Hey, it’s Day 9 of our 12 Days of Strange! Welcome! Or welcome back! Or welcome forward!
By the way, do you like the way I managed to unite the Black Eyed Peas and phrenology in my title for today? Now you can walk around singing, “My bumps! My bumps, my bumps, my bumps!” MERRY CHRISTMAS YOU’RE WELCOME!
Okay, so I don’t know why we are all suckers for the remnants of a discredited 19th-century pseudo-science that is based on the bumps on our heads, but we are. Or at least, I are. In my defense, however, phrenology heads are chic, sophisticated, and strange, and I find that an irresistible combo. In this tutorial, I’ll show you how to get that combo onto your Christmas tree by transforming a second-hand doll head. It’s even easy to do!
- Doll head with a shoulder plate and a closed head (more details shortly)
- Gesso (I used the regular kind and the spray kind)
- Thin black marker or liner pen
- Paint in desired colors
- Glossy spray sealant (e.g. Krylon)
- Apoxie clay or other epoxy-style adhesive
- Top from a glass ball ornament
If you want to find exactly the doll head you need with no hassle, you can search for “porcelain doll parts” (or something similar) and go right to a listing like this.
If you prefer the thrill of the hunt, you’ll want to get out there in your garage, antique mall, or local charity shop and look for dolls, who will most likely have synthetic hair wigs on. That means you’ll have to apply two touch tests to see if the doll will work for this project. First, the doll head must be a shoulder head, like this one:
To find out whether a doll has a shoulder plate (which makes it a shoulder head), put your thumb where its collarbone would be and your finger where its cervical spine would be, then squeeze. If the area is soft and squishy, there’s no shoulder plate. If it’s hard like the head, score – you have found a shoulder head!
The second criterion is that you want a closed head rather than an open head. Most dolls have wigs glued onto their heads, so you won’t be able to tell by looking. Instead, you’ll have to tap the head with your fingernail.
Specifically, tap the side of the head. That’s your baseline sound. Now tap the top of the head. If the top of the head sounds dull by comparison, the doll probably has a hard plastic pate under the wig. You don’t want that. You want the top of the head to sound the same as the side of the head. That indicates a gorgeous, closed, bald head that you can paint.
Once you have done that work, the rest of the project is pretty darn simple.
Apply 2-3 coats of gesso to the head. If you happen have spray gesso – or if you’ve been meaning to try it – good for you, because you’ll get a beautifully smooth look. For my part, I started with two coats of regular gesso and finished off with one coat of spray.
Once the gesso is dry, you’re ready to design your head. Print out this phrenology diagram (or one like it) so you can have it at your art table:
Now you need to make your design decisions. If you’re adding color, choose your paints; if you’re not, choose your liner pen / color.
Draw on your segments with a pencil. If you’re painting, start now, and be prepared to use 2-3 coats of each color. If you’re lining, line over the pencil.
Once the color is dry, you can add in lines or the suggestions of lines. I used dots.
Once the head is done, you’re ready to add your ornament hanger.
First, clip off the wire ends using a wire cutter. The wire should be entirely contained within the silver cover.
Next, combine the two parts of your epoxy following package directions, making sure to prepare enough to fill the cover. Stick the cover to the top of your head, clear away any excess that leaks out, and let the epoxy dry!
Your bumps, your bumps, your bumps! Check it out!