Manning Makes Stuff - Halloween decorations, paper mache masks, costumes, party ideas, and more

Manning Makes Stuff - Halloween decorations, paper mache masks, costumes, party ideas, and more

Cuckoo clock skull mask — part 2


Published by Manning on February 9th, 2016

This is part two of my cuckoo clock skull mask project. See part one and part three.

Scale-pattern shingles on the roof

Cuckoo clock skull mask - house-shaped clock body and roof panels

I started the roof with two foam board panels. My process for creating the scale-shaped shingles was kind of convoluted…

Cuckoo clock skull mask - close up of roof texture made with craft foam

The pattern on the roof is made with a few layers of craft foam (aka Wonderfoam). I made this way harder for myself than it needed to be! Since all my wall and roof panels were irregular shapes — there isn’t a single 90-degree angle on this whole mask — I needed the scale-shaped roof tiles to start out larger near the top of the roof and get smaller toward the bottom. I ended up designing the whole roof surface in Photoshop, starting with a nice regular scale pattern on a rectangular shape (figure 1). I scanned one of my roof panels (not shown) and distorted the rectangular tile pattern over top of the roof panel to make the dimensions match (figure 2). I then divided the individual rows into separate graphics, taking into account the way they’ll need to overlap one another (figure 3).

Craft foam roof pattern, figure 1Figure 1 Craft foam roof pattern, figure 2Figure 2 Craft foam roof pattern, figure 3Figure 3

I printed everything out, cut out the individual rows of scales, taped them to the craft foam, cut them out, numbered them to keep them in the right order, and finally glued them in place, using the same Roman PRO-543 universal wallpaper adhesive that I use for paper maché. I recommend using a paintbrush for applying the paste, in order to get an even, thick coating. Of course, I also had to print and cut out the mirror image of all of the rows for the other side of the roof! That’s ten rows per side, plus a flat bottom edge, so 22 pieces in all.

All of this was a lot of work, and I had to be much more careful and precise than I’m used to; I usually like just eyeballing things and keeping everything uneven and organic-looking, but I knew I’d never get the scales to look decent that way. Everything worked out fine, but it would’ve been a million times easier if I’d kept my roof panels as nice regular rectangles. Then I could’ve just kept all the scales the exact same size, maybe one inch per scale, and I could’ve just cut out a ton of identical rows and slapped them onto the roof in any order. Why can I never make anything easy for myself?!

After gluing all the scales in place, I laid a sheet of wax paper over the roof panels and piled books on them to keep the craft foam pressed against the foam board while it dried. When the roof panels were all done and dry, they had curved slightly, so I stacked even more books on them for a few days to flatten them back out. Here’s a tip if you’re ever doing this: put the bulging part of the piece on top, so the books are weighing down on that middle part. If you do it the other way, with the bulge at the bottom and the warped edges raised, it doesn’t seem to work as well; you remove the books and the thing is still curved.

I taped the finished roof panels in place but didn’t glue them down yet; I wanted to paint the roof and house separately, so I just taped them together to work on them for the next several steps. I applied a narrow strip of paper maché along the top to attach the two panels in the middle. I then propped up the whole mask on some books and boxes so that I could carefully reach up inside and apply a couple layers of paper maché along the interior top edge. When these layers were all dry, the roof was nice and solid, and could easily be removed and worked on separately.

I also added the ridge of tiles along the top to cover up where the upper edges of the roof come together. I just eyeballed these and made them close to the width of the scales at the top so they’d line up nicely. Easy. This craft foam really doesn’t want to bend, so after I cut out all the pieces I folded them up and stacked a huge pile of books on top of them overnight, to really crease the edges. That did the trick. I glued them all in place and weighted them down with some open books, placed face-down along the ridge of the roof. Even after all this, they started to un-bend and come unglued after a few days, so I applied more glue and more books and waited some more. They stayed glued this time. Spray painting later on would bond all the foam edges even more.

For the decorative pattern that hangs from the front of the roof — what the heck is that called? eaves, maybe? — I just measured and cut a shape out of craft foam, and attached it under the edge of the roof on a long folded ridge I made with poster board. I pasted all that stuff together with wallpaper adhesive.

Later on, after painting, I set the roof on the clock body and attached it with paper maché along the connecting edges inside the mask. I did several layers of paper maché here, since later on this whole thing will be set onto a hard hat with the roof supporting most of the weight of the mask.

Making paper maché bones

Cuckoo clock skull mask - papier maché bones

In researching cuckoo clock designs, I noticed that a lot of them have crossed branches or logs along the sides and bottom, and I decided to do the same thing on my mask, but with bones. I cut the bone shapes out of foam board. I then cut out pieces of foam tubing to pad out the bone shapes, and taped them in place. This is basically the same method I used to make the wings of my giant bat last Halloween. I wrapped the bone shapes in two layers of masking tape to smooth them out a little, and then I covered them in three layers of paper maché.

I measured the bones pretty carefully based on the height and width of the clock body, and left wide notches in them so they could interlock. I glued the bones onto the body with wood glue. Later on I tied some string around the crossed parts, just for a visual effect, not to actually hold them in place.

Doors and window shutters

Cuckoo clock skull mask - doors and window shutters made with craft foam

I made the little doors and window shutters out of leftover scraps of craft foam, hence the weird color combinations; no worries, they’ll get painted. I attached these to the house shape much later on, after all the painting was done.

This pic is a little out of sequence, but here’s where I was with the face, clock body, bones, and shutters all built, but not yet glued together or painted (and no roof yet)…

Cuckoo clock skull mask - first glance at the big pieces assembled

Hinge and magnets

With the clock body and bones assembled, I attached the hinge (made from a plastic folder; see part one) and skull face as well. I taped the hinge in place and applied a few layers of paper maché over it. I installed magnets in the far edge of the face, just like I did for the interior edge of the skull face. I learned that it’s very important for the magnets to be lined up exactly! I thought I could get away with them being a little bit misaligned, but this made the connections much weaker, so I dug them out and started over. No big deal. I made up a neat way to figure out exactly where the magnets need to go. Okay, so, the magnets were already installed in the face, one around 11 o’clock and one around 9 o’clock. The tricky thing is that they were invisible because I had paper maché’d over them! I took two loose magnets and just stuck them to the magnets in the mask; this showed me exactly where the hidden magnets were. Then, to show me exactly where I needed to install the opposing magnets in the body, I simply drew on the exposed magnets with a Sharpie marker, and then quickly closed the door. The fresh ink stamped a perfect magnet shape onto the unpainted brown paper of the clock body! Then I knew exactly where to dig the holes and install the magnets. Worked perfectly.

That’s it for part two! Next up: pine cones, painting, and lots of other finishing touches, in part three

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