Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Energy-Swirled Brickarms Plasma Blade Tutorial

A lot of people really liked my custom Brickarms Plasma Blades, but nobody guessed how I did it or what I used on the Brickarms Forums! It's pretty easy, so I created a tutorial for anyone who wants to try it themselves.

First order of business: the big reveal: It's NAIL POLISH! That's right, like a manicure for Brickarms! Now before you start thinking "ewwww girly!" let me tell you who first inspired me to try it: the manliest man I've ever known. He's a retired US Navy fighter pilot who did 3 tours of Vietnam, then worked as a game warden on a 5,000 acre preserve for another 20 years before retiring again. He's a skilled hunter, a firearms expert, and an all-around take-charge sort of man. And his nail polish? Well you'll find him shopping the colors at the beauty counter from time to time, and I dare you to say anything about it. He uses it to paint fishing lures! It turns out that polish is better than paint because it comes in a crazy array of finishes and colors, including iridescent and glitter, and it's durable, water-proof and has a smooth, hard finish.

Now the other part of my inspiration is simple too: Paper Marbling. This is as simple as floating colors on water, swirling them around, then transferring the result to paper. You can also use this method on fingernails too. So with nail polish, a few Brickarms, and a lot of trial-and-error, I've settled on a way to make this work!

Step 1: Gather supplies:

A few notes on choosing nail polish:

  • Don't get anything that says "Quick Dry" or "Fast Drying." You'll need time to make the swirls before it sets.

  • With brands, you may have to experiment. Some dry too fast even if they're not labeled "fast dry." I bought tons of cheap 99 cent polishes to get an array of colors, and found that some worked well, others didn't, even within the same brand. With more expensive brands, I got more consistently good results (OPI, specifically).

  • Assuming that some people trying this have no nail polish experience, let me tell you this: Cream = usually thick and not transparent. Glitter = usually a color of glitter in a transparent or translucent base. Sheer = translucent. And if you want areas that show the original color of the weapon, you can also try a clear polish for those. Most polishes will be sheer or semi-translucent with this method because the layers are so thin.

Step 2: Tape off your Brickarm:

The easiest way I found is to cut a piece of masking tape at a taper so it fits through the handle of the weapon. It serves two purposes - it will mask off the areas where you don't want color (be sure that you leave the grip of any weapon paint-free so that it won't chip or wear in the hand of a minifigure). It also provides a handle for you to hang onto while you work.


Step 3: Get the polish into the bowl.

  • Fill the bowl with warm water, then shake and open all your bottles. You need to work fast, so having them all ready to go is important.

  • Start by dropping one drop of polish onto the surface of the water. Sometimes the drop is too big and heavy, and will sink to the bottom. If that happens, just try again with another drop. Don't bother trying to stir or move the drop that fell.

  • That first drop should spread out thinly across the water and float. Put your second drop right in the middle.

  • Continue with all your colors, making circles if you can. If they don't come out as perfect circles, that's okay too.

In this second picture, I've added an iridescent light blue to the darker blue (it looks like a bubble just above and left of the center). That's why my end result isn't quite as swirly as I'd like - the two colors were too similar. Once the darker blue spread thinly, it became lighter and more sheer than I had expected.

Step 4: Swirl it!

This is the tell-tale step, when you'll know for sure if your polishes are good for creating this effect. If they've dried too fast or you worked too slowly, they'll just lift off the water and you can try again.

  • Use a toothpick, broom straw or any skinny object to start swirling your colors gently.

  • Don't stir! Just insert your stick and slowly pull through the pools of color until you're happy with the result.

Step 5: Let's dip that Brickarm!

First, line up your weapon over the pattern you made to see where it will look best. If you dip it into an area that is too solid, you won't get the swirled effect.

Then just push it into the pattern and under the water. At this point, you've coated just one side with a pattern - the side facing away from you.

  • If you want to leave the other side clear (it will show through the pattern on the opposite side if you're using a trans weapon), then while holding the weapon under water, take a cotton swab, a tissue, or anything and just "pick up" the remaining color that's on the water before bringing your Brickarm back to the surface.

  • Otherwise, look at the surface to choose a swirly area for bringing the Brickarm back up. This will coat the part facing you.

Step 6: Bring the weapon out of the water & do any touchups.

As you can see, this one needed a little help. I used my hairpin to scrape out the openings so they'd dry smoothly. It's easier to do this when the weapon is wet, and if you get any rough areas, you can later smooth them more with nail polish remover and a layer of clear polish on top.

If you get a weird string of polish trailing behind your weapon, just gently scrape it off on the side of your bowl.

I just tape my Brickarms to the side of the bowl by the masking tape handle I made to dry.

And after all that, you just need to do any touch-ups with nail polish remover, and possibly paint it with one coat of clear polish to seal it, make it shiny and fill in any small imperfections!

A few important notes:

  • One reason this looks less swirled than I'd like is because the colors were very similar. More contrast would have helped.

  • Another reason it looks too solid is because I coated both sides. Since the weapon is transparent, I could have just coated one side and left the other clear. That would have made the swirls more distinct. Instead, now you see the band of color on both sides through the weapon, so it looks more like a solid-colored weapon than a swirl. It is, however, still translucent!

And that's all there is to it! It takes a little practice, but I ran out of Plasma Blades before I was quite happy with the result. Next time, I think I'll have it perfect!

So what do you think? Would you try using nail polish to customize a Brickarm?


Lando said...

Thanks for the in-depth tutorial! I can't wait to try it out.

Bebs said...

Oh I hope you do! It's been fun and interesting to try different things. I have some better pictures with swirls that were more distinct, but this was the only set I did from start-to-finish so I had to use it. It reminds me of when coffeeshop barristas make swirls in your cappuccino!

I also tried some with an oil-based enamel paint to see what would happen. With that experiment, a blue color spread nicely, but the white didn't mix. It made blobs instead, so no swirls at all. Unfortunately, I'd only purchased those two colors to try, so I had no other ones to test with. Since then, I've also read that I can improve the surface tension of the water by adding a drop of dish detergent. That is what they do to make it work with inks for paper, but I haven't yet had a chance to try it with any of my supplies!

pengun said...

do you think it will work with other trans colors like yellow. and thanks for the tutorial.

The_Custom_One said...

I tried this out, and it worked wonderfully! (I used a toothpick instead of a metal object)

captainbane said...

This is so darn cool.

Bebs said...

Thanks! I'm placing another order to try a few more.

Bebs said...

Yes! I do think it would work with just about any color that isn't too thick or solid.

Bebs said...

The toothpick is better - I didn't have one handy though :) Hairpin ruined, but it was worth it!