Introduction: Papier Mache Shark Head Prop for Costume

I made a shark head with the open jaw out of papier mâché for a Halloween costume a few years back. The shark needed to look life sized and somewhat menacing, as though it was about to jump out of the water and get you.

It took about about a week total (to allow for drying time between layers and painting).

Here are the steps I took to make it!

Step 1: Supplies

For this project, you need:

-An old corrugated cardboard box to create the shape of the cylindrical body

-A Latex Balloon (10" or so - depending on the shark head size you want!)

-Packing tape


-Glue (several type work - White, Wood, Tacky Glue)

-Flour (for papier mâché paste)

-Water (for papier mâché paste)

-Heavy grade brown paper bags, for papier mâché, ripped up in small pieces and removing all sections of the bag that have glue remnants or are raw edged (you want the teared edges to create a good seal of each piece)

-White Styrofoam scraps to create the teeth

-Rasp or sanding block to shape the styrofoam teeth

-1" styrofoam ball, cut in half to create the eyes

-Acrylic paints - White, Black, Red (and gray, pink, if you don't want to mix your own)

-Paintbrushes - larger and smaller for detail work (around the teeth)

-Pink fabric to line the inside of the mouth & Hot glue to attach fabric (optional)

-Clear gloss finish to make shark (and it's teeth) look slick and wet - I use either Elmer's Clear glue or a Decoupage Gloss

Step 2: Shaping of the Shark Head

  1. Take your cardboard box and break it down. Next, you want to roll it out along the length of the corrugated cardboard (with the "lines" of the cardboard), to get the cardboard to coil naturally into a cylinder shape.
  2. Inflate your balloon to the desired size and knot the end.
  3. For your shark body, create a cylinder that is the same diameter as the thickest part of your latex balloon. Staple or tape the cylinder cardboard into place so it won't come undone. Let the balloon hang out at the top of that cylinder opening, "nose" or knot up. It should hold in there without tape, but let's go ahead and secure it with a little packing tape. It doesn't have to look pretty - it will all be covered with papier mâché.
  4. Get your newspaper and shape some crumpled pieces to flesh out the rest of your shark nose. Use pictures in books or on the internet for inspiration! You can affix the newspaper where you want it with packing or duck tape. For the very tip, which is a little flat and pointy, I used a long strip of folded newspaper and folded that strip over the whole point - then taped that into place. Have fun with it! Remember, this is your creation. You can even do a Hammerhead Shark, if you want!
  5. Finally, cut out 2 long banana shaped pieces of cardboard, the length of half the diameter of the shark body cylinder. Affix them above and below the desired opening to create the jaw. They are both affixed like a "sad face" shape, one at the very top of the cardboard cylinder - where the cardboard meets the balloon, overlapping a little at the top; the other one above that, directly taped onto the balloon - this creates the shark mouth. See the pictures for detail!

When you are happy with the shark head, you are now ready to papier mâché!

Step 3: Papier Mâché Fun!

It's time to lock in your shark shape! The first 1-2 layers are important as they give you a springboard to work off of, especially over the tip nose area made with balloon and newspaper (the cardboard cylinder is already pretty much shaped).

  1. Prepare your papier mâché paper - my paper of choice is torn brown craft paper, wet down and crumpled tightly to keep it moist, but wringing out all excess water. You can use thick brown shopping bags instead of store bought craft paper, but make sure remove all glue remnants and tear away all edges/seams of the bag. You want to prep a bunch into different sized pieces, so you don't run out in the middle of paper mâché-ing! The crumpling and wetting of the paper makes it easier to manipulate/shape, and the tearing of the edges exposes very small fibers that will make your seaming smoother. It doesn't matter as much for the first few layers, but the final layer should look super smooth and all edges completely adhered.
  2. In another bowl, mix up a 60/40 mixture of flour (bread or white, don't buy the best stuff) and glue (white, wood, craft glue all work), add water to it slowly and stir, until you have the consistency of pancake batter. Make sure you stir really well, so there are no lumps of either glue or flour. It's a good idea to do this in an old tupperware, so you can use the lid and close it between uses, and then just dump the empty container at the end - no mess!
  3. Next, setup your work area on a plastic tablecloth or old newspapers.
  4. Take out prepared craft paper pieces and using either your fingers or an old generic paintbrush, spread a thin, even coat of the paper mâché mixture onto one side of each strip, applying it to the prepared shark sculpture one at a time. I would start with the area where the balloon and the cardboard meet, using longer strips there, stretching them out, slightly taught from where it connects to the balloon and to the cardboard, creating a smooth surface, hiding the cardboard seam. Keep going, working your way around the shark, overlapping the edges of each strip to connect each to the next. You can add a little of the glue paste on the top of each strip, especially on the seams. Work in an organized pattern to completely cover the shark sculpture with one or two layers. For the jaw, wrap the papier mâché over and under the banana cardboard jaw pieces, to create a little depth on the jawline. I wouldn't do more than 1-2 layers once, or it will have a hard time drying. For the drying, it is helpful to leave the object in the sun or near a radiator if possible. You don't need as many layers over the cardboard section, but for the balloon, jaw and newspaper section, I would do at least 3 to start.
  5. Once your first 3 layers are hardened (12 hours or so later), you can pop the balloon and carefully remove the newspaper/taped nose tip. At this point, if needed - you can go back to adjust your shark shape with an exacto knife, cutting off hard edges and rounding them, adjusting and embellishing areas needed to create your final vision. You have more perspective with the papier mâché layer than you did with the crumpled paper layer. You can add more newspaper/tape if you need - you will be putting more papier mâché over it, so none of it will be seen. As well, now would be a good time to decide where your nostrils and gills are going to be - cut out small slits. It can be enhanced with paint, but I made slight indentations where they go by using a larger piece of the papier mâché craft paper, with a few folded creases for each gill.
  6. Once the balloon and newspaper is out, you can hold the shark up to the light and from underneath, see the thinner areas (you can see the light shine through), use a marker to circle them, so you can make sure to sufficiently cover that area in your next round of papier mâché.
  7. Keep going with the papier mâché, allowing for drying time between layers. In the end, you should have about 4-6 layers total, and no light should be visible through the paper from the underside. You should be able to knock on the dried papier mâché sculpture and have it sound like you are knocking on a thin piece of laminate wood.

Now, you are ready to add TEETH!

Step 4: Making and Affixing the TEETH and Prepping the Eyes!

In between the drying periods, you can start shaping the shark teeth. Sharks have 32 teeth total, so you can really make a lot! Maybe not 32 of them, but... enough to make it look menacing. I made these using old scraps of styrofoam, like the kind your electronics are shipped in.

  1. Carefully cut the styrofoam scraps (with a box cutter or exacto knife) into various small/med/large triangles - "Shark tooth sized"
  2. Use a rasp to shape the triangles a little more rounded. I went ahead and placed the teeth as I made them and added extra papier mâché paste. The extra paste looked like gums when it dried. I could move them around while working since everything was still wet, and I could decide the look I wanted - and ensuring I made enough teeth to fill the mouth! Once I was happy with the placement of the teeth, I waited for the paste to dry, and any loose teeth got extra white glue to secure them them.
  3. At this time, if you haven't already done so - its a good time to cut out slits where you want the nostrils - and add a few papier mâché pieces going into the opening, to make them look organic.
  4. Also a good time to take your 1" styrofoam ball and cut it in half. Decide where it goes and mark it.

Let everything dry and then move onto the final step of finishing touches and painting!

Step 5: Painting and Final Touches!

Here comes the fun part!

  1. Paint the eyes (1" styrofoam ball cut in half) black and set them aside to fully dry before affixing to the completely painted (and dry) shark.
  2. Paint the body various shades of gray (darker on the back, lighter on the stomach), and darker shading around the gills and nostrils.
  3. Carefully paint the gum line various shades of pink around the teeth, making sure not to get any pink on the teeth themselves! You can even leave some red in, like the shark just ate something bloody (ewww)!
  4. Once the paint is dry, affix the eyes with white glue and let them dry.
  5. Once everything is secure and dry, paint the entire shark head, including teeth, gums, eyes, body, with a high gloss decoupage glue.
  6. If you want, affix a pink fabric inside the mouth, unless you want to wear the whole thing over your head?!? (The possibilities are endless :-)

Have fun and thanks for reading this Instructable! Be careful out in the water! duuuunnnn duun... duuunnnnnnnn dun dun dun dun dun dun dun dun dun dun dunnnnnnnnnnn dunnnn.

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