This post is all about how to prepare a cow skull for painting and remove odor from the hard to reach cranial cavity. If you’re a beginner and just starting out, my how to paint a cow skull post may be better to start off with!
A few summers back I stumbled across a rancher that was trying to get rid of two calf skulls that were in horrible shape. And by horrible I mean eye arches that were coming apart at least half an inch, nasal bones that were completely missing and almost no teeth. $5 later, both skulls were mine and labeled as practice dummies.
The real problem I discovered later on (after 3 hours in Texas heat) was the smell. It was absolutely nauseating and putrid. Even after airing them out for eight months, they were still not acceptable to be hung indoors.
So what to do? You can find many articles online about the best way to get rid of the smell in a skull. Many of these talk about boiling, dermestid beetles, etc. These methods are normally very messy and very involved. For the majority of us, we just want to paint a skull – not become experts in taxidermy. My solution is simple; combat the skull odor with paint.
Step by Step Instructions On How to Prepare Your Cow Skull for Painting and Remove Odor:
- Primer – I prefer to find an all-purpose outdoor primer, such as Glidden’s. Buying an all-purpose outdoor primer will help both the paint and the skull deal with fluctuations in heat and humidity. I just buy the gallon of Glidden’s white outdoor primer which will run you about $10. If you know you will keep the skull indoors you can opt for the indoor primer.
- Paint Trays – You will also want to buy a paint tray. I like to purchase several of the $2 metal ones.
- Latex Gloves – This can get messy and you will want to make sure your hands are covered. If you’re especially accident prone, be sure to wear some old clothes you don’t mind ruining.
- Paint Stir Sticks – I cannot stress the importance of stirring your primer enough. If you purchase primer and put it off your project for a while,
1. First you will need to clean your skull. I like to grab a paper towel, dampen it with water and wipe down the skull to remove any dust or cobwebs. Do not drench the skull in water unless you’re planning on it drying for 7 or more days. If you just go with a damp paper towel, then put the skull in the sun for a few hours to help dry out any remaining moisture. The goal is to remove the most visible of dust from both the inside and outside cavities.
2. Next you will want to go ahead and shake your unopened primer to ensure that it’s properly mixed. Put on your latex gloves and open the primer.
3. Now time for the fun part; painting the skull. We are going to tackle this with each section of the skull to get the initial base layer coat applied. We’ll start with the snout, progress to the palate / roof of the mouth and then finish with the crown. Honestly, a second pair of hands really helps with this part of the project, but I am stubborn and normally do it by myself. I’ve found that a brick works as a sufficient prop when balancing the skull and the gallon of primer.
- Take the skull and balance it on the snout, revealing the opening to the cranial cavity at the back of the head. From here, you will want to slowly start to pour the primer inside. I recommend doing it so slow that only a drizzle is coming from the can. This will allow you to have greater control over filling in the holes inside. It is critical that you’re filling these holes, as they contain a majority of the remaining rotting tissue that ends up causing the foul odors. Once you’ve poured a decent amount in, feel free to take the skull and rotate it so that it helps coat the entire inside. Remember to consider all angles, as you will not want any bone showing. When you finish the back of the skull, turn it the other way and pour it in from the nose.
- Once you feel that you’ve gotten a majority of the inner skull covered, you will want to turn it over so the roof of the mouth is showing. Your paint tray should have filled up with some excess primer by this point which allows for you to recycle some of it. Just take a handful and start smearing it on. After you do that, finish it off with another pouring of primer. If your skull is missing teeth, be sure to get those filled.
- After your skull is properly covered in the areas mentioned above, you will want to turn it so that it’s resting on its teeth. Pour a generous coat on the crown. Gravity should take care of smoothing out the primer and little effort will be required on your part. Shift the skull so it’s on the upper part of the paint tray and out of the excess primer. It’s okay if there is a little underneath it. After a few minutes a mass of air bubbles will most likely appear, these will go away and your coat will dry solid.
4. Let it dry. If you know for a fact that you covered the skull in its entirety, then give it 24 hours to try before you start painting. Avoid humidity and heat. If you have both of those like we do in Texas, bring it inside. I highly recommend a second coat. Remember, we’re trying to get rid of odor. The inner skull is a bit of trick and will probably need you to pour a bit more primer into it to ensure you cover all of the crevices. This should not effect the rest of your base coat.
5. And now you should be all set to paint! Use acrylic, spray paint or even PrismaColor paint pens.
As always, if you have any questions or encounter a crazy situation just leave a comment below and I will try to respond to you within 24 hours or less!