What it is: A type of water-based clay which hardens as it dries, but still remains fragile and carvable. This state is called 'greenware'. Once finished, a piece of greenware is "fired" in an extremely hot type of oven called a kiln. The result is called bisque, and it is very hard (like stone).
Uses: A good material for making teeth. It is not so good for making claws, as it tends to chip if struck. Small claws should be okay, but large claws are out of the question with ceramic.
Where you get it: You might be able to get small portions of ceramic clay from craft stores. There are also still some ceramic stores around which sell clay, though unfortunately the trend lately is for them to simply sell finished bisque pieces for hobbyists to paint.
Pros: Fairly easy to work with and sculpt. The finished bisque is somewhat porous, so it takes acrylic paint very well.
Cons: It requires a specialized piece of equipment to fire, a kiln. A normal oven does not come close to the necessary temperature. Some ceramic stores have kilns and will fire items for you, for a price. However, you might want to consider other media if you don't have ready access to a kiln.
What it is: Small plastic eyes with a white background, clear dome, and a black circle inside that moves around freely.
Uses: For costuming purposes, the only part of the doll eyes we're interested in is the clear dome, so cut away the white background and remove the black circle inside. I use two domes per finished eye, one bowing outward, the other inward. The inside one is painted however I would like the eye to look, and the outside one is left clear, and gives the eye it's shape and highlight. I've used this technique on several recent costumes, Ashitare, Nevar, and Ataraxia, and plan to use it on more soon to come.
Where you get it: Any craft store should have a big supply of these.
Pros: They come in many different sizes, and are very inexpensive. The finished look is quite nice, especially for the price. Painting the inner part of the eye gives you the freedom to create whatever look you want for the eyes.
Cons: Not as realistic as a taxidermy eye.
What it is: A type of clay which does not harden until baked in an oven.
Uses: Works quite nicely for making teeth and claws.
Where you get it: Also called polymer clay, it is readily available at craft stores in small packages, in a huge variety of colors. Not too expensive either.
Pros: Commonly available, inexpensive, and doesn't require any special equipment to fire, unlike ceramic clay. It can be baked in a regular oven. It is quite easy to work with, and not very messy at all.
Cons: Acrylic paints don't stick to it very well, so make sure whatever color you get is the color you want the final product to be! You can use a little paint to highlight it (stains on teeth, etc.).
What it is: Sculpting clay with an oil base, which never hardens.
Uses: This is some of the best stuff to use to sculpt any item which you want to make a mold of, and eventually cast in another medium such as latex. Use it to craft small items such as noses, tongues, scales, etc., or larger-sized items such as prosthetics or full-sized masks. (Note: Neither of the two pictures are actually done with oil-based clay — I will get some pictures up here eventually where I actually used the proper medium! The prosthetic is Sculpey, and the full-sized mask is water-based clay, which I don't recommend!)
Where you get it: Online special effects companies such as The Monster Makers. You can also use a modeling clay like Sculpey, which is usually available from craft stores, but I don't find it nearly as nice to work with.
Pros: Easy to sculpt with and remarkably clean to use, it only leaves a little oily residue on your hands which washes off easily with soap. You can sculpt some great details into it, and because it never hardens or dries, you can continue working on it indefinitely if you need to. Heat from your hands softens it and makes it more workable still. It is also re-usable, making it a good investment for many projects to come.
Cons: Because it remains malleable, you can mess up your sculpture by dropping it or bumping into it. Just take care with it and that shouldn't be a problem.
What it is: This is a type of sculpting material. It comes dry, and you mix it with water to form an almost clay-like substance. It dries rigid and relatively lightweight.
Uses: I've used this stuff in a ton of ways. My original masks were made with a cardboard base, and papier mache over that for shaping, but that proved to be a bit too heavy. More recently I have used it for smaller portions of masks, such as horns, the inside of the mouth, some facial structuring, and even the full beak on my raven. An excellent trick with this stuff is to smooth it out with some spackling before painting.
Where you get it: I've had good luck finding this at craft stores such as Michaels. The brand name is called Celluclay. It seems a bit expensive, but remember that those small-looking blocks are very compacted — a little of this stuff really can go a long way! (If you want to use spackling to smooth it out, that can be found at any hardware store).
Pros: Pretty easy to mix and work with, and it dries relatively lightweight. A whole mask of the stuff is heavy, but used strategically it really is great stuff. It doesn't need baking or any other special treatment to harden, it hardens as it dries.
Cons: Messy! It might be worth it to consider wearing latex gloves when working with this stuff. The bowl you mix it in will be hard, if not impossible, to fully clean. I have a plastic tub set aside specifically for working with Celluclay. It is very rigid when it dries, which means if it's layered thin, or stressed too much, it will crack. It will have a rough, sandpapery consistancy when it dries, no matter how much you try to smooth it out when wet, which, among other things, is very difficult to paint! A great solution to this is spackling, as mentioned above. Spackle can be spread over it in a thin layer, and smooths out nicely.
What it is: Flexible, twisted metal wire covered in a soft layer of fuzzy bristles.
Uses: These little things are cheap, versatile, and just plain handy. The main thing I usually use pipe cleaners for is to form-fit the bottom jaw of my masks to the slight indent between my chin and bottom lip, and sometimes also one underneath my chin to have full control of the jaw movement. Usually I twist two together for a little more support. The fuzzy coating keeps them comfortable against skin.
Where you get it: Just about anywhere. Craft stores, superstores, probably even thrift stores.
Pros: Cheap, common, and have tons of uses. They come in many varieties, colors and sizes.
Cons: None, really.
What it is: Plaster powder which you mix with water to form a thick liquidy paste. When it dries, it hardens significantly (though it can still be chipped or scratched if you're not careful).
Uses: Once you've made a sculpture from clay, and wish to make a mold if it, this is one material you can use. Once you've prepared your sculpture by forming a wall around it, or some other barrier to keep the plaster from going anywhere you don't want it to, you simply pour the liquid plaster over the sculpture and wait for it to harden. Remove your sculpture (this will probably destroy it), and you have your mold.
Where you get it: Found at craft stores, inexpensive.
Pros: Cheap, pretty easy to mix and work with, hardens quite quickly. Captures good detail for the price.
Cons: It can set up a little too quickly if you're not careful, so be sure your work area and sculpture are completely prepared before you mix your plaster. Hardened, it has the consistency of thick chalk, and you can scrape it accidentally, even with a fingernail. Sometimes small details will chip away over time inside of your mold, as you cast it. Work in a well ventilated area, you don't want to inhale the powder as you're working. Also, read the warnings on the container- especially the one which says to never pour it on your skin. It heats as it hardens and it can cause some nasty burns to skin.
What it is: Exactly what it sounds like, a plastic grid which typically comes in sheets a bit larger than a sheet of paper. It is also called Plastic Canvas, and is usually used for yarn work. It comes in a variety of colors, and occasionally different mesh sizes. The type I've found the most useful is the 7 mesh (it's a measure of holes per inch, I've also seen 10 and 14 mesh available).
Uses: Plastic mesh has several uses. Most commonly I use it to form the structure of the costume's mask itself. I also use dark-colored mesh as the point in the mask where I see out of, in a lot of cases. Bright colors of mesh don't work well for this, as they reflect more light and it is much harder to see through them, especially in sunlight! I have also used mesh for some body structuring, such as the chest piece, and especially the tail, on my brown dragon. The tail technique is especially nice.
Where you get it: It is commonly available (and cheap!) in craft stores, found in the same area as yarn.
Pros: This is extremely versatile stuff. It's flexible, yet relatively tough — you can tear it with your hands, but it takes some effort. It can be cut very easily with scissors. I usually just sew it together with yarn, though some simply use hot glue to connect pieces. Also, the holes make it very easy to judge where to place the jaw hinges, and adjust them if necessary.
Cons: It can be a bit flimsy, being flexible. If you sit something on it for a while (or stuff it in a suitcase), its shape can be warped. The mesh will tear if put under too much stress... but you can layer it to help reduce stress points.
What it is: Just your standard white PVC plumbing pipe.
Uses: While I more use PVC pipe in props (such as my giant spider, Terry), it is versatile enough to be used in costuming as well. The wings on my Valgarv costume were made of PVC pipe, using different sizes of pipe and different connectors to achieve the wing movements. The front legs on my quadrupedal demon-dog, Callisto, are also pipe. I have plans to use it more extensively in a future costume, but I can't say more just yet. ;)
Where you get it: Any hardware store. It comes in a variety of diameters, and usually even two different thicknesses. You can also find dozens of types of connectors, as well as PVC glue, and special PVC pipe cutters, which are invaluable.
Pros: Imagine a giant-sized set of tinker toys, and you've basically got an idea of the number of things you can use PVC pipe for. With a proper pipe cutter, you can chop through pipes like they were butter, cleanly and without the hassle of a saw. Connectors allow you to put pipes together in a number of configurations, and they're usually easy to take apart if you aren't happy with what you've got. Once you use PVC glue to put them together, however, I doubt any force on earth will take them apart again. The glue melts the PVC somewhat, forming an amazing bond.
Cons: The glue stinks and should definitely be used in a well ventilated area. If you don't have a pipe cutter, trying to saw pipes into pieces is a real pain — if you plan to work with this stuff at all, get a cutter! Don't rest your full weight on these kind of pipes. It is very tough stuff, but you do not want a piece to break while you're leaning on it! (My quadrupedal costume, for instance, I rest my weight on my legs, and let the front PVC "feet" just touch the ground.)
What it is: Natural rubber latex which comes in liquid form. It dries when exposed to air, becoming the familiar flexible, elastic material usually used in storebought Halloween masks (among many other things).
Uses: Latex can be used for both molding and casting. Thus far, I have mainly used it to cast small, lightweight, flexible items for costuming, such as noses and tongues, scales, soft teeth and claws (for safety), prosthetics, and full masks (also pawpads, which can be see in this picture). Latex can be cast in molds made from Plaster of Paris, UltraCal 30, or similar materials. It can also be used to make flexible molds for hard casting materials such as plaster or resin, or made into texture stamps for use in sculpting.
Where you get it: Originally what I was working with was found in a craft store, called molding latex. I'm not sure how commonly available this is, however, mask latex is readily available to order from online special effects supply companies such as The Monster Makers.
Pros: Endlessly useful stuff. It's not too hard to work with once you get used to it. In terms of the finished costume, you can produce some of the most striking results using 'skins' made of latex, or even small pieces like the nose, etc.
Cons: First and foremost, some people are allergic to latex and should not be exposed to it! Please make sure to find a way to test yourself for an allergic reaction before you use latex for anything. Secondly, make sure to cast latex in a well ventilated area. Read all safety warnings that will come with any latex you purchase. It should always be used with adult supervision. Also, it can be very messy — make sure there is no chance of it spilling onto your carpet or hair, and wear old clothing you don't mind getting messed up. If it spills into carpet it is nearly impossible to clean.
What it is: Silicon comes as a two-part mixture which can be combined by weight or by volume and cures into a soft rubber. RTV stands for 'room temperature vulcanizing', which means it sets completely at room temperature. The silicon liquid is extremely thick, and the catalyst is quite thin but usually colored so that you can tell when the two are adequately mixed. You can also find something called a thixotropic additive which thickens the mixed silicon still further into a paste suitable for making glove molds of objects.
Uses: It can be used to make soft one-piece or two-piece molds for use in casting hard materials such as plaster, or polyurethane resin. Resins in particular have much promise for costuming purposes, but as I am still experimenting with them myself, you'll have to wait for a more detailed report from me.
Pros: It captures excellent detail and is much quicker for use in making soft molds than latex. It has a high heat tolerance, so materials that cure via a heating chemical process will not break it down so quickly. Casting materials won't stick to it, so you shouldn't have any need of a mold release.
Cons: It is messy and a bit difficult to mix, but that should be improved with practice. I have yet to find an easy way to clean out the mixing containers, as silicon won't just dry and peel off like latex does. Also, silicon is relatively expensive! In theory, once you're used to working with the material, the fact that you have study, long-lasting molds from it should even this con out, but if you're like me — still just experimenting with the stuff — it'll eat a hole in your wallet very quickly!
What it is: Taxidermy supply companies offer ready made jawsets, tongues, noses, eyes, and a number of other interesting things.
Uses: I have only used a jawset so far, but the other materials are very promising for doing realistic animal costumes, especially if you don't want to bother with any sculpting or latex work.
Where you get it: There are several taxidermy supply companies online. For example, the Jonas Supply Company has an online catalog, and they will send you a free print catalog as well. The print catalog is great especially for eyes, as it will show you full color pictures at their actual sizes.
Pros: Ready-made items which are made to look as realistic as possible. Obviously because of the normal purpose of a taxidermy supply company, all kinds of animals are represented, and you can find some interesting and unusual items to use.
Cons: The items can be a little pricey, and usually must be specially ordered. The only walk-in taxidermy shops I've seen around here at least do not sell any individual items, they do all of the work themselves.
What it is: Cement powder which mixes with water to form a thick liquid. It dries extremely hard, and captures amazing detail from anything it is poured over.
Uses: This is a mold making material. Like the plaster of paris, you should make sure your sculpture is prepared first by forming a barrier around it to keep the cement from dripping where you don't want it to. I've found with UltraCal, that it's best to "paint" on the first layer if possible, as that will capture the maximum amount of detail from your sculpture. It takes longer to set than plaster, so it's a little easier to do so. Afterward, pour several more layers over your sculpture, and wait for the whole thing to harden. Afterward, remove your sculpture (this will probably destroy it), and your mold will be finished.
Where you get it: Online special effects companies such as The Monster Makers.
Pros: Not too expensive, and since it ships dry it doesn't weigh too much. It captures amazing detail and, once dry, is extremely hard — so little details will not chip away like they can with Plaster of Paris.
Cons: It's fairly slow to set up, so don't get impatient with it. You may have to wait a while between layers. Also, it's a bit more expensive and harder to come by than Plaster of Paris — one excellent way around this is to simply cast the first few layers of your mold with UltraCal 30, making sure you have a thick enough coverage, then cast the rest of it with Plaster of Paris.