Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Tombstones Revisited

One of the biggest challenges the home haunter faces is making props that look real. I'm sure all of us have seen haunts that have many, many... Well... Cheesy, poorly-constructed props.

I get that not everyone is the Rembrandt of prop building, especially when we're just starting out. What we can do, however, is work on our powers of observation, and subsequently, reproduce what we see; if not perfectly, than at the very least, better than we did last year.

I am currently in a tombstone-free environment. Considering that I need to have a graveyard for the coming season, this isn't the best situation. It's easily remedied, however, by a trip through the magical pages of the 'net.

Horrorfind has a detailed tombstone how-to for several different types of stones. You can find out how to execute the obelisk, the standard headstone, and maybe one more elaborate marker. There are numerous safety warnings in regards to using foa
m. I can't stress enough how important it is to pay attention to these warnings.

Mourning Cemetery has a great how-to on the Headless Horseman headstone.

I've noticed there are different schools of thought in regards to using spray paint on Styrofoam. Some people love the immediate effect, some people have complained about the long-term results of the paint (read alcohol) on the Styrofoam. I suggest you make one or two of each and wait and see. For certain, always use spray paint in a well-ventilated area. Outside is best, and get yourself a good-quality mask with appropriate filters;it's worth the money to have the best you can afford. As much as we'd like to think, we're not immortal. There is always the risk of long-term damage to your lungs, and inhaled chemicals are generally bad news. Use your brain!

I would be remiss if I neglected to mention Spooky Blue's tombstone tutorial. He uses a technique with paint and sand that should give you a very realistic result.

I emailed the Frog Queen over at Davis Graveyard awhile back to get her take on gravestone fonts. She was gracious enough to take time out of her day and send this back to me:

Here is my theory on fonts.

1. They need to be easy to read

2. They should kinda/sorta match the theme of the tombstone

3. I stick with the general design rule of no more than two fonts per tombstone (but just as I do in design, I sometimes break that rule :)

4. Larger fonts on the tombstones that are in the back

5. Longer epitaphs in a smaller, and sometimes more decorative font at the front

Things to keep in mind:

Larger, less decorative fonts can be carved with a Dremel - faster and cleaner.

Smaller fonts, need to be carved by hand. A few of my longer more creative font tombstones have taken over 2 hours to carve with an X-acto knife.

I follow my gut on fonts and ground that in a few simple design rules. Just because the tombstones are separate, does not mean that they can all get a different font.

That would just be too much. I try to keep to a basic 5 fonts:

Arial , Bell Gothic, Garamond, Trebuchet, and Minion

Then I mix it with a decorative font when I think it will compliment the message. I will also scale a font to help it fit on the tombstone. Sometimes I scale up only a part of the epitaph to make that word/saying stand out.

There are a few Halloween font sites out there. They are great for invitations and other printed materials - but many of them are too decorative (hard to read and carve) for a tombstone. For instance, I would not use the "Buffy" font, unless I was doing a Buffy Summers tombstone.

By the way, Davis GraveYard is doing two tombstone make and takes this summer. Check the dates here. Looking at their stones, it looks like it's worth the trip!

As a builder and an artist, it's important to take time to research your project. It really pays off to look at the real thing and model your project from personal observation. Take plenty of pictures from all different angles, and make certain they're as crisp and clear as you can get them. If you really want to stay realistic, visit an old, local cemetery, and stick with the general style of the tombstones you find there. I'm sort of a purist, so East Coast tombstones in a West Coast graveyard kind of bug me. But hey, that's just personal preference.

One thing you might do is start basic art classes at your local community college or Parks and Recreation. You'll notice you can improve the looks of your props in a relatively short time, once you have some basic knowledge. Also, if you can cut out the time for it, join a local haunt group. If your group is large enough, the different folks in it will have different skills to share, and they're generally kind enough to let you pick their brains. (Special thanks to all the guys and ghouls at my group, CalHaunts!)

Most importantly: have fun with it!


  1. The search for the perfect tombstone continues...I had to redo all of mine last year because they no longer fit in with the rest of my props, and yes I agree with everything you have said here. I am a huge fan of local research, but usually prefer to capture the basic forms and textures rather than try to copy a specific stone. It is all personal preference when it comes to making stones.

  2. Ooh, lots of good pointers and tips. I was actually starting tombstone building today so this gives me something to play with. Thanks!


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