Posts Tagged ‘Color’

Propeller process

07 Mar

I get asked all the time how I made a particular part on one of my steampunk airships. I’m also told that I should do DIY pictures and videos, and truthfully, I do take progress photos when I’m working on an airship. I do this because I have always thought that someday I’d do some sort of steampunk DIY book or something.

With that said, I thought I’d post a few photos showing how I did a particular propeller for a particular airship. Of course, this is only one example, because I’ve done dozens and dozens of different propellers in many different ways.

This one is made using a scotch tape core and 8 of those little plastic tasting spoons…you know, the ones they have in samples passed out in grocery stores. So they started like this…

Photo of repurposed pieces to be used in making a steampunk airship propeller.

Then I cut slits in the outer ring of the tape core and glued the ends of the spoons into them. You’ll also notice that I cut a thin cardboard ring that was glued to the top side of the tape core for a smooth look. For plastics, I either use super glue or E6000, depending on how the pieces go together and what stresses they may be subject to. Super glue is great for “matching fits” and the E6000 is a gel-like glue that can fill small spaces and it a bit more flexible, so it was what used in this case. As with all volatile glues, don’t breathe the fumes. Use in a ventilated area or wear an approved respirator!

Photo of repurposed pieces glued together, making a steampunk airship propeller.

After all the glue dried, I then spray with a copper spray paint for the metal look I wanted. I use a couple different ones depending on the desired finish. In this case, I used Rustoleum’s Hammered series in copper color.

Photo of copper painted propeller made of repurposed materials to be used on a steampunk airship.

Finally, I used a couple different green acrylic paints to add a patina or corrosion look to the propeller. Some people like the shiny copper look, but I’ve always been partial to the patina look and think it adds realism and character to the piece.

Photo of copper painted and patinaed propeller made of repurposed materials to be used on a steampunk airship.

So this is what you wind up with after adding the patina. See how it looks rusty and aged? This is why I like it so much. After the patina, I’ll add accents like copper rivets, (just blobs of paint), which adds contrast and interest and even a bit more realism.

What techniques do you like to use? Send me comments and photos and I’ll be happy to show what some of you are doing!

Stephan J. Smith is the artist and sculptor at Artsmith Craftworks in Swartz Creek, MI. Using recycled and re-purposed materials, Stephan builds a myriad of sculpted wonders, including fantastic and whimsical steampunk airships that have amazed and delighted fans for years. A passion for reusing and up-cycling found items into beautiful and amazing art is what drives Stephan to make art that both teaches and inspires. Stephan also does commissioned work and is available to do talks and classes on re-purposing/up-cycling and may be reached at or at 810-516-7381.


Airship Christmas ornaments

21 Dec

I recently finished two different sets of little steampunk airship Christmas ornaments for some friends of mine. I had started them awhile ago, then with the other work I was doing, I had put them on the back burner. They turned out even better than I expected and they were a huge hit; so much so that I have orders already for next year. Guess I better get busy. I’ll post links to my Etsy site once I get some finished for 2016. Set #1 is very Victorian looking with red, gold and green colors. In this set, there are two airships and one steampunk hot air balloon.

Photo of a set of three steamunk airship Christmas ornaments. Colors, red, gold and green.

Set #1 Victorian steampunk style in red, green and gold

Set #2 is a bit more grunge steampunk looking, with metallic colors and rigid gondolas…

Photo of a set of three steamunk airship Christmas ornaments. Colors, metallic copper, bronze and brass.

Set #2 Grunge steampunk style in copper, bronze and brass

Needless to say, the sets didn’t last long. They were for a party raffle and were so popular that they were separated into individual pieces, not sets, so that there were 6 prizes instead of two.

As always, I encourage comments and dialogue. Drop me a line to ask questions, make suggestions or order a custom airship of your very own and let me know what you think or the ornaments and if you want a set for next holiday season!

Stephan J. Smith is the artist and sculptor at Artsmith Craftworks in Swartz Creek, MI. Using recycled and re-purposed materials, Stephan builds a myriad of sculpted wonders, including fantastic and whimsical steampunk airships that have amazed and delighted fans for years. A passion for reusing and up-cycling found items into beautiful and amazing art is what drives Stephan to make art that both teaches and inspires. Stephan also does commissioned work and is available to do talks and classes on re-purposing/up-cycling and may be reached at or at 810-516-7381.


Re-purposing… a personal passion

07 Jul

For awhile now, I’ve been thinking about doing a regular post on the different elements that surround what I do. There are many topics to talk about, including re-purposing methods, raw materials, types of glue, detailing and antiquing, tools, assemblage techniques, dumpster diving, etc, etc.

Today, I’ll start with something simple, yet the very heart of my style…re-purposing.

As Americans, we throw away a lot of stuff. I think a lot of it has to do with the fact that we’ve always had plenty. More than 500 years ago, we came to a land rich in natural resources and we’ve sure exploited them. The result is that there’s a steady stream of new, better, latest, bigger, faster and more. It used to keep us all working, but not so much anymore. Now it keeps the Chinese busy and the stuff we have is cheaper…in all ways. Things are now made to break and need to be replaced, Gone are the days when you had something repaired if it broke. Now, we just chuck it and get a new one…it’s cheaper to do that…by design.

Now we have land fills that are brimming over with not just our food waste, but our discarded stuff. Much of the stuff is still quite good, with a lot of life left in it, even if it’s not the latest style. This fact has prompted a movement that I certainly have joined, in which the discarded stuff is reused in some way. Sometimes it’s as is…vintage whatever. Sometimes we dress it up, put a fresh face on it and sell it as “reinvented” or “flipped”. What I do is even more deeply made over. I turn “junk” into parts for sculptures.

I say junk because often what I save are the everyday objects that truly, nobody else wants. Food container lids, bottle caps, pieces and parts from packaging materials, scrap plastic pieces, scrap wooden pieces, paper of all sizes, weights and colors, cardboard boxes, cereal boxes, paper and plastic tubes, pen parts, discount paint…and on and on and on. Believe me when I tell you that my wife is a saint. She not only has allowed me to fill our basement with all these assorted bits, but she actually participates sometimes in the hunt. She won’t go legs-up in a dumpster like I will, but if she spots something tasty, she’s been known to grab it. I have a rule at my house that no cool piece of anything gets tossed until I approve it. Even peanut butter lids are saved from the trash heap if I spot them first. I’m a hoarder, you say? Maybe, but if so, I’m a hoarder with a vision.

Photo showing scrap plastic objects that will be re-purposed into artwork.

Lids and caps

Photo showing scrap plastic objects that has been re-purposed into artwork.

Fin hub with stabilizers

I save all this stuff because at their very basic roots, these things are raw materials that I use to sculpt with. It’s really no different than any other artist going to an art supply store for their paint or clay or canvas or glue. I just use discarded shapes and colors and textures as my art materials. The really interesting thing is, these pieces already have an inherent character. A detail that adds to their appeal once incorporated into a sculpture piece. Anything can become anything if you learn to look at a golf tee and a ballpoint pen clip and imagine them as the nosecone on a steampunk airship. A piece of Venetian blind as a propeller blade, a section of a metal veggie steamer basket as a stabilizer fin. You just need to put on your special glasses and see things, not for what they are, but what they could become.

This is the core of my passion. This is how I do art.

Join me…

Stephan J. Smith is the artist and sculptor at Artsmith Craftworks in Swartz Creek, MI. Using recycled and re-purposed materials, Stephan builds a myriad of sculpted wonders, including fantastic and whimsical steampunk airships that have amazed and delighted fans for years. A passion for reusing and up-cycling found items into beautiful and amazing art is what drives Stephan to make art that both teaches and inspires. Stephan also does commissioned work and is available to do talks and classes on re-purposing/up-cycling and may be reached at or at 810-516-7381.


Steampunk sepia hot air balloon

07 Oct

I’ve now done several hot air balloons in the steampunk style. All are fun and colorful…except this one. I thought doing one that had the appearance of being plucked out of an old daguerreotype photograph would be fun and different from what I usually do.

Steampunk sepia hot air balloon

Steampunk sepia hot air balloon

Detail of gondola

This balloon is currently on display and available from the Artisan’s Bench in downtown Brighton, Michigan.

As always, I encourage comments and dialogue. Drop me a line to ask questions, make suggestions or order a custom airship of your very own!

Stephan J. Smith is the artist and sculptor at Artsmith Craftworks in Swartz Creek, MI. Using recycled and re-purposed materials, Stephan builds a myriad of sculpted wonders, including fantastic and whimsical steampunk airships that have amazed and delighted fans for years. A passion for reusing and up-cycling found items into beautiful and amazing art is what drives Stephan to make art that both teaches and inspires. Stephan also does commissioned work and is available to do talks and classes on re-purposing/up-cycling and may be reached at or by phone at 810-516-7381.


Painting the fur on the deer head

28 Oct

Last time, I said I’d show how I painted the fur on the steampunk deer head. Remember that there is a tooled latex over the mâché which gives the illusion of fur, and with the addition of realistic painting, the deer mount itself begins to look quite convincing.

Base coats of paint

Base coats of paint

Base coat on eye

Base coat on eye

After basecoating everything, I went in and dry brushed white over the fur, then went back in with a light wash of brown to give the illusion of highlighted top fur.

Further color development

Further color development

After the brown fur is painted, the white areas are put in and the “natural” antler is doppled to look like natural horn.

White areas covered

White areas covered

Natural antler detail

Natural antler detail

Next post, I’ll show some of the steampunk accessories on the deer head as we get close to wrapping this project up…see you then!





The battery compartment

01 Sep

As mentioned, the battery needs a believable housing and I started with a mint container, then cut it in half and created a lip so that a slide-on top was possible.

Mint container as a battery compartment

Mint container as a battery compartment

Building the battery compartment

As you can see, after the battery compartment was built, I added plastic pieces for detail and interest. I then painted the whole piece with an antiqued copper paint.

The painted battery case

The painted battery case

Then I added a patina with green acrylic paint…

Battery compartment with patina added

Battery compartment with patina added

Next time, I’ll show adding the “fur” to the steampunk deer. It’s coming together now! Stay tuned!



The mechanical cyborg steampunk eye (cont.)

25 Aug

Well life sort of got in the way and it’s been awhile since I last posted…sorry! To continue with the mechanical cyborg steampunk eye, I’m going to show what I applied beneath the eye before I attach it. My goal for the steampunk deer head was to make the cyborg eye light up. I figured while I was at it, a sublit antler would be cool too, but I’ll show that in another post.

I started with a small, single diode, battery operated LED light. Since this runs on a single 9-volt battery, I need to provide a housing for that, as well as a switch. I elected to go with a red push button type switch. I also want the light to be reflected so that it’s amplified a bit. A piece of foil from the packaging of a contact lens seems to fit the bill.

LED light, switch and reflector

LED light, switch and reflector

First, I added the foil for the reflector behind the cyborg eye…

Reflector in place

Reflector in place

Then I ran wires for the light, taped them in place, then went over them with more mache strips to conceal them.

Taped wires

Taped wires

More tape added

More tape added

Next post, I’ll show the building of the battery compartment…and I promise not to be gone so long!



Steampunked ear on the deer head

14 Jun

OK, now that the Grand Opening is done at The Artisan’s Bench, I’ll get back to posting progress on the steampunk deer head mount. I said last time that I would show how I started putting together the steampunk ear. I did the “live” ear last post, which was corrugated cardboard covered in mache. The steampunked ear will obviously be mechanical looking.

I thought a piece that looked like a “receiver” would be a good place to start and I had an old brassy looking shower head that seemed to fit the bill. To hold the ear shape onto the base, I used a plastic jar lid that I had cut open and removed the top flat portion.

Jar lid cut for deer ear

Jar lid cut for deer ear

The ear base

The ear base

To form the ear, I used some white cardstock that I will paint to look like sheet copper.

Cardstock cut to ear shape

Cardstock cut to ear shape

Then, the cardstock gets attached to the plastic ring with glue and small screws and beads.

Cardstock bolted to the ear ring

Cardstock bolted to the ear ring

To make the center look more like it would pick up sound, I used a random plastic piece that looks like a stalk, and half of a cat toy.

Center "hearing" pieces

Center “hearing” pieces

All put together, we have this…

Ear all put together

Ear all put together

Finally, I painted the assembly using my favorite copper spray paint, then adding aging with a nice green patina.

Steampunk deer ear painted with patina added

Steampunk deer ear painted with patina added

Next time, I’ll construct more of the pieces that I want to add to the sculpture.

What steampunk projects do you have plans to construct?






Adding “flesh” to the steampunk deer head

05 Apr

Now that provisions for the antlers are in place, I can start to “flesh out” the deer head. I began by filling the void areas in the wooden armature with wads of newspaper, then going over that with rolled newspaper, which I fl;attened out a bit and trimmed to fit. I taped those pieces in place with masking tape and kept building on that until the desired shape was reached, reffering often to several different photos I’d printed from the net.

Adding "flesh" to the deer head

Adding “flesh” to the deer head

More layering….

A more smoothed out look

A more smoothed out look

Once I had the basic shape I wanted, I decided to spray the “copper” antler so I didn’t have to be careful with where the paint went. I knew I’d be covering the newspaper later.

Copper sprayed antler

Copper sprayed antler

The “real” antler will wait until I start adding the actual mâché to the deer head. But for next time, I’ll add detail to the face and that will include providing a base for the eyes, both “real” and cyborg…

Don’t miss it!




The gondola

24 Feb

I’ve made quite a few gondolas that were the typical boat style, but I wanted to do something different for this steampunk diarama. I thought that making something that looked like a tube or bubble would be cool, so I started rummaging through my boxes of pieces and parts to find an object that would be suitable to repurpose. What I came up with was two plastic scoops that came out of a powdered drink mix or something, (I collect anything that’s interesting!). Shown here, I’ve already painted the handles and attached a plastic piece with a spiral as a “bowsprit”.

Plastic scoops as gondola

Plastic scoops as gondola

Here’s a close up of the bowsprit and the front of the gondola.

Bowsprit closeup

Bowsprit closeup

I glued the two scoops to a plastic disc for some visual interest, then added a flat plastic piece in between the handles, (not pictured), then I created a rudder fin to go on the stern of the gondola. I used the same technique as I did for the stabilizer fins.

Rudder fin

Rudder fin

The final gondola was then given an antiquing of patina color where appropriate (brass and copper areas), and attached to the airship body. This attachment required a careful snipping of the paper airship skin so the handles of the scoops could be inserted and glued.

Finished gondola

Finished gondola

Here’s a closeup of the attachment.

Closeup of gondola

Closeup of gondola

Next post, I’ll show how I prepared the “box” part of the diarama. That is certainly an example of recycle, reuse and repurpose! Thank you for your continued interest in my work…

How would you have built the gondola?





Adding the stabilizer fins

07 Feb

In building the stabilizer fins for the steampunk diarama airship, I first had to choose a shape. On other ships, I’ve made them rounded, but I like the feeling of a scalloped fin. I’ve also made different scalloped fins before, with some being a solid fin with ribs and others having a support structure, to which was attached actual cloth sailcloth. For this small zeppelin, I decided on the former for its ease at this relatively small scale. This decided shape I then cut out of an index card stock I had lying around. To give them age and interest, I sponged them with a light brown watercolor (not pictured, sorry!)

Index stock fins cut out

Index stock fins cut out

I then had to make the ribs, and to make it simple, yet appealing, I decided to cut these out of a similar stock, but in this case, since they would be painted anyway, I decided to use cereal box cardboard and then paint them to contrast and have interest. Remember, I throw nothing away that may have a raw materials use when reused, repurposed or recycled!

Fin ribs cut from cereal box cardboard

Fin ribs cut from cereal box cardboard

I painted them by spraying a basic green enamel. I did this because a water-based paint would have been repelled by the coating on the cereal box. I then antiqued a patina on with a lighter water-based green acrylic, then applied to the fins.

Finished fins

Finished fins

After finishing the fins, I glued them at top and lower angled positions to the airship body with standard white glue and let them dry. To add another element of interest, I used dimensional paint to “dot” copper rivets on the fin ribs. I forgot to mention that I had done this to the propeller scaffolding as well. (How many of you noticed that?) So here’s the finished attachment…

Attached fins

Attached fins

Next time, I’ll show the process of building the gondola. It’ll be fun too, because it isn’t your run-of-the-mill boat shape!

Stay tuned…in fact, tell all your ‘punk friends to subscribe!


The airship propeller

31 Jan

Last time I finished putting the propeller support scaffolding on the steampunk airship that is to be part of my diarama. Now I’ll start the propeller itself.

I can’t emphasize enough that you don’t need to buy much in order to create amazing art. Just look around you…I save plastic jar lids, pen barrels, scrap paper and fiberboard, plastic closures, fixtures, hangars, fasteners…everything. I’m a hoarder only in the sense that what I save looks like junk, but it all has artistic value when you realize it can be repurposed, reused, recycled and otherwise transformed into cool things of beauty!

To start the propeller, I found a piece of medical equipment my brother gave me. It’s an inline tube filter (new of course) that’s used in a suction device for surgery, but it looks very “hub-like”. I simple glued flat toothpicks at regular intervals around the perimeter of the “hub” and let them dry.

Propeller hub

Propeller hub

Flip side

Flip side

Once dry, I spray painted the piece an antiqued copper color and then gave it a patina of green “rust”. For the propeller blades, I cut triangles of a white scrap printing paper I had, gently curled one point for pitch and glued the edge to the toothpicks. I used some plastic pieces to stilt the blades while the glue dried.

Blades added

Blades added

Here’s the finished propeller…

Finished propeller

Finished propeller

And now we slide the propeller onto the end of the airship. I used a skinny plastic straw as the shaft and I split it and frayed the end so that by holding it together, I was able to slide the propeller onto it, and once the frayed end was inside the hub, it spread out enough to lightly hold the propeller on without glue. This way, I can manually spin it!

Propeller in place and spinnable!

Propeller in place and spinnable!

Next post, I’ll build the stabilizer fins, so stay tuned… 🙂





Let’s get a handle on things!

24 Nov

Before the Thanksgiving Holiday, I showed you the clasp on the Calvin & Hobbes snowman themed ukulele case I’m building. Now, I want to show you the handle I concocted. A ukulele isn’t very heavy, and even with the weight of the recycled cardboard and paper case, the total weight isn’t more than a few pounds. The handle needed to be strong enough to manage the weight of the uke and case, plus any torque and stress from carrying it.

I decided to use a piece of square 5/16″ wooden dowel that I had on hand as it was light and strong and could be securely drilled and glued. I also wanted to put a “sleeve” on the handle so it was more comfortable to hold onto.

Cardboard sleeve and wooden dowel

I started by cutting pieces to hold the handle away from the case, then cutting a piece to be the handle itself. I then rounded the ends of the handle and since the sleeve was a black cardboard tube, I used a black permanent marker to color the ends of the wooden dowel.

Handle pieces with black marker

From here, I glued one handle end and clamped it, then drilled it to accept a bolt. I could only glue one end at a time because i have to be able to slip the cardboard sleeve onto the dowel.

Glued, clamped and drilled

Now I’m able to slip the sleeve on and it looks the way it should…

Handle with cardboard sleeve

With the sleeve on, I then glued and clamped the other end, then drilled it for bolting.

The other end glued and clamped

The handle can now be screwed to the case with some wood glue for strength and stability. The handle matches the look of the case and is pleasing and functional.

Handle attached

We’re coming into the home stretch… Next time I’ll show how I added the interior support structure that holds the ukulele in place and cushions it while in the case. Don’t go away…we’ll be right back!


Texturing the giraffe

17 Jan

Last post, I said that I was going to start painting next, but I decided to add a texture over the cloth mâché. I thought that instead of being smooth, the giraffe might gain some character if I applied a filler and tooled it to look a bit like fur. This might sound a bit odd, but I just bought some cheap latex caulk, squirted it on and tooled it using a piece of hair comb. The effect was pretty good as you can see.

Fur texturing

Around the eye, it looks like this…

Eye detail

And still more!

Mouth detail

Next, I’ll start getting a base color laid down over the texturing. Couldn’t you just imagine this hanging in the kid’s section of your local library? It would definitely get noticed!


Adding the fin struts

09 May

OK, so I took a brief hiatus from posting the progress of the steampunk airship I’m working on to post a couple other items of interest. Now I’m back on the schedule and today’s installment is putting the fin struts on the airship body. These are the structures that will support the fins and provide some profile interest to the piece. The struts are made of repurposed materials, as you knew they would be…in this case, scotch tape cores and vitamin bottle lids! I had to cut the cores to match the contour of the zeppelin body ridges, paint them, then push a drilled out and painted vitamin bottle lid into the top of them.

Repurposed pieces for fin strut

Repurposed plastic...stuff you'd usually toss!

By themselves, the pieces of reused plastic don’t look like much, but add some brass color paint and put a green patina on them and they start to look like…well, something. Then add them to the construction of the airship and they start to make a bit more sense.

Lid pressed into core

When these pieces are added to the body of the airship, you can see how they will lift the fin away from the body of the airship and give it a dynamic look.

Fin strut attached to airship body

Three of these struts attached as shown will hold each of the airship fins.

Three fin struts attached in a row

Next we start attaching the fins! Don’t touch that dial!


Accent ribbing

02 Mar

Last post, I talked about doing a patina on the new airship, including the copper accents on the ridges. I decided to add rivets, then apply a heavier green patina to them and the results are…well, fantastic!

Rivets and patina added

Below is a bit closer look to show the details.

Rivet and patina detail

In keeping with my tradition of using stuff that is just sitting around or was going to be thrown away, these accent stripes are nothing more than cloth coach tape, painted with copper paint, cut into strips and patina painted with green paint. The rivets are just puffy paint, applied in dots. MAGIC!

The next step will be to start adding some external elements. (I know…I said that last time, but an artist DOES change things on the fly if need be!).

What ideas do you have for details? Let me know!


Green aging the airship

25 Feb

The next step in the building of the new airship was to make it look a bit aged and to add some tint. I did this by airbrushing a dark green color on the “envelope” and the copper edging.

Green patina aging

Patina detail

Next, I’ll start showing the pieces that will make this look like a lean and mean airship! Stay tuned!


New airship design

23 Feb

OK, so I have to admit that I’ve been holding out on you guys a bit. I have several airships in process, but I’ve mainly been showing you one particular design that I’m making progress on. This design is much like the one that is in Off the Beaten Path in Farmington, Michigan…you know, this one…

Up, up and away!

Truth is, there’s another design that I’ve been spending most of my time on, but I haven’t shown you that one. Wait… you may have seen it from afar, but didn’t realize it was special.

The new design has a much more hardcore steampunk look than the previous model, which was more Victorian whimsical, I think. This airship is going to look mean and aged and battlescarred.

The next photo is of the “balloon” portion of the airship when I first painted it.

Gray basecoated airship "envelope"

I then added copper ribbing for effect…

Copper ribbing added

Next time, I’ll show the ship with some patina aging…stay tuned!


Gecko mosaic

07 Feb

Today, I’m shifting out of my usual paper mode and showing my love for mosaic. I’ve done mosaic in ceramic tile, glass, stone, terra cotta, and paper, and I love them all. This particular piece is a small bookshelf I built from essentially scrap birch plywood. I stained it a really cool viridian-ish green, then pieced together a mosaic on top using scrap ceramic tile and glass beads and finally grouted with a blueberry grout. Mosaics are definitely a labor of love because unless the pieces are all uniform tiles in a pattern, they are cut or broken to fit or make specific shapes. The latter is the case with this mosaic, as you can see. Maybe one day, I’ll do a steampunk paper mosaic on a papier mache form, then I’ll have most of my bases covered!

Gecko mosaic bookshelf

Left detail

Right detail



28 Jan

In order to give the appearance that these airships could really navigate the aether, we must also add fins, or vertical and horizontal stabilizers if you’re more aviation engineering minded. These fins are also created using a papier mache process. Although I’ve entertained using something different because doing mache to the fins is so tedious, it still remains a strong, yet light-weight medium with which to accomplish the task, so I stick with it.

I start by cutting out a fin-shaped piece of corrugated cardboard, then I glue ridges onto them, corresponding to the scalloped edge shape. The ridges are really the leftover curved strips that I saved which came from between the airship ribs when I cut them out. In keeping with my recycle/repurpose philosophy, I try not to waste much and I try not to have to cut something again or go out and buy something that I probably already have if I just think about it a little bit!

Once that is done, I use a wide masking tape to cover and seal the cardboard against the mache moisture, then I go over the entire surface of the fin…both sides and around all edges, with papier mache strips. It’s very important to do this step as smoothly and without wrinkles as possible.

I then paint the fins after the mache is dry and accent them in whatever colors and textures are appropriate for the airship I’m working on. The finished fin is shown below.

What colors or patterns would you use on an airship?

Finished fin