DIY Mannequin Tutorial – How To Make A Display Bust For Jewelry Photography
Unless you have a nice live model available at all times, there must be times you wish you had a mannequin or display bust to use in your product pictures or to model a piece while working and developing new designs.
A picture of a pendant in hand provides a size reference that’s good enough, however many necklaces beg for a human form to put them on. The same is true for lariats or even scarves. Displaying them on a model or a life size human body form gives a better idea for the customer what to expect, how that bunch of charms looks when hanging freely or how long the necklace really is.
I’m lazy. So I’ve tried to look for a ready made suitable mannequin all over the internet first. There are quite a few of those around, but they all share the same problem(s) – ugly, expensive, not life size, expensive shipping.. Solution – make your own. At least you’ll know who’s to blame it turns out ugly
In this tutorial I share step by step pictures of how my clone was made and you’ll also find my notes, tips and tricks that (as far as I know) are not available elsewhere.
Here’s a full list of supplies needed to make your own mannequin:
- Model human and a helper human (for step 1)
- Silver duct tape, good quality one would help
- T-shirt to destroy
- Sharp scissors (can be ruined in the process)
- Plastic wrap
- Stuffing materials – I used paper and fabric
- A piece of sturdy cardboard
- Paper masking tape
- PVA type glue for paper
- Flat shallow plastic containers for glue and paint (can use the same one after washing)
- Paper strips (I use regular white printer paper but you can get creative!)
- Acrylic paint
- Something to protect the surface you’ll be working on
First you need to make a duct tape shell – below is the video that shows how to do it properly. Watch the video together with your helper human
Note that if you’re making mannequin to photograph necklaces or scarves, you’ll need a neck too. That’s where you use the plastic wrap – place it around the model’s neck making sure you cover all skin that’s not protected by the T-shirt.
Plan ahead. Think what your mannequin will be used for. I needed just the bust to photograph necklaces – most of them are short or medium length, so I was wrapped only down my waist. If you are planning to photograph long necklaces, lariats or scarves you probably need the taller mannequin and so have to wrap down at least to the hip line (this would require longer T-shirt and more tape too).
I bought the cheapest duct tape, but I suggest you go for the quality one if you can afford it. Cheap tape was difficult to work with, because it didn’t want to stick well on the curves and was hard to shape as it lacks elasticity.
I think I had a 50 meter roll and used about half of it to mummify myself (I’m usually size 10 in UK, probably size 6 in US, and 36/38 in most of the Europe.)
Unless you (or your model) are really flat, I suggest using shorter strips of duct tape to model the breast area – this will help keep the natural shape. Wearing a padded bra helps a lot! Without it you risk ending up with a weird shaped mannequin. However when it’s time for cutting the shell, make your partner
double triple check that the scissors are not catching the bra strip on the back!! (You guessed it right, my favorite bra was almost cut off.. men…hrrrr..)
The cutting part – girls in the video do a straight cut, but other sources recommend cutting in a zig-zag as it will be easier to match and join the sides later.
Second part is stuffing your body form – it’s entirely your choice what to use for it. Using newspapers would result in a lighter mannequin, using fabric will make it heavier. I used both simply because I did not have enough newspapers.
I think there are some benefits to making your mannequin heavier – you could use it at the open air craft show and not worry about it falling over from the wind.
Here’s how my duct tape body cast looked before stuffing. At this step you want to inspect all seams and reinforce the shape – add some more tape strips in places that are likely to spread apart when stuffing.
Also now is the time to reinforce and tidy up the neck or build it a bit higher if needed.
If using both fabric and paper to stuff your mannequin, remember that you have to pay attention to the even distribution of these materials, or it may become unstable and prone to falling on the heavier side.
It’s a good idea to check how your mannequin behaves when free standing and adjust the stuffing accordingly if it tends to lean to one side.
Now this is the trick that I had to “invent” myself as I haven’t seen a single tutorial use it.
When I was almost finished with stuffing, I noticed that the chest area above the bust line is starting to look bulged (too full). It may not matter when making a dress form, but my mannequin will have to model jewelry, so that’s very important that the necklace lays flat on the chest and doesn’t roll.
What I did to troubleshoot the problem was cut a piece of cardboard and slip it inside through the “arm” hole. You may want to do this earlier and to adjust/trim the cardboard shape too – mine was a bit too big and the line was showing through but I hoped to mask it later.
(It’s not shown in pictures, but I did cut out a neck line too on that cardboard.)
This problem could probably be solved by more careful stuffing, but I think my method is more straightforward and foolproof. And faster.
After the mannequin was fully stuffed I covered it with masking tape. It helped to smooth the surface, neatly close the holes and prepare the surface for papier mache. I figured that it would be easier to stick paper on paper than trying to glue paper on the waterproof duct tape surface.
No pictures of the process here, but it’s pretty straightforward. You just need to cut and attach two pieces of cardboard – one to cover the neck hole and one for the bottom.
Note that if you are planning to use your mannequin outdoors, it’s a good idea to make it fully waterproof by covering the cardboard hole covers with duct tape first. That’s something I missed before it was too late to go back..
Now it’s time to add a layer of papier mache. I guess you could skip this and go straight to painting if you prefer, but adding a layer or two of paper really helps to smooth the surface and add some nice texture.
In a flat plastic container mix glue with water. I think I went with two parts glue to one part of water (1:1 was way too runny). Glue mix needs to be quite runny but still sticky enough. If your pieces of paper try to slide off, the mix is likely too thin and you need to add more glue.
I used the plain white printer paper which was manually and randomly torn to pieces. You can choose to cut yours in a more uniform pieces or get creative and use craft paper, maps, sketches, etc. I’ve seen a lovely mannequin finished with torn architect plans.
The process is simple – submerge a strip of paper in the glue, drag it over the edge of the container to remove extra glue paste, and slap it on your mannequin. Rinse and repeat.
Arrange the pieces of paper so that they overlap each other.
One layer will probably be not enough – the masking tape still shows through and the surface is quite uneven.
When adding the last layers of papier mache, you want the mannequin to stand where it will be left to dry, so the middle of the room is probably not the best idea. You may have noticed that I started on the floor and later relocated.
As a finishing touch for this step I poured the remainder of the glue paste on the mannequin and did some artistic smudging all over Messy but fun.
Now leave it to dry. Overnight should be ok.
I must admit this “papier mache” was the scariest part for me, as I never did anything similar. I think I even missed the papier mache classes at school. And.. I probably have a glue and paper crafts phobia too..
But it was a great fun
And finally – painting. Although you may want to leave it as is – below are a couple of pictures before painting.
Actually, I quite like the texture of the glued paper strips as a background for close up photos. This could be a base for a flat table top background for photos too, especially if painted with some pastel colors.
I did not photograph the process of painting – there’s not much to show or see when you apply white paint over white paper.
I used off white (ivory) acrylic paint diluted with water. There was a moment of paranoia when I thought I’ve ruined my mannequin – when the thing got wet from the paint, I noticed the pieces of paper starting to form tiny bubbles underneath. Not a pretty sight and very worrying!! Theoretically a layer of varnish should prevent that. I did try to use craft varnish in one area, but it didn’t seem to help with bubbles much, maybe I was doing something wrong. Anyway – the bubbles disappeared once the mannequin has dried.
Another problem I’ve encountered with painting – tiny surface cracks while the paint was drying. Now I’m not sure about this, but since they appeared on the side facing the window, I presume it could have been from drying too fast in direct sunlight. Troubleshooting – just painter over them again. Solved.
So that’s it. Picture above shows the close up of the painted surface after it’s dried completely. I’d probably like a more prominent random brush strokes, but I’m quite happy with it as is I’m not doing close ups on it anyway.
When choosing paint for your DIY mannequin I suggest you stick with the off-white hues – ivory, cream or very pale pastels. Stark white will be difficult to work with later, and dark or strongly saturated colors are less versatile.
Note: photo links below lead to my shop pages describing the pieces in the pics.
It took me several days to finish, but if planned properly it could easily be a project for one weekend. One day for mummifying and cloning the model, stuffing and applying the papier mache, drying overnight, and painting/decorating the following day.
Honestly – when I started making this, I could hardly imagine what I’d get. Probably all duct tape mannequin tutorials I’ve found were talking about custom dress forms, not a bust for jewelry photography. And I haven’t seen any covered with papier mache, so had to find a way to join the two – masking tape seems to be the answer. It sticks well to the duct tape and provides a good surface for gluing.
Dress forms are typically covered with fabric, but it’s not the best surface to use for jewelry photography, especially if you also want to use your mannequin for close up shots.
If you decide to cover your mannequin with patterned paper and leave it unpainted, make sure the patterns/writings are subtle and quite neutral – otherwise they’ll compete with the jewelry you are trying to display and be too distracting.
Now I only wish my clone had some ears to help me display earrings too, especially when photographing a jewelry set..
Have any questions, notes or tips? Post in the comments below!
I’ll also be super excited to see the mannequins you built yourself, so don’t be shy – post a link!