Project: Awful Offal

Ever in search of new, gruesome ways to decorate for Halloween, I stumbled upon this idea after pricing faux organs (no, really!) for a Halloween display I was putting together and decided to make my own. Another point of inspiration was the latest addition to my vintage craft book collection, Creating Art with Bread Dough. I played around with salt dough when I was a kid in the 70s (Didn't everyone? I think we made Christmas ornaments or something). The book includes instructions for the two different variations of salt dough/baker's clay- one that uses actual bread mixed with glue and the other follows a simple recipe which I'll share with you in a bit.

What you'll need:

  • all-purpose flour
  • salt
  • water
  • mixing bowl and spoon
  • rolling pin and modeling supplies
  • acrylic paint and brushes
  • varnish
  • visual aids
  • OPTIONAL: platter (I bought a great tarnished silver platter from the Salvation Army Thrift and left it tarnished to add to the overall spooky aesthetic.)

Step 1: I mixed 4 cups of the flour with 1 cup of salt and 1/2 cup of water in the mixing bowl (this mixture makes two large organs plus a bone or two). When the ingredients were well mixed and the dough started taking shape, I turned it out onto a working surface and kneaded the dough for 10 minutes. You'll know it's ready when it's satiny smooth and an indented fingerprint slowly pops back. If the dough is not kneaded enough, it won't hold its shape. If it's too dry, add a few drops of water at a time while kneeding, if it's too sticky, add a little more flour.


Step 2: Once I chose the specific organs I wanted to recreate, I did a little research. Since I wanted the organs to look realistic, I needed some idea of how big to make them and what the overall shape should be. If it's a large organ, I recommend creating a basic armature out of aluminum foil, rolling out the dough to about 1/2" thickness and covering the armature with the dough and then adding detail. If you make a large organ out of a solid piece of the dough, it'll take much longer than necessary for it to dry out in the oven.

To better define the organs, I used whatever modeling tools I had on hand (I used a knitting needle and an embroidery hook- most action they'll get all year!) I also created coils to make the veins and aorta on the heart. Some of the pieces were difficult to attach, so I dampened the dough with a tiny bit of water to help the pieces adhere.

I made as many organs as I needed to fill the platter I bought. Organs like the liver and kidneys are pretty easy to replicate and all the naturally occuring cracks in the salt dough actually help with the realism. However, organs like the heart and brain are a little more complex and needed some time finessing. It was a challenge, but it was totally worth the effort. (I imagined Dr. House looking over my shoulder and critiquing my work the whole time.)

Step 3: I preheated the oven to 300 degrees and placed the objects face up on a baking sheet covered with a Silpat silicone mat, (but parchment paper would also work). I baked the pieces for an hour (which seemed like enough for 1/2" thick dough) and turned the objects over halfway during the cooking process.

Step 4: When the objects were thouroughly hardened, I let them cool on a baking rack and started mixing my colors. For reddish organs like the heart, I started with a layer of blood-red. When that dried, I layered on darker reds and blues as needed. I added another layer of a deep blue for the veins. For the brain, I painted a deep red into the crevasses and then brushed a charming brainy gray/beige over the top, making sure to leave the channels of red showing.

Step 5: After the paint dried, I added a layer of varnish to completely seal the pieces. The last thing I want is an infestation of bugs in my display, no matter how appropriate that might seem.


Mmmm...now where's that bottle of Chianti? (Many thanks to Daniela for the clever tutorial title!)

Poopscape is written by Claire Chauvin, a craft-obsessed mother and photography teacher living in Houston, Texas. If you have a question or a compliment, have tried one of my projects and want to share with me, or just want to chat, please email me at claireATpoopscape.com.