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Picture of Mad Scientist Jars
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Every mad scientist requires cases to display his or her revolting experiments.  I needed something for my beating heart, living brain, eyeballs, and other assorted oddities to reside in.  It had to be something that screamed "unnatural" and "uncanny".  Naturally, I turned to mass produced junk food.

Step by step, I turned plastic junk food containers, hot glue, and paint into metal and glass containers that have witnessed (and contain) demented abominations!  OK, not much of a stretch there, but the metal and glass illusion worked out pretty well, I think,



 
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Step 1: Gather Your Materials

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Really, step 1 is the vision.  It helps to know what you plan to put in the things, and how you intend to display them.  I intended one to hold a beating heart, one to hold a brain floating in liquid, one to hold eyeballs (also floating) and one for some as-yet-unnamed atrocity (also floating in liquid).  I wanted them to be lit through the bottom, with various side and ambient lights outside.

I used:
2 plastic containers
Masking tape
Newspaper
Sandpaper
Black Krylon Fusion spray paint for plastic
Cheap black spray paint
Silver spray paint
Copper spray paint
Turquoise, brown, red, copper, silver, and black acrylic paints.
Various brushes, paper towels, etc.
Hot glue gun and hot glue
Random bolts and nuts
Sand (for casting)
Clay (for casting)

I found that I knew some people who bought big containers of cookies and pretzels and such at Sam's Club or CostCo or other warehouse stores.  I let them know what I was looking for, and after a Super Bowl party or two, Presto!  I had some large plastic containers to mod.

For the paint, I recommend Fusion for plastic for at least the first coat.  As advertised, it bonds to the plastic better than regular paint.  Afterwards, I use the cheaper stuff on top.

The rest of the stuff can be purchased at any hobby or craft store, or the ubiquitous Wal-Mart.  The sand I used was dug up out of my back yard, but it was not ideal.  For sandcasting, the fine, clean floral sand found at the aforementioned stores (and dollar stores too) is much nicer.  The clay was plasticine clay I got from my son.

Step 2: Prep the Jars

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My next step was prepping the jars.  Your next step might be casting the bolts.  That would work too.

Anyway, I removed the labels using a hot hair dryer and Goo Gone.  Then I washed and dried the jars and masked off everything that I wanted to use as "glass".  

One jar had interestingly flattened corners, like an octagon with alternating long and short sides.  I thought those were the natural places to make "metal".  I also wanted a band of metal going around the top and bottom.  The bottom of this particular Jar had a series of blisters going around the bottom.  I thought those would make a great looking top, and so that jar became the heart jar and would be used upside down.

The other jar had a screw on lid, and it had seams running down two sides.  I decided I would paint over those seams to make them look like metal bands too.  My plan was to use that jar with liquids.

So after masking the glass areas, I took some very fine sandpaper and buffed the areas I intended to paint.  I think this helps the paint stick better and last longer.  If you use paint made for plastic, this is not 100% necessary, but it doesn't cost much, and it protects the investment made in the more expensive plastic spray paint.

Step 3: Paint the Jars

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At this point I put the jars on stands and painted them with a coat of black spray paint made for plastic.  

Once that dried, I did a second coat of cheap flat black paint.

When that coat dried, I used a metallic copper paint to give it the vaguely "steampunk" look I was thinking of.  Also, I wanted the metal colors on the jars to contrast with the color of the "bolts".

I didn't go to heavy here.  I used enough to cover it but avoided getting it all shiny like a new penny.

Step 4: Casting The Bolts

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This is a good time to get to the nuts and bolts of the project, as it were.

Personally, I scrounged around in my garage looking for a couple of nuts that I could pair with screws or bolts for an interesting effect.  I found two screws with heads that I thought would look cool.  They were way too small for the nuts, but the heads of the screws did not slip through the center hole, so I hot glued them together and called it good.

I planned to use two methods for making the bolts.  One was sandcasting, and the other was using clay as a mold.

My coarse sand was good enough for bigger projects but not good enough for the details of these bolts.  Floral sand would be much better.  Anyway, here's the basic idea of sandcasting:

     Put sand in a container.
     Get it wet.
     Press the object into the wet sand.
     Pack the sand around the object down.
     Remove the object.
     Fill the depression with hot lead or hot glue or whatever medium.
     Let it cool or harden, then remove the cast and knock the sand off.  No release agent necessary.
   
I actually ended up using the bolts molded from plasticine clay.  As expected, the hot glue softened the clay up quite a bit and it stuck to the finished cast.  Still, it worked.  I did use oil as a "release agent" to try to prevent the sticking.  It did not help at all.

Next time I will use Home Made Sugru Substitute for the mold.  It worked well for other projects.

Step 5: Painting the Bolts

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After the bolts are removed from the mold and cleaned, they need painting.  Remember this is supposed to be a mad scientists' demented experiment, so pretty is NOT the goal.  The crudely casted bolts need to look fairly realistic, but not "just went to Ace Hardware" clean.

I first spray painted them flat black using the cheaper paint.  It sticks just fine to hot glue.

When that was dry, I sprayed some metallic silver paint into a plastic bag and dipped a paper towel into that paint.  I brushed the silver onto the top and sides of the bolts.  The idea is to make some contrast between the high and low points to bring out some detail.


Step 6: Adding the Bolts to the Painted Jars

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By now, my jars were dry and ready to get their bolts.

I simply decided where the bolts would look good, and hot glued them to the jars.

I was a little worried about whether gluing over paint would work, but it did.  Otherwise, I would be advising to glue the bolts on prior to painting the jars.  I'm glad it worked, because I am new to painting, and ti would have been harder for me to get the bolts a different color from the jars that way.

I think they look pretty good.

I should mention that while I was "dry brushing" the silver on the bolts, I decided to do the same with the blisters all around the jar.  I thought it would make a nice contrast.

Step 7: Begin the "Weathering"

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Since I wanted to give the impression of a brass/copper metal, I started the weathering with a turquoise acrylic paint.  It looks just like the color I have seen on tarnished copper.  

I thinned the paint a bit with water to help get it all around whatever "joints" or transitions existed in the jar.

Once I knew I had paint where I wanted it, I thinned it enough to really run and brushed it on pretty liberally so it got on the bolts and in the crevices.  I used paper towels to dab the excess off and tone it down.

Step 8: Finishing Details

To finish up, I used a combination of red, brown, and metallic acrylics to add whatever oxidation and grime I thought appropriate - or cool - or creepy.

Then I pulled off the masking and added some goop in the appropriate places.  

The jar  with the screw on lid got knocked over while the spray paint was drying and cracked the corners and one of the faces.  Remember I wanted to use that one with liquid?  So I hot glued the cracks and even build up hot glue in the broken corners.  Since that would never look like glass, I did not try to hide the glue.  I went for a vein / growth look, and painted the glue green with acrylics.

For the heart jar, I put some red acrylic paint on my brush and splattered it around on the inside of the jar.

I finished the whole thing with a thin wash of water and black acrylic paint.  I just poured it on and let it run everywhere.  It was very thin.  I dabbed it off with a paper towel and ended up with what I think are pretty grimy looking jars without losing the details or obscuring the contents.

Step 9: Display The Finished Product

At this point, you can put your atrocities on display!

As I mentioned, I intend to light these jars from below as part of my mad scientist scene on Halloween.  I have not built the actual display yet, but perhaps when I do I will add even more pics.  In the finished display, there will be several sources of ambient lighting, but nothing very bright.

Still, I like my props to withstand observation even under daylight conditions.  Technically, it is only necessary to hit the "High" notes with the painting.  Contrasting copper and silver with red and green goop would look just fine under Halloween lighting.

I left the screw on lid more or less untouched here.  I'm not sure if I need to incorporate tubes to blow air into it for bubbling liquid or to add random tubes and wires, or just leave it as is and put it on a back shelf.

The pics show the jars in various lighting conditions.  I'm sure your imagination can supply you with test tubes, a Jacob's Ladder, and other necessary equipment!

As an aside, I don't know what's up with my camera.  5 year old boys have better focus.  
justjimAZ (author) 4 years ago
Thanks eross-1. I approve of the Dalek comparison.
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eross-14 years ago
I don't know why but this reminds me of a Dalek! looks totally freaky w. the red lighting too, Awesome!