By Phil Bolton - images & text © 2011
Howard Philip Lovecraft, master horror writer and creater of the Cthuhlu mythos ,has been entertaining fans of cosmic horror since the mid 1920's. Even Stephen King considers his tales of unspeakable gods and horrible nameless cults one of his biggest influences.
I've been a fan since high school, but it wasn't until I discovered the Propnomicom
Surprisingly there are very few actual relics that are mentioned in the original stories, but plenty of dusty old houses, ancient tombs, evil churches and the library of venerable old Miskatonic University that you can imagine are just brimming with odd curiosities. The Cthulhu mythos is an odd mix of pulp adventure, Egyptian religion, Medieval history, mad science - even a hint of steampunk.
^ Foil armature
^ Base coat & test fit
^ Other side
^ Ready for canning
^ Other side
^ The latex starts to whiten after a couple of days...
^ Color addded
^ All waxed up
So how do you get started? Well, I won't pretend this is a comprehensive guide. There are tons of projects you can do with the right materials and a somewhat twisted imagination. So I'll simply endeavor to pass on what I know about finding supplies, and explain a few simple techniques, and let you do the rest.
Where to shop? Well apart from art supply and home improvement places, there are the craft stores (like Michaels), and even your local Goodwill. You can often find boxes and bottles for under $3, (US) And old purses and leather jackets to cut up. Keep in mind that the vast majority of Lovecraft's stories were set pre-1940, so almost anything with an antique feel is fair game.
Some basic supplies:
There are other items of course, but most of these are project specific. I'll mention these as we go along. For now, let start with...
Project 1: The Thing in a Bottle
What dusty lab is complete without a few floating horrors sealed in old specimen jars with faded, peeling labels? This one is probably the easiest artifact to make and a good starting point for beginners. The perfect weird decoration for home or office (or lab).
For this project, you'll need:
Start out with an empty jar. Almost any size will do. Old wide-mouthed scented candle or food storage jars are my personal favorite. Look for the kind with a plastic inner seal, since you're going to be keeping liquid in them. You can find these at most craft stores, or even Goodwill for just a few dollars. In a pinch, you can use an old mason jar or spaghetti sauce jar for that 'home grown' look. Just make sure the mouth is big enough to get your specimen in and out. Your specimen can be as simple or as complex as you like - small lifelike figures, or unidentifiable blobs of flesh.
Building the Creature
After deciding on your specimen-s appearance, start crumpling sheets of foil into a rough approximation of the shape you have in mind. This will serve as a framework for your specimen as well as saving weight and materials. Be sure to test fit it into your jar from time to time to make sure it'll fit with room to spare, leaving space so as not to scrape off paint whe
The next step is to start rolling out sheets of your skulpy and laying it onto your foil frame, pressing it down and spreading it out so that it clings to the armature. Keep repeating until your specimen is competely covered. Again, test fit it into your jar. Now comes the creative part. Using a pencil, your fingers, or even an old pair of leftover chopsticks, smooth out the surface to get rid of seams or fingerprints then form details onto your figure, adding additional lumps of clay as necessary. Have fun with it. Add interlocking plates, blisters, pockmarks, eyes, folds of skin ,facial features, whatever you find creepy. Don't worry about neatness. The more twisted your creature, the better.
Once you're happy with it and are sure it'll fit inside your jar with the lid on, go ahead and bake it according to the instructions on the box.
While waiting for it to cool would be a good time to make up any extra bits you want to add. There's a great tutorial on making small tentacles or worms at http://propnomicon.blogspot.com/2009/09/worm-turns.html. For an umbilical cord, just use the same procedure but a larger pool of latex.
Once your project has cooled down to room temperature, you can start an additional detailing. Use your Dremel tool to smooth any rough edges, erase any fingerprints you may have missed or deepen creases. Be sure to wear a mask or work in a well ventilated area, as polymer dust can be nasty stuff to inhale.
Detailing and Painting
Now that you have your base there are several ways you can go with this. I like the method at
Keep in mind when making any biological creation that best way to create a convincing look is to use at least 3 complimentary colors: a dark undercoat of black, brown or dark green, a slightly more sparse, lighter shade drybrushed over that (tan over brown, grey over black, light green over dark, etc) and finally your lightest color for highlighting. Your sponge brushes come in handy here. Just get a small dab of color and dapple it on with the edge of your sponge, just lightly enough to add a hint of color.
An alternate technique, if you want to add an extra level of realism, is to mix your secondary color with liquid latex and use your sponge brush to dab it all over your figure. Keep tapping the forward edge of the sponge onto the latex and you'll start to notice a definate texture of tiny raised bumps or orange peel. This simulates flesh quite nicely. Set your creature aside to dry and go wash your brush immediately in cold water. Don't use hot, as this makes the latex set up and is a real pain to get out.
Give your creation about 4 hours to dry just to be safe. It is liable to still be slightly tacky and have a bit of gloss. This is normal. If you like, you can use your finger to rub or scratch small spots on the latex to make small blisters or sores.
Please note that latex has a tendency to turn
Bottling It Up and Labeling
When you're finally happy with your creature, slip him into his jar. Now go ahead and fill the jar with tap water just short of the rim, leaving room for the lid. I also like to add a teaspoon of plain white vinegar to help discourage anything nasty from growing in the water. This is also a good time to tint your water. This adds an extra level of age and strangeness. I like to use a drop or two of brown ink, but food coloring works just as well. To keep it subtle I add the coloring to separate glasses of water then add it to the specimen jar with a teaspoon. Experiment a little in a third container until you find a color you like. A sickly yellow green is a good shade. You also might want to try mixing a little white acrylic with water and adding it to the jar. This adds a touch of cloudiness to the water that's great for hiding any flaws in your sculpt. Not to mention it makes it more mysterious if people can't quite make out what's inside.
Please note in the attached photos that the color changes. I wasn't quite happy with the original bright green food coloring so the finished jar has been refilled with brown ink-stained water.
Now, close up your jar and set it someplace safe. If you've used latex, it will soak up some water like a sponge, so you're going to need to top off the water. You may also need to touch up the paint or even the latex if its pulled free in places or if its lightened up too much. Keep in mind a dead creature is liable to be lightly colored, though.
Make Your Mark
This would be a great time to make your label. There's a very nice downloadable one available at
Get yourself some teabags, a cup of hot water and a sheet of printer paper. Placing your paper on a waterproof surface, dip your teabag in the water and dab it liberally over the sheet, squeezing it a little to get plenty of dark liquid onto your paper. Once its well soaked, let it dry. You might need a second treatment later, but eventually you should have a nice brown, aged looking sheet of paper. Go ahead and feed this into your printer and print out your label. Set this aside for a day or two to make sure the ink is totally dry. Now get out your brown ink to fill it out with name, location, date, etc. I'd suggest printing out several to practice on. I must have gone through at least five different labels on my first jar before I made one I was happy with.
Now getting back to your jar: Once its set for about a week, everything should have stablized. If you're not happy with the look, you can remove it, let it dry, and retouch the paint or add more colored latex, then give it another full day to dry. Keep in mind though that you can always cloud the water to hide any tiny problems. When you're finally satisfied, you can start sealing it up. This is where your silicone bathtub cement comes in. Top off the liquid in the jar then test fit the lid. A small air pocket inside is okay as some of the liquid will have evaporated in a real specimen. Plus you're probably going to cover it up anyway. As long as your specimen is completely submerged and isn't floating, it should be fine.
Apply a small amount the sealant to the inside rim of the jar, close the lid, then with your finger or flat tool, spread a thick coat on the outside where the lid touches the jar. Now set it aside and place a couple of heavy books on top and let it dry for a day.
Next day, take your jar and tip it, turning it slowly to check for leaks. If you find any, apply more sealer to the spot and let dry again. Repeat as necessary until you have a good waterproof seal.
Now that everything's sealed up tight, you have several options. You can just leave it as is, but my favorite is to seal it up with wax. Get yourself a large candle or some old bits of canning wax and an old unused pot and simply drop melted wax to completely coat the top and around the seal to hide the silicone and any markings that might be on your lid. Wrapping some string or twine around the neck is another nice detail. I like hemp cord myself (available at many craft and sewing supple stores) since it has a nice antique look to it. Wrapping the top in scrap fabric, then typing it down with twine works as well. Use a drop of white glue to hold the ends of the cord in place.
Now it's time to add your label. Lay it down on a flat surface and work the edges with a bit of steel wool, a scouring pad, or plain old sandpaper. Work carefully from the center outward to give the edges a worn, ragged look. Go over the lettering as well to make it look even more aged. When you're happy with it, take a gluestick, coat the back of the label and affix it to the jar.
If you like, you can work the edges again with another wet teabag, then run the edges with your sandpaper to make the edges even more ragged and torn.v Then as an optional finishing touch, give the whole thing a light spray of dullcoat. This will frost the glass slightly and make it just a bit harder to see the thing inside. This will however rub off if your jar is handled excessively though.
And thats it. your first Thing in a Jar!
I found a lot of tips and advice online for this, and other Mthos projects. You can find more ideas at: