Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Temple guardians (a how-to)

If you read my writing blog, Multiplex of the Mind, you may have seen this recent post about my intention to build an interesting garden feature as a tribute to my departed kitty-friend Banzai. My idea is to build a (roughly) 1/6th scale "lost tomb of Banzai" out of paving stones, earth and plantings. It actually will be built over his burial-place, currently just marked with some old bricks.

Some friends of mine bury all their cats (and they've had lots over the years) in

their yard, and mark each with a special plant. But plants die (as they discovered to their distress recently when the plant marking a favorite cat's grave went south on them). Besides, a plant is just a plant as far as I'm concerned. I'm thinking about the far-future here.

So I've been staring at various kinds of stone and brainstorming what this would look like and how I'd build it. Once thing I wanted was for it to have some statuary and carvings. But how to do that? There are all kinds of lawn statuary, but most are the wrong scale for my tomb, and most are painted in a way that I'd have to undo anyway. I also needed something that looked like it could have been carved thousands of years ago by some lost civilization of cat-worshipers. Here's what I came up with:

I think these look pretty good, but I'm almost ashamed of how little they cost. In actuality, my stone statues are actually a couple of cheap and garish resin-cast statues that I bought at a dollar store. See the second picture for what I started with.

I almost passed on these, but something about the shape caught my eye, and I gave them another look. Resin, cheap or not, should be durable enough to last a good long time outside, and the scale was good. I bought six of them, thinking that would allow me to mess things up experimenting on a few of them, but the first pair turned out pretty well I think. Here's how I did it, in case you'd like to turn some cheap resin of your own into ancient statuary.

First, I sprayed them with gray primer to make sure the shape was as good as I thought it was. I was quite satisfied with the result, but it looked nothing like stone. So after searching around, I got some camouflage color spray paint in a color called "Khaki."

A good coat or two over the gray gave it a much better color, but it still didn't look like stone. To do that, I took a can of brown spray paint and sprayed it into the air several feet over the cats. A cloud of brown particles drifted down, adding dark flecks that suddenly make them look like stone. New stone unfortunately. They needed to be aged.

I boiled up some water in the kettle, threw a couple of Lipton tea-bags in a cup, brewed up the thickest, nastiest cup of tea you've ever seen, and broke out a small paint brush.

First, I washed a coat of tea over the entire cat and set it aside to dry. I repeated it, with a special emphasis on the crevices and folds in the statue. Then I repeated it several more times, concentrating on cracks, folds, and imperfections in the resin. Sometimes I'd slop the tea on, then wipe it off when it was partially dry. Finally, I had the ancient look I was searching for.

The cats you see here aren't quite through though. I'll give them a final clear coat of spray matt medium to protect the tea stains while keeping it dull. Then they'll be ready to decorate the steps of my temple, whatever it looks like.

That still leaves me four cats to play with. I'm thinking about taking a saw to one and find out if I can cut the head off. If so, I may be able to embed it in a mortar wall, or use it to top a pole or column.

I'm still trying to think of other decorative touches that are appropriate. We used to call Banzai the "monkey cat" for the way he'd swing down his cat ladder rather than jump, so adding some monkey figures to the temple would be appropriate too. I'd also like to work in his name somehow, disguised in some kind of ancient writing. I'll keep you posted on my tribute to my little friend.

Banzai always enjoyed sneaking into my Joe photos, so I think he'd like being able to stay in them for years to come.

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