Introduction: Papier Mache Jack-o-lantern

This Instructable shows you how to create a jack-o-lantern decoration by reusing old materials. I saw this in a really great book by Dan Reeder years ago.  The jack-o-lantern is created from a newspaper ball that is reinforced with a hardened cloth "skin." The materials you'll need are a stack of old newspapers, an old bedsheet, wire clothing hangers, white glue, acrylic paints. You'll also need some tools and supplies such as a razor knife, masking tape, and some bowls.

Start by tearing newspapers into long strips, about 6 inches thick. You'll need lots of them. But save them for later. Instead, create a big ball of newspaper using full size newspaper pages; you might need to make several smaller balls and tape them together if you're making a big pumpkin. The next step is to "paper mache" the ball so that it is nice and sturdy...

What you're going to be doing isn't actually paper mache. But when most people hear the words paper mache they think back to the 2nd grade and using flour/water paste to make newspaper pinatas by layering paper around a balloon. Technically, I suppose this is more of a laminated paper technique and not actually paper pulp which is what true paper mache is. But I am not in a position to change popular sentiment so I too call it paper mache. Any hoo, put some flour in a bowl and add water. Mix it up really well and make sure there are no lumps. You're aiming for a thin pancake batter consistency. Plunge your hands in the paste and start applying the newspaper strips to the outside of the big newspaper ball. Make sure you squeeze out all of the air bubbles as you go. Put on several layers; you want at least 10 layers. When finished, let the ball dry for a few days. While you're waiting for the ball to dry...

Start making the pumpkin ridges. Cut wire hangers and straighten them out. Using tape to secure it, wrap newspaper around the wire so that the middle of the wire is thicker and tapers out towards the ends. Make about 10 of these. They'll be used to create the vertical ridges on the pumpkin.

Once the big paper mache newspaper is dry, start applying the ridge pieces to the pumpkin. Tape one end to the north pole, bend it around, and tape the pother to the south pole. Work your way all around the ball. It will start to look like a pumpkin. Next you should hollow the pumpkin...

Cut a big section out of the ball, reach in, and pull out all the loose newspaper. Then, tape the section you removed back into place. Now you can basically carve the face of the jack-o-lantern. Make a mouth and eyes. I like to save the eye pieces to use later. Also, twist some newspaper up to make a stem and tape it in place. Tape all of the cut edges to smooth them out. Now it looks like a jack-o-lantern.

To make it look presentable you should cover it in a skin. Tear up an old bedsheet into large squares. Slightly dilute some white glue in a bowl and soak the squares in the glue. Remove the excess glue and start applying them to the jack-o-lantern. Cover the whole thing and let it all dry. Paint it orange and display in your window.

You can take it up a few notches with these tricks:
  • While applying the bedsheet skin, give the jack-o-lantern some wrinkles near the eyes and mouth
  • Make some teeth: use Sculpey to make some teeth. Use hotglue to hold them in place while you apply the skin.
  • Remember the eye pieces that I saved? Cover them in bedsheet skin and glue some plastic eyes in the concave pieces. Paint them up and glue them on the inside of the eye sockets. I like this because the eyes can only be seen from certain angles.
  • After it's painted, wash the whole thing in black: dilute some black acrylic paint with water. Paint it over the whole pumpkin and wipe it off with a rag. The black gets caught in the nooks and crannies and accentuates the wrinkles and creates shadows.
  • Put some lights inside. Don't use a's make of paper, silly.
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