The Art of Darkness

FeeJee Mermaid Build

July 31st, 2014 by Cobwebs

FeeJee MermaidI love a good sideshow gaff, and the Pyewackett and Pecke site has posted a rare treat: Build notes and photos for a great-looking FeeJee Mermaid prop. Artist Dan Baines has a five-part series of posts detailing the prop: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5.

(Incidentally, if Baines’ name sounds familiar, it’s because he was the artist responsible for the great mummified fairy hoax in 2007.)

Some of his techniques and materials are probably out of range of the average home DIY-er: The mermaid’s claws, for instance, are made from 3D-printed bird feet, and Baines made a custom silicon-rubber texturizer to create the impression of scales. However, there are other, less esoteric, ways to achieve similar effects: Replica animal claws are available at places like The Evolution Store, you can use claw-looking things like dentalium shells, or you can simply mold the things individually out of polymer clay. Instead of clawed fingers, it might be interesting to give the mermaid webbed hands instead; in that case, the model duck feet used for taxidermy would look great.

The scaly texture on the tail could be created by lightly pressing the head of a large nail into the wet covering on the skin in an overlapping pattern. Although not flexible the way a silicon mold would be, the “coarse” section of a cheese grater might also work. (There are also dog treats made of real dried fish skin; I’m curious as to whether they’d have sufficient depth to be used as a mold.)

For the front half of the mermaid Baines used an 18″ medical skeleton model and a resin cast of a human infant skull. He unfortunately doesn’t specify where he got either; the Skeleton Store has a replica of a full fetal skeleton, but it’s a tad pricey. Their Frugal Fernando seems about the right size for the ribs and arms, and instead of a fetal skull a replica monkey skull might be a cheaper option; after all, the original taxidermied FeeJee Mermaids were made from the front half of a monkey attached to the back half of a fish.

This would be a fantastic display piece, and would look great as part of a cabinet of curiosities. The next time you vacation at the beach, be sure to dig around souvenir shops for dried seaweed and similar oceany stuff which could be used either as detailing on the body (feathery kelp might make interesting fins) or to add “carnival exhibit” interest to the display stand.

Bonus link: The Propnomicon site has a nice post mortem discussing this build, with further suggestions for materials and techniques more suited to the amateur builder.

Posted in Doom It Yourself | 2 Comments »

2 Responses

  1. cookie Says:

    FeeGee mermaids captured my imagination when I was but a young weirdo many years ago. I have since tried my hand at gaffing one and can offer some advice on how to cheap out on some of the needed parts. Keep a lookout for large dinosaur/monster models at thrift stores, these make dandy hands needing little modification. The skeleton that one finds in “W” stores and Michaels before halloween is a perfect substitute for fetal skeletons, you just have to futz a bit with the skull and paper mache’ does the trick. ( one can buy a jar of latex at a craft store to use as the final layer of skin but carpet latex works as well, it just takes longer to dry. As for the scales, if you live near an Oriental grocery store that has a seafood department then ask for an unscaled carp. Carp scales are HUGE and easilly molded from and if you are of the waste not-want not crowd you can eat the damn thing although it is one of the most loathesom fish ever to grace a plate. Fins can be made out of tissue paper glued over wire ‘bones’ then covered over with latex. Seaweed, the plastic kind, can be found at any pet store that sells fish. Quite frankly, real seaweed smells and will decompose into a pile of foul goop. Not nice. Happy gaffing and PLEASE offer your advice as most of us like to learn from other people’s mistakes.

  2. Fiend4Halloween Says:

    Thanks for the info cookie! I’ve corpsed skellies and more but have yet to make a fiji mermaid but I want too. Your tips sound great, so thanks again.

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