Taxidermy Seminar at Lancashire Conservation Studios

I attended my first Guild of Taxidermists seminar yesterday at Lancashire Conservation Studios in Preston. I have been teaching myself taxidermy from books. I don’t expect to become a world class expert, but I feel it’s important to understand the ins and outs of a specimen you are working with, and a sizable amount of natural history specimens are in the form of taxidermy.

The seminar consisted of a number of demonstrations by professional taxidermists. It was also an opportunity for people to get together to ask questions, have some tea and coffee and swap tips.

Our first demo of the day was by Mike Gadd, who taught us the basics of how to skin a small mammal. Mike stressed the importance of posing the animal and making contour drawings of the form before skinning it. In this case he demonstrated using a grey squirrel.

He also showed us how to make a basic mannequin out of wood wool. When modelling your mannequin, it’s a good idea to think of the animal’s body in “parts” rather than just mindlessly wrapping string around the wood wool. In this case, he used 90 degree angles to create an upright squirrel. The one in the image below was done in exactly the same way.

Mike also showed us how to sculpt a squirrel head using two-part car bodyfiller. You can make a mold out of a skull with the flesh still attached out of silicone, or a cheaper option- Alginate. Once you have your mold, you can fill it with the car bodyfiller. The exothermic reaction takes place fairly quickly, though that entirely depends on the temperature of the room. (The colder it is, the longer it takes. Therefore, if you have a project to work on but know it’s going to take some time, it’s a good idea to keep the bodyfiller in the fridge or freezer.)

The squirrel skull cast can now be used in place of a real skull. Sharp edges can be sanded down, etc.

The next demo was by David Astley, who taught us an alternative method of molding and casting a skull. Bees wax and paraffin wax were slowly heated up in a double boiler. Once hot enough, the head can be dipped into the way. Let the wax cool and slowly build it up in layers. When the wax has cooled completely, the mold can be cut into two halves and is ready to use.

Our final demonstration was by natural history conservator James Dickinson- a tutorial on how to make your own plastic taxidermy eyes, which is great when you’re in a pinch and can’t have ready made ones right away.

You will need:

-Heat gun
-Ball bearings
-Paint such as Ceramic a Froid or Humbrol. Don’t use Acrylic paints!

Here’s how he did it:

Position a washer flat side up in a vice and hold it there.

A small piece of thermoplastic is then heated up. It’s important to be vigilant at this stage and make sure the plastic warps/melts slighty but doesn’t burn.

Hold the heated plastic on top of the washer and punch the shape of the eye through the washer hole with a ball bearing. You now have the shape for your plastic eye. The next stage is to paint it.

Painting the eye is a matter of trial and error and takes practice. The underside of the shape is the part that needs to be painted, starting with the pupil, then once this is dry and correct, extra colours can be added depending on what effect you are trying to achieve.

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So that was the day! Thanks to everyone there for being so helpful and patient with all my beginner questions! I’ll now leave you with some pictures of gorgeous taxidermy by the guild that was on display on the day.

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