Introduction: Superhero Garden Gnome Mod

Evil lurks in the shadows of our backyards.  Rogue snails.  Radioactive skunks.  My yard has a maniacal possum that will stop at nothing until he controls the entire area behind the compost pile.  That's why every backyard needs a hero.  One that can clean up the garden and make it safe for all law abiding neighborhood critters.  This Instructable will show you how to turn an unassuming mild-mannered garden gnome into a tiny butt-kicking purveyor of justice.

Step 1: Choose Your Hero

The first thing you'll need to do is determine your gnome's alter ego.  Spend time with the gnome.  Sleep with it if you have to.  Look into its eyes...its soul.  Look around your yard too.  What type of issues are the yard inhabitants facing?  Are there other-worldly invaders? Common street thugs?  Neighbor's dog?  This will help you determine if you need a dark vigilante type or a hulking all-powerful brute.

Additionally, you'll want to consider the physical feature of your gnome.  Is it standing? Sitting? Does it have distinct features that lend itself to a specific superhero?  In the case of the three gnomes I have here, there were definite characteristics that led me to choose the heroes I did.  From here forward, I'll describe the steps to create a Batman, Robin, and Spiderman gnome set.  These techniques can be used to make any garden hero.

Batman and Robin: One gnome is in a proud, alert stance.  The other is sitting with his head resting on his hands.  This gnome pair struck me as a great duo.  To me, the obvious choice was the classic Dynamic Duo of Batman and Robin.  But I thought I'd change it up a bit and make the standing gnome be the Boy Wonder and the sitting gnome be the Dark Knight.  I thought this was more unexpected.

Spiderman: I also had a crawling gnome.  As I was holding it and positioning it in different orientations, I noticed that if I held it vertically it looked like it was crawling up a wall, and the knee area had a hole in it to use as a place from which to hang it.  So to me Spiderman seemed like a no-brainer.  I could position the gnome so that it looked like Spiderman clinging to a wall.

Step 2: Supplies

Before starting you'll want to gather your supplies.  Make sure you have everything ready.
  • Ceramic garden gnomes
  • Sculpey (Super Sculpey is my preference but Sculpey III is good too)
  • Bondo body filler
  • Craft paint (any type that is rated for ceramics...some aren't. Read the label)
  • Paint brushes (artist's and/or craft brushes)
  • Spray paint (Clear, outdoor enamel)
  • Imagination
  • Razor knife (or Xact-o knife)
  • Oven (to bake the Sculpey, silly)
  • Aluminum foil
  • Baking sheet
  • Rolling pin (or piece of PVC pipe)
  • A smooth, hard surface (such as a sheet of glass or countertop)
  • Sand paper (120 grit and 200 grit)
  • Wooden spatulas or tongue depressors
  • Construction adhesive
  • Accessories: such as little buttons, buckles, twine, etc.
You'll also want to have a blank canvas.  So if you are not using a brand new gnome you should take the time to prime it.  That way all of the colors will be vibrant and uniform.

Step 3: Sculpting

First thing to do is sculpt the masks.  For Robin's mask and Spiderman's eyes make a paper template.  Next roll the Sculpey out into a thin sheet on a very smooth surface using a pvc pipe or rolling pin.  A piece of glass makes a great surface.  Use the template to cut out the masks using a razor knife.  For Batman's mask just make a large rectangle; no template needed.  Place the masks on the gnome faces and pressed them tightly into place.  For Batman, drape the rectangular sheet of Sculpey over the gnomes face and cut away the excess.  Pinch the nose between your thumb and index finger to create the pointed nose.  Use your pinky to make the indentations for the eyes.

Make a little ball of Sculpey and squish it into a circle.  Use it to decorate Robin's belt buckle.

For Batman's ears roll two Sculpey balls and shape them into pointy cones.  Use your thumb to smoosh them into place on the side of the gnome's head. They'll probably stick there in place and hold on their own.

You should have excess Sculpey rolled out.  You can use a razor knife to cut out a Bat-a-rang.  Make a paper template if needed.

Step 4: Baking

Once the gnomes are decorated it is time to bake them.  Sculpey is an oven-bake polymer clay.  So it is soft and plyable until it's baked.  First, heat the oven to 275 degrees F.  While waiting for the oven to pre-heat put some foil on a cookie baking sheet.  Then carefully put the gnomes on the cookie sheet being very careful not to let the Sculpey touch the sheet or the rack.  Put the entire gnome in the oven and bake for 15 minutes.  Put the bat-a-rang on the sheet too.  Since the gnome is ceramic it's safe to put it in the oven.  The kiln that it was fired in was a lot hotter than your kitchen oven.  When the 15 minutes is up take them out and let them cool completely to room temperature.  Note: if your Sculpey pieces are thicker than about 6mm then you can bake it a few minutes longer than 15 min.

Remember, there is nothing holding the Sculpey onto the gnome (no glue or anything).  But the Sculpey will probably stick to the ceramic really tightly anyway.  I doubt that the Sculpey will stick to the gnome long term so you should carefully pry the Sculpey piece off and glueit back on with construction adhesive.  This will hold pretty well outside.  

Step 5: More Sculpting

There were a couple of areas on the Batman gnome where you'll really want the Sculpey to blend in seamlessly with the ceramic.  So you can mix up some Bondo to fill in the gaps.

Bondo is a two-part body filler material used in the auto body industry.  It's like spackle but is really hard and durable when dry.  Read the directions on the can.  Mix it up in a plastic cup per the Bondo instructions.  Then use a popsicle stick to apply it to the Batman ears and Batman mask where the Sculpey meets the ceramic.  Let this dry a few hours.  Drying Bondo smells great; it reminds me of being a kid when my older brother would work on cars.  But you should probably head the warning on the can and ventilate.

Step 6: Sanding

Once the Bondo was dry sand it with100 or 120 grit sandpaper.  Feather it in really well so that the seam is invisible.  Then clean all of the dust off of the gnome with a damp rag.

Step 7: Painting

At this point it was ready to paint.  But first you have to choose the colors.  There is a process for color selection.  You want to select "gnomey" colors.  Colors that you could imagine a gnome wearing.  You want Earthy colors and not bright colors.  So you do not want to pick literal interpretations of the comic hero.  So, for instance, don't use black...use burnt umber brown.  Don't use red...use maroon.  Not white...parchment.  Etc.

For Batman, gather some black, gold, grey, and blue.  For Robin, you'll need green, gold, red, and black.  For Spiderman, white, black, red, and blue.  For all of the gnomes, you'll need some colors for the beards, and some browns and greens for the shoulder bags and foliage.

There is no need to prime.  Just start painting.  Another thing to consider is the costume.  It's better to roughly follow the gnomes existing clothes than to crowbar in an exact interpretation of the comic book costume.

Download the characters' emblems from a Google image search.  Use these as a guide to sketch out the emblem onto the gnome's cap using a soft pencil.  The cap is the most prominent piece of clothing on a gnome.  So it is best to put the emblem on the cap rather than, say, the chest.  Once it was sketched out, paint the emblem in with a fine artist's brush and acrylic paints.

Step 8: Sealing

Once all of the paint dries you need to seal the gnome.  This will protect it from the weather and make all of the colors pop.  An enamel clear spray paint works nicely.  Spray on 3 even coats of a satin clear coat and let it dry overnight.

Step 9: Accessorizing

Remember that bat-a-rang you made earlier in step 3?  Use your acrylics to paint it "black" and spray it with clear spray paint.  Then wrap the hemp twine around it in an X pattern and use construction adhesive to glue it in place on Batman's shoulder bag.

For Robin, take 24 inches of hemp twine and neatly coil it up.  Then use construction adhesive to glue it onto Robin's shoulder bag.

Take some of the buttons and buckles that you gathered and glue them to the gnome's shoulder bags and jacket cuffs. 

Step 10: Displaying

You can display the gnomes anywhere in your yard, but it is best to place them in an area where they can get a good view of the entire yard and any particular trouble areas.  If you've modified your gnomes correctly, your garden should be in order within a few weeks.  Any new threats can be handled with additional super gnomes or by forming a super gnome league or  justice guild.

Take your gnomes inside during winter.  The crime rate drops dramatically during the colder months anyway.

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