My Material Life

Favorite Halloween Display Tricks & Techniques

What are you planning for Halloween? It’s a bit scary, the thought of anyone ringing your doorbell these days I know. I haven’t figured this year out myself. Will there be candy set out at the end of the driveway in individual little bags? Will there be Honeycrisp Apple Sangria for my adult neighbors? I don’t know, I only know there will be a display. Oh yes, there will be decorating!

Here’s a photo from last Halloween. We hosted a seance, an homage to The Haunted Mansion’s Madame Leota at Disneyland. Have you been on that ride? Do you remember the head in the floating crystal ball as you round the seance circle? That’s Madame Leota. She’s the one who says, Serpents, spiders, tail of a rat … call in the spirits, wherever they’re at!

from The Haunted Mansion, Imagineering a Disney Classic by Jason Surrell

As you can see from the book image above, Leota Toombs (could that be her real name?) was a Disney imagineer who lent both her name and her likeness (though not her voice) to the memorable medium. That ride of hers is one of my all-time Disneyland favorites. No wonder it’s made such an impact on my Halloween aesthetic.

But this is not meant to be a post about Madame Leota (wonderful though she is); the reason I’m writing this post is to let you know that it’s not hard to put together a display like this for your neighborhood. Why not spread some magic and enchantment from wherever you are this Halloween – if you are able, if you are so inclined? You still believe in magic, right?

Perhaps you’ve got Halloween figured out – more power to you! If, however, you are in need of inspiration, consider even just one of the following tricks or techniques. The beauty of these is that they do not take up a great deal of storage space and they can be combined in different ways to create an unending variety of magical Halloween displays year after year. Let’s begin with the best, shall we?

1. Plastic Sheeting Ghosts

These are just about the best things I’ve ever discovered on the Internet. Bless you Tobi from the Pink Pixie Forest blog for sharing how to make these delightful ghosts from plastic drop cloth material, rebar, paper and duct tape. Such simple materials, but what magic they bring! My ghosts (they’ve also been angels on Christmas Eve) are nine years old. I just make sure they are dry before I pack them back in their plastic garbage bag for storage. If I could use only one decoration, these would be it. People love them. These ghosts have a beauty to them that is unusual for a Halloween decoration. Be sure to click here and here for instructions and display ideas.

2. Felt and Tissue Paper Window Coverings

I came across the felt window cut-outs in a Martha Stewart Living magazine if I remember correctly. They showed this idea with a single cat eye shown in each front window and that was one of the first versions I made. I’ve used the eyes several times and they are very effective; this house has the right windows for them and they really make the house come across as a creature. But they can be scary to little people and as I’ve become more theme-oriented in my displays, I started changing the windows to support the year’s theme. Five years ago we had a wedding on the lawn and I created this whole back story about a jealous witch who cast a spell that delayed the wedding. Unfortunately I didn’t leave myself enough time to cut out both panels of the poem I wrote to tell the story. What you don’t see here is that the other window was left dark. Oops.

These are my most time consuming decorations, but they’re relatively easy to do if you just give yourself time. You can have black felt cut from bolts at the fabric store. Cut them to match the glass on your window, then use something like a chalk pencil (sold in the notions section at the fabric store) to mark your design. Cut out your designs using small sharp scissors for the smaller bits and back the cut-out sections of your felt with tissue paper. I usually use masking tape to attach the tissue paper to the felt and duct tape to attach the felt to my window interior. Because this covers your windows, this is not the kind of thing you’ll probably want to leave up for more than one night. But it’s so effective and very cool. Check out this awesome Jacquie Lawson card that came out a couple of years ago for design ideas. Then check out the Window Wanderland site whose ideas inspired the card. And don’t forget to turn on your brightest lights in the rooms with the windows!

3. Lighting

Speaking of lights, here’s a broader view of last year’s display. Lighting is so important, but it doesn’t have to be fancy. The plastic sheeting ghosts are lit with a string of green miniature lights set in a pile. Same thing with the chicken wire ball gown covered in tulle (see more about the chicken wire gown here). The red, blue and purple lights are LED spotlights (similar to these). You can set these to the color you want or have them change colors. We love these things. The windows provide an additional element of lighting of course. And even Madame Leota’s crystal ball is lit with an LED submersible. These can come in handy in a number of ways, like in the picnic glasses shown in the photo below. Just remember, if it’s not lit, it won’t show up in the dark. I wish I’d had one more spot to light the banner Madame Leota is sitting in front of, but oh my goodness there is a lot going on in this scene already! One final suggestion about lighting: make a plan for how and where you’ll plug it all in before Halloween night to keep your stress level to a minimum.

4. Plastic Skeletons

I just love these two. One came from Target and one came from Orchard Supply Hardware. They seem like such happy skeletons, don’t they? And you can put them into service in so many ways – bridegroom, seance client, what have you. Plus they cast magnificent shadows on the the house! I hang them from a nail in the garage for storage.

5. Styrofoam Head

How do I love thee, styrofoam head? Let me count the ways …

I picked this head up at Michaels a few years ago; she is so versatile. In addition, a dress form of sorts that I picked up at IKEA a while back has been invaluable in transforming her into a bride, a medium, etc.

6. Felt Signage/Banners

This was the banner I made for the wedding. A felt banner is a very useful way to convey more information about your Halloween scene if needed. Search for images, trace, enlarge, cut and paste – the world is your oyster. Most of the imagery from Madame Leota’s banner came from my Haunted Mansion book. So don’t feel like you have to be an artist to come up with this stuff.

7. Tombstones Plus

Tombstones are pretty de rigueur for Halloween, of course. I use them a lot too because most of my scenes take place in a cemetery. But you might try emphasizing the idea of a cemetery with signage and framing (ours is a bit of plastic picket fence, sold for Halloween decor) and maybe some statuary? I painted the sign shown above on an unfinished wood plaque I found at Michaels. I love to throw my plastic bird skeleton on a stone too. Something like Joe’s Sticky Stuff is invaluable for jobs like that.

8. Existing Statue Mummification

This is a small St. Francis that I like to mummify with some gauze tape from the first aid aisle. Or paper towel cut into strips. This photo shows both. Though I set the other LED spots to one color only, I set his to change colors. He doesn’t need to go with whatever scene is going on; I just get a kick out of him. Is there something in your yard already that you can dress up in the Halloween spirit?

9. Music

If you can figure out a way to play music that compliments your scene, it can add a lot of atmosphere. We have an old cd player that we hide in a bush. Last year I used it to play the soundtrack from the actual Disneyland Haunted Mansion ride so that was an easy match. When I can figure out how to add movement to a scene that will really be exciting!


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