It’s Not Just Taxidermy: an in-depth look at the Elements of Great Taxidermy
Taxidermy is just a form, hide, some glue, and lots thread. Right?
To some, that is all that it is. For us, taxidermy is an art form. You may have heard that before and you know it sounds good. But what does it mean?
Let’s look at what sets good taxidermy apart from great taxidermy.
The easiest way to explain great taxidermy is by using the same principles applied to fine art and architecture — line, shape, form, color, texture, and space. These are the elements to make great art, but it’s how the elements are used that make the difference.
Pattern is used by creating an arrangement of repeated elements. In this particular scene, we have created a pattern in the repeated rocks. By creating a pattern, it allows the mind to recognize these elements go together. The rounded edges of the rocks being repeated throughout the piece help tell the story of not only the trophies but of the landscape.
Contrast is the combination of two opposites used to highlight each other or create visual interest. The simplest way we can see this in art is simply putting a dark object on a lighter background–the object will stand out, it will be highlighted. It can also be created by putting a smooth stone next to a piece of driftwood. In well-designed taxidermy, the scenic elements work together to highlight the natural beauty of the trophies.
This photo shows contrast at work in our scenic build. Look at how the rocks have extreme contrast, the way the hard shadows are created. Contrast is even seen in the texture of the smooth coat of the sheep and the rough texture of the rock. The colors in this scenic build also shows off the trophies. Look how the rocks have a green mossy sheen contrasting the coat and horn color.
Emphasis is the combination of elements that point to only one thing. It can be achieved through a dark shadow, negative space, a splash of color. It can also be achieved through sight lines, placement of items, colors, repetition.
If you look closely, you will see emphasis in all of our pieces. Let’s look at this particular piece of two New Zealand Tahr fighting. It looks like a moment frozen in time–the moment right before the two bull Tahr engage in an epic battle. What do you see first? Your eye goes directly to the heads of the animals. Do you know why? You could say it’s simply because that’s where the action is.
Let’s take another look. First element to look at is the use of line. Each of the Tahr has an invisible line that connects from their nose to the rock beneath them. Those lines are pushing your eyes up and towards the center. In this triangle, there is nothing but rock. The subtle pop of green color visually anchors each of the Tahr, but it is the brown vine that forces our eye inward.
Balance occurs when the interactions of the elements create the feeling of equality in weight. In scenic builds, there is the balance between the trophy and the scenic element as well as the balance between scenic elements. Without this fine balance, the trophies will look out of place and incomplete.
This Mountain Lion is staged in a tall pine tree. Balance is found in the crisscross of the visual lines. The tall section of the upper right side of the tree is balanced by the smaller rock and large trunk on the lower left. While the left side of the scene is extremely heavy with the tree and Mountain Lion but is balanced by the visually equal heavy rock. Without the crisscross balance, the tree would look too heavy and ready to fall over. The balance is striking.
Scale is the size relationship between the different elements. There should be an natural evenness to the display. It is essential for the piece to follow nature as closely as possible. For instance, the Bongo and Duikers pictured here are in perfect balance between each other and the scenery. Although the scenic elements should never overpower the trophy, scale can show off the uniqueness of the trophy. Just take a look at that Duiker. Scale should always compliment your trophy.
Harmony occurs when all the pieces working together to give a sense of a coherent whole. Harmony is taking a step back and asking-“Does everything come together?”
Take a close look at the Hyena and Baboon scene. The visual lines all push the eye upward to emphasize the action taking place. The scenic elements provide a base to which the true trophies can shine. We can especially see harmony with the reoccurrence of scenic elements throughout. The rocks, grasses, and shrubs are not be in stratified layers, instead they work together by building off each other to create harmony.
There is nothing that can kill a potentially fabulous design more than lack of movement. Movement is essential to the design and composition of your trophy. The piece you look at everyday should look as it will start to move at any moment.
Movement doesn’t start and end with the mounts themselves. Without the scenic elements showing movement, the piece would be stagnant. Take a look at this action packed mount. Obviously we see the movement from the intense chase. The design elements of the Blesbok seemingly jumping off the pedestal gives it real drama. Let’s look closer. Do you see how the grasses part? How the grasses lean away from the action as if the passing wind from the chase ruffled them? Do you see how the grasses press outward from the lions paw? Without these elements, the trophy would still look good, but with all these elements working together, this trophy is certainly a one-of-a-kind piece of art.
These design elements are what we look at when creating a mount. Not only do we want to make sure the trophies are realistic and excellently done, we want to make sure the scenic elements are equally perfected. We truly believe we are creating pieces of art to be cherished and enjoyed. So next time, someone tells you “It’s just taxidermy,” give them an art lesson.