Intro: Giant Easter Island Head Costume
So, this started out as one of those ridiculous ideas that comes to you in the wee morning hours, when you're just starting to emerge from the cocoon of sleep and your conscious and subconscious are fighting for control of your thoughts. Also, certain quantities of beer and cheese may have been consumed the night before... Anyway, suffice to say that I was punched awake by my girlfriend for the crime of laughing in my sleep and came to with the striking image of people walking around with the heads of Easter Island statues in place of their own.
Cut forward to September and my other half’s birthday planning. Excitedly, she told me that she’d decided to have a country themed party. Not, she hastened to add to my brief dismay, the musical genre, but literally a party where everybody had to come dressed as a different country. And so it was that my dream achieved prophetic status and I embarked on the adventure of creating my own Easter Island headpiece...
Step 1: You Will Need
The following is a list of the tools and resources you will need to make your very own cumbersome grey paper helmet.
Paint brushes (don't use your best sable hair, the pound shop (dollar store?) will do)
Tin snips or shears (not pictured)
Screwdriver (whatever, as long as it fits your screws)
GLOVES (I didn't use, I did regret)
Enough scrap wood to make a frame
Lots and lots of masking tape
Ditto gaffer (duct, Duck) tape
A hoarder's home's worth of newspapers
PVA glue (plenty)
8 wood screws
Flock (fake grass)
A cocktail stick
A tiny bit of paper to make an adorable flag
A brief aside
Pleased and excited by my idea for the costume, I made the error of telling my friend Jon, the Prince of Playful Sardonicism, (and apparently useless geographical trivia), who quickly pointed out that he felt the costume would be inappropriate for the event, as Easter Island is a province of Chile and not a country in its own right. This, from the guy who eventually turned up two hours late to the party costumed as a secessionist Cornwall and preceded to ingratiate himself to the assembled masses by handing out Cornish pasties and craft beers... But I had a giant hot box of a hat and an amusing way of walking through doors (spoiler alert: sideways), so sod you, Jon!
Step 2: The Frame
The first thing I did was take two lengths of scrap wood from a canvas wardrobe, which were around a metre long. I laid them parallel to one another and put another two shorter bits of scrap across them to make a frame. I drilled four holes at the intersections and screwed the wood together. The next step involved putting two more pieces of the same wood across the frame to brace it. I struggled comically with a tape measure while I measured the span of my shoulders and arranged the pieces of wood so that they were just wider than this measurement, screwed them in place and made sure that I could fit inside the hole. For extra bracing, I cut two final lengths of wood and taped them between the shoulder-spaced pieces with masking tape.
Step 3: Head and Shoulders (holes)
I'd like to say I took the opportunity, on the completion of the frame and in the knowledge that I wouldn't be generating any further sawdust, to engage in a quick spot of vacuuming. However, that would be a gratuitous lie, so let's get on with the mess-making... By the way, you may actually wish to hoover at this point, and I honestly wouldn't think any less of you if you did, but why not just save all the tidying up for the end and preferably for somebody else?.
Placing my newly created frame lovingly aside, I savagely tore apart a cardboard box with the aid of my trusty Stanley knife, flattening it out to within an inch of its life. I then placed the wooden frame over it and drew then cut around it. Tediously looking for and eventually locating the end of a roll of gaffer tape I went around the frame, securing the cardboard sheet to the wood until it seemed adequately attached. At this point I noticed an annoying dent in the cardboard, where I had been leaning my not negligible weight on the piece. My frustrations were short lived, however, when I realised that the offending bump was in an area of the cardboard that would soon be removed.
Which brings us on to a fun part (honest!) of the build. With only one pair of hands ("Come on, evolution!") I used the tape measure to plot the dimensions of my head and shoulders from above. You could enlist the services of a friend or loved one for this task or, if you're like me, they'll just stand by laughing at your clumsy movements, particularly when you forget the retractable nature of the tool you're using and it hits you in the face.
Shrug off the casual bullying of your peers (you'll be the one laughing when you are towering above them in your stone (effect) head armour). -Another brief aside- When I started researching Easter Island heads for reference images for this project I was amazed to find out that they only relatively recently discovered that the statues aren't just heads at all; there are actually full bodies hidden beneath the ground. "Surely not, young man, you're clearly talking out of your arse!" - a quick Google will dispel your doubts, naysayer -End of tangent- I drew a rough shape in the middle of the cardboard, using the vague measurements I had gathered. Oh, and a pen.
Then, I cut the shape out and made sure that I could fit my head and the top part of my shoulders through the hole. Don't worry if this is a tight squeeze, you will struggle to keep the head upright later on if this fit is too loose. The next step was to cut four smaller pieces of wood to size and tape them to the frame and the cardboard, making sure to secure them to the edges of the hole I just cut, after strengthening all around the hole with gaffer tape.
Step 4: Starting the Head
If you were sensible enough to acquire some gloves then this point in the build would be a good time to think about putting them on. If you didn't, I like your style; maybe we'll hook up for a drink in Accident & Emergency (E.R.) some time...
I unwrapped my shiny new roll of chicken wire and reached excitedly for a pair of metal cutters. Not having much of an idea of where to start other than "cut a few wiry squares" I got stuck in. Unfortunately for me, before long so did the wire. To my flesh. Essentially, I had started to make barbed wire as soon as I began cutting into the roll. Grimacing through the pain in the name of creativity I carried on cutting small sheets of wire and then set about making a giant head (and shoulders).
In fact, the shoulders were the first thing I modelled, and I did this by laying two sheets of wire over my own shoulders and moulding them around the contours of my body. I then trimmed the base of each "shoulder" and taped them over the corresponding shoulder holes I had previously made in the cardboard, making sure that there was enough of a gap between them to fit my head through. A good tip for this part is to make sure that the factory-sealed edges of the wire sheets are placed where your head will enter the costume, as opposed to the freshly cut razor wire death you've created. Obviously this is only important if you enjoy your ears in their current orientation.
When the wire shoulders were securely fastened to the base, I started to model the front of the neck and the chin. I actually found overlaying the wire sheets surprisingly easy and the cut edges lent themselves well to being twisted together, though this isn't a job you'd want to rush for obvious reasons. I can't really give measurements or precise guidelines for this part, as moulding the shape of the head was quite a touchy-feely process. However, I did find it best to work with larger, structural sheets of wire at the bottom of the head and smaller, more flexible pieces towards the top. The photos below should offer some clues as to the process.
At some point I had the idea of adding a couple of strips of masking tape, to highlight where my eyeline would be when wearing the costume. I should point out that at this time I was only interested in roughing out the frame outline of the head and that defining features such as the nose and mouth would come later on in the build. Unfortunately, without these definitions it was soon pointed out to me by my ever-supportive girlfriend that I had inadvertently created a giant chicken wire phallus, complete with two diminutive testes. Naturally, she also insisted in putting it on and further mocking me from inside my creation!
Step 5: Give It a Face!
When the rough framework of the head felt stable enough and I had checked all the joins, it was time to add the facial features. Moulding the nose and lips were again pretty straightforward, as was adding them to the head in the same way as the previous sections of wire were coupled (twisting the cut ends together).
Step 6: Taping the Wire Frame
So, if you haven't guessed yet, we're slowly working towards that method of sculpture usually reserved for nurseries (kindergartens?), rehab centres and mental health care facilities; papier-mâché. However, apparently soggy paper pulp doesn't really like sticking to wire. Or gaffer tape. Or basically anything other than your hands or face. For this reason I set about covering the wire frame with masking tape, in the hopes that the paper mash would see the paper tape and, you know, want to make friends. Rather foreseeably, though, I only had enough masking tape left to cover approximately one shoulder. I had to move straight to the frustrating paper mess stage, but if anybody out there is attempting this build ("Goodness, why?") I would strongly recommend you cover the whole thing in tape for two reasons; the next step will be much easier than I found it and you won't end up with the chicken wire texturing that I unfortunately had in the final piece.
Step 7: The "I'm Not Cleaning This Up" Step
For anybody that's ever been to school, this next step should be fairly obvious. I mixed PVA glue and water to a 1:1 ratio in a bowl I didn't mind covering in glue. This is not necessarily to say that my housemate didn't mind me covering the bowl in glue, but suffice to say you probably shouldn't use that Ming china heirloom of your mother's for this task. Because I couldn't really be bothered to go and buy more masking tape, I had initial problems with gravity when trying to cover the mid part of the head frame. However, I managed to rectify this by draping longer strips of paper over the top of the head and around the bridge of the nose and slowly working down to meet the paper on the shoulders.
Now might be a good time to point out that I only really had a day to finish this project and the whole thing was a bit of a rushed job!
Step 8: Painting
And so it was time to paint. As you can see, after some research I went with a stoney grey flavour for the head itself, with a nice verdant green for the island and a beautiful off-sky blue for the sea. Due to the aforementioned lack of masking tape, I had the problem of the chicken wire mesh showing through the paper. I think this happened during the drying process, as the pulp shrank around the frame and was sucked slightly into the holes. If I had had any longer to dedicate to this project I would have done at least two more layers of paper, with drying time in between, before painting. Anyway, let all that dry and then move onto the flock...
Step 9: What the Flock?!
Well, if you know anything at all about model railways or tabletop battle games (and I proudly don't!) I guess you'll have come into contact with this marvelous substance at some point before. Flock is basically a fake grass, made up of lots of tiny fibres and it's pretty easy to use. Word of warning, though; in the small, seethrough plastic ziplock baggy flock usually comes in, it certainly isn't disimilar to certain recreational drugs and I wouldn't recommend trying to carry large quantities of it over international borders unless you love the cold, powdery feel of a freshly donned latex glove...
To apply the flock, I lightly covered the island part of the costume, as well as one of the shoulders, with the 1:1 PVA:water gloop, then simply shook the flock out onto it. After waiting a couple of minutes for this to dry, I tapped off the excess grass and repeated the process, filling in any patches. At this point I also touched up the paint job by adding white highlights to the water around the island, to look like surf.
I also made two holes in the head, just under the nose, to serve as eye holes, as well as the nostrils of the statue. A third hole, the size of a drinking straw, was also made in the centre of the mouth. Perhaps unsurprisingly, this was made to hold a drinking straw, so that the wearer of the costume (me) could still keep on top of the drinking requirement from within my papery prison.
Also also, I made a tiny little hand-painted flag and attached it with a cocktail stick to the shoulder of the statue. As you can see in the photograph below, some smart arse has planted a Somalian flag on the other side of the island in a pathetic act of piracy.
While I was happy with the concept and certain parts of this costume, it could definitely have looked better (smoother) if I'd put more layers of papier-mâché on, given it more time to dry, possibly sanded the head in between layers and generally not treated the project like a throwaway, wear-once novelty that would end the night covered in Cornish beer and pasties (last laugh to Jon). Conversely, it was definitely a showstopping costume and everybody at the party had a go at wearing it, so it went down pretty well.