Introduction: Cheap and Easy Tombstones

For our Halloween act this year, we're gonna build a cemetary. We're going to start with tombstones, and depending on how much time we have left, build more props. But first the tombstones. Here's what you need:

- Styrofoam slabs (I used 5 and 2 cm thick slabs)
- Hot wire cutter
- Wood burning tool
- Liquid nails
- Latex paint (the cheapest you can find)
- Drywall compound
- Acrylic paint
- Paintbrush

Step 1: Design

I figured I needed at least five tombstones. I wanted to make two types: headstones and crosses. The headstones would all bear the names of famous horror writers. I made four headstones, and the names on them are Edgar Allen Poe, H.P. Lovecraft, Mary Shelley and Bram Stoker. The cross will have a quote on it.
I also needed to find a way to make sure the stones are stable and don't fall over. They all have a wide base, and a few extra pieces of styrofoam glued to the back to keep them up.

Step 2: Basic Shapes

Each stone is made from a 100x50x3 cm slab of styrofoam, and a 2cm thick slab for additional features. I drew the basic shape on them with a marker, and then cut them out using a hotwire cutter. My hotwire cutter works on both batteries and an external power supply. I happened to have an adjustable power supply, and that's the perfect solution for this tool. It gives you a bit of control over the temperature.
The styrofoam pieces are glued together with liquid nails. Make sure you use something that doesn't corrode polystyrene! This is a great method for creating all sorts of shapes. Using heat, styrofoam is very easy to cut.

Step 3: Epitaph

The tombstones all bear the names of famous horror writers. A few ones that popped into my mind:

- H.P. Lovecraft
- Edgar Allen Poe
- Bram Stoker
- Mary Shelley

I drew the names, along with their dates of birth and death, on the stones with a marker and then engraved them using a wood burning tool. This was a bit tricky, because this tool gets incredibly hot and can easily ruin your work! I solved this by turning it off and on every minute or so to keep the temperature in range. I also used this method to create the effect on the bat wings on Bram Stoker's stone.
As for the cross, instead of a name I put a quote on it: "My body lies but still I roam", from Metallica's "Wherever I may roam".

Step 4: Coating

The styrofoam is coated with a compound known as Monster Mud. This is made by mixing drywall compound and latex paint in a 5:1 ratio. To be clear, this means liquid drywall compound! If you buy powdered stuff, you have to mix it with water first. Pre-mixed compound has the advantage of keeping longer, but it's much more expensive. If you use powdered compound, don't make too much at once because it starts to harden quite fast and becomes lumpy and hard to work with.
The pictures you see are taken in my basement. Monster mud is quite messy stuff to work with!

Step 5: Painting

The basic painting is quite easy. First, the engraved text is painted black. I diluted the black paint a bit so it was easier to get it into the letters. Next, the entire surface is painted gray. When the paint is dry, I applied some spots of gray with a bit of purple mixed in, to make the base color less monotone.

Step 6: Weathering

The final step is weathering. The tombstone now looks too clean. Weathering is accomplished using a technique called "drybrushing". Don't use a new paintbrush for this, because it will ruin it. What you do is taking a little bit of undiluted paint on your brush, and then wiping most of it off again on a piece of paper. You then use the almost dry brush to apply dots or streaks. It leaves a little bit of paint on the object, but it makes a huge difference!
I started by applying some white around the text, so it stands out better. Next, the entire surface got treated with black. This made it look more like stone. If you look at the second and third picture, that's the same surface before and after drybrushing! To finish it, I mixed some green and brown paint and drybrushed this in corners, to simulate moss and dirt.

Halloween Props Contest

Participated in the
Halloween Props Contest