Make On The Cheap - Foam Skull Part 1

If you’re like me, it’s never to early to think about Halloween so today’s Make On The Cheap is going to center around an inexpensive foam skull that you can find at any store that sells Halloween decorations (or you may have one around the house like I do). I’m going to show you what I did to turn this cheap foam-bone into a scary holiday decoration.

First thing we need to do is talk about what you need for this project, aside from the skull. We are going to do some papier mache work here so you need some newspapers and glue. If you are only going to show this inside then basic white glue is all you need. If you think this might be something you want outside I’d go with a stronger carpet glue like I used. For what I am showing here I used chicken wire and duct tape to build up some structure over the skull. Technically you don’t need these items but if you want to make something more complex like this, you’ll need them. Also, you’ll need some paint and paint brushes.

Next step is to think about what you want to make out of your skull. I wanted to build a half skeleton, half pumpkin ground breaker (you’ll notice in some of the pictures that the skull is attached to a torso, but I am not going to talk about it in this article). In part 2 I will walk through “corpsing” a skull (using many of the same skills in this article) so if you don’t want to follow along with this skull, you’ll be able to make your own zombie head soon!

Alas poor Yorick!

Alas poor Yorick!

Since I wanted an open, screaming mouth the first thing I did was hot glue the jaw in the open position. It’s OK if your skull doesn’t have a separate jaw bone but it makes for a cooler finished product if you can find one that does. I also didn’t want a mouth full of perfect teeth so I took an X-Acto knife and cut out a few of those chompers.

The next thing is to build the “scaffolding” for the pumpkin side of the head with chicken wire. This doesn’t need to be perfect, it just needs to approximate the shape that you want to create. Use wire cutters to cut the chicken wire and just jam the wire ends into the skull. Then take some duct tape and use that to actually sculpt the shape over the chicken wire. Again it’s not going to look great yet it just needs to give you the overall shape to cover with paper.

Now it’s time to put those papier mache skills you learned in grade school to good use. Tear some thin strips of newspaper and pour out some glue to dip the paper in (if you go the industrial-strength carpet glue route make sure to wear latex gloves when you do this. It may even be a good idea to wear them even when using white glue - but white glue washes off easy. Carpet glue is going to stay on your hands for a long time). Start covering the duct tape with layers of paper until you start to cover all the gaps. For the pumpkin shape use paper to build up the ridges and the stem. You are basically sculpting in papier mache at this point. You can build up lips around the mouth with just layers of paper. Reference photos are always good to keep near. I know, you're well aware of what a pumpkin looks like, but you'd be surprised how perception changes when you're sculpting in 3D. Keep adding paper until you have the shape you want.

Let the papier mache dry for 24-48 hours and then you can start painting. Paint the entire skull black first. Then you can build up lighter colors on top of it. Since I was using this for outdoor use, I had some house paint tinted orange for my pumpkin side. You can use any type of acrylic craft paint that you can get at any craft store for a dollar or so a piece if you are going to display inside.

The best way to add layered paint is to use the “dry brush” technique. To do this you basically paint with as little paint on the brush as possible. It takes longer but the layered approach lets a lot of the undercoat of black give you some great shadows, or depth, to your skull. Dip your brush in paint and brush most of it off on a paper towel. Then when there is just a little paint left on the brush start painting the high points on the skull and blend slowly to the deeper spots that will have more black than color.

Remember that if you don’t like the way your painting looks you can paint it all black and start over again. Your first try will not be perfect so practice with different amounts of paint and different brush strokes but with any painting project, less is more. You can always put more paint on. It’s much harder to take paint off.

Here’s my finished product. As I said from the start I was building a full torso ground breaker, so I used additional foam bones do build out arms and chest and used the papier mache process to cover the whole thing. Next time, we’ll use the same kind of skull to learn some corpsing techniques so you can make some cheap and easy zombie heads. As always have fun and don’t get discouraged. If you have any questions or comments add them below or Tweet me @WJKCreations.