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.


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.