As a former volunteer fossil cleaner at the La Brea tar pits, I discovered first hand just how beautifully designed skulls can be. I had the privilege of working on some of the greats; dire wolves, mammoths, and the saber toothed cat (smilodon fatalis). These creatures make fantastic inspiration for cosplay character pieces and unique statement jewelry, thus my decision to create a glamorous gorget.
When brainstorming for this project, I developed several goals.
1) Celebrate the skull by turning it into a graphic element. I have some real and metal cast animal skull jewelry, but it seems to be a little much for some of my co-workers. I wanted to make a piece that would be as bold and unmistakable as a real skull, but a little more palatable for the masses. As we all know, glitter makes just about anything more palatable.
2) Low Technology and Low Cost. A bold graphic like this would be perfect for laser cut acrylic, buuuuuut I don't have access to anything so fancy as that. I always get bummed out when I see a stunning project and then discover it requires technology or tools that aren't within my reach. This Ible demonstrates how to get a polished final product out of some very basic, cheap craft supplies. The whole thing cost me less than $10!
Step 1: You Will Need...
Access to Photoshop (or similar design software) and a Printer
1 Sheet Glitter Foam (mine was 2mm thick)
1 Sheet Foam of a contrasting color. Black is almost always a good pick.
Black Acrylic Paint
Fine Tip Paintbrush
White or Metallic Gel Pen
Mod Podge "Dimensional Magic" This was the only supply for this project that cost over $1. It's handy stuff, but it does take some getting used to. I'll pass on some tips when we get to that step.
Chain with clasp This is a good opportunity to use something from your jewelry scraps since you won't need a full length chain. Since the gorget occupies much of your chest, you will only need a chain 50-60% as long as you'd normally use.
Dollar Store Earrings or other accessories.Look for something large and flat, since this will serve as your base.
Step 2: Designing the Pattern
Choose your skull. We often prefer to view skulls in profile because it gives clarity to the form and gives us a sense of size, but for this project I chose to use a front view. The head on view lent itself well to becoming a symmetrical graphic form, perfect for the center of an ornamental gorget.
Google your selected species and save a clear jpg to your computer.
Open the image in Photoshop.
Check the "Image Size". You'll want to resize the skull so that it's manageable for wear. I used the Image Sze dialogue box to change my skull hight to 4 inches.
Turn the Opacity down on the image, then create a new layer.
On the new layer, trace the outline of half your skull.
Duplicate the layer and then "Flip Horozontal". You will get a mirror image of your first line. Place it accordingly so you now have a full trace of your skull.
Repeat the trace/duplicate/flip steps for your lower jaw, if it is a separate piece.
Create a new layer. On this layer, draw a thin, generalized border all the way around your skull pieces.This will be the contrasting foam piece the skull mounts to.
*When you're finished, you may want to merge layers to clean up your file and keep corresponding parts locked together.
Print and compare to your jewelry pieces to make sure the sizing looks good to you.
Step 3: Base Pieces
Using scissors, cut along the general border shape containing your skull. DO NOT cut away any skull pieces yet.
Place the piece face down on your black foam.
Trace with a white or metallic gel pen. Be gentle so as not to pierce the foam with the pen tip.
Use and X-Acto to cut out the shape you made on the foam. Again, be gentle. If you find your knife is tugging at the foam, lighten up before you create a tear and ruin your clean line.
Step 4: Skull Pieces
Now your finished with the border piece and can cut the skull pieces out of it.
Scissors can be used for some of the simpler exterior lines, but a blade is best for small areas like teeth and interior spaces like the nasal cavity.
*Cut in short segments, working point to point. Do NOT attempt to round corners with your knife in one swoop -you'll risk tearing the paper or veering off the line.
Trace your pieces, face down, onto the BACK (non-glittered side) of the glitter foam. *Note: I would advise using a color of sharpie that matches your base foam color. When I moved into "glazing" I found that this purple got re-activated by the mod-lodge and bled out from under the foam here and there.
Cut out using the X-Acto. Again, work in small segments and take your time with tight areas. Ease up on the knife pressure if you see tugging or dragging on the foam.
Laid right side up, your stacked pieces should look something like the last photo.
Step 5: Add Detail With Paint
To put some dimension back into your skull, go back in with a fine tip paintbrush and some black paint.
Reference your original photo. Notice where the defining ridges and hallows are. You can use very simple line work to mimic them graphically. Don't worry about capturing every little crack --just take the most important features.
Tip: Try painting the lines on one side of the skull, then mirror your work on the other half. I find this gives me more symmetrical results than if I reference the photo for both hemispheres.
Step 6: Adhering the Foam
When your paint is totally dry, take your piece outdoors or to a well ventilated area.
Put down scrap paper or cardboard to guard against over spray.
Place your glitter pieces face down.
Spritz evenly with a coat of spray mount adhesive.
Place and press your glitter pieces onto the black base piece. Most spray mounts have a little working time before they set, so if your placement is a little off at first you can nudge to re-adjust.
Step 7: Glazing
So, the result looks pretty cool but it is still obviously made out of craft foam. To give the piece a higher degree of polish, I glazed it with Mod Podge "Dimensional Magic". I opted for this over jewelry resin since it doesn't require mixing and offers a fine tip for application.
Place the foam pieces on a thick, protective surface like cardboard or scrap foam. Something like newspaper will be too thin and anything you spill will likely leak through fast.
Hold the bottle at an angle, not straight up and down.DO NOT SHAKE BEFORE USE. Shaking will create tons of tiny bubbles.
You don't really need to squeeze the bottle. It will flow freely out the tip, onto the surface of your foam.
This stuff is liquid, not viscous, so it will flow over the surface and provide coverage with little encouragement from you. Be sparing with your application! Since we aren't dealing with an enclosed form (like with bottle cap jewelry), excess will spill over the edge.
Keep a toothpick or pin nearby to pop any small surface bubbles. If you eliminate them before the Mod Podge starts to set there will be no trace of them.
Gently wipe away any excess/ spillage with a Q tip or your finger and move the piece slightly so it doesn't bond to the table covering.
Let dry undisturbed for 3 hrs, or until all milky appearance is gone. Do not shift or bend during this time. Doing so may result in large bubbles (and I found out the hard way that foam really likes to burp bubbles). I did find that the black foam released some very tiny bubbles during the drying process, but they were so small and uniform that it didn't ruin the overall presentation.
The final result is a slick, plasticized appearance that feels like a cross between acrylic laser cut and resin work. Edges are rounded and the foam pieces are fully integrated and not as immediately recognizable as cheap ol' foam!
Step 8: Prepare the Jewelry Components
While you wait for your adhesive to set, you can prepare your companion jewelry pieces. These were thin punched metal earrings from the dollar store that I originally bought to see if they'd work with my Alien Queen Costume, but I never needed up using them. This is a good opportunity to make treasure from trash! Look in your scrap bin for unused goodies, or browse the dollar store for items with potential. Turn the items different directions or put them together to see what new shapes you can create. These earrings ended up being the perfect width for a gorget plate if used together.
Using jewelry pliers, remove un-needed findings from your pieces.
I replaced the earring hooks with matching black jump rings, so that I'll have a way to attach a chain later.
To unify the 2 earrings into one plate, I used a strip of black foam to support the adhesive bond. A bonus of the foam back here is that it should help keep the gorget from sliding around on my skin during wear.
Apply E-6000 down the long edges that will be the mid-seam.
Press onto the foam strip and let dry.
I let the piece dry face down to ensure the two pieces would dry level.
Step 9: Assembly
Before adhering the focal piece, place it on your jewelry component and decide where it looks best. Shift it up and down a little bit to find the optimal placement.
Apply E-6000 to the mid seam and other major contact points. For me, that was the extreme of the cheekbones. If your jewelry elements have holes in them like mine did, remember to put down some scrap to catch adhesive that might ooze through.
If your foam has curved at all during work, you may find it best to clamp while drying or place the piece under a heavy book. Be aware that clamps with a lot of pressure could dent your plasticized finish -- opt for light duty plastic rather than metal!
Dry time was approx 15 minutes on the safe side.
Step 10: Finishing Touches
This phase will be subjective, based on your preferences, color choices, and materials available.
I added a few black and silver rhinestones in the corners near the jump rings. They're pretty subtle, but I think it brings a tiny bit of visual balance and interest to an otherwise center heavy piece.
To wrap things up, install your chain:
Snip off excess chain length so the necklace sits where you want it.
Use jewelry pliers to attach one end of the chain to a jump ring. The clasp will attach to the other side. I found this to be a simpler means of hanging than trying to work out a back-center clasp like those on most necklaces.
Step 11: DONE!
My gorget is obviously more on the ornamental/ jewelry side of the spectrum, but the techniques in this Ible can be applied to faux armor pieces for cosplay as well. I learned a lot working with this Mod Podge product and even though I got a few surprises along the way the final piece met my goals. Awesome skull? Check. Killer custom accessory made from $1 glitter foam? Check! Next on my to-do list is a gold mammoth!