I really like Halloween! This year I decided to go big! As in a six foot tall skull and 4 foot wide skeleton hands big. These are a part of the Halloween decorations for our house. This particular decoration is for our side fence. When I came up with this idea I got really excited so much so that I began working on it with out a lot of planning or foresight. I just wanted to make it. It was very much a shoot first aim later type of build. I wasn't sure the method I planned on using to draw this skull and skeleton hands was going to work so I just went for it and began working. I figured if it didn't work I could just abandon the project and come up with something else. Now I realize that not everyone wants a six foot tall skull for their yard but the method I use to make this can be used for just about anything and in a wide range of scales as well. In this Instructable I will show the errors I made in planning in hopes that it will help others avoid my mistakes and poor planning. I don't usually push my videos much besides attaching a link. But I highly suggest watching the video mainly because I feel it is a good accompaniment to the write up.
This is a 4 foot by 8 foot 1/2 inch thick sheet of plywood. I start off by marking one foot increments along the edges. I attach screws at each 1 foot mark along the edge. I then use my chalk line to mark out my grid so that each square measures 1 foot by 1 foot. Basically you end up with a sheet of plywood that has 32 individual one foot squares. If you don't have a chalk line you can use a pencil and a straight edge. I chose the chalk line because I didn't want the lines to be visible once I began to paint it.
I am not an artist and can't draw, so if I can do this anyone probably can. In order to draw the skull on to the plywood I used the grid method which basically makes it possible to enlarge the original drawing by using the grid lines as reference from the small squares to the large squares. It is easy to get intimidated by a complex drawing but if you break the drawing down in to individual squares and focus on each square it quickly becomes less daunting of a task. There is some prep before hand, for example since I was using a 4 foot by 8 foot sheet of plywood my skull couldn't be wider than 4 inches or longer than 8 inches otherwise it wouldn't fit on the plywood. So there was some scaling trial and error that had to be done to the skull image to get it to the right size. Once I got it close to 4 inch by 8 inch I drew the grid on to the paper. The grid squares on the paper measure 1 inch by 1 inch square.
I used a pencil to draw the skull on to the plywood using the skull on the piece of paper as a reference. As I drew I looked where the lines would enter and exit each square and try to approximate that on the plywood. As I said earlier, focusing on one square at a time really helped build my confidence as I went along. I could start to see that this wasn't going to be half bad after all. Its not a perfect skull by any means but it is obvious that this is indeed a skull.
Once I had finished drawing the skull on the plywood I took a few steps back and fixed anything that didn't look quite right. I changed the length of the chin because it looked too stubby on the plywood. And I also moved the position of the nose slightly. I freehanded those adjustments but all I did was just copy the lines that I had drawn in just a little lower or a little higher position. Then I used my jigsaw to cut out the skull shape. In the second picture you can see the shorter chin line and the longer line that I am actually cutting. Its the same shape and curve as the other line just lower on the plywood.
I can't draw but I do know how to trace. I needed creepy skeleton hands and I didn't have a reference for them so I took a bunch of different pictures (about 20) of my own hands until I found one picture that looked like what I was envisioning. I used my light box to trace my hands but instead of tracing my fingers I tried to make them look like bones. You are probably saying, "Hey Dan I don't have a fancy light box for tracing!" Well you can actually do the tracing on a large window during the day. You just have to tape the original image to the glass and then your second piece of paper on top of the original. This is a little tough on the shoulders but with a few breaks it can be done. How do I know you ask? Because that's exactly how I used to do it before I built my light box.
So back to the skeleton hand tracing. To be complete honest I'm not even sure that I have the right number of finger bones in my drawing but when I was done with the tracing it looked like a good enough representation of skeleton hands to me so I pressed on.
When I printed out the photo of my fingers I did make sure that the scaling would work out so that both hands would fit on one 4 x 8 foot sheet of plywood. I then drew the grid on to my drawing, again using 1 inch squares.
It was the same process again using my drawing on the paper as a guide I drew the skeleton hands on to the plywood. The drawing on the plywood was not a perfect copy of the drawing on the paper a couple of the fingers were too far apart and some might have been longer or shorter than they were supposed to be but this was supposed to be a pair of creepy skeleton hands. So any imperfections did not bother me as long as they weren't too glaring. I probably could have drawn a sixth finger on one hand and it would have still worked. This is a Halloween decoration so the creepier the better is what I say.
Here again I used my jigsaw to cut out both of the hands. Since I was using cheap 1/2 inch plywood I made sure to support the long fingers as I cut them away from the rest of the plywood. The weight of the plywood could cause the fingers to break off if not supported.
This is where my poor planning comes in to play or rather my excitement got the better of me. I was excited how the drawing of the skull looked so I figured well, I'll just paint some of it in just to get a feel for the overall look. But as I was painting it I really got in to it and just kept going because it was turning out way better than I expected. I pretty much ended up painting the whole thing as if I was done. I still needed to paint it white since its a skull and its supposed to be white and not wood colored. I thought to myself I will probably still be able to see the black lines underneath the white paint and I can just trace those lines once the white paint dries. That sort of worked. Had I planned better I would have painted the plywood white first then drew the black portions after. This would have saved me the trouble of drawing the skull two times.
Of course I did the same thing with the skeleton hands. I added all the black detail first because I was curious to see if they would actually look how I was hoping they would look. If I were to make this again I would definitely paint the two sheets of plywood white first then do everything else.
Using a foam roller I painted the skull and skeleton hands white with the expectation that I would be able to make out the black details underneath the white paint and just trace over them again.
Here I am wiping away some of the white paint to expose the black details. Here again I realized my mistake in not painting the plywood white first. I tried removing some of the white paint thinking it might give it a weathered look but ultimately I figured out that I just needed to redraw all the black details. Which is what I ended up doing.
As you can see from the picture the black lines are visible under the white paint so I was able to trace the black lines and details but as I stated earlier I did realize I should have painted the plywood first. Ultimately though I was really happy with how the skull and hands turned out.
To get the shading effect on the skull and skeleton hands I used a dry brush technique. This is where you slightly dip the brush in to the paint and then dab the brush on a sheet of paper or rag to remove most of the paint. Then just brush along the edges to give it a shade effect.
I wanted to attach this to my side fence and in order to do that I screwed 2 eight foot 2x4s to my fence using 3-1/2 inch screws. I later went back and used 3 inch long 5/16 lag bolts with washers to attach the 2x4s to the fence posts. I was afraid that a strong wind might rip the 2x4s from the posts once everything was installed.
The first two pictures just show the orientation of the 12 foot long 2x4s on the back of the skull they are not attached yet. I used twelve 1-1/4 inch screws to attach the skull to the 2x4s from the front. I made sure to screw in to areas that were black so that I could go back and touch up the screw heads with black paint once I was done.
I was able to erect this by myself using some clamps to hold the work piece in place while I screwed it in to the intersecting 2x4s. I used 3-1/2 inch screws to attach the skull assembly to the horizontal 2x4s.
Later I went back and added 3 inch long 5/16 lag bolts to the intersecting points of the 2x4s. I also painted the back of the skull and skeleton hands black to help protect them from the weather.
I used 1-1/4 screws to attach the skeleton hands to the fence, again making sure to screw in to the black areas and then touching up the screw heads with paint.
I included this first picture to give you an idea of the perspective or size of the decoration. My side fence it about 6 feet 6 inches tall, the left side is the gate/entrance to the side yard. I added a couple of spot lights to shine on the big guy which definitely added to the overall effect. At night it really feels like its looming over you watching you waiting. This was a really fun build for me. I really liked the way this turned out it exceeded my expectations. And best of all my wife and kids love it. I hope this inspires you to create your own gigantic art or at least your slight above average sized piece of art. Hope you all have a Happy Halloween!