Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Papier mache of the day...

As espionage experts, Russian history professors, virtually everyone employed by Jane's Defence Group from executive editor down to tealady, emerged onto our airwaves today, interestingly analysing the ramifications of this Russia spy story.

And my worthwhile input? Why, to discover how precisely to create one of those spy-devices-disguised-as-rocks of your very ownsome, Blue Peter style and mostly involving - if not a complex system of levers and pulleys - then certainly your basic papier mache model. And some sticky-back plastic if you really do insist...

Okay, so it was one of my more bizarre, if at heart mundane, tasks. Certainly not up to the standards of Sunday morning's (inevitably hungover) mission: to research the recent outfits of the lovely Scarlett Johansson, following Woody Allen's criticisms of her for, incredibly, appearing to 'dress like my Aunt Minnie'.
That is, I had to research and 'analyse' (wearing my lesser-spotted 'fashion hat') photographs of her recent public appearances, rather than actually try on said costumes themselves. Which would have veered just too disconcertingly into Oatenesque territory...
Ah, but she is a bit of a stunner... It was a tough job, but someone had to do it...
But anyway, yesterday's idle meandering mission didn't quite reach such rarified airs.

Yet you do learn something new every day, to coin a cliche (which itself is coining a cliche, but anyway...)
For example, I never knew before that such a thing as the Papier Mache Network existed, a website devoted solely to papier mache and all who love it. Of whom there seem to be surprisingly many. Including the leader, Jackie Hall, who was kind enough to send me the most detailed of instructions... (The Blue Peter press office having churlishly yet adamantly insisted on having nothing, but nothing, to do with such a silly stunt...)

Perhaps I should have paid more attention to Bond films in my youth. Well, any Bond films, in fact, since I have the proud record of watching not a single one. Ever. Honest.
That's the major blank blot in my cultural experience thus far, and I have to admit, I'm entirely nonplussed by the occasional stares and scorn directed my way upon such an admission. Just have no interest at all in any Bond film, and I hope and trust it ever stays that way.
I think it's a David Lodge, or maybe a John Sutherland, campus novel, which features an oh-so-middle-class dinner party where guests try to outdo each other by naming classic works they have somehow failed to either see or read, and which culminates in the head of a university English department trumping the lot by admitting he has never read, not watched, Hamlet.
Well, I have done both, at least. But Bond is my wilful blind spot. Alongside other such iconic films as, say, Casablanca, Titanic, the three Star Wars prequels and ET. I somehow suspect I'm justified on each case of neglect, Casablanca aside, yet still feel, now I've got that off my chest, I should hurry on with what you've all been waiting for...

Yes, that's right - those papier mache instructions in full. Enjoy!

Firstly, decide what dimensions you need for the inside of the rock.
(Make sure it is big enough to hold all the components you will need).
Next, find a strong cardboard box the size you require. (Preferably one with an opening lid, but if not, cut open the box in such a way as to create a lid and tape up the other sides). If you don’t have a box the right size, make one up out of double corrugated cardboard and tape the sides together with masking tape. (Don’t use sellotape as the papier mache will not stick to it. If you have to make the lid yourself, or you want to strengthen the existing one, stick a strip of strong parcel tape, fabric, or even a piece of leather along the fold.
When you have your internal box finished, coat it inside and out with diluted pva glue. (50/50) This will help to strenghten the box and seal it against the moisture of the papier mache which will otherwise distort the shape.
You now need to make the base of your rock. Cut an irregular shape out of double corrugated cardboard or hardboard if you need extra weight.
Seal with the pva in the same way as you did the box. If using wood, seal with varnish. Leave to dry. Place your internal box in the centre. Glue firmly in place.
Before starting work on the outside, tightly fill the internal box with newspaper or old rags to help support the papier mache during the building up. (Wet papier mache is very heavy!)
To make the rock all around the outside, and on top of the lid, use broken pieces of polystyrene (cereal packets are excellent for this!)
Press all the polystyrene chunks into place and tape securely with plenty of masking tape. Cut strips of cardboard and tape these horizontally and vertically to form “ribs�. (Cereal packets are excellent for this!) When covering the lid, extend it a little all around to hide the straight lines, making sure that they marry up with the rest of the rock below.
To fill in the smaller spaces, take pieces of newspaper and scrunch them up into little balls. Push these in between the ribs and push in gently but firmly wherever they are needed. Cover with more masking tape.
Now tear up some strips of newspaper (about an inch wide by about 3 – 4 inches long). Make up some wallpaper paste as per the manufacturer’s instructions. Add a small amount of pva glue to the paste to give it extra strength.
Paste one piece of newspaper at a time (both sides), using a wide paintbrush. Place the strip down gently over the framework and smooth out any air bubbles with your fingers. Cover with 2 or 3 layers (alternating the direction of the strips) then leave to dry thoroughly.
Build up the layers like this until you have about 10 – 12 layers. Make sure the rock is thoroughly dry in between each session. You can speed up the drying time by placing it outside on a breezy day, or by placing it in front of an electric fan.
Coat the whole rock with a couple of coats of white emulsion paint. This will give you a good surface to paint on and will kill the newsprint.
Paint the rock in a variety of colours. Sprinkle a little sand into the paint to give the rock a bit of texture. Study some pictures of rocks to get authenticity. Paint in some shading lines around the rock, particularly diagonally, taking a line or two right down through the lid and base, so taking the eye away from the join.
Finally, varnish with an outdoor waterproof varnish for protection.


prolix said...

If you ever need any assistance when it comes to research involving Miss Johansson and her ample assets. I am more than willing to sacrifice my time to help you.

Aidan said...

Yes, indeed, she is an excellent actress, isn't she?
Attractive? Well, yes... I suppose so... Not that I've paid much attention, really...
I'm sorry, I have a cold...
Well, it's a noble offer, and please don't think I don't appreciate it.
But, well, should I ever be in the position of a sit-down with Scarlett - whether her real self or her image, either way - please don't take it too poisonal if I request a little time for us two, steadfastly alone together...

overnighteditor said...


10,000 classified documents in your pocket.


Aidan said...
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