Are you coveting the look of the taxidermy trend but don’t want to fork up the cash for a real antique? Tired of the limited selection of real animals? Want an animal head that no actual animals died for? You’re in luck: today I’ll show you had to make a faux animal head from junk you have lying around the house and thrift store supplies.
Traveling through Wyoming recently, I loved seeing stuffed jackalopes in gift shops. I wanted to bring one home, but none were quite as big as I’d like them to be (being limited to the size of real rabbits) and I was worried I wouldn’t be able to bring an animal product like that through customs.
Instead I decided to make my own from some stuff I had at home.
Here is the full list of what I used. These instructions can be easily altered to make any creature, so your supplies may vary depending on what you want to make.
From a thrift store:
- A wall “art” plaque (I paid $3 for mine but you might be able to get one for cheaper or find a real wood plaque from a craft or hobby store)
- One pair stuffed animal eyes (I got Mr. Bunny two years ago and have since used pieces of him for everything from costumes to tribbles)
- Fur, real or fake (I found a disintegrating vintage fur coat for really cheap but you could just as easily use fake fur from the fabric store)
From your recycling bin:
- Paper, lots and lots of paper
- Thin cardboard
From a craft store:
- Paint (I used chalkboard paint for the plaque and acrylic craft paints for the rest)
- Air dry clay (I used some of the leftovers)
From a hardware store or your garage:
- A small block of wood
- Wire mesh or chicken wire
- Wire or a coat hanger
- Masking tape
- Glue. Lots and lots of glue.
From your kitchen:
- Hair dye
- Real antlers (I ended up deciding real antlers were too expensive for this project, but if you have access to some antlers by all means use them)
Preparing the base
Paint the plaque. You may want to sand it first if you’re using something from a thrift store like I did. I used chalkboard paint since I had it handy and I liked the matte black.
Screw a block of wood to the front of the plaque. This will be used to anchor the bust to the plaque.
Form the basic head shape (in this case a circle) with wire. Use the wire to make two ears and antennas that will become the antlers.
Bend chicken wire into the shape of the head and neck. You may want to wear gloves while working with the wire. Pliers are helpful for folding over the ends of the wire to hold the shapes together.
Secure the wire form to the block of wood with screws and washers.
I added larger cardboard ears later but in hindsight it would have been best to do this right after making the form, before adding the papier mache.
Papier mache pulp has changed my life. I tried it for the first time this Halloween and I’m totally hooked. It’s practically free, easy to use and very strong.
Rip, cut or shred scrap paper until you have a full bucket of tiny paper pieces. This is a great way to use up old newspaper, tissue paper from Christmas or office waste paper.
Fill the bucket with warm water and leave it to soak for a few hours.
After it has soaked for a while, pour the mixture into your blender and blend it. You will likely have to do several batches.
Strain the pulp in a colander and squeeze out all the excess water.
Stir flour and water together to form a paste. Add a generous helping of salt and mix it into the paper pulp.
While flour and water should be enough to hold it all together, I also like to add lots of white glue.
Before applying the papier mache pulp to the form I applied a layer of traditional paper mache (strips of paper dipped in diluted glue). This optional step lets you use a much thinner layer of pulp which will dry much faster.
Smooth the pulp onto form and shape it as you would clay or play dough. If the pulp is too lumpy you can smooth it out with some glue diluted with water.
Don’t apply the pulp too thick. Aim instead to apply a couple layers and let it dry completely between each application. Keep extra pulp in an airtight container or plastic wrap so it won’t dry out between layers.
If you need to speed up the drying time you can put the whole thing in a warm oven or next to a heater, but be careful not to burn it.
Roll paper into long tubes around the wire antennas and shape into antlers with the help of some masking tape. Apply a layer of strips of paper dipped in glue to hold together the shape of the antlers.
Break out the air-dry clay. Apply the clay to the antlers. I used a fork to add the grooves and water to smooth it out.
Remove the eyes from a stuffed animal. Mark where the eyes go on the head and drill holes for them. Use a dab of glue from a glue gun to secure the eyes in place.
Make eyelids with the air-dry clay.
Paint the eyelids dark brown (or whatever colour your creature is) with craft paint.
To paint the antlers dilute brown paint with water and brush it on. Then wipe off some of the paint with a rag, especially on the tips.
Touch up the base if you need to.
Prepping the fur
I didn’t like the colour of the fur I had. I considered covering the jackalope with something other than fur but nothing seemed quite right.
I remembered hearing somewhere that the Museum of Nature used Nice ‘n Easy hair dye to restore the caribou in their dioramas after their fur had faded from decades under the exhibit lights. So I thought I might as well try it on the fur I had.
If you have fur you like or you’re using fake fun fur, skip this part.
Follow the instructions that come with the hair dye. Be sure to wear the included gloves — if you have large hands you may want to get different gloves. Rub the dye into the fur. If you need to, use some water to help work the dye into the fur. After letting it sit for 30 minutes, rinse out the dye and dry the fur with an old towel.
Use a glue gun to glue strips of fur to your creature. If you’re finding the pieces of fur too stiff to work with, moisten them with a bit of water. Trim off excess fur with an X-acto knife.
Clippers and scissors are handy for trimming and shaping the fur around the nose and ears. I borrowed a beard trimmer and it worked great.
Since I was worried the existing hanging mechanisms on my plaque wouldn’t work for the extra weight, I added a crude keyhole to the back.
All you need to do now is hang it on the wall.