1. Welcome to Taxidermy.net, Guest!
    We have put together a brief tutorial to help you with the site, click here to access it.

Forest Gump ... errr ... Forest Floor Tutorial!

Discussion in 'Habitat and Exhibit' started by LordRusty, Mar 18, 2009.

  1. LordRusty

    LordRusty If I agreed with you, we'd both be wrong.

    5,562
    54
    Ohio
    This is a tutorial for creating a forest floor … more specifically … the forest floor created for the mount “Family Tree.”

    I created the base work after the three main subjects of this piece were mounted, and finished. They included a papa, momma, and baby Fox Squirrels, in and around a “tree” … thus the name “Family Tree”.
    [​IMG]

    The base was built using a commercially available casement, purchased at the time, from WASCO. In fact, most of the supplies that went into the creation of the piece were purchased through WASCO. These included the 20" x 24" walnut framed base, 2-part liquid urethane foam, and brown and black powdered acrylic pigments.

    In the first photo, notice the tree had been positioned on a separate board and secured into place with a couple of drywall screws. This “platform” was then secured to the sub floor of the base. Notice too, the plastic bag secured around the adult male Squirrel’s tail to keep it free from the foam and other ingredients used in this project. To protect the top inner edge of the casement, as well as the channel that will support the Acrylic case, clear cellophane shipping tape was evenly applied all around the edge and upper perimeter of the inside of the casement. Also shown here are the paper mixing cups – from Sam’s Club – used to measure out equal amounts of part A and B liquid urethane foam. The larger paper cups are used for the actual mixing of the two parts.
    [​IMG]

    Here the dry powdered pigment is measured – “by eye” – and added to the clearest part of the foam.
    [​IMG]

    After thoroughly mixing the powder into the foam, the second half is poured and the two parts are now thoroughly mixed.
    [​IMG]
    [​IMG]

    The now pre-colored foam is poured into its place on the base.
    [​IMG]

    As the foam rises, I use a large wooden craft stick to spread the rising foam. This does two things. Obviously, it spreads the foam, but it also breaks the surface decreasing the overall rise to the foam! A good method of control here!
    [​IMG]

    Wearing the rubber gloves becomes apparent here … I am able to press the rising foam firmly to the base, and also shape the foam with my hands, creating a nice uneven ground “profile”.
    [​IMG]

    Here you can see the importance of keeping the big guy’s tail wrapped and clean! The entire ground surface is complete, and ready for the next steps.
    [​IMG]

    John.
     
  2. LordRusty

    LordRusty If I agreed with you, we'd both be wrong.

    5,562
    54
    Ohio
    Some of the larger greenery had been “planted” into the foam. It will be secured when the actual groundwork is started.
    [​IMG]

    Here are a couple of overviews of the project thus far. The can of “Evercoat Marine Resin” was purchased at a local marina supply. It is simply polyester “fiberglass” resin.
    [​IMG]

    Look closely at the base of the tree, and notice how I shaped some of the foam up against the tree base, indicating the roots that are underground!
    [​IMG]

    These are the ingredients to covering the base foam of the forest floor. The protective tape can be removed from the casement before the “soil” is applied. The “Evercoat Marine Resin”, black and brown dry Tempera pigments, a plastic bowl (yellow) containing my “Secret Earth” ingredient, disposable acid brushes, and an aluminum can for mixing the ingredients. Most importantly is the charcoal activated respirator, seen in the drawer of the worktable. It will be worn during the steps involving mixing and spreading of the resin.
    [​IMG]

    The resin is mixed with enough catalyst to produce a medium set … a couple of drops of Acetone mixed in will kill the wet shine produced by dry polyester resin. This next step will slow the setting time considerably more. What I am adding here is my “Secret Earth” … I know … what the hell is “Secret Earth”? It is used and re-dried coffee grounds! Ahhh … the addiction of being a coffee drinker! After you have finished your coffee, empty the grounds onto a piece of paper towel, lay it on a metal baking sheet or cookie sheet, and pop it in the oven at no more than 200-dgrees Fahrenheit for about an hour or so … until the grounds are nice and dry! Collect them in a plastic container and keep them covered until needed! Ta-dah … “Secret Earth”! AKA – Artificial Soil.
    [​IMG]

    Into my Secret Earth/polyester resin mix I add some ground up dried leaf litter. This is all mixed well with a wooden craft stick.
    [​IMG]

    I mix as many pours as needed to cover the entire base during this time. The coffee grounds and leaf litter will also go towards producing a flat finish for the ground. If you want your ground to look damp, touch it up at the end with some clear gloss. If you want it to look like mud … leave out the Acetone at the initial mixing stage. To further enhance the forest floor look, dry ingredients – coffee grounds and crumpled leaf litter, dry Oregano, and dry Parsley flakes are mixed together and sprinkled on top of the ground cover. The wet resin/debris mix will soak them up pretty well, and give more depth to your forest floor. You can speed up the drying time of the resin Earth with the use of a hair dryer on full hot air. Held close to the resin, it will cause it to bubble and set. WEAR YOUR RESPIRATOR FOR THIS STEP SHOULD YOU DECIDE TO DO THIS!!!
    [​IMG]

    At this stage we have a nice – but plain – forest floor. Time to make it more interesting!
    [​IMG]

    Finding a rise in the ground profile, I inserted a highly specialized, high tech tool … a pencil … to create a hole to accept a twig.
    [​IMG]
    [​IMG]

    Now there’s a little “interest!”
    [​IMG]

    Further along, I added some realistic silk plants that would be found on a forest floor. Doing the research for this is fun. Go out on a nice day and take a walk through the woods ... don’t forget to bring a camera and sketchbook! Take photographs and make sketches and notes whenever you see an interesting growth or formation of rocks, plants, what have you!
    [​IMG]

    I wanted a little green on Papa Squirrel’s perch … it is a “tree” after all! I drilled a hole the right size for the stem base of my leaves, then applied really hot glue into the hole, and finished up with inserting the end of the stem into the glue filled hole, wiping off any excess glue that squeezes out with a modeling tool. DO NOT use your fingers … this stuff is HOT!
    [​IMG]
    [​IMG]
    [​IMG]

    John.
     

  3. LordRusty

    LordRusty If I agreed with you, we'd both be wrong.

    5,562
    54
    Ohio
    Another item of interest that was added to the base, were many half and whole shell Black Walnuts. These are an especial favorite of Northern Fox Squirrels here in Southwestern Ohio. So, with an abundance of them readily available from the outdoors, I collected more than enough for this one project. In fact I went on a collecting spree … yes … I went nuts! They went into a plastic bag, which I then filled with a good spray of Raid ® Crawling Insect, and Flying Insect insecticides. I let them stay in this fog mix for a few days … then they were ready for use. I brushed off the shells for this project and proceeded to install wire “Vs” in the center holes of the shells that would be top-side-up. The wires were secured with hot glue.
    [​IMG]
    [​IMG]
    [​IMG]

    The wire ends were then easily pushed into the foam base!
    [​IMG]
    [​IMG]
    [​IMG]

    Other groups of silk flowers were installed at various locations on the base. These added interest and a splash of color to an otherwise dark forest floor.
    [​IMG]

    For the short grasses often seen on forest floors, I came up with a brilliant idea! Okay … I thought it was brilliant, anyway! The plastic grass clump sets that are sold for Fish Aquariums – available at any pet store big or small – would work for this small detail in a big way!
    [​IMG]

    After pulling one of the grass clump assemblies off its base, I held onto a small group of grass blades, and snipped them off close to the bottom.
    [​IMG]

    This gave me a nifty little clump of grass!
    [​IMG]

    A little hot glue applied to its base, and allowed to cool …
    [​IMG]

    … A receiving hole made with the spade end of my modeling tool …
    [​IMG]

    … And insertion of the grass clump into the hole with a tweezers is all you need!
    [​IMG]

    The final realistic detail of interest … Squirrel poop! They leave it everywhere! And this area of Squirrel habitation should be no exception! Now, I could have used the real thing … Lord knows I had my share when I had my pet squirrels, but that much "organics" would have been too much. So, I made some out of pre-colored sculpting epoxy, and stored it in a little jar. Each dropping was dipped in white glue and placed on the forest floor, alone and in groupings.
    [​IMG]
    [​IMG]

    That’s it! This same method can be employed to work up a forest floor for any species that inhabits the North American Continent. All it takes is a little study of the natural ecosystem of that particular specimen. This method works for not only Squirrels, but for Raccoon, Fox, Bobcat, Whitetail Deer, Black, Brown, and Grizzly Bear, Elk, Moose, Knights of Columbus … well … you get my drift!

    And for specimens that come from far away lands, like New Jersey … or even Africa, use substitutes for the environments for those specimens. Red Earth from Georgia replaces the Red Earth of Africa with no problems. Mexican Dropseed – a grass planted along highways, and can be replanted on your own property – stands in well for many grasses of the African Savanna. Use you heads, and think things through, and you should have no troubles recreating a habitat for your next mount!

    Happy trails!

    John.
     
  4. tomdes

    tomdes Me my dear and Fall BAZZ!!!

    Great tutorial John.. Thanks for sharing with us.. Also great camera work!!!
     
  5. Bobbi Meyer

    Bobbi Meyer I luv to ride my tricycle, I luv to ride my trike

    now admit john...you had fun doing that !!!
    I loved it....I have leftover aquarium grass from when I had fish, I love to cook, so plenty of spices and have coffee every morning!!!
    Great looking base and you did some thinkgs I hadn't thought of
    Thanks!!!
     
  6. LordRusty

    LordRusty If I agreed with you, we'd both be wrong.

    5,562
    54
    Ohio
    I admit nothing! ;) ;D Naw ... it was really needed, so ... happy to oblige!

    I'd like to add this picture of a live Amur Leopard striding through a forest. Notice the leaf litter on the ground. It looks very much like what I just showed, which proves up what I said about the types and sizes of animals this kind of base habitat work can be worked up for.
    [​IMG]
    Notice in this live animal shot, what appears to be pine needles all over the ground as well. I still have bags of those that I can call on at any time I may need them!

    "Collect and keep" ... two good words for the habitatist to live by! You like that word ... habitatist? I just thought of that threw it out there. Don't know if it's a real word or not ... but it works for me!

    Anyway, glad you all enjoy!

    John.
     
  7. Kevin Halle

    Kevin Halle Well-Known Member

    Excellent tutorial!!! Thank, I'm gonna try some of that..
     
  8. LordRusty

    LordRusty If I agreed with you, we'd both be wrong.

    5,562
    54
    Ohio
    Here's another lifesize mount with a base indicative of where the animal was taken. This habitat was created from photos of the area, and from the client's recollections of where he was.
    [​IMG]
    It represents the ground close to a nearby river in Alaska -- I forget exactly where in Alaska he harvested the bear -- but the ground is basically dark rich Earth ... "Secret Earth!" Into that I added some potting soil, which gave a deeper and richer texture and color.

    Also added were several fresh water shells, stones, twigs, moss, and an antler from a female Caribou. A sprout of artificial Onion Grass added a spark of color to the base. This is a really good sized base, and although this is a simple habitat, as per the clients instructions, there is still plenty of interest in it so as not to look boring. Best of all ... the client loved it! Both his Bear and its base!

    Like I say ... any size, any specimen ... this method of habitat construction and recreation is tops! Good luck to all!

    John.
     
  9. Bobbi Meyer

    Bobbi Meyer I luv to ride my tricycle, I luv to ride my trike

    time to start collecting "your secret earth" after each pot of coffee!!!
    I DO think that I'm going to start going for walks in the woods and taking some pics. Like said before, the Breakthrough manual is good, but color pics are so much better.
     
  10. LordRusty

    LordRusty If I agreed with you, we'd both be wrong.

    5,562
    54
    Ohio
    Thanks Bobbi,

    The best part of waking up, is coffee in the cup! And grounds on the ground! ;D

    Believe or not, the Fox Squirrel habitat was supposed to be part of a Breakthrough article back before I left Taxidermy. The difference is, it had the Fox Squirrel part also! The whole skinning, wrapping the body, mounting, finishing ... then the habitat section was to follow! I just recently -- like three days ago -- found all the original photos!

    John.
     
  11. Bobbi Meyer

    Bobbi Meyer I luv to ride my tricycle, I luv to ride my trike

    why did you leave taxidermy?
    burn out?
     
  12. LordRusty

    LordRusty If I agreed with you, we'd both be wrong.

    5,562
    54
    Ohio
    Here is another "habitat heavy" mount. The groundwork was done exactly as with the Fox Squirrels ... I simply added what was needed to "hide" the Fawns from predators!
    [​IMG]
    I used plenty of dried, but preserved leaves -- dipped in 50-50% water-thinned white glue; lots of pine needles; twigs; epoxy sculpted mushrooms -- I make them way ahead of time and always have an assortment in stock; dried foxtail grass that has had the color restored with lacquer paints; pine cones; moss; and a shed antler.
    [​IMG]
    [​IMG]
    The shed antler helped tell the story. Fawns are left while Mom is out foraging, little brother buck stands up to investigate the shed, and wonders -- as all cartoon Fawns do -- he wonders: "Daddy?" Helluva mount, and the client loved it!

    John.
     
  13. LordRusty

    LordRusty If I agreed with you, we'd both be wrong.

    5,562
    54
    Ohio
    Burn out, and I had just lost my Pop ... needed a change. Just when I'm getting back in ... WHAM ... I loose my precious boy ... Rusty. So now I'm dealing with that. Life can sure suck! But, thanks for asking! ;D

    John.
     
  14. Bobbi Meyer

    Bobbi Meyer I luv to ride my tricycle, I luv to ride my trike

    hope ya get back at it....I'm really enjoying your pictures and posts!!
     
  15. mountman

    mountman New Member

    218
    2
    Iowa
    AWESOME tutorial John!!!!!!!!!!!!!
    Thanks for posting it.
    Jeff
     
  16. Bobby , John has come through some trying times , heres to hoping we get him back on track , he is one of the elite artist in our profession. Theres a lot of knowledge and talent roaming around in John that we can all benefit from ! oh one more thing HABITATIST ,,,, hmmm , im lookin that one up ,lol.... GREAT STUFF JOHN , I de like to drop in on you sometime when im up there for an inspiration boost !,, thanx ed
     
  17. thanks for the tutorial, I'm really interested in trying your secret earth recipe on a bear mount i have to do.I'm going to do a couple sample pieces on junk wood first to make sure i get the hang of it and it looks right before i put it on my base, just to be on the safe side.thanks
     
  18. LordRusty

    LordRusty If I agreed with you, we'd both be wrong.

    5,562
    54
    Ohio
    You're all very welcome!

    And you're absolutely right ... practice, practice, practice on scrap pieces like you say. I did that before diving in on a competition piece. When that succeeded I started including "basic habitat" bases in the total cost of my client mounts. It really doesn't take a long time to do, and really ... it is fun! Especially when you step back and look at it and think ... "Damn -- that looks good!"

    Everyone can give their customer something "special" ... that makes their work stand out from the guy "down the road". I do the same thing with the mounts I do for people, now as in the past. Always have.

    I've always strove to elevate Taxidermy from a craft to museum quality at "commercial" prices. True, my prices were always "up there", but my clients were educated at what to look for when choosing a Taxidermist.

    I always pointed out what I did for them ... and not what the "other guy" didn't do. If that means I give their deer head deeper nostrils with an installed septum, or their lifesize mount -- whatever it may be -- has a nice habitat base, then that's what I'd educate them on.

    It's a whole, complete package. To be truly well rounded ... and we all know I'm well rounded ;) ;D -- a taxidermist must be confident and competent in all phases of the art. That means not just mounting the specimen, but placing it in an environment that doesn't look like somebody stuck it there. Again, it's part of the complete package. That's what I love about it! That chance to be creative ... it's always rewarding!

    John.
     
  19. Bobbi Meyer

    Bobbi Meyer I luv to ride my tricycle, I luv to ride my trike

    after thinking to myself...where in the heck am I gonna get that much coffee grounds, I started looking around work...my boss right in my dept. makes two pots a day, and we have one of those pay by the cup coffee machines that takes the coffee disks that hold like 1/2 lb of coffee every day.....so I've started grabbing the "leftovers."
    A person could probably hit up their neighborhood convenience store for their coffee grounds, if they don't drink the stuff themselves.
    Hey John, could a person use leftover tea out of the bags too? Just dry it out like the coffee grounds?
     
  20. LordRusty

    LordRusty If I agreed with you, we'd both be wrong.

    5,562
    54
    Ohio
    It wouldn't make good "soil" per say, as it is a little finer, but it could be mixed in to create different textures! Sure! That reminds me of the Chinese restaurant Cheryl and I frequent. They serve tea in a pot with all the -- what I call "litter" -- in the bottom of the pot ... the tea leaves, actually. Now that could be put to use as well!

    Hitting up convenience stores is a good option too! It just doesn't "sound" too legal, does it! ;)

    John.