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The Unique Experience of Painting a Casket #NorthwoodsCasketCompany

Updated: May 27, 2019

UPDATE April 23, 2019: I have had some questions about my vision for the casket and how I came up with my ideas. Below is a detailed explanation:

My vision on the box came before the lid. I really wanted to make something that stayed true to my spooky nature while still being calming, so I settled on a misty forest floor. This also symbolized my family roots and the fact that the people who taught me art were very woodsy people. I grew up with a lot of time in Wisconsin forests and the design of leaves, vines, and ferns really hailed to that time of youth and innocence in my life.

My vision on the lid (the yellow ribbon and blue) came as an afterthought. I wanted the casket to be bright and colorful, which is where the sunset design in the background came from, but I pondered the lid for a long time because I didn't want the casket to be too feminine a piece considering the colors in the sunset. When I came up with the ribbon, I was looking through the portfolios of my favorite tattoo artists and I felt that a tie into the more cartoonish/vintage style really represented me and could create a break between the more feminine colors of the sunset. Then, I was troubled by what to put in between the ribbons. I thought over a lot of different designs, but they all placed significant strains on the time I had to finish the casket. I only had seven days to complete it, so I had to be time-conscious in my design and the thought of doing something intricate or incredibly symbolic didn't sit right with me. In the end, I decided to use a technique I learned while working in a haunted house the year before. It's poetic because I got to express my haunted house chops without making a disturbing design.


In March of 2019, I was commissioned to paint a casket for the Northwoods Casket Company ( in Beaver Dam, WI. There were very few rules and they left much up to my creative discretion. The idea was that I paint a casket the way I want and they handle the transportation of it. After I'm done, the casket is placed on the show floor and when the casket is sold, I receive an artist's fee. This seemed to be a simple task, but when I started to think about it, it was much bigger than I expected- a casket is a person's last statement to the world, so what I designed had to be spectacular.

Before I go on: If you or someone you know would be interested in painting a casket like me, go to Northwoods Casket Company's Facebook page and send them a direct message! They made this process incredibly easy and if you have the space to do this project, it's well worth your time. Not to mention, your art will aid a family in grieving and celebrating a life when it sells and that's an incredible honor.

I was stumped.

Once the project was agreed upon, I sat back and thought: what do I paint on a casket? It isn't a simple question. I wanted to remain true to my style and do something in the realm of macabre, but I also wanted to create something beautiful that would bring closure to the family of a passed loved one. Plus, I'm a business student, so I was very aware that I needed to create a design that a family would feel comfortable purchasing; in other words, something that will sell.

I asked for advice from a variety of people: my boyfriend, my mom, co-workers, and the internet. Some had suggestions, but it was Jaime that really streamlined my decision to create something fantasy-inspired in a forest realm. I still wanted the design to be colorful, though.

A wooden casket sits on two saw horses in a garage with white walls.
The casket on delivery day.

The casket was set to be delivered at my mom's house.

She and my dad (J&S Automotive Arts) were gracious enough to lend me their garage space over Spring Break so I could complete this project. Northwoods Casket Company worked with them to get the casket delivered before my break started and I was able to see the casket before I even bought my art supplies for it. I finally decided on a design with the help of my mom, so now all there was to do was PAINT!

A casket stands with its lid open. There is a turquiose art piece on the lid.
The crackle effect I used on the casket's lid.

Spring Break came fast.

Next thing I knew, I was off to the races! I sanded the casket down and filled in some spaces where the lid's seams had separated in the first day. I started a base coat and applied a crackle effect on the lid of the casket in days two and three. It was slow-moving at first, but I posted time lapses of my progress on Facebook and Instagram anyway. Then on day 4, I moved on to the more colorful aspects of my design by sponging oranges, reds, pinks, and purples onto the majority of the casket.

Although my design wouldn't end up as macabre and mysterious as I imagined in my head, it took shape beautifully in days 5 and 6, when I was able to render details on the body of the casket. To see my entire process in video and photo format, go to Unfinished Business Store's Facebook and Instagram.

Plants and vines against a sunset are painted on the corner of a casket.
The casket on Day 5. Go to Unfinished Business's Facebook or Instagram to see the finished casket!

At the end of the week, I'm exhausted.

Today, I finished the major components of the casket design. Although it doesn't reflect the exact image I held in my imagination at the start of the project, the design is profound and beautiful; it's truly something I wasn't sure I could accomplish. If there's one thing you get from this post, let it be this: take the leap and try something new. You'll learn a lot along the way, especially about yourself and your work ethic. I learned that once I start, there's no stopping me, but I need to persevere through the slow parts of a project and self-motivate a little differently. Maybe you can make discoveries like that through your own projects!

The end product is something I can be proud of and was a very good use of my spring break. Not to mention, it got J&S Automotive Arts's customers talking and I had lots visitors who came in to see what my progress looked like!

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