Mickey Alice Kwapis

taxidermy & craft

MICKEY HAD A LITTLE LAMB

Well, has, technically. I have a little lamb. It's smaller than my cat, and it's also dead in case you couldn't tell. When I started working on her, she was covered in feces and pretty gross, but I am thankful that someone chose to donate her to me rather than tossing her in the trash because she's an absolute angel. I think she died shortly after birth, and due to her short stature I'm assuming she was a twin or even a triplet, which isn't all that uncommon in many species and breeds of sheep and goats. Right now the project is about halfway done, but I wanted to share my progress so far! The first photo is the lamb, fresh out of the bath, with my staple tools: bone shears, a scalpel, and a Victorinox knife.

The taxidermy process is just like learning anything else. It seems daunting at first, there are a lot of different ways to do it, and with enough practice and the right teacher you can go pretty far. There aren't deep, dark secrets in this trade but a lot of taxidermists have their own techniques. I'm not sharing all of mine, but everything you see is a pretty widespread technique.

The first step after cleaning any feces or debris off your specimen is to skin it, flesh it, and tan it. There are many different tricks that taxidermists have for these processes, and typically larger animals are fleshed before and after being sent to a tannery, but for small animals like this I have a non-caustic tanning solution that permeates the skin deep enough to allow me to flesh after I tan the hide. Here we see the clean, smooth inside of the lamb after both tanning and fleshing. You can also see that I have split and turned the ears, which means I have turned them inside out and carefully removed the cartilage.

Remember that block of foam from the photo before this one? I carved it using the skull for reference, then added glass bubble eyes and clay. The clay is meant to emulate the muscle structures in the face and head, and accurately fill out the face in a realistic way.

Pictured above is the lamb's face during a fitting of the form, where I made sure all of the facial features were in the right place. The eyelids and lips still need to be tucked, and earliners still need to be inserted and glued in place.

Here I am wrapping the core of the form, using nothing but water, excelsior, and twine. You don't need to make huge investments in casting custom forms. It's a fun process, but experimenting in wrapping forms is fun (and much faster). Everyone has their preference and it's a good idea to learn how to make a body multiple ways.

This is how the form looks when it's about halfway done. Add more layers, wrap, add more, wrap - until you get it all right!

This shows the form with the legs added on. The wires are very long and each leg gets two wires each, which poke out between the cloven hooves and add stability during drying and then display.

This is a shot I took and sent to a friend, with my hand next to the lamb for scale. One leg was sewed closed, but three legs and the belly still needed to be done. Additionally, the lips and eyes and ears still needed to be positioned.

Here is the lamb during the drying process. "Carding" the ears involves using a P3 stapler or pins to hold cardboard against the skin so it stays sandwiched against the ear liner during the drying process. The pins stay there for about three weeks while everything sets in place.

This is my last photo of the process so far. The pins and cardboard have been removed, and now the lamb can be finished. I will use a process called sweating to rehydrate a part of the lip that shrunk in a funny way, allow it to dry again, and then use a combination of putty, paint, and shellac to finish the eyes, nose, mouth, and ears so the little one is ready for display.

Pictured next to the mostly-done lamb are a baby chick and an anthropomorphic baby rat in progress. I've never been a huge fan of anthropomorphic taxidermy, but this is the project that changed my mind. More on that soon!

Mickey Alice Kwapis is a Chicago-based taxidermist, jeweler, and person who does a lot of stuff. All site content ©2011-2017 Mickey Alice Kwapis and Niche Lab LLC. Questions? Use the contact form.