How to Paint a Cow Skull

This post was written to help provide you with a broad overview of how to paint a cow skull and get started with this art form. I have other posts dedicated to specific processes and I will try to link out accordingly. 

Step 1: Find a Skull Dealer

You need to find a skull or a skull dealer. I recommend hitting up local flea markets. I do not recommend purchasing skulls online due to their fragility.  Craigslist is acceptable because you can inspect it and pick it up yourself just like if you were at a flea market.

Step 2: Picking the Right Skull

If you intend to take an animal skull and turn it into art, I would recommend purchasing the highest quality skull you can find. I define high quality as the following:

  • Good horns – look at the horns. Buy polished ones that have been sanded. If they haven’t been sanded, they won’t shine. It’s okay if they have a few nicks in them. Too much sanding and the horns become extremely fragile. So look for a skull with a few nicks but not too many.
  • Solid bridge – Look at the bridge of the nose, aim for a good solid and full one like this. Try to avoid ones like these, they look goofy and take away  valuable “canvas” space. I respect that you may have the rare artistic vision of painting a skull missing a bridge, however, most people will view the skull head-on and this is a crucial focal point that we’re missing. Plus, the nooks and crannies of a skull are an absolute pain to deal with (thin bone, dirt, etc.), the bridge covers of a lot of mess.
  • Teeth – This is a personal preference, but I prefer my skull to have all of its teeth…and not look like the guy I’m buying them off of. Just looks more complete.
  • Horn color – You’ll want to be conscious of the horn color and the palette of colors you’re intending to use. The skulls mainly range in the black/brown/grey categories but it can make a big difference. If you intend to use black, find horns with black in them and viceversa for brown.
  • Horn attachment – Find horns that have an attractive quality in their attachment to the actual calcium. The ones I purchase always have rope wrapped around the connection point (plus a few hidden screws to keep it all in place). Some sellers have perfected the attachment and don’t use rope. Others will leave a really gnarly and jagged edge. I stick to the rope because of the rustic appeal.  — I know I’m mentioning a lot about horns, but keep in mind that people often purchase just the horns or even blank skulls (I know, beats the hell out of me too) for their beauty. When hung on a wall, these horns act as a beacon and garner a lot of attention.
  • Horn width – Be conscious of the horn span. I like to buy right in the middle. Bout 3ft 9 inches. No 4 or 5 footers, but not the measly 2 footers.
  • Smell – Odd. I know. But get up to the skull, specifically near a cavity (eyes/under the bridge/behind the neck vertebrae) and take a good wiff. Caution: It’ll smell slightly repulsive. If it smells flat out rank, don’t purchase it. It means the the flesh eating beetles didn’t do their job and that their is still flesh in the inner cavities.
  • Price – Do not pay over $70 for a skull. You’re getting ripped off. $70-$90 should be an immaculate skull as described above, perfect horn attachment and no other issues. If you’re at a flea market, haggle with the people as long as you can. Also, make sure you cover the ENTIRE flea market to gather pricing information. I buy mine for $50, the guy has them priced from $60-$70. I start him at $40 and we eventually get to a standstill at $50, ’tis is life. I also recommend that you buy near the beginning of the day and near the start of the market to ensure you buy the highest quality skull possible. However you can also make the argument that you go near the end of the day on the last day of the market in order to try and strike a deal due to desperation.

Step 3: Transporting Your Skull:

To ensure we protect the integrity of your skull, we need to make sure we get it to your home/studio safely. If possible, I highly recommend that you bring a buddy to hold the skull on the drive back to your place (flea markets can be rather out of the way from civilization). DO NOT PUT THE SKULL IN YOUR TRUNK. It will break. Unless of course you cushion it with a copious amount of pillows and fluff. None the less, I don’t recommend it. I also recommend sitting your friend in the backseat with the horns pointed away from you (Final Destination anyone?).

Step 4: Cleaning and Priming:

Before you start painting your skull, we’re going to need to clean and prime it. First, have a good open space to paint, one in which you can turn the skull easily as well as a good space to flip and turn it. Next, if you’re not in a studio, put something underneath it. Newspaper, beer boxes, whatever. I just unfold Shiner boxes and let it be. Now it’s time to clean it. Grab a paintbrush and dust off your skull. Depending on the stripping process/elements that the skull was exposed to there may be quite a bit of dirt/dust/spiderwebs/and the occasional dead flesh eating beetle (these guys will drop out once you’ve flipped the skull out a few times). After it’s dusted, prime it. Use whatever you’re comfortable with though. And do NOT skip over this step. Sure, you can get away without priming some canvases, but with bone you’ll want to use it because the porous nature of the minerals. It’ll soak it up and create a fairly smooth and solid surface for you to paint on. Let it dry. Make sure to do the teeth as well. For a more detail, please see my post on preparing your skull and removing odor.

Step 5: Planning

Plan what your design is going to be. Don’t skimp on this step. Some quality thought and special attention to color can go a long way. I put together a Bull Skull Design Template that allows for you to print out a skull outline and to sketch out your ideas. (It’s actually the depiction of a bison skull but it’s more practical for drawing on, bulls are just too narrow)

Step 6: Painting

I start off by spray painting a base color if my design calls for it and at the very least I spray paint all of the interior cavities that I can reach (pays off down the road). If you spray paint be sure to wrap the horns. The first time I did this I used saran wrap and 4 rubber bands to protect the horns. Now I’ve started using old undershirts + rubber bands to protect them.

Unleash yourself. Warnings though: Be patient. Take your time. Bone is more difficult than canvas. Constantly check perspective (hold it up periodically as if it were hanging on a wall). Don’t be cheap about any part of it. Perhaps I’m a little too attentive, but I even go as far as detailing the inner-teeth/roof of the mouth.

Side note: Do not paint the horns. I personally think that is a waste. I consider myself an organic and those horns are absolutely raw and beautiful as they are. Your synthetic polymers only bastardize that bit of beauty.

Step 7: Finishing Touches

Be sure to go back over the details of your painting and look at the various fissures that are on the skull. Often it’s easy to leave a bunch of white showing from one angle, but not another.

Also. The rope around the horns. If your rope is anything like mine, it’s kind of ugly and blank looking. What I do is take a brown oil based stain + a few Q-tips and apply it to the rope. It creates a really nice grey/brown (kind of blends in with the horns no matter the color) that really fills in any “visual gaps.”

The final coat. Go to your local craft supply store and purchase some acrylic gloss. I buy Tree House Studios – Clear Acrylic – Gloss coating (once I finish the can I’m on though I’ll probably opt for the super gloss coating). Follow the instructions and apply a hefty coating to your skull. This will pretty much protect it from everything except hell’s wrath, not to mention it’ll give it a real nice professional shine. Make sure to cover the horns again and to let it dry for 24 hours in a well ventilated area before interacting with the skull again.

And there you go. You’re done. There are multiple ways to hang it. The way I do it is with some heavy duty wire wrapped around the neck vertebrae that’s attached to the head. BE SURE TO NOT DO IT AROUND ANY WEAK BONES. IT WILL FALL. Then just put it on a hook and you’re good to go. Enjoy!

P.S. – Use Pledge on the horns to polish them.

Here are some photos from the first skull I did.

Here is an artistic rendition of my first black light skull.

Dedicated to the vastness and unique dimension of artistic expression that can be experienced on bones of animals, in particular, Texas longhorn skulls.

128 thoughts on “How to Paint a Cow Skull

  1. Anna Reply

    Thanks so much for sharing this! We had an old cow skull sitting in our garden for a couple years, and I decided to paint it. Being from Ohio, Painting cow skulls isn’t a popular hobby here, so this helped a lot! I really like your work!

    • Dave Yeti Post authorReply

      That’s excellent! Have fun with it. I’d love to see some photos of it once you’re done.

  2. Jake Reply


    I picked up a buffalo skull two years ago and immediately went to cleaning it; since then its been sitting waiting for me to know how to paint it.
    I’ve been looking for a site that would explain it as well as yours has.

    Thanks for the steps. Your site was helpful

  3. Donna Reply

    Thank you for explaining how to paint the skull… I’ve had this skull for about 20 years and I’m going to paint a cutting horse and cow on it and then make it into a clock…. where the 12 – 3 – 6 -9 are I’m going to put turquoise. I’ve done alot of oil paintings but wanted to try this… Thank you again…

  4. Court Reply

    Thanks! this helped a lot. I do have a question though. my skulls are in pretty good shape except for the fact that the bone is no longer smooth, they’re pretty rough. any suggestions? Someone mentioned using sandpaper to smooth it back out, but I’m not really sure about it.

    • Dave Yeti Post authorReply

      Hey Courtney,

      You have a few options here.

      1) If you use the KILZ primer on the skull, depending on how porous the bone is, it should fill in a majority of the holes and leave you with a smooth surface to paint on. Sometimes this requires a second coat. It’ll leave ridges, but not holes (if that makes sense). I personally like it when it still has some roughness to it. It makes for a neat piece for everyone to interact with.

      2) You can sandpaper it. I’ve experimented with sandpaper and Dremel sanding bits. If you use a Dremel, be prepared. I’ve been practicing carving on skulls (bought 2 cheap calf skulls for $6) and it has been the biggest mess. Bone flies everywhere and the smell is atrocious. Same with sanding, just be careful and stay clean. Despite the Clorox bleaching on a lot of the skulls, bio remnants remain in the bone and it’s certainly something you don’t want to breathe in.

  5. Marta Iza Reply

    My sister is a taxidermist and wants me to start painting skulls for her. She has all these spare bones, teeth, skulls, etc. and capes. I’m going to use your priming recommendations . Thank you! I’ll show you what I come up with. Thank you very much!

  6. Jen Peters Reply

    Hello Dave, thank you for that, I happen to be a skull dealer and have recently started painting I found you post very helpful. I just wanted to let you know a few things. A reputable skull dealer like myself is very experienced in shipping skulls and very rarely have any problems with damage during shipping even when shipping to places far far away like Norway and Switzerland! Also I can pack about 150 bullaflo skulls on top of each other in the back of a pickup with no damage to any of the skulls! Its all about how you place them in there!! Happy Paining and if you ever need a skull buffalo, coyote or otherwise (not generally steer skulls however) look us up on ebay or send me an email.! Thanks again for this super helpful post!

  7. Connie Reply

    Hi Dave,
    I recently met someone who has had some bull skulls for about 20 years and has been wanting to get them painted and asked me to do it since I’m an artist. I’ve never painted on a skull before so I was looking for info. You’re article seems very helpful. From all of the other help articles I’ve seen, it looks like it is recommended to use acrylic paint. Yours wasn’t specific and I prefer to paint with oil. What do you use and would it work to use oil? Also, would gesso work as a primer or do you think Kilz is the best thing to use? Thanks!

    • Dave Yeti Post authorReply

      Hey Connie,

      Personally I like to use acrylic. I don’t have much experience with oil, but you can go that route as long as you prime the skull properly. I lean towards using acrylic because of the sheer amount of paint you will use. You will encounter a lot of crevices and just tricky spots that take up a lot of paint/time, but leave the skull looking tacky/incomplete if not taken care of.

      Gesso is fine. I just use Kilz since my local store carries it in larger quantities.

      Good luck on painting! Would love to see how they turn out.

  8. Christine Reply

    I have a skull my husband got in the pasture that has been sitting in our yard for ever, and I got a wild hair to paint it. Do you seal it with anything afterwards, lacquer? Also, the teeth, do you glue them in, the one on mind are wiggly, and I didn’t know if I should coat them in something before painting. And, one last thing, what kind of glue works best on top of the paint, for embellishments?

  9. cindy Reply

    my skull has been bleached,peroxide,baking soda ,sitting out in the sun , & any thing that will take the smell i said i’ve tried everything to get that smell out.would the kilz do it ?help!

    • Dave Yeti Post authorReply

      Hey Cindy,

      Can you give me a little more detail on the timeline of the skull? When did the animal pass/how did you acquire the skull? Had someone attempted to treat it already?

      The Kilz will help some, but it only masks it. The reason you still have the smell is due to flesh particles. Hands down the best way to get rid of the remaining flesh is via dermestid beetles. What I’m concerned about is that someone boiled it and that just makes the smell worse. Let me know and I’ll see what I can do to help.


  10. deborah teselle Reply

    Loved the bits about the skulls looking goofy without the nose bone and like the guy you’re buying it from!

    Glossy is great for most looks. Consider weathered finishes that incorporate sanded layers, crackle finishes, and stains that help create patina… especially on a pair of ugly horns.

    • Dave Yeti Post authorReply

      Deborah, I’d love to try some other approaches aside from the gloss – especially the patina! Any recommendations for how to go about it? I literally know nothing about creating that look on any sort of material.

  11. Jimmy Prindle Reply

    I recently found a few skulls at work’
    We do fencing in north Dakota and cow n bull skulls are everywhere. I found ur post while looking into ideas to paint mine and selling tips n value..if u want any nice skulls I will sell as many as u would like at $30each. Call me at 256-202-7785 jimmy. Thank’s.

    • Dave Yeti Post authorReply

      Hey Jimmy – that’s excellent. I’m still knocking through my current collection of skulls from the fall. But I’d be up for getting some more in a few months. Do you have any photos? What is the odor like on the skulls? And do you ever drive down to Oklahoma for work or anything? If not, a road trip to N.D. is fine with me.

  12. Carolyn Reply

    Thanks for the info Dave! I recently came into a human skeleton, the kind used to teach anatomy in classrooms. I want to paint it, but I have no idea what will work best, since I’m sure it’s already been treated and sealed in some way. Any thoughts or tips? (I know this is different from what you’re doing, but I thought it couldn’t hurt to ask!)

    • Dave Yeti Post authorReply

      Hey Carolyn! That’s really cool. You do mean real bone, correct? Like a skeleton that was donated? If so, you can either tackle it with some $10 outdoor primer from Walmart or you can sand it, rough it up real good and then apply the paint of your choice. Would love to see photos of it!

  13. Megan Reply

    Dave great info I’m excited to start painting my new skull. Just a few questions I’d like clarified tho. For the horns themselves I just want a clear finish. Is it best to sand and then varnish or laquer them? And when it comes to painting the skull should you lacquer or varnish it first before painting with acrylic paint?


    • Dave Yeti Post authorReply

      Hey Megan, I’ve actually never tackled finishing the horns before. I either buy the skulls with the horns finished and polished or I buy them raw and leave them that way. I would consider your overall skull quality first and see if it’s worth attempting. If the skull is in great shape and you want to do a high shine gloss, then maybe do a test spot on the underside of the horns. You also need to consider the type of paint job you’re going to do on it – sometimes the rustic, no gloss, raw horn looks best and complete the look you’re going for. Let me know what you find out – would love to get a guest post from you up on the blog.

  14. Megan Reply

    Hey Dave great read! I’m so excited to start decorating my cow skull. I just have a couple questions tho that I need clarified. I’d like to keep the horns natural with a bit of a glossy finish. Is it best to sand paper them then lacquor or varnish? Is one better than the other? Then for the skull before you paint with acrylic paint do you suggest varnishing or lacquering? Thanks!

  15. M Reply

    Hi I just bought a bullskull from a shop in cavecreek AZ. The smell is pretty bad…. I have put fabreese and disinfecting spray on it and is still there! I don’t see any flesh on it ….please help! How do I get rid of smell so I can put in my house?

  16. JT Reply

    Hi Dave,
    Thanks so much for this info! I love your site. Don’t kill me, but I want to paint ONLY the horns of a cow skull – shiny gold. I want to leave the skull itself bare. What would you recommend to pain the horns?

    • Dave Yeti Post authorReply

      JT! Haha you are KILLING me. Are the horns at least unpolished? If so, just get them coated in a good outdoor/all surface white primer and then have at it with whatever shiny gold paint you have in mind. No recommendation on specific paint, just the process. Also, are these horns already attached to the skull?

  17. Betty Reply

    Hello Dave.
    I am using your site as a guideline for painting a cow skull; thank you for that. I used the Kilz as a primer a few days ago and it feels tacky in places. It is as dry as I think it ever will be but I am concerned about moving forward with the paint base coat. Has this ever happened to you? Do you have any suggestions for me? I am one of about 35 artists that are painting skulls as an annual fundraiser for our Ellensburg Rodeo Hall of Fame and my deadline is getting near. I truly hope you can help me soon. Thanks. Betty

    • Dave Yeti Post authorReply

      Hey Betty,

      That’s interesting, I don’t typically experience that. Maybe on occasion – it normally has to deal with the humidity. Are you painting inside or out? I know if you’re in Dallas like me, it can be rough to paint outside with the humidity levels. Also, did you stir/shake the primer well before handle? That can influence it. Additionally, if you’re going to paint with acrylic, you should be fine.

      Shoot me an email at if you’d like to discuss more! More than willing to help.



      • Betty Reply

        Howdy Dave,

        Wow, thanks for your quick response. I don’t remember if I stirred it up; darn, that may have been my problem and the tackiest parts are where it probably settled. I do know that I shook the can. Yes, I will be spraying/painting with a Sherman Williams acrylic latex.

        I am in central Washington and it is starting to warm up around here but we don’t experience high humidity. I have it in my garage which is a steel structure but not terribly hot.

        I am going to go forward and paint with confidence. I will let you know if I have anymore questions.

        Thanks so much for your input.

        • Dave Yeti Post authorReply

          No problem Betty!

          And not to worry, I’ve used the SW acrylic latex before, you should be good to go. Does your fundraiser group have a link where the skulls are featured once completed? I’d love to write a post about it, or at least see what you come up with!



      • Anne Reply

        Hello Dave, im from the Netherlands so please excuse my English. I have a question for you. I wanna paint my skull with silver/ chrome spray, what do u reccomend?

        Greetings from the netherlands

  18. Melissa Reply

    Thanks for this article. Could you share what types of paint you use? Would good old acrylic work? Is there anything I should avoid?

    • Dave Yeti Post authorReply

      Hey Melissa! Thanks for the question.

      I really enjoy using acrylic. Nothing fancy. Skulls are pretty rugged and in my opinion, you’re just wasting money if you’re spending it on premium paints. I really like to encourage painters to experiment with spray paints and different mixes to create new effects. Worse case scenario, dunk the thing in a gallon of primer and go again.

      The only thing I would avoid is cheap black light paint from Hobby Lobby. Made that mistake once and it was pretty rough and tedious painting session. I would stress that you shake your paints appropriately before applying – including primer. Others have run into that issue in the past.

      I’ll try to get a dedicated post up soon about paint selection and send it to you. Please let me know if you have any other questions!

  19. Eliesa W Reply

    This post is great, thanks for sharing! I recently got a bison skull that I’m going to try to paint. I’m not the most artistically talented, but I’m going to give it my best shot! Thanks.

  20. Brandee Reply

    Hey Dave,
    I’ve been reading through the questions and comments here and I was hoping someone would have asked my question already but it appears I am the only one with this issue so far- A gentleman gave me two deer skulls to paint on and he said they may have been lacquered. They appear to have a glossy, clear finish. Will I have issues with acrylic paint peeling or coming off? Should I use a different paint such as enamel? He also wants one done with ink and I’m considering a waterproof, permanent technical pen. Any help with these dilemmas will be greatly appreciated! Thanks, Brandee

    • Dave Yeti Post authorReply

      Hey Brandee,

      Thanks for your question! Yes, you will have issues if you try applying acrylic to the finished skulls. No need to worry though, just run to Walmart and grab some primer – just be sure it’s outdoor/all-purpose. It will probably take two coats, but should do the trick. That is unless you have some unbelievable finish that you’re dealing with. Proceed with whichever paint you want afterwards.

      Ink is interesting. Although I have never done it, I have contemplated it. I personally think it’s best executed on a raw skull vs. one with primer. But let me know how it goes! Might be interesting.

      Please let me know if you have any other questions, more than happy to discuss!


  21. Autumn Reply

    Thank you for the post! Im a fellow okie and found old skulls on our property. Now I know how to paint on them! Thank you for sharing!

  22. Alexandra Z Reply

    Hi David,
    I recently purchased a cow skull off of ebay. And when I received it there were spiders and other bugs still living in it. I soaked the cow skull in my tub full of water and dishwashing liquid and I got alot of the bugs out. It seems to be completely cleaned but before I start painting it I want to be sure. What else can i do to make sure there is nothing still living in the crevices?

    • Dave Yeti Post authorReply

      Hi Alexandra,

      It sounds like you got a majority of the bugs out. Honestly, you won’t get them all out. They have a real knack for reproducing in extreme circumstances. What you’ll want to go ahead and do is pour some cheap primer into the skull. Easiest way is to balance the skull on the back of its head and pour into the snout, ensuring you reach the middle of the head. You will then want to do this the other way by balancing it on its snout and pouring in through the cranial cavity. Bit messy, but it’ll coat and demolish just about any bug. I’ll do a blog post this weekend that goes into more detail on best practices of doing this.

  23. Judy Reply

    Thank you for your instructions. I have one Steer Head and 2 deer head to paint on. I have been looking at them for a few years, wanting to paint on them, but chickened out for fear of messing them up for good. I think I am ready to take the leap, now that I have found your instructions.
    We won’t be too far from you soon. We are leaving SC to go visit our daugher in Henryetta,Oklahoma.
    I am really excited to get the Steer done, so I can give it to them for a new House gift. She, her husband and two sons are all in rodeo. Ropers and bull doggers. 🙂

    • Dave Yeti Post authorReply

      Hey Judy! You’re quite welcome. I’m glad these instructions were of some help. Please feel free to reach out if you have any questions along the way. Always happy to help 🙂

  24. Stacey Reply

    Hello, I have a cow skull that I was given the skull itself is in fairly good condition but there are no horns just like the inside part I was going to cover them in plaster but I’m not sure what the best option would be any suggestions?

    • Dave Yeti Post authorReply

      Hi Stacey!

      I’m sorry for the delay in responding, as I’ve been traveling.

      Lack of horns is unique…and a really neat opportunity to decorate them. If you just want to paint them, then I would suggest doing multiple layers of primer. It’ll take a while, but I would opt for that instead of messing with different texture transitions between the horns and skull.

      Honestly, I’d get creative with the horns. Fake flowers, beads, etc. could all tie in with the overall design.

      Hope that helps!


  25. Noelle Reply

    Hi! Wondered if you know anything about painting on bones with oil paint or using oil paint on ostrich eggs. You may want to check out my website to see the type of work I do. I like Your skulls!
    thank you! noelle

  26. Tiffiny Reply

    Hi Dave,

    I have a friend that owns a ranch and is building a beautiful home. I would like to give a cow skull as a housewarming gift. I would like to paint the skull with copper paint. Have you ever used this and if so, is it the same process as you give above? I am so excited about trying this. Thanks so much for the information. I am headed to Canton to hopefully find the skull!

    Thanks, Tiffiny

  27. Kate Reply

    Hi Dave. I have come across a few steer skulls that I would like to paint and embellish. Two of them do not have an order, but one does that is pretty strong. Other than masking it with primer and paint, is there a chemical that I can use to insure that it is clean…silly question but what about straight bleach to disinfect and eliminate the odor. Also, I am reading a lot of literature from the fish and game code that says it is illegal to sell these products. What do you know about that?
    Thanks – Kate

    • Dave Yeti Post authorReply

      Hey Kate – I still recommend the primer on the ones that smell really bad. Bleach makes the bones brittle and can lead to other issues. Really the best option is either letting the skull sit out in the sun and wind for a year or priming. I’d like to refer you to this blog post by Jake about bone care. He also does not recommend using bleach in any circumstance.

      I cannot advise you on legal matters – but I will say that I have never heard anything about selling bone products.

  28. Mary Reply

    Hey there Dave,
    An old hand at skull artistry here, painting them since the late 70s.Just wanted to say I am enjoying your sight.. Unless we are doing custom skulls we tend to work with Montana grown critters as our business is based on Montana made and grown when possible.
    We are multi media with much of our work. Doing everything from carving to aged antique paintings on them to stone mosaics and metalized skulls that are patina built colors.We don’t have many online at the moment but I included the pinterest link…
    Back to work for this girl, have a small bull on the table waiting to be covered with metal filings and rust up bfore I can finish painting him the rest of the way..Have a dang stinking buffalo skull that I need to prime since he is do at a show in two weeks..
    Nice to see other skull artists out there..
    Thanks for sharing

    • Dave Yeti Post authorReply


      Thanks for commenting! Sorry for the terribly late reply. Your skulls sound fascinating, can’t wait to check them out!

  29. Cheryl Newbanks Reply

    Hi Dave! Great article, thanks for all the info! I have a near perfect skull but the horns are dark and rough. Can I sand some of the and off them and the put some gloss on them to bring out their color? They are just a flat color, dark brownish black. And if so, what grit sand paper should I use?

  30. Amanda Brindle Reply

    I’m so happy I found this page! My boyfriend brought me two huge cow skulls and I wasn’t sure how I should paint them. This helped so much and I love your work!

  31. Jacqueline Clayton Reply


    How Exciting! I Finally Found An Experienced Skull Artist, Who Is Willing To Share Important Info…
    Anyway….I Am Creating A Custom Skull For My Daughter, In California…The Problem I’m Having, Is The Horns, Specifically The One On The Right Of Skull, Is Covered In A ….Piece Of Cuticle…The Left Horn Is Bare And Ready To Go…Anyway….Do You Know How I Can Safely “Remove” This Brown Sheath….Before Proceeding? Thank You So Much! And Have A Great Day! Jacqueline

  32. Paula Reply

    I just bought my first skull from Blankets And Saddles in El Paso, Tx. I live in Ruidoso, NM. I am not a drawer/artist so I thought I would do a turquoise mosaic design for my skull and then do feathers and beads at the base of the horns and really embellish this part of it. My question is, should I use Kilz before I start gluing my beads on or can I sand it in some kind a fashion. I do have a Dremel tool that might come in handy and also can you recommend a certain kind of glue I should be using. I do have a design that I have drawn out and have some of my beads, so I do sorta have a plan. Thanks in advance, Paula

  33. Kendon Reply

    I have a cleaned slingbok gazelle skull with awesome 12.5in horns. I want to paint the horns black and give them a smooth glossy polished look. Right now the horns are very rough and jagged. Is a dremel ok to use on horns? Do you have any recommendations on how to achieve this look?
    Thanks- Kendon

    • Dave Yeti Post authorReply

      Hi Kendon, careful with the dremel, but yes, should be fine. Never painted the horns though, that’s a first. Give it a whirl. You just really got get the horns as smooth as possible, use a lot of paint and then apply a high gloss sealant.

  34. C. Webster Rose Reply

    Hello Dave,

    My wife brought home a cow skull to rework for a friend. When we got it stripped down we found that it is a hornless skull with horns attached pretty poorly. We have no idea as to how we can attach the horns in an acceptable and stable manner. Or is this never done
    to begin with. The horns are in good shape but need about half an inch cut off from where they tried to attach with screws.

    Is this even possible? Do you have any ideas?

    Thank you,

    C. webster Rose

  35. Steph Nelson Reply

    Hi Dave,
    I have 4 nice longhorn skulls but one the horn caps or outer shells are loose and all 4 the horns are rough. What is the best way to glue or fasten the outer shells to the inner horn and how do folks get that smooth, glossy look to the horns? I don’t want to mess these nice skulls up but am looking forward to working on them.
    Thank you for your time!

  36. carrie Reply

    I have a pretty awesome skull, but the horns are very rough and FILLED with little holes. Covered in them really, they almost look like a loofa or sponge. Can this be fixed?

  37. paige Reply

    I haven’t been able to find a longhorn skull for less than $120.
    Im only able to look online since flea markets and other venues aren’t really an option for me. Is this an acceptable price for a cleaned, whitened skull with polished horns? If not, do you have suggestions of online outlets to find some?

  38. Danielle Reply

    Hey Dave,
    We woke this morning with a really cool goat Rams skull in the front yard that the dog has brought home. It’s in great shape, has 2 teeth that need to be glued back in.
    I am a big fan of the “Day of the Dead” artwork and would love to bring it in paint. My question is what should I do to clean and sterilize it before I bring it in the house? Bleach, peroxide, boil? Also the horns are in good shape but pretty rough, would you recommend sanding them or leaving them as is? Any help you could offer would be appreciated as I have never done this before but am excited to get my hands on it. Thanks for your time!

  39. Brian Reply

    Great article on painting cow skulls. Like so many others my parents had a few of them at their home, and I got the wild hair to try and paint it like the cow skull on the front of One Of These Nights by the Eagles. I soon learned I was in no position skill wise to try that, but I ended up doing pretty much an off white satin finish, stain black on the horns and then I drew an image of Pistol Pete’s head (the Oklahoma State mascot) on one side. I had someone just do the outline in black and left the rest alone. I then felt it just needed one more touch and added an O for Oklahoma State in the lower corner of the other side. It is orange with the same black outline. I love the way it looks, but like you I really like that natural look. And this almost looks too nice. I tried putting a glaze on it but I must have done a great job sealing it because it wouldn’t penetrate and wiped right off. I have thought about using stain on it but am afraid it will either be a hit or I will hate it. Do you have suggestions on how I can antique the finish or yellow it up a bit so it looks more aged? I can send pics of what I have done, as well as a photo I found of a skull that I really like the finish. Any help would be appreciated and I am also in Oklahoma (Kingfisher).

  40. Kendra Reply

    Hi Dave,

    Have you ever “painted” on a buffalo skull with sharpie? I’m hoping to do a design on the forehead with sharpie instead of paint as it is so much easier to control.

    Any suggestions?

    Thanks 🙂

    • Dave Yeti Post authorReply

      Hi Kendra! Sorry for the late reply. You may have tried to do the sharpie already. I’ve never tackled a full skull in sharpie. I actually have used the prisma color paint pens. Those…well, they didn’t go as smooth as I had hoped. Thing is, I used those on a tiny plaster replica which is more ideal than the bone. Did you prime the buffalo skull? If so it might be ok. Just concerned your sharpies would dry out / or become damaged on raw bone. Let me know if you tried it! Would love to hear how it turned out.

  41. Pat Reply

    I am so pleased to find this site. I would like to know the best glue to use applying bead work or other objects to skull. Thank you so much.

    • Dave Yeti Post authorReply

      Hi Pat! Sorry for the late reply. What size beads are you talking? Are you trying to do Huichol artwork? If so, use beeswax. I just melt it with a coffee mug warmer in a glass jar. If not, then I recommend hot glue just because it’s the sturdiest and adheres nicely to the pores of the skull.

  42. Abby Reply

    Do you use the kind of primer that uses a paint brush? I’m worried about brush strokes on a skull.

  43. Abby Reply

    Do you use the kind of primer that uses a paint brush? I’m worried about brush strokes on a skull.

  44. Kimba Reply

    This is AWESOME. I have several kinds of animal skulls, I am an artist and excited to make my skulls works of art

  45. Tina O'Quinn Reply

    I want to hang my skull outside…..will the horns eventually ruin if hung outside, as now they are beautiful!

  46. Pingback: How to Prepare a Cow Skull for Painting and Remove Odor - Dave Yeti

  47. laura Reply

    Thank you for posting all this information… I am hunting information in regards to selling the cow skulls I have created art on. Some people have told me it’s a might high fine. But I can’t fine much informario other than what is posted regarding deer skulls.

    • Dave Yeti Post authorReply

      Hi Laura, I don’t understand your comment. Can you please clarify?

  48. Amanda Reply

    Hi, I was wondering if you have any info or tips you could give me on shipping a cow skull with horns? Anything would be appreciated!

    • Dave Yeti Post authorReply

      Hi Amanda,

      I use plastic trash bags to cover the horns and then tape them at the base with painters tape.

  49. Cyndi Reply

    How can you make the horns smooth, the steer skulls I have the horns are all rough and look pitted, are they missing a part of the horn that is smooth and has that color???

    • Dave Yeti Post authorReply

      Email me a picture of the horns at davidpetty1848 at gmail – thanks.

  50. Lisa Reply

    I have a bison skull that I want to paint, but I also want to partially decorate it with flat turquoise stones. Do I prime and paint the whole thing then glue on stones? Or just prime or leave totally natural the areas I want to put stones on? The skull is old, dry and non-stinky. I plan on leaving the horns natural.



    • Dave Yeti Post authorReply

      Yep! Prime, paint, gloss it if you’re going to do that, and then glue.

  51. Lisa Reply


    Thank you! I have been “sitting” on this project for awhile and have chickened out because I didn’t want to ruin this beautiful skull. Your advice feels right on.

    Thanks, again. Lisa

    • Dave Yeti Post authorReply

      Not a problem! Not sure how you intend to paint it, but I really recommend finding a good quality spray paint – makes it far easier to get 100% coverage inside the skull and around crevices. Good luck.

  52. Paula Reply

    I have a cow skull that I got in El Paso, Tx a while back and ever since I have been researching and looking at many examples of painting technics of these cow skulls. My question is what do you use to sheer off the back of the cow skull to make it hang flatter. Do you use a cutting tool like a Dremel? I know one thing and that is to use a dust mask and protective glasses. There are so many mediums you can use but I have decided to use a mixture of Mandela’s and Zen Tangles with very bright use of color. By reading all the questions and then your comments has been very helpful. I hope to sale these works of art (if you want to call it that) I live in New Mexico in the mountains where the weather is unbeatable and do a lot of hiking, skiing and horseback riding on my off time. Thanks Dave and I do hope to hear back from you on my question.

    • Dave Yeti Post authorReply

      Good morning Paula,

      I actually don’t modify any part of the skull to make it “flatter” per se. If your skull is missing all of the teeth, that might be creating a problem. All I do is take a sturdy coat hanger and twist it around the top most vertebrae of the skull and make a loop of it. From there I will insert a 15 – 36 lb. wall “hook” — these are the hooks that are probably 5 inches long that you actually puncture into drywall. They end up creating a baby hook once inserted fully into the wall. I’ll try to get a post put together that shows the materials and the details for doing this.

      Sounds like an enchanted life in New Mexico 🙂

  53. Kelly Reply

    I’m working on my first skull and it doesn’t have horns, I was wondering can I add some by molding them outta clay?

    • Dave Yeti Post authorReply

      Hm, never tried / heard of that before. I guess if you’re good at pottery, try it out. I think skulls look good without horns though, but that’s just me. I try to keep them as organic as possible / true to their own form, it’s part of their story.

  54. Paula Reply

    thanks Dave I will take you advice, I see so many examples online that have been flatten out. My skull is in good shape and has all its teeth. Anyway, I will do it your way that sounds easier anyway. Thanks, Paula

    • Dave Yeti Post authorReply

      Hi Michelle,

      Thanks for the question. It really depends on what you’re trying to do, but most of the time I’ll just use a variety of sponge brushes. If I’m doing detailed work then I’ll bring out a set of horse hair brushes. Hope this helps. Good luck.

  55. Christy Reply

    I actually had a guy give me a skull. It does not have the outer shell of the horns but I don’t care. It is beautiful. I need to clean it and bleach it. I want to do a crown of flowers on it. Would it be best to create the crown and try to use some sort of wire to attach to it or just simply glue the flowers on? What type of glue would be best?

    • Dave Yeti Post authorReply

      Hey Christy, sorry for late reply. I recommend wire. I’ve done the glue bit before. I’ve tried different glues. You could do gorilla. I just prefer the wire method for anything I adhere to a skull though. Best of luck.

  56. Nila Chambliss Reply


    • Dave Yeti Post authorReply

      Skull is most likely beyond fixing. Would move on and try again. Furnace won’t do anything to help it. Sorry 🙁

  57. Mimi Reply

    Hi Dave!
    Thanks so much for your articles , they are inspiring!
    We have recently moved to Mexico and I found a cow skull just walking trough the mountain few weeks ago. It wasn’t CLEAN but I managed to remove the insects, the bird nest and the dirt.
    Now, is not a perfect skull. Is missing the nasal bone as well as the horns and of course some teeth. honestly is pretty damaged but I take it as a practice skull for a better one I bought.
    After all the cleaning is now shinning white and I bought the spray primer already.
    But a the end of the nasal cavity I see some structures that I don’t know if I should remove. they look like very thin layers or bone maybe?
    The bought skull has everything but the teeth are missing and the horns aren’t polished. Is it easy to do? I don’t know which technique they used to clean it but the insides have some kind of white powder. Should I remove it?
    I know too many questions but I am a newbie and any help will be precious.
    Thanks, Mimi

    • Dave Yeti Post authorReply

      Hola Mimi!

      I am glad you have enjoyed the articles.

      It sounds like you have found the perfect practice skull. I’d leave the horns alone. And yes, you should remove the flakey bone if it pulls off easily with your finger. If you paint, the moisture can cause it to flake later on and then you’d have to touch up the skull with paint which makes it look weird.

      Not sure what the white powder is, but I’d just leave it alone and get to painting!


  58. Kim Reply

    Hi Dave, I have a cow skull with horns that I found in the mountains. It is clean of flesh and ready to paint. Do the horns need to be removed for special cleaning and then attached again? Thanks.

    • Dave Yeti Post authorReply

      If you’re talking about the shell exterior, yes remove before painting. You can sand down if you want them to be shiny. If not, then just put on after painting.

  59. Shawn Hansen Reply

    Dave, have you ever used stain on a cow skull? If so how did you prep etc? Can you then paint over the stain?

    • Dave Yeti Post authorReply

      Sorry – never tried stain. Interesting idea though!

  60. Karen Reply

    What kind of paint and brand of paint do you use for skulls/bones? Do you finish them with a coat of something such as polyurethane spray?

    • Dave Yeti Post authorReply

      Not picky on the paint. I use Tree House Studio clear acrylic high gloss coating to finish the skulls.

  61. Karen Reply

    Never mind, my mistake. Browsed over the article too quickly. Re-read more slowly and found the answer I was looking for.

  62. Aubrey Reply

    Hi Dave! I’ve decorated a bull skull but I’m not satisfied on how the horns have turned out. When I purchased it they were in their natural state I sanded, which helped a bit, but I would love for them to be shinny. Any suggestions on what I can put on them.. maybe some sort of a shinny primmer?


  63. Bob brown Reply

    Thanks for the info
    I’m planning on painting the knuckles of bear claws and making necklaces for my wife.
    Is an oil based paint better to use because I done want the paint to chip

  64. Linda Dhaseleer Reply

    Hi Dave – Thanks for this! My husband and I work on a large private wild-lands ranch… and find (and CLEAN) lots of skulls – mostly elk, bison, mule-deer and coyote. All these animals live wild and free – are not a part of meat production or trapping. No bullet holes in these skulls. We even have big elk racks. If anyone is looking for a resource for high-quality and well-cleaned FOUND skulls, my husband’s Etsy shop name is “Crazy Bones and Piney Cones”… and we can be contacted through Etsy message there. We gently simmer everything at least twice in soapy water, then at least twice in clean water – and scrub the bone before every new batch of water. Dave, we are thinking of doing some skull-painting seminars – would it be OK to reprint some of your article? Do you travel to give workshops? (like Santa Fe, NM maybe…?)

  65. Sarah Reply

    HI Dave , big fan of your work . I am from Missouri so painting skulls to painting stumps is normal around here . My question is , How do you get your horns to shine like that ?

  66. Christian Perry Reply

    how do you protect the teeth when spray painting? I’m doing a metallic silver base then gem stones. I also read somewhere to put clear nail polish on the teeth…. your thoughts?

    thanks so much!

  67. Christian Perry Reply

    How do you protect the teeth when spray painting the skull? I also read to paint the teeth with clear nail polish, do you advise that? Your blog is extremely informative I love it!

    • Dave Yeti Post authorReply

      Hey Christian, sorry for the late reply. I normally end up painting the teeth. I’ve seen very few paint jobs on the skulls that makes it worth the effort to not get paint on them. The few times I’ve not painted the teeth I have not used spray paint, did them by hand, and I just kept a wet paper towel on hand to quickly wipe up any mistakes.

  68. Sally Reply

    Hi Dave
    My brother-in-law has a deer head skull that he paid good money to have someone varnish it and mount it for him. Looks real nice, but now he wants me to paint it for him. I have a few i painted for myself, deer head just black with silver horns and teeth and one just the opposite, and one like Texas flag these were all in just bare skulls. My question is, can I paint over the varnish? I’m afraid i will mess up the mount. Thank you

    • Dave Yeti Post authorReply

      Hey Sally, sorry for the late reply. Blast that baby with some KILZ and you’re good to go.

  69. Rebecca rosen Reply

    I do mosaics and got an older bison skull
    There is no smell I’m aware of though I did see a small bug (singular ) it’s already bleached but sprayed with lysol to get any real germs I guess.
    I just don’t want to have it deteriorate from the inside out at any point would prefer the parts I don’t pain or out mosaics on to look natural . What product do you recommend I start with

    • Dave Yeti Post authorReply

      It won’t deteriorate. Only way that happens is if you leave it in the sun unprotected for over a year. If you want a natural look, just don’t paint it.

  70. Nancy hollingsworth Reply

    I have a problem! I’ve bought 2 buffalo skulls already cleaned professionally. I am ready to paint them and noticed on the horns as I was taking them off there molding. What do I do? There is also mold on the horns attached to skull

  71. Nancy Hollingsworth Reply

    I bought 2 buffalo skulls already treated and ready to paint. Had them for almost two years. I was getting ready to paint them and noticed mold on the horns as I was taking them off even on the horn attached to the skull. What do I do to get rid of the mold now

  72. Sherry Reply

    What is the best glue to connect rope on a cow skull I painted, where the horns meet the skull?

  73. Aubrey G Shipman Reply

    I like using Vinegar as an dor killer. Would soaking the skull in vinegar harm it, as it is acidic?

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