Monday, September 30, 2013

Side Table Graveyard

Halloween season, folks. Some will say that there's only a month until Halloween, but purists know that it's 13 months until next Halloween, so plan early. If you aren't on the "But next year..." schedule like we are, now's as good a time as any to get started. For the next month, we'll be providing photos of projects, décor ideas, and DIY costume inspiration.

First up is a bit about upgrading dollar store finds to make a classy centerpiece or end table display, the Side Table Graveyard. Making use of those little novelty grave stones so popular in craft stores and dollar joints this time of year, why not have a group of them be something spookier than the sum of its parts? It might even make a good companion to some full-size gravestones in your collection.

You'll Need:
  • Little gravestones. Cheap and ugly is fine.
  • Acrylic paint. The tubes at a craft store will work great.
  • Some brushes, particularly one biggish one you don't like.
  • String of lights (blue or purple are ideal)
  • Bag of fake spider webs

We'll start with the resin or papier mache headstones. Odds are, they're gross or cheaply painted by somebody in the gravestone factory. We can do a little better. Grab your acrylic tubes (greys and greens with a dark gray or black for contrast) and some water and meet me by the first example.

That thing is not the most exciting, is it? There's some sculptural detail on that, but it's just kind of dry brushed and forced out the door. We can do better. We can start by adding any detail if we wanted to: These are pretty soft, and take paint well, so if you have any beads or notions lying around to glue on at this point, do it now. We can paint them all in together if we do that. I like this one just fine as it is, detail-wise, so I'll start with a base coat. I like my gravestones white and quartzy to better show the details and so they show up a little better in the dark. There's a mix in our graveyard, so variation is good.

A few coats of ivory paint leaves us with a blank canvas to start from. A three dimensional object looks better with the 3D nature accented. That means some dark gray washes in the cracks to highlight the relief of the sculpture. Going a little nuts at this stage is fine, as there's some more drybrushing and layering later. The base also gets a healthy wash of some greens, letting it pool and puddle like stains in the stone or growing moss. You could go all out and paint some watered down white glue and dust some green flock or sand on there for growing bits, but these are going to be viewed in a group, so individual little headaches aren't necessary.

That big crack in the middle needs some attention, so grab a small brush and some diluted charcoal gray or black paint and get down in that crack. Anywhere else that needs a serious shadow (maybe along the top of those stones or the equivalent on your gravestone) should get some now, too. For this stage, it sometimes helps to paint it on its back so that the washes don't run down the face of the sculpture, but a little of that is fine, too.

Messy is still progress.
By this point, the paint party will have gotten outside the lines. Washes will have run, freehand cracks will be all cracked out. We'll corral that stuff a touch with a quick drybrush of the original ivory. Load up that brush you don't like anymore (or are shortly about to not like anymore) and wipe most of the paint off the bristles onto a paper towel or something. Run this dry brush over the surface of the sculpture, focusing on edges and highlights, and the paint should only come off on the highest points of the piece itself. Bring the highest edges back up to the base color and you're finished!

Now do it ten more times. Maybe less. Some of ours still have their factory paintjob. The really ugly ones get re-painted.

Now you have a small collection of gravestones. Our preferred display method is to arrange them on a table top or end table in a pleasing little clump of creepy. Winding along the bases of the gravestones is a string of blue or purple lights. These will get covered, so sometimes to help convince them not to wander off we'll tape them in place for the next step.

You know that one along the back. The ghost in the front also got repainted.
Grab that bag of fake spider webs. Cheap is fine, as we won't be stretching them out superfine for their intended purpose this time. These will stand in for your graveyard fog. Memorize or take a quick digital pic or sketch of your layout. Stretch out a mass of webs about the size of your graveyard (it takes about one bag for a table this size) and tuck it around the lights. Once in place, "tear" some holes in the web so the stones are resting directly on the table top. Sometimes they're light enough that the webs are enough to put them off balance and fall over. If they give you a lot of trouble, use sticky poster tack under the corners and stick 'em down.

We don't always use them this way: some years, the gravestone tableau is lit with candles and electric tealights. Just tuck the battery operated tealights behind each of the gravestones and the faces of the rest are lit with the little LED flicker.

Thrift store candlesticks, quilt remnant fabric tablecloth, borrowed old farmhouse.
The best thing about these clumps or collections of decorations is that the overall impact is greater together than it is apart. A couple cheap gravestones here and there is nothing, but as a single image they have some impact. Let us know if there are any such Halloween décor clusters that work for you.

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