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Abandoned Carousel



I don't actually expect anyone to make one of these, but I did chronicle how I did it (most of which I've posted here) for a contest I entered once where you had to make a Halloween prop for less than $20. This would also explain why I used so many recycled materials.

And yes, I did win prizes for it ;)

If you haven't already checked out the images in the art ghoullery, I encourage you to do so. There's a story behind it, plus a slideshow of images with music (oooo, ahhhhh).

Part 1: Building a Base

I used a serving dish to trace a circle onto three pieces of cardboard (two for the base, one for the top). The size of this circle will determine the overall dimensions of your carousel (this happens to be 14 inches in diameter). Cut the circles out, putting one to the side for later. If you have a sheet of styrofoam, use that. I only had strips of styrofoam so I lay them side by side, taped them together with duct tape, and cut the edges to be the same size and shape as the cardboard base. I used two pieces of duct tape on opposite sides of the circles to tape the cardboard closed over the styrofoam like a big oreo cookie.

I had a cheap, plastic Christmas musical figurine that turns when you wind it up. I snapped off the figurines (one had already broken off on its own, so I knew it would be easy). The Christmas tune will fit into my theme, so I didn't have to worry about that. You may want to tweak your music box to play a different tune, or find one that a) turns and b) plays a tune that you like. Before you go smashing up your music box, do a test to see how much weight you can place on it before it stops spinning. There's no use breaking it if your final product will be so heavy the box can't turn anymore. This is one reason why I am using all lightweight items. I put the music box in the centre as a general visual reference for where the middle of the carousel will be.

I plotted out the positioning of the poles (wooden bbq skewers). There are five outside poles and five inside poles. The outside poles are 7 inches apart from each other. The inside poles are each placed in the midway point (3.5 inches) between a pair of two outside poles. It creates an almost star-like shape. I pushed the poles through both the cardboard and the styrofoam.

I then placed the cardboard circle for the top of the carousel (that third circle I said to set aside) beneath the base and pressed the sharp end of the wooden skewers into it to make indents. This is mainly to help me out later when I am trying to line up the top of the carousel with the bottom of the carousel.

The arrow I drew was just to help me keep track of alignment (the poles aren't perfectly symmetrical - to the naked eye, you can't tell). This isn't an important step since it ends up being covered with paper mache later. It was useful while experimenting (I make this stuff up as I go along, you know).

I am using a pop bottle for the middle of the carousel. I placed the bottle in the centre of the base and traced a circle around it. This is where the bottle will slide through while being attached to the music box beneath.

I did the same tracing on the top cardboard piece, but this time I flipped the bottle over and outlined the neck of the bottle in the middle. You don't want to cut the larger circle for the top piece - only the small outline of the neck.

Cut out the larger circle on the cardboard base right through the styrofoam so you now have a big doughnut.

Slip the bottle through the hole in the base, and test the fit of the top piece over the neck of the bottle. It should be a snug fit when you slide the bottle into the holes.

NOTE: Hold onto one of the circle pieces of cardboard from the base that you cut out. You'll use it later.

I took a sharp knife and cut slices into the bottom of the bottle. The very centre of this bottle was very hard so I started my cuts between the shaped bulges of the plastic (sorry, this is really abstract unless you are looking at the bottom of a pop bottle), as close to the middle of the bottle as I could.

The slices were approximately 1 1/2 to 2 inches long (from the centre, out to the side edge of the bottle, and then up the side a little).

Once I had the slits cut, I sliced off the bulbous parts and bent the pieces of plastic so they were flat like the rim of a top hat.

I unscrewed the top of the music box and set the bottle on top. I cut small pieces of duct tape and used those to tape down the plastic flaps I had created, and wrapped the tape around the edge of the music box top. I had to make sure the tape was as flat as I could get it over the sides and underneath so that it wouldn't interfere with the turning of the music box.

I slid the base over the pop bottle music box I'd created. I then duct taped the base to the bottle.

I put the skewers back in their holes for a two reasons:

  1. It will keep the holes I created for the poles uncovered when I mache.
  2. Having the poles pushed all the way down so they touch the table helps to keep the base steady while I work.

They will be removed after the mache is done.

Using my basic layering technique, I started the first coat of paper mache. I'm not too concerned about the shape being perfect because I want the carousel to appear older and slightly warped. I did care that the paper strips lay flat when I was doing the edging and covering the bottle, so I used long but thin strips of paper (always good for angles, bumps and crevices).

Part 2: Painting the Base

Once the layers of mache have dried, it's time to paint the base. I decided to make it swirls of blue (dry brushed with black) and a giant white spiral. I can't draw spirals very well, so I found one online and created a template to use as a basic guide.

I printed the spiral out in 4 pieces, cut out the centre and tested the size. I then cut the white part of the spiral out and taped the pieces back together again.

As you can see, the template didn't match perfectly so I played with the size of the cuts. I then painted the exposed area in the template white. The ends of the spiral were done freehand. I did go back and clean up edges a number of times.

Part 3: Building the Top

You need the second large cardboard circle (the one that's the same size as the base) and some thin styrofoam. I gently bent the styrofoam along the edge of the cardboard and taped them in place with duct tape.

I snipped the bottom sections of 3 wire hangers off with wire clippers before taping the top sections together. These served as the frame for the tent.

By taping them together, I was able to bend them to fit and have them all be relatively the same shape. Then I snipped the top hook off two of them, and used the third to wrap them all together. Now you can remove the tape.

Once that was done, I began attaching them one at a time (just swing one hanger out from the others) to the frame with duct tape. When you are done, you should have a total of 6 sections for the tent. Be sure to keep it centred, and watch that you're spacing the sections evenly.

I covered the tent in sections with tinfoil, pressing it close along the outline of the hangers (I wanted the shape to show through even after it was covered in mache).

I crumpled paper from the recycling bin and loosely stuffed the inside as I went. This was just to give the tinfoil a little more support during the paper mache process. Later, it also helped to keep the wooden skewers for the poles in place. Speaking of which, if you're using wire or something else for the poles that needs to be attached to the roof, this is the time to do it.

I continued until the entire top was covered, and followed with layers of paper mache over the whole thing.

It was eventually given a base coat of grey latex paint and put aside to dry. I then chose to paint the top black and white with patches of grey and blue.

I bought two plastic pumpkin necklaces at the dollar store and used these as lanterns. I attached them to the underside of the carousel top.

Part 4: Making the Mummy

To make the armature, I took tinfoil and folded it into a rectangle. I drew a basic outline of a body with a marker. Using scissors, I sliced between the legs (so there were two of them) and folded the tinfoil back onto itself (to thicken each leg).

I snipped around the rest of the body, again folding the tinfoil back. I took a wooden bbq skewer and slid it through the middle, bending the shape to test how it will look.

I created arms by rolling another piece of tinfoil, and rounding it in a U shape. I fleshed it out by taping cotton balls to the form.

I covered the body with paper mache, let it dry, and gave it a quick coating of grey-green paint.

I rolled out a small amount of Delight paperclay between a folded piece of wax paper (this prevents it from sticking to the roller and the work surface). I used a blade to slice it into tiny, thin strips.

I carefully removed strips one at a time from the wax paper and started wrapping my mummy with it. You want them to overlap and criss cross in areas, letting little bits of the base show through now and then.

This is very delicate work. You have to apply enough pressure to get the strips to stick to each other without flattening the strip completely. Even when it dries, it's somewhat delicate (especially if you have hanging pieces of bandage like I do).

I used a bit of wire to gently wrap around his wrists to keep his hands close together. I wanted his arms to dry in a position as close as possible to the one he'd be in when this was dry.

Once it dried, it was time to paint. I used a brown colour to highlight the edges of the bandages and painted the interior of the bandages with a dirty white. Highlights were then added using a pure white.

Part 5: Making the Mermonster

The first step was making a basic form to act as an armature. I simply crumpled tinfoil and covered it with another sheet of tinfoil for the body. For the arms, I rolled a piece of tinfoil and wrapped it around the shoulders of my mermonster. I forced a wooden bbq skewer through the belly of the armature to map out where the pole would be.

For hands, I took some fine wire and cut three lengths. The longest one is the wrist and middle finger. I wrapped the other two around it and covered it in a bit of tape. When I had the fingers bent in a shape close to what I wanted for a final product, I started covering it in paper mache. You have to tear the strips very, very small. It helped to use the tip of a wooden bbq skewer to press the wet strip of paper against the form in order to get the to stick (mainly between the fingers).

I covered the main body of the mermonster with paper mache strips. After it was dry, I taped the wire hands to the mermonster and covered those with mache to bind hand and arm together.

Having the figure on the wooden bbq skewer while I worked on it was so helpful. Besides plotting out the hole, it allowed me to move the figure around while I mached and painted. When I was done (or even while I was working sometimes), I would press the end of the skewer into a block of scrap styrofoam. It allowed me to have my hands free and was great for propping it up while it dried.

Detailing took a substantial amount of time (I've never created a mercreature before, so I was learning and making him up as I went).

I covered the back end of the body first in a layer of paperclay (when the mache was dry). I used the sharp tip of the skewer to carve the lines for the scales (which are basically a sea of 'U's overlapping each other. They get less distinct as you get closer to the end of the tail). When it was dry, I gave the scales a very light sanding with fine sandpaper.

I used the fat end of the skewer to create craters in his skin and some dimpling.

For the face, I hollowed out the eye sockets first, then shaped ovals for eyeballs.

I wanted his mouth to appear chapped and almost coral-like, so I used the tip of the skewer to create lines around the raised circle of his mouth.

I made a pattern along the sides of his head to hint at gills, but I didn't want to make it look traditional. A simple cluster of divots around the sides of his face were used.

All of this detailing will help me later when I am trying to create depth with paint.

I took the painstaking time to paint the crevices of the tail in dark blue as my base. This was followed by a light green on the surface of the scales. Once I was happy with how the blue was showing through, I began highlighting the scale surfaces with yellows, lighter greens and hints of white.

The craters were painted brown, and patches of the skin were also painted this colour. The brown will lightly show through the main colour of the skin and act as shading of the contours and general texturing.

Part 6: Making the Reaper Seat

The Reaper was made up of 6 pieces of cardboard: one for the torso and head; two for the legs (the sides); two for the arms; and one for seat between the legs.

I left extra length on the left and right side of the seat. With a blade, I cut a slit into both leg pieces and slipped these extra lengths of cardboard through to create a chair.

I slit the front of the torso piece and slid the back of the chair into it. I then ran some wire around his back as a guide for the arms (I used tape to hold them in place). I wanted the one arm away from the body so that I could slide his scythe in afterwards.

I bulked up the sides of the Reaper with all the bits of cardboard I had laying around.

I covered him in tinfoil (including from shoulder to shoulder over his hood to make it 3-D) and covered him in paper mache. Once he was dry, he too was covered in thin layers of paperclay (which is how I achieved the fold effect for his hood).

I didn't shape the little fingers for him until the very last minute. I'm such a klutz I was afraid I would break them off while working on it (I ended up breaking his thumb anyway).

The base of the scythe was tinfoil, rolled and folded into shape. Mached, painted, and slipped under his arm.

The finishing touch was taking a scrap piece of reflective paper from the mirrors, cutting it in a circle, and sliding it into his hood.

Part 7: Making a Horse

I drew a basic outline for the horse and cut out the form in 5 pieces: the head, the body, and the 4 legs. I used 2 or 3 broken toothpicks to skewer and connect the sections together. The horse was then mached, left to dry, covered in a thin coat of paperclay, sanded and painted. I was hoping for an antique look, so I left cracks and imperfections on his surface.

Part 8: Making the Nest

It was during this part of the project when I thought to myself "you are insane".

Take a styrofoam ball. Cut it in half. Hollow out one half and make a hole in the bottom.

I wanted a life-like nest for the top of my carousel. I knew that broom bristles would work well, but how the heck do you make a nest? Using my limited weaving skills and some trial and error, I figured it out.

I painted it mustard colour and began the experiment. I found the best way to apply the little pieces of straw was to take a piece and force both ends through the styrofoam (you can use wire to make the holes) so they poke out in the middle. Do this 7 or 8 times.

Take the straw and weave it around the base through the loops you created. Once I had a base, I could weave the straw through other pieces already attached.

This took over an hour. In fact, I lost track of time.

I slid the nest over the collection of hangers poking out the top of the tent and used a scrapbook paper owl and perched him inside.

Part 9: Attaching the Top and Decorating

Attaching the top (at least the way I did it) is pretty straight forward. Remember that little cardboard circle I cut out from the middle of the base? Well after cutting out a circle (big enough to fit over the neck of the pop bottle) WITHIN the cardboard circle, I slipped it over the opening of the bottle. This just buffers the space between the bottle and the top to keep it from wobbling. Following that:

  • I did a test run with the poles first. I put the skewers in the holes I made way back at the start of all this (weeks prior) in the base.
  • Lined up the top with the pop bottle centre and the poles. I took time to see if they still lined up, if the poles were straight, and if I needed to make adjustments (which I did).
  • Took it apart again. Added all the characters on their poles (which I painted silver).
  • Replaced the top.
  • Reached beneath the base and carefully pushed the poles deeper into the top.

I used scrapbook diecuts for some of the fascade of the top, and reflective paper painted to look like it was cracked. There's just so much detail on this, I could have made an entire new website just to showcase it.

All this to win a contest ;)