If you’re of a particular age, or maybe just someone who really loves Christmas, perhaps you’re familiar with Blow Mold plastics. These now somewhat vintage decorations are made out of what can affectionately be referred to as worse milk gallon jug plastic and would usually adorn yards around the holidays in what in most cases one now finds blow-up Buddy the Elf and Minions. Times change, of course, and so blow molds don’t often find their ways onto store shelves, and those that are still around tend towards becoming brittle and easily shattered. Case in point, my family has had a particular Santa Claus blow mold as long as I can remember having holiday decorations. It actually made a cross country move with us when we left New York, and over the years has continually deteriorated to a point in which touching the figure will cause new cracks and disintegrations. My father tried to patch the first few holes with electrical tape, but every year Santa got worse.
This year, as a gift, I decided that I would find a way to restore him, and in doing so, got to thinking about the holidays, family, and the passage of time. That’s right, dear reader: this isn’t really a painting guide, but I will teach you how to fix and paint a blow mold, if that helps, as I also get my holiday melancholy on.
He’s Making a List
So, the first thing you’ll need to do, actually, is find your blow mold, if you have one. Or, if you have a sudden affectation for retro holiday decorations, find yourself one at a yard sale, eBay, or similar place to shop for things that teeter on the edge of detritus and treasure. Afterwards, assess your blow mold. Our original Santa was in pretty dire shape, and the new one arrived in less bad, but still dire, condition. I’m not exactly proud of the glue job I did on the new one to fix some surface cracks, but that’s just something I can’t worry about in the time frame I have of making this a 2023 Xmas gift. Instead, I did my best to clean him up and assess the worst possible places that needed attention.
The interesting thing about Blow Molds is that they are made out a plastic that is basically the same as what your milk comes in (unless you’re Canadian, in which case, I hear it comes in bags). Because of this, it is also nearly impossible to fix it once things start to break off, because it becomes intensely brittle. Instead, there’s a really amazing trick that uses meltable plastic pellets, which I became aware of thanks to this Youtube channel, from a guy named John Yanik. Suddenly, the ability to repair Santa became really easy, I just needed the time to actually do it.
The plastic pellets became a new crafting tool I’d never used before. Apparently, according to the package I got, you can make dentures out of the stuff, but I don’t think that’s something I’m looking to do. Instead, when you put the pellets in hot water for a few minutes, they become transparent and moldable, like a sort of putty that then dries as it cools off. In the videos John uploaded, you can see how he makes it fill huge gaping voids in the blow molds, and frankly, maybe I’d like to try repairing the original Santa if I still can, but I wanted something I could use that gave me more of a chance to get a good result in time for the holiday. So, I mixed up some of the plastic, used it to fill the crack in his beard and hand, and then applied hot glue to the other cracks. Once I had it in a place where I felt I had structural integrity and no holes, I moved on to the biggest job: priming and painting over the original.
There’s No Place Like Home for the Holidays
Priming the blow mold was actually not as hard of a task as it seemed like it might be at first. The biggest part of the equation was just making sure I had enough paint, and reader, this took an entire can of Corax White spray. It also took the majority of a can of an off-white called Cotton Candy that I got from Montana Cans, but either way, it was a LOT of spray paint to get him to a point at which I could safely start repainting. Corax covered better than I remembered it doing, but it still presented me with a challenge: I wasn’t able to strip the original paint from the blow mold, and so this new one would probably never light up properly, but that was okay. There were a lot of other ways to work with making this decorative Santa look great.
As I waited for the paint to dry enough so I could move him, I started thinking about things quite a bit. My family is pretty small these days, and my early childhood of spending holidays in huge gatherings and parties and get togethers fell by the wayside pretty fast once we moved out of NY. Turned out most people didn’t want to travel that far, and we didn’t really have the ability to do so either. So, we stuck to our own little devices. Christmas always kind of became a big deal: a big year end celebration, with presents and food, but there wasn’t a lot of other traditions. As the years rolled on, that has remained mostly the same, but a few things have changed more specifically, as my parents aged out of caring for the holiday and I started to care quite a lot about it.
So, there I sat, and waited for the now all white blow mold Santa to dry for a bit, while I took a look at the somewhat gloomy gray winter sky.
Despite my primary family unit only being myself, my parents, and my partner, we aren’t as close or tight knit as one might expect. In fact, there tends to be a lot of tension, a lot of fires, and a lot of peacekeeping. This would be hard in the best of circumstances, and it is even harder in less-than-ideal ones; to say that I am the most ‘head screwed on’ person in the household is not the brag it sounds, and as the days and years go on, that becomes more and more tiring. There is a lot of yelling, some due to hearing loss and others due to just emotional intelligence, a lot of noise, a loss of solitude. My desk is my refuge, a place that is as ‘me’ as can be, adorned with things I love and reminders of things that I care about: dolls, standees, toys, figures, trinkets.
They are often commented on, critiqued.
“That should go in storage.”
“You ever think about selling that stuff?”
“Isn’t that a little girly?”
My solace comes with the aid of very powerful headphones.
It’s been half an hour, and I decide to let the fumes of spray paint waft off a bit longer on the back patio before I start painting Santa. Gazing inside, I see our tree–the same artificial tree we’ve had for over 30 years–and try to shake off some other ennui as I go about my business. Opening the door, I am immediately assaulted with a question:
“What are you making for dinner?”
I’m Dreaming of a White Paint that Doesn’t Suck
My parents do not know that I am a woman.
Coming out later in life is not a particularly easy thing to do, and my situation and decision to do so is as much a chance at rebirth as it is a scream for relevance, to at least acknowledge myself and what I’ve struggled with for so long, why I’ve always been so uncomfortable and unhappy and just… existing. I’ve decided to make my life even harder by doing so at a time and place in which being trans is dangerous in almost all circumstances, and getting medication and changing my name is all but impossible. Being true to who I am also requires me to be realistic about where I am, and so while I have enjoyed the support of my partner and my friends and communities such as the other writers here at Goonhammer, my offline life continues much the same way as it always has, just with small, imperceptible changes when it is safe to make them.
The looming question is, of course, will I ever tell my parents, or will they pass on before then? Will I always be their ‘son,’ or will I be their only child, regardless? It’s hard to really say. My parents are not hateful, nor are they overly ignorant, but they are very generational in their thinking and behaviors. Offhand quips about bathroom bills or why is my hair so long lately make me shrink, awkwardly laughing it off, but the reality is that the odd, untargeted comments aren’t what bothers me.
It is the fact that we share very little anymore, because my parents no longer know who I am, and have not for a long time. Would they even want to know the true me?
As I collect Santa from the porch, I pass by my mother, watching the same Law and Order reruns she’s seen countless times. She makes an idle comment about being hungry, and I offhandedly reply that I’ll worry about it later, as my father drums on his desk, listening to Tom Petty at high volume because he is almost entirely deaf.
I put on my headphones, turn on a stream, crank the volume up, and collect my painting supplies. For this project, were you to ever like to repaint your own Santa blow mold or similar holiday decoration, I really recommend Mephiston Red Base as your color of choice for the sort of correct, almost velvet-y looking red color you want here. You’re going to want a very solid color because there are not many areas for shading on a giant, flat surfaced blow mold in most cases, so Mephiston was perfect. As I began painting his hat, Santa started to come to life before my eyes.
And then the paint was too wet because I tried traditional painting methods, and red paint ran all the way down the model, hitting the tile floor below.
Cleaning that up, the painting of red required the life of 2 full pots of Mephiston Red across the entirety of Santa’s body. Frankly, that’s a pretty solid testament to the power of a pot of Citadel paint, if I can be honest. The hat, coat, and pants started to breathe life into the figure, and I had to admit that painting it felt good; this was, and likely will be, the only thing I will have painted in the entirety of 2023.
Touching up the areas that were spattered in red with white, though, reminded me very much that I cannot stand Citadel’s white paints. Ceramite White was so useless that I gave up immediately and turned to the Layer Paint White Scar to do most of the work, and while it did work, it was far more miserable than the red paint. I did take advantage of the dappled ‘fur’ texture to try some broad drybrush highlighting and focused on painting the raised areas of Santa’s hair, trying to see if I can add any sense of depth to the model. It came out pretty nice, I think, although ironically it is hard to see most of it because the hair is primarily behind him, but we don’t do half measures here.
Painting the flesh of his face as a mixture of Kislev Flesh, Ushabti Bone, and then highlighting his cheeks, nose, and some other more raised areas with a light touch of Screaming Skull. I waited for him to dry a little bit as I saw an old photograph of myself and my father during winter, and wondered what that younger me would feel like if I were able to talk to them.
She always looked so anxious in photographs.
Holly Jolly Christmas
The holidays make me nostalgic, and melancholy. I don’t think that’s overly unfamiliar for a lot of people, as seasonal depression is very real. The days get shorter, and darker, and grayer. Ironically, I don’t mind all of that. I’ve always really enjoyed Autumn and Winter, and as I am a bit of a homebody and a Cottagecore gal, the idea of bundling up inside and being cozy is my idea of a good time. But the reality is that I get very sad because I think about the passage of time and the things that have come and gone, things that I’ve gained and lost, and the drifting apart of people.
I often ask my students, who are generally burgeoning adults at the age of 18-21, when was the first time they realized their parents are ‘people’, and the answers are always as illuminating as they are occasionally heart breaking. In The past semester, I had 3 students reveal to me that they had been kicked out of their homes for being queer, which is the current ‘high score’ for such an event. For me, the answer has always been that I learned it very early, because my parents are openly flawed people. There can be beauty in those flaws, but they are also equally as ugly and marring, many of them becoming more glaring as time has progressed. When your parent goes from being your hero to just another person, or worse a person who has deeply wronged you with no remorse in their heart, no amount of repairative tinkering, no Kintsugi style repairing with gold, will ever really heal some of that.
There aren’t a lot of great repairing options on this Santa, either, and as I begin to paint him close up, I see how poor a job the glue did at looking remotely natural and try to fight off the wave of annoyance and disappointment and begin to paint some touch up details the best I can. From a distance, the glue strands are essentially invisible, and so that’s fine. Up close, the imperfections come out, and I have to busy myself to move away from that part of the figure so as to not focus on them too hard. I take a moment to look around at some of the things int he room as I breathe, again coming into contact with a few little trinkets of earlier times and periods in our lives.
I don’t have a lot in common with my father, and that hasn’t really changed the older we’ve both gotten. He’s very hands on and good at tinkering and repairs and maintenance, but his hobbies and interests to this day elude me to the point that I think doing maintenance is his hobby. We don’t talk about things very much, and at times when we have tried to talk about the usual current events, he becomes disinterested or contradictory seemingly for the sake of being obtuse; it has certainly worked with my mother, entertaining him through screaming matches, but for me I just opt to not participate, which has both of them often quietly (they think) remark that I can be ‘cold’ or ‘no fun’. It also makes him impossible to shop for, because he has seemingly no interests and no desires for anything that he shares outwardly.
I’m painting this Santa for him, though, because something we have always shared was decorating for Christmas. It is one of the only things we have always done together, and perhaps the only time the two of us have ever managed to truly show an amazing amount of skill and teamwork. We are a well-oiled machine, as much as my mother likes to joke that we seem to be Clark Griswold and Rusty from Christmas Vacation, stringing up lights. When I was younger, we’d often go see Christmas lights around New York, or take a walk through the city when visiting my grandparents, and he and I have always been the duo to put up and take down the tree. So, Santa is for him, but he’s also for me. A reminder of some of the ways the holiday has allowed me to be close to a person that, despite being in my life at all times, I feel like I barely know.
I finish my break. It is time to finish the job.
You Better Watch Out, You Better Watch Out,
Abbadon Black is, if anything, really good at being a very covering and dark color. It takes me very little time to get Santa’s gloves, belt, and boots painted, and surprisingly, I manage not to get any of the black paint anywhere that I didn’t want it to be. I’ve realized that I’ve also greatly abused the brushes I’ve been using, almost entirely medium dry brushes, because the one larger brush I tried was actually too unwieldy, so instead I just made do with what I had available. As the black paint dried for the first time, I went back to touch it up, and the paint dried so nicely on the figure that it actually took on a very gentle sheen. Frankly, I had to take the moment to allow myself to be impressed by what I’d done here in the manner of a few hours.
I take a break to make dinner for the household, because that’s what I do: I take care of things, whether I have the energy to or not. I am responsible for the majority of labor in the house: cleaning, cooking, organizing, shopping, maintaining a sense of order. I can’t say it is a role I do not enjoy in some part, because I love cooking, I love making coffee, and I love helping those I care about. But there are many times that I do not enjoy it, the times in which I am treated as a live in servant than I am an equal. Instead of assisting in any way, I have simply been asked when food will be ready, finally relenting to cook simply to stop the question from being asked.
I skip my own dinner and return to painting.
Christmas is my favorite holiday, and Winter is my favorite season. I’m not religious, though, to be clear. Growing up Catholic and turning out to be queer tends to do that to you. My love of the holiday is mostly secular, related to the sense of magic and wonder that the time of year can bring; I love holiday decorations, lights, movies, music, the way in which the world sort of shifts to become something more magical and interesting. A month in which things do not feel as if they are grinding endlessly in the same direction, where the sun sets earlier but the days feel brighter, when seeing your breath for the first time continues to feel more special than any other time of the year, especially in a place in which doing so is very uncommon.
When I was younger, my extended family often got together for the type of big, almost outdated family gatherings you see parodied in movies like Christmas Vacation, but generally the holidays were just myself and my parents. And in a lot of cases, as we moved and became more removed from that familial connection, my parents also often tended not to be off on the actual holiday itself. When I was in my mid-teens, Christmas was often a mostly lonely affair, waiting for one parent to get off work before the stroke of Midnight on Christmas Eve, and the middle of the day or early morning to celebrate the holiday, depending on what block shift the other one had. Perhaps oddly, I felt like the holiday meant more then than it does now at times, where a lot of the ‘togetherness’ feels like obligation than it does celebratory.
But still, I look forward to it every year. I love watching Rudolph, Frosty, Christmas Story, even the He-Man Christmas Special, because they’ve always been a big part of my life. I still get mystified by the magic of Rankin-Bass animation, the weirdness of their forgotten catalog like The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus (You really should watch that), and for a short period Christmas generally allows me to simply be nervous and excited in the way that I like, before the weights of obligation come back, and sometimes that excitement goes without comment for ‘keeping in the season’. A small miracle, being allowed to be excited about things.
I go back to checking on the figure, and see that the black paint has dried, and so I move on to getting metallics ready to trim the belt and shoe-buckles. Retributor Armor, of course.
I’ve often been told that I am an ‘excitable’ person, in the sense that when I get excited about something, I can sometimes become almost overbearing in my wish to share that excitement with others. Someone else once described it as an ‘infectious energy,’ which I think I much prefer, but it has always been a difficult tug of war between enjoying myself and denying myself enjoyment in order to seek the safest path forward, and always feeling as if my presence bothers other people.
One particular interest I have always had is toys and dolls. During many of our family gatherings, I often would become interested in the dolls that my other relatives would receive or have. I always loved toys of any sort, but dolls had my attention for many reasons, even simplistic ones like Barbies, to the more ornate, extremely decorative ones in customized clothing. However, because I was “a boy,” my interest in these would earn me a round of teasing and mockery, to which I would have to frustratingly play along with or find some way to go hide until some other target of mockery came about. With a large family, that didn’t take very long, but each time I would hear “XXXX is playing with Barbies!” from one of my cousins or aunts, or even my own parents, the younger version of me wanted to crawl into a corner and die. It wasn’t even that I wanted to ‘play’ with them, but more that I found the customization and the design of them fascinating. Of course, no one wanted to hear about that; they just wanted to tease the poor young girl who didn’t understand.
2023 is the year that I finally purchased my first ball jointed doll, a process that took me months to justify and allow myself the mercy of having, and when she arrives sometime next year, I know that I will love it, but I also dread the thought of having to hide her or deflect answers as to why I have it. So far, my smaller blind box ball joint dolls get little comment save passing remarks, and my Monster High Dolls have also escaped scrutiny, particularly because one of them is of Anabelle, and my interest in horror movies seems to allay any lingering fears that their “son” is “gay” (I mean, she is, but not that way. I wrote a whole article about books of women kissing that I enjoy, you know?). As much as I adorn my desk with things that bring me happiness, I think about how much happiness I’ve been denied, or sacrificed, or simply been too cowardly to accept, and so, in an odd way, I decided that my most meaningful holiday gift would be a gigantic plastic toy, hand-painted by myself.
I slip the last bit of touch-up paints on the figure, and I let him dry for a while so that I can do something else. I watch some streams, I catch up on my GTA RP digests, I check in on Vtubers I like, I play some mobile games. I look at articles I hadn’t had a chance to read on Goonhammer yet for the day. I live a life that, to my parents, and particularly my father, doesn’t even exist. It’s all just “wasting time on the computer”.
As I gaze at Santa and think about how I am going to write about him, another thing on the list floats through my mind: they’ll also never even know what I do here. “Marcy” doesn’t exist to them. Goonhammer doesn’t exist, either. A part of me feels burdened by that, for a moment. While my parents have never been perfect, they often shared in my successes and congratulated me, and I realized that they’d never know the work that I do here. That I interviewed people, that I wrote about games that I loved, that I was part of a team. All of that doesn’t exist, and it can’t exist, because then “Marcy” has to exist too, and I don’t know if she can.
I carry Santa to the garage. He’s earned a rest, and so have I.
Haul Out the Holly
Ever year, I watch A Muppet Family Christmas, an essentially lost piece of media. It features the Muppet Show cast, Sesame Street, and the Fraggles. At the end of the special, Jim Henson appears and talks for a few seconds, and I cry every single time I see him.
At first, I thought it was because I was just sad that someone I idolized had passed away unjustly early, but I think I started to realize that I also really found the little quip–”I like it when they’re happy,”-to be something that resonates with me. As I said, I put on a lot of weight to carry the household, and at times, that makes it hard to be “me”. I give up doing a lot of things because I have to do everyone else’s things, and so there are times when I simply cannot exist in every space that I need to at all times. Much of my anxiety and stress comes from the sense that I am eternally playing catch-up, that ideas and goals that I have get forgotten about or pushed to the side because I am trying to do my best to keep everything above water, and yet, I can’t disagree.
I like it when they’re happy.
And in this instance, I actually get to see what that happiness looks like. When they both see the finished result, they’re ecstatic. They’re more interested in what I’ve done here than they have been in an almost anything else I have done: recipes I have tried for the first time, accolades of work, successes in my life, none of those earn the interest this stupid plastic milk jug of a Santa gets. I actually get momentarily annoyed, but it gives way to a calming sense that even though there is so much more behind this gift than I can express or explain, the end result is the same: they’re happy with it, and I’m happy with it, and that’s all that really matters.
I return him to the garage, but not before an idea takes me.
I go inside and fetch one of my dolls. It’s a cute ball joint doll from a blind box set that I got on a recent trip and ended up being the secret figure in the set. That doesn’t really matter, though; I just really think she’s very cute and I love the colorings. I set up the Santa for a moment on the workbench and snap another picture. Because while this Santa is a gift to them, he’s also a gift to me. A reminder that I can do pretty impressive work. That the person behind this work, Marcy, is capable of doing a hell of a lot with a hell of a little. And that sometimes, she really enjoys being a little bit of an excitable goofball. And perhaps that’s the best gift I can give myself: the mercy to allow myself to be.
Merry Christmas, dear readers. I hope you also give yourself the gift of mercy this year.