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DIY Mini Wall Portals & Companion Cubes

Monday, December 24, 2012

Happy Christmas Eve, everyone! The last of my family left yesterday morning, so of course I immediately got to work finishing up my latest geeky craft project:

Mini wall portals!!

I first got this idea back in November, and originally planned to make them into hanging ornaments for the tree. It's a bit late for a Christmas craft, though, and I suppose it makes more sense to have them attached to a wall, anyway. (That said, you could easily add a loop to the back and turn them into ornaments for *next* Christmas.)



The illusion is fairly convincing from the side, and considering this set is only my first prototype, I'm pretty chuffed with how it turned out!

I'm sure you can tell HOW I did this - it's basically just a companion cube cut in half and attached to an oval mirror - but you may be wondering where I got the supplies.

The mirrors are 4X3 oval craft mirrors I found on ebay. I bought them in bulk, but you might be able to find them sold individually at your local craft store.

The cubes were a lot trickier, since I had to cast and paint them myself. I cast them using ThinkGeek's excellent silicone companion cube ice tray (which is only $5 right now, so I'm kicking myself for spending nearly $20 on it with shipping) and some Amazing Casting Resin :


This casting resin sets up in about five minutes, and is, hands-down, the coolest craft thing I've ever played with in my entire life. When I popped out the first cube, I literally yelled in delight and danced around the kitchen, cackling like an evil mastermind. SO FUN!! You pour in a liquid, and five minutes later pop out a hard plastic object. It's MAGIC, you guys.

MAGIC!!

You can use any silicone ice tray or candy mold for resin, but keep in mind that once you do, you can never use it for food items again. Of course, with ice trays you could always cut the tray in half - just be sure to mark which half is which.
The finished cube. This resin has a surprising heft to it, so it isn't nearly as light as you might expect. I have two cubes sitting next to my keyboard right now, and I keep picking them up just to admire them. :D

Next John cut my cube in half with a power saw, and I painted the two halves with acrylic craft paint. It took three or four coats to cover, though, so I really should find some better quality paint for next time.


I used a glue strip to attach the cube halves to the mirrors, but super glue or E-6000 would work just as well or better.

The orange and blue outlines on the mirrors were achieved using a layer of colored glass paint topped with acrylics. I would have only used the glass paint, but you could barely see the blue, even after four coats. The orange showed fairly well, but even so adding the acrylic really deepened the colors. I also used some yellow and light blue to add a little dimension to the interior edges:


I purposely made the outlines rough, to try and echo the smokey nature of the portal edges:

Next time I might try sweeping the paint inward more, to get that flame effect a bit better.

Oh, and even with the glass paint underneath this finish can scratch off pretty easily, so be careful if you try it. There's probably a clear top coat you could apply to protect it, but I haven't researched that yet.


For now my mini portals are on the wall beside my monitor. I attached them using Blue Stik, a reusable putty, so I can move them if I find a better spot later on.

Like I said, over all I'm pretty pleased with how these turned out, but I'm still not satisfied with my portal edges. I'm going to experiment a bit more with the glass paints to try and get more translucence, but if any of you have suggestions for other techniques or products I should try, please let me know in the comments! If I can make the portals just a bit better, then I'd like to make several more sets - perhaps even do a give-away here on the blog? Eh? [eyebrow waggle]

Posted by Jen at 12:35 AM Labels: , , ,

34 comments:

  1. These are wickedly amazing! I'm pinning to my Must Make Later board cause I so need these.

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  2. I'm assuming the glass paint you are talking about is like stained glass paint. When I made my Portal diorama, I used that to make the tube and buttons of my mini portal gun have a glowing quality. I would imagine that just using the transparent glass paint to kind of "flame up" around the edges would make it look more authentic.

    Also, if you have a contest, I may throw myself into a river if I don't win it. Not a very deep one, but I am certain it would be very cold. Just sayin'. ;)

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  3. Thank you. I am now trying to decide if Companion Cube ice cube trays count as an emergancy, so I can justify putting them on my credit card.

    If you have a contest I hope I win! I've had a very Portal Christmas this year - my girlfriend gave me a Plushie Turret, a set of cookie cutters and a Plushie Companion Cube!

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  4. My suggestion would be to use a first surface mirror, aka a front surface mirror. This way there wouldn't be a gap between the two halves of the cube in the mirror. These mirrors are kind of hard to find, however. If you search for first surface mirror, you'll find at least one DIY video on how to make one.

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  5. These look cool. I think the illusion would work better if you turned the half-cubes around about 45 degrees on the surface OR cut them in half point-to-point (now there's a challenge!) so they don't look quite so straight. It would be more accurate to the in-game look.

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  6. Oh, my daughter and her BFF are going to want to make these! (I just need to find a "John" to cut them for me ...)

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  7. Those are made of awesome. As much as I love coming here, my list of craft stuff to buy has gotten ridiculously too long!

    If the paint you're using is that stained glass paint, you really need to put on a thick coat of it. I tried painting regularly with it and it just dried clear. Flooding the area with a 1/4-inch thick coat gave me some actual color.

    Alternatively, if you have (or are able to jerryrig) a form approximately the same size and shape as your mirrors, you can modify the melted bead suncatcher craft found here: http://www.artfulparent.com/2012/06/making-melted-bead-suncatchers.html

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  8. Fabric paint could work for the color, but it would come off easily & be thick.
    I personally would go with nail polish. Great colors to choose from (i.e: glittery), you could make it more see through with clear polish & it should stick on pretty well.

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  9. Instead of cutting the cubes afterwards, what about just filling the trays halfway? Is the resin thin enough to settle into a flat edge?

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  10. Shelley in So. IllinoisDecember 24, 2012 at 9:32 AM

    There is a painting technique used with acrylics that I have done on wood and canvas. I learned it at my local library and we made these incredibly cheesy mouse-in-a-stocking ornaments. Imagine 1980's craft fair style and you are in the correct playbook.

    I want to say the technique was called 'color flow' but that may be completely wrong. And since you used to do wall painting stuff professionally I would guess you would be much much better at it than I was. And have probably used it.

    But in any case, it was a wet brush technique where you left half the flat brush empty and just loaded the other end, then blotted a bit on a paper towel. Then when you swipe the painted edge of your brush along the line, the paint very gradually faded to nothing. Not sure this would work at all on glass, but it might be worth a try.

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  11. These are great!! I wonder what would happen if you cut the cubes on a bias?

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  12. Nice project...if you ever make more, you might try to get front-silvered mirrors (also called front-surface mirrors or first-surface mirrors). They have the reflective coating on the front of the surface instead of the back, so you won't get a gap between the real cube and the reflection. --paul

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  13. I've done flamey-smokey-type edges before on some things, and what I did was to take a q-tip, tug on the cotton on one end a little to pull out multiple little wisps, and then use it to paint. A little twist and twirl action on it creates some really impressive flame tips. For a bigger project I used a cotton ball hot-glued to a disposable chopstick to make a giant q-tip. Worked great!

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  14. How did you get the cube to cast the right shape on all six sides?
    .....or did you?

    -AwesomeAud

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  15. Those are great, Jen! One technique you can try with the paint is to blow on it with a straw while it's wet. The technique is demonstrated here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4Xj5HJ3fGeM though you'd want to use thicker paint, and blow softer so it doesn't branch quite as much.

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  16. I love this post! I've been wanting to make my own weighted companion cube paperweight for while now and had just discovered the ice cube tray recently. I was hoping it would work, but now that I've seen your companion cubes, I'm convinced. Now I need to buy supplies!

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  17. @ Toria & Paul - I hadn't even heard of front-surface mirrors, but that makes sense! Of course, finding them in a 4X3 oval would be the real trick - unless I can use something to turn *these* into front-surface ones.

    @ Anony - I originally wanted to cut the cubes at a 45 angle, but you're right that it would be a lot trickier to cut. I may have to try it next, tho!

    @ Alison - filling the tray half way *would* work, yes - I'd just have to get the halfway mark exactly right. That's a little harder, & would take twice the time for two half-cubes, but the advantage would be no flat side on the bottom of each half. Right now my cube bottoms are smooth, since those were the top of my mold. (If that makes sense...)

    @ Anony - No, the tray mold includes 5 of the 6 sides of the cube, so the bottoms of my cube halves(which were the open top of the mold) are smooth. However, as Alison pointed out, if you filled the mold half way you wouldn't have to cut it, and your only smooth side would be the one attached the mirror.

    And to the rest of you: thanks for all the painting tips! I think I'll be spending my Christmas experimenting. :)

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  18. I think maybe doing layers of paint, sponged on the edges, might give you the effect you're looking for. Work your way in from the outer edge, starting with lighter paints and working inward with a slightly deeper shade of orange or blue. Sponging on will hopefully allow you to get some blending between each shade. You can clean up the inner edge of your rim so it's nice and sharp, and then use a paintbrush to make a solid inner line. (Since you don't want a FUZZY flame, gotta get those clean lines!)

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  19. Baking the mirrors at 250 Farenheit for 30-60 minutes should help stop it from chipping. I used this method for Christmas ornaments. Just make sure your paint won't change color in the oven.

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  20. I LOVE these! Definitely going to have to make some myself. Wanted to try out some casting for a while, and this seems like a great starter project too. :)

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  21. I don't know why it wouldn't let me comment earlier, but you might consider modeling your portals after the original Portal logo. Just a couple streaks of a slightly tighter curve may help get the look you're going for. Google images will help you see what I'm saying.

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  22. use a hot glue gun over paint, it'll give it a neat 3 dimensional effect and before the glue dries, drag it with a toothpic for the flames. test it on paper first though to get the hang of it.

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  23. Hi Jen!
    So I've done a little research, and a quick DIY for turning your oval mirrors into front-surface mirrors is to remove the gray backing from your mirrors using liquid paint stripper, and cleaning off the paint stripper using acetone. The backside of your mirror is now the front. Note, however, that paint stripper will dissolve acrylic if you leave it on for too long (mirror is made of acrylic), so be careful and fast.

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  24. Jen, this is so dangerous! There are waaay too many awesome ice cube trays I'd love to try this on! :)
    I'm going to have to check out the resin you used.

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  25. Have you ever tried mixing white glue (like Elmer's) with food coloring? I've seen it used to give plain glass the look of colored glazed glass. Worth a shot!

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  26. You may be able to skip the "cut in half" step by only filling the ice cube trays half full. (Maybe. Depends on how level they end up.)

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  27. I have no crafting advice, because the height of my crafting expertise is making plarn stuff, but I wanted to say that Mr. Haiku got this ice cube tray for Christmas. I can't wait to show him how useful it can be.

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  28. My thirteen year old son is practically drooling over these! If you do make more and do a giveaway please please please!

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  29. If you're worried about filling the mold exactly halfway, you could cut one of the cubes away from the mold, then carefully mark and cut the mold at the halfway point. Then you just fill it to the top! You might have to support the sides with some crumpled up foil to keep the resin from deforming it outward until it sets, and of course if there's considerable shrinkage, you'd need to plan ahead for that and cut slightly more than half the mold free.

    For the paint, you might try painting the rim with a coat of bright white first, then the color of the glass paint might show up more intensely with fewer coats.

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  30. I used to do R&D and technical work for a company called Smooth-On. They make a great line of casting resins - some that are super-light, some that are clear and ready to be tinted, and some that you can add powdered metals to and end up with figures that look like cast bronze, or pewter, or what have you. the website is smooth-on.com

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  31. Those look terrific! Consider me envious! :)

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  32. These are SO awesome Jen! Have you worked with EL wire before? It would give off an awesome glow effect, especially if you could hide the battery inside the cube. Here's a link to some:

    http://www.performance-pcs.com/catalog/index.php?main_page=index&cPath=72_98&zenid=f4e473a0ac1c84d41f9dd29a023d34a6

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  33. My mom paints on all sorts of shiny surfaces, including bottles and dishsoap dispensers, just using the enamel paints you can buy at Michael's. http://www.michaels.com/Glass-Painting%3A-Beautiful-Easy/ae0471,default,pg.html

    Just let the paint dry for a month before exposing it to water.

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  34. That is SO COOL. If you wanted to try something, you could work out how to rim the painted mirrors in colored rope lights, though you might need larger mirrors. Like they did with the portal birthday mirror portals

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