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Sunday, January 13, 2019

DIY penguin decorations

I had this crazy idea to make a skating penguin for my annual holiday display.  I searched for ideas, but really couldn't find anything close to what I was looking for - either ready made, or a DIY thing that worked.

My grand plan was to have a skating rink with several penguins.  And that sort of thing just didn't exist.

After much thought, I decided to make the penguins with papier-mache, with an internal chicken wire structure.  I would then "somehow" light them....

I started with a roll of chicken wire.  I got a balloon penguin that stood at about 2 feet to use as a shape guide, and to help me best determine how it would look in 3 dimensional space.  Since the wire was about 2 feet wide, I needed to cut enough to make it get the full effect.

So I cut off about 3 feet and set about bending, shaping, and folding.  I now had a rough penguin shape that would serve as my base.

Since he was going to be standing on skates, and standing upright, I needed to create a way to help him stand solidly.  So I came up with a PVC pipe skeleton.  It provides that structural support and allows for an easy way to attach the wings, which were going to be a cardboard.  Also the skates could easily be attached to the frame giving the illusion of the penguin standing.

I have a second one more complete in the background of the photo.

Skates were another matter.  They needed to be constructed somehow.  I thought about more chicken wire, but decided that it was easier to cut and shape some foam tubing I had leftover from another project.  I made them shoe-shaped and added a blade out of cardboard.

Then it was time for papier-mache.  I first inserted a piece of the foam tubing at beak height, and then proceeded to do the flour-water-newspaper process.  

I did some re-shaping as I sent along, as I wanted it to look "right."  I covered the skates as well.

I used a screw through the pvc at wing-height to attach the cardboard wing, and put the mache all around it to both hold and cover it.  

 Once covered, it looked like this.  Hey! Its nearly a penguin!

Alright, now it was time to consider how to light it.  I realized that LED lights produce very little heat, and could be affixed to the surface without worrying about whether it might be a fire hazard.

One thought I had along the way was to put lights on the cage before the mache, but I wasn't sure how that would come out.  So instead, I wrapped the entire structure in an LED strand of lights.  I selected a bright white light.

I also wanted to be sure the eyes would work.  For those, I decided to put part of the strand inside the structure, and poke them out.  Then I would put a plastic lens on top to complete the eye.

Two things I did to improve the effect.  The first was to build up what amounts to an eye socket that would give enough room to have the bulb and keep the lens in place.  The second was to color the bulb. From a quick search, I learned a very simple and very effective technique: use a sharpie.  

Next up was to put a top cover to make it look like a penguin.  For this, I decided on tissue paper and crepe paper.  Again, I used the papier-mache technique, but added glue to the mx to give it a little rigidity and to further protect against the potential for heat to simply burn the paper.

For the skates, I used tin foil to give them the look of metal.

And voila.  I have what looks like a skating penguin.  Now lets turn the lights on and see how he looks.

I like it.  I think it will be fine as an outdoor display that will still be supervised.  I don't want to have a problem. 

One last thing I did was to coat it with a clear water repellent. 

And later, I'll also put it under a canopy to keep it dry.

But there you go.  Skating penguin!

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