Monday, September 30, 2013

Haunt 2013: DIY Halloween Advent Sign

I'm sure everyone and their dog has seen a different version of this sign floating all over pinterest and as cool as that sign is, to me Halloween isn't just "all about the candy."  

It's about scaring the crap out of people. 

 Okay, okay, it's about making memories and celebrating with the kids, having fun, letting your imagination go, playing dress-up and the one day of the year that weirder is (almost) always better.

And scaring the crap out of people. 

Since our neighbourhood norm is to not decorate at all for Halloween, or have only one jack-o-lantern on the porch  (Seriously, in a 'hood that is mostly young families with kids? What is up with that?) I felt like why the crap not? There aren't any community haunted houses in our small town (another oddity I still haven't come to understand in the 5ish years I've lived here) or community led Halloween activities for kids beyond the 'costume parade' held by the local daycare & schools. Blows my mind.

I've been thinking about haunting our yard on and off all year and I wanted to do something prior to the major spookification of our yard to get the neighbourhood kids thinking about Halloween and drum up some excitement for the big night.

After seeing the countdown to candy sign, I was pretty much set on that idea, but I wanted my sign to say something different, so off to the Google machine I went.

{via--original source unknown}

After seeing this rhyming little banner--which I thought was a little cutesy & could tone down the scare factor-- I started doodling and trying to figure out how to adapt it to a count down. It only took a few minutes to work out a basic design I was mostly happy with.

Using pallets that were donated by my husbands work/awesome boss  (yeah, yeah I know, the great pallet debate but this won't be in our house--ever-- and it's not furniture so there shouldn't be anyone touching it or anything) we dismantled them and then re-built placing the boards closely together.

Using 2x2's as our supports (which I would beef up to 2x4s in the future) we simply tacked the pallet boards to the 2x2s with a brad nailer. A hammer and nails would work too but we're lazy over here.

I used a rag and white washed the boards to "age" them a little because they were this beautiful rich reddish tone that while lovely didn't really work for me in this application.

After the sign had dried I got down to the business of lettering my sign. You could use stencils, or use scrapbooking letters or even print text off your computer to make a template. I didn't do any of that. All I used was a 2b pencil and an eraser to draw the letters & images.

I fussed with the spacing of the lettering a lot, erased quite a bit too, but in the end it wasn't really that difficult (for me, YMMV). Then I got to do the fun part, paint.

{not a stencil. sorry}
I kept it simple and only used three colours: orange, black (which was actually super dark brown) and white, your classic Halloween colours. I did this for a few reasons but mostly because a) those were the colours I had on-hand, and b) if I ever get ambitious enough to do themes and whatnot it should be able to fit in with most Halloween colour pallets.

When the paint was dry I added one last "weathering technique."  Using some dark stain (I used miniwax Ebony which can range from grey to jet black depending on how you apply it/how many coats) and a rag I rubbed small amounts of stain into the wood.

The final touch was adding some chalk paint to the ghost so we could actually count down on this sucker.

Then with the help of my ever-patient spouse I lugged it over to the porch, stood it up and "styled" the area so I could take gratuitous amounts of pictures. (I'm not fooling anyone on the internet, I know that our covered porch is ramshackle-double-bag-ugly, but we had better things to do with our summer. Maybe next year we'll rebuild it).

I've already had some comments from the neighbourhood kids when they drop by about the sign and then excited chittering about Halloween and the impending sugar comas they all look forward to so much every year.

 With only a month to go until scare-day I'm sure others out there who are hustling to prepare, anybody? Anybody? Bueller?

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Haunt2013: DIY Tombstones.

I know some of you out there are probably groaning over all the Halloween posts you've seen in your feed readers, on pinterest, twitter and elsewhere in internetland, while others (like me) are giddy with excitement for candy and scaring the crud out of the kids (and adults) in your neighbourhoods.

Last year our Halloween plans were kiboshed by an early October storm (three feet of snow before Thanksgiving? No thanks) that wreaked havoc not only on our yard but our roof as well,  making seasonal decorating take a back burner to the highly demanding clustercuss that was our house-life.

This year I was determined to one-up myself with a little all-weather prop goodness in the form of hi-density styrofoam tombstones. Having seen the quality (not to mention cost) of foam headstones in stores, I knew this was a decent "bang for your buck" project and after finding several tutorials online showing various ways to approach this DIY I settled on following this one as it suited my needs best.


 I had all the materials needed on hand from previous projects, which included blue styrofoam board insulation, scrap 2x4s and paint. If you don't have any of those things plan accordingly. Styrofoam boards usually come in 2'W x 8'L which you can get a decent amount of headstones out of (I was able to make 8, both large and small varieties, from one foam board).

Start by tracing out your shapes on the board with a ballpoint pen and graph paper (or freehand it if you like to live on the edge like me). I didn't stop to take pictures of this step, but some good examples of planning your graves/cuts can be found here.

The next step will be messy, so plan for clean up.

Taking an exacto knife or craft blade, chop up that foam.

 Lots of tutorials out there just call for a bamboo garden stake to prop up your tombstones, which would be totally sufficient to keep them from tipping (and easier too). Since we don't have enough topsoil to make garden-staking possible I went with a 2x4 no-topple base (as opposed to using a 1x6with a 2x4 built up base as they did in the original tutorial, but only because we were fresh out of 1x6s).

Pour yourself a coffee or a glass of wine and open up a word processing or editing program on your computer (MS word, GIMP, or Photoshop will serve). Spend some time on Google, Pinterest or not, and brainstorm some creepy, punny or otherwise spooky epitaphs.

Pick a font you like but make sure it will be easy to cut out. There are some awesome fonts out there but some just don't lend themselves well to this sort of thing. Book Antiqua or Bookman Oldstyle are standard fonts found on most programs that would probably work for a similar look. I used Engravers MT, which I think was downloaded from .

Each of my tombstones is approximately 12" wide making 8.5x11" paper a perfect sized stencil template. I made sure to reduce my margins to nothing so I could increase the text as large as possible (easier to cut)  and did a full page print.

Using a ball point pen, trace the printed epitaphs onto the styrofoam--the tute I followed called for carbon paper but I am waaaay too lazy to drive 20minutes to the only office supply store in town only to find out that they charge what could be my sons college tuition for carbon paper (the mark up in this town is insane). regular paper works fine. Just press hard enough to leave a light indentation in the foam and then go over the outline with a ball point pen if you're having trouble seeing it. Trust me, it works. It's fiiiiine.

Now, brace yourself for the arduous task of ever-so-precisely cutting out each and every one of those mother-loving letters. Pour yourself another glass of liquid motivation, you're going to need it.

Among the various tools I used to get the letters cut out one of them was a crab claw utensil, because I'm good at improvising and also because it was perfect for picking the cut pieces out without collateral damage.

This part is important: You must use a waterbased acrylic paint NOT an oil based anything, the oil will slowly eat your hard work away into a puddle of goo and then you will be reduced into a similar pile consisting of tears, frustration and possibly alcohol. 

I mixed up some leftover beige paint with some blue craft paint and then added a little bit of black/brown paint that I had laying around until I had a medium grey-ish colour. You could also just go buy grey paint. You do you. I threw on a pair of latex gloves and literally just rubbed paint on these things with my hands-- if you have kids get them to help with this part, they'll love it because hello paint+messy=awesome in kid logic. You can use a roller or a brush, but I knew that 1) I wanted a variegated/multitone look; b)I would be putting more than one 'layer' on; cat) I'm lazy and don't really care about "perfection"

When painting your letters use a darker grey or black so that they stand out. I used a smallish craft brush that I had no particular fondness of. Your brush will get chewed up painting in all the dips and crevices, so don't use your favourite mink hair calligraphy brush mmkay?

Once all your epitaphs are painted you can move on to the last step: adding a little dimension to your props. Using a dark grey or black paint again, paint the geometric edges and lightly blend to add some faux weathering effects.

Here's a peek at the finished product:

I think I might hit those edges again to make them pop a little more, but overall for a $0 project I'm not complaining. Having 8+ all weather tombstones as props is a windfall to a Halloween enthusiast such as myself as they are hefty enough to be an anchor point to any haunt or great as stand alone Halloween decorations too.

For those of you who balk at the cost of buying lumber or foam boards fear not! These could easily be reproduced out of recycled cardboard without the hassle of cutting out letters & mounted on bamboo stakes for those who live where snow/rain on Halloween isn't a significant threat.

Anyone else out there getting crafty in anticipation for Halloween?