Monday, April 1, 2013

The Green Man Book

The Green Man

Last October (2012) I was in Washington DC doing research for a play and on the last day there I visited the National Archives.  While I was waiting for the archives to open, I noticed a green man in the bark of one of the trees.  I watched it for awhile and as the sun continued to rise the green man disappeared.  It was pretty cool.

The pagans in Europe would find faces in the bark of trees and believed they had certain powers.  I do not know exactly how the pagans worshipped, but I have always found the green man cult curious.  I was delighted to have found one in our nation's capital.  On the flight back I envisioned how to make a green man book.  Here's how it came to be.

The first step of any prop project is design.  You should have some idea of how the item is going to look before you get started.  The design can be as elaborate or as simple as you complete the project.  In this case, I drew a thumbnail sketch no bigger than 2" by 2 1/2" of the green man book.  That was design enough.

Design for the green man book

The book used for the green man book was heavily embossed so I chose to cover it with a scrap of posterboard.  The posterboard was attached with a skimcoat of Sobo glue and the design was then transferred in pen to it.

Image transferred with pen on scrap of posterboard.  In this case it truly was a scrap

Walmart had some fall silk foliage for a couple of dollars per spray or pick.  I bought one and that was sufficient for this project.  I bought a pick with multiple branches of fall colored oak leaves.  The pick had leaves of three different sizes which were all removed and sorted.

Fall foliage pick from Walmart

Hot Work
The next step was to build up the face with layers of hot glue until the dimension and the relief were to my liking.  I used a combination of large and small hot glue guns for fill and detail work.  It's important when working with hot glue to allow the hot glue to do what hot glue does and not try to force it to be something it's not.  That only leads to frustration.  When building up an area such as a nose, it's good to make the first fill throughout the pattern of the nose, then let it harden and cool.  After that you can add another layer to distinguish the bulbous part of the nose, or the nostrils.  Don't hurry the hot glue.  If you try to build up on an area that is still molten, the new glue you introduce will combine with the other glue and create a blob that won't really help you.  Be patient when working with the hot glue.

Large glue gun

Small glue gun

The first layer of leaves needed to be dimensional to make the relief sculpting of the face more dramatic, so hot glue was applied to the underneath side of them and allowed to cool and harden before they were applied to the book.  They were then fixed to the surface of the book with hot glue. 

There was a time when hot glue went out of fashion among prop makers.  I think it is time to revisit this very useful, very versitile adhesive.

The leaves were laid out on the book first until the composition was just right, then glued down.  Pay attention to the binding and how your leaves will wrap around it.  There is a fine balance between covering the binding and allowing the book to still open. 

It is okay, in fact preferable to have the leaves extend past the edge of the book in places.  That will be dealt with in the next step.

The leaves around the face were beefed up with hot glue on the back but the leaves on the rest of the book were not.  The leaves for his mustache and eyebrows were glued on the backside, then folded over while the glue was still molten.  This gave them more thickness and definition.

Beefing up the back side of the leaves

Initial layout

more leaves


Sharp Work
The straight edges of the book look a little silly with the leaves hanging over in parts and not in others.  Using an X-Acto knife, carve the cardboard edges of the book to mimic the profile of the leaves.  When finished, beef up the edges of the leaves where they hang over the edge with more hot glue for durability.

Carving the edge of the book

What that looks like

Beefing up the overhang

Wet Work
Once again, I used Childers CP-10 Vi-Cryl mastic to create the uniform surface on which to paint the book.  Just about any water based mastic will do.  I happen to have CP-10 in my shop so that is what I use.  There are many brands of mastic in and out of the theatre industry. 

The mastic is a very important step and the one I find people try to skip.  Their books always look like they skipped this step when they do.  Then they wonder why it doesn't look right.  Cardboard, silk leaves and hot glue all take paint differently.  The mastic provides that uniform surface for the paint to adhere to.  Think of it as a thick primer.

The mastic is applied in a cross hatch pattern and on the hot glue relief, it is okay to go a little heavier to soften the edges of the hot glue and make it look less like hot glue.  Make sure you wrap around the edges of the cover with the mastic.  Once the whole of the book is covered, let it dry completely before you attempt to paint it.


Applying the mastic

Paint Job
This time I used two different green spray paints for the base scumble.  This could easily be done with brush paints as well.  I chose to use spray paint because of the recesses under the leaves.  I though it would be easier to cover with spray paint than brush paint.  Either way it works.  For this one I used Design Master Basil and American Accents green.  These were sprayed in patches and there was an attempt to blend them a little at the edges.

It is important to wrap the spray paint around the edges of the book just like the mastic step above.

On a lark, when I opened the flammables cabinet to get the spray paint, I noticed some glitter spray and shot a bit of that on for good measure.  I think it helped a little.  It certainly didn't hurt.

Design Master Basil

American Accents country green

Finished spray paint scumble

Edge wrap

Glitter spray for good measure

Mottle and Daub
Just like the tutorial for the Magical Tomes, the leather look is created by spraying Design Master Glossy Wood Tone on the book and daubing it off with a wadded up paper towel.  Don't try to remove all the paint, just move it around so it is heavier in some areas and lighter in others.  On this project, allow some of it to pool in the recesses of the hot glue relief.  This will make the sculpted face seem even more dimensional.

Repeat this step until you are satisfied with the look.

Glossy Wood Tone



Just like in the Magical Tomes tutorial, the aging consists of brushing on Raw Umber and daubing it off with a wadded up paper towel.  This knocks back the sheen from the Glossy Wood Tone and it adds a healthy layer of grime, as if the book were hundreds of years old and handled by dozens of dirty hands.

Make sure you don't overwork this stage.

When you have the grime stage completed your book cover is done.  Enjoy!

Raw Umber

Daub it off

The finished Green Man Book
This prop was used by Prospero in our production of Shakespeare's
The Tempest

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