Thursday, October 30, 2014

Faux Raven Skull

My favorite type of Halloween decoration lies somewhere between an apothecary lab, a witches herb stash and a Professor of Natural History's messy office. I love vintage potion bottles, old books and black and white encyclopedia illustrations, I love specimen jars and creepy things found in the deepest, darkest, moss floored forests.

For the past couple years my Halloween theme has been centered around Ravens and Crows. It started when I found an antique replica of a Raven print with a slip of parchment in it's beak with the word "Nevermore" from Edgar Aleen Poe's classic poem, The Raven.

I've always loved crows. They are beautiful, intelligent birds and through lore and legend have become the symbol of mystery and superstition.

I remember the first time I saw a Raven. We were in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan and it landed on a telephone wire above our tent. It was one of the most beautiful things I had ever seen. I wasn't aware that we had Ravens in Michigan and I couldn't figure out why this crow was so large! But the more I looked at it, something about the broadness of the beak and the shape of the head, I realized it was a Raven. To a bird watching geek like myself, this was a very exciting moment.

I decided that our collection of Halloween decor needed a crow skull...a clay one that is.

What I used:
~Images of real crow skulls on-line for reference
~2 packs of white Sculpy clay
~sculpting tool, or a skewer stick, or a toothpick
~antique white matte acrylic paint
~paint brush
~paper plate or palette dish to squirt paint
~black pastel stick, or a charcoal stick, or black matte eyeshadow
~Q-Tip or brush

I formed this skull from white Sculpy clay. An off-white color would work well also, you wouldn't have to paint it after it bakes, but this is all I had on hand.

I apologize for not having more "sculpting" photos of the original. This wasn't a planned project, I was just messing around one evening and forgot to take pictures. But I'll walk you through the steps and re-create parts of the skull using some left over Sculpy.  

I started by looking at images on-line of real crow skulls. The head of the skull is simply a round ball with two large (exaggerated) eye sockets.

I used my thumb to press the clay out of the socket using a circular motion.

The eye sockets have two points that end where the "brow" bone lies.

Then there's a second point above the nostril meets the beak. I used a sculpting tool to form this dent and then smoothed it with my fingers.

The beak consists of a long pyramid. I curved it in the shape of a beak and then pinched a bit where the nostrils sit. and toward the tip of the beak.

The I poked through the nostril and rotated the stick around in a circle to open up the cavity.

 Repeat on the other side till the nostrils meet in a hollow tube.

The beak had some structural bumps and cavities that can be formed buy denting the material

then pinching it smooth.

Create the opening in the beak by sliding the point of a tooth pick along the side of the beak.

Don't be afraid to make the sculptural elements dramatic. We're going for realistic here, but Halloween realistic, so make the eyes larger, make the beak longer if you like. 

Bake the skull according to the package directions, let cool and paint. I chose off white to give it an aged look. You can also paint the tip of the beak black, as crows have a black beak.

Once the paint dries rub a Q-tip across the side of a pastel stick and buff it into the clay to create shadows and age in the skull. You can make this effect dramatic by darkening crevasses like the eye socket and the nasal cavity.

 This is the finished skull. I'd love to find a glass, specimen display case and maybe have a little label at the bottom.

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