Thursday, July 30, 2009

Q&A: Cellulose Fiber Insulation

Q&A: Cellulose Insulation

Questions regarding my projects and papier mache regularly fill my mailbox. In an effort to answer these questions and share information some of these questions will be regularly featured on this blog.

Chet wrote:

“What brand and where are you getting the cellulose fiber insulation?”

No problem.

The brand name of the cellulose fiber insulation I use is made by Regal available at Lowes. I preface this by saying that it is available at Lowes in Michigan but I’m not sure as to its availability in the warmer states.

My suggestion is to check the availability at your local home improvement store and if it’s not in stock inquire about special delivery.

Hope this helps.

And We All Fall Down . . .

To continue with my string of prop destruction posts I present the latest, one of the Sentinels in the works for Halloween 2009.

Unlike the cauldron which was deliberately destroyed the Sentinel was an accident caused by yours truly because I accidently moved one of the weights that were keeping them in an upright position.

The Sentinels were originally created for The Mad Lab this past spring. Several weeks ago I decided to improve them by adding some detailing to the skulls, arms and wings and they were now ready for the next step which was to apply cloth coated with Monster Mud giving each statue a very heavy looking hood and robe.
The Sentinels are going to be used to top off some new columns being made for our cemetery entrance.

After making my “improvements” and adding additional clay the statues became very front heavy and while being stored in our garage one of them decided to fall off of a table and land face forward on the cement garage floor.

Considering their weight and the distance it fell I’m lucky there wasn’t more damage as only the arms and fingers suffered major breaks. The mid section of the Sentinel also buckled so I added some more clay for support. All things considered I got off pretty lucky but have to be a little more careful in the future.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Spooky Geocaching

Our family has been geocaching since 2006. If you are unfamiliar with geocaching check out the website at to get a full understanding of this fun and addictive hobby.

In a nutshell geocaching is sort of like a treasure hunt using a handheld Global Positioning System (GPS) unit to find your way to a set of coordinates where a cache is hidden.

A cache is another word for container. A cache can be big or small such as a five gallon plastic bucket or a 35mm film container.

Each cache contains items such as log books, monetary items, trinkets, etc. Using clues published on the website and the GPS coordinates you head out on an adventure never knowing exactly what you are going to find.

A few of the great things about geocaching is that it is free (except for the GPS unit and gas money), it’s a great form of exercise as you do a lot of walking and hiking and you discover many areas in your local community that you never knew existed.

A couple of weeks ago we engaged in several days of back-to-back geocaching and found some very creatively themed caches.

One of our favorites was a series of eight “haunted places” geocaches in our surrounding area. Each cache was hidden in a location that was supposedly haunted. Each cache also detailed a local legend such as the ghost of a witch that haunts a set of woods or the remains of a house where a family was murdered resulting in reports of ghostly activity.

Another multi stage cache detailed a legend of a local vampire and had you travel to his childhood home and final burial place.

A multi stage cache is one where the first set of coordinates lead you to another set of coordinates and so on. The story was fun and the cache locations were very interesting to visit.

The last cache we attempted was not themed but proved to be the spookiest, ok, the scariest experience of them all.

The cache could only be done at night because the GPS coordinates took you to the starting point of a forest then required you to use a flashlight and follow reflective markers placed on the trees. The resulting hike was about a ½ mile into the woods in complete darkness, at which point you were to discover an X marked on a tree with the reflective tabs. Once you found the X you were supposed to turn off your flashlight and search for a red blinking beacon which would guide you to the next step.

On our first try at this nighttime cache we brought our boys ages 13 and 10, this proved to be a mistake because being in the middle of the woods in the pitch black was more than they could take.

Several nights later my wife and I attempted the cache again by ourselves. I’ll admit I’m not the bravest person in the world but I’m not skittish….but…after 40 minutes of trying to see the red beacon things started to get spooky.

First there was constant high pitched screeching all around us, bats we assumed, and while I rather like bats I had no desire to have one fly into my face in complete darkness. My wife and I decided to call it a bust and head back to the car.

Our little flashlights barely illuminatating the trail in front of us, my wife in the lead and me right behind her.

Everything was cool until I heard something, and by something I mean something big enough to make trotting sounds cross the trail right behind me.

Like an idiot in a bad horror film I stopped and swung my flashlight around to see what just passed behind my back, nothing. The moment I turned around to catch up with my wife I heard the “thing” cross the trail right behind me again going the opposite direction. This time I didn’t look back but rather quickened my pace and let out a small sigh of relief as we made our way out of the forest and back to car.

We plan on returning and successfully completing this geocache but next time we will bring a couple of adult friends with us. Not that I’m a wimp or anything I just think we should share the fun with our friends.


Geocaching is great fun and I urge you to give it a try if you have never experienced it. If you don’t have a GPS unit ask your friends, family or co-workers as I’m sure somebody has one that they would lend you for a couple of days. If you have kids it’s one of the coolest hobbies you can do as a family…as long as it’s daylight.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

The End Of A Cauldron

One of my props went away a couple of weeks ago.

It was decision that neither made me happy nor made me sad. It was a matter of fact undertaking, something that needed to be done and the time seemed right.

In 2007 I built a large cauldron from papier mache and monster mud.
The cauldron measured over four feet high and four feet high, large enough that an adult could hide inside.

The problem came about when it came time to store the beast. No matter what the thing took up a 4’x4’ space in our garage and it was just too dang heavy to store in the rafters.
After several years of having stuff stored on top of the cauldron and being constantly dinged by bicycles the time came to put it down.

It was beyond repair and did I mention that it was heavy?
Too large and too weighty for one person to move, the decision was relatively easy.

Step One: Let the kids kick the hell out of it. An oversized piñata without the candy I guess.

Step Two: Throw the scraps on the bonfire in the backyard and vow to never build a prop too large to store properly. The fire seemed the proper end to this particular prop and all things considered I’m not really too bothered about its absence because in my mind I’m simply making room for something new.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Everything but...

…the kitchen sink.

Over the past year I have taught six papier mache workshops at Space Studios in Midland, MI.

Forty-three students have attended the classes and created dragons, gargoyles, frogs and pumpkins.

The classes are a lot of fun and I get the chance to meet some really creative and talented individuals but the workshops are a lot of work.

In addition to developing each project I must pack and bring all the necessary tools and materials for six to twelve students.

This may not sound like much but when you stop and think about every possible item you may use during the course of three hours you get the idea.

Newspaper, cardboard, scissors, tape, hot glue guns, markers, extension cords, tarps, fans, paste, clay, mixers and on and on.

The hardest part of teaching these workshops is the packing and transport.

Here are a few shots from unpacking my last papier mache frog class called Frog-O-Rama.

The photos show the materials required for one session, each class requires different materials so it’s always a challenge.

Also here are some photographs from some of the past workshops, there is a lot to see.

Dragon Workshop
Frog Workshops
Gargoyle Workshop
Pumpkin Workshops

Sunday, July 26, 2009

A Nightmare on Elm Street 3

A few weeks ago my youngest son stated that he wanted to watch one of the Nightmare on Elm Street movies.

Kyle is only ten years old but he’s a huge fan of horror flicks although the number of horror films he has seen is quite limited.

It’s hard to find good horror that doesn’t contain a tremendous amount of adult language, sex or explicit gore. Some of Kyle’s favorite films are Poltergeist, The Fog, One Missed Call and The Messengers. He had never seen a Friday the 13th or A Nightmare on Elm Street flick.

One of my favorite Freddy films is the third in the franchise, A Nightmare on Elm Street 3:Dream Warriors.

My recollection was that it was fun and action driven without being too explicit. My memory served me well except for one scene where a hot blonde nurse disrobes and “tongue-ties” one of the characters.

Kyle closed his eyes for this part.

The thing that struck me with this film and the reason I’m discussing it on a Halloween and papier mache blog is the film’s opening title sequence during which time the main character (Patricia Arquette) is constructing a miniature version of the house featured in the first Elm Street film.

The house is built with Popsicle sticks and papier mache, yup, papier mache.

The interesting thing is the technique used to coat the newspaper strips. Instead of dipping strips in a bowl of paste she puts the strip of newspaper on another sheet of newspaper and globs the paste onto the strip. Messy and not the best practice in my opinion but I will cut her a break because she is all sleepy and trying to avoid Freddy.

A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors is good old fashioned horror movie fun from 1987 and while Kyle may have found some of the effects rather clunky and cheesy I found the whole thing to be pre CGI goodness….even if the main character doesn’t know how to mache properly.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Q&A: Sentinels

Questions regarding my projects and papier mache regularly fill my mailbox. In an effort to answer these questions and share information some of these questions will be regularly featured on this blog.

Jason wrote:

“What can be used other than the starch bottles ? I just don't use starch.”

Austin wrote:

“Hi, I was reading about how to make the halloween sentinals and i was just wondering what you used for the arms,hands, and collar bones. Thank you.”

The answer to the first question is any object will work to create the body armature for the Sentinels, I used starch bottles because I use liquid starch in my paste but any similiarily size and shaped bottle would work. Items that come to mind would be plastic juice containers, laundry detergent bottles, two liter pop bottles. My only advice would to make sure the container was relatively strong and resistant to crushing.

The arms, hands and collar bones were created from sheets of newspaper rolled into tubes then assembled with hot glue and tape to make the armature. The newspaper rolls were wrapped with masking tape for strength then coated with several layers of strip mache.

When creating the rib cage armatures for my creatures I always reference a photo or illustration of the human skeleton. The rolled tube of newspaper was flattened and bent to create the basic shape for the collarbone.
Fingers were created from small tubes of rolled newspaper and utility wire inserted into each finger.
Each finger was hot glued to a piece of corrugated cardboard cut into the shape of a palm.
Basic shapes all assembled to create the desired form.

The tutorial for the Sentinels can be found here.

Haunted House

A blast from the past.

During the early 1980’s I had a serious addiction, one that threatened my school grades, wasted my time and had the potential to destroy my future. The addiction was my Atari 2600 video game system. During the early 80’s Atari was the thing even though Intellivision tried to tell you otherwise.

My Atari 2600 addiction caused me to accumulate over 100 game cartridges. One of the things I really loved about the games besides playing them was the great artwork that adorned the cover. Airbrushed scenes of violence and mayhem that just screamed “buy me.” A game that I used to love was “Haunted House” first released in 1981.

Here’s what Wikipedia has to say about the game:

“The house has three floors and a basement. The player's character may pick up only one of three items at a time (a key to open doors, a scepter to ward off evil spirits, or the urn) and must avoid a bat, a tarantula, and the ghost of Mr. Graves himself. If the player is hit by the monsters nine times, the game ends. If the player escapes the house with the urn, the player wins.

The items (and house layout in higher difficulties) can only be seen when the player uses the 'fire' button on the joystick to light a match, illuminating a small radius directly around his character; this can be done an infinite number of times, although the match only lasts for a limited amount of time before being snuffed out. If a monster enters the same room as the player, a howling wind from the monster will blow out any lit match.

Haunted House has a total of nine different levels which make the game more challenging; in particular, later difficulty levels make the walls of the house itself invisible unless the player lights a match.”

The artwork on the box rocked and despite the primitive graphics the game was a lot of fun. If you don’t believe me you can play the Java version of the game online here.

To see more Atari 2600 artwork check out this site.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Q&A: Cracking Clay

Questions regarding my projects and papier mache regularly fill my mailbox. In an effort to answer these questions and share information some of these questions will be regularly featured on this blog.

Judy wrote:

“I tried to make your clay, but it came out runny. It wasn't thick enough to roll out at all. I am wondering if while adding the cornstarch if I need to keep it on the heat? I don't know what else I may have done wrong.

Maybe you can give me some hints..?

Unfortunately I mix up mache recipes the same way I cook and that’s to never measure anything and keep adding ingredients until it works.

My guess on the cracking clay recipe is that it was a combination of heat and lack of cornstarch. When making cornstarch based clays the heat will cause the mixture to congeal, the clay almost takes on a gel type of quality.

The mixture needs to stay on the heat until it congeals, if it’s not happening try adding some more cornstarch. The paste and clay recipes I use are based on a lot of trial and error so you may have to experiment a little to make it work.

Here’s the link to the Ancient Skull tutorial which uses the cracking clay.

Q&A: Styrofoam Wig Heads

Questions regarding my projects and papier mache regularly fill my mailbox. In an effort to answer these questions and share information some of these questions will be regularly featured on this blog.

Jeremy wrote:

“I am creating a haunted bust, and I have the Platform/Pedastal done. I bought a wig head as a base for the head and I have no clue what to do wth it! Im not sure how to go about it and Im making a frankenstien bust. Will i paint it green or go with the grey/black/gold stone colours?I need help!”

Good question.
I’ve never used a Styrofoam for any of my projects but rather create most of my skulls from scratch using papier mache covered balloons. The closest I have come to using a Styrofoam wig head is using a plastic blucky skull as the armature.

My advice would be to browse Haunt Project or The Monster List for tutorials using Styrofoam wig heads.

Off the top of my head.
I would approach this project by carving out the eye sockets so they could accept eyeballs and add some material to the wig head to create the classic Frankenstein shape such as building up the boxy shaped forehead and brows.
Next I would apply papier mache clay and sculpt the details. I would also carve out the mouth of the Styrofoam wighead so that teeth can be added.

As far as the color scheme that’s pretty much up to you and depends on the effect you are trying to achieve. Stone colors would give you a classic bust scheme but using greens could give you a unique and stylized prop.
Experiment with paint.
Remember you can always repaint if your first attempt doesn’t cut it.

Q&A: Weather Proofing

Questions regarding my projects and papier mache regularly fill my mailbox. In an effort to answer these questions and share information some of these questions will be regularly featured on this blog.

Johnny wrote:

“ If you could tolerate being asked advice for probably the hundredth time on the same topic:

This is the first time I'll use paper mache props in my haunt and they'll be outside for the whole month of October. We'll typically have 1 or 2 rains during that time. Temperatures may vary from 30 to 80 degrees during the month; btw I'm in southeast Mississippi.

I'm doing strip mache with a water/liquid starch mix. Everything gets at least two coats of exterior enamel before the detailing.

What are the chances my props will hold up to the elements for a month, or should I protect them more when not in use? “

Protecting papier mache from the elements is probably the most frequently asked question.

Exterior paints whether latex or enamel provides the first level of protection against moisture but paint alone is not enough. All papier mache that is going to be used outdoors needs a coat of sealant in order to withstand moisture from not only rain but also humidity. Basically any product designed to seal wood will work on papier mache. Products such as spar urethane, polyurethane, varnish and shellac work.

A few things to remember:

1. Most sealants have a glossy finish which may not be desirable for many props. Who wants shiny tombstones? The solution is to seal the papier mache before painting, this way the paper is protected and the paint will cover the gloss.

2. Cover all surfaces. Sealants only work if all exposed papier mache surfaces are thoroughly covered. If you have created something that is hollow such as a skull or pumpkin take the time to seal the interior because unsealed papier mache whether strips or clay will absorb moisture.

3. You get what you pay for. From my experience I have found that cheap or inexpensive sealants do not protect as well as more expensive products. My preferred sealant is Spar Urethane which costs about $30 per gallon. Here is some more info on Spar Urethane.

4. Read the warning label. Most sealants produce harsh, flammable and toxic fumes. Follow the manufacturers guidelines and use only in well ventilated areas with the proper safety gear.

5. If your props do become soft from moisture don’t panic, simply place them in front of a fan in a dry environment and they will come back to their former glory.

My papier mache props are only displayed for about a week before Halloween and during this time I really pay attention to the weather.

Living in Michigan we get every imaginable weather condition during October including extreme heat, wind, rain, hail and have even had snow accumulation. The best advice is to use common sense, if you know it’s going to downpour then make the effort to move your props to a safe place or cover them.

Papier mache is surprising durable but take measures to prevent them from being exposed to harsh elements.

Here is an additional link to an article published last year.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Downtown is HOPPIN'

The 2009 Summer Sculpture Series in Midland, MI features frogs created by local artists. The frogs will be displayed downtown through September 17, 2009.

I always enjoy the Summer Sculpture Series because it’s a chance to see many different approaches to the same subject matter. Past series have included trolls, foxes and dragons. This year artists were given the choice between working with a prefabricated fiberglass sculpture or creating their own. The frogs represent a variety of techniques and materials ranging from metal sculpture to foam carving.

On September 17th at 7pm the frogs will be auctioned off with the proceeds being used to present next summer’s sculpture series.

"Lillian The Amphibian"


"Peace Frog"

"Red-Eyed Leafer"

"Midland's Glory"

"Toadally Rockin'"

"Tongue Tied"

"Sharp Shooter"

"It's A Living"-One of my favorites

"The Looney Star Gazer"


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