Swamp Zombie tutorial

Swamp Zombie

My Halloween creation of Swamp Zombie, a ghastly girl who dug her way out of her shallow, marshy grave in a cypress swamp just outside of New Orleans to look for her murderous lover. Bugs and creepy crawly things wiggle out of her skin and moldy, mossy hair. She oozes rot and decay while plotting vengeance in finding her betraying beau to settle the score. Hell hath no fury like a zombie woman scorned!

Swamp Zombie makeup

Swamp Zombie

When I created Swamp Zombie, I had not started to work with professional face paint yet – it would be years before I did. I’m not recommending this but what I did was use acrylic craft paint. That was before I knew that you shouldn’t use acrylics on your skin. Luckily, I didn’t have any adverse effects from the paint being on for hours. I have to say, it worked perfectly and it kinda just peeled close up showing the forms made from cottonoff after laying a warm wet washcloth on my face for a short time and lightly scrubbed in the shower.

First, I wanted to exaggerate my brow and make lumps on my forehead, but having no experience with face painting, sculpting, molding or even application of special effects makeup I had no idea how to do it so I just winged it and made it up as I went along. This was back in the 1990’s and there was no internet, no Youtube or no Google to look things up like now. Plus, I had not thought to do any research ahead of time on monster makeup until I started trying to put together something that night and thought uh oh.


My first thought was to use cotton to make the forms for under the makeup. I dampened my skin and placed the rolled out cotton on my forehead where I wanted the raised areas but it kept falling off. I didn’t know there was glue for your skin you could buy. I have since learned there are a multitude of kits and tricks to get the look you want. If I remember correctly, I ended up wetting down the cotton completely to try to make it stick and my hands had paint on them, I think that little bit of paint was enough adhesive to keep a little bit on. I quickly covered what was sticking up with the paint and I could feel it tightening and hardening as it dried. I didn’t know it then, but acrylic does act like adhesive.

Close up of makeupI poured out onto a plate little mounds of the color paint I thought I would want, dark greens, black, browns and some yellow. I used a dampened natural sea sponge that I had gotten at the craft store in a package of about 5 or so and they were all small. I dabbed on the paint and dipped it in to a few different colors to get that rotting mottled look. To get all the crusty bits you see on my face, I used wet toilet paper! It stuck easier than the cotton. I just kept dabbing on paint until I was happy with the way it looked. I covered all my skin on my neck and chest that would be showing.

crazy hair with zombie face





For my hair, I brushed out my naturally curly hair which gives me a fro and then I use colored hair spray paint (black and a little white) to color it all up and look down right scary. I added bits of real Spanish moss I had (found in silk flower section at craft store) here and there and pinned in some rubber roaches and other rubbery bugs I found in the kids toy section.

For my costume, I found a dark green dress at my local Goodwill store and used a rung out wet rag dipped in the same paints I used on my face and drug the rag down all over the dress to look like I had just dug out of my dirty grave. I also attached some more rubber bugs like a big ant, roaches and a big fly to the dress. I think it turned out fabulous and everyone thought I was scary as hell. Use your imagination! It is soooo much better than buying a store bought costume.

Now that I actually do a bit of face painting off and on, I have discovered the wonders of professional face paint, I recommend it hands down. It is non-toxic, safe plus feels smooth and light, and it doesn’t crack. The cracking in this instance turned out to be a happy accident for my Swamp Zombie look. You apply the professional cake makeup with a wet brush or sponge (dab don’t rub). They wash off easily with almost just water. I have found some colors stain a bit more though, like teal. You’ll need to use soap and be a little rougher with your washcloth to get it off or you’ll look like you have a ghastly cast to you. Good for the zombie look, ha ha.

I like TAG brand, Kryolan, Wolfe and Paradise. I’ve also picked up Snazaroo and Tulip from Michaels Craft store and while not as respected as the others, I like it and it’s still a whole lot better than the grease makeup. It seems certain colors are superior in each brand. (i.e. I like the Wolfe white, but TAG has great neon rainbow split cake which are a bunch of colors in the same well and you run your damp sponge down them all to get a rainbow effect.)

Click on photo to enlarge.

Swamp Zombie hair &  face makeup tuturial

Well that’s it! These posts take quite a while to create so I can’t wait to hear what you think. Please leave me comments and I’d be thrilled if you liked my post and wanted to share it. Just link back to me please ♠ ☣

See all my Costume Creations here.

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If you’re new to my blog and website have a look at my ‘About’ page in the menu at the top. I’m an artist – a painter mostly. I paint a variety of subjects including ravens and crows as well as anything having to do with nature. I have a newsletter, too! Sign up here for it.

paintings by New Harmony, Indiana artist Jaime Haney

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