Halloween is done up big in my house, normally by me! I've taken a lot of inspiration and instruction from the internet over the last few years and thought it was about time I gave back. So today we will be discussing the method I use for making the hands of the undead minions that find themselves meandering in my front yard come October.
I thought long and hard over the proper method for making the "bones" and "ligaments" for my hands. Some people use sticks, or modeling clay, wired together. I came up with the idea of using the shafts of disposable pens. Thought of or ripped off someone else, who can tell? That's all well and good, but how do you connect them? Scrounging around in the basement, wading through my children's discarded crafting materials, I happen upon... Pipe Cleaners! Brilliant!
Now that I had the way of making the fingers, how shall I put them together? Initially I used duct tape to construct the palm. It worked, but the palm wasn't all that rigid. What else to use. How about cardboard? Rigid enough to hold the correct shape, but flexible enough to do my evil bidding. Perfect!
Onto the show!
Step 1: In Which We Gather All Our Things Together...
• Pipe cleaners or "chenille stems" (30x)
• Disposable pens (lots)
• Ruler (with millimeters)
• Tape measure
• Masking Tape
• Scrap Cardboard
• Sharpie (optional)
• Cutting tool (Wire Cutters, XActo Knife, box knife, I used a band saw)
• Facial Tissue paper
• Wood for arm bones
• Cable (zip) Ties (optional)
• Liquid Starch
• Liquid Bleach
• Tissue Paper (like you would stuff in a gift bag when you feel too lazy to wrap something, you big jerk)
• Various colors of paint
First thing that needs to be done is to figure out how long the finger bones are going to need to be. I just so happen to have a Bucky skeleton on hand (if you don't know what a Bucky is, are you sure you are into Halloween? Just asking) so I measured each bone and made a grid. Since I like you and I see you have potential, I've provided my measurements already (each unit is in millimeters).
However, if you don't want to use Bucky's hand, because, say, you're making something disproportionally large (pervert), there is an online calculator you can use to get some useful numbers http://www.zombietronix.com/calculator_simplehand.php. Alternately, you can use the ruler I said you needed and measure your own fingers. You'll probably get something close enough. Make a simple grid, you should already have a pen (or 12) handy...
Note that there are four (4) bones for each finger except for the thumb. What it lacks in bones, it makes up for in usefulness. Don't believe me? Try doing this project without using yours.
Step 2: In Which We Tediously Cut Out All the Bones...
Using your ruler, mark out the length of the longer bones, those in the palm. You will want to cut these out first, since they take up the most real estate and you will go through fewer pens. Using the cutting implement of your choice (I choose you, band saw!) cut at the mark. I did the cut as a bevel cut, so that the joint will close easier for you to pose your new hand.
Here's a tip on the tips. The finger tip bones narrow down dramatically. I used the end plastic bit of the pen for this bone.
You will need to pay attention to which finger you are working on. I used my sharpie to mark each bone so that I knew exactly where it went (ex. The bone that connects to the wrist on the thumb was T1) I noticed that all my finger tip lengths were more or less the same, so I didn't bother marking these.
Step 3: In Which the Phalanges Bones Are Connected to the Metacarpal Bones...
If you'd used my suggestion in the last step, and have the narrow end of the pens as your finger tips, then the metal within the pipe cleaners will jam up nicely where the ball point part would normally go and effectively lock them into place.
With the bevel cut I added, you can see how nicely the finger will bend. It will bend more than is shown; I just chose a nice arc to illustrate my point.
Notice that I did not cut off the ends of my pipe cleaners. Once the hand is constructed, we will be using the extra length to anchor it into the arm.
Step 4: In Which We Create the Palm Webbing...
Using a pen or a Sharpie, trace the outline of your hand like you are back in second grade making a Thanksgiving turkey. Omit the fingers (we already made those, remember?).
Cut out the hands and on one side (be consistent) place each finger, in turn, where it would like and trace the line of the long palm bones from the end towards the wrist.
The human hand is a strange and wonderful thing. It is also not a flat thing. We must make sure our new hands reflect this reality. Once you've trimmed as you see necessary, bend the cardboard into an arc, creasing at your marks initially, the between them afterwards, until you get the curvature you desire.
Frequently I will see people do a nice job on hands, except the palm is flat as a pancake. Don't be like these people, you know better.
Step 5: In Which We Add Bulk to the Fingers...
Tear off a bit of tissue paper (facial tissue, toilet paper, doesn’t matter) and crumple it up over the joint. Use your tape to completely cover it and fasten it to the bones. Rinse and repeat with each joint. If you think there are other areas (besides on the bones of the palm) that need more bulk, by all means add it. I also folded a little bit of tissue and tape over the finger tips. I will be adding finger nails to these hands and need something to stick them to.
Note: don't fatten your fingers too much; we will need a little bit of breathing room for when we are skinning them.
Step 6: In Which We Attach the Fingers to the Palm...
With your frame, start by laying down the Index finger along the line you drew, with the end of the knuckle resting right on the edge of the cardboard. Don't worry if you've padded up that knuckle and it won't lie flat. We are not that much of a perfectionist (as you can probably tell). Apply two horizontal stripes of tape to hold the bone in position. Move to the middle finger and do the same. Repeat for all fingers until we have the thumb.
If you've laid out your hand correctly, looking down your thumb will be on the right for the left hand, and etc. etc for the other. If this is not the case, you've made some sort of hideous mutant. You can either tear it apart and pay attention next time, or embrace the whole mutant zombie commie thing you've started.
When placing the thumb, pay special attention to the angle of the bones. Obviously the thumb doesn't point the same direction of the fingers; otherwise it would be a short finger with one fewer bone. Make sure it faces inward, so that your hand looks like it could actually grip something.
Once done, if you find the bones on the back of the hand, go ahead and stuff tissue into the gaps and cover with tape. We want a good surface to start the skinning process in a couple of steps.
Step 7: In Which We Add Arms...
Just about anything can be used for this bone, depends on how much is being exposed. To be realistic, you can use two thinner pieces of wood or PVC, since your arm is not circular, but flattened. This is what I am doing, knocking off the square corners with a knife ahead of time. Attach the two bones together in some manner, such as wood screws or cable (zip) ties.
Attach your hand to the arm using something secure, such as cable ties. Don't snug the hand right up to the bone if you want to be able to pose the wrist. Give it some extra room and pad the tape with more tissue and tape. We want the wrist to be able to be posed, not floppy. As pictured, I added some stiff wire between the arm and the hand.
Once secured, fill in any gaps with more tissue and tape.
To build up some muscle on the arm, wad/roll newspaper in pleasing manner and tape down like you had done on the palm.
Step 8: In Which Skin Is Added...
The method in which I will be employing is paper mache (or papier-mâché if you're pretentious). Before you panic, this isn't your grade school paper mache, although it's similar. I've gotten some good results, so bear with me.
The paste I use is the one I got off of http://www.stolloween.com/?page_id=209, Stolloween's website, as he is the undisputed master at the art. It consists of six (6) cups of flour, one (1) cup of liquid starch, one (1) cup of white glue, and a splash of bleach (to kill off anything that might choose to eat it, like yeast). Mix with enough warm water to get to the consistency of thin pancake batter.
Stolloween says to use a blender, but I know if I did in my house, my wife would punch me in the face. Since I like my face, I use a paint mixer attachment to my drill.
Learn from me, wear old shoes you don't much care for, as it will drip and harden. Also, use that stupid grilling apron that your brother-in-law got you for Christmas last year. It will save your clothes.
Pose your hand and wrist the way you want now. Once you start laying on the paper mache, you're done with the posing unless you do some surgical alterations, then you have to fix the gaps and that means more paper mache and time...
Shred the newspaper into strips about six (6) inches long and one (1) inch. Don't use the cut edge, ripped edges blend better. Each strip needs to be dipped into the paste and squeezed off with your fingers. Begin applying the strips along the arm up to the hands. When you get to the fingers, you might want to switch to smaller strips. Try to not let the corners of the paper where you when around a curve pop up. If they do, don't panic, we can trim that off later with a sharp knife.
This step is by far the most time consuming as you can only do one side of the hand/arm at a time. You should build up at least three (3) layers of strips, alternating directions, one layer only after the first one dries, top one layer, bottom the next. I found it convenient when changing directions between layers to alternate between standard white one direction, colored for the next (like from advertisements or the funny pages). Don't use anything that is glossy. The varnish prevents the paste from saturating the paper and you get a weak layer that way. Again, learn from me...
If it's hot and dry out, you might get away with adding more than layer per day, but I would allow a day for each layer to dry. You don't want to trap moisture in your arm or hand. Mildew. Enough said.
Once you've built up the proscribed layers, you will find that you have a rigid shell around the hand and arm. But, however, it's not a very nice skin layer, what will that the strips being visible and all. I'm coming to that.
Trim off any unsightly mistakes with you sharp knife. Having done that, it's now time for the final layer of paper mache.
Get some tissue paper, and I don't mean the toilet kind. Any really thin paper is what you want. Rip it to irregular shapes. You might find that this paper doesn't have a ripping grain like the newspaper did. Add this paper to the arm. You will notice that it tends to wrinkle and you place it on your arm. Use that to your advantage. This layer covers a lot of sins. Color of the paper, at this point, doesn't matter and can be quite amusing.
Step 9: In Which We Bring Out His True Colors...
Painting is an art. An accomplished master takes years and years to hone his skills. I, on the other hand, am not a master by any stretch of the imagination. But I have a few tricks in my bag. We will be working in layers, moving from the darkest colors to the lightest.
Start off by coating the entire arm, from fingertip to funny bone in the dark brown, making sure that all the little nooks and crannies are covered. Nothing more frustrating to think you're done, only to find a streak of white between the fingers that you missed! Let this layer dry. Depending on how heavy you ladled it on, might take an hour or a few. I leave a fan on it to accelerate the process. This is the "base coat". This is what will show through where you don't paint in the next steps.
The next coat is the "undercoat". Use a lighter brown, either straight up or by mixing the brown with a little yellow and/or white. You might add a little red, but be very careful of red. It takes very little of this color to start to saturate your mix and "pink"-ify it, which I, personally, don't like. With your brush, take some of the paint and tap off most of the color onto a rag or paper towels. With a light stroke, go over the arm. The idea here is to not slather the paint, but to caress the arm with the tips of the brush. It's not what's called "dry brushing" but its close. You should still see the darkest paint when you are done, but not a lot. Let dry.
Now we are on the last major painting step, highlighting. In this we will be dry brushing. I will explain in a minute.
The color here we want to use is closer to the final color you want. I am using white, with yellow mixed in, a touch of red and brown.
Now we dry brush. We do this by tapping only the very ends of the bristles into the paint and tapping almost all of it off onto our rag or paper towel. You want just the barest hint of paint on the brush. Start brushing the piece with the brush. You should notice that only the highest parts of the skin texture will pick up the paint. That's what you want. Avoid any this of brush strokes. If you get a streak of color, immediately start brushing the area in the sideways direction, to smear it out. Once done, you might change your color slightly and go over it again, hitting certain areas you think need special attention. It's not unusual to dry brush with multiple colors (adding a little white, or yellow, etc). Skin tone is not flat (or monochromatic) so don't be afraid to experiment.
If you finish and don't quite like the results, you can always go back what you did on the undercoat and start over from that point, covering your highlighting.
What happens if you get the paint nice, but slightly the wrong hue? Once thing you can do is a wash. A wash, in many ways, is the opposite of dry brushing. Instead of a little paint, you have a sloppy, wet brush. But the paint you use is highly watered down. It should be mostly water with just a hint of color on it. Coat the whole thing with a wash and you will be amazed.
If you don't feel comfortable doing this on your piece right away, you can always practice your technique on something else first, like a scrap of wood, or maybe your neighbors’ cat... Okay, not the cat, scratch that.
Step 10: In Which Our New Hands Get Their First Manicure...
At the local Wal-Mart, or local convenience store (or even at a Halloween store), you can find fake fingernails. Perfect for what we need. The fingernails, out of the package, are a bit shiny and a little too perfect. Taking some fine grit sandpaper will remove the shine. You might even "break" the nails with your sharp knife for added affect. Make sure you rough up the inside of the nail for gluing.
Use sandpaper, or a Dremel to scuff up the ends of your fingers where you plan on glue the nails down. Don't overdo it; you just spent the better part of the evening painting the darned thing. Make sure your paint is well dried before gluing, or you won't get good adhesion.
For glue, any number will probably work. Most likely your best bet will be a 5-minute epoxy. When gluing down, use a toothpick to spread out any glue that squeeze out from under the nail. You might even take some of the surplus glue and smooth out the transition from the nail to the skin. Looking at your own hand, you will see that nails are not sitting on top of your skin, but rather are embedded within. Depends on how detailed you want to make it.
Another thing you can do is to add a little paint to the nails, to give them that “freshly clawed out of the grave” look. Mix brown, black and white and streak down the length.
Step 11: In Which I Hopelessly Plug My Websites...
Feel free to visit my Halloween website at http://halloween.tittivillus.com or my blog at http://grimrecesses.blogspot.com.