TextureThis was an interesting nut to crack. It became a perfect example of how a problem can lead to a better creative solution and also demonstrates the power of experimentation. First, the problem: texture. I had the option of simply painting directly on top of the foam and calling it a day, but it looked like painted foam. That's on the left in this picture. On the right, was my first alteration.
Inspired by the sheet-metal appearance of my source images, I looked to smooth out the foam by melting the open cells to a smooth surface with a pass of a hot iron. It's worked for me on foams with smaller cells (EVA/craft foam, for example), but this surface was too rough to begin with and it didn't hide the seams well at all. Next option was to try a surface coat. I've found people using plasti-dip to get a good, smooth, rubberized texture on foam, but I couldn't find it in Singapore. So next option, Liquid Latex.
Painting latex needs a foam brush (or cut blocks of soft/mattress foam), many layers, and patience for the drying time between layers. The drying process can be sped up with a hairdryer, but it still takes a long time. I tried a few variations of many thin layers, a few thick layers, changing or keeping consistent my stroke lines, and was never quite satisfied - none were smooth enough to work. Then I tried stippling (dabbing/poking latex on rather than brushing it over) and came to a happy accident:
Stippling gave it a rough texture, much like cast iron. I went with three thick layers. I think it would be better to vary the thickness of the layers for varying scale of texture. Also, it would have been stronger with 5 or 7 layers - especially around edges spots subject to more wear. A major downside to this kind of finish is that it's almost impossible to repair latex if torn, so really more strength is way, way better. Maybe even embedding a thin, tight-knit mesh cloth into the first or second layer to help prevent tears or using truck bed liner instead of latex.
Painted in a hammered metallic silver (Krylon Fusion Hammered Silver), it gained even more color depth and great metallic variation across the surface. Unfortunately the near constant 90% humidity prevented the hammered part of the silver spray, but the latex texture more than made up for it.
Detail and PaintingAt this point, the armor was missing key detail of hoses and the central heat vent. Those were all found pieces (a basket, floor drain, and dryer hose), with a good paint treatment. I used the same silver spray base, washed and stippled thinned black acrylic over for texture, and finished with silver acrylic drybrushing to distress the "metal" and highlight edges. I slotted the masket into a slit around the inside of the foam armour and I added an EVA foam border to the drain cover to help it surface-glue to the armour.
I can't stress enough the importance of experimenting with test pieces. Normally I'd add a layer of clear-coat to protect everything I paint, but test pieces showed that it made the foam's paint treatment too brittle and would crack and look terrible with the slightest bend. Experimentation is a huge time saver versus doing a whole piece that you're not satisfied with, and starting over again from scratch (see Armor Part I).
I attached the drain cover's eva border with contact cement to raw foam on the armor, cutting away latex where I needed to glue. To attach the hose, I cut simple foam bracket pieces with steel wire inside to help them keep their shapes. Again, I cut away latex where I needed to so I could glue raw foam brackets to raw foam armor body. This all would have been easier if I attached these before even starting on the latex/painting process, but they were a late addition to my things-I-have-time-to-do list. Afterwords, I latexed and painted the brackets, threaded the hose through, and cemented down each end of the hose. Boom.
The physical texture on the foam pieces gave me a good height variation so I could apply a black acrylic wash after the spray completely set (7 days for Krylon Fusion). To bring the bright silver back out on the highest points of the cast iron texture, I lightly rubbed the whole thing down with denatured alcohol. It helped the black dissolve and run into the valleys without dissolving the much more robust silver fusion paint. The effect was to give the texture greater depth and made the piece look heavier.
And with one more piece of hose added to the heat vent in front (cut spiral around the hose to get diagonally-lined trim), the armor was done!
It was a really challenging piece that evolved as I did, but in the end it was worth all the restarts and experimentation. Next time, I'll talk about finishing the dome and whatever else there's space for.