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Creepin' It Real
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Discussion Starter #1
Hi all,

I've been stockpiling supplies for years, and it's time to get off my arse and start building. I have two major projects to complete this year, the more time-consuming of which will be a wolf. My plan is outrageously expensive, excessively overbuilt, and probably extreme overkill for a display that's up four hours a year, but that's par for my course. :D

I'm posting in advance of starting in the hopes that haunters here will question me, educate me and encourage me (read: kick my butt) to keep going. Because of my schedule this is going to be a long process but it's a project about which I'm passionate. If anyone would like measurements or patterns based on the pelt, let me know and I'll be happy to do what I can to accommodate.

My goal is to create a walking wolf that is partially poseable, based loosely on the soft sculpture taxidermy of Midnight Wolf Designs, whose work you may recognize from a recent episode of Oddities. She's been willing to discuss her overall methods on-line and I plan to use those as the basis for my wolf, with some adaptations to my own needs (such as the animal being able to stand upright)

I am starting with a vintage wolf pelt that was skinned for and used as a wallhanger for many years. I know right from the bat that's a controversial choice. All I can say is that he was being sold to be cut apart for craft use; I plan to be more respectful. His paws and lower legs were removed and will need to be rebuilt, and he has a long slip (area of missing fur) on an upper leg and shoulder. I've researched faux fur options and will be happy to recommend fabrics and sources for those who want to play along without using any real wolf parts.

What I will mention at the outset that's of use to anyone doing a wolf project is that although Gray wolves come in a variety of shades, most have a distinctly cream/tan base coat, not the screaming white that's common to faux furs labeled "wolf" or "husky." The fur is also very multitonal, with shades of cream, black, gray, and brown, particularly in the longest hairs on the dorsal side of the torso. Even black wolves are not solid in color. Leg fur is much shorter than the body fur, and tends to have fewer colors in it.

The closest match in faux fabric I found to my wolf was called "smokey tipped fox fur" from Mendels, although it appears they carry some related fabrics that might be close. Distinctive Fabric carried a beige or tan (can't remember which, and they are two different colors) from Distinctive Fabric that ran a close second. Mendels also had a tan based "husky" with just the barest black tips that was a near perfect match to my wolf's leg color, and it too seems to have disappeared. Other sites may still have these fabrics available which is why I'm mentioning them by name now. None of the better fabrics were cheap; most ran about $35/yard.

Materials:

  • 1 Vintage wolf pelt from eBay. "Wolfie," originally from Alaska, has classic Gray wolf coloring and was most likely a slightly larger than average male.
  • 1 extra partial wolf pelt from eBay for repairs. Most of this is reserved for a werewolf prop but there just might be enough to cover the slip and rebuild the feet. If there's insufficient fur, I will be using faux fur fabrics.
  • 1 pair of ASPW 20/24 mm glass wolf/coyote eyes
  • 1 pair of Van Dyke's wolf earliners
  • 1 coyote change-out head to use as sculpting reference. MidnightWolfDesigns uses rug shell forms, and there are plenty of wolf forms available if you wish to shorten this step. I simply don't like the available open-mouthed wolves and plan to sculpt a copy of this coyote in larger size in clay, then mold in papier mache.
  • Taxidermy needles, suture material, hide paste, and rehydrating solution from Van Dyke's. I am not and never have been a taxidermist so this part could get very interesting very quickly.
  • Wire, wire, and more wire
  • Sulfur-free sculpting clay
  • As much polyfill as I can lay my hands on
  • Milliput Superfine White (to create toenails for the missing feet)
  • Art Anatomy of Animals, by Seton.
  • Papier mache

Thoughts, comments, spare change, butt-kicking?
 

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Master of Disaster
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Wow, can't wait to see some of the pieces come together.
I hope you update frequently.

As for 'overkill' & 'only seen 4 hours per year', I know how you feel. The effort vrs usefulness is hard to justify. The only thing that makes sense to me is that I enjoy the build process (regardless of how crappy the results are sometimes) and it's like a hobby. Being able to display my hobby once a year is gravy.
 

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Hey, BlueFrog, have you checked out VanDykes' tutorial section. I haven't been on the website for a while but I know they had some interesting tutorials on there when I looked like measuring; used it when I was trying to figure out fabric for my reindeer/werewolf. Don't know if it's relative to what you are doing but thought I'd ask.
 

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Creepin' It Real
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Discussion Starter #5
Oh no, not the boot of Mr. Gris! :flees to workshop: :D

DoctorGrim, your comment about treating the build process as a hobby and being able to display it once a year the bonus resonated strongly with me. That's the mindset I'm trying to transition to. In fact, part of my justification for posing my wolf the way I am is that it will reflect the way I see real wolves, rather than the fable wolves that would be more natural for Halloween. I have to live with my props year round so it's important that *I* like them.

As for frequent updates - if I'm not doing that, please feel free to prod me. My greatest flaw as a crafter/artist/builder is that I tend to get frustrated when something starts to go not quite right, and because I can't have it perfect I stop. My home is littered with projects that would probably be not too bad if only I would finish them. For the wolf, on both literal and figurative levels I can't afford to leave him half-done, and because I'm going to be winging a lot of aspects he's especially vulnerable to my getting frustrated and wanting to stop. So, DON'T LET ME QUIT!!!

Ghost of Spookie, I've practically lived on Van Dykes site recently and somehow missed the tutorials. Thanks for the heads up. I will most definitely check them out.
 

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Ghouls Rule
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holy crap, the midnight wolf designs look incredible!I was both intrigued and a bit squeamish looking at them, they still look alive! Kudos to you for trying something with live pelts. I cant wait to see your progress on the wolfie. :)
 

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Creepin' It Real
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Discussion Starter #7
Caution: Anyone with the slightest bit of taxidermy training or experience should turn back now. I will NOT be held responsible for any ER visits caused by excessive laughter.

It's been an interesting few weeks since I last posted. Wolfie has been joined by Scar, a 40 year old timber wolf rug; a headless and pawless small female wolf; and Frank N Fox, my "practice" piece who has become my archnemesis. I fought the dead fox, and the dead fox won. Seriously, the woman who failed at making a pillow on a sewing machine in home ec might have thought twice before acquiring so many dead animals that failure is not an option.

In the interest of having something done in time for Halloween - we're buying a new house and refurbing the old one, which leaves ridiculously little time for prop making - I broke down and purchased a wolf head form from Joe Coombs Taxidermy. I had bought a coyote head from Van Dyke's and planned to sculpt my own, larger version using it as a reference, but there is such a vast discrepency in size (Wolfie is 6 feet long) that I decided to go the safer route. The head form is lightweight Styrofoam and looks like it will be easily customizable. I will still be building the skeleton out of wire, tape, and god knows what else by the time I'm through.

Once again, the misery that is Frank N Fox will be my test piece. He's small, fiddly, has leather prone to tearing, and by the time I'm finished will have been stitched together from something like five or six different silver foxes. Why I thought this was a good idea, I no longer have a clue. Smaller is most definitely not easier. In fact, I'm wondering whether I might not have been better off starting with, say, a grizzly bear. One might think that finding an old but still workable grizzly bear pelt might be more costly than my simple common fox, but one would be wrong. PayPal's executives will have vacation homes by the time my stitched together fox is done.

More later. I'm still trying to find a pheasant leg that went missing in a fifteen foot stretch of carpet this evening. Hopefully I will locate it before a squeamish family member, the spaniel, or one of my (pet) rats, does.
 

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Creepin' It Real
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Discussion Starter #8
While I work up the courage to rehydrate the wolf skins (useful formula here) I'd like to talk about something vital that most artists and crafters overlook: legal issues surrounding the use of wildlife parts. I realize that few haunters are likely to follow in my footsteps with full pelts unless they're knowledgeable taxidermists, but there are lots of bits and pieces available for sale on eBay and Etsy that could easily find their way into props. Some of those listings display to the world that the sellers don't have a clue they might be violating federal & state laws in the U.S. (My apologies to those outside the U.S. for what's going to be a U.S.-centric post; although the specifics will differ, many of the overall structures are the same).

Don't think that just because all you bought was a scrap of vintage wolf fur from a New York seller that you'll be treated any more leniently by the authorities than someone who got caught knowingly driving a truck full of poached elephant ivory. Legal fees alone can easily run you $75,000 or more, and that's if you win or the government chooses to settle the case without jail time. You must be knowledgeable not only in the laws of your state, but that of the seller's, as well as any relevant federal laws. Migratory birds are almost always a huge headache best avoided, for example (almost always illegal) and waterfowl are likewise tricky unless you can prove the parts came from a farm-raised bird.

Importing from outside the U.S., including Canada? You'll need to buy a $100 license (good for one year), pay inspection fees, and keep records for at least five years.

Start educating yourself by reading the following pages:

United States - Relevant Animal Parts Laws

Importing Wildlife and the Law

Legalities Regarding pre-ban CITES I Animal Parts

Next up: where to purchase useful parts for props and costumes.
 

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Creepin' It Real
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Discussion Starter #9
By the Pumpkin King, I think I may be on to something here.... but first, a moment of silence for Frank N Fox.

Frank led a troubled, short existence under my roof. I purchased him as a practice piece, given that I'm the girl who flunked making a pillow in Home Ec (in my defense, I totally rocked working with molten metal and dangerously hot plastic). Frank was fragile, prone to tears, and prone to producing tears in my eyes. However, he died valiantly when his head DISSOLVED in a vat of rehydrating chemicals, a warning which may have saved Scar. Frank N Fox, you will forever be in my thoughts....

On a much happier note, meet Scar. Scar is a 40-year old wolf rug who had seen better days and was definitely holding a grudge against humanity. If I'd been stepped on for that long, I probably would too. These photos were taken after I removed a heavy wooden plaque from under his head, ripped out at least a thousand staples and two layers of felt, and started reproportioning his face but before serious work began.


To make him look more fearsome, his head had been grossly distorted during mounting and took on the size and proportions more akin to a bear's. The skin under his head had been cut in half, then stretched so that the cut edges ran alongside the outer side of his face. That's a lot of distortion. I cut and scraped mountains of hard foam from the inside, then hydrated the skin and stretched it down as far as I could. His appearance isn't perfect, but it's much more wolf than bear now, with the bonus that his head now weighs considerably less and will be easier to mount to an armature. He has a funny chin and his lips are distorted - again primarily due to the original work - but I think I could really do more harm than good by trying to correct those features so they will stay; besides, he is a Halloween wolf and not an educational specimen.. I'm sure there are taxidermists out there who could have completely restored his original appearance, but they aren't working on him, I am.

I've also started playing with repairing the missing fur and skin on his face. What I should have done (hindsight alert!) was epoxy over the damaged areas and textured it with porcupine quills (never leave home without them - essential tools in my kit for pretty much everything). Instead I first tried to build the area up with patches of coyote fur, which was too thick and wouldn't sit right. Cut up dove feathers provided nearly perfect patch material but were too time-consuming to apply. Paint I couldn't get thick enough, but the painted areas now bear enough resemblance to scars (rather than translucent whitish plastic) that I may leave them. Time is a-wasting and I can work only in the wee hours of the morning while the family sleeps because they find him too disturbing.

It's not only his head that requires stitchwork. His legs need to be refolded and stitched, and he needed a new tail. Given that I'm as much of a seamstress as Dr. Frankenstein himself, the decision to use black thread against mostly pale fur might not have been my smartest, but I'm forcing myself to proceed rather than re-do the iffy looking areas. Long, thick fur hides many sins.

More information, and updated photos, to come shortly.
 

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I love the look in his eyes! Very alive looking.

Thanks for giving us the step by step - it might help the next poor sap who's tempted to go this route (besides being hysterical! :D)
 

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Creepin' It Real
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Discussion Starter #11
Poor sap? Poor sap? Who are you calling a poor sap, talkingcatblues? Oh wait, that's right, I am[/am] a poor hysterical sap :p Tomorrow I am faced with asking a neighbor to borrow her blow dryer so I can fluff and dry the fur of a dead wolf. Bet not many people have ever had to do that.

I'm glad you touched bases. I don't mind talking to myself, but it's more fun with an audience. I doubt many people will be interested in doing the kind of half-taxidermy, half-not prop build that I am, but at least my experiences will be documented and hopefully others will benefit. I certainly hope to save haunters from the dreaded latex wolf that every site seems to offer. Scar and friends won't be perfectly anatomically accurate, but by the pumpkin king they'll be a whole lot better than that malformed freak - and I don't mean malformed freak in a good way. I do believe the taxidermy industry offers all kinds of products that would be of great benefit to the haunt industry, regardless of whether people want to use actual fur & hide. There are so many stunning glass eyes available that I'm spoiled for choice, for both human and non-human builds. More on some of those items at a later time.

As I mentioned, Scar is not drying even with a desiccant so I'm going to blow dry him. If his skin disintegrated like Frank N Fox's did, my haunt would have to be immediately changed to an asylum with me as the most dangerous of the deranged lunatics. Not a pretty sight. This project is definitely one of those that's too big to fail, so I must forge forward.

I have still more stitchwork to do tonight while I plot and plan the armature that will be crucial to the correct result. I originally planned to do nearly all wire so the wolves would be poseable but in Scar's case, I may need to scale down the ambition of my plan to achieve a successful result for this year. If that's the case, I need to decide on a pose. With my rat rescue, I spend 364 days a year educating people about how gentle, intelligent, and loving they are, and one night a year playing up the mythological vicious rat. With the wolves, I was initially opposed to making them mythological fearsome wolves. However, while drying Scar, I accidentally posed him as if he were standing on both hind legs, head and neck lunged forward to menace ToTs with his cheesy 70's plastic teeth (Thank Jack the taxidermy industry has progressed by leaps and bounds since those were installed!). I have to admit he looked incredible as The Wolf Avenger, ready to mete out justice on behalf of all wolves who ever died from a hunter's gun. I even had wicked thoughts about a bloodied basked and red hood at his feet. Wolfie and the girls have faces that are much too soft to play that role, but Scar.... well, if I'm going to do a nasty attack wolf, he's the one to do it with.
 

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With the wolves, I was initially opposed to making them mythological fearsome wolves. However, while drying Scar, I accidentally posed him as if he were standing on both hind legs, head and neck lunged forward to menace ToTs with his cheesy 70's plastic teeth (Thank Jack the taxidermy industry has progressed by leaps and bounds since those were installed!). I have to admit he looked incredible as The Wolf Avenger, ready to mete out justice on behalf of all wolves who ever died from a hunter's gun. I even had wicked thoughts about a bloodied basked and red hood at his feet. Wolfie and the girls have faces that are much too soft to play that role, but Scar.... well, if I'm going to do a nasty attack wolf, he's the one to do it with.
Love the basket and hood idea! And Wolf Avenger, too. In the hunter scenario you could always use one of the others as the wounded mate - there's your scene justification right there. :)

I do believe the taxidermy industry offers all kinds of products that would be of great benefit to the haunt industry, regardless of whether people want to use actual fur & hide. There are so many stunning glass eyes available that I'm spoiled for choice, for both human and non-human builds. More on some of those items at a later time.
Looking forward to this - I've been scouring some of your links with that in mind already.
 

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Creepin' It Real
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Discussion Starter #14
Thanks for the compliment, xxScorpion64xx. These wolves are consuming an enormous amount of resources but I'm learning so much along the way it's unbelievable. Hopefully these skills will carry over into other prop builds as well, but even if they don't, it's a fascinating ride so far.

talkingcatblues, you are a wicked, wicked haunter. I like it :) There's a "no dead animals" rule in my haunt, but I definitely have inklings of someday doing a haunt where the victims turn on their oppressors - witches burning a priest at the stake, lab animals experimenting on scientists, perhaps a wolf with hunting clothes and a rifle at his feet. In my display, one never knows what one may see!

Did you have any specific items you were looking for, or specific builds in mind? If so, let me know (here or PM) and I'll try to highlight those items when I start compliling the list. Even on sites I frequent, I still seem to run across items I never realized they carry. The selections of eyes alone are enough to blow one's mind, and I plan to incorporate some of them in future human builds. Think witches with cat eyes, for example. The more detailed forms should make amazing sculpting references. Unused scraps from the fur industry, like faces and tails, can be had for dirt cheap and incroprated as is or again used as reference. Real and replica teeth and claws are available - and like fur scraps, they can be dirt cheap when you know where to look. Bones? Get me started on that glorious subject at the peril of having your ears talked off.

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Since I have a few minutes before I have to leave for an eBay item pick-up, I may as well address the ethics issue regarding use of real animal parts. My official position is this: everyone should draw the lines as to what they're comfortable with - within legal boundaries, of course - for themselves. I am the biggest animal-loving tree hugger you're ever likely to meet this side of PETA. I, personally, don't have an issue with using vintage items whose purchase moneys don't support hunting or trapping for pelts. I don't have a problem with using leftover scraps from the fur industry that don't contribute in any meaningful way to the business. Others may draw the lines in different places. I'm not interested in hassling other people and would hope for the same courtesy in return. I'm speaking in general terms, obviously. Everyone here has been supportive or quiet, as they see fit, which is more evidence of the awesomeness of the haunt community.
 

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Creepin' It Real
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Discussion Starter #15
Nothing I can dream up for my haunt can possibly be as frightening as the house hunting, purchasing, and moving processes. Nothing.

Despite being delayed by one real life mishap after another, work continues on Scar, albeit at a frustratingly slow pace. The quality of his stitchwork reflects that the times I can steal away from so-called "more important" tasks are times that I am nearly delirious with exhaustion, but at this point, any stitch the holds is a good stitch. Besides, I do quit when the wolves start talking to me....

Before I embark on a massive list of taxidermy product sites, as I've promised I will, I'd first like to mention a couple of resources that may not immediately relate to prop builds, but which are interesting in their own right and might spark some ideas, maybe even a new appreciation for the form.

The first is a book: Still Life: Adventures in Taxidermy. It's a light, engaging read about everything from the history and cultural mores surrounding taxidermy to a look at the World Taxidermy Convention to the possible future of the art.

The other is a deservedly short-run AMC TV series, Immortalized. By almost any objective measure the show was bad, often risibly so. The set design was awful, the intros for the contestants so badly written I don't know how the host kept a straight face, and badly matched competitors where the winner often won almost be default - in one particularly memorable episode, the opponent's piece was not only unfinished, it was by even the loosest definition not taxidermy...

I sometimes have a fondness for shows that leave you wondering what the Powers That Be were thinking, and this one earned my star of excellence in that regard. A good friend and I couldn't wait to dissect each episode with unhealthy glee. At t he same time, we mock what we love - and there was the occasional nugget of gold hidden amongst the many, many layers of cheese. Given that it never appealed either to the taxidermy crowd nor a wider general audience, I think the likelihood of its eight episodes ever seeing a DVD release are next to nil, which is still a better chance than ever seeing a season 2.

Fortunately the episodes are available for viewing on Amazon.com. I recommend Episode 1.2 "The End of the World" and Episode 1.8 "Heaven and Hell." The former features a bombastic, sensory-overload-inducing display pitted against a spectacularly executed, quiet entry that I simply loved. The latter includes an astounding rogue taxidermy piece that any haunter would be proud to own.

References of more practical, immediate use to come soon, I promise. For now, this is BlueFrog, signing off to put in some serious thinkwork about how best to build an armature for Scar.
 

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I love how once you start exploring a new field there are so many resources out there to entertain, encourage and enlighten. Looking forward to the armature experiment and I hope the move goes smoother! I wonder what your eventual new neighbors will think when you show up accompanied by wolves in various states of 3D-ness... :D
 

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Creepin' It Real
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Discussion Starter #17
"I love how once you start exploring a new field there are so many resources out there to entertain, encourage and enlighten."<--- yes, yes, and HELL YES!

The location of this house is even more interesting than one might guess, talkingcatblues. There is a Christian church school for little kids along one side of the property, so reprising the Seven Deadly Sins the way I really want to could be rather dicey. Unfortunately, the front yard consists of two divots of sod alongside a driveway so short that if one opens the front door of the house, one's practically in the street. There's just about enough room for, say, a pair of wolves out front :) Looks like my days of an elaborate public haunt are over.

The compensation is a huge, irregularly shaped back yard fenced with a solid privacy wall and soon-to-be thick vegetation. Those elements will be a terrific backdrop for all my spooky happenings.
 

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Unfortunately, the front yard consists of two divots of sod alongside a driveway so short that if one opens the front door of the house, one's practically in the street. There's just about enough room for, say, a pair of wolves out front :) Looks like my days of an elaborate public haunt are over.

The compensation is a huge, irregularly shaped back yard fenced with a solid privacy wall and soon-to-be thick vegetation. Those elements will be a terrific backdrop for all my spooky happenings.
I hear ya about the lack of a yard. Wolf sentinels at the door would actually be kind of cool, though! And maybe you can let golden ticket holders take a peek out back.
 

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Creepin' It Real
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Discussion Starter #19
A few brief notes on acquiring legal pelts and furs. Brief, because my guess is that most haunters will go the faux fur route, but I think this part is still worthy of mention for anyone who considers going this route using wolf or coyote. For the purpose of discussion, I'm going to assume that you're trying to keep the build on the relative cheap - total cost including forms, eyes, etc. between $100 and $300. If you have the money or inclination to purchase a taxidermy quality freshly tanned wolf pelt ($500+) or a fully mounted wolf ($1000+), you're way out of my league - but be sure to show me pictures! :)

First of all, be sure that owning wolf and/or coyote parts is legal in your state. Use the link above. If you're in California or New York, you're out of luck on owning wolf but have other, legal options.

Secondly, eBay is your friend. You're going to have to dig and be patient for just the right BIN, mislist, or poorly worded listing. In conjunction with the word "wolf," use terms like hide, pelt, skin, real, rug, wallhanger, and taxidermy. (But be careful: a "brush wolf" is a coyote, not a "true" wolf like a timber or European). Patience is required but they are out there. Normally I advise haunters to purchase craft grade taxidermy items, but this is one case where you need to be very careful with any listing described as such. Many craft grade pelts are in such poor condition that the seller expects the user will cut them into small pieces. Small "slips" (patches of missing fur, usually caused by problems in the tanning process) are acceptable. Large slips can signal trouble. Older furs may have leather that is brittle, too soft to hold a stitch, decomposing from an acidic tan, or anything in-between. There are methods to work with damaged leather so all is not lost if you wind up with one of these problem skins, but it will require more time and possibly more $$ to fix. If a seller knows enough to indicate that a skin is "not mountable," find out why. If you purchase a rug, wallhanger, or pretty much anything else that wasn't intended for a "lifesize" taxidermy mount, expect that you will have to replace patches of missing fur where they were removed in the skinning process; most will be in fairly out-of-the-way places and not a big deal.

If a pelt is missing its legs or feet (many are) you have a couple of options. You can rebuild them using the fur of another animal (coyote tummy fur for paws, probably coyote leg fur for upper legs) or purchase them separately. The latter route can be quite expensive and you'll almost certainly have to airbrush because the colors NEVER seem to match. I've seen single wolf feet sell as high as $50 each on Etsy. Again, though, sometimes you get lucky. I purchased four matched wolf feet plus a tail for $56 on eBay due to a poorly worded auction title, which enabled me to complete both Scar and Wolfie in one fell swoop.

I see absolutely no reason why haunters couldn't cheat by using coyote parts to create werewolves. They're much cheaper, much more available, and even the worst coyote fur mount is still going to look a lot better than the latex horror. Coyotes are not merely little wolves, but they're probably close enough for our purposes; a very large male coyote roughly overlaps the bottom of the adult female wolf weight range. The larger and furrier the coyote is, the more wolf-like it will appear - but the more expensive it will be. Coyotes killed during winter when their coats are at their thickest are sometimes referred to as "prime." Purchase the largest and fluffiest pelt you can afford in the most wolf-like color you can locate, and go for it. You might even get lucky and find a mislisted wolf pelt; I recently purchased one that way. I suspect that the same trick used to make Scar's head as wide as a bear's (discussed in a previous post) might also yield a wolfier-looking "yote." Some day I'll try it, but with two full wolves and two partial wolves sitting here waiting for me to finish them, I'm not in a hurry.

Coyote replacement parts, including faces, tails, and feet, are super simple to locate. Furtails.com will provide the first two, and Etsy the last; I should link to a particular seller but that will have to wait for a later post.
 

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Creepin' It Real
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Discussion Starter #20
Does anyone have orange juice and cookies for me? My trip to Dick Blick for armature wire and metal mesh left me lightheaded and giddy from having my wallet drained. Granted, I should have enough to finish Scar as well as a good chunk of at least one other wolf, but by the pumpkin king, this pack is getting expensive.

From this point progress - whether forward or backward - should be relatively swift as long as my health allows. The planned house purchase fell through due to mold and radon issues today. Despite the lack of front yard, it's a shame. Imagine me, the dead things, and the props all mutating in a basement radiation bath. Could have gotten a good movie plot out of the deal and written off all the wolf-related expenses.
 
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