Introduction: Paper Mache Skull

Wanted to make a giant skull head for a Halloween party we were going to go to.

I shopped around on line and couldn't find anything that fit the bill. I came across this site - Manning Makes Stuff and from his work and instructions I figured I would give it a try.

I knew my chances of success were minimal. Typically I try to have a design on paper of what I wanted. How big how wide, specific measurements. I know personally from my past experiences when you go off without some kind of detail it ends up being time & money wasted and the project in the dumpster. I do have one other paper mache project under my belt. Back in the 4th grade I made a alien paper mache head for Halloween using news papers, flour and water. So I figure decades later I should try again.

Step 1: Tools/Supplies

This is by far my least expensive instructable. About 40 bucks total.

The cost of the wall paper paste (about 20 bucks) was the most expensive item on the list.

The foam board I used was 8 bucks at Home Depot. This foam is not the ideal material for this by any means. It has a film layer on both sides that I had to fight to peel off a lot of times. And it didn't shape/sand very well. The foam 'dots' for lack of a better name are on the larger side. A finer celled foam board would be better. But hey, it's Friday and I have seven days to start/finish this project.

I used a combination of brown paper bags and some masking paper (it was next to the wall paper paste at home depot. like 2 bucks for a roll).

The rest of the materials I had hanging around from other projects. I killed a complete roll of duct tape and almost a whole roll of making tape making this project. So when buying tape - buy cheap.

Step 2: Making the Form

Ok, so this is by no means the best/only way to do this. It's how I chose to proceed knowing basically nothing about one way vs another.

So I figured that the main skull I could do as one piece. Almost like a helmet. I knew the jaw, eyes, nose & teeth would have to be applied after.

I started buy cutting a base for the skull. Making it big enough that my head would fit through when I cut a hole in it. I also knew from Manning's site that I was going to use a hard hat embedded on the skull so I could wear it.

Then I cut a piece of foam that would run front to back that would be a profile of the skull - looking from the side.

From there Looking from the front and back I again cut pieces of foam representing the profile. Started in the middle - highest point then additional pieces towards the front and back. then some from the side/diagonal. You can see this in the 3rd picture.

I tried taking a old tee shirt cutting it up and laying it over the shape What happened is it sank in between the ribs of the form. After I applied it, I sprayed it with some picture mounting spray so it would stiffen up. It did stiffen it up but I wouldn't do this again. I also tried saran wrap around the whole thing and then applied duct tape over all of it again. Hey, this is basically a big blob of a shape so a couple extra layers of tape wouldn't hurt.

After that I would lay pieces of foam where things were sank and cover them with duct tape. I did that over and over until i started seeing some kind of skull shape.

Once I had the basic helmet shape complete to my liking. Cutting more foam I made a jaw. The eye rings were cut from the foam and hot glued on to the skull helmet shape. Teeth were cut/sanded from foam, taped over and hot glued to the skull.

I cut the holes out for the eyes and nose because I was going to need to paper mache into them so it would look decent when I went to paint it.

From the instructions I was using, I needed to put a complete covering of masking tape over the shape. This would allow for the interior to be removed from the skull when it was done and the wall paper paste wouldn't stick to the masking tape.

Step 3: Paper Mache

Paper mache-ing was kind of fun. Almost therapeutic. Except for the teeth. I was kind of cursing myself that they were kind of complex to get covered.

I was shooting for 6 layers total. It was now Sunday and I had just 5 days to complete this thing for the party.

I used brown paper shopping bags for the larger parts of the skull and the brown masking paper for the teeth and around the eyes. Manning's instructions said to change paper color after each layer so you can tell where you covered. That is a great idea that I didn't do, but wish I had. I was able to put a layer on in about an hour with another 20 minutes of clean up after that.

I figured 2 layers per day, three days for six layers. We had warm weather and it only took an hour or two between the layers but I let it sit over night after the two layers.

for the brown paper bags. I would pre-wet the paper with the wall paper paste. After they were soaked for about a minute or so they would apply much easier than not pre soaking them. Turns out the masking paper wet quickly and was strong enough that I could apply to the teeth and wrap it around the curves without tearing!!!

The wall paper paste was great stuff. It didn't setup too fast and dried fairly quickly. Cleaned up with water nicely and didn't smell.

Again, I had cut out the eye and nose holes and paper mache-ed into them anywhere from 1/2 to one inch.

As mentioned, the teeth were a pain to cover. I ended up doing 4 layers on them.

For the last layer I used the thinner masking paper to cover all of the skull head. I wanted a smoother last layer and it covered all of the brown paper bag paper along with the eyes, nose and jaw.

I also paper mache-ed under the skull about 2 inches in. I wanted some extra strength when I removed the foam.

Step 4: Painting

Ok here's where things went sideways.

First, I Iet the skull sit for a full 24 hours after the last layer. I actually liked how it looked but I knew that I could totally ruin it by a crappy paint job.

I painted the overall skull with automotive primer - this wasn't necessary. The brown paper bag color didn't require it because the paint would cover it just fine.

Then I painted the skull with a interior latex paint. I had mixed the bright white paint with a little bit of pinkish color paint I had from a previous project. So when painted it was it wouldn't be a stark appliance white.

Before painting what I should of done I should of set the helmet in - again the helmet would allow me to wear the thing comfortably. But I didn't do that, I figured if I ruined the paint job this thing would end up being a Jack-O-Lantern on the front porch so I didn't want to waste my time doing that if it wasn't going to look good.


Per what I read, it said start with a t-h-i-n wash of black acrylic paint over the skull with a sponge highlighting the depressions. My first thin layer didn't work. The water would just shed off of the latex paint and not stick at all. So I upped the the amount of black paint in the wash. I upped it a bit too much and it was painting the skull black. I was able to sponge that off and found a ratio that would stick. Which was kind too much but I was able to sponge most of it out and thin the paint again. I wasn't happy with how this was turning out at all...

I happened to look at some latex Halloween masks we had and noticed how the shading was done on them. Not subtle at all. many times just a black line airbrushed in along a jawline or around the eyes and nose. So my not so subtle technique I was ending up with I figured would be just fine. I mixed the black.paint again and applied a fairly not-subtle line around the jaw line, eyes and nose. I straight up painted black between the teeth. Since this was all water based paint, I was able to quickly wipe off the black when I missed a line or went too far.

I wasn't happy with the results. I needed to do something to make it pop. I needed a 3rd color. I wasn't trying to make a day of the dead mask but I needed to do something. I went and looked at some day of the dead masks and trying to come up with something. Looking in the paint cabinet I found some gold paint from a previous project and figured it would look good around the eyes. Swung by the art supply store and picked up some diamonds to put around the eyes. The end result was much better! The wife gave me the seal of approval on the over all looks.

Step 5: Cutting the Inside Out and Mounting

As mentioned before I should of mounted the helmet before I painted.

From the pictures you can see I cut the hole and emptied out the skull before it was painted.

I chose not to try to remove all of the foam/duct tape and masking tape. IMHO, it was too much work and too risky, I was afraid I didn't have enough layers and the thing would end up being too frail. I also want to make sure that the eye and nose holes were going to be able to be painted and I would later be able to cover them with a mesh or screen.

This is why in the pictures you can see the hole before it was painted but the helmet not mounted.

I should of also painted the interior back at this time. I should of but didn't....

To mount the helmet ($6.99 from home depot). I cut a ring - think toilet seat shaped and fitted it into the skull. I wanted to have that ring glued to the insides of the skull and have the helmet glued to the ring. I sanded the ring so it kind of matched the interior curve of the skull. I was going for maximum surface contact when I glued it it.

Not a lot of room to work in there by any means. I used a combination of liquid nails glue and silicon sealer glue to accomplish this. I also cut little blocks of foam that were glued to the ring and the helmet. The helmet was actually touching the inside top of the skull so I gubbered on the glue to the top of the helmet. I did one more test wearing to make sure the helmet was sitting right in the skull then let it sit UPSIDE DOWN for 24 hours.

Adding the screens to the eyes and nose. You want to do this so people cannot see into the mask. I used a old pair of black nylons make the coverings. First I put a ring of duct tape around the inside of the eyes and nose so that I have a somewhat flat kind even surface to glue the nylon fabric to. I used hot glue to do this. It worked out well. I was a little sloppy with the hot glue and you can see one of the screw ups from looking at the front of the skull. but passes the 2 foot test nicely.

Step 6: Summary

Overall I'm happy with the results!

As you can see from the picture of the back of the skull you can see where the ribs are and were the tee shirt fabric sank and the saran wrap sank. Actually you can see this all around the skull. I should of/could of added more foam and tape but i figured it looks more 'rustic'.

So I'm into this project for around 40 bucks. With about 24 hours labor over 8 days.

Hopefully other can take what worked and didn't work and try something on their own!



Halloween Contest 2018

Second Prize in the
Halloween Contest 2018