Tiny outdoor area? No outdoor electricity? No Problem. You can make yourself a small solar powered water feature sculpture using oven bake clay.
I love water features! Ten years ago I created a whiskey barrel water feature for my small apartment balcony. It was AWESOME! I love the soothing sound. I loved the tiny plants swirling around in the water. And I loved the unusual plants that I could grow in the boggy environment, like the carnivorous venus fly trap and cobra lily. I also had a few friendly goldfish happily swimming about. I love, love, loved it!
When I moved halfway across the country I had to give it away, and after I finally settled into my house, I found I didn't have any outside electricity to recreate it. Bummer.
I was thinking about it the other day and I realized I could run the water pump off solar. Why hadn't I thought of it sooner?!?
So I researched solar pumps and found out they only run when the sun is shinning. Hum...I like the sound of the water running in the evening. The solution was a system with a battery. Unfortunately, all the pre-made solar pump systems I researched would only run for a few hours after dark. I wanted mine to run all night and greet me in the dark mornings when I leave for work before daylight. So with trepidation, I researched the components for a system and ordered them off Amazon. I think my system should be powerful enough to run some lights too.
Step 1: Materials
If you have outdoor electricity (lucky you), you can just buy a pump for less than $10, and skip this section.
- 12 Volt Solar Panel, 10 Watt (Amazon $27.90)
- 12 Volt Solar Controller, 20 Amp (Amazon $10.99)
- 12 Volt Battery, 7 Amp 20 Hour Rechargeable Sealed Lead Acid Battery (Amazon $16.99)
- 12 Volt DC Pump (Amazon $9.99)
- Cables Kit, with male connector for pump and cable for controller to battery (Harbor Freight $9.99)
- Plastic Tubing, approx. 2 ft The pump has an 8mm outlet, I just took the pump in the store to see what fit (Ace Hardware $1.00)
- PVC Pipe , 4-5 ft, 1/2 inch diameter
- 2-PVC 90 degree elbows
- 2-PVC Tee
- 1-PVC Cross
- Black Flat/Matte Spray Paint (black matte will absorb light best to make it less visible)
- Weight (I originally intended to use a stepping stone, but I ended up using a bag of black rocks from the Dollar Tree)
- Sculpey Oven Bake Clay - I bought the 3.75 lb box but I only used half of it. Most craft chain stores carry this. Don't forget to use your 40% off coupon (Hobby Lobby $26.99)
- Acrylic Paint - I used 3 colors: Real Green, Black, and Pure Gold.
- Tub - I used a 20 gallon whiskey barrel liner (Lowe's $19.98)
Tools and Miscellaneous
- Aluminum Foil (to cover baking sheet, and to support clay during baking)
- Baking Sheet
- Paint Brush
- Paint Sponge
- Sculpting Tools (improvise with a plastic spoon or whatever you got)
- Disposable paint mixing container
- Something to cut the PVC pipe (I used my garden loppers)
- Wire for mounting small plant pots to tub (I used 16 Gauge)
- Wire Cutter for cutting wire
- Scissors for striping plastic off wire
- Screw Driver for attaching cables to controller
- Glue for mounting the feet and head to armature. I had trouble gluing, but third time was a charm. The winner was a quick setting epoxy, the kind in the double push syringe.
- Polymer Clay Roller if you've got it (it makes conditioning the clay super easy)
Step 2: Prep Work
Condition the clay to make it pliable
I happen to have a dedicated polymer clay rolling machine (fyi - it is recommended to not use polymer clay with things you use for food). I cranked it through the machine about 3 times per clump, kneading it into a ball between each pass. If you don't have a machine, just use your muscles and work the clay until it is smooth. You can see the progression of the clay in the photo.
Once the clay was smooth and workable, I formed an oblong pinch pot and nestled two balls of rolled up aluminum foil in the openings. The clay should not be thicker than a half an inch anywhere, so this technique reduces bulk and supports the head while baking. The large ball is the upper head and the small ball is for the jaw.
HINT: Don't wrap the clay around the foil! The foil will be removed later and you don't want it difficult to get out. I would periodically remove and replace it to make sure.
Step 3: Sculpting the Bog Creature Head
This is the general process I used, but I kept adding and removing things a zillion times, so I don't have a lot of progression photos that make sense. I recommend watching a few time-lapse videos on YouTube of people sculpting faces.
- Flip the oblong pinch pot over
- Mark the eye location
- Shape a quick nose and place
- Roll two logs and bend them into the upper and lower lips of the mouth
- Roll two more arched logs for the brow ridge
- Blend the features into the clay to attach
- Smooth, Smooth, Smooth and Shape, Shape, Shape
- At this point I kept referencing photos to help with the problem areas (eyelids are super hard!)
- Cut out mouth hole and place plastic tubing in hole
- Make general Yoda like ear shapes
- Attach ears (I supported them with more crumpled up aluminum foil)
- Smooth, Smooth, Smooth and Shape, Shape, Shape
- Call it quits. At some point you just have to say enough is enough.
- Gently replace tubing with a roll of aluminum foil
- Use more foil to support and corral the head
Step 4: Sculpting the Feet
This is the general process I used for the feet.
- Create two longish rounded triangles for the feet (indent the arches)
- Roll out 4 toes for each foot, making each progressively smaller. I found it helpful to cut larger balls of clay in half, that way each corresponding toe would be approximately the same size.
- Roll each ball between your palms gently to elongate it slightly, then attach to foot
- Flip each foot over (this will be the top of the foot) and smooth the clay across the attachment crease. Leave the crease on the bottom of the foot, as it makes the toes look cute and stubby.
- Smooth, Smooth, Smooth and Shape, Shape, Shape (Don't worry to much about the appearance of the top of the foot other than the toes. It will be glued and angled back so it won't be seen)
- Press in a toenail shape
- Press in/cut a shallow line accross the top of each toe for each toenail
- Make linear striations for joint wrinkles
- Work in balls and logs of clay for the heel and pad of the foot
- Smooth, Smooth, Smooth and Shape, Shape, Shape
- Pick a stopping point
Step 5: Baking the Clay
Bake according to package directions (275 degrees, 15 mins for each 1/4 inch)
I baked the head and the feet in separate batches. I left them in the oven for an hour each, as I know there were some thick-ish parts that exceeded the recommended 1/2 inch thickness.
Step 6: Painting the Bog Creature
- Mix paint in a disposable container. (Make sure to mix enough to cover every surface at least once and to have extra for the shadow coat. It can be difficult to recreate the same color and acrylic paint is cheap, so make a little more than you think). I mixed about 50% green, 30% black, and 20% gold.
- Apply over entire surface (I did the bottoms and inside the head, let them dry, flipped them over and painted the tops, let them dry, and then touched up any spots I missed.)
- I used the left over paint in my container and added an extra squeeze of black to make a darker shade of the same color.
- Apply darker shade or shadow in all the recesses, cracks, depressions, and crevasses, making sure to blend thoroughly. I applied it along the lashes, in the ears, between the toes, the arch of the foot, under the jaw, down the mouth, and under his cheeks. I used a sponge on a stick to help blend.
- Add a bit of gold paint to a separate disposable container and thin it with a little water.
- Apply as highlights to the protruding areas. I applied it to the eyelids, the bridge of the nose, the chin, the lips, the forehead, the cheeks, and ran it along the outer ear. I also added it to the cushy round parts of the feet and the toenails.
HINT: Don't forget to cover your paint and rinse out your paintbrush between applications.
Step 7: Assembling the Armature
To make the armature that the head and feet will be glued to, I started by cutting 4- 6 inch segments of pipe and attaching them to the cross. I then added the elbow joints across from each other. I then inserted the pipe into the top elbow joint, and hovering the head near it, eyeballed about where I wanted the head to rest while thinking about the water level. I marked the spot and cut it, and then attached a tee joint. I attached the pipe into the opposite elbow joint and repeated the eyeballing step for the feet.
I then spray painted the weight and all the PVC pipe segments and joints.
I found the head balanced quite well on the top of the tee oriented vertically, so I didn't have to glue it. As I mentioned earlier, I had trouble gluing the feet. In the end, I removed the tee joint and its PVC pipe. I placed the feet upside down, applied the glue, and then rested the tee joint and pipe on top at a 45 degree-ish angle, propping the pipe with a garden pot.
I also restrung the plastic tubing up through the mouth and added a little E6000 to hold it in place.
When all the glue has had time to cure and dry, add the weight and fill'er up with water.
* In the end, I ended up shortening the horizontal segment of pipe going to the feet by an inch or two. It made the bog creature fit better, and I found it more aesthetically pleasing, as it made the creature appear shorter and cuter.
Step 8: Connecting the Pump System
I was super nervous about this part.
I prepared my cables for connecting to the controller by gently removing the plastic covering with a pair of scissors. I had to remove some of the connectors on the Harbor Freight cables first, as they weren't compatible with my system. I just snipped them off.
My controller instructions specified connecting the battery first, then the solar panel, and finally the load (pump). The controller had labels indicating where the positive and negative wire for each of the element should go. I screwed down the metal contact plates that hold the wires in place as I slowly connected each wire.
I joined the pump connector and it was ALIVE!!!
Step 9: Water Gardening
IMPORTANT MESSAGE ABOUT AQUATIC PLANTS
A few of the plants I have listed here are on the noxious weed lists for various states, as they have done enormous ecological damage in various places in the world. Check your state or counties noxious weeds list and be responsible. I live in Colorado and two of these are on the watch list. It is believe to be too cold here for them to survive, but they are keeping an eye out just in case. As I live a great distance from any bodies of water, there is no chance for them to escape.
I added floating water hyacinth, duck weed, and water lettuce. I love they just float around.
I attached two corkscrew rush to the side of the tub, placing the top of the pot at about water level. I poked a u-shaped copper wire up and through the holes in the bottom of the pot and then wrapped it around the edge of the tub. Consider attaching it near or over the pump cord for camouflage.
I sunk a hardy waterlily in the bottom of the tub.
I think I will add some goldfish soon.