The Best Art-Inspired Halloween Costumes (Ep. 139)

AOE Senior Editor Amanda Heyn joins Tim to talk about why art teachers have the best Halloween costumes out there! Listen as they discuss the best art-inspired costumes they’ve seen (and made), new ideas for costumes with your family or significant other, and possibilities for the procrastinators who haven’t yet thought of a costume idea!  Full episode transcript below.

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Tim: Welcome to Art Ed Radio, the podcast for art teachers. This show is produced by The Art of Education, and I’m your host, Tim Bogatz.

All right, everybody. It is time for us to do a fun and enjoyable episode. I feel like for the last month or so, we’ve been very serious and taken on some heavy topics, and interviewing some famous people. So we’re going to just kind of kick back for a little bit and have some fun. Halloween is coming soon, and I invited the person that I think loves Halloween more than anyone else I know, AOE’s senior editor, Amanda Heyn. Amanda, how are you today?

Amanda: I’m doing really well, thanks.

Tim: Good, I’m glad to hear it. Is it … Do you think it’s fair to say that you love Halloween more than anybody else in the world?

Amanda: I mean, oh, the world? I don’t know about the world.

Tim: I guess it’s-

Amanda: But I do, I do love it a lot, yes. I really love it.

Tim: Okay, cool. And I know you have lots and lots of great costumes that you want to tell us about. And we’re going to talk about all kinds of art-related costumes and have some fun with this, but let me start with this. What are you going to be this year?

Amanda: Okay. So we almost had a catastrophe, because now, my five-year-old is getting his own ideas about Halloween, and I can’t just have him blindly follow my ideas about Halloween. So he almost wanted to be a vampire, but I have a-

Tim: Oh, that’s painful. I’m sorry.

Amanda: It’s cliché, I know.

Tim: It is.

Amanda: Yeah. I was having, you know, ideas of how to make that cool. But anyway, I have convinced him to be Magic School Bus from the outer space book. Like, that’s our family theme. So I’m going to be Miss Frizzle, obviously, and then I’m making my loving husband be the school bus, the Magic School Bus. And then Max, my five-year-old, is going to be one of the kids, obviously. I’m shooting for Arnold and he has this space outfit from last year, like an astronaut costume. So, he’ll be wearing that. And then my littlest one who can’t protest yet is gonna be Liz and Lizard.

Tim: Okay.

Amanda: So, I’m excited, yeah.

Tim: Now, do you guys always do like a full family costume? Like is this something that is every year? An annual thing for you?

Amanda: Yes. Yes. I don’t think it’s the reason I had kids, but um …. It’s been pretty exciting. And the first year was pretty low key. Like, our first was a very tricky little guy as a baby. So, we were lumberjacks and then he was a tiny little tree. And the dirty secret here is that my husband is actually the sewer. Like, I cannot sew. I’m not precise. Give me a glue gun and I’ll go to town. But he has sewed several costume outfits for our kids over the years. So, shout out to Toby right there.

Tim: That’s awesome. Well, I suppose I should share what I’m gonna be this year too.

Amanda: Yes. What are you gonna be?

Tim: Well. This is one that we’ve recapped from the past. We’ve done it before. Or something similar before. But I’m gonna go as Bob Ross and then my wife is going to be a Bob Ross painting, which I’m pretty excited about. We’ve done it previously where I was Bob Ross and she was a happy tree, which is also pretty spectacular.

Amanda: Also great, yes.

Tim: That’s a great couples costume. In the last couple years we’ve done, you know, like decent couples costumes but just gotten them from the store or whatever. Like, I was He-Man last year and she was Skeletor. Which was pretty cool, I mean that’s a good 1980s throwback right there. And the year before, I was Canadian Mountie and she went as the Canadian flag, which was also pretty good.

Amanda: Are you-

Tim: Am I what?

Amanda: You guys aren’t Canadian.

Tim: No. But I’m fascinated by all things Canadian and so.

Amanda: Interesting. I didn’t know this about you, okay.

Tim: I know. I feel like that could be a whole nother discussion. I grew up playing hockey and I think it just came from there. But yeah. So, this year we’re gonna go. I’m Bob Ross, she’s gonna be a Bob Ross painting. And so, the big debate is the fake beard that we got, just doesn’t look that good. And so I have to decide whether I want to grow an actual beard and then it has to match the wig.

Amanda: Oh, well you have time. That’s an easy thing.

Tim: I do, I do, yeah. I can get a good beard going in a couple weeks. So, we should be fine. But yeah so anyway. Now that I’ve given you a couple of my greatest hits from the past, what else have you done that you’re really proud of or you think that needs to be talked about?

Amanda: So, when I started thinking about being on this episode I started thinking back to my costumes and I realized it started as a child. Like, my friend and I went as Salt and Pepper. Not Salt and Peppa. But literally salt and pepper shakers, right?

Tim: I feel like both of those ideas would be great.

Amanda: Both would be great.

Tim: But go ahead.

Amanda: So, I was doing this as a child. I went as a crayon one year and made the costume. And then in high school I actually … I mean, my whole life really is based on Halloween because my husband and I met in high school but I fell in love with him when he sewed a flip up brim hat to go with his Navy dress blues of his dad’s that he was wearing for Halloween. And I was like, “This is the man. He just sewed this hat out of paper.” Like, on Halloween.

Anyone but okay. Best hits. The thing that really started off my adult costuming was Power Rangers. It was really fun. I went to college at UW Madison. Which if you don’t know is a huge Halloween town. There is an insane Halloween bash that happens every year. Luckily we were at the tail end of the rioting our first year. So, I didn’t experience any of that and I also like, I just walked up and down, you know, State street one time and back to the safety of my house. But we actually got asked for help a lot that night. Like, “Power Rangers I lost my phone! I can’t find my friends!” We were like, “To the rescue!” So, that was fun.

And then we did Candy Land. I was Princess Lolly and Toby was Mr. Mint and that was the year my mom was like, “He must really love you.” I mean, like, his costume was made of geriatric women’s clothing from the thrift store. But oh, it looked so good.

Tim: Love it.

Amanda: And then as a family, probably my favorite is my husband and I were Wild Things and Max was Max from Where the Wild Things Are.

Tim: Oh, that’s good.

Amanda: Yeah. That landed me on my favorite blog, Mommy Shorts. And we got some random award, like, “Needs to open an etsy shop” or something. And that was the crowning highlight of my life. And then more recently with our littlest Sam, we were a family of robots. And I got some like light-up LED earrings. I think you’re supposed to like wear them to raves or something. But I just put them all over our costumes and that was pretty fun.

Tim: Nice. That sounds like a good time. I like all of those ideas. Those are really good. So, I’m glad I had you on to share all these.

But I do want to kind of talk about art specific costumes. So, I’ll ask you this. If there is an artist that you can think of, our a few artists, that you think people could dress up as for Halloween. Like in a couple weeks. If you don’t have a costume idea, you’re going solo, which artist can you go as?

Amanda: Okay. So, I’m gonna go kind of quick through this list ’cause I have a lot of ideas.

Tim: Okay.

Amanda: So, Frida, obviously. There’s actually a tutorial we can link in the show notes online for an article I did for AOE many years ago. There’s even a hair tutorial with like photos of what to do.

Tim: I don’t think I’ve seen this article. Oh man, that’s gotta be like deep in the AOE archives.

Amanda: It’s really deep in the archives. But it’s easy. Flowy top. Flowy skirt. Throw your hair. Get some fake flowers. Stick ’em in. Obviously you need a good eyebrow pencil to connect your, join your brows.

Tim: How do you feel about adding the mustache along with it?

Amanda: You know, I didn’t. I didn’t. I wasn’t fully committed maybe. But I did not. But you could also do like a stuffed monkey or a stuffed parrot your shoulder. I think would be fun.

Tim: Oh, that’s a great idea yeah. I like that.

Amanda: You know, take it a step further ’cause you’re the art teacher. Dali would be really fun. You really only need like a black suit and tie. Obviously, you need a fake mustache. Then you could maybe do like a drapey clock over your shoulder. Like make one out of felt or something. Just to take it up a notch.

Andy Warhol’s really fun. You just a bad gray wig. Black turtleneck. Some ’80s glasses from the thrift store. Maybe bust our your Campbell’s soup socks if you have those, I think would be really fun.

Kusama. I’ve been dying to go as her. You know, they sell those stretchy suits on Amazon. You could just one and like polka dot it up. Red wig. And then I thought it would be really fun to get those stickers that you get for garage sales and just like hand them out to people and tell them to stick them to stuff. Only if it wouldn’t be a problem. Like, don’t do that at a stranger’s house or something. But you know you could create your own art installation on the spot, just like she does. So, I think that would be pretty fun.

And then you could go as Pollock. You could like splatter your jeans. Fake cigarette. Grumpy demeanor would be important there. Again, if you want to act this out, you maybe could on the sidewalk. But that’s getting kind of maybe overly committed to your costume.

Tim: Alright, those are good. I really like all of those. The other thing I wanted to ask you about too. Like, ’cause sometimes people, you know, depending on the party that you’re going to or where you’re hanging, people don’t necessarily know the artist. Like, everybody knows Frida, everybody know Dali. But you know maybe going down that list not quite as much. But do you have any ideas, like specific paintings? Like art inspired paintings that you think you could dress up as?

Amanda: Yes. Yeah. And that’s a really good point. You have to think about your audience, right. And I have a couple ideas if you’re going to art teacher crowds later on we can talk about. But yeah, you need to be really recognizable or you’re just gonna look like a weirdo. It’s interesting because I’ve had costumes like Power Rangers, have really positive responses. And then like my husband and I also went as Dexter and a Dexter victim if you’ve ever seen that show. But like too soon. It was like season one and like nobody understood what we were. So yes, definitely try to pick something that kind of transcends the art world.

Okay. So, obviously you can do the Mona Lisa. But there have been recently some really cool makeup tutorials. Like, just by people on the internet who have made themselves look like the Mona Lisa. So, I thought that could be a fun art teacher twist. Like, don’t just dress up as her but like try to sculpt your face using makeup into, I think would be kind of cool.

Obviously, Girl with a Pearl Earring is great. Fairly simple. You need like a head wrap and some, you know, like a shawl. Obviously, you need a pearl erring. Thrift stores are really good for like big, ’80s fake pearl jewelry. So, you could probably pick something up there.

Van Gogh’s self-portrait with bandaged ear obviously would be great. Again, people know Van Gogh who aren’t, you know, in the art world. But again, there have been some things in recent years where people actually paint in Van Gogh’s style on their face. So, that could be pretty cool. Or if you have time, paint your blazer.

And then you also have to decide if you want to include a frame or not. Like I’ve seen some painting costumes where there’s actually a frame that’s kind of supported in some way. Which is cool, but I don’t know. Comfort is a big thing for me.

Tim: Yeah, I don’t know if you want to carry that around all night.

Amanda: No. I mean, I wouldn’t. But maybe if that’s your thing, go for it. But yeah, I’m a fan of being able to move in my costume. So, user’s choice there. Whatever you want to do.

Tim: Yeah.

Amanda: And then if you have people who know a little bit more about art you could maybe get away with like, Magritte’s Son of Man. With the apple in front of your face. Although again, if we’re talking about comfort you don’t really want to be blind. But I feel like you could make it flip up somehow, you know, art teachers are creative.

Picasso’s the old guitarist or Munch The Scream would be really good. And then, of course, we’ve all seen the pop art which is just like some people just do it so well. And again, YouTube is your friend here. Go check out these tutorials of like, you could make yourself into Crying Girl or Oh Alright. Any of those where there’s like a bright wig and then like you cover yourself in dots would be really cool.

And if you’re gonna go that route, I might suggest investing in some actual stage makeup ’cause you don’t want your face to just turn into like a mess of blobs rather than dots. Yeah.

So … Oh, go ahead.

Tim: I was just gonna say I think all of those are really good ideas. I actually wanted to kind of move on … Just ’cause we’re gonna spend all day sharing ideas. I want to talk about the couple costumes. I talked about Bob Ross and the happy tree, or Bob Ross and the painting. I think American Gothic is probably the other one that’s not too hard to put together as long as you can find a pitchfork and some old clothes. But what do you think about paintings or just art related things that could work for a couples’ costume or like if you’re gonna go with your significant other.

Amanda: Yeah. So, I think American Gothic is great. Please remember it might not be a husband and wife. It’s probably a father-daughter. So like, just … I don’t know. Just, people should know that I feel like. Just remember.

Tim: That’s funny. 

Amanda: I think if you are pregnant, I really want someone to go as the Arnolfini portrait.

Tim: Oh God, that’s great.

Amanda: I mean, that is an advanced option my goodness if someone could pull that off that would be amazing. The Kiss I think would be great. Like super fun to create that outfit. Again, like a lot of work but you know you can start with a base. Like some sort of thing you find at the thrift store or on Amazon. There’s a lot of cheap one colored clothing that you can use as a base for this. I thought Gorilla Girls would be a fun couples costume or trio costume. Or the two Fridas would be awesome, like that would be …

Tim: Oh yeah. ‘Cause the only thing better than going as Frida is going as the two Fridas.

Amanda: Right, I know, right? And then like you said. Bob Ross, I think you could turn that into a whole family costume. You could do Bob Ross and then like someone could be a happy little tree, someone could be a majestic mountain, someone could be a babbling brook. I’m sure most of you have seen that Chahooley costume where the little kid is the sculpture.

Tim: Yes.

Amanda: Oh, I love it. I have to watch it every time it pops up somewhere. And then I also think it would be really fun to do like a group of old masters or a group of some weird mix of old masters Ninja Turtle mashup. I feel like there’s a sparkle of an idea there.

Tim: Yeah. Have you ever seen that illustration, like the old masters drawn in pencil but then they have the colored masks like the Ninja Turtles?

Amanda: Yes.

Tim: I feel like there’s something there.

Amanda: Yeah, me too. I haven’t explored it to its full potential but I agree.

Tim: Okay. So, alright cool. Let me ask you this though. I’ve been in this situation before. I know it’s foreign for you to procrastinate on things. But a lot of art teachers like to wait till the last minute. So, let’s say you’re … Got a Halloween costume that you need immediately. Or like, “Oh crap, a party is tomorrow.” Do you have any ideas for simple last-minute costumes?

Amanda: Yes. Okay. You should go as Banksy. All you need is a hoodie and a can of spray paint. And then you just keep saying you’re not Banksy. Just keep denying.

Tim: Okay.

Amanda: Or you could be Cristo. You could be a wrapped monument. You just need a sheet. Again, that would mean like you need to be with art people.

Tim: Right.

Amanda: You could write, “This is not my Halloween costume” in French and you could as like This is Not A Pipe by Migrette, you know?

Tim: All good ideas.

Amanda: Let’s see. You could … This is maybe, I don’t know. I did see a toilet costume on Amazon so you could maybe be Duchamp’s The Fountain ’cause there’s two shipping. Like you need to be 48 hours out. But I don’t know. It depends on your crowd. That might not work. I keep wanting to make … All the while I was thinking about this I wanna make that shark in formaldehyde a costume. You know, by Damien Hirst. But I just like, I can’t do it.

Tim: That’s a terrible idea. I don’t like that all.

Amanda: I know but oh gosh I think it would be fun.

Tim: Hey, don’t you think though … Like, could you pull off a Jackson Pollock in like an afternoon?

Amanda: You could. Yes.

Tim: Like put some paint on your pants.

Amanda: Yes. You totally could pull off a Jackson Pollock.

Tim: Black t-shirt, cigarette.

Amanda: Yep. Or like a Georgie O’Keefe if … Well, I guess you would need access to a skull of some kind. I don’t know. You know, she dresses pretty like … Long shirt, blazer, low bun. If you had a print maybe you could tack to your back or carry around that might work.

Amanda: If you’re with an art crowd you could go as … Oh, gosh I never say her name right. Marina Abramovic?

Tim: Oh Abramovic, yeah.

Amanda: Yes. Abramovic, thank you. Okay. Like The Artist Is Present, you could just have a turtleneck and a long skirt and just like stare at people super creepily all night. ‘Cause that would be scary and cool.

Tim: Yeah. I don’t know.

Amanda: It’d be like performance art. If you’re bold. I would love someone to do that and report back if they still have any friends at the end of the party.

Tim: Probably a good qualifier there. If people still talk to you after that.

Amanda: Yeah, yeah.

Tim: Okay. So, one last thing I want to ask you about. Just especially if you are somebody who has kids or doing these crazy family costumes that you put so much time into. How do you make sure that all that time you spend is gonna be worth it? Like, you’re not going to these fun parties anymore, you’re not walking up and down State street in Madison. Or at least I hope not. How do you make sure that all of this time is well spent and that people are gonna see what you do?

Amanda: Yeah, that’s a really good question. Because yeah, if you’re my kid you go outside for like 20 minutes and then you’re too cold because it’s Wisconsin. So first of all, if you’re in a cold climate sweatsuits are your friend as a base layer. ‘Cause that’s gonna let you stay out longer. But look … I would advise a Google search. There are so many things we’ve been to, especially with our kids, like baby’s first Halloween at the children’s museum or a family get together at like a family resource center. Downtown actually does, here in Madison, have a family day, which is not at 2:00 in the morning, where you can go trick or treating at different businesses. Our zoo has an event where you can wear your costume to the zoo and there’s like a contest. Our neighborhood actually has an event where you can wear your costume. So, you might want to check into that. Trivia places often have them. Obviously you could throw your own party. I always keep my costume on for handing out candy after we get back. And then finally I think like, share it on social media. Get some love that way.

And then one more idea is to reuse your costume. Like you said you have gone as Bob Ross before. Like, I think that’s totally fine. I’ve reused the Candy Land costume. We reused the robot costumes and just added another robot when we had another child. And like Max is wearing … Last year Toby and I were outer space, Sam was an alien, and Max was an astronaut. Well, we’re reusing Max’s costume from last year and incorporating it into this year.

So, mix and match and yeah. You do want to make sure it’s worth your time to be crafting into the wee hours of the morning, so.

Tim: Nice. Cool. Alright, well I think we will end it there. That is some awesome advice and been a lot of fun just kind of chatting with you about all this. So, Amanda thank you so much for coming on. I really appreciate it.

Amanda: Yeah, thanks for having me. Happy Halloween everyone!

Tim: I hope you had as much fun listening to that conversation as we did recording it. You know, I think it’s good to kick back every once in a while and just kinda take on a topic that’s a little less serious and a little bit more fun. So, I hope this fit the bill.

Also, Amanda and I were talking off mic about how enjoyable it would be to see everyone’s Halloween costumes. I mean, we have art teachers all over the country and all over the world who are listening to this and it would be amazing to see the creativity and the costumes that everyone is able to put together.

So, keep an eye on AOE’s social media accounts. Instagram in particular. And we’ll see if we can’t put something together where we can all share the awesome things that we’re gonna be doing on Halloween. But until then, go use that creativity and those art making skills that you have to put together some incredible costumes over the next couple weeks and make sure you share them with us. Thank you for listening.

Art Ed Radio is produced by The Art of Education with audio engineering from Michael Crocker. Next week, I think it’s gonna be a good one. Cindy Ingrim from the art class curator will be on the show. And we actually decided to trade episodes. I will be on her podcast next week as well. So, if you need to hear us nerd out about art history in multiple conversations next week is your week. We’ll talk to you then.

Magazine articles and podcasts are opinions of professional education contributors and do not necessarily represent the position of the Art of Education University (AOEU) or its academic offerings. Contributors use terms in the way they are most often talked about in the scope of their educational experiences.