When I was a kid, my favorite grade school activity was to make dioramas. Dinosaur dioramas, ocean dioramas, First Thanksgiving dioramas – didn’t matter; I loved them all and was excited about each and every one.
I still love dioramas, although in the sophisticated grown up world, we tend to refer to them now as shadow boxes or vignettes. They are easy and fun to make, and can be as simple or as sophisticated as you wish.
I’m currently working on one that is a pumpkin patch. It will be composed of three craft stick scarecrows perched on a few miniature hay bales. Surrounding the hay bales will be small faux pumpkins, which I will have glittered. I won’t stick it into a shoe box, but instead mount the whole affair on a small plywood board, covered with straw and a little bit of Spanish moss.
There are many options for Halloween vignettes other than the pumpkin patch. Another one that is easy to fashion is the graveyard. To make tombstones, you can fashion them out of foam board, cardboard or other such materials – shaped like traditional tombstones with the rounded top, or crosses or elaborate spires. You can paint them in various shades of black and gray, making them look aged and old. Foam board dings easily, so you can get a cobbled look by poking and proding it, and it provides more of a 3D profile than cardboard, so that’s a consideration in your choice of material. For the base, simply take a rectangle of plywood and paint it black. Glue down your tombstones and surround the whole thing with a picket fence, which you can fashion out of popsicle sticks, cardboard or what have you. Glue down some Spanish moss. You can make a leafless tree out of wire and floral tape – use a small dowel as the center of the tree, surrounding the whole thing with wire to create a flared base and craggy limbs. Wrap the wire limbs and trunk in floral tape, and paint the whole thing black. Tuck the tree into a corner of the graveyard. You can add or subtract details as you like – you can suspend a handkerchief ghost from the tree, add little clay crows or vultures, or add mini hay bales or pumpkins.
Another interesting vignette you can make it a deserted witch’s coven – again take a painted black plywood board for the base. You’ll need four or five of the craggy floral wire trees, which you can arrange on the board however you want. In the center of the board, you’ll have a witches’ cauldron over a fire, which is easy enough to create. For the fire, take seven small twigs and arrange them in a circle, with the ends sticking out. For the fire, you want a few pieces each of red, orange and yellow cellophane. Cut it so that the edges are triangular and resemble fire. Glue it down over the sticks. Top the whole thing with a cauldron – you can find miniature ones made from plastic at the craft store, or you can fashion one out of clay and paint it black. Glue some of the cellophane flames against the side of the cauldron. To finish the scene, prop a witch’s broom against one of the trees (you can fashion it out of a bamboo skewer, dried grass or tiny twigs or whatever and a little kitchen twine). You can also add a forgotten witch’s hat – easy to make out a little cardboard covered in black fabric. And add anything else you’d like – pumpkins, a dilapidated picket fence, a little black cat (you can find them in the dollhouse section of the craft store). As ground covering, you can use Spanish moss, fallen leaves (some of the larger dried herbs would work), or little pebbles and sand.
The most elaborate vignette on my to do list is a haunted house. I’d like to make a two-story house, with shutters half falling off, a chimney with bats flying out of it and the whole thing surrounded by craggy trees and tombstones. It will have board and batten siding and scalloped roofing. It will take a lot of time and effort, and one of these days I’ll assemble all the materials I need for it. For the time being, I’ll work on the modest pumpkin patch and keep dreaming up new diorama ideas.