaphs to the Verdigris family for the Tasty Tombstone cookies that were one of the clues to match the portraits with the ghosts for the Studying Spirits quiz. Well, since this Halloween we are going back a generation to when the Webmistress lived in the castle in its original location, now we need physical Verdigris gravestones. Ironically I did make the Webmistress’ gravestone for filming Miss Wells in the graveyard, but that’s the only gravestone we do NOT need this year…heh!
Not only did I not feel like carving all the fancy gravestones from scratch again, and would rather recycle to save storage space, but a couple designs included plastic angels that I could not find again, so I had saved thin foam sheets from previous projects and any good packing material to make plaques over the original epitaphs. That took some artistry to figure out what plaque shapes would look the most integrated with the gravestone designs. Once I had rough-cut the basic panels with my serrated knife, I cleaned up the edges with my hot wire cutter, then most looked even better with the plaque edges beveled. I was very pleased I could cut a smooth enough angled line with that wiggly hot wire for those bevels….whew!
Of course I insisted that the physical foam gravestones should match the digital cookie art, and it would have been easier to photograph the new epitaphs and make new edible prints, but I was having problems with my edible printer this spring, so while it was not quite completely dead, I quickly printed all the Verdigris edition Tasty Tombstone frosting sheets so they would be ready for baking cookies closer to Halloween. Going backwards this way retrofitting the stones to the image has been extra difficult! I guess it’s a new challenge since I’ve been carving gravestones for so many years now.
I prepped by printing the cookie epitaphs as large as possible, some requiring multiple sheets of paper trimmed and taped together to fill the gravestone at the proper scale. Usually I free-hand sketch my epitaphs before carving, sometimes using a printed font as a guide for centering and spacing, but this time I wanted them as exact a match as possible. I didn’t have any carbon paper left in my stash (do they even sell that anymore at art stores?), so I tried several methods of transferring the epitaphs from paper prints. I used chalk on the back of the paper and scribbling a pencil like carbon paper on the back, but both of those were only moderate success, mostly the imprint of the ball-point pen through the paper into the foam is what helped me carve accurately. I saved Dynia’s epitaph for last since that was the most intricate font, so I printed in reverse, copied on a laser toner copier, then tried water spray with a medium iron, moving constantly so as not to melt the foam itself. The coolest setting on my iron wasn’t warm enough, but a couple notches hotter worked much better as long as I had a good mist of water between the foam and the paper. I’ve read online that various solvents might work better for this kind of transfer, even though some solvents might eat away different kinds of foam, but I didn’t have any of the solvents handy and wanted this finished! The best method seemed to be a quick spray of water between the paper and foam, working a small section at a time with the iron until you could see the ink through the wet paper, ironing until the paper started to dry again, then just peeking one area to check while leaving the rest of the page in place to keep the exact position.
Between tracing and carving with my woodburning tool on the plugin dimmer switch (see my video series for Haunted Headstones and Carved Stone Walls), it took about an hour per gravestone just for the new epitaphs, so I finished one each evening during the week when it was nice and cool outside on my patio with plenty of ventilation for the burning foam fumes to dissipate. Once those were complete, I used the Tasty Tombstone artwork as my guide to integrate the cracks between the original gravestones and the new foam plaques.
I waited until the end to decide how much I would make Ergelise’s stone match her cookie, since I digitally squashed it from the original double-wide stone for the twins from Fall of the House of Usher, requiring cutting out the middle and making the sides meet again. Since I was making decent time on this project, I decided the foam plaque in front would help hide the vertical seam, and hopefully glue and surface spackle plus a new horizontal base would help it stand better, since it was always too top-heavy before, especially with the plastic angels sticking out so far. After the spackle dried, I sanded the back by hand as smooth as I could, but since the front recessed area was carved into rough lines and spackled to blend those lines together, it didn’t need any sanding.
I had saved some of the inner edges of the Giant Gravestones from Day of the Dead, so I added those as bases to a couple gravestones, cutting a u-shape so that two foam strips nestled around the original gravestone for the best stability. I didn’t glue any of the new foam pieces to the original gravestones until after their basecoat gray was painted so I could get paint all the way into the corners and edges completely. For extra stability and to hold the pieces in place while the glue dried, I used wooden toothpicks at toed-in angles, making sure the toothpicks were recessed and the holes hidden.
I had seen other home haunters online recommend painting inside the epitaphs first, then rolling gray paint over the flat surface, so I thought I’d try that technique this time around to compare. It does work, and it’s equal brush mashing since you need to get paint into all the crevices of the carving detail whether it’s gray paint or darker, but I’m not sure it’s any easier than my original technique of gray basecoat, aging, then accenting with watered-down black paint very last. All my epitaph plaques were too small for a normal paint roller, and I didn’t have a small one, so I carefully used my large brush gently across the surface as dry as possible to avoid getting any gray into the already-painted epitaphs.
I actually glued the foam panels while they were still wet with gray paint so they would be ready for aging the next day, but I didn’t take photos. Aging foam stone in daylight often ends up too subtle for night lighting, so I have found that it’s easier to do the aging treatment in similar lighting as your final display so you can be sure the effects are dark enough. I used the same black spray paint and spray garden hose technique I’ve been using for 13 years now (?!?), but it’s rather difficult to take a photo of yourself with the hose in one hand and the spray paint can in the other, so you can watch my video series for Haunted Headstones and Carved Stone Walls to see the aging technique in action. Basically you are simulating centuries of dirt, dust and rain over and over, until you have the effect you like. Leaning the gravestones at a slight angle to the back helps control the dribbling, but make sure they’re not cocked to one side compared to their final display position.
I was very glad to have all these Up-Graded Gravestones COMPLETED by mid-September, all ready for the front yard display of Castle Brittahytta…but there are still plenty of projects underway for Halloween 2016 so stay tuned!