Saturday, December 27, 2008

Reverse engineering

As I mentioned in the previous post, this refurbishing project has been frustrating, though quite instructional. The latest "lesson" will require me to rip out the eyes, salvage what I can, and reinstall a pair of eyes using lighter springs. The heavier springs I mentioned in the last post are just too heavy. It's difficult to move the eyes side-to-side comfortably.

I'll cut the eyebrow cords because the pulley system is mounted in the back of the head. I'll remove the back of the head, but I won't have to separate the head from the headstick. Nor will I have to alter the jaw control or the side-to-side eye control swivel system. Nonetheless, tearing out the eye tray will not be easy. Hopefully I can do it without damaging anything else (or me).

Friday, December 26, 2008

Post time

This project has been frustrating at times. When working with my Charlie conversion figures, I'm used to the tolerances when building and installing the mechanics. But the Lovik figure has presented new challenges throughout the process. In the end I think he will turn out extremely well.

Among the differences; I used a large wood knob on the end of the side-to-side eye control. The springs I used behind the eyeballs are heavier and require more torque to move them. The larger wood knob makes it easy to apply the necessary pressure. The spring attached to the jaw is much shorter than the length I use for my conversion figures. It took three or four tries to get the right tension. (Lots of cussin' was involved).

I also used hot glue to fortify the spring attachment points. Hot glue was also applied to attach the back of the head. I always seem to burn my fingers when I mess with hot glue. I much prefer Elmer's. But in this case, hot glue was the better choice.

After the Magic-Sculpt dries around the post/neck connection, I will:
  • Paint the Magic-Sculpt neck connection with flesh-tone
  • Connect the cords to the levers and fortify the knots with Elmer's Glue
  • Cover the brass eyebrows with Magic-Sculpt and texture it to look like hair
  • Apply the "stage make-up" paint detailing
  • Re-attach and paint the ears (Now where did I put 'em?)
  • Choose, trim and apply a wig

I also need to dress the body in new clothes. Hmmm. I wonder what he's gonna wear.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Happy Holidays!

May the season's blessings be yours, your family's and your puppet's.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

An eyebrow raiser

Here's a snapshot of the interior of the Lovik figure's back of the head. I installed a brass rod and tube axle that functions like a pulley for the eyebrow cords. The cords are draped over the brass tube, which turns when the cord is tugged. The cord ends are attached to the eyebrow rods on one end, and the lever on the other.

By the way, I'm not sure how I'm gonna cover the large round hole in the back of the head. When the Lovik figure arrived, it was covered with a combination of duct tape and hot glue. Looked kinda messy.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Designing in a vacuum

My upgrade and refurbishing project of the Craig Lovik figure has introduced me to yet another method of making ventriloquist figures. The head was created using a vacuum-form machine. The mouth was also created that way. The jaw was formed in two pieces that fit together, the outside and the inside portions of the jaw, one on top of the other. I think the whole design is very clever.

My understanding is that one must design the vacuum-form mold with no undercuts. That really limits the facial features one can design. But Craig Lovik has come up with a very pleasing character and there are no undercuts in the entire design. Very cool.

Another example is on Clinton Detweiler's blog today, Newsy Vents. He's refurbished and "aged" a female Lovik figure. Clinton also mentions the vacuum-form process.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Eyes front

Here's a peek at the installed eyes. They move fluidly side to side. I've glued the eye tray to the Magic-Sculpt platforms and used a touch more Magic-Sculpt to anchor them in place. The next step will be to install a brass tube and rod pulley system near the top of the back of the head (currently unattached) . Cords attached to the eyebrow rods will be draped over this pulley system. I'll take a photo of that when it's done.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Behind those eyes

Time to place the eye tray in the Lovik figure. I use Magic-Sculpt on both sides of the eye tray to form the platforms. I usually pull the eye tray out after the Magic-Sculpt dries so I can access and install other mechanisms. Later I reinstall the eye tray on the platform and secure it to the platforms with glue and a touch of Magic-Sculpt.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Back on track

Before I started making eyes with printed irises, I made some pairs with plastic irises. These are 1-1/2" eyeballs versus the 1-1/4" eyeballs I use for my conversion figures. This pair will be installed in the Lovik figure.

I was slowed down more than I anticipated by the injured finger this past week. I'm back on track now.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

The blood of my brows

I sucessfully installed the brass eyebrows. They're made of brass tubes incased in Magic-Sculpt in the interior of the head. Then brass rods are bent into a hook on one end, inserted through the brass tubes and bent in the shape of eyebrows. Then the hooks in the interior of the head are joined by a small steel spring.

The part that really hurts is my finger, which I managed to cut badly. It seems I do this every couple of months. At least my wound didn't require another trip to the emergency room.


I've shipped "Herman" to Texas. I understand he's going to be placed under the Christmas tree. He'll look cute in a ten-gallon hat.

Saturday, December 06, 2008

Totally tubular

The eyebrow tubes have been installed in the Lovik figure. I drilled little indentations in the head so that the Magic-Sculpt would have something to cling to. (You can see some of them just above the eyebrow tube).

I had to be very careful to keep enough clearance for the eyeballs. I'll be using 1-1/2-inch wood knob eyeballs with plastic irises. They'll clear the eyebrow tubes by just a skosh.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Down in the mouth

Work and holiday preparation is stealing time from my dummy makin'. Nevertheless I was able to afix the mouth to the Lovik figure. I've also completed some basic painting. Next come the eyes and eyebrow mechanics. Could be a little tricky with the new surfaces and internal distances. In the end, though, I think he's going to be quite a cutie.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Stick to what you know

I removed the original headstick (a PVC pipe) from the Lovik figure so I could replace it with a wood dowel. I intended to rout a channel in the dowel for a brass-tube-and-rod eye control mechanism. But I realized that attaching a wood dowel securely, making room for cords to pass through the point of attachment, and other issues would be difficult. Then I figured out that if I cut the bottom of the neck in the right place, I could use a Braylu headstick. I have one already tricked out with enough holes, triggers and an eye control mechanism. And as you can see, it will probably work out just fine. I'll do some paint touch-up on the neck and I'll use Magic-Sculpt to contour the neck-headstick contact point.

Another advantage is that the interior of the head will now be completely empty so I can insert my interior mechanics without restriction.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Blockhead on the block

Herman is ready to do your bidding should you decide to participate in his bidding. He awaits your expressions of friendship on Ebay.

Post on the post

The Craig Lovik figure I'm refurbishing came with the original control post (aka headstick). It's a PVC pipe. Since the only mechanical animation on the figure was the moving mouth, there was just one hole in the pipe and one hole in the neck area to accommodate the cord. Because I want to add side-to-side eyes and raising eyebrows, I've decided to remove the post. I couldn't figure out a way to attach a brass rod and tube system to the PVC pipe for the eye movement without removing it. But now that it's unattached, I figure I'll just replace it with a wood dowel because I know how to set up a wood headstick for the animations. Another reason to replace it? The length of the PVC pipe inside the head was restrictive. Now I can make the post a more convenient length.


Tuesday, November 25, 2008


He's pigeon-toed, scared of girls and stutters when he's nervous. But Herman is a very lovable character and he needs a place to live. He's open for suggestions.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Not paint again?

This time the subject is the Lovik figure I'm refurbishing. I've taken the little guy apart and cleaned him up a bit. I repaired the hole in his upper lip. I've disconnected the spring and removed his jawpiece. The brass axle was secured with hot glue, so I've peeled away the old glue. I drilled two holes in his forehead for installing raising eyebrows. I've also repainted his face and jaw with three coats of acrylic so far.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

More on paint

Is it a good idea to sand the Braylu hands before painting? Yes, but very lightly. I use a 400-grain sandpaper so I don't scratch them up. Acrylic paint sticks to the hands quite well. I haven't had them chip yet and I've banged them around a bit (by accident, of course).

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Before and during

I purchased a figure built in 1995 by Craig Lovik. Though obviously well-made, the cute little fella is a bit road weary. One of his hands is unattached. His face is scuffed up and he has a small hole in his upper lip. The guy's wig is also in need of replacement. His only mechanical animation is a moving mouth, which after 13 years has begun to stick.

My plan? Give him a second lease on life. I've removed the wig and the back of his head for a peek inside. I've devised a plan to give him side-to-side self-centering eyes, raising eyebrows, and possibly crossing eyes, too. I'll also replace his hands with some new Braylu Creations hands. He'll get a new paint job, new clothes, and eventually a new home.

Yeah, I'll take more pictures.

Saturday, November 15, 2008


In the spirit of recent electoral events, I decided to embrace change. So I revised the color scheme of "Vent Into The Mic" to match the look of my newly-designed online store. Hope you like it.

Friday, November 14, 2008

More hands

To answer the question from my last blog entry:
The 2T hands from Braylu Creations (pictured below) are not made from the flexible material. Rather, these are made from a hard urethane plastic. They are hollow and very lightweight. I use M. Graham-brand artist-quality acrylic paints. M.Graham paints are not typically available at craft stores, but are usually found at art supply stores. I have found that three coats covers quite well. I don't use a primer coat because of the noxious fumes. However, if one were to use a primer coat first, two coats of acrylic paint would likely do the job.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

My hands are dry

Oh, look. I made a hand drying rack from a 2-by-4 and a 48" dowel. Believe me when I say, this is custom woodworking for a guy like me. Plus this gives me another opportunity to brag about the quality of hands made by Buzz James at Braylu Creations. All my figures now have them.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

New look on the web

I spent a good part of yesterday redesigning my online store (a screenshot of the home page is pictured above). Web design can be an obsessive, minutae-laden exercise. But I really wanted to add more detail and photos to my store. In addition, I replaced "Uncle Ferd" with "Arnie". The latter seemed to garner more positive comments than usual. I also wanted to add crossing eyes as an upgrade option since I've figured out the technique.

The downside of web design is that I stay up far too late and eat far too little. My eyes blur and bug out from staring at the computer monitor for so many hours in a row.

Dummy makin' is a lot heathier activity.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

A grand gift

A grandmother will be forwarding "Arnie" to the North Pole so Santa can deliver him to her grandson this Christmas.

Wow. What a nice Granny!

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Final Days!

Just like the TV commercials say, it's the "final days" of Arnie's auction on Ebay. It'll be fun to see where in the world Arnie will call home.

Saturday, November 01, 2008

The morning after

For some folks, Halloween is their favorite holiday. For me, it's the day after Halloween. That's when all of the Halloween stuff is marked down 50% or more. I spent the morning raiding the Walmart and Kmart shelves. I scooped up about 20 wigs and some really cool vampire teeth that will work out great in my dummy building.

I just love it when the prices have been SLASHED!

Sunday, October 26, 2008

He's an idiot

My newest vent figure is named "Arnie". I imagine him as an obnoxious jokester. You may notice that he thinks low-brow humor like crossing his eyes is hilarious. (Okay... I think so, too).

Thursday, October 23, 2008

A familiar ring

Every new animation presents a gaggle of new challenges. It's fun and frustrating devising solutions to the problems. Finally, the eyes cross without interfering with other mechanisms and without noise.

This first photo shows the screen door eyes I attached to the inside side of the eyeballs. Notice that I had to stagger them, one above the other, so that they wouldn't hit each other as they moved. Also notice the dark round pad I placed behind the nose so that the screen doors eyes wouldn't bang against the head when the eyes turn side-to-side. Cords are attached to the screen door eyes so that when the cords are tugged, the eyeballs turn inward and the eyes cross.

This photo shows the plastic spacer I placed on the mouth pulley axle. The spacer turns freely and acts as a pulley for the crossing eyes cord.

The biggest head-scratcher was the lever for the crossing eyes. Basically, I discovered a lever doesn't work. You see, when the eyes are moved left and right, the screen-door eyes move in opposite directions. So the cord attached to the screen door eyes needs slack. If it doesn't have slack, the taut cord would prevent the eyes from moving left and right. And if the crossing eyes cord was attached to a hard lever, the lever would prevent the cords from slacking. So instead of a lever, I resorted to my familiar toy Jerry Mahoney solution. That is, I attached a metal ring to the end of the crossing eyes control. That way, the cord will slacken because the ring hangs freely. The ring can be slipped on the middle finger with plenty of slack and tugged when I want the eyes to cross.

At least, this is my current solution. I tend to refine and alter my methods as I re-think them. New ideas usually come to me as I'm daydreaming during boring meetings.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008 click... aahhh %$$#@!

The frustration with adding a new animation is that unanticipated noises develop inside the head. You may recall that I'm adding crossed eyes to my repertoire. The small screen door eyes that I attached to the side of the eyeballs bang against the interior of the head behind the nose when the eyeballs move left and right. I've had to place a tiny pad between the eyeballs to quiet the noise. That's not easy to do when the eye mechanism has already been placed and secured.

Because I make little guys, working inside the head feels like I'm working on a Swiss watch.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

The whites of their eyes

As has happened so many times before, reviewing Al Stevens' Fred Project changed my method. I used to place the irises of the eyes before adding the synchro bar. I would drill holes a measured distance apart in the synchro bar to make the pre-placed irises centered in the eye sockets (always a dicey task fraught with possible failure). Now I build the entire eye mechanism, mount it temporarily in the head, then add the irises last.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Fasten your seatbelt

I thought I'd share with you a drive across the Golden Gate Bridge from San Francisco to Sausalito. Please keep your hands and arms inside the coach at all times.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008


I'm on vacation this week. We had to head south for a little family business, so I decided to stop for a few days at my buddy's house. It's been fun watching marathon hours of football, dining out and staying up too late watching "guy films". Yesterday I spent the day touring San Francisco (my old stomping ground) and had a lovely lunch in Sausalito. We also went to the overlook above the Golden Gate Bridge for photo ops. (Posted pictures will follow once I get back home).

My wife flies in to join me today. We still have the rest of the week for our family visit in the Salinas-Monterey area. We'll try to mix in a little fun between family business errands. Then it's back home for more dummy-makin'.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Star crossed

Adding more animations to my conversion figures has been a goal of mine. I thought perhaps blinkers might be my next challenge, but I'm not quite ready for that. Even though I think I could make soft blinkers, I really don't like the looks of them. I prefer hardshell blinkers, but they're much more difficult to produce. They require more precision and planning than I'm ready for right now.

Crossing eyes seem more reachable, especially after fielding some ideas on how to do it. I requested information on an approach for crossing eyes using springs for eye posts, which is my preferred self-centering mechanism. Several great ideas were offered, but Mike Brose's technique (learned from Rick Price) seems elegantly simple and effective.

Mike suggested that I add a tiny "eye" (like a screen door eye) to the back and side of each eye ball. Attach a cord to each, suspend the cord over a brass and rod or plastic pulley apparatus and attach the cords to a lever on the control post. Since I use very flexible springs, the eyes will turn inward when the cord is tugged and spring back when released. The eyes don't have to move that much to make a convincing crossed-eyes effect.

Saturday, October 04, 2008


The audience laughed in all the right places. They seemed to like the naughty jokes best. It was, after all, an all-adult crowd. My off-color humor isn't too off-color. More like "PG"-rated.

As I mentioned in the previous post, Chester garners instant acceptance for his adorable-ness. As I walked on stage with him in my arms, you could hear the audience audibly sigh with "oohs" and "ahhs" as if to say "Look at that cute little dog!" And when they hear the naughty jokes come from him, it makes for a comical contrast.

I prefer to keep it a secret from the audience that they're about to see a ventriloquist. I prefer not to have it revealed in the printed program and I ask the MC to introduce me by name, but not by trade. Though there are more ventriloquists in the world than the average person might expect, we're still a rarity. Being able to take the audience by surprise is an advantage in my favor. (And I need all the advantages I can get!).

Applause is a sweet sound. My next show is at the Sprague Theatre in Bandon, Oregon on November 8th.

Friday, October 03, 2008


It's been a long time, but I'm actually performing tonight. Me and my little dog Chester (a small Wrinkles soft puppet) will perform tonight before a crowd of 200 visiting Chamber of Commerce Ambassadors from all across Oregon. The venue is the Hales Center for the Performing Arts, a very nice modern theater at the local community college.

You may wonder why I use a soft puppet for my act when I make hard figures. Well, I'm the plumber with leaky pipes. I sell all the figures I make and thus far haven't kept one long enough to come up with an act. Besides, I love working with Chester. He's cute and seems to garner instant acceptance from audiences.

My biggest worry is my memory. Because I don't perform very often (and much of tonight's routine is written for this specific audience), I'm always concerned I won't remember my lines. (Of course, Chester ALWAYS remembers his lines).

After Chester and I carry on awhile, we sing a short song. Then he's carted offstage by a lovely stagehand and I sing a few songs on my own (with guitar).

Let's hope the crowd is likkered up enough to have fun, but not wild enough to heckle me.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Order up!

I'm offering four different versions of my conversion figures in my web store. My first order was for the "Andy" character, a red-haired, freckle-faced little guy with a split in his front teeth. I finished the figure this week and shipped him to his new home in Pennsylvania.

I was already working on a figure when the order was placed. I'd added larger ears and dimples. I asked my customer if they'd be interested in having the dimples and ears added to their "Andy", and they agreed. So the final result is pictured here.

Concerns over stress delayed the opening of a store for special orders, but so far I've been okay with it. I've been able to make progress on my Ebay figures, keep up with my "real job", attend to my duties as Chamber of Commerce president, take on two more community projects, AND still complete my special orders.

Of course, my dogs bark at me now because they think I'm a stranger.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Tale of the tape

Sometimes I get real excited about products I see that I THINK will improve the quality of my figures. I've been using blue painters tape (similar to masking tape) to quiet the contact between the brass rod and the brass loop on the eye synchronizer. I wrap the brass rod with a short length of tape. But I've been on the lookout for a plastic tape as a replacement. Well, I found some. It's actually plastic electrical tape that comes in several colors. So I used it to wrap the brass rod. And as they say, "the best laid plans". The texture of the plastic tape actually sticks to the contact point on the brass loop, which then makes the eyes stick in one position. Turns out the texture of the painters tape is much better suited for the purpose. No sticking!

So I AM sticking with the blue painters tape because I'm NOT sticking with the blue painters tape. (Who's on first?)

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Second time around

Because the winner of "Riley's" first auction didn't pay (or even answer a single email... fume, fume, fume), the little fellow is back on the block. If you'd like to review his full story, please click on over to EBAY.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Faster than a speeding bullet

No, not really. But I'm going faster than I expected as I fulfill my first special order for a figure. I'm also able to complete a few tasks on the other figures I have under construction that will eventually be offered on Ebay.

Speaking of Ebay, I've run into my second deadbeat. The first refused to pay for an audiobook I auctioned last year. Not a lot of money was involved, but there was a lot of hassle. The second deadbeat involved a more substantial sum. The winner of the auction for "Riley" not only did not pay, the fellow wouldn't even answer an email. There was nothing but silence on the other end of the computer. Very frustrating and very disappointing. I just can't understand how some people can be so dishonorable.

On a happier note, "Jimmy" (pictured above right) will soon be rooting for "da Bears" as he makes his way to Chicago.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

First order of business

Well, it took a couple of weeks, but I got my first special order for a vent figure. My customer ordered an "ANDY" character. He's the redhead in the photo. I advertise that it takes 4-6 weeks for construction and delivery, but I've already started a couple figures, either of which could become "ANDY". I'm pleased to get my first order. Some businesses frame the first dollar they receive and hang it on the wall. I'm not sure framing my first email order from Paypal will have the same effect.

Saturday, September 06, 2008

A little love for Lovik

One of the cutest figure designs around is the Lovik line of little guys (and gals). I just purchased a used Lovik figure on Ebay. The fella looks like he's in need of some minor attention. Also, it appears that his only animations are the ball & socket neck and a moving mouth. I may upgrade the figure by adding self-centering eyes and raising eyebrows. He may need a new paint-job, too.

It's always interesting to examine the materials and methods of other vent-builders. It opens my mind to new approaches. Some I adopt, others I don't. But I'm always amazed and impressed by how many ways there are to build vent figures.

Friday, September 05, 2008

A little whippersnapper

"Jimmy" will make a wonderful partner for someone. He's cute, a little small for his age, and frankly rather precocious. His full story can be viewed on EBAY

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

The World Is A Stage

By request, here's the location of Jay Johnson's blog, The World Is A Stage: Check it out. There's something funny going on there right now. (Be sure to read the "Comments").

Monday, September 01, 2008

I feel better now

Now that I have that diatribe off my chest (Mr. Superiority), I'll ask you the question I posed at the home improvement store. I'd like to get a recommendation for a brushable non-oil-based primer that will work on wood and accept acrylic paint. The store guy said that latex primer won't accept acrylic paint ( I seem to recall something about that in Mike Brose's book). For health reasons, I prefer to stay away from paints and primers that require turpentine for brush clean-up.

I'd like to use the primer on my wood eyeballs so that I can cut down on the number of coats of paint I currently apply. Any thoughts?

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Mr. Superiority

You've probably met this guy before, too. It's not the same guy, but every town seems to have a few of 'em. It's the guy (or gal) who works at the local home improvement store that goes out of his way to make you, the customer, feel stupid. This guy answers every question with another question designed to make you feel inferior for even asking the question. Before he's gonna help you, he'll make sure you know he's smarter, more experienced, and superior in every way to you. When he finally does answer a question, he'll be intentionally cryptic. He'll throw in a few technical terms for the pleasure of seeing you wrinkle your brow in confusion. He'll turn away and pretend to go back to whatever he was doing before you bothered him so that you have to get his attention again to make further inquiries. Then he'll turn back to you with this look of "What? You're so dense that my answer didn't sufficiently enlighten you, you idiot?"

So now you have to parry back and forth to get the information you require. He'll talk in circles until he's reached some orgasmic tipping point where he feels he can actually provide the information you sought with some degree of clarity.

And then, this is the part that really pisses me off. The guy suddenly turns very friendly and polite so that any inclination you might have had to tell him off would make you seem to be the unreasonable one.

It's not like I was asking for instructions on how to assemble a ten-story building. I just wanted to know about paint primer, for gawds sake!

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Favorite blog

"The World Is A Stage", the blog by ventriloquist Jay Johnson, is my favorite blog. As you might guess, Mr. Johnson has a very creative mind. He's funny, a little twisted now and then, and very often makes fun of himself. I also enjoy his tales of life as a professional entertainer and ventriloquist. There was a time in my youth when I aspired to do what he does. (In fact, I even auditioned for the role he won in "Soap"). So hearing about his adventures, his travels, his friends and associates is very entertaining and quite amusing. His long blog entries, often hilarious diatribes, show what an active mind he possesses. Jay Johnson is one of our great living-legend ventriloquists. He's also a terrific blogger.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

I'm all talk

This little funnyman hopes to find someone to be his "straightman". Take a gander on Ebay.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

You must be joking

If there was sound, I suppose this miniature comedian would be making you laugh. Hopefully soon, someone will give him a voice of his very own.

Monday, August 25, 2008

How now cow?

I was asked recently why I prefer Elmer's Glue to other glues to attach wigs. I replied that I use Elmer's because it's easy to apply, holds firmly, but can be unattached if necessary without ruining the wig.

The person asking the question was also wondering why I don't use hot glue. The reason I don't is self-preservation. I always burn the crap out of my fingers every time I've used it.

I also don't like the Velcro solution because the stickum on the underside of the Velcro doesn't seem very secure on the wig. I find it difficult to sew the Velcro onto the wig, too. So... it's glue.

My question to you... is there another better glue (or solution) to consider?

Thursday, August 21, 2008

I've drifted a little too far to the other side

Today I was dressing my latest vent figure. He's a redhead. I bought some really cute red jeans for him. I also found a nice red plaid shirt to go with it. As I'm putting on his shirt, I noticed that it was made of a thick flannel. The first thought that popped into my head was "It's August. I think he'll be too hot in this flannel shirt".


Geez. I think I'm losin' it.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Go with yellow

Every mistake leads to a discovery. Every discovery sooner or later leads to another mistake. And so the world goes 'round. This entry concerns a minor mistake... no... not a mistake... but rather a less-than-perfect choice. Here's the the recommendation:

If you're making vent figures that use cords (as opposed to them fancy figures with machined, welded and soldered gizmos), choose the yellow nylon cord, not the white. Now, white works fine. But the yellow cord is a bit stiffer and easier to work with.

Yeah, I know this helpful hint does not represent an entire paradigm shift in dummy making. But hey, I wish someone had told me before I bought 500 yards of the white stuff.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Testing 1-2

My mother's 80th birthday is this weekend. My brother, sister and step-dad are flying in from various parts of the country for a family celebration. So I'm working under a deadline to finish at least one of the two vent figures I have under construction. They've seen photos and videos of my little guys, but never in person (so to speak). I figure this is good training for finishing up a made-to-order figure on time. I'm pretty sure I'll make the Friday deadline.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

A dry summer

I love summer. Not because the sun shines 90 straight days. (Besides, on the Oregon coast, it doesn't). I still love summer. But not because the tourists flock to the coast and spend lots of money. And not because the flowers are in bloom and my yard is filled with color. Still, I love summer. Not because the sky is blue more often than gray, or because it's warm enough to sleep without wearing flannel pajamas (for a few weeks).

No, I love summer because my Magic-Sculpt dries in only a couple of hours. Is that sick or what?

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Jolly old "Uncle Ferd"

"Uncle Ferd" is now a subject of the Queen. He's found himself a happy home in the loveliest of country settings in England.

Update: His new partner has told me that Uncle Ferd will join him on a pleasure cruise around the Mediteranean. Now that's living!

Saturday, August 09, 2008

May I take your order?

What the heck. I thought I'd avoid taking orders for vent figures, but here I go anyway. I've received so many inquiries about it. So I've created an online store at I'm offering 4 basic conversion figures. I may add more as I add more "looks". Plus I'm hellbent on adding blinkers to one of these little guys.

So if you've thought about buying one of my little fellas (or if you haven't won one of my Ebay auctions), here's an opportunity to get your very own Kenny Croes vent figure.

Thursday, August 07, 2008

Out of gas

I've been running tired this week. I have a real job, plus I'm president of the Chamber of Commerce. This week I'm in the midst of preparing annual budgets for 2009 for my job. I've also had two Rotary Club commitments (I'm on the Board) and three Chamber of Commerce commitments. One was to preside over a Chamber board meeting and another was to give a short speech at a city council meeting. Through it all, I'm still getting a few tasks completed on a couple of figures.

That's why my blog entries have been fewer and farther between. But I am moving forward with two more little guys. Each has a new twist to make their look slightly different and unique. I'll share a photo or two when they get farther along.

I also need to begin work on producing more eyes. Another task on my list is to inventory my parts and materials so I can place a sensible order at Braylu Creations and a few other suppliers. I'm trying to be a bit more business-like about this vent-building thing.

Thursday, July 31, 2008

"FERD" flick

"Uncle Ferd" is looking for someone to talk to. You can evaluate whether or not you'd like to enage him in conversation on a regular basis by going to his auction on Ebay.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Someone to talk to... is that so much to ask?

Poor old "Uncle Ferd". He's lonesome for some company. I whispered the word "Ebay" in his ear and he perked right up!

Sunday, July 27, 2008

One of the best I've seen

I see a lot of other vent builders' work on the internet, some for sale on Ebay. While I admire much of what I see, now and then a figure shows up that really impresses me. Kem Poyner's figure called "Scotty" is something very special. The creation is like a three dimensional cartoon come to life. Mr. Poyner highlights in his description that the figure is great for children's shows because Scotty's appearance won't scare kids like some figures can. "Scotty" is a wonderful example of excellent design and perfect execution. Nicely done, Mr. Poyner.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Making dummies causes wrinkles

I'm making this old guy. Old guys have wrinkles. Lots of 'em. (I oughta know). It's always a bewildering head-scratcher when I paint in the folds of Magic-Sculpt that are supposed to look like wrinkles. I've read that vent figures are generally designed to look "right" from a distance of about 10 feet. But my arms aren't that long, so I have to guess (up close) how much (and how dark) the paint should be when painting wrinkles. Here's what I do.

First I mix up a small batch of flesh-colored paint darkened with Raw Umber. Then I apply the color blend in the wrinkle grooves. Then I apply a very thin line of Raw Umber by itself over the blended color. My intent is to make it look somewhat shaded.

Then I stand back 10 feet and scratch my head in bewilderment some more.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Monday, July 14, 2008

My home in ol' Virginia

My little pal "Dusty" may be speaking with a lovely southern drawl. He's found himself a "pot-nah" in the Commonwealth of Virginia.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Router touter

My incompetence when it comes to home improvement projects is legendary. I joke that I'm not allowed power tools, however that's not too far from the truth. Once I got it in my head that I needed a chain saw. I went to the local hardware dealer and asked for one. The clerk looked me up and down. After a moment she said, "No, Mr. Croes. I don't think I'm going to sell you a chain saw. You CAN have this handy handsaw... but sorry. No chain saw for you." Good thing she didn't let me have one. I have a feeling my nickname would be "Lefty".

There are a few small electrical devices my wife (and that clerk) have allowed me to purchase. (And I'm not talking about the blender I use to make Margaritas). One tool I really love is my Dremel tool. I've wanted to improve the quality and speed of making slots in the control post for levers. Before Dremel, I would drill lots of holes, then gouge out the remaining wood by hand. It works, but it's slow, not fun, and not as neat as I'd like.

Now... I KNOW better than to ask that clerk for a table router. She'd look me up and down and say,"No, Mr. Croes. I'm not selling you a table router. You CAN have this router bit for your Dremel tool. But sorry, no table router for you." Well, I bought the router bit for my Dremel tool (without asking) and lo and behold, it works great. I still drill the series of holes, but the router bit gouges out the remaining wood quickly and neatly. A little sanding and the slots look great.

The router bit does a MUCH better job than a chain saw!

Friday, July 11, 2008

On the blink

My first attempt at making soft blinkers for my conversion figure has proven to be rather difficult. In fact, I may pass it up for the moment because it's a little frustrating. The 1/16" brass rod is too thick to use for the blinker frame for such a small eye. To secure it, the length of tube in the corner of the eye needs to be longer, but there's really no room to make it so.

I tried building a frame out of the .18 gauge copper wire which was actually recommended for winding around the frame to make an interior axle. It worked pretty well as a frame, especially after coating it with a little Magic-Sculpt for reinforcement. However, the amount of space left to wrap the wire for the axle is just too small. I'm also concerned that there will be little room for the mechanics, though I'm still working on a strategy.

Time to catch my breath and move forward with my "old guy". I have found that stepping back and thinking about a problem sometimes produces a solution down the road. Of course, any thoughts you might have on the matter would be welcome.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Have jokes, will travel

This young feller is now seeking a meaningful relationship with someone who will disagree with him in public once in a while. He can be examined further on Ebay.

In addition, I have begun the process of installing blinkers on my next project. Today I inserted teeny tiny tubes in the outside corners of the eyes. I also fashioned an admittedly rough blinker frame. I will attempt to refine it tomorrow.

Saturday, July 05, 2008

Old guy (takes one to know one)

I have three more figures well underway. One of them is this fellow who will be rather "mature". I like making the old guy figures because they don't require a lot of Magic-Sculpt (which adds weight) to make a significant change. In fact, I glued a small trimmed styrofoam ball to his nose and covered it with a thin layer of Magic-Sculpt to keep the weight in check.

I also plan to add my first pair of blinkers to this guy. (Uh-oh. I can see some cussin' and swearin' in my future).

Friday, July 04, 2008


Soon this little freckle-faced scamp will be looking for a partner. Look for him soon on Ebay!

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

It's a dirty job

One of the messiest jobs is cutting up the Charlie heads in preparation for their transformations. I have to slice off the back of the head (ouch!), pry out the jaw piece (say ahhhhh), carve out the excess plastic mounting around the jaw (please be gentle), trim the back of the jaw pieces (yowweee) and poke out their eyes (hellloooooo).

The process causes debris to fly about and dust to fill the air. I wear a gas mask during the massacre.

I also sand and drill small holes in the heads' interiors so Magic-Sculpt will adhere securely. Then I drill holes in the forehead (that's gotta hurt) for the eyebrow tubes.

I recently went on an Ebay buying spree and collected ten of the old Charlies. So you can expect some new lively characters to emerge from these old worn out dolls.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

I have a new vice

No, I haven't taken up drugs, smoking, gambling or computer solitaire. I finally bought a larger, bolt-down-to-the-bench vice to replace the little clamp vice I've been using since I started this whole dummy-making business.

When I began, I wasn't sure I'd build a second vent figure after my first "Fred Project". Well... that was 21 dummies ago. Slowly by little, I've been upgrading my tools and adding more appropriate tools to my collection.

I'm supposed to be making a profit at this, but I keep making "capital improvements".

Oh, well. Can you say "write-off"?

Friday, June 20, 2008

I'll put a lid on it

My plea for clues to a Joel Leder book was answered by several fellow vent builders. I'd heard that his book contained instructions for making soft eyelids. Mike Brose and Ken Souza were both helpful by providing a link to Al Stevens' web-based directions for making soft blinkers. After studying the primer, I think I can pull it off (or should I say put them on).

Meanwhile, I'm about to start over completely with my hand sculptures. I have a new strategy for building an armature, which should guide me to forming hands that will look more human and less zombie-like.

Finally, my friend "Stanley" has found someone to annoy in Ohio. Good luck, little buddy.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Joel Leder

Anyone know where I can purchase a book on figure making by Joel Leder? The book is out of print. I'm interested in learning the technique of making soft blinkers and winkers.

Monday, June 09, 2008

Will work for suitcase

This fellow, dubbed "Stanley" for the time being, is currently accepting bids for his "services" on Ebay

Saturday, June 07, 2008

"Stanley" schemer

He's nattily dressed, so he seems harmless. But he can really talk trash. Stanley will be seeking a partner in crime on Ebay starting Monday (unless someone makes me an offer I just can't turn down).

Monday, June 02, 2008

Slick on a stick

The toothbrush handles I used as levers worked perfectly. Not only are they better looking, they work smoothly and they force the strings closer to the head stick. I'm very pleased with the outcome.

And as I predicted, the smooth plastic surface of the toothrush handles are very comfortable on the fingers.

Sunday, June 01, 2008

Dr. Kenny

These surgical tools come in handy when working in small spaces (like the inside of a conversion head). The two items in the lower portion of the picture are hemostats. These are tweezers that clamp shut at the handles. The long-nosed feature of the tools are useful for getting into those tight spaces and grabbing things (like springs, cord ends, dropped nuts, balls of Magic-Sculpt, etc.). One pair has a straight nose, the other a curved nose. Once the tweezers grab the item in question, the clamp makes sure I can hold onto it without exerting continuous pressure.

The tool at the top is useful as a probe. One end comes to a sharp point, the other end has a flat surface. It works well for skewering balls of Magic-Sculpt or wood putty. The flat end is sharp and is useful for scraping out wood shavings in the control post grooves or patting smooth wood putty or Magic-Sculpt.

Now that I have these tools, I'm amazed I ever functioned without them.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Love at first sight

I'm holding my newest niece Mia Colette. Not only is she beautiful, but she was born on my birthday. I met her only 15 minutes after she came into the world. I don't think I've ever held anyone that young before.

She has a firm hold on my little finger. I'm sure we've bonded for life.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

"Grampa Carl" going to Assisted Living

Come to think of it, all vent figures require some assistance for living. So I guess it's not such a big deal that "Grampa Carl" will spend his golden years pinching nurses in Spokane.