Sunday, October 18, 2020

How To Make Tombstones

I've been wanting to make horror-themed tombstones for a long time, and working on Eerie Elegance's Day of the Dead display in 2015 gave me a lot of inspiration. I finally got started on my horror graveyard this year and plan to add a few tombstones every year! Here is my general overview of how I made my tombstones. While there's many techniques I've yet to learn, this was my starting point. Beyond the standard crafting supplies, I used the following:


Step 1: Plan the Design

First I looked through photos for inspiration and roughly sketched out the designs I wanted, keeping the lettering and embellishments in mind. Since this was a first-time project so I keep the design simple.





Step 2: Carve the Foam

I lightly drew on the foam with a Sharpie since I find it easiest to cover with paint. I didn't add too much pressure knowing you can leave an indented lines that won't be covered up easily. Using a foam cutter, I cut out the basic shape, knowing I would come back and refine that edge. 


Step 3: Add Standing Support

To help keep the tombstone upright, especially in windy conditions, the foam must be reinforced with a PVC pipe inserted into the vertical length of the tombstone. I created a channel for a PVC pipe in the center with a hot cutter and hot glued the pipe in place. I then hot glued two halves of the tombstone together creating a PVC sandwich. Later, I will hammer a galvanized metal rod into the ground, and slip this PVC pipe on it to keep the tombstone standing. Some add 2 PVC pipes for more support, but it makes it incredibly difficult to hammer rods in identical corresponding spots and angles. Instead, I bury the bottom of the tombstone in bark or dirt to help keep in place.



Step 4: Lettering, Embellishment & Texture

I didn't trust the spacing to my amateur hand-lettering skills, so I drew out my text on wax paper (a few times) then taped the paper to the foam. I used a wood-burning tool to trace the letters onto the foam right through the wax paper, removing any stuck on bits.

With the wood burning tool, I also added cracks to my tombstones and refined every straight-cut edge to make it look weather-beaten and more realistic.

For my embellishment, I placed a plastic hockey mask mounted on a ball of paper and used plaster to coat the entire thing, making sure to keep the mask details. Once dry, I hot glued it to the foam and stuck several wooden skewers through the back of the tombstone to keep the mask in place. I used lightweight spackle to the cover the front face of the foam in uneven, rough patches for more textural detail.


Step 5: Paint, Paint and More Paint

Painting took quite a few passes. The first pass was all light gray paint which I let dry completely. Then came the shading. I would first mist the tombstone with water using a spray pump, then sprayed dark umber in patches. I quickly added some dark green patches and misted the paint again. It blended and ran down the tombstone. I let it dry completely then repeated the process with some darker grey and lighter gray. I sprayed black paint in the letters and misted again to dilute the intensity. Afterwards I traced the letters with some diluted black paint. Once it was completely dry, I sprayed it with a matte sealer.


Notes:

Foam cutters and woodburning tools get very hot and can be very dangerous– third degree burn dangerous. Proceed with caution and read instructions on your tools! And work in well-ventilated space.

Regular spray paint from the hardware store melts foam. Use a water-based, solvent-free paint, like craft paints. I'm a big fan of MTN's Water-Based spray paint. They are fully foam same, have deep, rich colors, and drys to a permanent water-resistant finish.