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The Bleeding Portrait
by Christopher Silvia, Member

One of my favorite movies is The Ghost and Mr. Chicken, starring the ever-wacky Don Knotts. And my favorite scene is the look of horror on Don's face when he enters the stairway to see the bleeding portrait of late Mrs. Simmons, stabbed in the neck with the gardener's sheers. I really wanted to recreate this bleeding portrait for my Home Haunt, Lamar Manor, and the effect that I achieved is an easy project, yet very startling to view. At first glance, The Bleeding Portrait appears to be a normal painting of a Victorian woman, then her beautiful neck is mysteriously slashed and blood begins to gush from the wound.

Materials List

  • Wood saw
  • X-acto knife
  • Elmers wood glue
  • 1 - tube of 5 minute two-part epoxy
  • 3M spray glue
  • Small fountain pump
  • 24" flexible polyurethane hose
  • Plastic tray 3" by 3" by 8"
  • Plastic blister packaging (See instructions)
  • 1/4" plywood scrap 1.5" by 26"
  • 1" by 1/2" by 96" square molding
  • 1/4" foam core 21" by 26"
  • 2 cedar shingles, or similar thin wood
  • 20lb printer paper
  • Assortment of acrylic paints
  • Assorted paint brushes
  • Semi-gloss varnish
  • Flat black latex paint
  • Black shoe polish
  • Gold and Copper spray paint
  • 2 small screw eyes
  • 1' picture hanging wire
  • 1.5 cup water
  • Red food coloring
  • Blue food coloring
  • Non-dairy creamer


The first step is to find an appropriate image for the project. I scanned an image from an art book into the computer and did a little retouching using Adobe Photoshop. One thing to think about when searching for an image is to find one that can easily conceal the gash. A high collar or necklace works well for this. Using a color printer, print the picture by tiling it (printing different sections on multiple sheets of paper) on as many sheets of paper required for the frame. You can also take a smaller photo to a copy center and have them color enlarge it for you. The size I used for the final picture was 21" x 26", but it could be bigger if preferred. The picture is now assembled and mounted on a piece of 21" x 26" x 1/4" foam core board using spray adhesive. Cut the 1" x 1/2" square molding into 2 - 26" pieces and 2 - 19" pieces. Attach these with wood glue to the back of the foam core to strengthen the board. With an X-acto knife, carefully cut the picture along where the gash will be. Make the gash opening about 1/4" wide in the center and taper it off out to the corners. The gash should seem natural on the photo, so follow along whatever crease or wrinkle you are using to disguise your opening. Mix some paint to match the coloring in the area of your gash and blend it in. Paint the inside edges and the back of the slit throat with flat black to help disguise the gash. It is important to waterproof the portrait front and back, using several coats of a semi-gloss varnish. This will keep the blood from staining the portrait between bleedings.

(Insert picture 1)

Find a plastic tray that is at least 3" wide by 3" deep and at least 8" long. I found my tray at a Big Lots store. Its original use was for storing silverware in a drawer. This will be the collection tray for the blood. The next item needed is the pump. You can find small aquarium or pond pumps at most home improvement or pet stores. Try to find the smallest pump possible, since it will need to fit inside the plastic tray. Use about 24" of flexible plastic tubing of proper diameter to reach from the pump to a position just above the gash opening. To collect the blood behind the gash, I used some plastic blister packaging from a toy. It covered the entire gash opening. Secure the plastic packaging or whatever you have chosen to use to the back of the gash opening with epoxy and let it dry. In the top of the blister pack, make a hole big enough to insert one end of the plastic tubing. Secure this to the plastic with more epoxy to waterproof it and keep it in place. The blood will be pumped from the tray into this reservoir and then pour out the gash opening.

(Insert picture 2)

Using epoxy, secure two small pieces of wood to the portrait, to support each end of the tray, and to provide something to attach the portrait's bottom to the picture frame. Position the pump in one end of the tray and attach the other end of flexible plastic tubing to the pump. Use wire to wrap around the pump and tray to secure it to the portrait. Depending on the size of your pump, it may be necessary to vary with the thickness of the wood supports. Make sure the electrical cord to the pump is not tangled in the support wire.

The portrait is now ready to be framed. The picture frame will need to be wide enough to conceal the plastic collection tray. I made my frame from a couple of old cedar planks ripped down to 4" wide strips. Cut the frame material into two 4 inch by 31 inches long pieces and two 4 inch by 25 inch pieces These were miter cut and secured into a frame with wood glue. Decorative molding was then added, and the entire frame was coated with copper and gold paint. To age the frame, rub black shoe polish onto the wood with a rag, let it dry a few minutes, then wipe off the excess. Next, from a piece of 1/4" plywood, cut two triangles measuring 26" tall with a base of 1". Paint these with flat black paint and glue them to the front of the portrait along the sides. Then glue the triangles and the portrait to the back of the frame. The portrait should now be positioned in the frame at a slight angle, with the bottom kicked back from the frame about an inch.

(picture 3)

The collection tray needs to be positioned so that the blood will easily run down the front of the portrait and into the tray. Make sure that the tray is directly under the gash so that the blood will flow down the front and end up in the tray. Use some epoxy to seal the tray to the bottom of the portrait and to the back of the frame. Finish up by using some flat black paint to conceal anything that may be visible from the front. Now give the front of your portrait a few good coats of Rain-X, used for car windshields to deflect rain. This lets the blood run off clean so that when it is not bleeding it looks like a normal portrait with no trace of blood. On the back of the frame, about 5" from the top, insert a screw eye into each side. Attach the picture hanging wire across the screw eyes to hang the portrait.

The last thing you need is the blood. The recipe I came up with is 1 and 1/2 cups of water, 5 drops of concentrated food coloring, (4 red and 1 blue), and 2 tablespoons of a non-dairy creamer. Start by dissolving the creamer in half cup of hot water, then add the remaining cup of water and the food coloring, mixing well. Once the portrait is in position, pour your blood into the plastic collection tray below the portrait and plug in the pump. The portrait can either continually spew blood, or a switch (or motion detector) may be placed in line to start and stop the flow. Remember that the pump takes a few seconds after it is activated to produce the blood. This is because the blood needs to be pumped up from the collection tray and then out the gash.

I can hear the screams now as, during your dinner party, the portrait over the buffet starts to bleed from the neck, turning all of your guests into Mr. Chicken!


Christopher Silvia is an artist living in Portsmouth, RI and produces the successful home haunt, Lamar Manor. He also runs several businesses including Banners for Dark Attractions, making quality custom-made nylon banners for any venue. Contact Christopher at cslivia9@idt.net or visit his award winning web site chrisscrypt.webjump.com.

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