Introduction: Dragon Head Taxidermy
In this Instructable, I'll be showing the steps I took to make a mounted dragon head. This was my first time working with some of the materials I used (which did cause some unforeseen issues in the process), and I'm quite sure there are better material options. So don't feel obligated to use what I did! Having said that, the following steps are how I fumbled my way through this process. Enjoy!
- Taxidermy Form (I used a Gray Fox form, but any small form will do. Or you can make your own with builders foam or balsa wood, or even a wire form)
- Air dry clay (you could also use an epoxy clay or any sculpt-able medium that doesn't require baking to harden)
- Small wooden dowels
- Casting Kit/Casting Resin (if you plan to create your own eyeballs, or you can just sculpt them into your clay - which will save you time and heartache later in the process XD)
- Clear plastic
- Thin ply wood
- Sculpting tools
Step 1: Prepare the Form
Begin by anchoring your form to a scrap piece of wood. This will help stabilize the piece and give it a better center of gravity, so you won't have to worry about it falling over on you. It also gives you something to grab/hold later on when the piece is covered in wet clay and paint. If you have a premade taxidermy form, they come with a wood backing, so attaching the scrap wood is as simple as driving two screws in from the back. If you chose to make your own form, you may have to get creative in your attachment solutions. Do not make this attachment permanent. This piece of wood will not be the final mounting plate. That comes later.
After anchoring, use a Dremel to smooth the seem ridge left over from the mold. My form had a significant seem the whole way around. I also had to sand down raised numbers on one side of the neck. If you need to do any filler work (with bondo or epoxy clay), now's the time.
In hindsight, I maybe should have taken a bit of sandpaper over the whole form to give the air dry clay something to hold on to. I don't know if that would have solved some of my upcoming obstacles, but it may have helped.
Step 2: Finalizing the Underlying Form
This step is all about adding structure and removing any bulk. This is the last time you'll be able to adjust your form shapes before we slap on clay.
I wanted my little dragon to have a couple horns, however I thought the clay would need some structure inside. So, I used some small wooden dowels for this (wire may have worked better). I used a widely recognized professional technique to find my placement and dowel angles called "eyeballing it". I lined up my drill in what I though was a good position, and made some holes big enough for the dowels to slide into. Once I was happy with the look of the dowels, I put a little glue on the ends and glued them into place. You can use hot glue, or something like E600, anything really.
Next, I cut out and shaped the mouth using a hacksaw and a Dremel. I knew I would be adding a tongue and teeth, so I tried to make the mouth space open enough to work inside of with my fingers and some small tools. I also knew that I would not be covering the inside of the mouth with clay, so I tried to make this area as smooth and uniform as possible.
Now for the fun stuff!
Step 3: Clay!
Slap a bunch of clay on your form. You could, theoretically, make this entire piece out of clay, but I was trying to keep my weight down so it could be hung on the wall without any worries. Also, I have not really worked with clay much, and I had never worked with air dry clay before (cue the foreshadowing).
After you've got a rough shape thrown together, you can start refining your sculpt. I did not sculpt eyeballs because I planned on casting some myself (another new medium for me). If you are not casting or buying eyeballs, you can easily sculpt them in this step. Or if you've already got something you'd like to use for eyes(marbles, clear domes, rocks, idk), you can put them on your piece now to sculpt around them and have them look more natural to the piece.
Once you're happy with the shape of your sculpt, you can add some details. I didn't go crazy with my textures because I had planned on doing most of that with paint.....
I also had been pretty reliant on the idea that I would get some nice, SLIGHT cracking during curing that would add some cool texture to my piece.
Step 4: I'm an Idiot
Welp, I got some cracking! So much cracking lol. I did not realize that the clay would shrink as much as it did while drying. As a result, I wound up with huge cracks, and many large pieces that weren't sticking to the form at all. At this point, I had a few options: I could remove the clay and start over with something else; I could fill in the cracks with more clay and repair the sculpt; or I could go nuts with a hot glue gun.
Hot glue to the rescue
Step 5: Damage Control
One of the things I love about art and crafting is that there's no wrong answers. I thought to myself, maybe this is a baby dragon going through it's first molt. Maybe the dragon skin is so hard that when you try to taxidermy them you can't just cut the skin off, but have to shatter it. Maybe this was a defense mechanism of this little dude right before he died. Like he secretes a poison goo when he's in danger or something. Who knows, man. Dragons are crazy.
So, I got to work with the hot glue gun. Gently reattaching all the pieces that abandoned ship, and filling in the network of cracks with a single, fat bead of glue.
Step 6: Eyes, Tongue, Teeth
For some reason, I completely forgot to take any pictures of the eyeball casting process. Basically, I used some polymer clay to make the casting model. Then, I put the two clay eyes at the bottom of a solo cup and covered them with silicone rubber from a casting kit I picked up at Hobby Lobby. After the mold cured, I removed the solo cup and the clay positives, then cleaned my mold and filled it with white resin(also bought at Hobby Lobby). After the resin was cured, I popped them out of the mold and dry fit them to make sure I was happy with the result.
As I mentioned earlier, mold making was also a new process for me. The first mold I made(for another project) did not come out correctly, because I didn't understand the proper ratio. So, I decided the useless mold might make a pretty cool dragon tongue! I used a razor blade to basically whittle the silicone into a tongue shape. If I didn't have that bad mold laying around, I probably would have either done some sort of ridiculous double cast to get silicone one, or used something like ApoxySculpt to sculpt one over a loop of wire.
Teeth! I used some clear plastic for my dragon teeth. I had one of those giant M&M's containers laying around, so I cut that up into the general size and shape I was aiming for. Next, I CAREFULLY held the plastic over a flame to melt and warp the plastic a bit. I did put gloves on while doing this because plastic gets pretty darn hot really quick, and holds a stupid amount of heat for longer than it has any right to. Please be super careful if you use this technique. Once I was happy with the two rows of teeth, I put a disk on my Dremel(which just so happened to be the exact width of the plastic) and cut two channels into the gum line for the teeth to slide into.
Step 7: Beginning Paint
Time to start painting! I started by blacking out my eye sockets and interior of the mouth.
I thought adding some neon green to the cracked areas would be interesting against the black skin I planned on ending up with.
Don't forget some mouth details. I added some pink gums, and added what I hoped would read as saliva glands, or fire glands.
Step 8: Body Paint
While I ultimately planned on painting this piece black, I wanted to add some detail by layering some color that would peak through here and there. I chose to use green in some spots and maroon in others, which kind of wound up looking like Mardi Gras. Nice
Step 9: Finishing Body Paint and Adding Details
With my base coats done, I moved on the the black top coat. At some point I realized I did not like the neon green in the cracks, so I went over it with white because I love contrast. It was too much contrast. I dabbed some black speckles on the white to tone it down and was much happier with it. Next, I splattered my white eyes with black and glued them into place. Then, I dry fit the tongue and teeth in again, just to make sure things were still on track and looked cohesive.
Step 10: Black Silicone
I added black silicone around my eyeballs to give it a more natural look. I used an automotive silicone I had laying around. If you've never worked with silicone before, it will stick to everything. ESPECIALLY skin and anything you don't want it to stick to! My method for this was to squeeze some silicone into the area I wanted it, then dip my finger in some oil and smooth the silicone out and even shape it a bit. I just poured a bit of oil into a shot glass(about a third of the way) using what I had for cooking, vegetable oil in this case. This worked pretty well for me, as long a I re-oiled my finger very frequently.
Of course, this step is completely dependent upon your personal aesthetic. You could leave it out completely, or maybe you added this way back in the sculpting phase. If I did this again, I would use something for eyes that I could have available during sculpting and sculpt it right into the form. Working with silicone this way is very tedious and not for the faint hearted or easily frustrated.
Step 11: Sealing, and Mounting
I wanted to have a shiny finish on this piece so I used a water based polyacrylic finish in high gloss. One coat got the job done. After the top coat was dry, I glued in the tongue and teeth.
For the mounting plate, I cut my desired shaped out of a thin scrap piece of plywood. I knew I would be covering the wood, so I wasn't worried about have a nice or pretty piece of wood. Once my backplate was cut and sanded smooth, I needed to mark the holes I need to drill for my mounting screws. First, I placed the dragon in the desired spot on the wood, then traced around it. Next, I cut the tips off of a q-tip and pushed them into the screw holes on the back of the dragon. I dabbed some black paint on the q-tips and lowered the piece onto the wood, trying to have it land neatly in the footprint I traced earlier. That will leave two black dots where I need to drill the holes for the screws.
As I covered in a previous step, I am an idiot. I took precisely one picture of how I finished the backplate. Sorry :(
Harkening back to my high school days, I decided this piece would look dope with a silver backplate....using gum wrappers! If you've never been a teenage girl, then you probably have no idea what I'm talking about. Or maybe you are a teenage girl, and still don't know what I'm talking about. What you do is get a bunch of gum wrappers and ball them up. Then, un-ball them and flatten them out. Seems redundant, I know, but trust me, wrinkling the foil up is a crucial step. Now the foil, will be more willing to separate from the wax paper. It takes a little patience to get it started but once you get a strip going, the rest peels off easily. Then all you have to do is put the strip of foil on the surface you want to cover and smooth it down with your finger nail. And hours later VOILA!, you are on your way to the coolest Trapper Keeper the 9th grade has ever seen.
After covering the backplate in silver, I covered that with the same polyacrylic sealer I used earlier.
Step 12: Mount and Enjoy
The last step is to add a little glue or liquid nails to the back of you piece, place it on your backplate and screw it into place. And then it's done!
I chose to hang my dragon on the wall using Command Picture Hanging Strips, because I'm obsessed with them and that's basically all I use. But you could easily use any wall mounting method to hang this how you want to. You could attach chain to the backplate to hang from. You could add a wall mount plate to the back, like you'd see on the back of a picture frame. Sky's the limit.
I hope you enjoyed my first ever Instructable. And I hope it wasn't terrible! Keep an eye out for my next one: Unicorn Taxidermy. I built them at the same time, so you may have noticed glimpses of it in the background of some of the pictures here. Most importantly, I hope you are inspired to make something of your own! Cheers!