Making Halloween MiniaturesHalloween has come early to many home decor and craft stores this year. The Michaels in my hometown has recently shelved their 2016 collection and I feel a tad underwhelmed by it. My hope is that perhaps there's still more items to come but what is available is largely rehashed from last year's product line, with maybe a few design tweaks here and there. In case you're wondering what's available there are a handful of clips that have surfaced on Youtube, so check them out!
Apparently this year Michaels is really smitten with black and gold decor. That's not exactly Halloween in my opinion. Many of the objects aren't successful on their own and would probably require you to buy at least one or more other decor items from the same theme. I prefer it when you can walk in and be like, "Yeah, this will totally go with my decor" without having to refashion your entire collection. Likewise, they also brought in a bunch of jewel toned autumn decor. Because nothing says autumn like the colour blue...? I suppose it would look good with all the dark themed Halloween ornaments but on their own they look really bizarre.
If you're anything like my old self you're probably a fan of the Lemax Spookytown collection and you greatly anticipate its new releases every year. I used to work at a Michaels, like a hundred years ago, and when I did I purchased one piece from the Spookytown collection. It was all I could afford as a seasonal worker and I deeply regret not purchasing more of them. You see, over the last ten years there has been a drastic decline in the quality of Lemax items. Somehow the scaling went fucking apeshit and now they have characters ranging in size from one to five inches. How in the hell? The paint jobs have also become steadily worse over time and the products went from primarily resin to a combination of resin and plastic. I don't understand where their priorities went. I think of all the elderly women who would frequent the store in search of new additions to their Lemax collection, and I can only imagine how pissed they were when they saw the differences in scale and quality. I haven't taken a good look at the Lemax Spookytown collection in probably six years. That's how bad they've become.
I recently purchased a cloche and a shadow box and I was really hoping to create some miniature Halloween scenes inside them. I figured, fuck it, I'll go buy the Lemax tombstone collection.
It's not bad, right? Well, no, but that's because this is the product photo. In person the tombstones don't look that great. They were way smaller than I anticipated. The site makes them look bigger but in reality they're only 4 cm tall (and that's the tallest, the majority of them are smaller than that). The product photo also features the best painted examples but in person they look god awful. The colours are not this nice, they're more pale gray and highlighter green, they look very flat. The green RIP on the center tombstone was smudged all over, the writing and cracks were all faint and not as discernible as in the photo. And the one just bugs me... It says "Dear" on it. Not just that but it's also written on an angle as though the stonemason fucked up lol. Dear. Dear what? My fiancé said I should buy it and put a "D" on the end of it so it'll at least say "Dead" but at $7 CAD what's the point? If I just have to paint them anyways I might as well make my own. So I did. And here's the tutorial!
☠ SUPPLIES ☠
|• pen or pencil||• cardboard||• exacto knife||• cutting mat|
|• wax paper||• rolling pin||• some water||• air dry clay|
|• tooth pick||• chisel paint brush||• bristle paint brush||• gesso|
|• acrylic paint||• matte spray varnish|
Step one: Forming the Stone
Start by sketching out your tombstone(s) on cardboard. Cut out this template using an exacto knife. Take a ball of clay and place it on top of some wax paper, roll it out with a rolling pin to 1/4" thickness. Place your template on top of the clay, using your exacto knife cut out around the edges. Lift the excess clay away and you have your tombstone. You may wish to create a beveled edge for your tombstone, you would achieve this by repeating the first steps and layering the clay on top. I would not recommend exceeding 1/2" thickness as it takes too long to dry.
Step Two: Adding Script and Texture
Contemporary tombstones are flat and shiny but we want the old fashioned, weathered ones! Using a stiff bristle paint brush, stipple along the tombstone's front and back. Take your chisel paint brush and dip it in a little water (not too much, blot excess water off on paper towel) and smooth out the stippling. Repeat this process until you've achieved your desired texture. Create cracks by using the tip of a tooth pick to gouge away at the clay. You can create script on your tombstone with the same method, by gently scraping the words into the clay. If you notice that the edges are rough, simply take your chisel paint brush and soften it with a little water, pulling away from the lettering. Once complete let dry.
Step Three: Adding a Foundation
We're not done sculpting yet! This tombstone needs a solid foundation so it can stand. Roll a ball of clay and place it on some wax paper. Squash this ball of clay down, then push the tombstone into it (brushing some water onto the fresh clay can create an adhesive to help things stick better). Next, carve away parts of the clay to create a dirt mound. You can use the bristle brush to create more texture but don't smooth it afterwards like in the last step, instead leave it raw, it will give it a more realistic texture. If you desire something more rock like, take your tooth pick and roll the flat side of it across the clay, creating uneven edges. Carve cracks in an irregular fashion to create an organic look. Grass is a hard thing to sculpt, even Lemax has difficulty accomplishing it. I recommend using the tooth pick and sketching lines into the clay in one, upward direction. Let dry completely.
Step Four: Painting
Start by painting one coat of gesso over your clay. Once dry, add a base coat in a dark color, it doesn't matter which, black or dark brown is acceptable. After that's dried, paint your tombstone in your desired colours. Try using a combination of green and brown to create moss, stippling with the stiff brush. You might be tempted to use just gray for you tombstone but I encourage you to brush in shades of blue or brown over top to create an aged look, then add highlights in an off white to the edges of the tombstone. Let dry, seal with a spray matte finish.
Some quick tips!
It's better to mix colours than use them out of the bottle, so try creating greens and browns rather than using premixed ones. Remember that nothing in life is one flat colour! For example, grass is various shades of green, rocks are various colours too. I achieved my rock colours by mixing gray, brown and blue. Use a fine brush for the little details. Try dry brushing, this can create texture. Do a last minute wash of water and a little dark brown paint over your project, then wipe with a lint free cloth; this will help age the piece.
You'll probably see my completed terrarium sometime next month, after the wedding. I'm pleased with how my tombstone turned out. I may not have the pristine sharp edges that Lemax creates but my paint job is a thousand times better (no garish lime green grass for me!) and it looks more cohesive with my terrarium decor. I purchased a Lemax Grim Reaper, only because I didn't have time to make one. It's not bad but I'm going to repaint it so it looks nicer. I hope you find this tutorial helpful, please share your projects if you give it a try. :)