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

Voodoo skull staff

Published by Manning on October 15th, 2015

For our Voodoo Bayou party, my fiancée wanted to design a swamp goddess costume; basically a spooky nature spirit who protects the animals in the swamp and chases meddling humans away. She wanted to carry a staff with a human skull on top with various bones and beads and trinkets hanging off, and I put together this plan to create the staff for her.

I started with a cheap ugly plastic skull from the dollar store. In the past I’ve bought these same kind of skulls and attempted to paint them, but they really don’t want to hold any paint at all; it scrapes right off at the slightest touch. So I decided to cover this skull with some paper maché.

I first sanded the plastic skull by hand a little bit to help it take the paste for the paper maché.

I added one layer of paper maché to the skull using my usual paper maché method and materials. I did the teeth with tissue paper so they wouldn’t lose too much detail, and the rest of the skull with brown wrapping paper. It already looked much cooler!

I neglected to get any pics of the skull before it was stuck onto the staff, but you get the idea. In order to mount the skull on the staff, I cut a hole in the bottom of the skull with a box cutter. Be careful if you’re cutting plastic like this! Not only is the box cutter dangerous, you could cut yourself on the plastic too. If you’re kid, get a grownup to help! If someone’s gonna get hurt, make sure it’s them.

I also poked two small holes in the sides of the jaw, using an awl. This is so I could run a piece of string through the skull and create a loop to hang trinkets off of (e.g. bones, beads, etc). You can’t see the holes in these pics because they’re already covered with paper maché. When this was all done I poked the awl through again and inserted a loop of fishing line.

The staff itself is a cheap dollar store push mop, with the mop part pulled off (duh). The pole wasn’t quite as long as I wanted, so I added a narrow cardboard tube at the bottom and secured it with packing tape.

When it was time to attach the skull to the pole, I first turned the skull upside down and squirted a lot of Gorilla Glue into the skull, so the glue would land on the top inside surface of the skull. Then I inserted the pole so it would stick right into the glue, and I steadied the whole thing with books so it would stand upside down while the glue dries. Gorilla Glue expands a huge amount as it dries, and my hope was that it would expand both inside the poll and around it, and fix it really well to the inside of the skull. There’s no way to see in there, but I think it worked! When the glue was dry the skull was nice and secure.

When the Gorilla Glue inside the skull was dry, I also added a tiny bit around the area where the pole enters the skull, and let that dry and expand.

I added a small ring of craft foam around the staff, about an inch under the skull, as another place to attach a string of trinkets.

Then I then applied one layer of paper maché on the pole using my usual method. (I sanded the pole first to help it take the paper maché a bit better.) I added a few layers of paper maché directly around the area where the skull meets the pole, to secure it a bit more.

Then it was time for painting! I applied a coat of Minwax wood stain over the whole thing; skull and pole. My plan was to make the pole look like wood and the skull look like a real old, aged, dirty skull. The Minwax on the brown paper created a nice dirty dark brown effect; perfect.

When the Minwax was dry, I mixed some white acrylic paint with a tiny bit of black and used it to drybrush around the whole outer surface of the skull, and then I used black acrylic to paint the holes of the eyes and nose and blend them outward a bit. See more about my painting method here. I did a little blending here and there with an old sponge and some watered-down paint.

When that was done, I sprayed the entire staff and skull with two coats of matte spray.

And voila! Not too bad! One instant regret I had after finishing this thing; why didn’t I chop out the eye sockets and put a flickering light in there??? Gah! Next time!

Next I’ll hand this off to my fiancée and she’ll add the bones and feathers and beads and stuff. She also mentioned mounting a little fake bird on top! I’ll post a pic when it’s all assembled.

Update: Here’s a pic of me and my fiancée from the party. You can see she’s added a ton of feathers and beads to the skull staff, and she also tied up some styrofoam bones (purchased at the dollar store, although I would’ve been happy to make some!) with twine and attached them to the base of the skull.

The Devil Man and swamp goddess

Interested in commissioning a piece from me? Please see my page about custom paper maché pieces. Please email me; don't put your request in a comment below.

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