Thursday, July 30, 2015

My Harry Potter Wizards' Chess Set Makeover

It's done!



This may be one of my most labor-intensive projects yet, which is silly when you consider all I set out to do was re-paint a plastic chess set:



This set was produced over ten years ago, but you can still find used ones on ebay in the $30 range. I initially bought mine to turn into ornaments for our Harry Potter tree, but decided to instead spiff it up for year-round display in our steampunk room.

I debated matching the set in Sorcerer's Stone, but since they already sell a high-end version in a more realistic stone finish, I decided to go with a wholly unique gold-and-silver scheme.

So just a few blasts of spray paint, right? 

Er... as it turned out, not so much.

Here's what it took:

First I filled the hollow horse bodies with aluminum foil & epoxy putty:


I also used epoxy putty to inset lead fishing weights into the hollow bottoms of ALL the pieces:


This gives them a delightful heft, and helps sell the metal illusion.

Smoothing out the epoxied bottoms:


Next, a solid week of testing different primers before FINALLY finding one that sticks to the rubbery sections of the pieces:


The winning primer was a shellac-based spray called BIN, btw. Even that isn't perfect, though; it's so rigid that the slightly-flexible horse legs and maces have already flaked a little.  >.<

At this stage I realized both Kings were doing a funky Michael Jackson lean:


So I paused while John did some tedious surgery to fix them.
He had to pry them off the base, shave down the heels, and then re-epoxy them in place.


Next, many, MANY passes of the metallic gold and silver base coats:
"WITNESS ME!!"

Every time I thought I was done, I'd find another nook or cranny I missed. I had to keep the coats light, to avoid filling in all that fabulous detail.

But here's where it gets tedious. 
(Yes, it's only NOW getting tedious. Ha!)

Next I used a teensy-tiny brush to apply contrasting liquid leaf in certain areas. Really helps bring out some of the detail, right?

The hand-painting was SUPER fun... for about the first 8 pieces. The whole set took me about 4 evenings to paint, and I was extremely ready to be done by the end. Urg.

Starting to look like metal?

I paused here for a good week or two, because the next step was kind of painful. I mean, look at that beautiful shine!

Still, I was convinced it needed aging to bring out the rest of the detail, so eventually:

Here we go: I painted small sections with raw umber acrylic paint, then quickly wiped it off again with a damp rag. Not quite as tedious as the hand-painting, but close.

A before-and-after with the two gold Knights:
I do like shiny, but I love the aged one. It just looks more substantial.

Now, pretty photoshoot time!


Check out those glorious horse bellies: would you ever guess that's epoxy putty?
(Yeah, I'm bragging. GIVE ME THIS MOMENT.)

As-is, the plastic set hides a TON of impressive detail. Just look at the difference:

From this...


To this!

Ah, I forgot to mention: I finished the set by gluing black felt bottoms to all the pieces. Which was tricky, since the bases are imperfect octagons.

I may have gotten carried away with this photo shoot and taken about 100 shots.

I, uh, promise not to include them all here, though.




Size reference:


I really love how heavy they are with those embedded lead weights. 











You may have noticed I don't have a chess board yet.

I'm debating between just buying one and making one, and also which color scheme to go with. Plus I'm talking with John about making a wall-mounted display, which I think would be pretty sweet. (Maybe with a mirrored backing? OoooOOOOooh.)


And that's my Harry Potter chess set! 

Hope you guys enjoyed the eye candy!

76 comments:

  1. We have a cast iron chess set, and they made the board with alternating squares of black and brown suede. Or do you want to match the movie with marble?

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    1. Nope, doesn't have to match; I'm open to anything! And leather would be great for the steampunk room...

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  2. I cannot believe the difference - Jen these are simply stunning! You certainly have a gift.

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  3. Very Talented transformations!

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  4. Amazing transformation, Jen. I continue to be humbled by all the things you do/create/explore. Bravo!

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  5. Gorgeous!! I'm such a sucker for the incredible before and after shots.

    Way to stick with it and see a tedious project to the end! Totally worth it.

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  6. you are so amazing. I can't even believe how beautiful these turned out. You really have an amazing eye for things that would benefit from your make overs, and your creativity in doing those make overs is so spot on. I am absolutely in awe of you.

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  7. This is absolutely stunning and I want it.

    I don't know what you want to go for with the chessboard - marble or granite are both classics but unsure how easy they are to finish / paint / mod in any way (how much does a chess board piece of granite slab cost?) anyway the thought has just hit me that maybe you could use a piece of slate? You could then I reckon etch lines into it? Colour it in with charcoal for black patches and chalf for white and spray it with a matt finisher? I don't know. But I reckon that's what I'd do.

    A pale wood could also work. Like a really bleached wood plank and then burn in the darker squares and lines. I like that idea too.

    *goes off to go make DIY chess sets for the next 5 years*

    Lewis

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  8. That's crazy impressive!! I think a wall display with the chessboard as the backing piece would be fantastic!

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  9. I am a long time lurker of both your websites. I have a love/hate relationship with how beautifully and seemingly effortlessly all your crafts turn out. Your creative vision is enviable. Here's a suggestion for your next project to really showcase your beautiful work:

    http://img.wonderhowto.com/img/52/92/63478381475623/0/make-vertical-wall-mounted-chessboard.w654.jpg

    It's a vertical chessboard that you can put on a wall so you can easily see the sides of all the pieces. I can't wait to see your next creation. Much love from the left coast!

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    1. Yes! That's the board that first gave me the idea for a wall mount! I'm still brainstorming designs to spring on John later. ;)

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    2. That's awesome!

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    3. A vertical board done in leather would look amazing in your steampunk room!

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    4. Or, you could go back in time and put heavy duty magnets in with the lead weights. Then faux marble (white and black, natch) a board with matching magnets put close to the surface from the underside. Then you could also play it like the vertical board while on the wall, or just rearrange as desired, but with less dusting?

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    5. Great minds! I was going to suggest that board as an inspiration.

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  10. Have you considered using 2" square tile to make the board? I think you can get marble it stone tile in both black and white. You could also lay "metal" gout in between either by painting the grout or using a metallic one. Just a thought.

    I am very impressed with your before and after, and especially your perseverance. Looks amazing!

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  11. Wow, you did such an amazing job. Those pieces are so beautifully carved it's a wonder the manufacture didn't throw a little contrast paint on them. Well done, you've made them infinitely better!

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    1. Actually, as an add-on to my comment, how do you get the confidence to do things like this? I'm always so worried I'll ruin my starting pieces and won't be able to go back that I never end up doing the project I have in mind.

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    2. It helps a lot when the thing is easily replaceable. (Or if it's so cheap/destroyed that ANYTHING is an improvement.) That said, I have a one dollar MLP figure I'm trying to re-paint right now, and it took me MONTHS to gather the courage to put the first base coat on. So I feel ya!

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    3. I feel the exact same way--I'm always terrified that I'll ruin it if I try too much, especially if I've already put quite a bit of work into it! Like aging things...I just finished a steampunk gun mod (pics on my blog), but it was my first project of its kind, and I couldn't bring myself to risk ruining it by trying to age it, which I've also never done! Urgh...it's such a tough call, weighing how much better something could look against how much worse it could turn out... :-P

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  12. That is absolutely gorgeous. Wonderful work.

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  13. Wow, those are beautiful! I'm quite impressed with the level of detail the plastic has. Looking at the finished product you'd never know they are plastic.

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  14. My son has this chess set. Can you do it again to his? ;) So, so awesome!

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  15. Ok...you are probably DUN with this project, but after the Michael Jackson lean comment, I'm picturing a craft how-to video with 'Smooth Criminal' as the background music. Too much?

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  16. Reading this --NOT during class, really!-- with a definite look of awe on my face. WOW, those look STUNNING! :D

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  17. I'm awestruck!! The before and after are just amazing and the after looks like it costs a zillion dollars. You never cease to stun me with your creative vision and the talent you use to carry it out.

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  18. Love Granny K's comment, and I shall second this motion to carry! LMBO

    You really made that set BEAUTIFUL! Seriously jealous of your abilities <3.
    Always thank you for sharing!!!!

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  19. MY WORD, Jen, you and John are so creative and talented.

    The before is so blah compared to the after. Exquisite.

    - Just Andrea

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  20. Truly and gloriously impressive. but I feel the need to ask.... do you guys even Like to play chess? O.o

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    1. Uh... no. (SHHHH, don't tell!) But maybe with a set this nice, I'll be inspired to try playing more?

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  21. VALHALLA!!!

    I had to say that as soon as I saw "WITNESS ME!".

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  22. I bought this same set and made the verticle chess board to hang in our hall. Now to find all the pieces and attempt a paint job

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  23. Wow. These are absolutely stunning! Like, seriously, I can't believe how gorgeous they are. Alright, I'm done gushing now... But at least you know you can have a backup career of figurine painting! Hahaha :x

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  24. They are breathtaking! I think you need a gorgeous chess table to truly do them justice. Whatever you decide, I know it will be stunning.

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  25. You are a genius! I envy your patience. That kind of fine detail painting turns me into the Hulk since I start out feeling like I have his hands (how did these grow ten sizes just by picking up this tiny paintbrush??!?!?!111).

    I would picture these chess pieces on a chess board with dark and less dark wood squares, highly polished. With gold trim. Or maybe a little brass railing to prevent the pieces sliding off when your airship lists to the side. /goes off into a steampunk daydream

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  26. absolutely beautiful jen! if i can ever find the patience, my best friend would Love that! or maybe do the same kind of thing with a doctor who set! oh gods, the possibilites are endless!

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  27. Holy cow! You are a wizard, Jen! No seriously, you really have an incredible talent for giving second life to simple things

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  28. A wallmounted board would be awesome, but so would this! You could add leather strapping, brass corners, and hardware to the outer surfaces to steampunk it. It's just such an interesting display (especially if you're not actually likely to ever play).

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  29. Jesus, Mary and Joseph, Jen, this is AMAZING! SO gorgeous! I think they need a lighted display case, or an accent-lit chess board. Maybe a small spot light or something, they should glow in a dimly lit room. I am too gob-smacked to be really clear, sorry.

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  30. Um, holy crap, these are AMAZING. Seriously. Half of me feels inspired to try harder in the hopes of being able to pull off this kind of stuff, and the other half is ready to throw in the towel now because there's no way I'll ever be this good. :-P

    I'll wait it out a few days. I'm pretty sure the inspired half can take out the dejected half if I just give it a little time before handing it the next craft project--even though mine still won't look as good as yours! ;-)

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  31. Jen, these are absolutely PHENOMENAL!!! Wow! I may be in the minority, but I'd love to see all 100 pictures. :)

    I think a leather board would be cool, but I wonder if something like a faux marble or mirrored board might make the pieces pop a little more. You could always gild the edges. Perhaps even a plain display case with a mirrored backing, shelves and some overhead lighting (especially if you're not planning to use the pieces to play and if the primer's already flaking) would regally show off your craftswomanship! You could always "steampunk" (is that even a verb?) the case.

    Again, these are just amazing. Thank you for sharing them with all of us!
    ~Zippy

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  32. These are magical!! (haha, see what I did there?) I absolutely love them. You need a good HP art print to put these next to...

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  33. THAT IS SPECTACULAR AND YES I HAVE TO SHOUT IT!

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  34. These are stunning. I'm so impressed with how they turned out and the amount of work it took to get them the way you wanted them.

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  35. What talent! These are so beautiful! I am now convinced that Jen and John are super intelligent beings from another planet living on earth among us as Disney luvin bloggers.
    Tiny P Elephant

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    1. I never thought of that, but I totally agree, lol!

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  36. They are incredible! It's posts like these that gives me delusions of grandeur.

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  37. What about a chess board with alternating gears and clock faces instead of squares?

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  38. Jen,

    Love this! I have never bought a chess set because I could never find one I truly loved. The closest was the Civil War chess set from Time-Life that you could only buy one piece at a time and when you were finished the set cost a small fortune. I don't know how to play either but want one to set out permanently in my library. I all ready have the silver and gold leaf paint - hmmm. Thank you for the inspiration.

    Maureen

    P.S. It was great to see you in Pittsburgh!

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  39. Holy guacamole! SO beautiful! Your talent astounds once again! Can't wait to see the board or other method of display you two will craft for these amazing pieces.

    KW

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  40. Those are absolutely stunning, but I do think you made your life harder than it needed to be - especially with the primer and the ageing - my Brother-in-law is a prominent model painter (you know, the wargames type models) and you can buy primers and washes and ageing coats that are specifically formulated for use on plastic and resin models which you might have found easier to work with? It's worth taking a look because the work you put into these is stunning and it would be a shame if it flaked or peeled.

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  41. These look amazing. And I'm really impressed with how well you filled them in. And the contrasting metal colours look great!

    You always make me want to make stuff, but I never know what to make.

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  42. Have you tried the paint and base coat they sell for Warhammer figurines? It is made for painting plastic so it should work great for your next project. And for a chessboard I suggest looking on ebay for one from Egypt or Morocco. We bought a stunning one with inlays of different colored wood and mother of pearl for my dad and it wasn't very expensive.

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  43. those are absolutely awesome! I'd totally look at 100+ photos of those!!

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  44. What a perfect project to help celebrate Harry's 35th birthday today! It turned out incredibly beautiful, Jen!

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  45. You had a vision and carried it out, with spectacular results. I love how this turned out. I would never have taken over something like this. Probably because 1) Neither my husband or I play chess, 2) dusting - 'nuff said and 3) I don't have the patience for all that painting and varnishing. Funny how that works -- I can spend more than an hour on one scrapbook page, but wouldn't have spent whatever time you spent getting one piece ready. Ha!
    You can't tell those used to be all plastic. Very well done Jen and John (thoj)
    Maureen S

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  46. If you choose to use either 2” marble mosaic tile or a mirrored background, have you considered using alcohol ink to color your squares? They would let the stone’s marbling or mirror’s reflectiveness show through and are available in tons of colors. Then again as crafty as you are, they are easy enough to make from scratch for the prefect color.

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  47. Sooo pretty, what a difference! :)

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  48. do a vertical chess board.
    then you could have a running game on the wall while displaying it at the same time.

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  49. Super, super amazing! I love the transformation! I'm really curious to see how you end up displaying it. We have a Lewis chess set (look it up - really cool pieces with a mysterious history) but I have no idea how to display it so the crazy cats aren't constantly knocking it down and eventually breaking the pieces. We even have a hand-crafted matching chess board that the cats DID knock off the shelf and it's now chipped in a couple places, so I'm afraid to even get out the chess pieces unless I lock up the cats. Sigh. This is why we don't have nice things - we keep choosing the zany kitties instead of the nice, calm, sedate ones.

    I hope Lily and Tonks leave your awesome handiwork alone!

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  50. Jen, these are A-mazing! Between you and John you can produce anything! You were so fortunate to find each other. I have done some crafty things and circulated in crafty circles, but I have never, NEVER, seen a couple who works so collaboratively. Count your blessings, a dynamic duo like this doesn't happen every decade, ya know?

    The link to the vertical chess board didn't work for me; if you could include one right in your post, we can be sure it's reliable. While I'm not sure I could make it through 100 more pictures, I think you should put them up and allow your followers to decide how much more they want to see. For me, I would have liked to see a side-by-side before and after of the knight which got repositioned. Please keep inspiring us with more craft posts, clearly we love them.

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  51. Oops, I guess it was the king who got foot surgery to correct his unfortunate lean.

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  52. WOW just WOW.
    May I suggest a Mirror glass base with etching fluid for some of the squares. Saw something similar and it is simple but stunning.
    Sue L

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  53. Hi Jen! Could you pleasure inform us as to the brand of your liquid leaf? I work for a carousel manufacturer and we offer gold and silver leafing services for out clients but it wears off very easily if the carousel figure is actually being ridden. So we use metallic paints in place of leafing on those figures. We're always looking for new metallic paints that better mimic the real gold leaf and aluminium silver leaf.

    Your set looks fantastic and I am so glad you aged it. It does bring out those fabulous tiny details!

    Thank you.

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  54. I can't believe these even came from those original pieces! I hope whoever designed the moulds for those all those years ago sees what you've done with them. You really brought out how they were meant to look, I think!

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  55. Those turned out gorgeous! My kiddos have gotten into D&D and we secretly sent some funds along with a friend who was going to a con where there would be boxes of cheap figures...*eyebrow wiggle* so I'm going to be doing all that tedious painting soon myself. I always love seeing what you two do!

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  56. Jen, I'm not even a huge fan of Harry Potter, but I LOVE attention to detail--and this post is amazing. You took something that looked so junky and turned it into something GORGEOUS. Looking at the photos I can really see the movie scene too! I esp. liked the details you chose that other people might not have--like adding the weights. YES. shaving the heels of the figures to make them stand straighter? I would never have done that--but love it that you did. I am getting a great deal of vicarious satisfaction from your tedious but so rewarding efforts.

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  57. Ummmmm.....wow! Jen, those are simply amazing and I wish I had them!! :)

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  58. Wow! Those are quite a treasure to see for all of us Harry Potter fans. Simply fabulous!!! :D

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