Introduction: Make 3D, Light-up, Twisted Animal Horns!
Good for Halloween, for Fursuiting, for Festivals and Music gigs, for Lady Gaga wannabes, for Cosplay, or just for fun: some very lightweight, 3D curly or helix-shaped (helical?) horns. They are hollow, and the lights within them light up the night. The lights can even be seen during daylight - just not so bright. These horns are durable, but crowd-friendly. They have no sharp points, and each one weighs about 100gms (about a quarter of a pound). I read that the faun's amazing horns in Pan's Labyrinth weighed ten pounds! No comparison intended. My homemade horns pale into nothing beside those made by professional costume/prop makers.
These horns have ridges or 'growth rings' like real horns, and the lights shine out from between the ridges. At night they glow; switch the lights off during daylight, and they even sparkle on a sunny day! OK, so not everyone's a fan of glitter...
How was I going to make some horns which were all of the above? While walking through a gardening store I saw some topiary plant supports, and an idea started to form...
Supplies and Tools
- 2 twisted garden supports – you can get these from chain stores, garden centers etc. They are hollow tubes made out of soft, thin metal, with a coating of plastic. They cost about $10 each, but you can use them more than once, if you’re making more than one set of horns. The thing that makes these great bases for building on – their rigidity – also makes them difficult and unforgiving. If you bend them in the wrong place, it’s very hard to fix or change.
- 2 rolls of Soft/Cushioned Plant Tie. This stuff has a thin wire core and is coated in soft foam, and comes in 10 metre rolled lengths. It’s a dull green, but once it’s covered or painted, the colour hardly shows through. I found 2 brands – one cost less than $3 per roll, and the other cost more than $8. They both look the same, and both work equally well. 1 long horn can use up more than half a roll; if you don’t want to waste what’s left, it can be joined by cutting away about 2½ cm of the soft outer coating at the end of the roll, and pushing the exposed wire carefully into the beginning of a new roll of plant tie.
- Masking/duct/packing/whatever tape, about 5cm wide. Cheapest is good.
- A hacksaw. This is for cutting the twisted garden supports.
- Wire cutters. These are for cutting the soft plant tie. It cuts really easily. You can even use scissors; just not your hugely expensive sewing scissors.
- A roll of cooking/baking paper. Get 15 metres or longer.
- 2 sets of lights. I used strings of 20 battery-operated red or blue ‘rice’ Christmas lights. They also come in green. They cost almost nothing if you time it right, and get them just after Christmas. The only drawback to the rice lights is that once they're inside the horns, they ain't coming out. I also used some EL or glow wire. It costs a lot more, and it's not as bright; but you do get a more even glow. And, unlike the rice lights, the glow wire is easy to remove from the horns.
- 3 AA-size batteries per string of Christmas lights, or 2 AAA-size batteries per EL/glow wire.
- Some coloured crepe paper. It can be matched or toned with the colour of the glitter paint.
- Foam Glue. Dries clear. PVA glue can be used, but not recommended. Foam glue adheres to the soft foam plant ties better, and it’s stretchy.
- Glitter paint, water-based, translucent or transparent. It can be matched or toned with the colour of the crepe paper.
- A hot glue gun, and 2 or more packets of glue sticks.
- Some thin string.
- A very small round or oval fishing sinker.
Step 1: Bending and Cutting.
Lay your twisted garden supports side by side. Don’t cut them yet. Decide
- which creature’s horns you are going to make,
- length - you have to be able to get through doorways! and
- which end of your garden supports will be the part that ‘grows’ out of your head.
- Antelope and similar horns grow almost straight up out of the animal’s head, whereas
- Goat, ram, minotaur, and some types of demon, satyr or faun (e.g. the faun in Pan's Labyrinth) horns usually have a strong curve backwards or sideways, towards the back and shoulders of the creature.
Use a marker to mark, on each garden support, the length you want, allowing a bit extra at each end for handling, and because part of the base is probably going to be hidden if it’s embedded in a headpiece or mask. Don’t cut them yet, as, unless you have some kind of clamping tool, or some kind of fixed pole to carefully bend them around, they are almost impossible to bend once they have been cut.
- If you are making an antelope horn, or in other words a horn that grows pretty well straight up into the air, you don’t need to bend the base of your horn much at all. You can lay your 2 horns side by side, making sure that the curly bits are not parallel with each other. (Unless you want them that way – I think there might be a type of deer/antelope with curly horns that DO grow parallel to each other). However:
- If you are making a certain type of horn (e.g. goat/ram/minotaur/demon/satyr/Pan's Labyrinth faun) that grows out of the front or sides of your head, with an exaggerated curve and then an outward or inward bend at the tip, then each garden support has to be a “mirror image” of the other one – you don’t want a second horn to follow the same lines as the first horn. Sorry for explaining this in a very confusing way, but you’ll see what I mean when you lay your 2 pieces of cut “horn” side by side, and look at them. You want the ‘points’ at the tip of BOTH horns to be either facing, or going in opposite directions to each other. You don’t want them ‘spooning’, or parallel with each other. This is surprisingly hard to get right. I couldn’t get my horns symmetrical at all; but I managed to stop them ‘spooning’. Anyway, I guess real animal horns don’t always look even.
Bend each garden support just above where you used marker pen to mark the base of the horn. You have to bend them extremely slowly and carefully, because sometimes the garden support gets a kink in it, and it forms an angle instead of a curve. Bend to the appropriate curve: i.e., almost no bend for an antelope or similar, and an exaggerated bend for a goat or goat-like creature. Put the 2 garden supports side by side again, and if you’re OK with how they look, then go ahead and cut them with a hacksaw.
Step 2: Building Up the Horns.
Take your tape and apply it to your garden support “horns”. Leave a small section of the base of the garden support ‘horns’ untaped. Build up the rest of the base of each horn by wrapping it in tape. Allow the tape to taper off to nothing when it gets near the tip of the horn. You now have some spare length at the base and at the tip of the horn, for handling purposes.
The garden support is about 1cm thick. If you thicken the part that ‘grows’ from the head to 3cm thick, by the time you get the outer shell finished, the completed horn will end up being about 5cm thick on the base – the part that ‘grows’ from the head. If you want it to be thinner or thicker at the base, wrap less or more tape.
Step 3: Wrapping in Cooking/baking Paper.
I stupidly bought a 5 metre-length box of cooking/baking paper. It's way too short, and it ends up having to be joined. A join means the paper is more likely to get stuck inside the horn. Get 10 metres or longer. Preferably longer.
So take your roll of cooking/baking paper out of its box. Be careful with this next bit. Take a tough pair of scissors and stab a hole through all the layers - even the cardboard core - about 1 inch or 2.5cm from the edge. Cut all the way around, through all the layers - even the cardboard core. Try not to tear the paper – it’s easier to work with in one piece. Discard the bit of cardboard core.
Keep wrapping. Make plenty of overlap. Don’t leave any part of the garden support uncovered. It’s better to use too much baking paper instead of too little (the more slippery it is, the easier it will be to remove the twisted plant support 'core' later.) Wrap further than necessary – almost to the tip of the horn, and secure it with a rubber band at the tip. If the baking paper rips, or you run out, temporarily pin it while you start wrapping with another strip of baking paper; pin that too, then slide a rubber band over both, removing the pins. But joins should be avoided - they make it more difficult to remove the plant support core later.
Secure one end of the strip of baking paper to the thick end of the horn, and start wrapping it round the horn. You have to wrap kind of firmly, or the baking paper will just slip around. But not so firmly that the baking paper tears. Wrap it round a few turns, then use a pin or thumbtack or small rubber bands, whichever works best, to hold the end in place – it’s extremely slippery. I found that small rubber bands worked OK.
Step 4: Wrapping in Soft Plant Tie.
Take your roll of soft plant tie and start wrapping from the thick end up. Pin the first plant tie spiral in place with a sewing pin through the built-up tape. The plant tie is really nice to work with – it’s such a relief, after the frustration of wrapping the baking paper in the previous step. Wrap evenly, leaving small gaps as you go (the gaps are for the light to show through). If the gaps are too narrow, or there aren’t enough of them, the lights won’t show through so well. It’s hard to judge exactly.
Wrap firmly, but not too firmly. Keep wrapping until you get near the tip. Don’t leave a gap between the last two or three rings, where you finish – wrap them as close together as possible. Use a sewing pin to pin the final ring/spiral in place, making sure the garden support stays wrapped in baking paper at the top – it will make it easier to remove the plant support core from the finished horn.
Step 5: Hotglueing.
Use a glue gun made for home use, not an industrial one. These have a lower temperature, and will not go nuclear on the plant tie and cause a meltdown.
Start gluing in between the spirals/rings with your hot glue gun. Use plenty of glue. Don't be too neat; real horns have knobbly and uneven bits in them. Really important: don’t miss any spirals out, even if they are close together. Use extra glue where there are larger gaps. It’s better to use too much glue than too little.
Let the hotglue fully dry and harden before the next step.
Step 6: Removing the Garden Support 'core'.
Carefully remove the core (the twisted garden support) from the horn. It will take patience, some careful twisting, and possibly some shouted impolite words.
The best way to do it is whatever works best for you. The base of the garden support can be gripped with a pair of pliers while the outer shell is carefully twisted a few times to loosen it. Eventually the garden support will come out. The baking paper will probably follow it out, in a long curly ‘ringlet’. It’s not a big problem if some baking paper gets stuck inside the horn – a few more shouted impolite words, and a bit of tweaking with a long piece of wire or curtain wire should get the rest out. If the paper’s near the tip or the base, and you can see it, use a pair of needle-nose pliers to pull it out.
Step 7: Wrapping in Crepe Paper.
The crepe paper diffuses the light and gives a really nice glow - see attached photo. It's very inexpensive. A layer of crepe paper adds strength and durability to the horns. It's also great to work with because it's stretchy, and it comes in a million colours, from garish to dull. You can choose your crepe paper colour to match whatever theme you need - bright and sparkly, cute and pretty, raw and organic, or creepy/horror.
I tried using paint only, but IMO the crepe paper looked much better on the horns.
Take the coloured crepe paper out of its packet and cut straight across the top of it. Make your strip about 4cm (1 ½ inches) wide – if it’s any wider, it will not stretch well.
I find that foam glue works best for this next part. It seems to work better than PVA/school glue. So mix some foam glue with a little water. I make a mix of 2 parts glue to 1 part water.
Hold the tip of the horn, and start painting some glue from the base, to about half-way up the horn. Start wrapping the strip of coloured crepe paper, starting from a fraction below the base.
Stretch the crepe paper a little, but go carefully – too much stretch, and it will rip as soon as it hits the glue. If not stretched a little, it will go all baggy. Overlap the edges as you wrap, but by a very small, miniscule amount. If a small tear develops, ignore it, and keep wrapping. Small imperfections look natural - they look like real horns; and anyway, a small tear will be well disguised and almost disappear in the next step. If the tear is large, then overlap the crepe paper slightly more on the next turn. But don’t overlap too much – you want the lights to be able to shine through the thinness of the crepe paper.
Flip the horn and paint the top half with the foam glue/water mix, and wrap the crepe paper up to just past the tip of the horn. The horn could probably be stood on a heavy bottle while the top half gets painted and papered. Tuck the extra crepe paper under at the base and over at the tip of the horns, and paint some glue on to seal it. It gives a nice edge, and hides the green plant tie.The crepe paper will adhere nicely to the glue, but it will start to look slightly weird and areas of the soft plant tie will start to show in parts. The colour in the crepe paper may even run slightly in parts. This is all OK – it looks kind of raw and organic, and it will mostly be covered by the glitter paint and glue mix in the next step. Go straight on to the next step - don't let it dry. But it's not a catastrophe if it does dry a little.
Step 8: Painting With Glitter Paint/foam Glue Mix.
The glitter paint needs to be clear or translucent. It has to be water-based. I found that the kind of glitter paint that we bought, well, it looked and acted more like glue than paint. Anyway, mix 1 part of water-based glitter paint with 2 parts of foam glue and 1 part of water. Mix it well. The reason for mixing it with a lot of foam glue is, I found that the glitter paint didn’t paint on well, on its own. It needs a lot of foam glue mixed with it, or (as I found out) it won’t stick to the surface properly, or spread smoothly. Add a little more water if necessary.
Take a flat, soft paintbrush – the kind that looks a bit like a pastry brush, but with softer bristles – and paint the glitter paint and foam glue mix onto the horn. Be extra careful of the crepe paper. Don’t touch any part of the painted section – the crepe paper will joyfully stick to your hands, and pull away from the horns!
Paint part way inside the tip and base of the horns, to avoid that paint or glue 'tan line'.
Take a look at your paint job. It won't look great. It will look uneven and lumpy, and the definition of the rings formed by the plant tie will be lost. Easily fixed. Clean the paintbrush and remove the excess water. Take the damp (NOT soaking wet) paintbrush and go over the paint, wiping and dabbing it into the areas between the plant tie rings and mopping up the excess paint at the same time. This will make the crepe paper cling to the plant tie, and give back the definition.
Allow to dry. It will go several shades darker when the foam glue dries and becomes transparent, and the colour of the crepe paper takes over. Flecks of glitter, suspended in the paint/glue, will also become visible.
Now your horns can be installed on a costume head or headdress, or attached to a headband and worn over a wig, or over your real hair.
The horns may not weigh much, but they're not small. The upright variation of the horns are still going to get caught in the odd doorway. And goat/ram/faun/demon horns, the kind that curve down over your back, are going to be subject to the pull of gravity - and maybe the pull of curious onlookers. So they need to be well-attached to a strong headdress or headband. One that's not going to fly off your head and blow your cover if you walk through a low doorway, or if some wally decides to make a grab for your horns.
If the horns are going to be worn over a wig, or real hair, hold them against a wig head or a real head and mark where you need to cut some shallow scoops out of the bases. This will make the horns fit better with the curve of a real head.
Step 9: Now for the Lights!
A note about the Christmas, or 'rice' lights: once they're fully installed, they're not removable. Push them part-way into the base of the horns, switch them on and see how they look first. Different coloured lights can change the colour of the horns.
A further note about the Christmas, or 'rice' lights: the battery pack attached to the end of them is fairly big, and it wouldn't fit through the holes I had made in an old bike helmet. I found it easier to drop the lights into the horns AFTER I had hotglued the horns into the bike helmet - not before.
The Christmas lights can be doubled over to shorten their length, if wanted, as they are probably a lot longer than the horn and will hang out the base of it. If you choose to double the lights over, be careful not to bend kink or pull them too roughly.
I don't know if they help any, but the first four photos show the steps in this process:
Tie the sinker to the end of the piece of string, hold the horn upside down and drop the sinker into the wide end of the horn. Shake gently, to help the sinker along its way. When it comes out at the tip, tape the end (or the middle, if they are doubled over) of the Christmas lights to the other end of the piece of string, and carefully feed and pull the Christmas lights down into the horn. Do the same with the EL/glow wire lights, if using them. Hold the horn so that the lights are going in downwards – gravity will help get the lights in. If using the 'rice' Christmas lights, there’s no need to secure them in any way – they won’t come out. However, if using EL/glow wire lights, the ends need to be taped or attached in some way, just inside the tip of the horns.
The only thing left to do is hide each battery pack in your headdress, or in a hidden pocket or strap, and voila! Lighted horns.
I hope somebody tries out this method of making horns for Halloween, for Cosplay, for Fursuiting or just for fun :)