Monday, October 8, 2012

THIS Is Why Small Conventions Rock

Yesterday I went to a little tiny sci-fi convention here in Orlando. Most of the entire con was held in two mid-sized ballrooms: one a vendor/autograph room, and the other with a stage for panels and auctions. There were maybe 30 or 40 vendor tables. The celebrity autograph tables were placed unassumingly at the end of the room, so that I literally almost bumped into the table where Dwight Schultz sat.

It was awesome.

Now, you have to understand, these little conventions were my gateway into geekdom in my teen years. My mom would drop me and my friend Chris off at the hotel doors, and we'd spend the day learning about warp drive theory in tiny rooms equipped with 50 chairs and an overhead projector, or watching someone get made up as a Klingon, or playing sci-fi Trivia. Then we'd gather with everyone else in the main ballroom to see John De Lancie or Leonard Nimoy (Yes! We got Nimoy one year!), followed by a trip to the vendor room where we'd buy Bajoran earrings and bootlegged copies of Star Trek bloopers.  

In fact, I think some of those same venders were there yesterday. Except now the bootlegged copies are on DVD instead of VHS.

You see, back in MY day, whippersnappers, the whole room lined up after a panel to get the star's autograph, which was included in the price of admission. Also, no one ever looked at cameras back then. We all looked in different directions, and we LIKED IT. 

(Yes, that's me as a teenager. BEHOLD THE AWKWARD.)

(This photo was taken sometime in the early 90s, btw, and John De Lance hasn't aged a day since. It's positively unnatural.)

There's a very different atmosphere at a small convention, and for people like John who are only used to big cons like MegaCon and massive cons like Dragon*Con, it's a bit...confusing. John walked into the vendor room yesterday and actually started laughing. Then he looked around wide-eyed and asked if this was really all there was:

 The vendor room, looking in from one of the doors. The autograph tables are on the far wall.

Meanwhile I was nose-deep in a pile of old action figures and musty-smelling Star Trek books, talking a mile a minute to my friend Julianne (a life-long Trek fan who'd tagged along) about how I had some of these trading cards at home, and I once bought a plaque like that with Q's picture on it, and ohmygosh she should totally buy a Klingon forehead.

By the time I came up for air John was playing Teeny Wings on his phone. The heathen. 

The people at small cons are different, too. They're a more laid-back bunch, and will happily yell out remarks or questions during a panel or auction, and the moderator on stage will most likely joke right back with them.

Greetings from the auction. (We were the peanut gallery in the last row.)

You might think the vendors would be desperate for business, but I didn't feel the slightest pressure shopping. And since there was no one else around, we even stopped to chat with several sellers for a while. I also met an awesome new (well, new to me) artist, Nathan Szerdy.

Of course, the best part of small cons is rubbing elbows with the actors - sometimes literally. When we arrived Sunday afternoon the con was winding down, so most of the celebs had no one waiting at their tables. They chatted freely with each other and anyone who wandered by. Some, like Robert Duncan McNeil, even strolled out to chat with the vendors and people in the aisles.

Even that small crowd on the right dissipated within an hour of our arrival. At the table behind them is Colin Ferguson (the Sheriff on Eureka) and Avery Brooks (Captain Sisko, DS9). On the left you can just see Dwight Schultz (Lt. Barclay on TNG & Murdock on the A Team.)

We walked right up to Colin Ferguson - who impresses me more every time I see him, he's so genuine and approachable - and talked for a bit about some mutual friends of ours. There was no pressure at all to buy an autograph, since no one else was around and Colin seems to really love just chatting with fans. He's also totally real with you, talking about personal stuff in his life pretty openly, and for every person that comes up to him he sticks out his hand and says warmly, "Hi, I'm Colin."

Our friend Julianne was excited to see Robin Curtis, who played Lt. Saavik in Search for Spock, but Julianne was really shy about approaching her. So we waited for an opening, and then I led our little trio up to the table. As we made our way over John said under his breath, "You know you're doing the talking, right, Jen?"

Now, I don't know if you guys remember my post about losing the ability for coherent speech when I meet celebs, but I used to get majorly wigged out. Like, meeting the guy in the Darth Vader suit at Disney reduced me to a shaking sweat-factory. I can't say what changed exactly, but this past year I've found I'm a bit better at it. Maybe it was the last book tour. Of course, it helps when the people you're meeting are so sweet, like Colin or Robin.

And Robin, let me say, was astoundingly sweet. I walked up with Julianne & John on either side of me, and said I was a fan of her work and just wanted to say hello. She immediately lit up with this big beautiful smile and reached for my hand, saying how kind it was of me to say, and the next thing I knew I'd gotten Julianne into the conversation and we all ended up chatting for a good ten minutes or more. (It helped that Julianne's mother went to high school with Robin.) Again, no pressure to buy the autograph; just a group of people chatting.

The convention closed out with a panel with Colin. The room was less than a third filled, and before they got started the coordinator played the Klingon parody of Gangnam Style and had everyone in the audience do the horsey dance... for the entire 4-minute video. Yes, really. It was...painful. And hilarious. Thankfully he invited anyone who wanted to record the spectacle up on stage, though, so I crowded up there with my camera. Oh, and they made Colin Ferguson dance right in the middle of the crowd, too, poor guy. He was a great sport about it, though, so if you want to revel in the nerdy hilarity, here's about two and a half minutes of it:

See? Painful AND hilarious.

After that was the Q&A panel, which was far more entertaining:

At one point I literally had tears in my eyes from laughing so hard over a story about Colin building (digging?) his own pond. Good times.

Colin insisted on taking more questions than they technically had time for, so he had to dash straight from this room to get in a waiting car. Since we were in the last row, though, he paused to shake my hand again and say how nice it was to finally meet us. Then he high-fived a baby in a stroller. D'awww.

And that, my friends, is why every geek should attend a small convention at least once: to soak up the crazy geeky fun in a super casual and relaxed environment. And maybe make a memory or two. Or record a room full of geeks horsey-dancing - and then post it on the internet. (Mwuah. Ha. Haaaa.)

Friday, October 5, 2012

Smashed Penny Bracelet - In Resin!

You guys know I can never stay away from penny crafts for long, right? :D So today I give you my latest smashed penny jewelry creation:

Ta-da! Smashed pennies in resin!

This is one of those crafts that's really easy in theory, but a little more tedious in practice.

First I spent a good half hour polishing pennies, since I wanted them nice and shiny in the resin. (There are lots of products you can use, but for the best shine I've found nothing beats Brasso [get the old formula in a metal can] and a nubby wash cloth, followed by a vigorous rub-down with a Magic Eraser for those really stubborn spots.)

I've yet to buy another brand of epoxy resin, so I used Easy Cast again for this batch. It seems that by mixing larger batches you're less likely to get the proportions wrong, so happily everything cured just fine this round:

I bought these molds on JoAnn's website for about $4 each (link here)  - although of course shipping tacks on another five bucks or so. (My bracelet ended up using only six pennies, though, so really you only need one mold.)

The pennies sink right to the bottom of the molds, of course, so in the future I might try layering the resin to get them to "float" more in the center. (Although that would make drilling a little trickier.)

After a day of curing I popped out the pennies, trimmed the sharp edges off with scissors, and then filed the edges a bit, too, since I knew they'd be rubbing up against my wrist.

 Pretty, right? They remind me of little paper weights

Next came the tricky part: drilling.

You'll need a drill press for this, because keeping a perfect 90 degree angle is essential when drilling lengthwise through a narrow piece. (This is my Dremel drill press.) I'm using a small wood block here as a support, both to safeguard my fingers and because the resin has rounded edges, which makes it want to rock a bit.

You can see I'm pressing the resin piece against the wood block pretty hard; if you're not careful the drill will make the resin shift down into the gap in the platform, making your hole go off course. I found it helps to drill very slowly, and to kind of pump the handle on the drill press so that you drill in several small stages:

If you rush it you're pretty much guaranteed a slip and a wonky drill line, so take your time. Oh, and I just eye-balled the spacing, but you could also measure to make sure your holes are all consistent.

The finished pieces. See the small frosted drill lines?

Next is the easy part, although funnily enough it took me the longest: stringing the bracelet.

I reeeally didn't want to make a stretchy bracelet, but when I couldn't find a good two-cord clasp at any of my local craft stores I caved and bought some clear stretchy cord. Then it took me four or five tries to find the right spacer beads, since I've never made a bracelet like this before and honestly didn't know which kind would look right.

The first beads I picked were gorgeous (and matched my wedding band!), but since they weren't round they didn't lay right on my wrist:

Plus all you saw were the white sides of the beads, which aren't supposed to show.

This is something any jewelry maker would have known, I'm sure, but I guess I like learning things the hard way. ;)

Next I tried some chunky clear beads, but they were too big, making the bracelet either way too big with six resin pieces or too tight with only five:

So back to the craft store I went, and came back with three more options:

Too dark...

Too blah... 
(They're actually lovely shades of copper, but the finish didn't seem right.)

...and finally, my very last choice turned out to be my favorite:
The beads are a translucent two-tone with lavender and orange. The orange picks up the pennies, and the lavender makes a nice contrast. Plus the translucence goes great with the clear resin.

Now for some better lighting:

You can definitely see a slight yellow tinge to the resin here (taken in indirect sunlight, no color correction), but only because it's on a white paper. You can't see it on other colors, or if I'm wearing it:

The pennies are from the Magic Kingdom, and most are from Adventureland and Frontierland. (I need to replace the Goofy penny with a Jungle Cruise one, and then I'll have a more complete set.)

I believe the yellow tinge is partially a result of the Easy Cast - which I've heard isn't as crystal clear as, say, Ice Resin - but even more so from the pennies themselves reflecting on all the interior edges:

For example, you can see that the center resin piece below looks clear, while the sides look yellow:

Again, that's the pennies reflecting through the resin. So don't worry too much if you want to use Easy Cast for this project; my guess is other brands will still look a bit yellowish with pennies in them.

And finally, here's my attempt at a pin-able pic for my fellow Pinterest users:

 (I'm not going to tell you how long I spent looking at fonts for this, because I know someone out there is already judging me for picking this one. Is there a word for font anxiety? 'Cuz I haz it. I haz it BAD.)

I hope you liked my latest penny craft! And in case you missed them before, you can see some of my other smashed penny jewelry tutorials here and here.
Happy weekend, everyone! 


Come see ALL of my craft projects on one page, right here!

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Jen's Gems 10/4/12

Mary B. spotted some custom lollipops, of all things, that are completely out of this world:

Vintage Confections uses edible images embedded in clear candy to make these amazing Planet 'pops - aren't they gorgeous? You can order 10 for $17.50 at their Etsy shop, but these things are so popular orders aren't shipping until January. Yikes!

While we're talking sweet space stuff, doesn't this "Trouble with Tribbles" poster by Juan Ortiz remind you of a Dr. Seuss book cover?

I just love that design! Ortiz is making an art print to go with every single Original Series episode, too. This is only his fourth in the series; you can see (and purchase) them all here.

Feel free to lie here to spare my feelings, but... is it weird that I kind of want this?

 Rainbow Brite Snuggler, $30 (via FashionablyGeek)

The world needs more Rainbow Brite products, guys. Seriously.

Here in Florida we have an old roadside attraction called Weeki Wachee Springs, whose claim to fame is that they have real live mermaids. A few years back I read a fantastic book on the history of the place, and then immediately dragged John down that weekend to go see it. It's great, retro goodness, and there's something so fantastic about watching girls in tails swim languidly by the glass. 

For some reason I thought the Weeki Wachee mermaids were wholly unique, but then this week BuzzFeed featured these mermaids over at the Tampa Aquarium:

I may have to drag John over to Tampa, next. :) (And isn't Erin a dead ringer for Brittany on Glee?)

And finally, these made my heart smile, and I only bawled a little: 20 Halloween costumes that incorporate wheelchairs. Here are two of my favorites:

(Hit the link to see the rest! Found via BoingBoing)

These also reminded me of Epbot reader Dani's photos, which she sent in last year. She wrote,

 "My husband is a quadriplegic and never had fun costumes as a child (poor thing, his parents weren't all that creative.) When it was time to think of costumes, well, how could I leave Jesse out? [So] we were Spacemen!"

SO COOL! Dani constructed the space ship out of lightweight foam, duct tape, and small LEDs. Then she made super-spiffy reflective collars for them all to wear, plus arm and leg bracers for their son:

I love it! Great job, Dani!

Oh, and speaking of Halloween costumes, we're just about done with John's DreamFinder costume. (Yep, most of you commenters guessed right!) I'm still putting some finishing touches on his wig and beard, which we had to dye, cut, and style ourselves. Expect more pics soon!

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

What's This? Nightmare Before Christmas Figurines

I don't really decorate for Halloween; the most I usually manage is a pretty Fall wreath and maybe a pumpkin or two by the front door. (All my efforts go toward decking the house out for Christmas. [Can't wait!])

Last week I finally did a little Halloween craft, though, so now at least I have this!

You like? I just put this together last night. It's always fun ransacking the house to find little doodads to make a new tabletop vignette. (The flower is a napkin ring. Hee.) And I always considered The Nightmare Before Christmas more Halloween appropriate, anyway.

The figures are the only new bits, and are the result of another of my painting projects. I hope it's not too obvious anymore, but they're actually soft rubber bath toys:

I bought these over a year ago at a Disney clearance outlet for $5.99. I immediately knew I wanted to try aging them with paints, but it's taken me this long (and my relative success with Donatello) to finally get down to trying.

Here's a pic in the light cube, so you can see the detail better:

And here's the dramatic before-and-after of Oogie Boogie:

Before you could barely see all the great texture he had. Not the burlap weave and stitches really pop:

Most of this was simply putting paint on and rubbing it off again, although the soft rubber proved especially challenging on Zero:

The paint soaked in and wouldn't wipe completely off again, so I just went with the extra grungy look and did my best to soften it. (I also painted in the black gaps under his ears & changed his collar from pink to red.) Now Zero is actually my favorite; the finish reminds me of the Armani figurines at Disney I love, which have a matte, soft look to them.

Not much more to tell, so here are a few more before-and-afters (I'm still kicking myself for not taking "before"s of Sally and Zero) and finished photos:

For Jack I had to repaint his suit gray, and then age it down with black paint. I also cleaned up the paint lines around his hands.

It's definitely a dirtier, creepier look, but we can get away with that for Halloween, right? (Right?)

Oh, and the rubber toys were really sticky right out of the package - not sure why - and even after cleaning and painting they still have a tiny bit of a tack to them. I'm going to test a few different kinds of matte clear coat to see if any will take the stickiness away. I'm guessing an oil-based spray should do the trick, but if any of you have a suggestion, please let me know in the comments!

And that's it! I hope these gave you a smile, and that you never look at bath toys quite the same way again. ;)


P.S. - Just so you know: you guys are amazing. All of you. Thank you for all your comments and e-mails and tweets and messages of support regarding my post yesterday. I promise to always strive to bring you as much joy and support and sincerity here on the interwebz as you bring to me. I don't think I'll ever quite manage it, but I'll happily spend my days trying!