Constructing and Painting Rocks

Prefinished habitat bases have become a valuable addition to most taxidermy studios, and many standard mounts can be easily accommodated by the wide selection of models available. But sometimes you have a mount with an unusual pose which requires you to construct a custom base to match the specimen. No matter what position your mount is in, it is fairly easy to create a custom-shaped rock base that lines up perfectly with the legs of any mannikin. This week we will debut the latest how-to video from the McKenzie Video Library, featuring Rick Carter building a custom rock from scratch.

In the video embedded below, Rick demonstrates how he uses Rock Panels, plywood, screws, Great Stuff foam and mache to construct a one-of-a-kind wallhanging rock ledge for a standing bobcat mount. Another new video on how to paint artificial rocks is also included at the bottom of this blog posting.

Rock Panels

Way back in 1986 I spent a couple of weeks working alongside Randy Nelson as we were writing and photographing segments for “The Breakthrough Habitat and Exhibit Manual” and “The Breakthrough Bird Taxidermy Manual”. Randy and his friend Rich Rossiter had come down to Georgia from St. James, Minnesota to add their expertise to our lastest publications. Randy immediately impressed me with his unique methods for creating rocks, snow effects, ice and artificial water. He had a knack for creativity, innovation, and using his assortment of revolutionary rubber “texture molds” of everything from tree bark to rocks to make his artificial habitat elements look amazingly real. Little did I know at the time that twenty years later Randy would develop one of the biggest time-savers for creating artificial rock bases, the Quik-Rock Panel.

Randy Nelson’s Quik-Rock panels were 4′ x 8′ sheets of lightweight foam, cast in a detailed rubber mold made from a natural rock face, complete with all the cracks, crevasses, textures and small rocks of the real thing. These panels could be easily cut or broken into pieces and quickly assembled into almost any shape to create custom bases of any shape or size for virtually any species. A few years later, McKenzie became involved and developed even more varieties of artificial rock panels for habitat builders to choose from.

McKenzie didn’t have to go too far for their reference. Since their main headquarters are located in Granite Quarry, North Carolina, they sent their resident artist crew to the local granite quarry to find the most artistic and versatile section of rocks to mold for their latest rock panel model.

McKenzie’s MRP1 Rock Panel was cast in a quarry just down the road from their main plant in Granite Quarry, North Carolina.

The resulting panels are ideal for many applications, and they can be purchased whole or half, intact, cut, or broken into random pieces. Additionally, they may be purchased in either standard thickness, or thick for applications require more strength.

Creating Custom Bases

Rick Carter has always been an innovator as well, producing groundbreaking bases and artistic displays to go with his beautiful taxidermy work. I still remember the first time I saw the impressive base for his lifesize boar fighting two dogs which won big at the 1993 NTA show in Richmond. We invited Rick into the video studio to demonstrate the use of McKenzie Rock Panels.

In the video below, Rick explains the options for purchasing and shipping these panels, and then goes on to create a custom wallhanging base for a bobcat. The great thing about these panels is that by using these basic techniques, you can easily modify the method to create a base of any shape, size or design, that will suit any pose or species. Here is the latest installment in the McKenzie Video Library:

Painting Artificial Rocks

There are as many different methods for coloring and painting artificial rocks as there are habitat artists, but McKenzie has come up with a new method that is easy, fast, and practically foolproof.

McKenzie’s latest new product line (so new, it is not even in their latest catalog) is a new formulation of water-based habitat paint by Polytranspar, which has been especially created for the purpose of painting McKenzie’s Artificial Rock Panels. This new Rock Paint can be thinned with water and applied with a brush, spray bottle, or a rag. The colors include a Rock Base color which matches the native color of the McKenzie Rock Panels, so it can be used as an initial coat to even out all transition and repaired areas where foam or mache were used. It can also be blended directly into your mache seam repair mixture so that it will automatically match the color of the rock panels.

The other colors in the series, Black, Grey, Brown and Red, can be used in any combination to produce rocks of practically any look you can imagine. All of the colors work well with one another, and they create realistic effects no matter which combination of colors you choose for base, antiquing and highlighting. In the short video below, Rick Carter shows just how easy it is to achieve beautiful results in minutes using the new Polytranspar Rock Paint:

The Polytranspar Rock Paint is available now from McKenzie in the following colors:
    WA2000-32    Grey Polytranspar Rock Paint
    WA2001-32    Brown Polytranspar Rock Paint
    WA2002-32    Red Polytranspar Rock Paint
    WA2003-32    Black Polytranspar Rock Paint
    WA2004-32    Base Color Polytranspar Rock Paint
You can order online at or by calling 1-800-279-7985.

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