Works in Progress

I know it seems like I’ve fallen off the face the earth, but really I’ve just fallen very deeply into a project vortex.  There’s lots to be done before WonderCon next weekend, and by far the  largest undertaking (literally) is a seven-foot-tall version of Mitch the Monster for Neon Monster’s booth.  Since I’ve never built anything of this scale before, I’ve had a few setbacks, mostly material-related.  The structural engineering of an 18” stuffed animal is VERY different from that of a larger-than-human-sized display.

A. took this photo a few days ago when I was tracing out the pattern pieces on our living room floor.  It’s the only room in the house large enough to accommodate a single one of these pieces.  There are four of each of these pieces making up the monster’s body.  He’s still not quite done (I’m having eye issues), so I’m going to get back to it now.  I’ll be back to posting useful things in a week or so…on my brand new almost-finished web site!  Get psyched!

Mitch is Here!!!!!

After six months of hard work and nail-biting, Mitch has finally been released to the public! (Photos and press release below)

Albino Pink Mitch Plush by Neon Monster
It’s me! First you saw me in 2D on your screen, then you saw me in giant-sized high-density foam, and now here I am in 100% recycled fleece plush. Here’s some nice stuff people have been saying:

On January 25th, Neon Monster will unleash Mitch in 100% recycled fleece plush.Mitch is a depressive aesthete dreamed up by co-founders Isaac and Jacob Pritzker. “He’s a tough cyclops with a soft side,” said Isaac. “We made him out of plush so people can bask in his gruff hugability at a price point easy on the wallet and from materials easy on the planet.”

Grey Mitch and Pink Mitch by Neon Monster

Supporting the San Francisco art scene is a priority for Neon Monster, who tapped the talents of local artists, Reuben Rude and Lauren Venell to bring Mitch to life. In addition to exhibiting his own art, Reuben has worked as a product designer for STRANGEco and a colorist on over 100 issues of Savage Dragon and early Spawncomics. “Reuben has been a remarkable asset in the production of the visual aspects of the Neon Monster brand. His combined experience in the designer art and illustration community has made him a wonderful resource for our company,” said Jacob. Neon Monster also worked closely with Lauren to develop the three-dimensional pattern and plush prototype from Reuben’s design. Lauren is the founder of sweet-meats.com, whose humorous hambone plushes can be seen in shops around the world. She is recognized for combining a unique knowledge of product development with a highly skilled ability to sew and create complex patterns. Co-founder Kristy Klinck referred to working with Reuben and Lauren as “the perfect collaboration,” saying: “Bringing Mitch to life has been an incredibly rewarding experience. Everyone involved in the process has really worked hard to give Mitch a unique personality.

Grey Mitch Plush by Neon Monster

Mitch is a giant misfit, rather anachronistic in his taste, and with a tendency to slide into psychotic episodes. His full story, and those of his fellow characters, will be progressively revealed on Neon Monster’s dedicated microsite, The Bestiary. TheMitch toy measures 14 inches when standing and can sit due to his bean-bag bottom. He is available in two limited edition colorways: albino-pink and grey. The plush is made of 100% recycled fleece and meets environmental and kids’ safety standards. Each plush comes packed in a signature kaiju-style reusable plastic bag. For further details and ordering information, please see: www.neonmonster.com.Grey Mitch is now available here, and Albino-pink mitch is available here.

Win!

I’ve never won a raffle before, so I was STOKED to hear that my name came out of the fishbowl at the Neon Monster second anniversary party.  What did I win?  This incredibly sweet original painting by Reuben Rude!

reubenselephant

Richard Starkings and Justin “Moritat” Norman were there signing issues of their Elephantmen comic, so Reuben painted this elephant outside  during the party.  After it was over, he took it home and added a few collage elements and the drips you see.  I really love that all four sides of the painting (which you unfortunately can’t see in the photo) have gorgeous orange to green to blue gradients on them.  The painting measures about four feet per side and two inches deep.  Amazing!

Speaking of raffles, I have to put forth a little plug: come to the Bazaar Bizarre in Golden Gate Park December 12-13!  I’m organizing the raffle this year and the prizes are amazing.  You can see some of them here at the BazBiz Flickr stream.  At the last Baz Biz there were eleven prize lots each totaling more than $300!  For the price of one ticket you walk away with eleven chances to take care of your entire holiday list!  Craft and Make Magazine will also be there with a raffle.

16 Towers Print by 3 Fish Studios

Fruit Stripe Vase by Why Girls Go Astray

Alternative Press Expo

This weekend the Alternative Press Expo came to town.  It’s a nice little convention that brings together the independent publishing community, put on by the same folks who bring you ComicCon.  Most of the tables were taken up by comic artists and writers, but a fair number of zine publishers, crafters, illustrators and small shops also represented.

Soon after arriving, I swung by the Neon Monster table, where I got to meet the lovely and talented Marian Churchland.  Among other things she has drawn for Richard Starkings’ Elephantmen series.

I had met Starkings and Justin “Moritat” Norman (the main Elephantmen artist) the day before at Neon Monster’s Second anniversary party.  Happy Birthday, Mitch!  Mr. Starkings gave me a few autographed issues of Elephantmen to peruse and I have to say, it’s not a bad rag.  Mr. Moritat also drew me a sketch of Jean Grey as Phoenix, perhaps my favorite comic book character ever.  Thank you guys!

Though I usually go as a fan, this year I went to A.P.E. mostly for business — I spent my time scouting the tables for characters that might make good plush toys.  Unfortunately there weren’t too many in the simple and cute category this time around, unless you count the yetis.  EVERYone’s got a yeti now.  Yetis are the new diamonds.   Still, there was plenty to love and even more to buy.  Even I couldn’t resist.  I got two of Brandon Bird’s Law & Order valentines for my sis (SVU is her favorite show). Brandon Bird is famous among my friends for his painting “No One Wants to Play Sega With Harrison Ford.

The best thing I got, though, was this set of monster hugs cards from Goblin-Fish Press.  There were five in the pack but these two are my favorites.

hugs

Hilarious!  If you’re sad you missed A.P.E., don’t worry.  There are two similarly awesome events happening next month.  For you east coasters, visit the Editions & Artists Books Fair in NYC beginning Nov. 5th.  While you’re there, say hi to the good folks at The Present Group.  For you west coasters, come hang out with me at DesignerCon in Pasadena on Nov. 21st!

Epic How-To: Make a 3-D Plush Pattern from a 2-D Drawing (Starring Mitch from Neon Monster)

I’ve made some 2-D plush monsters in the past.  They can have a lot of character (like Aristocrates here and his little buddy Protegé).  They’re also the best place to start if you are new to making plush.  This, however, is not a 2-D plush tutorial, and it is not well suited to sewing beginners. If you are looking for such a tutorial, try here.

aristocrates plush monster

plushmaterials

Materials:

  • paper or cardstock
  • cushion foam
  • straight pins
  • safety pins (optional)
  • X-acto knife
  • fabric glue
  • paper scissors
  • fabric scissors
  • fabric marking pen
  • pencil
  • ballpoint pen (optional)
  • fabric similar to what you will use on your finished plush toys
  • seam ripper (not pictured)
  • chopstick (optional)

When the good folks over at Neon Monster approached me about designing a plush version of their logo monster, Mitch, 2-D was not going to cut it. In my opinion, most of Mitch’s charm comes from his shape — his long, dangly arms, his hunched back, and his slightly saggy belly — none of which can be adequately expressed in a flat format.

logomitch

Since Mitch has never existed in 3-D, and all I had was this single three-quarter view of him, I needed to start with an intermediate 2-D step, an orthographic projection.

Step 1: Orthographic Drawings

Orthographic drawings (or projections) are a series of 2-D views that give you a complete sense of a 3-D object when taken all together.  At minimum, you need to you draw your character from the front, side and top.  Since Mitch is not my creation, I was lucky enough to get this set of sketches from original artist Reuben Rude.

orthographics

When you make (or in my case, print) your orthographic views, you want to make sure that the dimensions all match up.  The height of the front and side views should be the same (C), as should the width of the front and top views (A), and the depth of the top and side views (B).  You can leave small details like surface decoration out of these.  You just need them for the general shape.  In my case, I erased the eye and the “spinal nodes” from Reuben’s drawings, since I would be adding them on later as separate pieces.

When you’ve got your sketches looking just right, cut them out.

Step 2: Foam Block

My pre-visualization skills are not the most developed, so I drape my plush pieces like garments.  That means needing a base of some kind to drape them on — a “monster form,” if you will.  I made mine from regular density cushion foam (I used the Airtex brand), which you can get in sheets or by the yard from most craft or fabric stores.  It comes in different thicknesses (1 inch is most common), but you’ll likely have to glue a few layers together to get a thick enough block to carve from.

Measure the widest point of your side-view drawing (B) to find out how many layers to glue together.  If it’s four inches wide, for example, you’ll need to glue together four 1-inch layers of foam.  Next, measure the height and width of your front view drawing (C and A).  This is the size of the rectangle each layer will be.  Mitch’s body was 10 inches tall, 6 inches wide, and four inches thick at its widest points, so I glued together four 10” x 6” foam rectangles and let my foam block dry.

foamblock

Step 3: Foam Model

In order to make my foam block look more like Mitch, I needed to do some carving.  I taped the orthographic drawings to each side of the block and traced around them.  For the side view drawing, I traced it on one side, flipped it over and then traced it again on the other side.

foamtrace

I wish I had a foolproof carving method to share here, but I don’t.  Maybe someone can post something in the comments.  I just sort of eyeball it while wielding a regular #11 Xacto knife, removing small chunks so I don’t overdo it.  The nice thing is that you can always glue the foam back on if you make a mistake, and your foam model doesn’t have to be perfectly smooth in its shape.

sideform

Here’s my finished model (see, not smooth).

mitchform

I decided to add on the arms as separate pieces (with straight pins) rather than try to carve them out of the block with the body.  I also made a completely separate piece for Mitch’s eye.  Depending on the number of appendages your character has, you may also want to carve and add these to your model separately.

Step 4: Draping

To me, this is the most fun part of making a 3-D plush, but it can also be kind of tricky. Cut a large piece of light-colored fabric similar to what you ultimately want to make your plush with.  It should wrap all the way around your plush at least 1-2 times.  I used polar fleece because it has some stretch but doesn’t misshape too easily.

Using regular straight pins, pin the center of your fabric to the most important part of your foam model — a part where you don’t want any seams showing.  For Mitch, this was his belly.

startdrape

Working your way outward from that first center pin, continue pinning the fabric to your model.  Start wrapping it around the sides, top, and bottom of your model, keeping it as smooth as possible.

continuedrape

At some point, your fabric will start to gather in folds.  Any place there is a fold in your fabric, there will have to be a seam, so take care in deciding where you want the folds to fall.  You may have to re-pin your fabric and/or stretch it in a slightly different direction in order to get the folds where you want them.  I made sure my folds landed in the least visible places on Mitch: under his arms, under his legs, and straight down his head and back (under the spinal nodes).

Pinch the folds tightly together and pin them as close to the model as possible (safety pins may be helpful for this).  Here is the fold that goes from the top of Mitch’s head down his back (he’s lying on his side here).  You can also see the drape wrapping around his right arm:

pinchfold

Once you have your fabric tightly wrapped around your entire model, cut away any excess, leaving an even seam allowance.  I tend to use a 3/8” allowance when I sew plush, so that’s about what I tried to leave around the edges.

cutseam

Here is a simple, finished drape of just the eye model (side, top and bottom views):

eyedrapeside

eyedrapetopeyedrapebottom

And here is a finished drape of the whole monster, with his eye pieces on top.

When I first draped the monster form, I tried to include his eyelids and his body in the same piece of fabric.

overeyedrape

This made too many folds to be workable, so I marked where the eyelids ended and undid the drape.  Using those marks I then cut a new piece of fabric to become the eyelids and re-draped the body, this time under the the eye piece.  You can see the neatly wrapped and trimmed body and eye here, along with the new eyelid fabric:

fulldrape

Step 5: Tracing the Pattern

Now that you have a finished drape, you can write notes directly on the fabric about any immediate changes you’d like to make, such as making the head rounder, the feet pointier or the arms longer.  Drawing arrows or cut lines in place is also helpful.

markings

Now the excitement begins!  Un-pin your drape(s) so that the fabric lays flat.  Remove it from the model and spread it out onto a large piece of paper (or several taped together).  Trace around it/them with a pencil.  These are what Mitch’s pieces looked like when I undid them — not something I would have been able to visualize beforehand.

flatdrape

**Tip: number each seam as you un-pin it.  Then you will know the (reverse) order in which to sew your plush together.

Step 6: Refinement

Now that you have your general pattern, you can make some adjustments with your pencil.  You can smooth out lines or fold your pattern in half to make sure things line up correctly.  If you’re more tech savvy, you can photograph or scan your pattern and then trace it in a program like Adobe Illustrator.  This is what I did, which is why my pattern is sliced up.  It was too big to scan all at once so I had to cut it into a few pieces.

patternscan

Step 7: Test

To test the accuracy of your pattern, cut out the paper pattern pieces and trace them onto a new piece of fabric.  Cut the fabric pieces out right on the line and sew them together in order (see step 5 tip), leaving your normal seam allowance.

**Tip: use a contrasting color of thread and a wide stitch so that you can easily rip out and re-do seams if you need to.

paperpattern

Cut off any exterior corners, then snip into interior corners and clip into the seam allowance along any tight curves.  This will allow your seams to remain smooth and eliminate bunching inside your plush when you turn it inside out.

snipandclip

Open up a 1-2 inch hole in a central seam with a seam ripper and turn your plush inside out. Poke out any tight spots or corners with a chop stick, a capped pen or a high gauge knitting needle.

poekout

Stuff your plush with your desired material and take a look.

**Tip: Use smaller pieces of stuffing for narrow sections like arms and stuff them tighter than the main body.  Use larger, looser chunks of stuffing for bigger spaces to keep things cuddly.

If you like the way things look, you’re finished.  Sew up the opening with a ladder stitch and rejoice!  (Video here)

If you have additional pieces, you can drape them onto the finished body.  This is what I did with Mitch’s eye.  His “spinal nodes” are regular cylinders and didn’t require a pattern.  I just sewed those on by hand, again using a ladder stitch.

eyedrape

backopt

What happens if your plush still doesn’t look quite right?  In this case, you have a couple of options.  One, you can make slight adjustments by changing the amount and/or placement of stuffing in your toy, or two, you can adjust the pattern.  If it’s an easy/small change, you can make your alteration directly to the paper pattern, either by trimming some off, or by taping more on.  Otherwise, I recommend writing those “cosmetic surgery” notes directly onto the fabric again and ripping out the seams, essentially taking you back to step 5.

**Tip: the type of stuffing you use can go a long way toward helping you choose a desired effect. I stuffed Mitch’s legs, bottom and fingers with rice and everything else with polyester fiberfill.  This made him cuddly yet hefty, with a weighted swing to his long arms and that “dumpy bum” look I find so charming about him.  It also lets him sit upright without support, which is great for something that will live on a shelf.

Epilogue

I noticed that some of Mitch’s features were different in the logo (three-quarter view) image than in the orthographic drawings, so I made one side longer than the other and let the Neon Monster folks decide which one they liked better.

frontopt

They liked the left side features better, and also wanted a few other changes, like darker fabric, an outline behind the pink iris, and for Mitch to be 18” tall.  Glad that I scanned everything into Illustrator, I blew up the pattern by 50% and then cut it down the center.  I deleted the right side of the pattern (which they didn’t like) and replaced it with a duplicate of the left half (which they did).  Then I printed it out and sewed it up into Mitch #2.  Here he is:

Mitch-front-sitting

The Neon Monster crew really liked Mitch #2 (enough that he traveled to toy fairs all over Asia), but they also wanted to try out a version with longer arms and more eyelid folds.  I made another copy of the pattern and added those changes.  This became Mitch #3 (he’s not pictured here but he is on display at Neon Monster).

Mitch #3’s long arms were great for hugging, but they bunched up when he sat, so that idea was ultimately scrapped.  So were most of the folds of his lower lid.  Thus was born Mitch #4, the ultimate Mitch.  He used Mitch #2’s body pattern and Mitch #3’s eye pattern, minus half the lower lid.  Here is Mitch #4, gazing pensively out my window.  For more photos, you can see my earlier post celebrating his creation.

mitchquarter

Mitch #4 is now being reproduced as Neon Monster’s first exclusive limited-edition plush toy.  He is due to be released this October, in time for the holidays.  To cuddle Mitch #3 in person or to sign up for the release, you can visit Neon Monster at 901 Castro Street (on the corner of 22nd) in the Noe Valley neighborhood of San Francisco.

Thanks to anyone who made it all the way through this massive tutorial!  I’d love to see what you make if you use the info I’ve shared here.  I will post any photos you send me (with your permission). Also, please feel free to post any questions or comments below.  I promise to respond to all of them.

Mitch the Neon Monster

Yesterday I finished the final Neon Monster prototype, otherwise know as “Mitch 4.”  After four intensive weeks getting this beloved logo monster just right, I sent him off across the ocean to be cloned several hundred times.  I’d love to take the night off to celebrate but Renegade SF starts tomorrow (come say hi!) so there will be no rest for the weary.

mitchfullsmmitchquartermitchrightmitcheye

Next week I will be sharing the whole Mitch process with you in an excruciatingly long and detailed article about how to create a 3-D plush character from a 2-D drawing.  This will not be an Uglydoll-type tutorial, people — anyone can make a fabric sandwich — this is the real deal.  Your plush characters will have real dimensions (like sides!), real 360º forms and real soul.  I may have to split it up over two or three posts, but it’s full of photos and diagrams and riveting text so stay tuned.  It’s going to be a special summer.

Finished and Relieved

Finally finished the Neon Monster prototype last night.  The pattern is pretty complex so it took longer than I thought (hence Wednesday’s post) but everyone at the store seems happy with it.  I’ve got some minor adjustments to make when I construct the final 18” version but all in all the pattern is pretty solid.  I celebrated by taking a nap after the meeting.

For the rest of today and tomorrow I’m going to work on some of my own stuff that’ s been backing up.  I need a little bit of a break before going back to this project.  If I get permission from the client I’ll post some finished photos at the end of the week.