Tutorial: A Folk Horror Tablescape for Samhain
The sacred night of Samhain approaches. What better way to honor the harvest and celebrate the coming of frost than with a tablescape complete with an antlered skull, wicked shafts of wheat, and hand-carved candles? The themes for this tablescape were drawn from the furrows and fields of folk horror. If you listen closely, you might just hear the dark spirits rustling through the corn.
The Antlered Skull
An antlered skull serves as one focal point for this tablescape. It was partly inspired by the 1971 film Blood on Satan’s Claw, which begins with the tilling of fields and the discovery of strange bones. I began this project by applying dark brown acrylic paint, thinned with water, to light-weight synthetic antlers and a plastic skull. I then placed wooden skewers into the base of the antlers and inserted them into holes drilled in the skull. If you don’t have a drill, you can carefully heat the tip of a small screwdriver and use that to penetrate the plastic (just mind the fumes!). I glued ivory and pale green moss around the joints. To increase the stability of the piece, I glued magnets to the interior of the lower mandible.
The Wicker Woman
A second focal piece is the Wicker Woman, which was of course inspired by the 1973 film, The Wicker Man. My original intention was to construct a Wicker Man out of twigs, but then I found this strange doll? topiary? thing? at the thrift store and transformed her into a dark goddess of the harvest. I began by painting her matte black, then added wheat and branches with ivory and glossy black paint. Red enamel was used to paint her eyes, which now sparkle in the candle light. To cover some odd joints, I added ivory and green moss.
The Blackened Busts
Children feature prominently in folk horror films such as The Witchfinder General (1968), Blood on Satan’s Claw, and The Wicker Man. While trolling the thrift store, I found a pair of French Provincial plaster busts (for two dollars each!) that were in rough shape. They reminded me of Job and Sarah from Children of the Corn (1984). Remember how a pathetic boy with small hands uses religion to create a fascist state where male violence is glorified and outsiders are sacrificed? Who knew it was a documentary? At any rate, I used matte black paint as the base and added details with high gloss black acrylic. I then added red enamel to the eyes and topped them with glow-in-the-dark glaze. I also painted a weird little ceramic cherub and a tacky-as-hell wheat candle holder in the same fashion.
To offset all of that glorious black and to add additional fire hazards to my tablescape, I opted for ivory candles. I found these candles for one dollar each and decided that I would carve them with folk horror motifs. I simply used a wooden skewer to carve grooves into the candle’s surface. It can be difficult to get fine lines, so I opted for simple designs—a wheat pentagram and a hand of glory. Once my designs were finished, I carefully brushed all of the wax shavings off of the surface and then applied black acrylic paint in the grooves with a fine detailing brush.
This Halloween, don’t let a limited budget hold you back! I spent a total of $30.00 on this tablescape, which will serve as the centerpiece on the buffet of my annual Samhain Feast. Together we will eat, drink, and celebrate the coming of cold grey days and long dark nights. We will tell stories in the candlelight. We will remember who we are.