Make a Faux Horse Head Trophy Mount – Guest Post

paper mache horse headToday we have a guest post by Susanne Carrera, who recently made a faux horse head trophy mount out of paper mache clay, cardboard, and Styrofoam. Beautifully done, Susanne – and thank you so much for showing us how you did it!

Before we get to Susanne’s post, I want to take a second to thank all the artists who have contributed guest posts to this site in the last couple of months while I worked on a non-paper mache project of my own. My very first novel will be published this week.  I’ll let you know more about it when the time comes.

But for now – check out how Susanne made this amazingly life-like horse – and be sure to read the “bonus horse” section, where she shows us how she made a duplicate of this sculpture using cloth mache.

You can also find more of Susanne’s work at

How I Made a Horse Head Trophy

© 2015 Susanne Carrera

This project was inspired by America’s lovely mustangs, specifically a paint stallion known as “Picasso”.

Fun facts: the word ‘mustang’ comes from the Spanish word ‘mustengo’ meaning owner-less or stray. They aren’t actually wild animals, but rather feral descendants of horses brought to America by the Spanish. They are hardy and considered to be a small-medium horse.

This fella is roughly life-size and measures 18″ from poll to lips and 21″ from back (where it touches the wall) to the tip of the nose.


To reduce the amount of paper crumpling needed to create the armature, I hot glued Styrofoam chunks onto the cardboard outline and filled in the spaces with crumpled paper. I think this saved some time and weight and I was happy to utilize the Styrofoam I had been holding on to for months.
It looks like junk at this point and I always have doubts during the early stages.

Styrofoam added over the Carboard pattern
Styrofoam added over the Carboard pattern

I left the Styrofoam too large in some places and I had to shave some away with a serrated knife. I did this over a box because Styrofoam crumbs cling to everything and are a pain to clean up. Once filled in, some areas of the armature had a little too much give when pressed so I covered the small areas with compressed aluminum foil. For the throat, I made the surface more solid with cardboard…I just cut cardboard into the correct shape, bent it and rolled it to soften it, then taped it on and stuffed it with crumpled paper. I also taped on a cardboard backing.

Adding the padding to the paper mache horse armature.
Adding the padding to the paper mache horse armature.
Covering the padding with masking tape.
Covering the padding with masking tape.

Using a tool to smooth out bumps was very helpful. I used the edge of a Sharpie for the smaller areas that needed smoothing. I also used a hammer to pound some areas into better shape.

**Here is where I got greedy and wanted a second horse. I also didn’t want to start one from scratch, so I made a “copy” of the horse at this point in the process (when the armature was complete). See below for more on this.**

I began spreading on pm clay and gradually built up areas that needed more definition.
See the big wolf spider on the wall? She was too quick for me to catch-and-release so she is still living somewhere in my home.

Adding the paper mache clay to the horse's head.
Adding the paper mache clay to the horse’s head.


While holding the head up for the above photo I realized that the final piece was going to be heavier than I had anticipated. I felt it needed more than a cardboard backing. So, I traced the neck onto a pine board, cut out the shape using my jigsaw and attached it to the horse with wood glue and screws. The wood backing became an extension of the neck…I just blended the two together with pm clay.

Thrifty Tip: Check hardware stores for “cull lumber”…they usually have a cart loaded with it in the lumber area. It is sold at a discounted price and much of it is perfectly usable!


I found a handy page that lists the eyeball sizes of various animals ( I wanted my horse to have large eyes, so I ended up making them slightly larger than a standard horse eye is.

I seem to run into complications when trying to get eyeballs smooth once they are attached to the armature. This time I tried something different: I made half globes out of foil, (it helps to leave a piece of foil loose to use as a handle), and compressed/rolled it against my work table to get it firm and smooth the edge. I added a layer of pm clay and used my finger dipped in a glue/water mixture to get the surface super smooth.

Eye, made with compressed foil and paper mache clay.
Eye, made with compressed foil and paper mache clay.

Once dry, I hot glued the eyes into place and began layering on pm clay to build up the structure around the eyes.
The lids were made using shop towels brushed with glue, which made for a nice crisp edge. After they dried I added folds and layers around the eyelids with pm clay. (I began painting the eyeballs early…I was eager to start bringing the horse to life.)

Eye detail.
Eye detail.


I made ears by shaping wire until they looked appropriately sized (leaving apprx 2″ of wire coming off of the ear base to use for attaching it to the armature), traced the inner rim of the wire form onto thin cardboard and taped the cardboard cutouts onto/into the wire frame with masking tape. To attach the ears I drilled holes where I felt was an appropriate spot (referencing a photo of a horse skull helped) and squirted hot glue into the holes before inserting the 2″ length of ear wire. I padded parts of the inner and outer ears with foil and taped them down to stabilize them before adding pm clay. I wanted his inner ears to be a bit furred, so I dragged a paint brush handle through the clay to achieve this.

Mane and Forelock

The strand of hair hanging over the right eye is wire wrapped in paper and tape. I shaped it against the head then hot glued it down.


The rest of the mane consists of strands of pm clay, which I achieved by laying down a strip of clay with a knife, and half dragging it down to the desired length. This took a LONG time and was very tedious, so I would probably not repeat this method.
Once the clay strands had firmed up a bit I smoothed them over as much as I could (without distorting their shape) with a flat paintbrush dipped in glue/water. The mane is slightly bumpy, but it’s not too noticeable.

Gesso and Paint

I brushed on Jonni’s gesso, made thick so I could work in some coat texture on the neck and cheeks.

I used a wide toothed comb for this. In areas where I went a little overboard with the texturing I just softened them by lightly brushing with the soft flat brush dipped in glue/water.

After drying for a few days I began painting. I used Windsor and Newton acrylics.

For the eyes I used the technique Jonni teaches in her “painting a dog’s eye” video of layering paint and the gloss medium. It works amazingly well.


For the body I started with a palomino base (which I believe was cadmium yellow, raw sienna, and white?). The brown is burnt umber, raw sienna, and a few drops of black drawing ink. The white is titanium white muddied a bit with burnt umber.

The dark strands of mane are burnt umber and a few drops of black drawing ink.

Painting the paper mache horse head.
Painting the paper mache horse head.
Painting the paper mache horse head, other side.
Painting the paper mache horse head, other side.[/caption

Paper Mache Horse Head, Finished Paper Mache Horse Head, Finished

Bonus Horse!

I covered the armature tightly in plastic wrap. Inspired by Dan Reeder’s use of cloth mache, I covered the form with cloth strips dipped in glue, smoothed flat, and let it dry for a few days. Because the fabric I used was thick and stiff it didn’t work around the lips, so I used shop towels in place of the cloth.

Bonus Horse, step 1.
Bonus Horse, step 1.
Bonus Horse, step 2.
Bonus Horse, step 2.

Next I cut the cloth mache off down the midline, removed it from the form, taped it back together along the cut seam, and used plaster cloth to seal the seam inside of the form. When the plaster was dry I removed the tape from the outside of the form and plaster clothed the outer seam as well.

Bonus Horse, step 3.
Bonus Horse, step 3.

I added the ears in the same way as the original horse, only I glued the 2″ wire length to the inside of the form since it’s hollow.
I taped the form onto a wood base and began applying pm clay.

Bonus Horse, step 4.
Bonus Horse, step 4.

I’m making these eyes out of air dry clay and used joint compound to smooth the entire armature surface.

I very much hope this inspires you to create a horse of your own, or something else out of paper mache clay!

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13 thoughts on “Make a Faux Horse Head Trophy Mount – Guest Post

  1. Susanne, this was a great tutorial. If I said everything I liked about it, my comment would be as long as your post. Everything was useful. Thank you so much. Great job. I’m amazed at what you did with the eyes.

    I have been stuck on painting my rhino, and I will use your coloring to see if I can get it done. I love your browns. Wonderful.

  2. This is my best attempt at a horse and it is only 12 inches tall and felted with wool. But your sculpture is life size ,oh my, the hours you spent on him has to be amazing. Janie

  3. Super job!! I just love your work and I could just go up and pet that wonderful horse. He would fool me until I tried to get the horsey perfume that us horse lovers know well. This is my best attempt at a horse and it is only 12 inches tall and felted with wool. Janie

  4. OMGOSH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I really love it, you have captured the realism and majesty that only a horse and horse lover can appreciate. Way to go. Janie

  5. This sculpture is gorgeous and inspiring! The method and instruction are marvelous! Thanks so much for sharing. WOW!!!!


  7. Very nice. Thank you for sharing this amazing project. Were you worried that the cloth mache (in the duplicate) would not be strong enough to support the clay?

    • A little, but I figured if it seemed too flimsy I’d reinforce it with layers of paper mache first. If I had used a thinner fabric I would have definitely applied it in two layers.
      Also, the plaster cloth along the seam did a great job of creating stability.

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