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

Skeleton playing a cello decoration


Published by Manning on November 11th, 2016

This is just a fun thing I want to share; not much of a “making stuff” project, but a really fun decoration. I recently got my cello out of storage and decided to work it into a Halloween decoration for my seance party: a skeleton playing the cello in a bathtub full of blood!

Skeleton playing the cello in a bathtub full of blood -- Halloween decoration

I had a nice store-bought skeleton that I’ve used for several scenes I’ve set up over the years. These skeletons come with very limited mobility, but I’ve modified mine to make them better for posing. Normally their mobility is limited to the following: their arms can only swing forward at the shoulder and bend forward at the elbow, and the legs can swing forward at the hip and bend back at the knee. That’s it; no lateral or swiveling motion is possible, which makes it impossible to pose these things into anything resembling a realistic pose. (Oh yeah, and the head can turn left and right and the jaw can open). So what I do is take a screwdriver and take the whole thing apart and wire it back together with thin steel wire or jewelry wire.

Before I committed to the exact positions of the arms and legs, I first loosely wired the arms and legs on and then got to work on securing the skeleton to the chair. He needed to sit up straight with his back pretty far away from the back of the chair in order to hold the cello correctly, so this was a bit of a challenge. I ended up using wire clothes hangers, snipped and straightened and then rebent into rods that wrapped around the skeleton’s spine and then went straight back to wrap around the slats in the back of the chair. It took three of these arranged in a sort of sideways tripod shape to lock the skeleton in place on the chair sitting straight up. It was nice and sturdy; strong enough to support the heavy cello that would lean back on the skeleton.

Then I got to work on posing the limbs and wiring them more securely in place. I wired the shoulders so they could hold the cello correctly, and I also wired the legs to be able to spread outward to hold the cello more or less between the knees. I wired one hand to the cello’s neck and the other to the bow, and wired the bow to the cello strings.

To protect my bathtub from getting scraped up by the wooden chair legs, I put large plastic bottle caps under the chair legs. The cello has a metal endpin that gets inserted into a rubber disk to keep it from sliding, and I just used that in the tub and hoped that the paint I’d be adding later wouldn’t damage it. Luckily it didn’t.

I moved the entire chair/skeleton/cello arrangement into the tub all in one piece; this was tough! Once it was in the tub and the plastic bottle caps were in place, I shut the drain and turned on the water. As the water filled the tub, I squirted a lot of red tempera paint and a little bit of black tempera paint into the water, and stirred it with my hands. I kept an eye on the water to make sure it didn’t touch the wood of the cello; I let it get about an inch below the wood.
(IMPORTANT! Tempera paint cleans up very easily from non-porous surfaces like a bathtub. Acrylic or other types of paint will not! They will stain, maybe permanently!)

It’s important to note that I took a small risk by not protecting the wooden chair or the cello’s metal endpin from the water and tempera paint. The chair is cheap and from Ikea, and since it’s black I assumed the very watered down red paint wouldn’t stain it; this was correct. My cello is very old and not of great quality, and the endpin was already pretty rusted, so I didn’t care if it got a little stained or more rusted. I cleaned it after the Halloween party and it didn’t seem to have been affected by the water or stained by the paint at all. In all the decoration was probably set up in the tub for about eight hours.

Another little touch that we added in the bathroom to go along with the skeleton cellist: we printed out lots of old sheet music and crumpled and hung the pages all over the bathroom with masking tape; on the walls, the mirror, the shower rod, etc. This created a neat, chaotic kind of effect, like the spirits were blowing the papers all over the place. The red lighting really helped too; a bright red lightbulb really accentuates contrast in black and white things, like the sheet music, the black and white tiles in our bathroom, and the white skeleton in the almost-black bloody water.

One of my proudest feelings during and after our Halloween parties is seeing people taking pictures with our decorations, and this was one that ended up in a ton of spooky selfies. Success!

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