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XCOM: UFO Defense (1994) was one of the defining gaming moments of my childhood.  I still have not played the modern “reimagining,” XCOM: Enemy Unknown, mostly because I don’t have a modern enough operating system.  (I cling bitterly to guns, religion, and Windows XP.)  I figured it would make a good theme, however, for my little brother’s notebook cover for Christmas.

This is the unit shield for the new game, credited to Studio Art Director Steve Ogden.

XCOM 010

I didn’t go out of my way to get a perfect, even finish; I was actually trying for a “weathered” look.  I used Eco-Flo Briar Brown Hi-Lite stain first to really fill in the tooling, and then went over it all with several coats of Eco-Flo Java Brown dye, which I really like.  It came off with a pretty warm, red-brown look to it; the first picture is probably the most “true” to the actual color, but this one shows the overall look:
XCOM 014

After that was dry (or mostly dry), I sponged on some Super Shene, which tends to pick up some of the dye and spread it around, especially if you don’t let it completely dry (and then buff it).  This accounts for most of the unevenness.  I let that dry, then softened it up with linseed oil and finished with acrylic resolene and mink oil.

If I were doing it again, I might try to actually dye it two-tone in detail, more like the original image (linked above): do the darker shade, put a resist finish on it, and then sponge/swap it over with the lighter shade.  That said, I think it has a certain charm as-is.

XCOM 001

Here’s a few shots of it immediately after tooling.  I FUBARed the stars, especially the center one. I really didn’t have a good stamp for that; I thought my mule’s foot tooling stamp would be appropriate, and it was not even close to a sharp enough angle, so I spent a great deal of effort trying to control the damage (and then make it look symmetrical).  Always test on scrap leather.

I didn’t even try to tool the letters; I burned them with a cheap thermograph/soldering iron set I picked up a few months ago at Harbor Freight. Not the most even lettering, unfortunately; the hard part is not burning deep and heavy, so you have to move lightly and quickly while being precise.  (I did practice this on scrap; you should see the first few tries. Ugh.)

XCOM 006

I am getting better at shading the large areas evenly, and also the curves, which are usually the bane of my tooling.  Keeping one’s knife honed helps, but I’ve also become more willing to try alternate grips and even something other than a swivel knife (the blasphemy!) if that’s what it takes.  I recently acquired a few new tools (post forthcoming) which may aid in my hamfisted efforts.

XCOM 008In other respects (pigskin interior, etc.) this is just like my other leader book cover, except a wee bit taller, with a bookmark ribbon, and with a much more interesting design.  My little brother liked that one, so I wanted to do one up for him, but his rank (1LT) and branch (chaplain) are both terribly boring from a visual appeal perspective (even more so than my rank), so I went outside the Army lanes to find something that he would like.  If nothing else, I guarantee no one else at the battalion staff meetings will have one.

(It turns out he hadn’t played the game yet, either, and had no idea what it was.  Once enlightened, he was pretty enthusiastic.  Even outside its context, I think it’s a pretty sharp-looking, balanced design, and I guarantee someone will recognize it.)