Introduction: Paper Mache Cow Skull

Picture of Paper Mache Cow Skull

I’ve always been impressed by real cow skulls. You see them lying in the desert in movies, on the front of 4-wheel drives and hanging on the wall in country bars.

Here's how I made mine from cardboard, newspaper, tape, tin foil wood glue, dry wall mud, and air-dry clay for the teeth. Enjoy!

You will Need:

  • Sturdy Cardboard for the frame
  • Newspaper
  • Masking tape and packing tape (optional)
  • Drywall Joint compound (optional. For smoothing only)
  • Paper Mache, Cloth mache, or paper mache clay. (I used wood-glue for paste)
  • Acrylic paint - White, black, brown, khaki

Buy one on Etsy at Mad Props Paper Mache

Step 1: Reference Photo

Picture of Reference Photo

One of the most important things to have before you start any sculpting project is a reference photo. You'll need one master photo to actual size if possible and other close up photos for specific areas. The skull is 21”, similar to life-size. (And dead-size!)

Step 2: Cardboard Frame

Picture of Cardboard Frame

I started by tracing the reference picture onto 2 pieces sturdy cardboard for the 2 sides of the skull and the nose bones, then added 3 cross pieces to hold it together. I learned this tip and so much more from Ultimate Paper Mache.

If you are using a Silhouette Cameo for this step, you may want to consider the deep cut blade.

Step 3: Bulk Up, Bro

Picture of Bulk Up, Bro

I added bulk to the form with scrunched up newspaper and packing tape. You could use masking tape if you like as well at this stage . I always use masking tape on the top layer because the paper mache doesn’t still to packing tape very well. I used a piece of modeling wire-mesh for the eye-sockets. Make sure each area is solid and compact. You don’t wasn’t to paper mache over a soft, squishy areas.

Step 4: Tin Foil

Picture of Tin Foil

I used a combination of newspaper, tin foil and masking tape to give it the shape I wanted.

I bent the cardboard horns back to get a more realistic angle.

Step 5: Paper Mache

Picture of Paper Mache

I used newspaper and wood glue/ water mix for my paper mache. (forgot to take a photo) I then covered it with a layer of dry-wall joint compound to smooth it out. It didn’t look too bad at this stage but it was hospital-white (not bone-white) with very little detail or shadow.

Step 6: Glue Paint

Picture of Glue Paint

I painted a layer of glue mixed with water and cinnamon-brown paint to seal the dry-wall. Then I dry-brushed it with white acrylic paint mixed with a dash of khaki .

Step 7: Teeth

Picture of Teeth

I made the teeth from Plus Air dry clay from Activa, then painted them and glue-gunned them on.

Step 8: All Done!

Picture of All Done!


theartfulbirder (author)2017-10-20

Wow! At first I thought that was a real cow skull, very well done!

greenbriel (author)2017-03-09

Very impressive sir.

Mad Props (author)greenbriel2017-03-09

Thanks a lot! (You have a cool profile photo by the way.)

greenbriel (author)Mad Props2017-04-24

Haha, just saw this. Thanks! :D

Cris DIY (author)2017-04-06

Cool work! Congrats for your prize in the Papercraft Contest!

Mad Props (author)Cris DIY2017-04-08

Thanks Cris!

Modern Rustic Workshop (author)2017-04-06

Thamk you. FYI, One thing that's awesome about the Curio is that you can use an embossing tool with it to make crazy neat things!

Modern Rustic Workshop (author)2017-04-05

I love this! So talented!

Thanks a lot, and Congrats on the Grand Prize!

shazni (author)2017-04-06

Congratulations on your win! Looks so real!

Mad Props (author)shazni2017-04-06

Thank you very much!

Timothee Gillier (author)2017-04-05

Very nice project very realistic.

danthemakerman (author)2017-04-04

This is such a cool project it looks so real.

Mad Props (author)danthemakerman2017-04-04

Thanks. I think the key is too have a good photo to copy and having the profile cardboard right. You can always keep painting until you get the look you want, but the shape has to be right first.

Sschmaltz (author)2017-03-31

Very cool!

Mad Props (author)Sschmaltz2017-03-31


rainingfiction (author)2017-03-31

Looks great!!

Mad Props (author)rainingfiction2017-03-31

Thank you very much!

Pernickety Jon (author)2017-03-21

That's a very impressive result. Well done.

Mad Props (author)Pernickety Jon2017-03-21

Thanks Jon!

jessyratfink (author)2017-03-14

It looks so realistic - great work :D

Mad Props (author)jessyratfink2017-03-14

Thanks! Much appreciated.

tetrahemicon (author)2017-03-08

Very cool.

How about a skull of a dragon or an alien?

Mad Props made it! (author)tetrahemicon2017-03-08

Now your talkin'. I was thinking of doing a bob-cat skull. They look pretty nasty.

Reply will a pic of a cool dragon or Alien skull and I'll check it out.

tetrahemicon (author)Mad Props2017-03-08

Some men in black suits came and took the only alien skull I had before I could take a picture of it.

Here's some from a Google search -

That bobcat one is cool.

ovrhill70 (author)2017-03-08

That is so cool... I've gotta try it..

Well don!

ktierz65 (author)2017-03-06

I don't understand the process and colors or product you used to convert the brownish hues to a the bonelike color of your finished product. Did i miss a section?

Mad Props made it! (author)ktierz652017-03-07

I definitely should have included another step. Sorry for the confusion. The brown layer acts as a base coat. I mixed brown paint in withe the glue layer so I wouldn't have to paint another coat just to get the whole thing brown.

Everything is brown unless I paint white over top of it. I could paint the whole thing white, but then it would look like step 5 - kind of washed out with very little detail.

By leaving the lowest parts brown and painting the highest parts white, it kind of creates a 3D effect. The deeper, darker sections look like shadows regardless of where the light is coming from.

Dry-brushing is a technique where you dip your paint brush in (white in this case) paint, then rub most of it off on newspaper. Then gently 'brush' the skull so you barely touch it. This way only the highest areas get paint. You can use a sponge to dry-brush as well.

You can see in step 7 around the teeth, the only brown areas (on the skull, not the teeth) are the deepest areas the brush couldn't get to.

Here's a close up of the teeth after they were painted brown first, then dry-brushed white. I used a darker brown and very little khaki in the white, so there's more contrast between the brighter white and the deep, dark crevasses. The bigger the difference between the brightness of the bottom layer and the top, dry-brush layer, the more contrast you'll get.

spark master (author)ktierz652017-03-07

bone comes in many shades, but sun bleached s doable with a layer of joint compound then wet cloths to remove most of it w.o sanding lines then just finish with matte finish clear acrylic.

Just thin some out and rub it on, let it dry, then "wet sand" it with a wet cloth. Kinda like "Rub and Buff"

Epic-Ninja-Lala (author)ktierz652017-03-06

After they sealed it, they put a layer of paint over it.

billcitrus (author)2017-03-07

Could you use this same technique to make a human skull?

Mad Props made it! (author)billcitrus2017-03-07

You might be able to, but I don't think I would use this method for a human skull. I would just start with a cheap plastic or foam skull from the dollar store. That's what I do for most of my zombies in my Halloween Display.

billcitrus (author)Mad Props2017-03-07

I see. I've been looking around on the web for the cheapest way I can make the most realistic human skull, which paper mache was just about the cheapest. I want to make a heap of them in my yard for the Hallow's

Givzor (author)2017-03-07

This is amazing, nice!

TeresaM7 (author)2017-03-07

This is absolutely amazing! You are quite the artist. It looks, at least in the photos, completely real.

robbtoberfest (author)2017-03-04

Very sweet! Do you have any tips for making the cracks and texture?

Mad Props (author)robbtoberfest2017-03-05

Because I had a soft layer of joint compound, I was able to cut into it with a box cutter and trace the crack with a black pen. I should have included this in the tutorial. Thanks for asking!

There really isn't much texture. It's pretty smooth except for a few streaks in the white paint from my stiff old paint brush. Most of the depth comes from leaving the deeper areas brown and just dry-brushing the white paint on the high spots.

ktierz65 (author)Mad Props2017-03-06

I should have read the comments and i would have my answer. Perhaps you add that into your instructions. Much cheaper and more rewarding then buying the real thing. Great work.

яаdog (author)2017-03-06


Fuzzy Monkey (author)2017-03-05


diy-master (author)2017-03-05

nice work!!

Me123456789012345 (author)2017-03-03

Wow, I totally thought the skull you made was real! Great job on the tutorial.

Mad Props (author)2017-03-02

Thanks for all the positive feedback!

friger (author)2017-03-02

This will be pushing my skill set a bit but I have to do this.

dekenned (author)2017-03-02

Had to do a double-take. Excellent realistic work!

vinz3nt (author)2017-03-02


gm280 (author)2017-03-02

That looks amazing. So real it, is hard to tell the difference. Thumbs Up!

knopfling (author)2017-03-02


LydiaT2 (author)2017-03-02

Wow! You did a fantastic job on this! This is sooooo cooooool! Thanks for the instructions!

About This Instructable




Bio: Hi. I'm Richard Neuman. I started making Paper Mache Props for Halloween and didn't stop!
More by Mad Props:How to (almost) Waterproof Air Dry ClayOutdoor Paper Mache Easter Island HeadHow to Clone a Cow Skull
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