I have always been a fan of decorating our house for Halloween. At the same time, I will happily admit that I am a bit of a wimp when it comes to the scarier or more ghoulish decorations. I have a few neighbors who go all out and create amazing haunted houses every year. I love to walk by and check out their set-ups, but there is no way I could sleep at night if I had some of the more ghoulish decorations at my house.
I was on a mission to find Halloween decorations that would satisfy their desire for a “creepy” house, but wouldn’t be so scary as to keep me awake at night for the entire month of October. I figured that I could turn our front yard into a creepy, yet not-too-scary graveyard with a few tombstones. When I started looking at store-bought tombstones, I realized that they were either small, cheap and flimsy, or outrageously expensive. I knew there had to be a DIY solution.
(all materials were purchased at my local Lowes):
Decide on the shape and size of your tombstone, as well as the epitaph. Two helpful internet searches: “tombstone images” and “Halloween tombstone sayings.” For this project, my finished tombstone measures 14” wide and 22” tall.
You also add decorative designs or symbols, such as flowers or vines. On another tombstone I made, I wanted a pirate-theme, so I included a Jolly Roger as part of the design:
Use the Sharpie marker to draw the outline of your tombstone on the foam board.
Using the serrated knife, cut out your tombstone. This part is MESSY! Make sure you do this step in a location where you don’t mind a lot of Styrofoam “snow.” An optional, but really helpful tool to have is a Shop-Vac to help keep the mess under control.
There will be a plastic or metallic film on both sides of the foam – peel this off now.
Use a word processing application on your computer to create a template for your epitaph. Keep in mind the overall shape and size of your tombstone while creating your template – think about how the words are going to fit on the tombstone. (Helpful tip – pick a font that has simple lines, without a lot of curved edges and fancy scrollwork. This will make it much easier to cut out!) I used Microsoft Office Word, and made my letters about 3” tall.
Place your template on your tombstone. Use tacks or pins to hold the paper in place. (Any small holes will be filled in later with paint.)
Cut out the letters. Using the art knife, cut through the template and into the foam. Using a short sawing motion with the knife held at a 45 degree angle, cut the letters out. Your finished letters will have a “V” angle.
Optional: If you’d like add any cracks or chips, now is the time to do it. The cracks and chips add to the impression of age and being exposed to years of harsh weather. You can either cut all the way through the tombstone and mimic a large crack or piece missing, or you can just create a slight depression or indentation in the surface to mimic a crack.
Now it’s time to paint! Use the small craft paintbrush and the black paint to fill in all of the letters. Don’t worry if you color outside the lines – that will be covered later with the grey paint. If you created any indentations to mimic small cracks in the step above, you’ll want to fill those in with the black paint as well. Let dry.
Using the foam brush, paint the rest of the tombstone grey. I find it’s easier to paint the sides first, and then do the smooth front and back.
Helpful tip: use a “dabbing” motion to do the cut sides – a regular back-and-forth painting motion tends to loosen little bits of the foam. The dabbing motion helps to keep them in place!
Another helpful tip: paint all sides of the tombstone including the bottom. This will also prevent bits of foam from coming off your finished tombstone.
Create a base for your tombstone by gluing a rectangular piece of foam to the bottom of your tombstone. Make sure to use glue that is made for foam.
Make your tombstone look old and weathered using watered-down black paint. (The same paint that you used on the letters.) Look at images of older tombstones online to get an idea of where the darker (weathered) parts would be.
If you want to place your tombstones on the lawn or bark, you’ll want to use something to keep them in place, and that (preferably) can’t be seen. Rebar is a great and inexpensive solution. After spending a decent amount of time on these guys, you won’t want to just jam a tombstone down on a piece of rebar and risk poking through the side. Using a 3/4″ drill bit, from the bottom of the tombstone, drill straight up into the tombstone, approximately 6″.
Insert a piece of 1/2″ PVC pipe into the hole, and cut off even with the bottom of the tombstone. Remove that piece of PVC pipe, add a little of the foam adhesive, and then re-insert and allow the adhesive to dry.
I love a good, clever or witty Halloween tombstone epitaph – please share your favorites in the comments below – Happy Haunting!