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vrijdag 8 april 2016

Shrunken head, part 2

Over two years ago, I wrote the first part of a tutorial on how to create a shrunken head. I promised a second part, wich would deal with painting and adding hair, but I never got to it. Painting it went ok, but adding hair was harder than I thought, and I more or less forgot the entire project. Until now!
For this years Elf Fantasy Fair, my fiancee and I choose Voodoo as the theme for our costume. And even though shrunken heads strictly speaking don't have anything to do with Voodoo, we thought it would make a cool prop anyway. I had to make a new mold, because I threw the old one away.

  • Oil based clay
  • Water based clay
  • Vaseline
  • Plaster
  • Sculpting tools
  • Liquid latex
  • Acrylic paint
  • Wool crepe
  • Unbleached string
  • Hair spray
  • Tissue paper 
  • Steam iron
  • Heat gun
  • Ashes (fireplace or barbecue)
Making a new mold
Like I said, I didn't have the old mold anymore, so I had to make a new one. I made a head using oil based clay, and then a two-part plaster mold. I have described this in more detail in the first part of my tutorial. This time, I added some more wrinkles and skin texture. My sculpting skills have improved a bit the last two years, there's quite a difference between my first mold and this one.

Casting a head
When the mold had dried enough and the clay sculpture was liberated from it, it was time to start casting. I used vaseline on the seam of the mold to make sure it wouldn't leak, and then filled it with liquid latex. I let it sit for about an hour, emptied it again and let it dry.
Two years ago, I used plain latex for the entire head. After the first layer had dried, I repeated the process a few times to build up a nice thick latex skin. This time, however, I used plain latex only for the first layer. After that had dried, I mixed equal parts brown and gray acrylic paint, and then added an equal volume of latex. I also added a bit of water, because the paint thickens the latex mixture quite a bit.
The process is repeated a few times with this mixture. It takes a bit longer to dry, but the result is a latex cast with a base color. When I first tried to paint a latex head two years ago, I found out it takes quite a few layers of paint to get good coverage on latex, this should make things a lot easier. In this case, as you can see, my first layer of latex already was quite thick, and the brown base color didn't really show through. With my first new head, this was the case, though.

After the head had dried, I carefully removed it from the mold. There will probably be a line of flashing where the seam was, this is removed with a sharp knife. I also stuffed the head with tissue paper. The inside remains tacky for a while, even after the latex has dried, and has a tendency to stick to itself.

On to painting! When painting latex, you can't just use acrylic paint. Even though it seems to work at first, acrylic paint isn't as flexible as latex and will start flaking off very quickly. You can either buy latex based paints (wich are quite expensive) used for making masks, or you can mix acrylic paint and latex. The latex gives the paint flexibility and adhesion.
So it's basically the same mixture I used for casting the head. You should start by mixing the right color first and then adding the latex. Liquid latex is milky white, so the color of the mixture will be a lot lighter. It darkens again when it dries, so don't panic. You'll also need to add water to dilute it.
A very important warning: don't use new or expensive paintbrushes for this! There's a good chance you'll ruin it. I started by painting a dark brown base color (equal parts brown and black) over the entire head, using a sponge. Next, I mixed some brown and ochre and did a light wash, followed by a black was to highlight the wrinkles.


Sewing up the eyes and mouth
After painting, I first sewed the eyes and mouth shut. I used unbleached flax string and a thick needle. The rubber is quite hard to punch through, even with a sharp needle. Two crossed stitches across each eye, and a few across the lips, braided together. Also, a few longer pieces of string (also braided together) through the top of the skull, for carrying or hanging the head.

Adding hair
This was the most challenging part, even though it turned out to be easier than I had feared. The best method for adding hair to latex skin is punching. Using a special two-pronged needle, you punch strands of hair through the latex. This gives the best result, but it's very, very time consuming.
An alternative is glueing. Even though this looks a bit less convincing, it is a million times faster than punching. Often, punching is only used for the hairline, and the rest of the hair is  glued on.
For the hair, I recommend using wool crepe. This is used for making single use fake beards, and can easily be glued. Alternatives I had tried were a cheap wig (wich looked ridiculous) and hemp fibres for sealing water pipes (looked even more ridiculous and smelled horrible). Wool crepe can be found at theatrical suppliers. It looks like a dense braid.
The first thing you need to do is unravel the wool. I cut off a 5 centimeter piece and streched it out. Even though it looks like a braid, it's really just a single strand of wool. Since it's all curly, you need to straighten it first. This is very easy, just put it between two paper towels and use a steam iron on it. The 5 cm piece had turned into a 20 cm long strand of hair!

And then it was time to start glueing! I cut off 5 cm long pieces and dipped the ends in latex. I also put a bit of latex on the head itself and used a hot air gun to dry it a bit, so the hair stays in place immediately. For a full head, I started in the neck and worked my way up to the top. In this case, I gave him a mohawk, and eyebrows.

One downside of glueing using liquid latex is that it will probably show at the hairline. I fixed this a bit by rubbing some short wool fibres on it, so they stick to the latex and camouflage it a bit. I plan to try punching hair again in the future, that should look much better.

There's one last thing I did to finish it. The latex looked too shiny and plastic-like. I took a bit of ashes from our fireplace and rubbed them over the entire face. This takes away the shine, and gives the skin a very convincing old, dusty, mummified look. The ashes stick to the latex very well and don't rub off.

So there you have it, after two years my tutorial is finally finished. I would like to thank David Gagné from Dark Artifacts, who wrote an excellent tutorial and got me started on this project in the first place.