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:
For head manufacture, a large table covered with many layers of newspaper, or, if the table is nice wood, a plastic tablecloth
For drying space, a basement clothesline, with newspaper laid on the surface under it to catch drips
Small (1-foot diameter) balloons, any color
Big paper clips bent into hooks
A cheap paint brush
Fishing line or other invisible string
Poles, wooden sticks, tree-branches (cut or still on the tree), or in-ground sunflower stalks or cornstalks for mounting the heads
BASE COATING the messy way:
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
BASE COATING the easy way:
Pre-made plaster-of-Paris strips purchasable at a Walgreens healthcare store or other medical supply store – this is much less messy
Paint, markers, crayons, etc.
Things to glue onto the heads
- 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. This is because plaster of Paris heats up due to the chemical reaction that causes this liquid glop to set up hard.
- 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).
If you use plaster of Paris strips, you simply dip the strips briefly, quickly in water and lay them on the balloon. This is much faster and easier.
Repeat until your balloon is covered. It’s okay if you can see the balloon through the open weave of the cheesecloth or plaster of Paris cloth. Bumps and little flaps aren’t a problem–they add to the final ghoulish effect. Leave the knot of the balloon showing.
- 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. Complete drying can take up to 6-8 hours in high humidity. When you decorate them, the heads can still be cool, but they shouldn’t be smeary or damp to the touch.
- 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 thoroughly before you mount the heads outside (step E 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.)
HANGING AND MOUNTING
- When your heads are all decorated and the glue has dried on them, poke a hole in the knot end of the balloon (if it hasn’t popped already) 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. You don’t have to pull the popped balloon out of the head. It’s probably best not to try. 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. They’re 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 a head on top of a driveway lamp.
THINK AHEAD: If you plan to hang them like Christmas ornaments from the boughs of a tree, you should think of that in advance when you coat them with the plaster-of-Paris-and-cloth base coat. 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 the grownups had to make up the blank heads in advance. You really don’t want children anywhere near liquid plaster of Paris!
You can keep your Heads o’Doom a long time if you manage not to let them a) get rained on too much or b) get too beat up while they’re knocking around your basement for eleven months before next Halloween. The blank heads in the photo above have that lived-in look because they’re ten years old.
reprinted from A Green Man Review
Try out BVC’s homegrown spookarama anthology, Murmurs in the Dark. Available now, right here. This bunch of stories includes my heartwarming little tale about a Roumanian house spirit who gets roped into doing daycare, and a lonely widow who gets a second chance. Plus, one very talkative small girl.