The advantages of sculpting with polystyrene

Here at Spur Creative, we’re experts in crafting spectacular sculptures and models for all of your decorative or display needs. We offer a range of services to suit your requirements, but it’s fair to say that we are big fans of using polystyrene in our creative projects. The reason for that? Well…

Polystyrene is something that we all come across on a daily basis – not necessarily in the sculpture form of a display in a shop window or at a specific event, but also in the more basic forms of the packaging in your recent online order, or protection, like in the inside of your bike helmet.

On top of the fact that polystyrene is available and easily accessible in a variety of forms, ranging in expansion and density, it has a series of other benefits that make it the perfect choice for sculpting and bringing your prop design idea to life.

Versatile

As shown by the multitude of uses of polystyrene that we’ve already talked about, it is a very versatile material. Not only is polystyrene available in different forms, it also is malleable and easy to cut, shape, sculpt and coat – it’s a propmaker’s dream!

It is possible for our creative professionals to create replicas without any problem, as well as curved walls and irregular shapes, giving you limitless options for your project ideas and designs.

Fast turnaround

By coming to a professional and dedicated team like us here at Spur Creative, you’re not only guaranteeing the highest quality results, but also a fast turnaround. Thanks to our expertise, your polystyrene-based props and retail displays can be created in very little time.

But that certainly doesn’t mean we’re skimping on the finer details – we know just how important detail and lifelike details are, and that’s why we make sure all of our projects have the wow-factor that everyone is looking for.

Scale

The beauty of using polystyrene for sculptures, models, and other props is that there is no limit to its size. However big or small your design is, it’s possible with polystyrene. From a handheld sculpture to a grand retail display or giant prop, polystyrene has the ability to produce quality props at any scale. Have a look at some of our recent projects and see for yourself!

Cost-effective

Polystyrene is a relatively inexpensive material, which is one reason why it’s so widely used. When it comes to using other materials, the amount or time-scale may render a bill that you cannot work with, which is where polystyrene comes in as the money-saving alternative.

Plus, not only is polystyrene cheap to buy, it’s also durable and performs well for decorative purposes – particularly when it’s teamed with the right coating and finish. This means you’re really getting the most for your money.

Lightweight

As we mentioned already, polystyrene is very versatile; not only in how we can work with it, but also how it can be used. Part of this is down to the fact that it is so lightweight. Being a lightweight material means that it is suitable to manipulate and move around however you want it – for example, if you want your shop window to have a floating polystyrene object, you can!

Being lightweight means that it’s easy to transport and manoeuvre too. This makes the job easier for that van driver who is taking it from event to event, as well as for the shop assistant that has to experiment with its set-up in the shop window. Most of the time, one or two people can move even the biggest of sculptures quite easily.

Recyclable

On top of being beneficial to you and your budget, working with polystyrene is beneficial to the environment too! As a recyclable product, any waste involved whilst crafting up your spectacular project can be recycled. Leftovers can be reformed into reusable polystyrene, either for new creative designs or one of the material’s many other uses…

If you’d like to hear more about polystyrene carving here at Spur Creative, head over to our services page where you can find out more, or get in touch! We’d love to hear from you.

5 Ways Giant Things Can Enrich Your Life

We're not going to sugar-coat things here. We love giant props. That's probably because we make them, which means we are more than a little biased. We love the different things you can do with them, the weird and quirky ways they can be used to complement any event or show. So we thought we'd publish five of the myriad ways that giant props can turn your life around and bring a smile to your face. 

1. Giants can teach you about your history 

We're going to cheat a bit on this one, and include giant puppets too. But that's only because we are in awe of how all things gigantic can be used to create a sense of wonder or spectacle, especially if you're looking to put a show on that your audience is going to remember for a long time to come. 

Meet the Sea Odyssey team. They've been enchanting the crowds of Liverpool on a number of occasions now. They always appear when Liverpool is commemorating a historical event and they have proven to be a brilliant method of weaving historical fact together with fantastic stories. 

First unveiled in 2012, Sea Odyssey saw three marionettes - a 50ft man, a 3ft girl and a 9ft dog take to the streets of Liverpool to mark the anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic. 

Commissioned by Liverpool City Council, the success of the event saw the characters return in a different guise in 2014 to mark another anniversary - this time the beginning of the First World War, one hundred years previously. ​This time, in "Memories of August 1914", it was just the little girl giant and her canine companion who dazzled the crowds. 

2. Giant puppets can (sometimes) tell your story much better than people can 

Again, we are technically dealing with puppetry here, but surely by now everyone is familiar with the Joey puppet, the horse who captured the imaginations of millions of people across the globe as part of the blockbuster theatre hit,  War Horse. 

Whilst the play is an adaptation of an already successful book as well as a Steven Spielberg film, it is arguably the use of giant props and puppets that has made the stage incarnation that much more memorable. The life-like nature of the props was a testament to the craftsmanship of the people who made them, and was surely a contributing factor to the fact that the play has long stayed in the memory of those involved.  

3. Our brains go mad when faced with giant food 

Here at Spur, we have made a number of different types of giant food props for our clients and collaborators. We think there's something strangely compelling about giant food. Our inner child can't help be wowed when we see our favourite foods in giant form. 

Take, for example, this video of kids being treated to their favourite food....

They love it, right? That's because our brains are attracted to novelty: the new, the different, the bizarre. As humans we are hard-wired to like shiny new things, especially when they happen to resemble something that is already close to our heart. That's why those giant version of the Krave cereal boxes we created went down a treat. We are often drawn to novelty without being aware of it.  

Our love of novelty means that we love anything big, shiny, which means we are especially open to giant objects which can be used as learning tools...this brings us neatly to point number 4.....

4. Giant objects can help with our creativity and learning 

Learning and creativity can be best served by playing and interactive learning. And what better way to experience learning than through the use of giant learning aids? 

Using props when giving a lesson or a presentation are proven methods of ensuring that your audience and/or pupils have an enjoyable time. Props can help you land your points and ensure that the lesson will have a visual reference point, making it more memorable for all involved. Participants will have much more of a sense of how the lesson relates back to their lives. ​ 

Play and learning is especially vital for children, so giant props are great visual aids for teaching children about spatial awareness and problem solving.  Below is an interesting (visual, see what we did there?) representation, courtesy of Columbia University of just how visual learning engages the brain. 

5. Giants have always given us a good scare 

Giants have been some of the primary antagonists of some our most enduring folk tales and stories. With Mark Rylance due to take the title role in Steven Spielberg's new version of The BFG  later this year, the appetite for giants as sources of fascination for young people has clearly never been stronger.

Whether its giants or ogres, children never fail to be enthralled by big characters (both figurative and literal), as they are often so completely "other", so utterly "alien" that they immediately conjure up images of far-away kingdoms and fictional realms. 

Giants are often a great way to teach young children about morals and ethics; the lesson from stories such as The Selfish Giant and The BFG is that appearances are not always what they seem; these lesson will often remain burned into our psyche as we reach adulthood. Giants who were initially perceived as fearsome and cruel are actually shown to possess great kindness and inner strength. Here are some images of some our favourites; the BFG himself and the giant who is the antagonist of Jack and the Beanstalk

Why structure is important for your play, film or story

A few months back, we blogged about how to create suspense in your play or story. Keeping the audience on the edge of their seat is crucial for any narrative to work properly. Here at Spur, we’ve provided props for some really innovative and creative organisations, and we know how long and difficult the creative process can be.

Writing for the stage or screen isn’t just a spontaneous act of creative genius, though it may sometimes seem that way to the casual observer. In fact, the craft of building a script is not that far removed from the craft of designing and building a prop, or a set. It involves knowing your component parts, and understanding how they fit together.

That’s what story structure is, and how we use it to create great plots and take characters on amazing journeys.

So that’s why we’ve put together an infographic explaining story structure and how it breaks down into its component parts.

So this is a cast-iron rule? 

Not exactly. There are a few different versions of this structure. For example, some film and theatre bibles will tell you that you can tell your story in three acts, as opposed to the five act version we've shown you here. But, either way, the broad outline of the story is the same. Your character will go on a journey, reach a cross-roads where they have to make a pivotal decision in the middle, and face a final battle in the end. 

 

 

 

 

 

The Brief Guide to Buying Collectable Stage Props

At the intersection between a passion for history, one for anthropology, and another for the theatre stands the time-honoured pastime of collecting stage props. This guide aims to introduce all those new to the scene (pun intended) to the basics of amassing a reputable collection of set, costume, and prop items.

Types of collectable stage props

Tea Set

Tea set made by Ridgway Potteries Ltd. in Staffordshire, England, in the 1950s. They were mass produced at the time and are now among the more popular collectables for the stage. Image source: Yay Retro

When it comes to categorizing collectables, it all depends on you—your goals, your budget, your ultimate reason for becoming a collector. By and large, these are the two main ways of categorizing collectables:

- Historically (by era): You may be interested in collecting Victorian, Georgian, or Depression Era stage artefacts. Given their age, which predates mass production, these will come at a steep price. Conversely, the advent of film and television have also made contemporary items very valuable, since you’re not just paying for any old chair, but for one that was used in Hot Fuzz or featured on Coronation Street.

- Functionally (by purpose): Stage sets widely vary in purpose, which makes it entirely safe to say that they can include any regular household item. Other day-to-day items used on-stage include specialized professional inventory (think medical instruments and other expert tools), as well as dedicated theatrical items like costumes, make-up tools, stage weapons, lighting, etc.

Building your own stage props collection

We’ll leave the reasons for which you might want to start a stage props collection for later. For now, let’s take a cursory look at the main types of collectables that are currently very popular, according to some of England’s biggest names in the business:

  • Glassware. Aside from having been used as stage vintage glass stage props are also intrinsically valuable. Some of the older and more precious items include Studio pieces, and various types of Crystal, among which Murano, Rhiimaakii, Edinburgh, Stuart, Holmegaard and more. The problem with such items is that they usually run on the expensive side—especially if you go thrifting at vintage fairs. As such, the trick is to find a place that usually stocks your favourite manufacturers and visit them often.
  • China. Tea and coffee China sets have also become increasingly popular of late, especially as 18th/21st birthday presents. Vintage experts note that they’re seeing many such items being upcycled as candle holders, pin cushions, and lampshades. In any case, it’s important to bear in mind that brand names are very important and add value to your purchase. Some names you should know and watch out for: Ridgway Homemaker, Royal Worcester, Royal Albert, Shelley, and Johnsons.
  • Other Household Items: decanters, candlesticks, various decorative figurines, cutlery, picnic items, etc.
  • Advertising signs. enamel signs, luminous signs, fluorescent and neon signs, etc.
  • Taxidermy: believe it or not, stuffed animals are always in demand, especially mounted animal heads (foxes, deer, boars, etc.).
  • Stage Costumes Vintage fashion has always sold well, but it’s all the more valuable when it’s been worn on-stage. In terms of male fashion, anything tweed is all the rage (it never really stopped being in fashion, actually).
    • British chaps should also keep an eye on uniforms, dinner jackets, tailcoats, cravats, bow ties.
    • For the Ladies, although stage costumes per se are increasingly rare; however, there’s a wide range of furs still available on the market. Valuable pieces include mink, fox, ermine, sable, coney, and much more.
    • Finally, certain designer names come with a high value (and respective price tag). Aside from hugely popular brands like Chanel and Dior, look for Biba, Vivienne Westwood, Jean Muir, Diane Freis, and their ilk.
  • Military Artefacts: for the stage: Aside from uniforms, these can include armour pieces, rifles, pistols, swords, bows, shields, etc.

Popular Stage Prop Collections

Collecting is serious business—it takes a lot of money, commitment, and energy. So, before you set out, it’s worth asking yourself a couple of questions:

  • What are your goals with the collection? Fancy building your very own Victorian era stage setting? You will need to research the era carefully and make sure your collection recreates a set to the tiniest of details—including the fabrics and materials used at the time. You can also choose to specialize in lighting fixtures, theatre curtains, furniture, or decorative items to use as setting pieces for a bar.
  • What’s the budget you’re willing to invest into collecting? While collecting can be intrinsically very rewarding, it’s also an expensive hobby to maintain. Make sure you don’t let it turn into an addiction, eating away at the family budget.
  • Are you willing to travel for your collection? The advent and increased accessibility of the Internet has both democratized and globalized collecting. That being said, it is now more than ever that you might find a very valuable piece for your collection located as far away as Japan. Would you be up for flying there, to negotiate a sale or attend an auction?

The collectors’ edition: Buying, Bidding & Beyond

Genuine 19th century Punch and Judy show in wood. The collectors, Mel and Eunice Birnkrant, hunted down original Victorian era fabrics for years, just so they could recreate the 20 tiny characters’ costumes.

Image source: Mel Birnkrant

The most important thing when building a collection, no matter its focus or scope, is to amass expertise in your niche. Only when you’re sure on your feet about what you’re buying can you expertly negotiate a purchase. Here are some of our practical tips and tricks for stage prop collectors:

  • Fake one out? Knowing how to tell a replica from a genuine item is, of course, far easier said than done—but with the right mix of knowledge in the fields of history, anthropology, art, and science it’s feasible. Here’s what to look for:
  • Manufacturing techniques. Rule of thumb: the older the item, the more imperfect you can expect it to be. Also, come equipped with a solid working knowledge of artistic styles and aesthetic trends influencing the era you’re interested in.
  • Market value. Nowadays, Victorian stage costumes have become increasingly rare, as textile fabrics naturally deteriorate and restoring them is an expensive expert skill.
  • Materials. Plastic hasn’t been around forever and this is especially true when it comes to furniture. Metal and glass come with a waxing and waning track record of popularity and mass use. Know what materials were in use in which era. If you Find them for sale at four-figure prices in most places, don't expect that £200 bodice dress worn by Sarah Bernhardt to be genuine.

A costume designed by Wilhelm in New York, for La Danse—a stage play recreating the history of dance. The costume painstakingly tries to recreate 17th century stage costume fashions and was based on a print of Marie de Subligny, a 1680s popular dancer. The heavy costume attempts to replicate 17th-18th century styles, where dresses were boned so that their weight would restrict the female dancers’ freedom of movement.

Image source: VAM

  • Know thine niche. Everyone does everything online these days. However, since collecting deals with the past, it might just end up surviving as the last pastime best enjoyed offline. The trick is not to go to the most popular venues (see below), but to scour the lesser-known gems of whatever city you should happen to live in. Bear in mind that some of the best sellers of collectables are also collectors themselves, so they should know how to direct you to what you’re looking for, irrespective of niche.

Insider Tips on Starting Your Collection

Greenwich Market, established in 1737, is the only London market that has been classified a UNESCO World Heritage site. For the seasoned collector, it’s somewhat too mainstream to still be relevant. However, tourists and beginner collectors can find an interesting range of vintage and antique items here on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays.

  • Polish your bidding netiquette. If you do decide to bid online, it’s important to know when to hold, fold, and be bold. The following tips refer mainly to trading on eBay, but the underlying principles behind them can easily be translated to auctions held live or over the telephone. Perhaps the most important thing to remember here is that bidding is a lesser form of warfare—it’s not a matter of who plays nicest, but of who acts the swiftest.
  • Bid low, hope for slow. One way to go about it, especially if it’s not an item you had been vying for, is to start out with a very low bid, then withdraw early on in the game. In most cases, your puny bid will be topped. However, there’s also the chance you get lucky and bidding goes slow. That’s when you can call your purchase a steal.
  • The hasta la vista, baby! This is a bidding strategy in which you start out with a fairly reasonable early bid, then get out of the game, only to come in at the end and nab the goods in one fell swoop with a high ending bid. This way, you avoid outbidding yourself in the process.
  • Auto-bid. These days, most of the big online auction platforms come with a ‘proxy’/’automatic’ feature. This mechanism will allow you to raise your bid by the smallest allowed increment, each time someone tries to outbid you. You also get to set a threshold, which, once exceeded, lets you decide if you want to carry on bidding or not. This method allows you to avoid wasting too much time on the auction itself, as well as to steer clear of bidding wars gone haywire.

Create Suspense in Your Play

The ability to keep your audience on the edge on the edge of their seats can turn your play into a memorable event that people will remember and recommend to their friends. There are many factors that go into creating suspense, from the initial screen writing to the actors performing the role and the stage decorations. Here’s how to create suspense in your play and put on a show to remember. Continue reading

Ways Theatre Props Can Enhance Your Performance

From chairs to footballs, props are the physical objects used on stage in drama productions. Used correctly, they can add to your performance in a unique and profound way, with audience members thinking about your performance long after it’s finished. There are certain ways you can make use of props to ensure you get the most out of them.

Your props can be either real or symbolic

  • Props can be used as either literal items, such as a characters putting their keys on a table, or they can be symbolic- metaphors used to indicate something else.
  • Using literal props, and actions to go with them, create a visceral quality. This makes the plot spring to life, and can emphasise important movements.
  • By using props symbolically, you can create powerful and profound images in the heads of you audience members. For example, if you wanted to demonstrate the separation of two people, a knife could be used to solemnly cut the air. You could also have a picture of the two characters torn apart.

Props can help to pace your story

Props can be used to have a powerful impact on what characters are saying or doing, but these ‘silver-bullet’ props can only be used once to maintain their importance. You will have to think carefully about where to use important props that move the story forward or add a new level.

Like a hook in music, props can be used to create a memorable drama sequence, engaging the audience and igniting the imagination. This helps to immerse the audience in the universe of your story, making even the most fantastical of settings come closer to being reality.

Selling your story with props

If your performance involves an element of interacting with the audience, you can use props to sell your story to them, giving them a physical metaphor to really involve them in your vision. There is an example involving a marble, a baseball and a beach ball when talking about financial policies. Firstly, ask an audience member to keep a marble in their pocket, telling them how easy it would be to forget it. Next, you ask your audience member to keep a baseball in their pocket, remarking how much more difficult it is to forget it. Finally, the audience member is asked to put the beach ball in their pocket, which they can’t.

This is where the metaphorical leap happens. By taking out the financial policy early, it would be like the marble, bought somewhat later, it would be like the baseball, noticeable but able to be carried. If left too late you wouldn’t be able to carry it. By involving the audience with symbolic prop use, the story becomes a lot more believable, and will stay with the audience for a long time.

How to Create a Breathtaking Window Display for Your Shop Front

Even with a small amount of merchandise, you can have a lot of fun creating an interesting window design. The use of brightly coloured props will draw people in and create customer intrigue that will transform into increased revenue and customer base. These are our recommendations for creating a great window display.

  • A great retail window takes time to create, so always plan your window at least one month in advance.
  • A firm setting, such as a woodland, beach or disco will engage with your customers’ imagination and sell them a lifestyle along with your product.
  • Use props to support your display. Relevant and interesting props will complement your window set and make your products really stand out.
  • Choose your key products to feature in your window display, this works especially well with clothing that looks better on, rather than folded or on a hanger.
  • Use multiple layers of height in your display as it allows the customer to discover various items in your window.
  • Keep your key products at eye level so that passersby will be able to see your display. If your shop front faces out to a road, consider placing your products so that cars will have a good view.
  • Try to use three colours. Whilst a monochrome or single colour window display may look chic, it won’t catch the eye of passing potential customers, putting your work to waste.
  • That being said, too many patterns or colours can distract potential customers from the product you’re trying to market. By sticking to three colours, you can make a colourful display that focuses on the product you’re selling.
  • Try to show the product being used, if possible. By having photographs in the display showing the product being used or worn, you make it easier for potential customers to imagine themselves owning and using the product. A good window display will not only display the product, but create an aspirational lifestyle for your customers.
  • Sell the items your customer wants. By focusing on luxury products, rather than necessities, you will capture the interest of more people looking to buy something nice for themselves after a long week at work.
  • It’s essential to make sure before you install your window display, you thoroughly clean both sides of the window and the floor of your display. No one will want to buy anything from your shop if it looks dirty and uncared for.
  • Whilst you’re using your window display to highlight the products you want to sell, resist the temptation to fill your window with everything you have to offer. Remember that your window display is not your stockroom.
  • Remember to change your window display every month. By regularly changing your display, you will be engaging your customers and keeping them interested in the products you sell.

The Importance of Props in Film

A property (commonly shortened to prop) is an item used on screen or stage to help enhance a performance. It can make a scene feel more authentic or help actors play their role more adequately. 

Put simply: they’re a vital part of film, TV, and theatre.

But why?

Circumstance

Props are most commonly used in conveying the time and place the narrative is set. Props are often the only indicator of what decade, or cultural movement a story is set in.

For example, if a narrative is set in Ancient Rome, certain props will be used to show that. The prop maker will have to thoroughly research that time period to convey this to an audience.

It helps the story come alive, and helps viewers activate their imagination more readily.

Imagine a sci-fi film without a prop. It’d be a pretty drab affair.

Atmosphere

As well as helping the audience understand the narrative, a prop can also help actors get a feel for their role. An actor will find getting into their Native American role; if they have they’re dressed similar and holding weapons and tools used in that time period.

Today, films rely more and more on shooting in front of a green screen. This can make it extremely hard for actors to get into their role. A prop can help them do that.

Character

Film characters often become instantly recognisable through their props. Think Indiana Jones’s hat and bullwhip. These two props serve as an extension of this characters personality, and help him become recognisable instantly.

Safety

This is often overlooked, but props can help ensure the safety of actors. A fake knife of gun can look just as intimidating as the real thing when done well, and don’t put actors in any immediate threat.

Looking for props in your next theatre production or film? Spur Creative have worked with some huge industry names creating lifelike props.