Saturday, July 4, 2015

Draco, Draco!

Bis Terribilis-
Bis Appellare

Draco, Draco!
        -Tanith Lee

So, for a long time now I've been trying to come up with a better solution to the 'How do we hide the ugly trailer hitch' problem. In years previous, I've used a sort of plastic mesh that has fake ivy leaves to cover it. I've used the same stuff on the leveling jacks. 

You can see it in this picture. Frankly, I don't think we were fooling anyone. That is, I doubt anyone thought that an ivy bush had suddenly decided to grow in the middle of a field:

Not terrible, but not great, either. I've never really been happy with that solution, and I decided to re-work all the camouflaging for the vardo, starting with the hitch cover. 

Originally, I'd thought about using chicken wire and void filler to make a hollow 'rock' to fit over it, but that would be really hard to stow for travel. We already have enough bulky and awkward items to pack for Pennsic, I wanted something that would be easy to manage, and not too heavy.

So round the time we dropped the vardo off with Lars, Norm and I went out to dinner at a local place with my son Ian. Ian's 18 and just graduated high school, and likes to draw and play music. He's been very enthusiastic over the whole project, even though he doesn't get to live in the vardo. (He has a very nice Viking A-frame instead.)

So, over a carafe of sangria (and a glass of soda), we all started talking about the hitch cover problem. Should we do it out of plywood? What should the design be? 

Ian: How about a viking dragon? Like on a ship's prow? 
(I should note that his dad being of direct Norwegian ancestry, Ian is a perfect example of your typical giant-adolescent-Viking)
Me: A dragon would be cool, but I want the vardo to have a celestial theme. I don't think that would 'go'. 
Ian: Well, what if it was a STAR dragon?
Me: You mean, like a constellation? 
Ian: Yeah! You could have it be a dragon and a constellation at the same time. 
Norm: Isn't there actually a dragon constellation? 
Me: Yeah, I think there IS!
We all started shooting suggestions back and forth, and I sketched them all out on my place mat:

So,to begin with, I needed to figure out the general shape of the area that needed to be covered. I didn't want to do a whole lot of work on something only to find out it was too small. So I used a piece of cardboard to estimate the minimum coverage:

Next, I used that as a template to base the dragon design on. As long as I 'enclosed' all of the 'test' piece in the design, the entire hitch would be covered. Here's the finalized drawing on cardboard, which I then cut out with a box cutter. 

A quick test to see if it would fit, look OK, etc. Unfortunately, I neglected to test whether the door would open, so later on in the process Draco had to lose about 1 inch of his 'crest'. 

 The cardboard template was traced onto a sheet of plywood, once facing right, and once facing left. Then, Norm cut out the shapes with his jigsaw. 

As I mentioned earlier, a second test revealed that Draco's 'crest' extended too far back and interfered with the door opening. So, we gave him a bit of a haircut. Next, Norm screwed a 1x2 framework onto the back of each one to reinforce it. I filled in all the screw holes with wood filler, and then sanded it all smooth. Finally, each piece got 2 coats of flat black enamel on all sides. 

Here they are with the original cardboard template. I cut out the mouth and eyes and the 'crest' area, to use it as a template for the artwork. I traced the template on each with a white pencil. 

 Now the really fun part: Art! I started by cutting a stencil for the scales, and using a sea sponge to sponge on the blue paint. Next, I mixed blue & white and sponged on medium tones. Finally, I used pure white for the brightest tones. I was going for as much depth as I could get. - I wanted each dragon to look like he was made of stars and comets and galaxies. 

 Lastly, I used the same copper accent paint to sketch a 'constellation' on each dragon, including stars of different sizes, and the lines connecting each. I was trying to go for the sort of artwork you might see on a medieval ceiling that shows the zodiac. I used a LOT of painter's tape, and a small sponge 'pouncer'. The eye was a stencil that I hand-cut using a heat tool. I loosely based the 'constellation' design on the actual constellation of Draco, but I had to take some major artistic liberties. The actual constellation has a lot of deep switchback curves, which would not fit on the wood shapes I had to work with. But I think I honored the spirit of the idea pretty well. 

So here they are placed on the vardo to see how they will look when they're doing 'guard duty'. I'm very pleased with them. I'm guessing there's at least 15 hours of work in each of these. Whew!

Of course, they still need about a million coats of clear to protect the art, and I have to  put a couple of hinges on the front (breast) area. But that's not very interesting for a blog. :)
So that's it for now: I'm hoping to have more in a week or so. The next project is a 'skirt' made of theatrical blackout cloth that will cover the wheels and leveling jacks. I'm planning on painting 'grass' on the bottom edge, so that it will look as real as possible. So...

Next: Is the grass REALLY ALWAYS greener? Or is it just a vicious rumor? 

1 comment:

  1. Love your project!

    I'm still planning mine... One idea I had (since I merchant sometimes) is a wide board, attached on the side of the wall, for a table that would fold down to rest on top of the wheel-covers, with fold-out legs on the side that wasn't attached. I think this (with a tablecloth) would then hide the entire modern wheel assembly (plus offer hidden storage for things like Rubbermaid bins and other packing containers).

    You're doing exactly as I plan to do, with a canopy attached to shade one whole side. With the stability of the vardo supporting one side, I think the poles could be set in "portable holes" for sites where you don't want a lot of guy-ropes across the access...

    Most places where I set up, there's a defined "front"/public view area and a "backstage" side which isn't seen by the public and where "mundane" stuff can be stashed, so I probably wouldn't need it, but for symmetry, would probably have a matching fold-down table on the "backstage" side. My hope is that I can park my vardo across the back of my merchant space, with the "good" side parallel to the road, have a canopy that covers the entire "public" space, and the table with my wares under it.

    I like the idea you had, of putting your entry over the trailer tongue! Almost all the vardos I've seen have the doors at the back. The Dragon "prow" is charming!

    If you ever travel out to An Tir (specifically, the Barony of Adiantum, in and around Eugene Oregon), we'd love to see you at Egil's (the Egil Skallagrimmson Memorial Tournament, over Memorial Day Weekend... this year was Egil's 42!). Just ask for "Mistress Alys" at Gold Key...