Introduction: Handmade Iconic Skull Mask Death Costume for Halloween

About: Called a renaissance man more times than I can count, I am the type of person who believes you can do anything you put your mind to. As a veteran I've seen some awful acts committed, and I guess my wanting to …

Years ago as a child, some of my earliest memories were of Halloween and dressing in homemade costumes. My parents never had a great deal of money but they always tried to make the holidays fun and exciting. There were so many years we would go to a local store that would have Halloween costumes, and it was always exciting to see this scary masks, the dark and creepy clothes, and all the props or accessories that went with them. Yet most of these costumes were so expensive that we never really had the money to buy something like them. Every year we would get a makeup kit, throw on some old clothes that we had distressed or in some way changed to look the part of whatever costume that we could dream up. In keeping with that tradition I wanted to try to do something I've never done before which was create my own mask and costume from scratch.

"Handmade Iconic Skull Mask Death Costume for Halloween"

Step 1: Materials

Most of this stuff I already have on hand but there were a few materials I had to buy next to those are the prices I bought them for.

Materials used:

Plaster of Paris (4 lb bucket was $5.79)
Johnson & Johnson Hospital grade rolled gauze
Vaseline with cocoa butter ($2.00)
Sculpey polymer clay bake to harden ($4.79)
Measuring cup
16 oz. disposable plastic cups
Disposable paper bowls
Latex disposable gloves
Wax paper and/or drop cloth
Hair clippers or bald cap
Disposable spoons
Sand paper (it helps to have several grits ranging from a very heavy grit to a very mirror fine grit)
Body filler, hardener, and spreader
Oven and baking sheet
Primer paint
Airbrush and paints
Fine paint brush
Dremel with cutting discs
Sharpie with fine point
3M super 77 contact spray glue
T-shirt fabric
Razor blade
5 yard bolt of cheap black fabric ($5.00)
Sewing machine with black thread
Grease pencil (or in a pinch you can use a sliver of bar soap it will mark fabric the same way)
Piece of string

Step 2: Hair and Facial Prep

The first steps to making any mask his preparation. Plaster will stick to anything especially hair and skin; so it's necessary when making a head cast to wear a bald cap or make the extreme sacrifice to the spirits of Halloween and shaved my head. In wanting to keep the cost to a minimum for my fellow instructables members to reproduce this easily, I decided to go the extreme route and shave!

Next (now that I'm sly) it's time to protect the skin and make a release agent says the plaster cast removes easily from my skin. This can easily be accomplished with Vaseline; however the thought of covering my face in such a greasy feeling mess left me reluctant to try it. Luckily before I started I was at the dollar store and found they sold a jar of Vaseline with cocoa butter, surprisingly it left my face feeling soft and smooth after everything was said and done so I recommend this to anyone.

Tip: make sure to coat the places of your face where hair may still exist, and for my fellow female instructables members remember to coat heavily around that hair that may stick out from under the bald cap especially around the ears.

Step 3: Mixing the Plaster and Saturating the Gauze

I looked around my local hobby stores and I couldn't find plaster bandages, in a small town this can sometimes be hard to find. Not deterred by this I decided to make my own, which is a very simple process.

First you'll need a few materials like gauze, plaster of Paris, water, measuring cup, plastic cups, paper bowls, mixing utensil (like a spoon), and something to protect your work surface such as wax paper.

I took two 16 ounce plastic disposable cups, one was filled with water from a measuring cup to do exactly half cup of water then cut it down to that size. I then took a second cup and filled it with 1 cup of water then cut it down to that size (dump the water out and dry the cup thoroughly before using). Tip: This will come in handy while trying to measure out your chemicals while applying the bandages.

Fill your half cup up with water and your full cup up with Plaster of Paris. take a spoon and break up any clumps that may be in the plaster of Paris.

Next fill your bowl with the half cup of water.

Then take your spoon and sprinkle some of the plaster of Paris on top of the water (this will minimize the clumping that could happen from adding plaster to the water).

Not continue adding the rest of the plaster to the water, slowly stirring it in as your are pouring. While stirring remember to go slow to keep as many air bubbles as possible out of the mix. The consistency of the mix should be somewhere around pudding (also make sure that you scrape the bottom of the bowl to get any remaining plaster mixed well with the rest of the mix).

Now we're ready to start saturate the gauze, simply lay your pre-cut gauze into the mix and then flip it over, using your glove covered hands, pinch the plaster smoothing it across the gauze (kind of like trying to empty a toothpaste tube), make sure the whole bandage is saturated and wet.

Step 4: The Layup

Now comes the fun part, due to the fact I was taking pictures with my phone and that my hands were covered with plaster I was unable to get several pictures of this process. However needless to say it is very basic, just take your saturated bandages and start laying them out in a pattern until you have covered your entire face and part of the top your head. CAUTION: you do not want to cover your entire head in plaster bandages this would make removal difficult and could damage your plaster mold, also for a mask make sure you leave holes around your nose and eyes so that you can breathe and you can see what you're doing.

This is a very messy process make sure you cover your entire working area with a drop cloth and remember to use gloves!!!

The entire process of drying should take 20 to 30 minutes tops. Don't let this stay on your face for a long time. Removing the mask is very simple just start wiggling your face and you'll start to feel it's separating. Now I may take some coaxing on some spots but the Vaseline should make it remove relatively easy (this is also the part where you find the little hairs you missed, OUCH!)

Now it's time to hurry up and wait, plaster should be workable around 24 hours.

Step 5: Sanding and Body Filler

Well it's the next day, and it's been almost 24 hours since I had removed the mask. Now it's time to start prepping the mask for strength and clay molding.

The first is to get a heavy grit sandpaper and start standing down the mask. Remember the rule of thumb here is not to make it super smooth we simply want to remove clumps and give us a scratch surface for body filler to adhere to you.

Next get your body filler and mix up a small batch to apply to the outside of the mask (make sure you only apply this to the outside of the mask), body filler can be sanded to a very smooth surface.

Smear on the body filler liberally at first and I found that while working with contoured surfaces using a dry sponge you can work the body filler and to some of the tightest spaces and minimize your sanding.

Once the body filler sets up you can begin sanding with a lower grit sandpaper, this may take sandpaper of different grits to give a nice smooth surface. However I have found that you should leave some imperfections in the body filler to give things like clay something to stick to.

Step 6: Sculpey Clay Molding the Effects

Not exactly sure how I wanted to sculpt the clay I decided to try and trace out a design on the mask as kind of a guide to follow when laying the clay. Using a pencil I drew directly on the mask until I had a working stencil in which to use.

Next you need to condition the clay before using it, this just means to start folding or kneading the clay until it becomes pliable (I've found that it helps to also roll this in a ball to slightly heat it up).

Again having my hands covered in clay made it difficult to show the process of sculpting or molding. However clay is not very difficult to work with you just have to remember to get nice smooth lines you have to be very soft handed when laying down the clay. It takes a little practice but you can mold it very easily. Tip: I have found that if you lightly rub your fingers over the clay you can make impressions very quickly making it easier to work with and create really nice lines.

Using a sharp pencil I made impressions around the mouth area for the teeth when I get ready to paint with a brush

In the pictures you will see a round jawline, however at the last moment while looking at my printed out pictures I decided to change the jawline to a more skull defined look (which will be depicted in the next steps).

Next step is to set your oven at 275° and place the mask on a baking tray for about 20 minutes or so to harden the clay. Give it sometime to cool down before you move on to the next step.

Step 7: Adding Some Color

This is a very exciting time as you start seeing your creation come to life, however were not done yet. Now we need to start taking the mask from a two-dimensional to three dimensional life like look.

Because the clay as a very smooth surface I felt it was necessary to use a primer on the outside of the mask to aid in the adherence of the airbrush paint.

Once the primer has set up you can break out airbrush and paints (using printouts from the internet as a guide). I used mostly black and white as well as a mixture of both, to create the grays. Filling and around the eyes, cheekbones, and nasal cavity with an airbrush. Another technique I use to get the grainy effect or gritty effect is to hold the airbrush far enough away as to lightly dust the whole mask with a gray to give it a more bone look. Using a paint brush I filled in around the teeth with a black and then followed it up with the airbrush and a darker gray as well as filling in certain spots over and over again with a mixture of the same colors.

To highlight some of the features such as the ridges around the eyes, cheek bones, and jawline I went back with a white and lightly colored the ridges.

Once I had the color finished I followed it up with a clear coat, one of my favorites when covering water-based airbrush paints is a product called preserve it. Like any other clear coat there is a matte and a gloss, and for this particular project I used the glossy. First dust on a light coat, then follow it up with a heavier coat.

Step 8: Trimming the Mask

The mask being difficult to put on due to the rough edges (as well as for looks) needed to be trimmed.

Using a fine point sharpie I traced along the edge in order to create a cut line.

Using a Dremel with cutting discs I trimmed the mask along this cut line leaving a nice clean line, which made the mask slide on much easier.

Step 9: Adding the Ties and Mounting

I needed a way to hold the mask on and after looking at several ideas, such as pop riveting a strap around the back of my head, gluing a strip of fabric around the cut line tight enough to hold the mask on, or possibly gluing something inside the mask that will tie from the back. I decided for comfort to glue T-shirt fabric to the inside of the mask as the plaster was a little uncomfortable while testing how the mask fit. not to mention the other two ideas shows visible signs that it was clearly a mask and reaching for a more realistic look that just wouldn't do.

One of my favorite types of spray contact glue is Super 77 from 3M (which you will see a lot of in my Instructables). Super 77 has a strong hold and the smell from the glue dissipates fast making it ideal for this project.

To start spray a small amount into the head of the mask and working from the center of the T-shirt fabric start applying it to the glue. This stuff makes an instant contact to cloth, so you have to work fast.

CAUTION: do not spray the entire mask at once work in small areas until you cover the mask inside.

Once you have completed gluing the T-shirt fabric in using a razor blade cut out the eye holes and the nose holes.

Then cut several strips from the extruding T-shirt fabric to create ties I braided the one from the chin to provide comfort around my neck.

Step 10: Making the Robe

Since this was the first time I was attempting to make a robe, I went to my closet and got a bathrobe to see how the pros make them. Following the cuts from the bathrobe I drew up an idea on how this would work.

I went to Wal-Mart arts and crafts department and bought a pre-cut 5 yard bolt of cloth which was $1 per yard. as with many of the bolts of cloth from them they are folded in half and rolled onto a piece of cardboard.

Rolling out enough to the height from the bottom of my feet to my neck line and then a little higher I made a cut and drew the lines you see in the pictures. Then sew the shoulder blades and the sides leaving the neckline and arms open.

To make the sleeves I simply laid down on additional piece of fabric and used a grease pencil to trace out the length of my arms and drew from the line of the top of my shoulder and from the bottom of my armpit to be corresponding line on the opposite side (think of bell bottoms for your arms).

To create the hood I used a piece of string and measured from the back of my neck to the tip of my nose while wearing the mask, and cut the string to match. To trace the hood onto a single piece of fabric (or to say not folded) take a thumbtack fine the center of the hood you are going to draw and pin the string to that center the other end of the line try a grease pencil to it and making a half circle gesture with the line stretched out should create a perfect half circle to which you can cut.

This being the second time I've used a sewing machine was a bit of a challenge to sew the arms and hood to the body of the robe. To hide your stitches turn everything inside out placing the arms on the inside of the reversed body and starting from the top of the shoulder so around each edge and do the same with the hood making sure to hang the openings around the edge of your sewing machine so you don't sew them shut.

When you're done you should have a remaining yard and a half of fabric to use for a child's costume or perhaps like me a last-minute cape for your spouse to go as a vampire.


Well it took a few days but I learned a lot about plaster and bandages, and missing the little bit of hair I have made me feel better that I had so many comments at my little brother and his wife's party. I heard comments like "Where did you buy that?", "Work of art?", and "You really didn't make that did you?", and of course to those I answered they will be able to see it on instructables tomorrow.

For those of you who want to try working with clay; all I can say is it takes a lot of time and patience. I made several mistakes and had to keep going back and remolding certain spots to be able to get just the right look. I found out that using water with a polymer clay doesn't work very well, and using tools and doesn't really help much either. It's more about just using your hands and a light touch in many cases.

The best part about doing something as simple as a skull is that it can be used for many different costumes, maybe next year I'll don the leather jacket and a chain and go as The Ghost Rider"!

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