Taxidermy is a complex traditional art that requires a lot of practice, patience, and attention to detail. It's not something you can really learn in a day, so this Instructable is only an introduction to help you get started!
Shown in this example is a red fox that will be a "soft mount" when completed. Soft mounts have only the head mounted on a rigid form, while the rest of the body is filled with polyester fiber stuffing to make it soft and poseable.
For this Instructable, I will be showing how to mount just the head of this fox. The rest of the body will be finished at a later date. The method for mounting a fox's head is virtually the same method used for mounting any animal, be it a squirrel or a deer. Whatever animal you choose to mount, be sure to study up on it's anatomical features, muscle structure, and facial expressions including ear and eye placement.
Step 1: Gather Materials
Aside from the pelt, the basic materials needed for a fox head mount can be purchased from just about any taxidermy supply company.
You will need:
- Head form - I used this one: http://www.joecoombs.com/index.php?main_page=produ...
- Glass eyes - such as these: http://www.joecoombs.com/index.php?main_page=index...
- Hide Paste (any brand will do - I had a jar of "Buckeye Supreme Hide Paste" on hand so this is what I used.)
- Modeling clay (any type that air-dries)
- Ear liners - I made my own out of sturdy recycled plastic, however you can purchase pre-made ear liners for any species from the taxidermy supplier.
- Sculpting tools or small, flathead screwdriver
To get a pelt:
If you do not hunt or trap on your own, you can often purchase pelts from trappers or taxidermists, or order one online from a reputable fur dealer such as www.hideandfur.com. For beginner's taxidermy purposes, choose a skin that is already tanned and includes all four feet and a good complete face. The ears should be turned so that the cartilage is separated from the skin, and the lips, eyelids and nose should be split on the inside as well for ease in tucking these facial features into the form.
Step 2: Prepare the Pelt and Form
Begin by soaking the head of the pelt in a pan of water, just deep enough to cover the entire face and ears. The face needs to be fully rehydrated so it will be soft and stretchy enough to properly fit over the form. Leave it in the water while you prep the rest of the form, which shouldn't take more than 20 to 30 minutes.
Rough up the surface of the form with sand paper to get the waxy mold-release material off. This allows the hide paste to adhere, and your clay work will stick better as well.
Cut two triangular slots in the back of the form where the earliners will sit. Forms usually have an indentation toward the back that indicates where the ears would naturally be located, and this is a good indication where you should make your cuts. Once you've made your slots, test fit the earliners to ensure they fit down solidly in the head.
Next, cut a slot in the mouth line of the form, using a flat screwdriver, pocket knife or other sculpting tool. The fox's lips will be tucked into this slot. Also, carve out the nostrils on the nose of the form so you can later shape the skin's nose over it properly.
Step 3: Insert the Ear Liners
Coat the ear liners in hide paste on both sides. Hide paste is specifically designed for adhering leather to plastics, and while other types of glues may also work for this purpose, I would recommend using proper hide paste for best results.
After the liners are coated in paste, slide them into each ear, between the cartilage and skin. Then smooth out the ears with your fingers, pressing out any bubbles to ensure they will properly bond to the liners. When finished, both ears should be uniformly the same size and shape.
Step 4: Begin Clay Work
Any type of air-drying modelling clay will work for this step. The taxidermy suppliers will try to sell you high-priced versions, however you can buy essentially the same thing at any craft store for much lower cost. The brand that I use is Crayola Air-Dry Clay, which dries entirely hard and is easy to wash off if any gets in the fur.
Start by putting a ring of clay around the bottom of each earliner. This will later be sculpted into natural-looking ear bases of the animal once the skin is mounted on the form.
Next, put a layer of clay inside the ear slots, and attach the glass eyes into their sockets with clay as well. Now comes the part that requires some artistic attention to detail. Add clay to the top brows and below the eyes to begin reconstructing the facial anatomy of the animal. For this step it helps to have some good reference photos of live animals to refer to as you sculpt. Work your clay until you get an "expression" in the eyes that most closely resembles that of the live animal. Also, add a thin layer of clay to each side of the muzzle for the whisker bed, and push some clay into the nose skin of the pelt as well. All of these details in preparation will serve in adding a look of realism to the face.
Step 5: Mount the Face
Coat the entire form (including your clay work) in a layer of hide paste. Gently slide the form in through the mouth of the skin, being careful not to get clay or paste in the fur. Position the ear liners down into the slots you carved, and press them securely into the clay. The bottom corners of the ears should sit level with the head, not any higher or lower. Position the ears as naturally as possible according to your reference pictures.
After the ears are placed, begin tucking the edges of the jaws into the lip slots on the form. Do this using a small sculpting tool or flat screwdriver. Be careful not to poke holes in the skin as you do this. Tuck the mouth until the black leather of the lips can not be seen much, if at all. On foxes it is natural for some lip skin to show on the front of the mouth, but never in the back corners, and never excessively. The eyelids need to be properly sculpted and shaped as well. Be sure to tuck the eyelids close against the surface of the glass eyes so there are no gaps and minimal excess clay visible. Again, refer to your reference photos of live animals to best determine how you want to position the facial expression.
Be sure to add pins to the edges of the mouth and corners of the eyelids to keep your detail work in place as the skin dries.
Step 6: Finish, Groom and Dry
After all facial features of the fox have been tucked, sculpted, and positioned to your liking, the mount is now finished at this point and ready to set aside for drying. Blow dry the fur with an air compressor or hair dryer with no heat, to fluff it out (as shown in the second photo) which also allows it to dry more evenly.
It may take a few days to a week for your mount to dry out depending on the humidity of the room its in. Monitor it as it dries to make sure none of the facial features shrink out of place. If you notice this happening, simply adjust with your sculpting tool or add additional pins if needed.
Step 7: Finishing Touches
The finished red fox, as well as the other mounts shown above (a ranch fox, gray fox, and coyote) are some my fully completed works, all of which were done in the exact same method as this Instructable. After they were entirely dried, I filled in the front corners of the eyes with two-part epoxy resin, to give this area a smoother and more natural appearance. In a couple of instances I used epoxy to also fill out the surface of the nose. I then painted the eye corners, nose, inner ears, and front of the lips with natural colored acrylics to eliminate the dry leathery look it would otherwise have. I then added some Polyurethane gloss to the nose and front lip to give it a realistic "wet" look as a finishing detail.
Taxidermy takes a lot of time, effort and creativity, but can become a fun and rewarding hobby especially if you've got a hunter or trapper in the family! I take my personal soft mounts to many events and conventions throughout the year, and they always make for great conversation starters. So get yourself a tanned pelt and some mounting supplies, and have fun!
Thanks for reading this tutorial, and be sure to check out other examples of my work at Frontier Furs on Facebook!