Here is a project tailor-made for nights when you just want to make something and finish it and have it be awesome, because your day really wasn’t.

Altering things can be a delicate business, requiring patience, commitment, and various other grown-up qualities I don’t always have a lot of at the end of the day.   When perusing the interwebs for a fun project for the evening, I have even been known to blow raspberries at instructions requiring me to gesso.  And wait.  And let things dry. Fortunately, to alter a figurine, little patience is involved.

To alter a figurine, here’s what you’ll need:

  • Not shockingly . . . a figurine! I nabbed mine at Goodwill last September to alter for a friend’s birthday (uh, Happy Birthday, Sarah!), but you might even be able to find one on a shelf in your house or your garage. You’ll notice from the picture that it doesn’t have to be in perfect condition.

  • Craft paint in colors you like. And hey, hopefully you don’t own a lot of craft paint in colors you hate. (By “craft paint,” incidentally, I simply mean the plastic bottles of paint you get at a store like Michaels for about a dollar.)
  • Brushes.  Some of them, ideally, will be small.
  • Water. And you know, a container for water, like a jar.


Step 1:  Decide what you want your figurine to become

An artist friend recently advised me that zombies are very two years ago.  Candidly, I don’t care.   I have a serious love affair with anything undead, from zombie skunks to zombie punks, and I particularly love altering sweet and adorable things to make them undead and gnarly.

To do this project, however, you don’t have to share my affection for zombies.  You can make your figurine into anything you want: a witch for Halloween, an elf for Christmas, a fairy for no particular reason at all.  Just pick something.  Let the figure speak to you, and if it won’t, then you speak to it, gosh darn it!


Step 2: Prep the Figurine

Depending on the state of your figurine, you might want to clean it.  If you click on the photo below, you’ll see I selected a bit of a dirty girl.

The paint will be happier if you clean that stuff off than if you don’t.

If you are totally rocking the patience, by the way, you can also gesso or apply some other primer.  In fact, I’m pretty sure you should, but with figurines, honestly, I never do.


Step 3: Start painting

There’s a lot of freedom in this project.  Pick a starting point, any starting point.  Just be aware that you will be doing multiple layers.  (And that’s okay.  Craft paint dries in a matter of minutes.  Go craft paint!)

As you paint, keep hold of a dry area of the figurine.  When you think you’re done with an area, turn it left, turn it right, and turn it upside down.  You’ll often find tiny areas you missed.


Step 4: Bring out the details

One of the best parts about painting figurines is all of the sculptural detail.  To enhance that detail, you want to base coat in a lighter color, and when that dries, do a darker wash on top of it.

For example, I knew as soon as I saw her basket of lettuce that I wanted it to be a brain. After I base coated in a medium gray, I took a dab of my darkest gray, thinned it with water, and brushed it on over the base coat.

You can see how the wash brings out the lovely, brain-y crevices.  (Mmmm.  Lettuce brains.)  I repeated this same process on the hair, the “tombstone” (which was originally a tree stump), and the skirt.

One note of caution: If you leave too much water on your brush, you can cause the base coat to wipe clean, as if it had never been there.  Though this is easily repaired, it’s kind of a bummer.  Before you apply the wash to the figurine, make a couple of quick strokes on a paper towel or a piece of scrap paper.


Step 5: Keep painting, and play, play, play

People love to look at objects that reward their attention.  Finish out every area of the figurine so that it looks great.  And since a single color all by itself looks flat anyway, really play with those sculptural details.  Add highlights, low lights, and shadows.  If you mess up, you can literally wipe the paint off with your thumb.  I do it all the time.

You don’t have to let the existing features of the figurine boss you around, by the way.  I once broke the nose off of a figurine with a pair of pliers, and I expanded the size of this figurine’s mouth to give her that slack-jawed look all the zombies love.   

By the same token, you can also throw in elements that aren’t present on the original sculpture, like hair bows, wings, or completely disgusting blood and bones.  (Hee hee!) When you think you’re done, you’re done!


Step 6: Once you finish admiring your beautiful work, set your figurine aside

To make sure your figurine lasts, you will be sealing it with Krylon – tomorrow.  Let the paint hang out for a day first, and in the meantime, put your creation where no one can manhandle it, toddler-mangle it, or knock it over.

And hey, congratulations!  You just made something awesome!

To see fabulous altered art available for purchase on wonderstrange, click here. To see more cool zombie creations, click here .   



Ann D'Angelo is a dedicated drinker of diet Coke who has never spotted a thrift store she didn't want to visit or an item she didn't want to alter. Check out Ann's shop.


cdraz · May 22, 2011 at 8:43 am

That is sooo cool….now I need to go back to the second hand shop and buy up the other gnomes and make zombie gnomes!!

    Constance · June 9, 2011 at 12:37 pm

    Got it! Tnhaks a lot again for helping me out!

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