Friday, 31 October 2014

Happy Halloween everybody!

I put a final layer of paint on the zombie head last night, and now it's sitting on a windowsill ready to greet the trick or treaters this evening.  Here's hoping the rain passes over by then.

I mounted the head on a table lamp, which means I can do this:

Sure it's cheesy, but hey - it's Halloween.  In Old Norse you'd call this a draugljotr: a zombie lamp.  Sometimes zombies in Viking sagas are associated with strange, supernatural lights, so I thought why not?

The skin colour looks a lot like a bog body, with some nice blue undertones.  I've also put gloss varnish inside the mouth and on the scabby areas to contrast with the matte finish on the surface of the skin.

Thursday, 30 October 2014


How's that for a blog post title?  With a title like that, you know there's going to be something entertainingly disgusting coming up.  I'll try not to disappoint.

I wanted some crusty, scabby texture in places where the zombie's skin is torn, and spent ages trying to figure out think what would be the best way to achieve that.  Then I remembered an old episode of The Simpsons: Lisa pranks Bart and Homer by pasting fake scabs on their skin while they're asleep, and when they wake up they think they've caught some horrible disease.  The fake scabs are made with oatmeal.  

It's very simple to do this.  I just glued oatmeal wherever I wanted a scab and moulded some ripped skin around the scab using paper.

I've painted the scabs with a mixture of black and red, plus a little bit of yellow and brown, and the same goes for the muscle in the zombie's neck.

After that, I started on the skin.  I covered the lot in blue-brown undercoat with a bit of black.  In Scandinavian traditions zombies are typically a blue-black colour, so Thorolf  here is getting a dark skin with plenty of blue tones.

Tuesday, 28 October 2014

Neck muscles

Yes, this whole zombie thing really is just an excuse for gratuitous nastiness.  Here you can see its neck with the skin torn open, showing the neck muscles underneath.  There's absolutely no reason to do that beyond me having a warped fascination with anatomy.

To get this effect I've made strips of muscle tissue just like I did for the face, and stuck them in place.

Afterwards, I've added skin over top of the muscle structure.  The other side of the neck is intact, but it will still get some nasty scabby bits where the neck is severed.

Saturday, 25 October 2014

Putting the finishing touches on the zombie face

So far I've made the zombie's mouth, nose, and eyes.  Obviously, the next job is ears.

I quite like making ears, because they're interesting.  Ears have all sorts of curves and bends, which makes them quite entertaining from a sculptor's point of view.  Especially when the subject is a zombie and it doesn't matter if the ears come out looking a bit wonky.

This one's not too wonky though.

In fact, my ears start with a simple twist of paper held in place with masking tape.  This gives me the outer curve of the ear more or less, and acts as a platform for me to build the rest of the ear on top.

This is the basis for the ear.  I simply glue it onto the head and go from there.

Doing the ears took ages though, because every so often I had to stop and dry out the ear before I did any more.  Unfortunately, this meant I didn't get as much done on the zombie tonight as I'd planned.  I'd hoped to make a start on the neck.  As it was, I only got a paper tube stuck on there to make the armature for the neck.

Thursday, 23 October 2014

Not quite a scowling zombie, but he doesn't look happy either

Yesterday I wasn't very pleased with the way my zombie face looked.  So after work I did a few alterations on the brow line, and the result looks much better.

I haven't actually changed the face very much.  All I've done is given it a slight frown, but it gives the face some expression which wasn't there before.

I've also started playing around with skin textures on the right side of the face.  Again, the changes are subtle, but you can see that the skin is becoming slightly wrinkled.  Ideally I want it sagging off the head a bit. 

Wednesday, 22 October 2014

More zombie eyelids

Last night I made a start on the tissue around the zombie's eyes and forehead.  Because it's a severed head I wanted to give it a blank, slack jawed expression rather than a vengeful scowl.  Here's what I've got so far:

The eyes look abnormally large at this stage, but that's because only part of the eyelids have been painted.  Once the whole thing is painted the eyes will be back to their proper size. 

I didn't do any more on it last night because, honestly, I'm not sure about it.  It's not bad exactly, but there's something not quite right with that face.  Maybe it does need a bit of a scowl.

Tuesday, 21 October 2014


Moving further up the zombie's face, it's now time to install the eyes.  Like the mouth, I like to do these from the inside out.  The inside of the eyelid is brown paper with a line of eyelashes made from hairbrush bristles.  Hairbrush bristles are ideal for making eyelashes.

Unfortunately, these are the only photos of this step that came out properly.  It seems the camera eye has trouble seeing what's going on with the eyelids at this stage.  It's probably operator error, since I belong to the "point, click, and hope" school of photography.  However, the pictures do show how I positioned each eye in its socket and built the shape of the eyelid over top of it.  As in real life, each eye has a top lid and a lower lid.  I glue the lower lids in place first, then curve the upper lid over top.

Doing the top and bottom lids separately is important, because they curve in different ways and it really is a lot easier to get the bottom lids glued in position and dried so they won't move about, and then move on to the top lids.  Trying to concentrate on both at once is a nuisance.

The next step will be to build up the outer skin around the eyelids.

Sunday, 19 October 2014

It's amazing what a difference the nose makes

The zombie looks much better with a nose.  It makes the whole thing look like a face in a way that it really didn't before.

The nose turned out kind of beaky, because I was thinking of Rameses II at the time.

Friday, 17 October 2014

Zombie eyes

Cloudy white eyes are a zombie theme that really appeals to me for some reason, so that's what I'm going for here.  I don't know if dead eyes are actually cloudy white, but it looks cool.  On the right here we have the original test eye, and on the left is the final eye, which I think is a better version.  The colours are blended better in the eye on the left.

They're made from resin cabochons that went a bit wrong and are full of bubbles, making them unsuitable for the taxidermy-type eyes I normally make.  They're fine for white zombie eyes though.  

The first step in making these eyes is to stick a thin layer of tissue to the cabochon with polyurethane.  If you want to make your own, be aware you have to be careful as the tissue will tear easily.  It's exactly the same principle as the translucent membranes I made for the dragon project.

The bubbly cabochons.  Quite a lot of bubbles, as you see.  Resin and I don't always get on very well.

Cabochon with a layer of tissue over it.

So far so good, but it's not finished yet.  Once the polyurethane dried I painted an iris on the eye in thin blue-grey paint.  It's exactly the same colours of paint I used for the skin so far: ultramarine, burnt umber, and burnt sienna.  There's a lot more blue in this mix though.  Using the same paint colours helps the eye to blend in with the rest of the face.  The iris is darkest in the center, then gradually fades out into the white paper that covers the eye.

The finished test eye.

I finished up by adding a couple more layers of paper and polyurethane around the iris, but not over the cornea.  This makes a contrast between the cornea and the rest of the eye.  The whole eye is clouded over, but it gives an impression of the different parts of the eye underneath whatever made it cloudy.

Wednesday, 15 October 2014

Zombie muscle tissue

I'm always fascinated by anatomy, but I haven't really looked at muscle tissue before.  One of the fun things about a zombie project is that zombies are often shown with damaged skin, and muscle showing underneath, so this is a great opportunity to look at what's underneath the skin of a person's face.

For reference, here's a diagram of the human facial muscles:

Image helpfully provided by Wikipedia.

See how the muscle tissue is ridged?  We can replicate that really easily with paper mache.  All I've done is tear a piece of tissue into strips and twist the strips into little paper cords.  Glue a bundle of these cords onto some paper, and you have a strip of muscle tissue.

This is then stuck into place on the draugr's face.  A bit of connecting tissue, some ripped skin over top, and the job is done.

After applying the muscle, but before applying the skin.

After applying some skin.

Friday, 10 October 2014

The screaming skull

Once the whole thing is done, I'll add surface texture for the skin.

This post is all about making the soft tissue around the mouth of the draugr.  Basically, it's a case of setting the mandible firmly in place and then building up the shapes of the skin and muscles around it.  I quite like this process because this is the point where the head starts to get a bit of personality.

I like to build the mouth from the inside out, which means the first thing I need to do is line it with paper coloured appropriately for the inside of the mouth.  Once it's finished, it isn't possible to paint the inside.

After that I build up the tissue on the outside of the mouth and face.  There are a few teeth missing on the left side of the mouth, and I've reflected that by sculpting some damage to the mouth on that side.  The skin on that side of the face will be torn and some of the muscle will be visible underneath - I'll talk about how I do that in the next post.

Thursday, 9 October 2014

The first bit of colour

I painted the inside of the draugr's mouth yesterday.  It's much easier to paint the inside of the mouth before assembling it.  Whenever I've done zombie skin in the past, I've used a mixture of burnt umber, burnt sienna, and altramarine paints.  This process has always served me well, and I'm sticking with it now.  I painted the teeth off-white, then went back over them with a brown wash.

Here's a photo looking down the draugr's gullet:

Here's the tongue in close up:

Draugr legends often describe the draugr as being a deathly blue colour - presumably blue-black as a result of decomposition.  The body is reanimated, but it still decays and will eventually fall apart.  I've made sure my paint colours are nice and dark with plenty of blue tones, but I may add some more blue-black streaks in the future.  This should give the paint job some depth and character.  Right now I've just painted the bits I won't be able to reach once the mouth is assembled.

Tuesday, 7 October 2014

Zombie teeth

My zombie's upper jaw now has teeth and gums.

These teeth are so much fun to make.  They aren't painted yet, but so far they're looking okay.  I made the teeth separately, glued them into the mouth, and then built up some paper pulp around them to suggest gums.  I left gaps where some of the teeth should be, because the idea of a zombie with a full set of teeth doesn't sit right with me.  I think the teeth should look damaged and discoloured, and some of them should be missing.

I did contemplate getting some acrylic teeth, but I didn't bother in the end because they're fairly easy to make.  I make them out of paper pulp and glue, and sand them smooth once they're dry.  People sometimes want to know how to get a smooth surface on paper mache and different artists have different methods.  Some people use gesso, some people use joint compound or similar.  But for something like this I find sandpaper is the way to go.

I've made a tongue too.  I hadn't put all the teeth in the lower jaw when I took this photo, but you get an idea of how it will look.

I'm quite pleased with the tongue.

Sunday, 5 October 2014

Starting the draugr head armature

It looks kind of cute.  Don't worry though, it will be all icky and zombified soon.

My foundation for this project is a paper mache'd balloon.  Balloons aren't the best thing to paper mache over because they shrink while the paper is drying, causing it to crumple a bit.  But if you don't need a perfectly round armature a balloon will get the job done, and you can inflate it to whatever size you want.  

The other advantage of balloons is that they're lightweight and easily hung from the washing line to dry.

The resulting round shape is good for the back of the skull, but heads are actually oval.  That means I have to build the forehead and facial bones.  To make the forehead I've cut around the front of my balloon armature, folded it upwards, and held it in place with cardboard strips.

I know, I know.  It doesn't look much like a zombie yet (or anything else really), but remember this is just the top and back of the head.  Once I add the upper jaw and eyes, you can start to see where I'm going with this.

I've just used cardboard strips to make an armature for the face.  It's exactly the same principal as making a wire-frame model on a computer.

The cardboard I used I is from a beer box, but it could be a cereal box or any other type of box.  One of the really nice things about working with paper mache is that you can do it very cheaply with materials you have around your home.  You can wake up one morning and say to yourself "I really want to make a zombie head", and be making a start on that zombie head before you've even finished your breakfast coffee.  Obviously you do need to have time to do it, which is why I'm making just the head and not the whole zombie.

That's it for today.  Next time we'll probably take a look at the detail inside the draugr's mouth.