HOW TO CREATE A HALLOWEEN VILLAGE
Halloween villagemaking is the frightful hobby of creating dioramas of spooky landscapes. This 10 chapter module will guide you through getting started, the general process, and recommended tools. Like most hobbies it requires an investment of time, learning new skills, and often pricy materials but don't let that dissuade you. This is wickedly fun!
Chapter 1: Finding Village Pieces
The first step is finding the Halloween village pieces you like. The buildings are made of ceramic and plastic, highly detailed, painted by hand, and include some sort of light source, whether it's a light bulb inside or more elaborate LED lighting. Each costs from $50 to $150 so it can be an expensive hobby. These collectibles have limited circulation and availability, and can be difficult to find. New pieces are introduced annually as some are "retired" or no longer produced.
There are two main companies producing quality village buildings and accessories: Department 56 and Lemax. New pieces are announced early in the year with availability later that summer or fall. Few stores carry these kinds of collectibles but there is some availability at Michaels, select Hallmark stores, and independent retailers. Your best bet is online retailers, Ebay and even Amazon.
Department 56 vs. Lemax
There are rivalries in every industry – even the collectible porcelain building industry. For Halloween village pieces, there are two main distributors: Department 56 Halloween and Lemax Spooky Town. Each has a very specific "flavor" of design so you might be drawn to one or the other. Many collectors chose pieces from both lines. Below is a comparison.
Both produce similar theme buildings but Department 56 definitely has more sophisticated designs that are scarier and feature more realistic details. This is the biggest advantage over Lemax who has a more whimisical and often silly aesthetic. There are so many accents, bats, webs, colors, signs, figures, etc. That the excess is just overwhelming.
Department 56 has superior quality from construction to materials. Every small detail is carefully sculpted and painted (note the fingers on the reaper). Lemax has less of an emphasis on quality with lackluster paint jobs, many plastic pieces, and often crooked decals. I often repaint and fix the paint jobs on pieces.
Hands down, Lemax outshines Department 56. They know these displays are meant for dark rooms and many pieces have timed lighting effects, spotlights that illuminate features, flashing lights, and generally more interest. Department 56 generally sticks one bulb inside the building and calls it a day. The Halloween line has definitely improved but still nowhere near as dynamic as Lemax.
Lemax again has the upper hand in pricing. Even the most intricate pieces rarely top $100. Since Michaels carries a wide selection in the fall, you can use their coupons (and sales) to make these pieces a true value. Most Department 56 items generally start at $75, with typical price point of $125 to $150. Department 56 is also much more difficult to find and ordering online also adds shipping costs (although shopping online guarantees the best selection of both lines).
Okay, this may not be a deal breaker but every collector knows that they have to store these fragile things year after year, and those storage boxes take a beating. Department 56 packing is just a terrible. The buildings are packed in Styrofoam and put in flimsy sleeves that always tear or slip off. Lemax really puts a lot of though into packaging with high-density foam (which doesn't flake), includes a Velcro strap to easily pull out of a sturdy box, and even stamps useful things like "Top" so the contents don't accidentally spill out. For being a premium product, Department 56 needs significant improvement in this area.
Overall, if you prefer substance over flash, Department 56 is the way to go provided you can afford it and can find it. Lemax seems more kid-friendly and less sophisticated although their lighting is superior. Lemax has really stepped up the quality on the higher end pieces, so definitely consider those. I always choose pieces that speak to me, and don't categorically shut out either collection. If pressed to choose I feel Department 56 is a better overall product, and you get what you pay for. However, the best solution is to mix pieces, as appropriate, from both collections!