Real Vs. Artificial

And so it happens in life, you are in need of something “artificial“. My nose scrunches up a little, every time I hear the word. I gravitate towards “real”, but sometimes the real thing is not ideal for the task at hand.

Whether something is real vs. artificial really changes how people relate to it. I would see this circumstance play out time and time again, as a volunteer at The Natural History Museum. When I’d be holding a tanned hide of a Coyote and ask museum guests if they’d like to touch it…The reactions I’d get were fascinating. Children had mixed reactions, which would echo that of the adult’s they were with. Most of the would reach out to feel it but others would shy away, stumbling backwards, grasping desperately for their caretaker’s hand. Adults would almost always reach out and give it a stroke, remarking on how thick and soft it felt. Regardless of people’s initial reaction, almost everyone would first ask “Is it real?”. As I explained to them it is indeed real, you could see a switch go off inside of them. As soon as they learned it was real, they’d start to relate to the object in a completely different wayThey became more interested, started asking questions and wanted to touch it again. Children would ask “Where did it’s eyes go?”, “Did you kill it?”, “Is it dead?” were some of my favorites! Some questions were really funny and I did my best to teach them about in this case about Coyotes and Taxidermy.

From my experience people are inherently attracted to real instead of artificial. We relate better to and are more interested in things that are real, right?

Here’s where I’m going to get artificial on you. A mixed bag if you will. When I purchased 3 Greater Rhea chicks I had no idea one of them would be huge (aged 2 months)!

So, long story short…I’ve had to research on how to cast artificial legs for this chick. Using its real legs was simply not an option for me if I wanted this mount to be safe from pests wanting to feast on its legs. Better safe than sorry and I love learning new skills.

You know there’s is a ton of information on the internet and it’s sometimes difficult to sort the bad from the good. That’s where Alicia Goode, a museum Taxidermist from Oakland, California came in. She was kind enough to offer up her expert advice. We spent hours on the phone together, as she patiently walked me through the steps to cast my first pair of artificial bird legs. I can’t thank her enough for the support and guidance on this project. I appreciate you!

If you’re thinking of creating your first artificial cast for your Taxidermy piece, I hope this tutorial helps guide you. Here we go…

Materials and sources:

  1. Silicone Mold Star 15 Slow
  2. Resin Smooth-cast 320
  3. Cardboard plucked out of a dumpster
  4. Self hardening sulphur free clay
  5. Acrylic paint
  6. Paintbrushes  (or grab some from your dollar store)
  7. Matte Finish Sealant
  8. Metal rod (in my case 10 gauge)
  9. 1 frozen bird leg (saved from your specimen)
  10. Glue gun and sticks (grab from your dollar store)
  11. Water
  12. Plastic Funnel
  13. Pins
  14. Mixing sticks
  15. Exacto knife
  16. Plastic measuring cup
  17. Plastic bowl
  18. Rubber bands or hair ties
  19. Masking tape

Step 1
Save your bird’s leg in a plastic bag and keep in your freezer.

Step 2
Freeze your bird’s leg in your desired casting position.

Step 3
Construct your dam out of cardboard with the help of your glue gun. Be sure to glue thoroughly together with no gaps in glue. This is very important to prevent leaks later when pouring your silicone.

Step 4
Using your cardboard base and frozen bird leg…You want to elevate the bird leg from the cardboard base. Push pins through your cardboard base up into the bottom of your bird’s foot. Sink one pin into each toe and base of foot to elevate and secure in position. Use your glue gun and secure the pins underneath the cardboard and on the top.

Step 5
You should now have your frozen bird leg attached to your cardboard base and your cardboard dam built.

Step 6
Place your cardboard dam over you bird leg and hot glue onto the base.

Step 7
You will have to use the same technique with pins to center and secure your bird leg within your cardboard dam. You want to have at least a 1/2″ around all sides of your bird leg. Now hot glue pin points on the outside to secure.

Step 8
To estimate how much silicone you will have to use take something cheap and dry you have in the kitchen like a bag of rice or unpopped popcorn…Pour into your mold until full. Then pour your material into a measuring cup to estimate your silicone volume you will need.

Step 9

Now it’s time for your silicone! Put on those vinyl gloves and safety glasses…start your engines! You’ll want to mix your Mold Star 15 Slow, equal parts A & B. So divide your total volume by half to measure out Part A. Have a large plastic bowl ready to mix both parts in. Open Part A of your Mold Star 15 Slow silicone and mix befer pouring 1/2 of your volume into your bowl. Then repeat process on Part B and combine into bowl with Part A. Mix both parts silicone thoroughly in bowl, making sure to scrape sides until you have an even color.

Step 10

Close the lids to your Parts A & B with a rubber mallet. Your mixed silicone has a pot life of 50 minutes so you don’t have to rush too much. Carefully pour your silicone into your mold with the help of a funnel. You’ll want to leave part of your bird leg sticking out the top of your mold so that it will be a void to pour your resin into later. Keep an eye on things for the first 30 minutes to troubleshoot any leaks you might have. I had a couple small leaks that I used sulphur free clay to cover up along with some more glue gun. Let cure for 4 hours at room temperature. I let mine cure overnight since I had a thicker silicone mold than a 1/2″ thick around bird leg. (Just to be safe, silicone is not cheap.)

Step 11
After your cure time is up, carefully remove your pins with pliers. Next, remove your cardboard from all sides. Your cardboard may stick a little, you can see how the silicone seeped into parts of my cardboard mold.

Step 12
Take a sharpie and circle all of your points in the silicone that you had pins so we can identify them and glue gun later.

Step 13
Next, you want to remove your bird leg from the silicone. Use an exacto knife and with a wavy cut, slowly slice down the back of your bird leg until you can remove your leg and foot. This wavy cut will function as your mold keys. Tadah! Now, toss your leg back in a plastic bag and into the freezer again.

Step 14
Rinse your mold with water to remove any debris and dry on cool heat setting with hair dryer.

Step 15
Hot glue your mold at all pinhole areas you circled with a sharpie and also along the wavy cut. Then use rubberbands (or hair ties in my case) to hold together the mold tightly. I also used a brown glass jug to support the stem of the mold.

Step 16
Time for your plastic resin! I used Smooth Cast 320. I guestimated how much I would need to fill my mold. You’ll mix Parts A & B together with a ratio of 1:1. Measure and mix your resins into a plastic bowl. This type of resin has a pot life of 3 minutes and a cure time of 10 minutes. No pressure:/ (You can find other resins on the market with different pot/cure/color/etc. properties) Once you have both parts of your Smooth Cast 320 mixed, you’ll want to work fast. Use your plastic funnel again to guide the resin into your mold. Make sure you’re funnel is free of silicone. Pour until filled to the top of your mod. Let cure 10 minutes. Troubleshoot any leaks while you wait for the resin to cure.

Step 17
I had a lot of leakage with just hair ties and hot glue holding the mold together. You can see the flash that leaked through the cracks in the mold. To remove your leg after curing, gently peel your hot glue strip from your wavy cut in your silicone mold. Remove what hopefully is a killer bird leg. Ooooo yeah!

Step 17 (again, retry)
I decided to make another attempt but this time using masking tape in addition to hot glue and hair ties. You can see the 2nd and 3rd attempts were better. I think my husband would agree, there were no cries for HELP!, HELP! as resin leaked everywhere…coming from my workspace.

Step 18
In total I have 4 legs from this adventure. Two of them are satisfactory to continue with. The other two I will have to make into a soup stirrer and a portable telephone. Below, from left to right are attempts 1-4. You can see the improvement each try. The left hand mutant leg was the attempt with the first mold. The 3 legs on the right were all attempts with the second mold. My silicone mold had air bubbles on the foot area you can see…I’ll have to sand those down before I paint the legs. The first mold with Oomoo silicone seemed to have captured more detail than the Mold Star 15 Slow. Or maybe my leg was a bit more broken down after being de-thawed and frozen for the umpteenth time:/

Step 19
I chose two of the best legs to proceed with. Use sand paper and clay modeling tools to get rid of any air bubbles, flashing or imperfections on your legs. The resin sand very easily and is surprisingly resilient to carve into. Make sure to add back in any texture where you sand to keep a seamless transition. Use spackling compound to fill in any voids. I used a bit on both middle toes of my feet.

Step 20
Drill holes in the bottom of each foot at least 2″ deep to accommodate the gauge (diameter) of your wire rod. Cut off your your flashing (if any) on your legs. Find something to hold your legs steady while you paint them. I used a vice and a spare glass bottle. Paint your cast legs with acrylic paint referencing your frozen leg for color. After your acrylic paint dries, seal with a matte finish clear coat and now you’re ready to continue your mounting process. You now have artificial legs!

Step 21
Assemblage time! Glue your wire rod into the bottom of your feet and let dry.

There were many trial and errors along the way of this tutorial. I first attempted a leg mold with Oomoo silicone, clay, plaster of paris, etc. They were all disasters and a huge mess. I believe if I would have built a better dam for all of those casting materials, there could have been success. But I decided to purchase a different type of silicone that had a slight variance on curing times/shore hardness. It’s called, Mold Star 15 Slow.

Meet Barthalemu, part real and part artificial.