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The last time I made something out of paper mache was in the fourth grade, so I am beyond rusty. However, we love the look of props created with paper mache and we're going to increase the number of projects that use it going forward. But there in lies the tale. I'm the one who's going to be messing around with all that glue and paper, and I need the help of those more versed in the methods than I am. Especially concerning a newly acquired prop. Here he is...

Skull01.jpg

He is supposed to be a reproduction of the skull statue in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. We picked him up from a couple who were getting rid of it after they had an Indiana Jones themed party. He's just cobbled together with cardboard and craft paper, but we think they did a pretty good job. He stands about four feet tall.

Indiana-Jones-and-the-Temple-of-Doom-glowing-sacred-stones-skull.jpg

He has three salt crystal lights for his eyes and nose, and the cardboard supports seem to hold them just fine. But what I really want to do is transform him from a flimsy party decoration to a sturdy Halloween prop. He will live in our pirate's mausoleum which is outdoors, but under cover. Which means he should be waterproof because Oregon really doesn't understand that a roof means water isn't supposed to fall under it, only on top of it.

He will also have to live with two very klutzy people putting him out and putting him away every year, so he should be sturdy. And lastly, because I really try my best to make things look as authentic as I can, given my resources, he should look like weathered, stained, rock when all the paper clay and paint is dry.

Skull02.jpg

So, to accomplish all that, I am asking for your advice. Do I go in and reinforce all the cardboard with another layer? Do I just cover everything with additional layers of tape to hold it all together? I have tons of Styrofoam. Would it be a good idea to fill in all the gaps with that Styrofoam to create a more stable prop? What's the best way to create a lid or something to cover up the back so that wayward rain doesn't mess up the insides? What is your favorite homemade paste for covering your projects? If I'm going to make this critter truly sturdy, will I be covering him both on the outside and the inside? What is your favorite way of making paper clay? What do you paint your props with to keep them water tight?

What I'm asking all of you paper mache artists out there is take a look at these pictures of our cardboard skull and the picture from the movie and ask yourself, "how do I get that cardboard skull from where he is now to what he should look like when I'm done?" Any advice you give will be greatly appreciated. And I promise when he's all done, we'll have a coming out party in celebration with lots of pictures.

Thanks bunches. :)
 

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The Big Kahuna of Fright
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I stopped using conventional paper mache when I learned that mice will destroy it during storage. Now I go with paper and white Carpenters Glue. Costly but rock hard. Sets up faster too. For something bullet-proof go to floor leveling compound and burlap as your medium. Heavy. But you can roll it down the street with no ill effects...
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It’s a cool prop! The last time I used paper mache was in a previous century but in my opinion, you are going to be disappointed if you try and do this with cardboard and paper mache. I urge you to look into recreating this with styrofoam sheets or sculpting blocks. You could produce this as several pieces making easy to disassemble and store and would produce an infinitely better looking product and completely waterproof! Whatever you choose to do please post updates - many of us will enjoy seeing your progress!
 

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I would get old scraps of Styrofoam from packaging, ceiling tiles, and tombstone scraps. Bust em up, break em apart, and Great Stuff them inside the skull. Then you'll have a sturdy structure that won't so easily collapse. Then, you can thicken up the outside with another good layer of papier mache or like previously mentioned paper and white Elmer's glue.
 

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Second on the filling the back with foam to sturdy it, and on the stolloween reference.

However, the best/easiest paper mache/clay recipe I've found is thus:

4 parts celluclay (or any of the premade mixes), 1 part joint compount, enough water to get it workable. I use a old 'discarded' kitchenaid to mix it with the bread hooks.

Just the mix and water per package directions becomes a sticky unworkable mess, IMO. Adding just that bit of joint compound makes it so much more workable to smooth and work.

As others have mentioned, for the basic forms, I've also moved away from paper mache because of animal damage. However, I cover things with plaster wrap before the aforementioned paper clay. My reasoning being that, though more expensive (buying in bulk is not that expensive), it dries in minutes, and thus allows me to get to that next layer NOW.

As for finish work, a couple coats of dryloc followed by some washes and dry brushing will do the trick.

Love the prop, love the idea. Favorite Indy movie.
 

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Discussion Starter #9
I stopped using conventional paper mache when I learned that mice will destroy it during storage. Now I go with paper and white Carpenters Glue. Costly but rock hard. Sets up faster too. For something bullet-proof go to floor leveling compound and burlap as your medium. Heavy. But you can roll it down the street with no ill effects...
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Hi Wolfman,

Thanks for the advice. Floor leveling compound is essentially a thinned out cement, right? Is that going to weigh the structure down so much that it collapses, or will it just make it strong enough that the original cardboard is no longer what's really supporting the structure? And... if I have tons of fabric scraps can I use them instead of burlap? I'm thinking the burlap would almost make the mix like plaster cloth which I'm familiar with in HO train scenery design, but if you've used your leveling compound and burlap before, I'm going to go with whatever you think is right. I just love getting rid of stuff I don't want by using it to create something I do. Getting rid of all that leftover fabric to make the skull would be perfect, if it will work.
 

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Thanks, dpeterson. I have followed Scott's work for years. He is amazing. I intend to follow much of his advice, but I also realize that Halloween Forum has others who are also creating with mache, and I figure the more voices I hear, the better chance that I have to create something I'm happy with. But thank you, because my computer hard drive died just after Halloween and I lost all my links to various places I loved to visit, including Stolloween. It's nice to have it all bookmarked and accessible again. :)
 

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That's the great thing about working with paper mache, there's a ton of ways to do it, none really wrong, but different ways of doing it depending on the usage.
 

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Discussion Starter #12
I would get old scraps of Styrofoam from packaging, ceiling tiles, and tombstone scraps. Bust em up, break em apart, and Great Stuff them inside the skull. Then you'll have a sturdy structure that won't so easily collapse. Then, you can thicken up the outside with another good layer of papier mache or like previously mentioned paper and white Elmer's glue.
Okay, with three people weighing in on the idea of filling up the empty space with expanding foam, I'm going to go that route. As you suggest, most of it will be big blocks of Styrofoam with the great stuff filling up the cracks. I have half a garage full of Styrofoam, so there's plenty of "stuffing" available. Thanks for the suggestions.
 

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You should look into Mr Chicken's mache techniques for that. I've actually had really good luck with a variety of fabrics and Mr Chicken's method. You could dip the cloth right into dryloc even.
Thanks for the link. As RCAIG said, there are a lot of ways to paper mache... some without even using paper. :) Thanks for the post. The ideas are all swirling around right now, but I have an idea that a combination of most of them is going to head me in the direction I want to go.
 

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Thanks everyone for the suggestions so far. I think a plan is coming together. I intend to use a combination of fabric and something along the lines of what Wolfman and UnOrthodOx suggested. It might wind up looking very much like monster mud for the "dipping sauce", but I'm seeing some interesting items out there in relation to flexbond motar, so we might give that a try. And I still think celluclay is going to play a part in all of this somewhere along the line for detailing.

JW Halloween has a point about foam being vastly more water resistant. It's just my budget doesn't allow for creating an entirely foam critter. (By budget, I pretty much mean whatever we get for free or next to nothing, and those wonderful sheets of two inch foam don't often show up on Craig's List.)

I'm going to take Lord_kobel's advice and foam in the back after first treating the cardboard to a few coats of waterproofer. I'll also follow Bryan 316's advice to shove it full of as much Styrofoam as I can to reduce the number of cans of Great Stuff I have to use. I'm pretty sure there are many ways to approach this, but mine has to fit into my tiny little budget as best it can.

I won't be using any food based glues. The rats and possums in our neighborhood are adventurous, so a skull that smells like raw cookie dough probably won't cut it. So, thanks Wolfman and UnOrthodOx for suggestions that trend to something a bit less organic. And of course, I'll be reading up and listening to others as I go along, but I can't thank you all enough for suggestions on where and how to begin. Feel free to continue making suggestions, because so far they've all been great.
 

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The Big Kahuna of Fright
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This guy is 18" in diameter with a concrete shell about 3/8" thick. Weighs at least 10 lb. So you need a strong undercarriage. On drawback with a concrete shell; you cant get detail. So I use paper coffee filters and white carpenters glue to give texture to the skin. With practice you can give it wrinkles and pores...we get a LOT of compliments on these guys.
 

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This guy is 18" in diameter with a concrete shell about 3/8" thick. Weighs at least 10 lb. So you need a strong undercarriage. On drawback with a concrete shell; you cant get detail. So I use paper coffee filters and white carpenters glue to give texture to the skin. With practice you can give it wrinkles and pores...we get a LOT of compliments on these guys.
I can see why you get compliments. I think I am going to add a layer of duct tape to everything on the inside before I add the foam. It seems to be a popular thing to do, and I really want the skull to hold up to the thick coat we hope to put on top of it. Thanks for the suggestions about texturing. I think when it all comes down to the finish line, it will be the details in the finish that will make or break the illusion that it's stone.
 
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