The recent cold spell, or rather return to traditional Kentucky winter weather forced me from the garage to instead work on some indoor projects last week. And, the resulting bloody, severed fingers are now one of my favorite creations to date. This project takes a bit of patience, so a good movie in the background is highly recommended.
The first step is to mix a small amount of flesh toned paint into Elmer’s white school glue. Pour the glue about a 1/4 inch deep into a small paint container. Next, squeeze about a 1/2 inch of Portrait Pink acrylic paint into the glue as well as a small dot of Yellow Ochre. Mix the paint and glue well with a wooden popsicle type stick. For subsequent batches substitute other colors such as Burnt Umber for the Yellow Ochre if you would like a variety of skin tones.
Once the glue and paint are mixed, simply brush them on your fingers making sure to cover the entire surface. It will take about 30 minutes for each layer of paint to dry completely, even using a fan or hair dryer. Take care not to let your fingers touch. When they inevitably do, carefully cut the connection formed and pat it back down against your fingers.
Thea Higgins has a series of YouTube videos showing the process. She suggests at least three coats of glue. I found four to be the minimum. Even with five coats, my first attempt resulted in torn joints which you can see in the insert in the photograph below.
To avoid this, be sure the glue is completely dry in the areas that tend to take the longest such as the inside of the joints, at the base of the fingers and around or under the fingernails. I found that when each layer is added it re-moistens the previous layer. So, you can cheat a bit by adding a layer before the previous one is completely dry and spending the longest drying time at the end. It is fairly easy to tell where the glue is still wet because it becomes translucent as it dries. In the final coats it also begins to stiffen and pull away from your skin on its own. Anywhere you fail to completely dry the glue there will be tears or disruptions in the imprint.
Once you are satisfied the glue is completely dry, dust each finger completely with baby powder using a soft brush to eliminate the tackiness of the surface. Gently begin peeling the glue back from the base of each finger and rolling it over itself. Dust the inside with baby powder as it becomes exposed. Once you have it started it will easily just pull off of your finger. But, go slowly with frequent pauses to avoid tearing it or stretching it out of shape. Once off brush the excess powder away.
Stuffing the fingers and adding a bone to the end of them is the next step. If you let the fingers dry overnight they will stiffen substantially, making this part easier to do without damaging them. For the bones I had a necklace and a skeleton hand garland I picked up during post Halloween sales. My new dogs had not learned which toys were mine and which were theirs at that time and chewed the skeleton hands a bit before I discovered their transgression. But, I was glad I kept them as they were perfect for this project. So, I spent an evening breaking the knuckles apart and trimming them with an X-Acto knife.
Ms. Higgins stuffed her fingers with plastic. But, I was concerned about the durability of that. Having recently watched Allen Hopps’ Stiltbeast Studio video on Gorilla Glue foam, I opted to try that. You simply pour some Gorilla Glue into a small amount of hot water and stir it with a wooden stick as fast as you can until it starts to expand. You must work very quickly as the more it expands, the more porous and hard to work with the material becomes. The foam in the cup pictured above is from about a teaspoon of Gorilla Glue. Once it expands to the volume pictured it is very hard to work with.
The result of this method was actually very nice as those fingers have a more realistic feel to them. However, it’s a sticky, messy process and it is very easy to accidentally collapse your finger or leave a gap inside of it. There is no correction once this happens, but they did look a bit like mummified or rotting fingers, so I kept them.
Regardless, on future batches I used hot glue to stuff the fingers. These came out very durable. You still must be careful though because when you add the hot glue the finger becomes very soft. To avoid having one rupture, I only filled the tip at first. Then I gently cradled it between two of my fingers, holding it upright and used a fan to help cool it down faster. Once this hardened I could do the rest by holding the tip of the finger. I stopped the glue just before the place the bone needed to be embedded.
Finally, I glued in the bone and filled the hot glue almost to the top. Then I mixed some Gorilla Glue the same way as I had before and put very small dabs on top of the hot glue because the foam did look more like mutilated flesh than the smooth hot glue. Even with tiny dabs I still had to poke it with a small corner of paper several times as it dried to knock the puffiness out of it.
After the fingers are completely dry you can adorn them with a fingernail. This step can be skipped as your life cast finger will already have an impression of your nail on it. To add a nail use inexpensive press on type nails or cut the shape out of clear protector sheets used for notebook dividers. I used fake nails from a drugstore. Trim the nails to fit the fingers. Next, take sharp scissors or a knife or razor blade and put scratches lengthwise down the nail. On the ends make many scratches, pressing all the way through the nail in some cases. You can then take the scissors and snip out chips or cut deeply into the nail for a broken fingernail look. Finally I scratched up the entire nail surface with the coarse side of a emery board and glued it on with Tacky Glue.
As you can see from the above photograph, some fingers were painted before adding the fingernail and others were not. A bit of blood or blue paint under the nail looks like real bruising. However, it turned out that this could be achieve just as easily before or after the nail was glued down.
To finish the look, I stained my pieces, finger and nail, with Minwax Red Mahoganey wood stain. I stain all of my skeletons with this for a cohesive look across displays. Simply apply the stain with a cotton ball or sponge brush and immediately wipe it off with paper towels. This antiquing process leaves a bit of color in the creases to make them stand out and also gives the fingers a bruised and aged look. The final step is to add blood. My preferred mix is Allen Hopp’s recipe using clear Elmer’s School Glue with a few drops of red food coloring and one small drop of blue food coloring. You can mix this straight in the glue bottle to always have some on hand. The result is a translucent, shiny blood that looks great! Just dot the fingers with the blood and blotch it around with a brush.
Since these fingers will be indoors, I won’t need to do anything else to them. However, if any would be used outside it would be necessary to coat them well with some kind of acrylic or polyurethane finish to make them waterproof.