Sean's finished skull skulls on our halloween mantelThis was a project we have been thinking about for years. In 2001 Disneyland introduced a reworked version of Haunted Mansion called the Haunted Mansion Holiday. Clever. It was (as it still is each year) full of spooky Nightmare Before Christmas decor that more or less screams Tim Burton.

Two unique skulls in particular caught our eye (only one of which we used for inspiration on this project), and 3 years later we Our inspiration from HMHfinally got around to sculpting our own version. Aside from highschool art class, neither Sean nor myself have experience sculpting. The outcome was still surprisingly good.

paper mache baseThe first step was taking a couple water balloons,blowing them up, and covering them with a few layers of paper mache. I believe we used 4 layers in total, letting each dry overnight or until it was totally dry.We used newspaper and a flour/water mixture for glue. I saw several recipes for paper mache glue online so I just estimated the amounts and it turned out fine.

I hate balloons, namely because they pop. remove the balloonsI stepped out of the room while Sean lanced each balloon with a needle and we were easily able to shimmy the balloons out from their paper mache cocoon. Time to really get started!

Being ignorant of clay properties, we opted for Sculpey 3 because it was on sale for $1 a brick. add the clay layers It’s been a long time since I’ve worked with polymer clay, and this kind was a bit harder to mold than I remember.You might want to test some other varieties before undertaking this project on your own. I believe we used about 3 bricks a piece. Rolling out flat pieces (we aimed to keep all layers up to 1/4″ thick, but the teeth had to be thicker) we began to smooth on the base coat.

smooth out the clayAt this point it looks a bit like an egg. A generally uniform thickness of clay surrounds the entire shape. Sean’s balloon was a little uneven (shaped like a real egg with a tapered end) so some areas were thicker for him. This is the shape that we will be adding all detail to, so getting the overall roundness AND making sure it would not roll over were important. The bottoms are slightly flat to make sure they can stand on their own.

add features in the clayFinally, they begin to look like skulls! This is all ready days into the project so at the end of this night we were very excited, even if we were irked by our sloppy sculpting skillz. We obviously had different takes on how the eye sockets were formed, and let it be said that those little noses were murder to shape. Next time we’d go for a larger skull so there the nose didn’t have to be so teeny. We used a set of plastic clay modeling tools which were generally not as useful as our fingers. However, for rolling, cutting and some shaping, they were very helpful. I bought them in the clay section at Joann’s for about $4.

Lauren's finished skull The final steps were to add the teeth, bake the skulls, sand then with fine grain sandpaper, and add a layer of black acrylic paint to darken the eye sockets and nostrils. Sean’s teeth turned out a lot better than mine. I was working fast at this point, anxious to be done, and wasn’t paying attention to the original model. Hence, my teeth are straight across and Sean’s have a natural curve to them. OK, his whole skull is just better. Anyway, this project took about 7 nights (spaced out over the span of about a month) at 1-3 hours per stretch. If you have experience sculpting you will probably have a much easier time than we did. It was time consuming, but well worth it.

Store bought skull decorations are generally pretty cheesey with little variation or creativity in design, but I found a few really cool ones online:
Book Light Smoking Skull Fogger Skull Doorknob Cover 3 Skull Light-Up Sconce