Creating Textures – Mottled Leather Diary

In every new experience we create we afford a great deal of consideration to how every prop fits into the narrative we are trying to portray. Sometimes props cannot be sourced in exactly the right style or need to be altered to fit the time period or to be suitable to act as part of a puzzle, so we often need to apply our creativity to amend them. But these are not the only reasons – we also create props to be used to set the scene for team photos at the end of the experience. These need to be in keeping with the theme of the game but don’t necessarily need the realistic quality of something players actually interact with during the experience. Instead, we aim to create props that translate well into a photo and play the part visually only.

For TimeTrap Escape Rooms’ ‘Pudding Lane’ experience the theme is the Great Fire of London of 1666, so all photo props needed to tie into that. We took inspiration from the puzzles that teams encounter throughout the experience to decide on the interesting items we would create for them to pose with in photos. For example, we created a reversible newspaper headline that reported two different stories depending on the team’s outcome in the game, as well as the focus of this blog – a replicated Samuel Pepys’ diary. In the experience Pepys gives the team clues via his diary so it often plays a big role in their game, and there are also a few other nods to Pepys that can be spotted during play. So it seemed only right to include his diary as a prop at the end of the room.

Our challenge was translating the real diary – which is, in essence, a small book with no discerning features to a recognisable caricature of the original. We chose an encyclopaedia as a base to work from that provided us with the size of book we needed. Usually within the experience it has to be expected that players will investigate everything possible and so all items have to be realistic. Therefore a book has to be openable and the contents have to be as expected. But as this prop was only for photo purposes our job was much easier and no contents were required – it just had to look the part on the outside and be hard-waring to stand up against the constant handling.

We initially used PVA to seal the first and last few pages to the front and back covers respectively in order to make it slightly thicker and sturdier for step two. In order to hold the book fully closed we then screwed through the hard covers from the front and back pulling all the pages firmly together. We also sealed the three edges of the pages with PVA to prevent tears and movement.

Once the physical form of the book was complete it was time to redesign the cover, including disguising the screw heads. For this step we used a few layers of simple kitchen roll pasted around the book like a dust jacket using PVA. As long as a basic non-patterned kitchen roll is used, the texture gives a mottled leather look once the glue is dried. We used three layers which both made sure the new cover was sturdy and also effectively disguised the screw heads. Once the glue was dry we sponge painted the cover to give it a reddish-brown colour. By sponge painting we were able to cover all the natural bumps in the kitchen roll without affecting the mottled look. 

The final steps of creating the diary prop were the finishing touches – to make the most of the atmospheric Great Fire of London theme, some ‘ash’ was added to the edges and corners using black paint and a sponge once again. On the front we also painted the words ‘Diary of Samuel Pepys’ in gold to look like a title embossed into the cover. To ensure this would be visible in a photo the light and shiny gold colour was edged in black.

Although this is a simple prop with a simple procedure for its adaption, we still take the same care to think about the details and requirements as with everything else. This probably goes unnoticed by most of our customers, but what we hope is that in putting the same thought into every part of the experience, the overall effect will be magnified.