Spooky

young violet

Violet Spears was born to moderately prosperous farmers, on the outskirts of Elgin, Scotland, in 1839 (please see research notes at the end of the article). Of a dramatic mindset at an early age, Violet loved to draw, sing, and act for her family. Nonetheless, her first career was of the usual sort: she married 33-year-old farmer Henry Fitzpatrick at the age of 15, and had four children (including a set of twins) by the time she was 22.

Violet had no more children, and rumor had it that a complaining Henry began to stray. When she was 33, Henry died in a hunting accident of vague detail. Violet’s eldest had married by then, so she and her three remaining children went to live with her sister for two years of mourning.

On the second anniversary of her husband’s death, Violet disappeared. Her children were working the family farms by this time, so Violet left them with Nancy, along with three mourning dresses, piled on her bed. Despite her later dark reputation, she never work black again.

Nothing was heard of her for a year. At that time, small sums began to arrive monthly to Nancy’s family, delivered by messenger, along with a small sprig of violets.

In 1876, medium and hypnotist Madam Violet began to attract notoriety in Edinburgh. By this time, the charasmatic spiritualist had gathered a small group of followers, whom she seance2affectionately referred to as her “hive.” Her seances had become more and more elaborate, using elements of phantasmagoria  to awe her guests. Blood ritual was introduced gradually, with clients being asked to donate small amounts of blood to help “connect to the spirits.” Violet would drink the small goblet of commingled blood. She reported that it made her euphoric, that “this element, returned to me, had been missing the whole of my life.”

Two years later, Madam Violet’s seances were a rare ticket. She abandoned her modest home to live with her Hive in the Edinburgh Vaults. Members of the Hive emerged only at night. They became known as lively but dangerous partiers, seducing the loveliest of men and women, and convincing them–often with the help of drugs and alcohol–to donate a bit of blood. Several of these victims were so enchanted, they left their lives behind and joined the Hive. Though no fatalities occurred, one or two injured parties did report Hive members to the police. The issues faded away quietly without arrest or resolution.

scarif-blades (1)Hive members all bore the marks of a scarification device used in bloodletting, but they brought not only their blood, but their funds. The Hive was able to live in some comfort, even in the damp underground of the Vaults.

queen violetViolet herself did not leave the Vaults except to conduct seances, for which she wore elaborate “royal” costuming, as Queen of the Hive.

Some reports say that Madam Violet was “voted the most scary woman in England” in 1882 and 1884. As Violet never left Scotland, this is logistically unlikely. There was a mention of her in The Scotsman in 1881. An attendee of one of her seances described her as “most comely and frightening.

The Hive continued to grow over the next decade, and included the son of a prominent council member. This was to be its undoing, when the young man developed an infection following a bloodletting, and subsequently died. The council member had the ear of Lord Provost, James Russell. Russell, a physician, condemned the Hive for their “unnecessary and excessive letting of humours,” and “acts immoral and vile,” and over the next few years, used his position to see them disbanded. The Vaults were raided and closed, and Madam Violet fled to Galashiels, where she lived with her few remaining Hive members.

Madam Violet died in 1939, at age 90. The last half of her life was spent living modestly and quietly with her Hive, giving only the occasional seance. Upon her death, her reputation denied her burial on consecrated ground, as well as the services of a stonemason. Her few remaining followers buried her outside the town, and created crude headstone.

Violet wrote little, but at the end of her life, she composed a short list of confessions, now preserved in the archives of the University of Edinburgh:

I poisoned my fifth child in the womb. I am not sorry.
I plugged the barrel of my husband’s rifle. I am not sorry.
I am sorry for poor Daniel’s death, I should have looked after him better.
Except for these, I hurt no one, though I am deemed by some to be wicked.

I am not sorry.

violet headstone

 

 

RESEARCH NOTES: Much of this article was sourced from the book Vampires of Scotland by–oh, who am I kidding. I totally made this up. I saw this photo with its fake caption, and was sad it wasn’t for real. The pictures (except for the seance) are Polish actress Mari Jászai. The headstone and some early life details are from this guy’s genealogical research.  The Edinburgh Vaults really exist, and are pretty cool.

In May, I entered my first item on a challenge blog.  It got me curious about the idea. Challenge blogs seem to have become a subculture all their own. Nearly all of them–at least the dark ones–are on Blogspot. The designs are generally fun, old-skool, almost Geocities-like. The only thing they lack are animated backgrounds. They are often sponsored by companies that make stamps or digital designs. Usually, there is a design team associated with the blog. The design team posts inspirational art, often made with materials from a sponsor. They may also choose winners.  Sometimes there are even prizes!

One universal rule: no back-linking. This means no linking some old thing you made a couple years ago for the challenge. It isn’t fun if you aren’t creating something new.

In participating, you get to touch base with like-minded artists, often getting to see their process along with their work. Most of the entries are papercraft, very often with colored stamping, nonetheless; there is a lot of variety included.

There are a lot of them, and I think they’re a blast. Below is a list of dark challenge blogs I’ve found. They are a great way to kick your creativity in the pants when you’re having a slump.  If you know of another dark challenge blog, please mention it in the comments.

DARK ART ONLY:

Haunted Design House

Haunted Design House

Haunted Design House is a no-cute zone. They insist your entry be “creepy, dark, or macabre.” They have monthly themed challenges, and attract a lot of non-paper, mixed-media work.  Their rules don’t mention the process, but I’m assuming a design team chooses winners. HDH welcomes all media, including digital.

Forever Dark

Forever Dark

Forever Dark is another creepy-only blog. They are brand-spankin’ new, posting their first challenge this month. Winners are chosen by a design team. All media accepted.

Dream in Darkness

Dream in Darkness

Dream in Darkness is only a few months old. I am in love with their background image. They are usually anything goes, just keep it dark. Winners are chosen randomly.

Smudgy Antics

Smudgy Antics

Smudgy Antics is associated with Smeared Ink stamps, which, alas, is no more. But the challenges continue. You can enter on the blog, and/or join their facebook group. Entries must include a rubber or digital stamp image. Winners are chosen randomly.

Quoth the Raven, Nevermore

Quoth the Raven gets even more specific–they are a Poe-themed challenge blog. “Bring ye not thy fluffy, smushy if it be not POE !!!” I can’t tell how they choose their winners, but they accept all media.

DARK AND MAINSTREAM:

Create and Inspire

Create and Inspire

Create and Inspire doesn’t look particularly dark, despite their url of a-step-in-the-darkness.blogspot.com.  For each challenge, both mainstream and dark art is accepted, and there is a winner chosen by the design team for each.

Left of Center

Left of Center

Left of Center accepts both dark and mainstream, but if you submit a mainstream project, you must follow the theme. Dark projects can choose to follow or not.  All media are accepted, and winners are chosen by a design team.

It’s tempting to pitch a creepy hat in the ring for all the challenges. In many cases, you can enter an item in several challenges, so that helps. I like them because there’s no deadline pressure. If I don’t make the challenge, well, I didn’t commit to it anyway.  I had a lot of fun making that first cuff, and hope to do more.

IMG_2459

Devil Skull: Archangel Fury

Devil Skull: Archangel Fury

Devil Skull: Archangel Fury

Kate Heyhoe makes hollow sugar skulls and fills them with panoramic scenes.

 

Medusa

Medusa

Medusa

Medusa

She has a 30-step process, molding the sugar skulls herself. Most of the outside decoration is sugar-based, but these skulls are not edible! They are sealed to be long-lasting works of art.

Lost at Sea

Lost at Sea

Lost at Sea

Lost at Sea

She also makes adorable mini-skulls.

Bat Memo Holders

Bat Memo Holders

Papel Picado

Papel Picado

Her Etsy Shop is empty, but you can request special orders. Prices range from $15 – $500, depending on size and complexity.

 

Steampunk Bats

Jason Corbett Steampunk Bat

Jason Corbett, Steampunk Forms of Flight

Steampunk is an aesthetic I appreciate, even if I don’t wear it myself. There is a gorgeous intricacy to it, as long as it isn’t someone just gluing some gears on. I originally went looking for steampunk bat tattoos, but found surprisingly few.  Click on the picture above to see the rest of Jason Corbett’s Steampunk Forms of Flight.

Charles Berger

Charles Berger

Here’s a full-color piece by Charles Berger.

There is a fine line between Gothic and Steampunk, because they both nod to the same era, but to me, there must be something of the mechanical if it is to be Steampunk.

pocket watch

Pocket watch from Dominic Hogaxe on Etsy

This pocket watch straddles the line, but I gave it a pass because it is, after all, a watch.

cufflinks

Classic Hardware Cufflinks

Classic Hardware offers these gorgeous cufflinks with a dapper bat. This design is also available in a belt buckle.

Things2die4 Bat Wing Mirror

Things2die4 Bat Wing Mirror

For home decor, Things2Die4 offers this striking bronzed mechanical bat wing mirror.

Bronzed Bat Sculpture

Bronzed Bat Sculpture

Finally, the pièce de résistance, also from Things2Die4, this bronzed mechanical bat sculpture.  Want.

Bekku

Bekku

Bekku

My Secret Pumpkin this year is crazy about cats (but not a crazy cat lady). I mulled for months over what to make her. I thought about doing a doll, but I’d never done one, and I knew the learning curve would be steep. Finally, I decided to go for it, even though I’d only sculpted two faces, ever, and had never sculpted a body.

Bits and pieces

Bits and pieces

I decided she would be called Bekku, the word in Kannada for “cat.” She would be a Guardian Demon.

I envisioned an Abyssinian with faceted red crystals for eyes. The biggest stumbling block: the dress. Because man, do I ever not sew. I mulled that for ages, finally realizing I could bead her dress! Yeah, okay, I’ve only dabbled in beading (though I have a whole lot of beads!), but I still thought it would be easier on my nerves than trying to sew.

Abyssinian Face

Abyssinian Face

I had this polyclay mold for a fairy, and thought I’d use that for the body. So, here’s the thing about those cheapo polyclay molds. They only get you a rough shape. I ended up using them to get things approximately the right size, and that’s it. Next time, I won’t even bother.

Ready to bake

Ready to bake

Stuff I learned:

  • Always use an armature. It makes life easier. I admit, I stuffed a wire into some of the pieces after sculpting, because I am a dip.
  • The problem with bi-lateral symmetry is that if you make better ankles on the second leg, you have to go back and make them nicer on the first leg, too.
  • You have to smooth the clay. A lot. Like, for about six hours. Not even kidding.

I’m sure I’ll find better, faster ways to do things in the future. I managed to stretch her staff-holding hand in the process of baking, so I was going to have to deal with that later, but everything else went well.

I had all these beads I was trying for the staff, and nothing made me happy until I found a 50 cent necklace at a garage sale. Behold, a power crystal! I used a Dremel to carve tiny letters into a chopstick (not telling you what they say, that’s for Myra to figure out), filled them with red ink, and put a layer of Rub ‘n’ Buff over the top. The rest of the staff got stained, and I cut down some nice brass jump rings for accents. Much gluing and waiting ensued.

Staff

Staff

Next, it was time to stop avoiding the paint job. Boy, acrylic paint dries instantly on polyclay. I could have added extender, but I was okay with the zero wait time. I surprised myself by not painting over the eyes. Go me!

Painting

Painting

Finally, the dress. I’d been dying to play with my loom, and this was my opportunity. I drew out my pattern. Customizable graph paper helped a ton! I wove the beaded fabric in gold, red, and black delicas. I was seeing a two-piece thing, with the sides completely open.

Starting the skirt

Starting the skirt

Almost done!

Almost done!

I finished the front skirt, and discovered the loom, a Beadalon Jewel Loom, had broken. Alrighty then, new loom it is. Didn’t like the second one much, either. Who puts bendable warp rods on a loom? But that’s fixable, and I made it through the back skirt. Attached some square stitch to make the front and back halters, and good to go.

Front and back, finished

Front and back, finished

Last touches to the costume–a little belt with a cat charm, and earrings.

Finally, the stand. Of course I didn’t have a drill bit that was small enough to fit what I was using as a support rod, which may or may not have been a BBQ skewer, so I put a little washi tape at the bottom of the rod. A light coat of black paint on the stand finished things up. At a guess, I’d say 80 hours work, but a lot of that was my sheer inexperience.

Front and back, nekkid

Front and back, nekkid

Front and back, dressed

Front and back, dressed

I packed her in blocks of foam with cut-outs, and the PO put on a fragile sticker. They still managed to break her arm. DEMON ABUSE. GAH. But she’s gluable.

My favorite part:

Lookit those feeties!

Lookit those feeties!

So now all I want to do is make dolls. I already have an idea for the next one. Stay tuned.

I’ve been in hardcore spook mode since mid-September, and now that the day has arrived, it’s…quiet. No trick-or-treaters come to our door, so Halloweens in our current home lacks that anticipation. Also, ironically, by the time The Day arrives, I tend to be a little burned out. That’s okay, because I’ve had a ghoulishly good time these past weeks, making things and blogging about my favorite holiday.

So tonight I’m going to curl up on the couch with the Spousal Unit, and light all the little lights in my Halloween displays, and just chill.

Have a safe, spooky holiday.

Punkinland

We have an antique Chinese cabinet that is murder to photograph. Naturally, that’s where I like to set up holiday displays. This is the top shelf of three, where I put most of the pumpkins. And, no, I didn’t make that zombie thing on the end (see it better here). I found that at a craft mall. Sadly, I don’t really know who made it, but her stuff is cool.

So what does WILLIAM SHATNER (may his name always be in caps, amen) have to do with Halloween?  Well, with the movie, quite a bit, and totally by accident:

jars-dark

I’ve been wanting to make some jar lanterns since I saw Ghoul Friday’s tutorial. Mostly, I followed it. Okay, I followed it a little. What I wanted was something I could stuff a string of LED lights into, and have vague shapes show through. You’ll see five jars in the work-in-progress. The last one is taking a little longer, and didn’t make it into the final shots.

jars-begin

Since I didn’t have any interesting jars sitting around to recycle, I spent a few quid* at Dollar Tree. I brought home not only the jars, but some creepy crawlers and skulls to put inside.

jars-milk

I coated the inside with diluted Elmer’s glue. One coat plain, then another with some paint. The black paint didn’t mix in well, so I ended up with chunks, which I thought was pretty cool. The jars now looked like dirty chocolate-milk glasses. That was fine, but I wanted more.

jars-mica

I wondered what would happen if I poured a little Pearl Ex into the mostly-dry jars and shook it around. Ooh, mama like. Of course that left them impossibly messy inside, so I sprayed the heck out of them with matte sealer.

jars-black

Next, going back to the tutorial, I used paint to blacken the top of the jars. The cotton balls came off in the paint a bit, giving it more yummy texture.

For one of the large jars, I darkened some cheesecloth and tied it on with orange twine, then did a little more painting. I first stuffed that jar with orange lights and skulls. The second large jar turned out to be a bit opaque, so I took some creepies and put them right up against the glass, again stuffing it with a string of lights. I removed the rubber seal around the lid so there was room to sneak the cord and controller out the back of the jar.

Even though I’d prepped the lids, I decided to leave them off the little jars. They got LED candles, and something creepy against the glass.

jars-light

This was great fun, and I’m chuffed with the results. I think these are creepy enough to make the Spousal Unit shiver and give me that “I tolerate this because I love you” look. He gives me that look a lot this time of year.

* I have no real idea what a quid is. It just sounded good.