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Building Habitat On Top Of a Foam Base

Discussion in 'Habitat and Exhibit' started by Trapper2016, Jun 3, 2016.

  1. Trapper2016

    Trapper2016 Thanks for this awesome forum!

    Hello everyone,

    After alot of trial and error and reading past threads, i am hopefully reaching out for some advice on a habitat question. Right now i have a shadow box around 2 to 3 inches deep that i am going to make a habitat scene out of. Right now, i cut out a piece of foam to fill the recess in the shadow box so that the foam/shadow box lip are even. What i ultiamtely would like to do is build a grassy type habiat with a slight rise in elevation to the rear of the piece. My question is, what would be a good medium to create a base on top of the foam?

    My initial thought was to buidl the elevation rise out of excess foam, and then build up the overall look with paper mache. I have used mache on serveral recent projects and wasn't really all that happy with the results, but maybe that is the best option here. I had thought about mache with a coating of pete moss on top of the mache once it was dry, which i have used in the past. My issue with the mache was that i couldn not get a smooth surface. Even when i smooth the surface with water, once it dries, it seems to always crack and pull away from the edges of the base.

    Would there be something better to use on top of the foam besides mache? I might try and just apply pete moss (similar material) directly on top of the foam and go from there, but i thought i would ask for opinions before i continued.

    Thanks for your time
  2. AliciaG

    AliciaG Museum taxidermist and exhibit preparator

    Hi Chris,

    We have had good results with PVA (Elmer's/white) glue and dirt/sand/moss/pretty much any natural substrate on top of foam for our exhibits. PVA is archival, non toxic, has a little flex to it, and is water soluble so it's ideal for long lasting displays and is easy to work with. If you are using a natural substrate, it's good to make sure it's bone dry and free of any critters. To treat dirt or sand, for example, spread it on a cookie sheet and bake it at 200 degrees in the oven for a while. This will sterilize the substrate and prepare it for use. Paint a layer of glue onto your foam and allow it to dry to seal the surface and ensure the adhesion of your next layers. Once dry, you can either mix your substrate with some glue and spread it on like icing a cake, or sprinkle the dry material onto a fresh layer of glue, brush away loose material once dry, and repeat until adequate coverage has been reached. I recommend the latter, as it ends up being a thinner candy shell type coating (the thinner it is, the less issues you will have with cracking as it dries). It is important to make sure each layer is dry before adding the next (again, to avoid cracking). Which ever method you use, finish by spraying watered down glue (1:2 glue to water) through a spray bottle and finish with a thin sprinkle of dry material. If there is any shine, you can knock it down with a matte krylon spray finish, acrylic matte medium, or "dead flat" varnish. If you are encorporating plant life into your display, drill or poke holes in the shell and the stems can be inserted into the foam. Best of luck with your project!


  3. Trapper2016

    Trapper2016 Thanks for this awesome forum!


    I can't thank you enough for your informative reply. I am going to give it a try using your advice. Once again, i really appreciate you taking the time.

    Thanks again