Designing dragon scales


I spent the last few weeks building a dragon egg prop. I had so much fun with this project, and I had enough material left over at the end of it, that I decided to experiment with making dragon scales.

I began by cutting shapes out of a plastic soda bottle, which had a natural curve well-suited for the shape of the scales. I decided that I wanted the scales to be heavy and sturdy, so experimented with different ways to achieve this.

For two of the scales, I shrouded the plastic base with a layer of plaster. For the third one, I glued a layer of leather on top. The leather one still seemed to flimsy, so I coated the back with plaster to give it extra weight.


Once the plastering was done, I coated the scales in modpodge, which helped to smooth out any imperfections.


For one of the plastered scales along with the leather one, I decided that I would just proceed to painting. For the third one however, I decided to texturize it with acrylic beads. After this was done, I gave it another coat of modpodge.


Then it was time to paint!


Here are the final scales. The gold one, which was just painted plaster, didn’t really turn out, but was kind of my base experiment anyway. I’m quite happy with the leathery (green) scale and the more armored (red) one. Into the museum of magical artifacts they go!


Advanced dragon egg building, Part 1


Earlier this year, I built a smallish dragon egg, and chronicled the process. While I was quite happy with the result of that project, I always knew that was just a prototype, and that I wanted to try a bigger and more complicated version.

So, after wrapping up a busy touring and speaking schedule, I find myself with some studio time, and a bad cold to boot. That combination (I find it impossible to write when I’m this stuffed up) was enough to spurn me onto the bigger dragon egg project.

For the base of the egg, I used a plastic form that I bought at the local craft store over the Easter holidays. It came covered in glitter, so it was a bit of a chore to get all that off (and my wife says she’s still finding glitter on the front patio where I did the deed).

There is an unsightly seam in the egg, but I’m not too concerned about that; it’ll be unnoticeable after my sculpting and greebling.

The first step has been to try out my idea for adding ridges to the egg. For this part, I’m using plaster strips. It’s essentially the same material they use to build casts for broken limbs. I’ve been getting it to bond to the plastic shell by adding in some glue.



I was fairly happy with the result, but I wanted to get a stronger inkling of what the final would look like. So I bejeweled a section of the egg and then coated the area with a thick layer of modgepodge; this has smoothed out the ridges slightly and helps hold the greebling in place.



Everything looks good, so now it’s time to continue building ridges . . .

Putting our characters in a box

I recently wrapped up an artist-in-residence program where I helped teens develop characters through a series of prop-building projects. This was such a success that I decided to migrate a version of this project over to one of my creative writing classes that I teach through CWC.

In this class, the tween and teen students are writing individual novels over a twenty-week period. To help them better conceive their characters, I had them work on a complementary project, which was to create a miniature kit containing items that were crucial to their characters’ emotional journeys.

I’ve been delighted to see many of these items find their way into the students’ stories; they are now able to enrich their narrative with interesting items and—best of all—the authors know exactly what those items look like.

Here are just a few of the photos of the character kits . . . and, naturally, some of this project spilled over into building other props!


Building a dragon egg

I’ve had a bit of time over the past couple of weeks so I’ve taken full advantage of it by, first, having some R&R, second, doing a lot of writing, and, third, by building a dragon egg.

This egg will become a part of the museum of magical artifacts, which I often take on author visits to schools and libraries to help spark the kids’ imaginations. Many of the artifacts are from my Kendra Kandlestar series, or from other books I have in development.

I started with a simple paper cache egg, which gave a base coat of metallic green paint (by the end of this process, I realized that undercoating of paint was completely unnecessary).  I then bejeweled slowly and carefully. Thankfully, I found these strips of jewels, which made this task a little less onerous. I then filled in the gaps with individual jewels.


The jewels weren’t that sticky, so I added coats of modge-podge along the way to keep everyone sticking. A lot of patience was required between drying times.


Modge-podge dries clear, so this is what the egg looked like at the end of the bejeweling process. To be honest, I didn’t really have a set plan for this project, and part of me thought I could have just considered the egg completed at this stage . . . it does look rather pretty. dragonegg04-bejewelled

However, it also looks very “made”, so I kept on going, groping on metallic green paint.


By this stage, I had a very cool looking egg, with what looks like more organic bumps.


Then came the most challenging part of the process, which was trying to get the final paint job just right. I wanted to achieve an overall cohesive tone, while at the same time adding some texture and nuanced color depth. I also wanted the egg to have a graduation of color, going from dark at the bottom to light at the top.


I mostly accomplished this with some splattering and then a whole lot of dry brushing of other colors, including black, bronze, gold, and emerald green. I’m not sure how much those color subtleties show up in the photos, but they are there when you behold the egg in real life.

Final stage was to spray the whole thing with fixatif at the end. Here some photos of the final . . .


Whew! This was actually my practice run . . . I’ve got a much bigger egg I want to build once I get the next break in my schedule. That one will be a little more “deluxe” . . .

More doorways to creativity

Earlier this year, I posted some photos from my “magical doorways” class. I was so pleased with the results, that I’ve taught it twice since then. The photos below are all from weekend workshops. Each student designed and “constructed” a doorway, and then used it as inspiration for a story.

Personally, I loved observing the individual design processes. Check out some of their creations!


Prop from "magical doorways" workshop.

Prop from "magical doorways" workshop.


Prop from "magical doorways" workshop.

Prop from "magical doorways" workshop.








Prop from "magical doorways" workshop.




Doorways to creative writing

I have always been obsessed with doors and doorways. Of course, I wrote an entire book about doorways—Kendra Kandlestar and the Door to Unger. While working on that book, I built a large prop of the Door to Unger. I don’t cart it around much, as it turned out to be large, unwieldy, and heavy, but otherwise I was pretty happy with the result.

Door to Unger prop

Well, after reading the first week’s worth of stories from my current writing class, it seemed to me that most of my students had stories that either featured doorways, or certainly had the potential to. So I decided we would build our own door props. Of course, we couldn’t try to make them as big as mine, but I was determined to use wood instead of paper and cardboard.

Without too much difficulty, I was able to find some inexpensive balsam slats and some pre-cut wooden shapes for ornamentation. Not all the doorways are finished yet, but some snapshots of our work in progress are shown below. We have all manner of doorways; some are portals to magical worlds, while others hide treasure or danger. There’s a magic elevator, a doorway to Candy Land, and a doorway that is swarming with (ugh) spiders.













Take a tour of the Een Museum – part 1

Een MuseumThis past week I worked as writer-in-residence at General Gordon Elementary in Vancouver, and brought with me the travelling Een Museum. The students loved it, so I thought I would catalogue all the current pieces and display them here.

These items come from a variety of sources. Some were built with inspiration from the drawings. In other cases, the props inspired situations in the book. No matter the case, they are all “real” objects that you can hold and touch . . . making the Land of Een seem all the more real (which, of course, it is).

I’ll post all the items over the next few days. Here’s the first four items (some of my favourites) . . .

Box of Whispers
A replica of the box that Kendra searched for in the outside world.

Een Museum - Box of Whispers


Kendra’s Whisper

A replica of the secret that caused Kendra such angst while searching for the Box of Whisper. Notice the swirling murkiness—ah, secrets are complicated things!

Een Museum - Kendra's Whisper


Door to Unger

A replica of the door that guarded the temple maze of the Wizard Greeve. The teeth—the door’s gate—can actually open.

Een Museum - Door to Unger.


A whisp of Uncle Griffinskitch’s beard

The ornery old wizard was rather fond of his full-length beard; here’s a snippet of it. When asked for the sample, the shaggy old Een only muttered, “Humph!”—so it had to be taken discretely.

Een Museum - a whisp of Uncle Griffinskitch's beard


Lots of bizarre finds at the prop bazaar

Today Marcie and I took a wonderful field trip, visiting a prop sale being held by the sadly now-defunct Vancouver Playhouse. We weren’t sure what treasures we might find and I skeptically decided that we wouldn’t find anything at all. Oh, how wrong I was . . .

Now, this was interesting experience for two reasons. First of all, the props themselves were fantastic and are going to really help inspire not only my own writing, but (hopefully) that of my students as well. Second, it just so happens that I’m writing a scene for Kendra Kandlestar 5 in which my wee heroes visit a city that is essentially one giant bazaar—so just the experience of going to the sale helped fuel my imagination.

Most of the items in the small warehouse weren’t priced, which meant a bit of bartering and some appraisal by Jim, a rather eccentric fellow who cheerfully came around to appraise our various discoveries. We ended with all sorts of delightful treasures—and my wallet was only lightened by $125 for all of it.

I think the quintessential moment of the morning came when I picked up a skull and contemplated adding it to my mound . . . only to realize it was REAL! The staff claimed that it couldn’t be—but when I invited one of them to take a look, she shook her head and said, “Keep that thing away from me.” So I put poor Yorick back on the shelf and washed my hands as soon as I could.

Well, here’s some of the goodies . . .

Prop Sale.
Sadly, we have no room in the house (let alone the car!) for this delightful set piece, so we had to leave it behind for some other lucky scavenger.
Prop sale
All kinds of helmets (and, yes, I bought one).
Prop sale
Okay, actually, I bought not only the helmet, but a chest plate, some shackles, a whip, and a guantlet and pauldrons (not shown). Turns out the shackles are an actual prop that was used in one of the Underworld movies.
Prop Sale
Marcie found a whole box of prop mirrors. I was a little more interested in the giant guardian lion in the background (again, sadly, no room in the house.)
Prop Sale
Here are the three mirrors that Marcie decided to buy.
Prop Sale
This is NOT the real skull, just a foam one with a trident sticking through it. I would have bought this if it hadn’t already been marked “sold.”
Prop Sale
This mysterious box caught our attention straight away. We bought it (and another smaller one that fit inside).