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I don't know what it is about shrunken heads I find so interesting. Maybe it stems from a love of the Jungle Cruise at Disneyland, and the head hunter at the end of the ride. Or maybe it was trips to Ye Olde Curiosity Shop in Seattle as a kid. EIther way, at some point something romanticized in my mind what in reality is a pretty gruesome thing. With Halloween just around the corner, I decided to make my own paper mache shrunken head, and I intend to see how far beyond Halloween I can get with this thing in my living room before my wife complains. Comment below with your guess, then I'll let you know when she makes me pack it away :)

Step 1: Materials

  • Oven bake modeling clay
  • Tin foil
  • Heavy duty shop paper towels
  • White PVA (Elmer's) Glue
  • Pre-mixed drywall joint compound
  • Cooking spray or petroleum jelly
  • Water
  • Newspaper
  • Masking tape
  • xacto knife
  • Scissors
  • Twine
  • Craft paint
  • Paint brushes
  • Hot glue gun and glue
  • Costume wig
  • Rolling pin (optional)
  • Glass dome with base (optional)

Step 2: Sculpt Your Base

You'll need a base to apply your paper mache to. I decided to try sculpting a head out of oven bake modeling clay (Sculpy) that I could re-use it to make multiple heads. If you don't feel up to sculpting, you could use a small plastic skull, a doll head, wadded up newspaper and masking tape, or just tinfoil. But honestly, this was my first attempt at sculpting anything since Kindergarten, and it turned out pretty well… so I say give it a try.

First shape your tinfoil into a ball the approximate size and shape you want your head to be. There are a lot of good photos online to give you reference for the size. Also take into account how you want to display your head. I wanted to place mine in a glass dome so I had to make sure it would fit. Use your rolling pin (if you have one) to roll out a sheet of clay to create a base layer of clay on the front half of your foil ball. Make a sort of pyramid shape for the nose and put a clump of clay on each side where the nostrils go. Roll out two clay snakes for the the lips, and two smaller snakes for the eyebrows. Place two more clumps for the cheek bones and two smaller lumps for the eyes. Smooth the tops of the eyes into the eye sockets, but leave a seam at the bottom. From there, just shape things to how you want them. I ended up with a pretty exaggerated mouth and nose, which I really liked. The nice thing about this project is that we're doing paper mache so little imperfections won't matter in the end. When you're finished, use the instructions from your clay to bake it to harden it up. Next, mix up some paper mache paste. I used one part white PVA glue (Elmer's Glue), one part pre-mixed drywall joint compound, and then added water to make a runny paste. It should be thin enough to brush on and soak into your paper towels. Next tear up your heavy duty paper towels into little pieces. I start by tearing off and discarding all the straight edges. The rough edges feather out better and help hide any seems. Cover your face sculpture with cooking spray or petroleum jelly to act as a mold release to get the paper mache off easier once it's dried. I used a paper plate to set my paper towel pieces on and then brushed the paste on both sides of each piece of paper towel with a stiff cheap art brush. Once thoroughly soaked place the paper towel pieces one at a time onto your sculpted face. Use your paint brush to press it in to all the nooks and crannies so you get all the facial details. Cover the entire face with a layer of paper towels, let it dry for about an hour, then follow up with a second coat. I used a small heater to dry things quicker.

Once your two coats of paper mache are MOSTLY dry, carefully remove it from the base. I found it a whole lot easier to remove when it wasn't completely dry and stiff. You may need a butter knife to help release the edges. Then it's just a matter of pushing, pulling and wiggling to get it off. Once removed, place another layer or two of paper mache on the inside to strengthen it up. You'll never see it so It doesn't have to look pretty. Let it dry completely.

Step 3: Paper Mache

Mix up some paper mache paste. I used one part white PVA glue (Elmer's Glue), one part pre-mixed drywall joint compound, and added water to make a runny paste. It should be thin enough to brush on and soak into your paper towels. Next, tear up your heavy duty paper towels into small pieces and strips. I start by tearing off all the straight edges. The rough edges feather out better and help hide any seems. Cover your face sculpture with cooking spray or petroleum jelly to act as a mold release to get the paper mache off easier once it's dried. I used a paper plate to set my paper towel pieces on and then brushed the paste on both sides of each piece of paper towel with a stiff cheap art brush. Once thoroughly soaked place the paper towel pieces one at a time onto your sculpted face. Use a stiff paint brush to press it in to all the nooks and crannies so you get all the facial details. Cover the entire face with a layer of paper towels, let it dry for about an hour, then follow up with a second coat. I used a small heater to dry things quicker.

Once your two coats of paper mache are MOSTLY dry, carefully remove it from the base. I found it a whole lot easier to remove when it wasn't completely dry and stiff. You may need a butter knife to help release the edges. Then it's just a matter of pushing, pulling and wiggling to get it off. Once removed, place another layer or two of paper mache on the inside to strengthen it up. You'll never see it so It doesn't have to look pretty. Let it dry completely.

Step 4: Add Some Color

Get out your paints and squeeze some out on a paper plate. I used black, dark brown, dark red (alizarin crimson), burnt orange, yellow, and a little bit of white. The head isn't complete at this point, but I wanted to get the paint down on the front of the head before sewing the eyes and mouth shut with the twine. Start with a base layer of the dark brown and let dry. Next take some of the black and water it down and use as a wash to darken the recessed areas of the face. You mainly want to darken the nostrils, between and under the lips, and the eye sockets. While everything is still wet, use your other lighter colors to subtly build up highlights on the nose, lips and forehead. I ended up painting inside the nostrils solid black. Let it dry.

Step 5: Sewing the Mouth and Eyes

Take your X-acto knife and poke it into the face where you want the holes for the stitches to go, then spin it to drill your hole. I did two holes above and below each eye to make an X. Thread your twine through the holes and tie with a couple overhand knots on the inside of the face. You could repeat this and sew the mouth shut with X's, but I chose to tie the lips together at three points using hangman's nooses, and then untwisted the loose ends. You can easily find directions online on how to tie a noose.

Once you have all your stitching complete, make a watered down wash of your black and brown paint to dirty up the twine.

Step 6: Paper Mache the Rest of the Head

Wad up some newspaper and masking tape and make a ball to complete the shape of the head. I didn't put ears on the head, since it will be covered in hair. If you're leaving yours bald, now would be the time to sculpt them on… maybe with paper clay. If you plan to hang your head, at this point you could add a piece of twine sticking out of the top. Cover with two layers of paper mache paste and paper towel. Once dry, paint to match the face. The hair will cover up the back of the head with hair, so a covering of brown and maybe a little black wash should be all you'll need.

Step 7: Make a Shrunken Toupee

Take your costume wig and place it on your shrunken head and mark how much of the wig you'll need. Cut it off with your scissors, then hot glue it to the head.

Step 8: Put It on Display!

I was originally going to use a block of wood and drill a hole in it and use a dowel to mount the head, but then I found this awesome glass dome with a base at the local craft store. With a 50% off coupon it was only $10 and it was my only expense since I already had all the other materials for this project. But I think you could do it for about $20 or less. You could use just cheap white glue and water for your paper mache paste and use a bunch of twine to create hair instead of a costume wig. I had a lot of fun with this one, and I hope you do too. Let me know how it goes :)

<p>Very, very cool.. how sturdy are these heads? Could they stand up to being handled / slightly abused? I'm thinking 2 or 3 of these on a belt for a LARP character.. </p>
They are pretty sturdy on their own with only 2 or 3 layers of paper mache, and should hold up fine. You could add a few more layers on the inside of the head for extra strength if you were worried, or even fill it with expanding foam sealant.
<p>I love this!!!! Can't wait to try this weekend :D</p>
<p>Hello, I used your valuable instructions to make my robotic one, talking and reacting to the surroundings: <a href="https://www.instructables.com/id/Hotel-Transilvania-Shrunken-Head/" rel="nofollow">https://www.instructables.com/id/Hotel-Transilvania-Shrunken-Head/</a> Thank you for all the wonderful information. Cheers</p>
Looks great! My daughters and I love Hotel Transylvania. Maybe next I'll try and make one like from the movie :)
<p>Thank you for the great instructions! I skipped the paper mache part and just made the sculpture. Made a perfect addition to my witch doctor costume- Cheers!! <br></p>
<p>My attempt... pretty cool so far, now I just need to do the hair. The clay makes a big difference on the final appearance of the paper mache. I am not totally pleased with the nose, it should be more of a snout, like yours. Next time! When I applied paper over the back of the skull I got many more wrinkles, and the original Tsantsas had very smooth skin, according to the books. Great instructions, thanks! </p>
<p>Wow looks great! </p>
Awesome! I think it looks great... 100 times better than the cheap plastic ones you can get online. If you don't like the nose, you could get some paper clay and re-sculpt it a little and repaint. Thanks for sharing!
<p>Love this! I'll be sure to try it</p>
<p>Amazing job, congratulation! It look so much like the real one my old uncle brought back from Borneo long long time ago. </p>
<p>Not to be rude, but they never made shrunken heads in Borneo.</p><p>They were headhunters, but they would not make shrunken heads like the way they did in northwestern region of the Amazon rain forest, which is the only place on the world that shrunken heads are documented.</p><p>What they did do in Borneo was to sever the head, flesh it and keep the skull, they would usually tear off the lower jaw, then make a rattan basket to hold the skull so they can hang it.</p>
<p>Thanks for your reply. I asked my uncle and indeed you are right. It was coming from the Amazon. The confusion come from the fact that he also has a book about an English ethnologist who reported in the early 1900 that some of the Dayak tribes in Borneo where reducing heads. It was not the common practice and apparently from the photos their technique was not as advanced as the one in the amazon. I don't have the book with me to find out more. Anyway, it doesn't matter. Yours looks so real. Great job!</p>
<p>Not mine, but I agree, it looks good.</p><p>You should definitely try to find out more about the head. If the head is indeed real (as in human) it can be worth a lot of money. They didn't make that many traditional ones (tsantsa), they even estimate that the majority of the ones in museums are &quot;fake&quot;, as in human, but made for the tourism trade in the 1800s. (but still very valuable). They have also made them from skin from just about any animal, and monkey heads were also popular.</p><p>A tip is to see how big the holes are in the lips, they were pierced by wooden pegs and should be rather large, and the string would be quite thick. The facial hair would he singed off and the face should not be shiny as it would be rubbed with ash. Also, there should be a hole in the top of the head.</p>
<p>Wow! Really amazing job ! Super prop :-D</p>
YEAH WHOS UP FOR STABBING MINI HEADS...... Oh it's paper m&acirc;ch&eacute; and clay...... Looks astonishing I couldn't figure out what it was made of so I had to find out. Great Halloween prop too!
<p>Thanks :)</p>
<p>This looks absolutely stunning - well for a shrunken head anyhow! I had no idea you could get such a realistic look from paper mache. I seriously doubt I could get anywhere near yours in terms of finish though. Kudos!</p>
<p>Thank you. Let me know if you give it a try :)</p>
<p>Good technique and great presentation. The only thing missing is a bleached chicken thigh bone in a topknot on your toupee.</p><p>Great job, and really creepy. </p>
<p>Thanks, I thought about that but really I had no idea how to do the hair tied up. I'll give it a try on my next head and post an update. </p>
Freakishly awesome! That's some real talent. Well done, you get my view!
<p>Thanks :)</p>
<p>GREAT shrunken head! I like you am a bit fascinated by them! Voted, best of luck!</p>
<p>That looks great, especially with that glass bulb you put it in. Very nice display. Voted.</p>
<p>Thank you!</p>
<p>Awesome effect. You should go as Trader Sam for halloween. Just wander around offering two heads for one of theirs. Also you should definitely enter this in our halloween decor contest! Thanks for sharing!</p>
<p>Thanks... I entered! </p>
<p>Wow! It really does look great! Nice work! I seriously doubt my own sculpting skills, but maybe I'll give it a shot.</p>
<p>Thanks! You definitely should give it a try. The cool thing is if your sculpt doesn't turn out real enough, you can just use it to make little masks and give them a Day of the Dead paint job... Hmmm, i guess I have another Instructable to make :)</p>
This looks so real!
<p>Thanks!</p>

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