Whether it is for a costume you are working on, attending a Renaissance Festival, or participating in interactive gaming, there are times when you just need to wear some pointed ears. Yes, that's right, I'm talking about elf ears.
I stumbled upon another instructable, "How to Apply Elf Ears," a few months ago, and thought I would offer a different approach to applying elf ears: how to apply elf ears realistically but also quickly. I have been wearing elf ears for about 8 years now, and have been painting and applying them professionally for about 6 years. I would classify myself as an elf ear expert.
When I first started wearing ears, I would spend at least an hour before the show painting, gluing, applying liquid latex, blow-drying, and then repainting the ears. And in the end, I would still have visible seams and mismatched colors on my skin and latex. After an hour of work, it still wouldn't look like the movies.
With this instructable, I hope to teach you how to maintain the color of your ears, so that when it is time to glue them on, you can stick them on in under 5 minutes, without sacrificing a realistic look. You will learn a few of the "cheats" that I have discovered to make your elven life a little easier.
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Step 1: Supplies
The following is a list of necessary supplies, a list of optional items, and finally a list of not really needed items. This necessary list assumes that you can purchase the elf ears pre-painted or find someone to paint them for you, either of which makes your life much easier.
Make-ups (rubber mask grease paint or RMG as it is called)
Setting powder (baby powder works too)
Make-up and Spirit gum remover
Ear Cuffs. For me personally, I feel that ear cuffs are a necessary item, but you may not. Ear cuffs are used to hide the seam on the back curve of your ear. These can be simple cuffs to crazy fancy cuffs with chains and piercings.
RMG make-up. Through the years, I have discovered that the best supplier of make-ups is Graftobian. When painting any latex prosthetic, you want to use [http://www.graftobian.com/$spindb.query.listcat2.grcatview.K2.10..Rubber~20Mask~20Grease~20Palettes~2cetc~2e rubber mask grease paint], also known as RMG. This is the best make-up to use, and it also doesn't destroy latex like cosmetic make-ups do. RMG's main ingredient is castor oil, which is what you want. Any make-up with mineral oil as the primary ingredient will slowly break down the latex. Avoid mineral oil!NOTE: However, if the ears are painted with a coat of castor oil based make-up, then painting over the RMG with mineral oil make-up isn't as bad for the latex. But the best is always castor oil make-up.
Make-up sponges. Just go to your local department store and purchase a package of 12 round make-up sponges. They last a long time and work perfectly.
Setting Powder. After you paint RMG make-up, you need to "set" it so that it is no longer tacky. Setting it helps prevent it from rubbing off when you touch the ears as well. To do this, you need setting powder (or just use baby powder) and a powder puff.
For this instructable, you shouldn't need any flesh latex since all of the seams will be hidden via quicker, simpler methods, i.e. hair and ear cuffs. Also, if you use Graftobian brand spirit gum, you shouldn't need any remover either, since Graftobian spirit gum cleans off easily using just soap and water.
Step 2: Painting Your Ears
If you are able to snag a pair of painted ears, you can totally skip this step (or just read this step to see all the work you get to avoid). Purchasing pre-painted ears not only avoids quite a bit of work, but also saves you from purchasing supplies that you will only use rarely (RMG make-up, sponges, setting powder, powder puffs) since once the ears are painted with a coat of RMG make-up, the make-up should last for at least 6 months without needing touch-ups.
The problem with the typical way of painting prosthetics is that it requires you to put make-up directly on your skin. That means every time you want to wear your ears, you'll have to blend them into your skin again! We want to avoid this. Our goal is to get the ears close to your skin tone, and then use "cheats" to hide the seams and the subtle differences in color.
Depending on your skin tone, I have found certain colors by Graftobian that work well for specific skin tones. These colors and more are all now available at Aradani Studios.
Fair skin: 1) Medium Highlight, 2) Sierra, and 3) Rose Blush
Tanned Skin: 1) Dark Bronze or Warm Tan, 2) Sierra, and 3) Rose Blush
Dark Skin: Warm Tan or Milk Chocolate or Ebony (depending on the tone of your skin)
The easiest way to visualize painting the ears is to think about the elf ear in three sections, 1) the body, 2) the flap, and 3) the back curve. The numbers on the above colors match the numbers of the sections of the ear. For example, on fair skin ears, first paint the body of the ear with Medium Highlight. Second, paint the flap with Sierra, and blend the two colors together. Finally, using just a small amount of Rose Blush, touch up the back curve to add a slight red tint to the ears.
The reason we paint a lighter tone on the flap is that most people's temples are lighter in tone than the rest of their ear. And we paint the reds along the back curve because people's ears are naturally more pink along the back curve due to the amount of blood near the surface of the skin. For some reason, most people I see who paint their own ears do NOT paint the red tints. It makes a big difference in realistic versus fake! If painting your own ears, PLEASE pay a few dollars to get a small red container of make-up!
When painting tanned ears, follow the same three section process. For darker skin tones, usually just find the make-up that best matches your skin, and paint a solid, single coat over the entire ear.
Once you have painted the ears, you need to set with make-up with powder:
1) Dab your powder puff in the powder.
2) Pat the powder all over the ear, it will now have a chalky look to it.
3) Wipe off any remaining powder with the puff.
The photos below all show the Aradani Studios small anime ear. The painting process is the same for any type of elf ear you buy, no matter how long or short.
Step 3: Time to Glue Them On
So now it's time to glue the ears in place. Most people put a ton of spirit gum on the prosthetic and on their skin. While this works great if you are about to play a marathon LARP session, it is usually overkill. The first time I wore elf ears, I covered the inside of the prosthetic and the top half of my ear completely with spirit gum... It took about 30 minutes and half a bottle of spirit gum remover to get the ears off. Since then I have learned a much better method.
To attach the elf ears to your ears, all you need is a small amount of spirit gum. Spirit gum is one of many prosthetic adhesives available on the market, however I have found that it is the easiest to use, easiest to clean up, and gentlest on the skin. A little bit goes a long way, so when applying it, only use a small amount. I have found that a 1/8 ounce bottle will glue on about 100-125 pairs of elf ears!
1) Apply a small amount of spirit gum to the indicated areas of the prosthetic, a little on the front flap and a little on the back curve.
2) Being careful not to get any spirit gum in your hair, carefully slide the ear over your own into position. It is usually a good idea to practice doing this in the mirror without spirit gum, until you are able to slide it on easily.
3) Press and hold the two areas for about 1 minute (a little longer if the temperature is lower). One of the photos below demonstrates the easiest way to pinch and hold the ears when gluing them on. Placing your thumb behind your ear, pinch the back curve with your thumb and index finger. Use your middle finger to press the flap against your temple. Hold for 30 seconds to 1 minute. Repeat with other ear.
I recommend Graftobian brand for ease of use and ease of removal.
Step 4: The Quick "cheats"
So this step is what makes my instructable different from others, how to blend them in quickly and easily, without sacrificing realism. Most of this "magic" is accomplished with strategic placement of hair and ear cuffs.
1) Hiding the front flap
The reason that we leave the flap on the ear instead of trimming it off, is that it is much easier to hide the flap underneath your sideburns (or the hair in that area). Since this part glues flat to your temple, their isn't much need to blend the seam in, since it is all flat against the skin.
2) Hiding the back curve"
When you glue your ears on, you will notice that the elf ear cuts straight across the back curve of your ear. This seam is much harder to find. Rather than blending it in with make-up, which can take up to an hour, we are going to wear ear cuffs! This takes about 10 seconds, and looks much more flawless. The other benefit you get is that by breaking the continuity of the ear, it doesn't matter as much if the coloring isn't perfect. The other benefit is that the jewelry will also draw attention to your ears, especially if they are shiny or sparkly (as a guy this is the only time I enjoy wearing sparkly jewelry).
Step 5: Removal and Storage
If you followed the directions on how to put on the elf ears, it is very simple to remove the ears. Just grab the ears at the tip, and gently pull away from your head and towards your shoulder. The prosthetics will flip over the ear, and peel off.
Any spirit gum residue left on your skin can be removed by scrubbing with soap and water. Or if you plan to use the ears quite often, you can use spirit gum remover to more easily remove the residue from your skin. However, if you only intend to use the elf ears infrequently, soap and water should be fine.
Don't use spirit gum remover on the elf ears. While it will remove the dried glue from your ears, it will also take off the RMG make-up. Instead, wait until after you have worn the ears about 10 times or so. Before you put them on again, you will notice a nice build-up of spirit gum on your prosthetic. Gently take your fingernail and scratch lightly to remove it. You can also gently stretch the latex. Since spirit gum doesn't stretch when it has dried, it will flake up, making it easier to remove as well.
When you are not wearing your elf ears, keep them in a small plastic bag, such as a ziploc bag. Doing this will protect the latex and help maintain the coloring. A plastic bag will help keep dirt and dust off the ears which will alter the coloring with a grayish tint. I wear mine twice a week in the rain and sun at Renaissance Festivals, but I usually only have to touch mine up every 4-6 months, and I guarantee that I wear mine through much harsher conditions than most.
If you ever have any questions about this tutorial, please feel free to contact me. Thanks!