Introduction: Cardboard Deer's Head Wall Light

About: I live in a forest garden by the sea in an old Celtic longhouse in the Baie de Mont Saint Michel, France, which I share with Andy and our poultry. Before I escaped and became a happy peasant, I had three jobs …

I've always wanted a cardboard deer's head ever since I saw one in a magazine and I'm always looking for new ways of displaying the battery-powered string lights which we use for background lighting in our old, dark house.

The head can be as large or small as you like and also as realistic as you choose but I think it would be fun to make a cartoon-type version too. For my design though I chose to make a full size head basically because I found a huge cardboard box. Hopefully the finished creation looks like a real deer but I leave it for you to decide!


A cardboard box big enough to produce two deer cutouts - flat profiles of the head and neck

extra cardboard to make the 'skin and fur' from cardboard (papier) mâché

I small cardboard box, big enough to hold the fairy lights battery

ingredients for home-made glue:

  • 1 cup - 125g white flour (I used some old organic plain flour I found at the back of the cupboard
  • 4¼ cups - 500ml of water

a pile of newspapers

cardboard egg box

a glue gun

glue sticks

a cutter

cardboard inner tubes from toilet rolls

1 untreated pallet wood block, you'll just need half of it

drawing pencil and paper

brown water colour or acrylic paint or a marker pen

black ditto

white ditto

battery-powered LED string/fairy lights

I made wooden antlers but you can make them out of cardboard, so I also needed:

2 dead tree branches that look like they could be antlers

an electric belt sander (table mounted)

ear protectors

an old spoon


electric drill

2 screws

Japanese draw saw

Step 1: Design & Technique

Start by finding an image of a deer head you like. As I was not lucky enough to be able to find a live deer, my best solution was to find a video of one and draw from the screen but taking screenshots would work too: one profile, one face on and one from the top of the head looking down. This is to give a good all round view of the shape of the head and neck and therefore an idea of how to build up the cardboard sculpture in 3D. Rough sketches are fine, just make sure you mark the correct position of the eyes, antlers, nose and mouth. I've allowed extra cardboard so I can cut the ears out of the same piece as the profiles and then bend them back into position. This way the ears are stronger and already rooted into the sculpture. This also allows for them to be tweaked and shaped to look more realistic.

I'm working on a design that incorporates two different techniques for making a deer head. The first is the cardboard 'cut out' type, where usually two flat profiles are joined by a series of cardboard elliptical rings which give the illusion of the neck and head. The second is the scrunched newspaper head, where the head and neck of the deer are broken down into segments created in roughly-shaped spheres and balls of newspaper and held together with duct tape. These are then taped together and covered with a papier mâché strips both to create a smooth skin and to hold the composition together.

I'm also adding an extra element and incorporating half a standard pallet wood block into the top of the head. This is in order for that the finished head can be securely be fixed the wall with a hook and to anchor the wooden antlers (which have some weight) so they can be fixed securely in place, This should also give rigidity to the whole sculpture. Eventually I hope to mount the whole sculpture on a backing board but for the moment I'm just going to keep it simple.

Step 2: Creating the Antlers

I spent quite some time looking for the right branches and then finally came upon a beautiful broken tree branch quite by accident when I was collecting chestnuts. I started by cutting two suitable pieces from the branch and then when I got them home cut them down further into the prototype antlers.

I've never used a belt sander before, normally I sand by hand but this was one that could be table mounted and also I needed to work quickly. I ran the sander over the ends of the branches, slowly rotating each piece to create the points on the antlers. You will need to wear ear protectors if you are using a sander!

As the branch had been out in heavy rain and my antlers still had some bark on them, I now needed to remove as much of this as possible, so I could hang them over our stove to dry out. I found the best way to do this was with the handle of an old spoon, as it will remove the bark without cutting into the wood. P.S. Don't use your thumbnails to remove bark - you'll end up having to photoshop your grubby nails and they get damaged too!

I finished off my antlers once the were dry with sandpaper.

Step 3: Creating the Profiles & Adding the Antlers

Cut two deer profiles from the cardboard, including the ears. I cut them in an upright position so they could be folded back into place.

Prepare the base of the antlers, according to how you want them to sit on the head. I found that one of my antlers needed to be re-cut at a more oblique angle, having initially decided (as you can see from the above image) that a 45 degree cut would work for both.

Butt the antler base up to the half pallet wood block to check you have the right angle.

Place one of the cardboard deer profiles on top of the block and position the antler in the correct place. I had my drawing as a guide for this and I also bent down the ears to check the position too.

Drill a clearance hole into base of the antler but not into the block.

Screw the antler into place.

Turn the profile and attached antler over, being careful with the points and then place the other profile on top of the half pallet wood block and repeat the process.

You now have the two profiles held firmly together and sandwiched between the two antlers with the pallet wood block in the middle to create the brow of the deer.

Step 4: Strengthening & Stuffing the Deer

Use cardboard toilet inner tubes to stiffen up the deer and to start to create shape to the neck and head. The tubes can be joined together to create longer struts by using another one as a connector and then holding the whole strut together with masking or duct tape.

To make smaller sections these versatile tubes can also be cut to size.

They can be attached to the cardboard profiles with the glue gun and reinforced with tape.

Once you have enough struts in key places, the spaces in between can be filled with scrunched newspaper held in position with the glue gun.

Build up the scrunched newspaper 'balls' to give a rounded shape to the brow and front section 'snout' of the deer and also the back of the neck and spine.

Step 5: Making the Glue

This is a cooked flour glue, which uses:

1 cup - 125g white flour (I used some old organic plain flour I found at the back of the cupboard) to 4¼ cups - 500ml of water.

It is very easy to make, just add the flour and water in a pan and mix to a smooth paste.

Put the pan on the heat and bring to the boil, stirring all the time.

Cook for 10 seconds and keep stirring.

Leave to cool.

If a skin forms just remove it before use.

Step 6: Fattening Out the Deer Head & Giving Him a Winter Coat

The scrunched paper method was used to fill out the face and top of the head, after which I swathed the head like a mummy in masking tape to cover the newspaper. This gave me an even colour to work on and avoided any ink bleeding from the newspaper, as I was now about to apply the cardboard papier mâché.

Firstly though, I needed to put on a good film because I had to make a whole pile of cardboard strips, peeled, shredded and broken down from the remains of my cardboard box. I decided the corrugated pieces would be great to emphasise the deer's Winter coat and to make 'fluffy' detail around the ears and at the top of the head. The smoother finer pieces of card were used to create the rest of the skin and also for packing pieces around the nose and anywhere the deer needed some extra but subtle filling out.

The pieces and strips were then individually placed on the glue, allowed to rest there for a few seconds and then smoothed onto the head and neck. It was a long job but very relaxing.

I just added some eye material cut from the side of a cardboard egg box.

Then the lights were attached - I used two lots of simple white string/fairy lights.

If you are putting the deer high up on a wall then you might think of getting the remote control lights!

Hope you enjoyed this project and that you'll have as much fun making it as I did!

Cardboard Speed Challenge

Third Prize in the
Cardboard Speed Challenge