If you’re looking to make a paper mache cow skull from scratch, check out my first paper mache cow skull Instructable.
But if you already have a real or plastic (resin) skull and want to make one of your own out of paper, there’s more than one way to skin a cat (or a cow). Here’s how to make an (almost) duplicate clone of an actual cow skull.
1 Old Cow Skull or fake resin skull
- Dry Wall Joint Compound
- Wood Glue or White Glue
- News Paper or cloth
- Cardboard for the horns
- Plastic wrap
- Packing Tape & Masking Tape
- Acrylic paint – Black brown, white and Khaki.
- Air Dry Clay or Polymer Clay
- Tin foil
Tools: Box cutter, Glue Gun, Sculpting tools, paintbrush
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Step 1: Wrap & Tape
Start by wrapping the skull in plastic wrap so the packing tape doesn’t stick to the skull. You could also use tin foil or armature wire. Then tape 2 layers of packing tape around the entire skull.
Step 2: Cut & Remove Shell
Cut the tape down the middle of the skull and removed the tape–shell.
This will act as a kind of mold for the skull.
Step 3: Rebuild the Shape
Stuff the mold with newspaper and tinfoil and re-tape it back together as you build it back up.
Step 4: Masking Tape Layer
Tape a layer of masking tape around the skull to get in ready for paper mache.
Paper mache doesn’t stick to packing tape very well.
Step 5: Paper Mache
Add 2 - 4 couple layers of paper mache. You can any method of paper mache you like; newspaper or cloth and flour, plaster cloth, paper mache clay or thin set mortar if you want to leave your skull outside in the rain.
There’s no wrong way to paper mache!
Step 6: Horns
The horns from the original cow skull were long gone. I added them to my skull because horns add a lot to the look of the skull. Roll up some cardboard and tape them into shape with masking tape. Then tape them onto the skull.
Step 7: Paper Mache the Horns
I used plaster cloth to paper mache the horns to the rest of skull. It's quick, easy, not too messy, and only needs one layer.
Step 8: Dry Wall Joint Compound
Using paint brush, paint on a layer of dry wall joint compound on the entire skull to smooth out the rough spots. You could also use plaster.
After an hour as the joint compound starts to dry, use a sculpting tool with a round tip, or the end of a paintbrush to make some shallow depressions in the horns to make them look more worn.
Step 9: Glue – Paint
This is a very important layer. Mix dark brown paint with white glue or wood glue and water and paint the entire skull. The ratio is roughly 50% glue to 50% water, but it doesn’t have to be exact. As you’re painting, the glue-paint mixture will start to stiffen up as it dries, so you’ll have to add more water anyway.
The Glue-Paint seals the joint compound, smooths out the rough edges, makes the skull stronger, and creates a dark colour for the ‘shadow’ areas of the skull.
The skull with have lots of random depressions and mini-valleys. You’ll want them to stand out so the skull looks old and weathered. By painting everything brown first, you can then paint the ‘higher’ surface areas white using a technique called ‘dry-brushing’. The deep areas will remain brown creating a 3D-shadow effect.
Draw some lines for cracks and cut into the outer layer with a box cutter. You’ll want the cracks fairly deep so they’ll look real, not just painted on.
Step 10: Paint the Cracks
Using a thin paintbrush, paint the cracks black so they will look even deeper when you dry-brush the white paint on top.
Step 11: Dry-Brush
Dry-brush the skull white acrylic paint mixed with a touch of khaki or brown to give it an off-white bone-colour. The brown from the glue-paint layer will show through slightly. This helps because you don’t want the skull to look plastic or hospital-white.
To Dry-brush, dip an old paint brush into the white paint and wipe most of it off on newspaper, then gently graze (cow-pun intended) over just the highest areas with the white paint, leaving the deep crevasses and cracks dark brown or black.
Step 12: Black-wash
Another way to get the deep parts dark is too ‘black-wash’ . This is where you water down black paint, then paint over the entire area and wipe away the paint leaving the deep areas black.
The master of this technique in the paper mache world is Dan Reeder at Gourmet paper Mache.
This technique will not only darken the shadows, but will also partially darken the highlights as well. You can control how much you darken the highlights by how long you leave the paint on before you rub it off. On the first layer, dry the paint off right away. Then if you want it darker, add another layer and leave it on a little longer until you get the look you like.
Black-washed a couple additional layers on just the horns. Leave the paint on much longer than the rest of the skull. Then black-wash the tips of the horns and blend them into the lighter part of the horns nearest the skull using a sponge.
Do the same with the eye-sockets and the concave area under the horns to make them a little darker as well.
Step 13: Teeth
Use air dry clay to sculpt the teeth. You could use polymer clay like Sculpy just as well. When the clay is partially dry carve into them randomly to give the deep crevasses in the teeth.
Paint the teeth dark brown first, then lightly dry-brush them white (mixed with a little brown) so the crevasses remain brown. Sand the skull where the teeth will go, then glue them on the skull with a glue gun.