A group of tribesmen in South America called “Jivaro” are the first recorded group to practice head shrinking. This practice would occur when heads were claimed from enemy tribes in the area. The prize was to have the head of the person that offended you.
This practice of shrinking the head was long and tedious. The tribesmen usually attacked and took their victims unaware. The raids were usually at night. The tribesmen would sneak into camp, attack, and leave with the prize trophies. It is also said that once the head was taken the soul of that person remained trapped within the head.
The shrunken head we know today is merely a toy, or in this case a craft that is fun to play with and assemble.
There are several ways to make your shrunken head. The first method is the papier mache method. The papier mache method is a fun but slightly messy way to assemble your head.
You will need newspaper, and lots of it.
Cut newspaper in strips approximately two inches wide and the complete length of the newspaper.
A good rule of thumb is to use two Sunday newspapers cut completely into strips.
Set the newspaper strips aside.
Make your paper mache by mixing one cup of flour with two tablespoons of baking soda.
Add one fourth cup of water at a time while stirring constantly.
The mix should be the consistency of school paste.
You want it thick and creamy. Do not make this mixture so thick it is lumpy and hard to work with. This mixture needs to be a very smooth consistency with few lumps or unmixed ingredients.
You will also need a balloon. Blow up a small round balloon. It should be blown up to the size of a baseball. Set the balloon aside.
Dunk your newspaper strips in the papier mache.
Only do one strip of paper at a time to avoid the paper strips from drying out.
Coat all strips well. Do not overcoat them. By overcoating the strips you will make them heavy, and hard to work with.
Smooth out all clumps of paste that have collected on the paper.
Begin by putting the paper strips over the balloon.
Cover the entire area of the balloon and make sure all the strips of paper are laying flat and smooth.
It is normal to have some small bumpy areas.
No shrunken head was ever perfectly smooth.
You may begin to fashion the facial features by attaching noses and screaming mouths.
To make the features use your strips by adding additional paste to make them even more pliable.
Fasion your nose and mouth and even eyes the way you picture them to look on a shrunken head.
By distorting the features somewhat you are giving your head a scary look.
Attach the facial features by placing them on the balloon over the paper covered areas.
Take more strips and wrap around the facial feature, molding the new strip over and around to secure the features to the base.
Once you have completed this you must allow the head to dry. The drying time is overnight, or twelve hours at least.
You will be able to tell your head is completely dry when no moisture remains on any part of the head. This includes the facial features also.
The features are usually the last to dry because of the thickness of the materials in that area.
To speed up drying time you may place the head in the oven.
Set the temperature at two hundred and fifty and dry for one hour.
Be sure to check frequently to prevent scorching the head.
Only use this quick dry method after the head has been allowed to dry overnight.
Once you have completed these steps you may paint your head in any chosen color.
Complete the painting and allow to dry.
Take a pin and puncture the balloon inside the head. Choose a spot which will be out of view and push the pin through the head and into the balloon inside.
Now your head is hollow and ready to hang or place on display.
Another method us to use an apple to make a shrunken head.
This method does not leave you with the most realistic version of a shrunken head. The advantage to using this method is that the head actually shrinks before your eyes.
If you choose this method it is preferable that an adult be present.
Children should not try this while unsupervised.
Get a large apple.
In this case the bigger the apple the more shrinkage will appear.
Use a potatoe peeler to remove the skin. You can leave some skin at the top and bottom.
By leaving the skin at both ends, this will help establish a base for your shrunken head.
Carve your features with a small paring knife. You will be carving your features larger than normal. This will allow the features extra room for shrinkage.
The apple will draw up more than you think during the shrinking process.
You may want to add toothpicks for detail around the eyes and mouth.
Add the toothpicks in the area you choose and then break them off leaving only a small amount showing above the surface.
This process will allow the features to stand out more after shrinkage occurs.
Smooth out any rough areas of the apple with a cloth. Any area where the cuts are to defined will be accentuated during the shrinking process.
Do not make the apple too smooth because you want to attain the look of shrunken skin.
Now you are ready to pickle your head; or shrink the head.
You will need to make a mixture of the following:
In a large glass container add one half cup salt to four to six cups of water.
Add two tablespoons of lemon juice to keep oxidation at a minimum.
The next step is to prepare the head for immersion.
Straighten out a large paper clip and stick the paper clip in the side of the head.
Push the clip all the way through the head.
Fashion a hook on each end of the paperclip.
Immerse the head in the solution anchoring the head in place with the ends of the paperclip. Be sure to have the head suspended in the fluid to assure that every part is getting adequate shrinkage.
Allow the head to remain in the solution for twenty four hours.
The first three hours you will witness shrinkage before your eyes.
The first three hours is when the solution is being introduced to the apple and the most shrinkage will occur during this time.
This is a fun process to watch because you can see the features forming and you get a better idea of how the head will look once completed.
Once the head has remained in the solution the designated time; remove the head.
You will need to allow the head to airdry for three weeks after the immersion.
This time frame will allow even more shrinkage.
Make sure you head is suspended while drying. You may use the paperclips again for suspension.
After the process is complete, you may color the head with artists charcoal.You may also consider coloring the features with colored chalk just enough to accentuate the mouth and eyes.
Now your ready to apply a clear matte glaze which can be found at any craft store.
After you have applied the glaze and allowed the glaze your head is complete.
You have an authentic shrunken head.
Have fun and have a spooky Halloween.