Advanced Taxidermy


Midnight Rise

It was last summer and we had to tip-toe about the boat as even the least amount of noise would carry across the lake. Silence is golden when you fishing for bass. The weather condition was perfect and the full moon was glowing just enough to light our way around vessel. "I lost a lunker near here not long ago!" Shawn whispered. The lures of choice were surface plugs and the plan was to entice the largemouth to rise to the surface and strike our bait. A few careful casts, a sudden furious explosion of water and Shawn's rod doubled under the aggressive charge of a six pound female largemouth. After a brief struggle the lunker was by Shawn's side for a midnight photo session. Twenty two inches in length and seventeen inches at girth, it was a perfect representative specimen of the largemouth from Stoney Lake's Hamilton Bay in the Kawartha Lakes of central Ontario.

A couple more photographs for trophies and reference and into the livewell it went. This was the beginning of Midnight Rise.

Born in Toronto, Ontario, Shawn Galea combined a love of art and a love of fishing at the age of seventeen when he began learning taxidermy. His first competition entries both earned first place and best of class in both warm water and coldwater categories.

With a strong background in illustration to support his growing skills as a taxidermist, he is now, at the age of twenty three, on way to becoming one of the top fish taxidermists in the North America. With partner James McGregor, he operates Advanced Taxidermy, a studio primarily dedicated to producing only the finest fish replicas. A recent visit to their modest workshop in the northwest end of Toronto showed the walls and suspended ceiling racks overflowing with finely detailed reproduction fish ranging from delicate red-eared sunfish to the 23 pound world record hybrid whitefish caught recently in the Northwest Territories.

As for the actual fish I do keep, they're most often small fish. From a connoisseur's viewpoint, let me state that smaller is better. It's always firmer and almost always milder tasting.

Though both Shawn and James are expert in reproduction fish manufacture, they are also both highly skilled in skin mounting techniques. Through process of evolution and due to the demands of the marketplace, they have shifted direction from their early days of skin mounts to replicas. Their aim is to produce the best reproduction fish available anywhere. One look at Midnight Rise confirms that they are well on their way to achieving this goal.

The Stoney Lake largemouth was destined to become one of Shawn's proudest accomplishments but long before realizing this were many long hours of work at the drafting table making preliminary drawings, planning and reference study. Shawn kept this specimen alive in a 200 gallon aquarium he maintains specifically to observe and study reference specimens. Both Shawn and James are absolute believers in using quality reference material and keep a considerable library of photographs, books and other material specifically for this purpose. They readily attribute their success to an early education in the value of good reference material and their continuing expansion of their library. In planning Midnight Rise, Shawn had to contend not only with the pose and position of the fish but also with the logistics of designing motion, balance and life into the piece. Once a basic plan of attack was determined, he turned his thoughts to the technical problems posed by the finalized drawings.

After reviewing the sketches, Shawn decided to present the fish in an aggressive pose, rising to the surface with mouth open and gills flared. "I decided to do the replica in an open mouth and gill position to challenge myself," says Shawn. "This was a particularly difficult technical feat and from a competition standpoint, quite risky. Open mouth and gill work leaves a very large area for the judges to find flaws and deduct points; however, if done correctly, one can also earn some bonus points for degree of difficulty. I wanted to make this piece as accurate as possible by allowing the viewer to see between the gill rakers and out through the opercle and cliethrum of the open gill area." This painstaking job consisted not only of making a throat mold, but also molding all of the throat parts individually and reassembling then afterwards. All in all, there were twenty one separate pieces molded to create the throat. The head and body were cast independently and in fact, the whole piece was something of an ichthyological jig-saw puzzle. Another area Shawn spent much time and effort agonizing over was the transparent tissue between the maxillary and preopercle. This area which is only visible when the fish has its mouth open required an extremely fine casting to create the see through effect one sees in life. In the finished piece, light coming from the other side of the piece shows clearly through this tissue to create an effect that's lifelike transparency.

Thee incredible detailing of this fish didn't stop with the head and throat work, but was consistent throughout the entire piece. Immaculate veining in the skin tissues of the lop areas and inside opercle as well as rebuilding the parasites in the transparent fins leaves one wanting to touch the piece to see it it's real. "I wanted to make this piece as original as possible, so I made everything from scratch," says Shawn. Not only is the bass itself a complete reproduction, but the rocks, weeds, eyes and imitation marble base were all custom-created specifically for this mount. The bass was molded from the original Stoney Lake specimen and the eyes were made from a hand-crafted mold to meet the size and shape of this fish's eye socket. Weeds were carved from tupelo with the exception of the weed which supports the fish. This one was forged from steel, specifically to meet the requirements of the piece. Rocks were molded with latex and cast from fiberglass resins. The marble base was created from a variety of epoxies, resins and polyesters, but this was not the original plan.

The original idea was to have an actual marble base manufactured to Shawn's specifications. He took his sketches to a stonemason and discovered that not only could a base not be made to meet the original plan, but that the closest substitute would cost in the region of $1,000! Needless to say, he decided to make his won. Shawn chose the black marble effect for two reasons. The first was to bring out the color in the fish, which in this case is somewhat unusual for a largemouth bass. Stoney Lake bass tend to have a very strong hue of bright yellow on the scale tips on the lower side of the fish. It is believed this is due to certain mineral concentrates which occur naturally in the water in this part off the Kawarthas. This strongly yellow tipping creates a "spot pattern" similar to the dark green tipped scales found in the same area of the fish. The second reason for the black base was to give some rationale for the title of the piece- Midnight Rise.

To paint the fish Shawn used Polytranspar lacquers based on a schedule he's developed from reference he's collected for fish from the Kawartha area. The additional benefit of having the captive fish alive in his aquarium to study shows in the spectacular effect of the finished piece. Shawn comments, "It's great to be able to tell people you're not actually fishing but collecting reference and although it sounds like a broken record, you can never have too much reference material. We have gone to the extent of keeping a 200 gallon aquarium in our living room specifically to keep live reference available. There are very few substitutes for this type of reference, not only for color and anatomy but also to understand the habits, attitudes, behavior and motion of the fish. If you understand why a fish is adopting a certain posture, you're better able to recreate it accurately in a mount or replica.

Each fish has its own individual and unique characteristics and the more reference you have available the better you'll be able to understand and recreate the acceptable range of variables within a given species. "Careful planning played a large part in the success of this piece and can prevent difficulties later in the manufacture of the mount. Sketching ideas for a mount or carving also helps stimulate creativity. One idea leads to another and often the piece ends up entirely different from the original concept.

When making your sketches, make them from all points of view. Accurate measurements of the specimen and component pieces are invaluable and allow the artist to scale his drawings and plans accurately. Consider what the piece will look like from all angles, including directly above. Too often we build a piece around only our own perspective. Although every piece has its "best side", viewers (and judges) do not necessarily see it the way we might. A well rounded mount which shows well from any viewpoint stands a better chance of scoring well in competition and allows more display options. It also provokes a greater amount of interest in the viewer.

For those of us without the benefit of a formal art education, it's well worth the time and money to take some art courses to learn about balance, the use of negative and positive spaces and various other aspects of composition and form. The finished piece should not just reflect an animal stuck on a base or habitat. Subtle elements of form and composition can sometimes make a big difference between the success or failure of a presentation.

Midnight Rise is undoubtedly ahead of its class in replica fish work and is definitely a very large step towards a new definition of standards for this area of the taxidermy field. One can only wonder what Shawn might be creating when he's added more years of experience and expertise to his twenty three years of the present. Few artists have attained a Masters level classification at the age of eighteen, were judging at nineteen and have achieved sufficient mastery of their medium at twenty three to create the quality of work as Midnight Rise. Says Shaw's partner, James McGregor, "I am not only pleased to claim Shawn Galea as a friend and business partner, but consider it an honor to be able to work hand in hand with him, on a daily basis."

Tooth Taxidermy Tips from Advanced Taxidermy

In today's technology of fish taxidermy, many taxidermists are using reproduction heads with conventional mounted skins and with replica fish. Even though many company's precuts have incredible detail, one area that still needs attention is the teeth. After several years at competition both as a competitor and judge, we have seen many ways of making teeth from a variety of materials. The most popular of late has been with silicone caulking. With some patience this material can have fantastic results as well as incredible realism, but our personal opinion is that rubber teeth just don't cut it! Now, our philosophy has always been that the best materials and procedures to use are those that work best for you. And the following is by no means the be all and end all, but more for everyone's trial and experimentation to determine what best suits their needs and preferences.

The tooth material used in our shop is epoxy (e.g.: Magic Smooth, Smooth Out, etc.). Two bonuses to using this type of material are that it sets up hard and that you can add powdered tempra paints to color it to a natural tooth, coloration, saving the aggravation, time and headaches of painting later. Secondly, the consistency of these epoxies is similar to the silicone caulking thus making it easy to work with. Once the material is thoroughly mixed and ready to use, take a thin modeling tool and load it up with epoxy. Touch the area intended for the tooth and slowly pull the tool away. Presto, there's your tooth! Now all that's left to do is the other 5200! This is a fairly simple procedure that requires only a little practice to get right. Just take your time and have fun, but remember to do the teeth on the inside of the mouth first (e.g.: tongue and volmer). That way you don't have to reach over the outer teeth you just spent the last hour creating. We hope this "tooth tip" helps you in making your replicas lifelike and satisfying.

Vol II No. II
North American Wildlife Art

Midnight Rise
James McGregor

Advanced Taxidermy
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