Easy Tutorial to make a realistic Shrunken Head
This is an easy tutorial to make a cool and creepy shrunken head using easy to find household items and a little plastic skull. You will learn some corpsing, paper mache, dry brushing and much more. Use this as a specimen display or hang from your rear view mirror for some cool company. All the techniques here can be used on full size skulls or any size prop. Add your own creativity and make it unique!
On this particular tutorial, the below doesn’t do justice to you, so I recommend you watch the video here: VIDEO
Tools and materials:
2 ft burlap/hemp/raffia string
Black or other dark exterior latex paint
A piece of Styrofoam
Hair (I used a donor Barbie from the thrift store)
To make it easier to corpse and work on the shrunken head, insert a toothpick under the jaw and hot glue firmly. Place other end of toothpick into some foam and glue. Now you can use both hands for painting and corpsing.
Using black paint or a marker, paint the eye holes and between teeth on the plastic skull. This makes it look like the skull is hollow and nothing, but darkness is inside. It also makes the teeth stand out a bit.
Get a few squares of toilet paper and rip off the edges (we don’t need the hard edges to be visible). Ripping them gives them a soft edge that can easily be feathered and blended onto other layers of toilet paper. Mix a tablespoon of water with a tablespoon of Elmer’s glue. Rip into different sizes.
Paint a small section of the skull with the glue mix and lay some toilet paper on top. Glaze again with glue mix. Continue doing this over the whole skull. For the face, use the paintbrush to gently push the toilet paper into the eyes sockets and nose holes. This gives the impression of shrunken skin stuck to the skull.
For the lips take two strips of toilet paper and twist them. Hold the twist down while brushing them with glue mix. When the twist is soaked in glue, place over the upper and lower teeth. Trim as necessary to they look like a normal mouth. Gently lay some toilet paper over the top of the lower lip, starting on the inside and over the lip and over the chin. Gently brush over with glue. Do the same with the upper lip and blend into the nose area.
To define the sides for the mouth, make some cheeks by laying some toilet paper over the cheek bone, down over the crease of the lips and under the jaw bone. With a toothpick press the toilet paper onto the lips. Let dry thoroughly.
Placing the prop in front of a SLOW fan works wonders. I’m not kidding, watch the video for better instructions and visuals!!
Continue with a few more layers of toilet paper until you love that face. Build up areas like the eyebrows and even make some ears. Let your creativity go wild! When you are happy, do one more glaze with the glue mix and let dry completely.
Using the outdoor black latex, paint the whole prop, but avoiding inside the mouth. Do a couple of layers and let dry. This will create a dark base coat, perfect for the dry-brushing technique and it gives the whole shrunken head an awesome, rubbery protective coating.
Starting with the darkest shade (and referencing pictures of actual shrunken heads), brush over the whole head, generously, but with the brush slightly dry. This will paint the head thoroughly, but still leave the black latex paint visible in the deepest recesses and crevices. I used a combination of dark brown, with a small hint of blue and green.
Take the above color and lighten the mix a little by adding a small bit of yellow and the tiniest dab of white. With a really dry brush (this means that after getting paint on the brush, we will thoroughly dab and brush it clean on a piece of scrap paper or paper towel, until there’s barely any paint on the brush) start lightly brushing the high points of the head. Focus on lips, eyebrows, cheek bones and any big wrinkles all over the head. You will notice that all the texture you worked so hard to layer during the corpsing process is now paying of big time.
Add some white paint and really lighten the color mix above and with the driest brush (even drier than above) very gently and lightly apply some final highlights to the head. Let dry.
Take some of the hair from your donor Barbie (or any donor) and sparsely start gluing it to the head using a glue gun. Start at the bottom on the back of the head and work yourself up to the top. Don’t forget to add some hair to the sides of the head. On the back and sides of the head, glue the hair aiming down and slightly back. On the top of the head, glue the hair aiming down and to the back and sides. On the front of the head, make the hair aim to the sides and back.
Note: If you are going to hang the head from the hair instead of mounting it like in this project. Have some, or all of the hair aim up when you are gluing it to the head.
To age the hair, take a bit of talcum powder (or plain dust from around the house) and with a dry brush, apply to the hair. This will make it look old and dirty.
Using an X-acto knife, or any really sharp knife, cut two horizontal slits where the eye sockets are. With a toothpick, gently and slightly pry the slit open, this will look like awesome eyelids over empty eye sockets. Make sure the eyelids are a slightly light shade (from the dry-brushing) and the eye sockets are really dark.
With a sharp needle, pierce 6 holes on the lips. 3 from above and 3 from below. Take a piece of “aged” burlap string or other natural fiber and with glue on the end, insert into one of the holes in the lips. Do this with the remaining 5 holes. Let dry thoroughly and then gently tie the matching strings from the top and bottom lips with a knot. This will resemble the practice of tying the mouth shut by sewing the lips together.
Remove the head from the foam base and remove the toothpick from underneath. Using a drill bit enlarge the hole under the head slightly. Add a generous dab of hot glue to the end of the skewer and insert all the way into the head. Let the glue set up. For additional strength, add more hot glue around the hole at the base of the head and secure the skewer.
After test fitting the final display height of the head, cut the other end of the skewer and insert into your display base. Secure with hot glue. The base can be made of foam, wood or whatever you have laying around. Make sure your base is finished. It’s hard to work on the base with the head attached to it. Add an antique label to your base (see this tutorial for antiquing the labels).
Now you are done! Make one or many of these, let you creativity fly. This can be done with any size skull and with any combination of colors for the finish. Use the internet to get some pictures and get a real historical finish, or go nuts and finish you head like a zombie (greens, blues, greys).
This tutorial was hard to write as some of the techniques are better “seen” than “read” so please watch the video (and give it a thumbs up if you love it!
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