Halloween decor: heads o’doom

Jennifer Stevenson Halloween heads
These festive Day of the Dead Heads are easy to make. They take one day to make if you make the plaster heads up in the morning and decorate at night, or two days if you make the heads a day early, which is advisable since it guarantees the heads will be dry enough to decorate and display. You need:

INFRASTRUCTURE
Small (1-foot diameter) balloons, any color
Big paper clips bent into hooks
A cheap paint brush
Poles, wooden sticks, tree-branches (cut or still on the tree), or in-ground sunflower stalks or cornstalks for mounting the heads

THE COATING
Plaster of paris–a 1-2 lb. bag is enough for 8 heads
Plastic basin for making plaster-of-paris
Thin fabric cut in 6-inch pieces–cheesecloth is best
OR
Pre-made plaster-of-paris strips purchasable at a Walgreens healthcare store or other medical supply store

HEAD DECORATIONS
Glue
Paint, markers, crayons, etc.
Things to glue onto the heads

METHOD

  1. Blow up as many balloons as you want heads, to any size ranging from 5” to 9” across, and tie off the ends well. Now blow up a few more, because some are going to pop when you apply the plaster of paris!
  2. Prepare the plaster of paris according to package directions. Thin it until it can be applied with a brush. Lay one cheesecloth square on your balloon-head at a time. Brush the cheesecloth with the plaster of paris, smoothing the surface (don’t be too fussy). Repeat until your balloon is covered. Bumps and little flaps aren’t a problem–they add to the final ghoulish effect. Leave the knot of the balloon showing.
  3. Stick a bent paperclip through the knot end of the balloon and use it to hang each head on a clothesline over newspaper to dry. This can take up to 6-8 hours in high humidity. When you decorate them, they can still be cool, but they shouldn’t be smeary or damp to the touch.
  4. When the heads are dry, assemble your decoration materials on a thick pad of newspaper and go to it! Drawing on faces is good, but you can also glue things to the heads, or pierce them with a hairpin or a bent paperclip (a stapler won’t do it–not strong enough) to hold objects onto the head. Let the glue dry before you mount the heads outside (step 5 below).

Some things we’ve used for head decorations:

Stiff red paper string, bent in a zig-zag to form a toothy mouth or hair. Crepe paper. Faces cut from magazine ads.

Feathers. Dried beans. Pasta shapes. Seed pods. Pine-cone eyes. Bottle-cap eyes.

Lace collars and junk jewelry. Corncob pipes. Cigarettes.

Cheap incense sticks stuck in like hair–light them after dark, before the trick-or-treaters arrive!

A dried alligator claw. (Hey, I had one lying around!)

  1. When your heads are all decorated and the glue has dried on them, poke a hole in the bottom of the balloon with a pair of sharp scissors. You’ll have to pop the balloon if it hasn’t already popped in the course of plastering or decorating. Stick each head on top of a pole, or hang as shown. You can even do this in the rain, if the heads are fully dried to start with.

In the picture above, the heads are undecorated, because we find the plain white heads much scarier than decorated heads. We’ve hung among the branches of a huge spruce tree. You don’t even notice them unless you’re walking right underneath them in the dark and happen to glance up. Spooky!

In other years, we have had giant sunflowers growing by the front sidewalk. The dead stalks served as poles. These were very effective! Cornstalks would work, too. You can also stick branches into the ground or mount them on top of a driveway lamp.

If you plan to hang them like Christmas ornaments from the boughs of an outdoor evergreen, you should think of that when you coat them with the plaster of paris wrapping. Put the exposed rubber balloon-knot at the top or “crown” of your decorated head instead of at the bottom or “severed neck” of your balloon-head. This way you can use the bent paper clips again to hang them in the tree.

However you mount them, make sure at least some of your heads are higher than the average person’s head–six or seven feet high is good. They loom well in the dark.

We have used this as a children’s Halloween activity, but we had to make up the blank heads in advance. You don’t really want children anywhere near liquid plaster of paris!

You can keep your Heads for years if you manage not to a) let them get rained on too much and b) get too beat up hanging around in your basement in the intervening eleven months before Halloween season rolls around again.

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