Growing up, all I wanted to be was a girl chosen by some magical beast to essentially save the world in frilly outfits with magical powers. Was that not the dream?
Alas, that never happened so I had to live vicariously through young Sakura Kinomoto, the protagonist of the anime/manga franchise Cardcaptor Sakura.
This franchise was my very first anime and manga, and it certainly holds a special place in my heart. I had been wanting to make her first sealing staff for a while, as the design was and is super cute. After my last prop of a giant plexiglass acrylic hammer, a simple wood/foam/clay prop seemed like a nice break and gave me an excuse to relive a childhood fantasy.
I wanted to share my process here for anyone interested in making their own version of this prop, or just following along as I recreated something really special to me.
Let's get building!
(photo credit to Marlon David Photography)
Step 1: Starting With the Base(ics)
The first thing that jumped out to me was the bottom stopped on Sakura's sealing staff. While I was still unsure how I wanted to tackle the head, I knew exactly how I wanted to tackle the bottom.
I LOVE banister heads.
For toppings and finishings of cosplay props, usually a quick modification to a banister head will get you exactly what you need (see m ible for Koto's Hammer for another example).
I draw my desired shape on my wooden piece and made sure it connected all the way around. Then I took my dremel with a sander tip and went to town. Make sure you are wearing safety glasses while using a dremel as saw dust will go everywhere.
I created a channel over my drawn lines to create a dip in the shape, and then smoothed out the edges. The top of the banister head is still at the original width/thickness, and was only slightly sanded when smoothing transitions. When that was all cleaned up, chopped up the top nub and sanded that down to give a clean finish.
Step 2: Never Done Sanding
Wood is rough, and a magical girl staff is well...the opposite of rough.
After my dremel sander had done it's work, I started hand sanding until the part had no nicks and was almost as smooth as a baby's bottom.
I first used a thick grit sandpaper for the big blemishes and then transitioned to a finer sandpaper to smooth out the details.
Step 3: No Paint No Gain
Now for the fun arts part!
I had a gold spray paint lying around from a previous project which i used to paint the bottom part of the staff finisher. Although not pictured, I taped the edges OPPOSITE of the way shown. So the whole top of the finisher was taped up with the tape line just stopping at the scoop.
For the top bit, it was important to get the color pink I wanted. In the show and in colorations of the manga, sometimes this part is depicted as red, and other times as hot pink. I decided to create a color blend that I was satisfied with an slapped on a few coats of that paint.
When the paint was done drying, I added a few coats of modpodge and an acrylic paint sealer for a glossy finish.
Step 4: Moving AHead
The shape of the bird head is a little weird and definitely took me some modification to get right.
Using an image for reference, I drafted a pattern onto some wax paper (I personally like parchment paper for drafting patterns, but we happened to be out so I improvised). When I was happy with the general shape i cut out my pattern and traced it onto insulation foam.
Insulation foam is great for large parts like these because it gives you a stable and lightweight base to work from, plus its cheap and easy to pick up at any hardware store! I ended up carving the head out using an xacto knife, but be warned, foam chunks will go everywhere and stick to everything.
In the insulation foam, I carved out a notch for the dowel rod so there would be a smooth transition from the head into the staff. The dowel was not secured in notch, but later would be secured by a clay encasement.
The dowel rod was 1 5/8" in diameter and cut to length to be proportional to my height.
Step 5: OClay, Adding Dimension
The staff had is certainly not 2D, and has thickness and contours. To achieve these details, I turned to paper clay. Paperclay is a fairly lightweight clay and tends to crack MUCH less than the comparable model magic.
I formed the clay around my insulation foam base, creating a bit more of a bulge on the side of the head narrowing down around the beak and the actual staff. Using water, I smoothed everything down an covered up an cracks and seams as I best could.
I also used the clay to transition down into the staff, letting the lay get thinner and thinner until it was just the staff left.
Step 6: Never Done Sanding Part 2
Another great thing about working with clay is that you can sand it using a fine grit sandpaper!
This part is real messy, so be sure to spread out a few newspapers on the ground while working.
Smooth out your clay creation little by little, always making sure to blow away dust to see what your sanding is actually doing. It may not be possible to sand down all cracks and seams, but you should be able to get a vast majority of them cleaned up, and vastly minimize the ones that won't go away.
Step 7: Clay Day! Clay Day!
Using the same steps as before, I created the "helmet" for the bird head out of extra clay, freeforming the shape and playing as I went.
When that was all dry an sanded, it was once again time to paint.
I taped up the nose and bottom of the staff and spray painted the helmet gold with the same gold spray paint used on the staff finisher.
Once dried, I switched the tape over to protect the opposite edge and used a paintbrush to paint the staff an the nose of the bird. The nose had the same pink/red color blend that the bottom finisher had, while the staff kept more of it's pink hue. There is also a slot within the helmet that I painted pink with a smaller paintbrush.
And just like before, I sealed off everything with modpodge and an acrylic varnish to give a glossy finish.
Step 8: We're Not Finished With the Finish
I've mentioned the acrylic varnish a few times, and it's one of my favorite things to use on wood props.
Varnish isn't the write term, but it gives a smooth to the touch feel and a not overly glossy appearance. The trouble I have with modpodge is that it can generate air bubbles easily and REALLY make things shiny. This is a subtle way to give a bit of gloss and give a project a finished look.
In the picture above, you see the slight color shift and appearance difference between something that is finish (top) vs unfinished (bottom)
Step 9: The Staff Is Taking Flight...
Your bird head is missing something crucial that all birds need, wings!
Using the same drafting method as the head, I drafted my wing pattern. I wanted to give the wings and tiered and multilayer look without making it too thick, so I broke the pattern into two components that would overlay on top of each other (circle over circle)
I then used thin sheets of craft foam to cut out my pattern and cleaned up any edges with my xacto knife.
Pictured here is use of blue foam which I would NOT recommend. I was lazy and used what I had, but it took SO many coats of paint to get the blue not to show through. Take the extra 15 minutes and $2 to go to your local craft store and pick up white foam.
Step 10: A Pain(t) in the Butt
This time with white paint in hand, I went to painting the wings.
As mentioned in the last step, I made a HUGE mistake in using blue craft foam with this, so I can't even begin to tell you how long it took me to paint these wings.
Even if you don't mess up like me, use a few layers of paint so it doesn't get the streaky look shown in the second photo above. I like to pour a glob on paint in the center of my working area and spread it around generously.
When all the paint is done drying, put on a few coats of modpodge for maximum gloss!
I'm not gonna lie guys. I was so sick and tired of getting a thick enough coat of acrylic paint to make the blue not show through that I switched to house paint that I had on hand. Do Not Use Blue Craftfoam.
Heck if you use white craft foam, you don't even have to paint it, (still modpodge it though)! Just jump to this next step and call it a day--
Step 11: Tacky Time
Tacky glue is one of the best glues to use when working with foams.
That being said, glue your two wing pieces together, and once that assembly is dried, glue it onto the staff head.
You may experience that the tacky glue is slipping around a little bit. Some ways to work around that is you can clamp it (it may shift under the clamps pressure though), or let it air dry for ~10 minutes on the back of the wing before attaching it to the head. This stars the drying process and makes the tacky glue more, well, tacky.
Step 12: Eye See What You Did Here
I wanted the eyes to be more like gems than giant clay blobs, so I actually tried my hand at resin casting!
I found a circular resin casting mold online that fit approximately the dimensions I wanted (it's important to scale things to your prop so everything looks proportional). I then invested in fast curing resin.
I first tried with an opaque white resin that cured within minutes, and then later with a clear resin that took about 2 days to fully cure. Ultimately, the white reason had a better texture but I think the clear one was more of the look I was aiming for.
I ended up putting the white resin eyes on the staff and painted them red and primed them with modpodge.
In a later iteration of the staff, I switched to the clear resin eyes.
For the clear resin, I painted the bottom of the semi circle and that let the color shine through the bottom and around the whole eye. I've also heard nail polish works GREAT for this effect.
Glue the eyes on to the center of your wings on either side.
Step 13: Release!
If you haven't already done so, screw the finisher into the dowel rod staff, and just like that, you're done!
I am thrilled with how my staff turned out and it ended up being super sturdy around the con too. I liked having a staff that was a little larger than what you can buy online from cosplay shops because really, the size of that staff would be great if I was actually an elementary school aged magical girl, but I'm not.
And yanno, sometimes a girl's gotta live her dreams and actually become a card captor.
Thanks for reading and I hope that you can one day become a magical girl yourself! If you ever see me and this staff at a convention, some say hi, and if you make one yourself send me a picture! There are some other great resources for this project and I would love to help whoever is interested.
(photo credit to Josh Grab and Pinsonneault Photography)