Make canned monstrosities


This tutorial shows you how to make realistic pickled punks. Label on the bottle on the right reads:

Making Canned Halloween Monstrosities


  1. The Sheep-Child

    Farm boys wild to couple
    With anything with soft-wooded trees
    With mounds of earth mounds
    Of pine straw will keep themselves off
    Animals by legends of their own:
    In the hay-tunnel dark
    And dung of barns, they will
    Say I have heard tell

    That in a museum in Atlanta
    Way back in a corner somewhere
    There’s this thing that’s only half
    Sheep like a woolly baby
    Pickled in alcohol because
    Those things can’t live his eyes
    Are open but you can’t stand to look
    I heard from somebody who …

    But this is now almost all
    Gone. The boys have taken
    Their own true wives in the city,
    The sheep are safe in the west hill
    Pasture but we who were born there
    Still are not sure. Are we,
    Because we remember, remembered
    In the terrible dust of museums?
    Merely with his eyes, the sheep-child may
    Be saying saying

    I am here, in my father’s house.
    I who am half of your world, came deeply
    To my mother in the long grass
    Of the west pasture, where she stood like moonlight
    Listening for foxes. It was something like love
    From another world that seized her
    From behind, and she gave, not Iifting her head
    Out of dew, without ever looking, her best
    Self to that great need. Turned loose, she dipped her face
    Farther into the chill of the earth, and in a sound
    Of sobbing of something stumbling
    Away, began, as she must do,
    To carry me. I woke, dying,

    In the summer sun of the hillside, with my eyes
    Far more than human. I saw for a blazing moment
    The great grassy world from both sides,
    Man and beast in the round of their need,
    And the hill wind stirred in my wool,
    My hoof and my hand clasped each other,
    I ate my one meal
    Of milk, and died
    Staring. From dark grass I came straight

    To my father’s house, whose dust
    Whirls up in the halls for no reason
    When no one comes piling deep in a hellish mild corner,
    And, through my immortal waters,
    I meet the sun’s grains eye
    To eye, and they fail at my closet of glass.
    Dead, I am most surely living
    In the minds of farm boys: I am he who drives
    Them like wolves from the hound bitch and calf
    And from the chaste ewe in the wind.
    They go into woods into bean fields they go
    Deep into their known right hands. Dreaming of me,
    They groan they wait they suffer
    Themselves, they marry, they raise their kind.

    — James Dickey

  2. Wow. I’d almost forgotten this insane, absurd, hopeless little poem; one of his best; certainly his most unsettling. What a strange genius Dickey had. The poem is, finally . . . a monster.

  3. Wierd Bottle Background Story: I was visiting a friend/relative/etc. last summer and we were going to the store/office/etc. and had to take a detour because of road construction. We must have taken a wrong turn because after a few miles and poorly marked road signs, we ended up on a dead end road. We were turning around to back track when I noticed a very old, falling down building about a hundred yards off the road. I’m surprised I even saw it, it was so taken over by the woods. Curiosity got the best of us and we stopped and got out to take a look. There wasn’t much to see at the front other than a sign fallen down near what must have been the entrance. It read, “Asylum for the Criminally Insane est. 1889.” It was starting to get dark and this place was giving me the creeps, so I was ready to leave immediately. My friend, not the Indiana Jones sort, was halfway to his car already. I had almost caught up, when I tripped over something sticking out of the ground. It looked like the corner of an old box and was so weathered my kick had opened it up a bit. The inquisitive fool that I am, I had to see what was in the box – so, with my friend honking the horn, I quickly tore open the corner and pulled out an old bottle. I jumped in my friends car and we left. I wrapped the bottle in some newspaper he had in the floorboard and stuck it in my bag and forgot about it.

    Last week I was going through my luggage and found the bottle and cleaned it up as best as I could without destroying the label. Here it is, what do you think it could be?

  4. Great job on the labels though (the look and the text too). It’s a nice idea for cheap Halloween decoration ! I love the “Unknown specimen recovered from chest cavity of decayed animated corpse” bottle :P

  5. Awesome. I’m totally going to utilize this to make something that’ll freak out my Sculpture I teacher. :D

  6. I’m actually doing some work on an old collection of specimens preserved in various liquids right now. I’ve seen a lot of old bottles and jars, but never the hemp on the top. What purpose would it serve other than to obscure the Smucker’s logo on the label?

    The collection I am working on is primarily insects. Because they were field collected, often the containers they were preserved in were what could be found at hand, or could be easily obtained from a local store. So plenty of the specimens, especially those collected in bulk, are in old canning jars. Smaller vials and dried specimens were stored in old cigar boxes and empty lozenge tins and whatever else the field biologist could get his hands on. Old entomology collections are often a goldmine of nifty old packaging.

    I suppose medical specimens, obtained from hospitals would have a very different look. In a lab, one would have had ample supplies on hand. So if you are making fake body parts, you might want to look for old labware.

    In the collection I’m working on, small vials were usually closed with black rubber stoppers. After about fifty years or so, the formalin or whatever the hell the evil stuff used to preserve the specimens, starts to dissolve the rubber. The stoppers start to cave in and the solution starts discoloring, going from lager beer color to tea color to something pretty black and inky. If the stopper is really damaged, the fluid eventually leaks out and all you have is something dried and nasty on the bottom of the vial. Something crusty and icky.

    Labels are not usually on the outside of the jars, but on the inside with the specimen. Paper with a high cotton content was used and inks that did not dissolve in alcohol or even in pencil. When the stopper dissolves, it discolors the paper too. To make these things look old, you might want to start on sepia-colored paper.

    And taxonomic samples will have two labels. The first is the collection label that has where the specimen was found and when and the name of the collector. The second label, often added much later (you might want a use a different kind of pen and a different style of handwriting or have the field label hand-written and the determination label typed/printed) will have the name of the organism, a nice Latinized name with genus and species either italicized if printed or in quotes if handwritten: “Genus species”. The label might also include the date/author for that species. It should include the name of the person who made the determination.

    Back in the day, people had much nicer handwriting. If you can muster a little bit of calligraphic style, I’m sure that would help your props look older.

    Also, if you planning on keeping these little bits of art, I think water is probably a bad idea, because it will just get really nasty. Alcohol is probably the better bet, just so long as you aren’t using a toy made of a material that dissolves in alcohol.

    It is really funny to see this article after spending hours and hours and hours and hours working on trying to preserve old specimens. You read a label that says “Havana, Cuba 1947” and you wonder what else the guy did there, besides pull over rotting logs to look for little crawly things. I hope the collector at least got to some clubs to hear some music. But I’ll never know…

  7. A jar of yummy Larval Old Ones in Ichor:

    several pounds of fresh mushrooms
    medium or large canning jar, with lid
    salt (optional)
    microwave oven
    pressure cooker

    This is a good recipe for storing mushrooms if your grocery gets stuck with a bunch of aging mushrooms and puts them on sale dead cheap. Mushrooms with large rounded heads look creepiest. Portobellos are good as long as their telltale edges don’t show.

    Wash your mushrooms. Pile them in a large microwave-proof bowl (Pyrex is good) and put a dinner plate on top of them. Microwave them on a fairly low setting until they start throwing off liquid. Salt lightly (or don’t). Add more mushrooms as the ones in the bowl cook down. Eventually you will have a large bowl of cooked mushrooms swimming in dark-brown juice. Carefully strain off and save the juice.

    Put one cooked mushroom cap-down in the bottom of the jar. Pack the rest of your mushrooms cap-outward, adding more to fill the void in the center. They shouldn’t be packed so tightly that there’s no space between them, but they should be packed tight enough to hold their position. If you’re using large portobellos, make sure their edges curl inward so they don’t press against the glass.

    When the jar is full, measure your mushroom juice by pouring it into the jar until it fills the interstices and covers the mushrooms on top. If you have more juice than space, boil it down — there’s a lot of flavor in it, and the inkier and more concentrated it looks, the creepier the final result will be.

    Carefully drain off the juice, leaving the mushrooms in position in the jar. Microwave the drained jar of mushrooms until the contents reach boiling temmperature. Meanwhile, reheat the mushroom juice to boiling. Pour it into the jar of heated mushrooms, put the lid on the jar, and process as normal for preserves.

    The trick is that only the first quarter-inch or so of the mushrooms will be visible through the liquid they throw off, so what you get is a jar of nearly-opaque inky fluid filled with pallid, mottled, suggestively rounded shapes pressed against the glass. It really does look creepy. If you want, you can add a label saying Larval Old Ones, Preserved in Their Ichor, or similar sentiments.

    When you get tired of your artifact, the mushrooms in their juice can be used in cream of mushroom soup, added to pot roast or London broil, or whatever you please.

  8. that IS why I found it insensitive, you passed over the chance to help me by keeping the little perishers down. Can’t hardly take a nap without waking up to another nibbled member.

  9. Could you summarize “process as normal for preserves” for those of us who are ignorant of it, or have lost our minds by reading eldritch tomes in dusty, forgotten rooms in the library at Miskatonic State University?

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