Some Success with Small Specimens


Actual scorpion specimen on the left. Printed copy on the right.

Collin and I set up an appointment with Chelsea Graham at West Campus to try out her Artec scanner. We were told that this is the next level scanner up from the David scanner we already have and it might be the best for scanning something small like the scorpion. We took over two specimens to West Campus, a 9.5cm scorpion and an 11cm centipede. The scorpion was sprayed with white children’s poster paint first. The centipede was already a light color, so we thought we’d try it without the poster paint. It turned out that we didn’t have enough time to work on the centipede, but Chelsea was able to get a pretty good scan of the scorpion.

A pretty good scan is made up of many scans stitched together. Each scan was assessed before saved and then, if it made the grade, it was included. The scanning took several hours and some experimenting to get the scorpion in 3D. Chelsea worked further to clean up the scan file after we left and later sent us what appeared to be the best scan we have been able to get to date. Collin immediately set to work sending the scan to the Taz printer. Again, we got the best print we have been able to get to date. Both filament printers (Taz 6 and Dremel) leaves a visible contour even at a high resolution print setting, which makes the prints hard to use without sanding or covering with wax or putting them into an acetone gas chamber.img_1082.jpg

By coincidence I ran into Joe Zinter and Dante Archangeli from CEID on my lunch break. This was on the very day that Collin got a couple of prints from our filament printers. I asked Joe if he had a laser/resin printer at CEID. He said they didn’t have one, but that we should try their Objet Fused Deposition Modeling Printer. He told me the quality is as good as the laser/resin printers. Within an hour, I had the scan on a thumb drive over to CEID and they had it loaded and printing by the time I left. The scorpion print was scheduled to take 3 hours and 30 minutes, so I told him I would pick it up the next day.

I was back at CEID in the morning and the prints were done and still in the printer. Dante scraped it off the printing table and handed it to me. I wasn’t impressed!


Hot off the presses!

It looked like something you get from a schlocky gift store. But Dante told me that most of what I was seeing was matrix that all comes off. You can literally pick it off with your fingernails. The cleaning appealed to my obsessive nature. I was supposed to get a display of taxidermied birds set up for this weekend’s Fiesta Latina celebration and I couldn’t stop picking away at the matrix and uncovering what appeared to be a very nice print. (I got the birds done later!)

I used ethanol to do the final cleaning, though I’m not sure it clears the matrix from the print. I went over and over the print removing more of the matrix each time. I finally got it as clean as I could and here’s the results. I think this print is ready to paint without any further work on my part.IMG_1079IMG_1080

I wanted to throw in one more issue that has come up with the ObJet print. The matrix is very difficult to remove completely. I spray painted the scorpion with Krylon matte white paint after going over it 4 times with a metal dental pick. The paint adhered, but after it dried, I could remove it with a toothbrush. Dante and Joe from CEID said that sodium hydroxide (NaOH) was suggested as a cleaner by the company who sold the printer. First, I removed the spray paint with acetone, which seemed to have no effect on the printed plastic whatsoever, and took the paint-free scorpion back to CEID. Dante put it into a solution of NaOH. It was left there for about three hours. The solution seemed to loosen the remaining matrix, but it still felt greasy to the touch, almost like there was vaseline on the surface. Dante then gave it a high pressure power wash. After that, the print no longer felt greasy and I felt hopeful that I could paint it now. Unfortunately, I decided to check it with the dental pick again and here is the result:IMG_1087I’m going to spray it anyway and see how it works…Stay tuned. Also, Dante is contacting the company to see if they have any further suggestions for clearing the matrix.

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Printing Insects, Printing Small

I am beginning to think about the next new horizon with which to use our 3D scanning/printing station. The bird models for the Connecticut Bird Hall are getting close to being completed and I will shift my focus to the North American Mammal diorama hall. Collin and I looked closely at each diorama to note where we might improve them. The mammal taxidermy in many of these dioramas need repair and recoloring, but there will be some need for creation of new leaves, installing new snow, and coloring groundcover and epiphytes.

Additionally, in the Desert diorama, there are dried specimens of scorpions and centipedes that periodically disappear as a result of living populations of carpet beetles inside the dioramas. Therefore, I would like to create 3D models of some of these invertebrate specimens. The sizes of the specimens pose a problem. We are looking into whether our scans are good enough or whether our printers are precise enough to pick up minute detail like legs and antennae. Also, the scanner doesn’t like dark, shiny surfaces (mostly what we have to scan) and the scans tend to go haywire.


Rhinoceros Beetle-Just the kind of surface that presents problems.

To see if it is possible to scan and print small bodies with small appendages, we have to experiment with testing removable surface materials.


We had to get specimens of less importance on which to practice. My colleague, Maishe Dickman is an avid insect collector with a special interest in giant Titan Beetles from the neotropics. The smaller specimens are not as important to Maishe, so he agreed to bring in several of the smaller ones for us to work on. He had them in the freezer, so they had to be thawed, pinned and dried.


Believe it or not, this is a smaller specimen!

Just the drying alone takes several days. In the meantime, Nicole Palffy-Muhoray, representing the Entomology Department, told me that we could use specimens from the Entomology study collection so long as we can wash off the surfacing materials we apply. I asked her how to wash a beetle and she brought over an ultrasonic jewelry cleaner! I was floored that this is how specimens are cleaned in the Entomology collection.


We picked out several beetles, scorpions, and centipedes from the study collection and began to experiment. I wondered how dusting might work. Collin sanded several sticks of chalk to dust and I have whiting that I use in mache, which also turns out to be chalk dust! I have confectioners sugar, which I have used in the past on my silicone castings and Kremer dry white pigment. I went online because I figure others have run into this problem and must have found a solution. The solution I found is to adjust the settings of the scanner and to use an opaque, matte “developer” aerosol called Spotcheck. Spotcheck is very expensive, so we will continue our experiments…

It took about five minutes to realize that dusting won’t work because the surfaces of the bugs are too smooth for the dust to grab on to. Gum Arabic, a water-soluble tree sap, was suggested at an art supply house as a reversible medium in which to add the dusting powders to create a paintable surface. This basically creates watercolor pigment and can be built up over several layers to coat the insects. Nicole went to Michael’s craft store and picked up some reversible children’s poster paints and a spray can of chalk dust as additional materials to experiment with.


Children’s poster paint-Paintbrush application is clunky


Spray chalk-Better application, though this is too heavy


Watercolor-Maybe not dense enough?

We will try scanning these three test subjects to see if the scans work and if the surfacing material can be easily removed. More to come soon.

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3D Update

The 3D work on the birds for the Connecticut Bird Hall continues to move forward. I thought I would write up an update on the latest work and post some photos.


Female Merlin falcon in process


Finished Merlin ready for installation

We are scanning study skins from the Ornithology collection. This is a male Ruddy Duck in breeding plumage. The study skins can give me accurate wing measurements and some sense of the body shape, but it mostly gives me a solid armature on which to sculpt the body.



Sculpted Ruddy Duck from the study skin scan

In the case of the Ruddy Duck, the head and tail of the 3D print were cut off on the band saw. The head was re-positioned on top of the body using a wooden dowel and epoxy. Clay was sculpted over it and a cast bill was added. A tail was carved in wood and the feather detail added with a wood burning tool. The clay model will then be scanned, printed at 97%, and coated with a thin layer of wax. Feather patterns will be sculpted over the wax surface and finally painted using the original study skin as a reference for color. Collin is exploring software (Sculptris and Meshmixer) to manipulate the scans on the computer screen rather than on the band saw.

We are also creating scanned models of extinct birds. I have almost finished the sculpting on the passenger pigeon.


Passenger Pigeon and Heath Hen (both extinct) at a preliminary stage


Passenger Pigeon almost ready to paint (it needs sculpted feet!)


Black-necked Stilt. We scanned a larger-sized Avocet and printed it at 80% to get the right size for this model.

The following photos are bird models ready for paint or in process with paint.IMG_0881


Long-billed Curlew (note the study skin from which the scan was made.)

IMG_0797 copy

Hudsonian Godwit, Red Knot, and Long-billed Dowatcher models ready for paint.

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Digital Project Accomplished!

The final four digital sandpipers were approved and installed this past Tuesday, April 11.

Colin Installing

Breeding plumage Western Sandpiper model installed next to the taxidermied non-breeding Western Sandpiper

Installation 4-11-17

R-L Two White-rumped Sandpipers, Baird’s Sandpiper, Semipalmated Sandpiper, and Western Sandpiper on permanent display in the CT Bird hall

Also, the Merlin carving is finished and awaits paint (and feet!).

Merlin carved

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Three D Experiments

Collin and I are wrapping up our Blended Realities grant proposal to produce four different species of sandpipers from one scan of a taxidermied bird. Today, he is painting the final touches on the last one, the White-rumped Sandpiper. When painting is completed, we will have our ornithology collections manager, Kristof Zyskowski, critique them, after which we will install them in the Connecticut Bird Hall alongside the previously approved, Baird’s Sandpiper. With four models produced from one digital scan of a taxidermied Baird’s Sandpiper, we had to print the models at varying percentages from the original. With each model that was reduced from the original, I made sure the wing and leg lengths were accurate for the specific bird. Each unique bill was cast in epoxy and attached to the models. All defining field marks were painted and the local color of the feathers was ascertained by matching it to a study skin from the collections. (see the previous blog post, “The First Digital Bird Lands”)



From L-R: Western Sandpiper, Semipalmated Sandpiper, and White-rumped Sandpiper

New Horizons:

With the Blended Realities project well on its way, we are looking to other ways to use the SPROUT workstation. Recently, I sculpted a “gestural” model of a Merlin falcon in clay. I didn’t have a taxidermied mount to scan, so I am sculpting a clay model in the position I want for the Bird Hall. I have started with clay sculptures before and typically, I would make a 2 part plaster mold of the clay sculpture and cast a copy in wax. This would usually take eight to ten hours of my time.


Merlin Falcon “gestural” sculpture

In this case, Collin scanned the clay sculpture and it is now being printed out in plastic.

IMG_0534I will coat the 3D print with wax tomorrow and start work on the final model for installation.

Once the feather detail is carved into the wax, we will paint directly on the wax.  The 3D plastic sculpture covered with a thin layer of wax, painted to look realistic, is robust enough to install directly without having to make another rubber mold and cast. This is another big time and money saver


Taxidermy mount of a male Merlin falcon (note the perch hole for the missing female bird)

Another experiment came about when I discovered that the Long-tailed Weasel in the Forest Margin diorama had received a serious case of insect damage. We removed it from the diorama and decided to try scanning and printing it as is. You can easily patch the areas decimated by bugs with wax and there were other areas where the model had to be sanded using the original taxidermy mount as a guide. I know how to sculpt bird feathers, but I don’t have a lot of experience sculpting mammal fur. I’m going to get a lesson with Dorcas MacClintock and see if I can get something good enough to install in the diorama.


The taxidermy mount and the 3D print

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Wax covered model awaiting fur sculpting, glass eyes, and fore and rear claws!

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The First Digital Bird Lands

img_0374Collin Moret and I installed our first digital bird model into the Connecticut Bird Hall, a non-breeding Baird’s Sandpiper. The CT Bird Hall is an exhibit of taxidermied bird specimens found on the official CT bird list. We have been installing carved bird models to fill in missing birds so we don’t have to collect and taxidermy new birds that are hard to find and not good for Peabody Public Relations if we shoot birds locally. We scanned a taxidermy mount of a breeding Baird’s sandpiper from the CT Bird Hall to make the print. We are exploring the 3D technology to see if we can produce a more accurate bird model rather than sculpting one from scratch. We are lucky to have very good taxidermy mounts from which to work. Most of the birds in the CT Bird Hall were produced by David Parsons in the 1960’s and 1970’s. Parsons was an extraordinary taxidermist and artist who went to great lengths with his taxidermy to replicate living birds. The 3D methods we are employing are dependent on having a good taxidermy specimen to scan. Currently, we have 24 missing birds to add to the CT Bird Hall. Most of the missing birds are rare or have unusual plumage, but  we also hope to produce some of the extinct birds from Connecticut as well.

The method we have developed starts with scanning the taxidermy bird. (See my earlier blog entry from December 24, 2016 for details and photos of the scanning process.) The scan file is uploaded to the Dremel Printer and printed.


Our first print of the Baird’s Sandpiper

The printer isn’t fine enough to create a model that can be painted as is. The printer lays down layers of filament, row-by-row, which creates visible contours. I tried to sand the contours smooth, but the plastic is difficult to work and tends to melt when using high-speed sanding tools. So, we resorted to dipping the models into hot carving wax to get rid of the contours.img_0292

Care must be taken not to get too much wax on the surface or accuracy will be sacrificed. The Baird’s Sandpiper was printed at 100% and I am quite confident that the wing measurements are accurate and that the feather groupings like scapular feathers and coverts are in their correct place. When sculpting from scratch, getting these details right is a painstaking and time consuming process.

Glass eyes are inserted into the head using epoxy modeling putty. A beak is cast in epoxy from the taxidermy bird or study skin and inserted into the head.


Dental alginate is used as a mold material to cast the beak from the taxidermy mount.

Sometimes I cast the feet from the taxidermy mount with dental alginate, but in the case of the sandpipers, the feet are so small that casting them would have been difficult. My co-worker, Maishe Dickman, is very skilled at silver soldering and he produced eight feet for the small sandpipers in brass.


Maishe’s handiwork. Note, an epoxy cast of the intertarsal joint on one of the legs.

The feet are epoxied into the model and the feathers are carved into the wax to heighten the realism.IMG_0331With this model, I thought the beak was pointing down too far, so I took it over to the band saw and cut off the head. I used epoxy to glue it back together with the beak raised. I filled the in the neck with carving wax and blended it into the rest of the model. This kind of flexibility is important.

Collin then painted it. Collin uses acrylic paint from a company called Vallejo. They are highly pigmented and designed specifically for individuals working with scale models. It’s important that the color is correct and the field marks are accurate. A study skin of the exact bird in the specific plumage is acquired from the Ornithology collection and Collin matches the color. Sibley’s Bird Guide is consulted to make sure the field marks are clearly shown. Each finished bird model is critiqued by the Ornithologist before being included in the Bird Hall.


Note the field guide and the study skin (in the box) as painting reference

This method is giving us very good bird models in about a quarter of the time it would take to produce from scratch, AND I know they will measure out accurately.


Baird’s Sandpiper installed!

We have used the same scan to produce three more smaller sandpiper models. All we had to do is print them at smaller percentages.


Semipalmated, Western, and White-rumped Sandpiper models printed to scale and waxed.

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Bog Restoration Complete

img_0300-1With the repainting of the Bog Vole (a wood carved model), Eunice, Collin and I have completed the renovation of the bog diorama. The bog vole looked bleached out and not very alive. Collin painted it using 2D painting techniques to accentuate the three dimensionality of the model by painting highlights on the head, the back, the legs and even the ears! img_0296When I first painted this model 20 years ago, I painted the local color of the vole’s pelt and left the highlights to be accomplished by the diorama lighting, which didn’t give it the “umph” it needed to look alive.


The Bog’s foreground now ties in well visually with the background painting. The illusion of the three dimensional material blending with the two dimensional background was accomplished mostly by paint, spraying paint over the sphagnum moss and hand-painting hundreds of leaves of the Leatherleaf plants. The repainting of the pitcher plants added a much more dramatic, colorful, and realistic effect. Details such as painting the lichen on the dead snags, painting the new growth on the spruce a lighter green, and adding a fly in one of the pitcher plants rounded out the renovation. At some point I will get a skin of a Snowshoe Hare and compare it with the taxidermied hare to see if it needs recoloring.


The other two Connecticut dioramas are moving toward completion, as well. The Forest Margin is mostly complete. I have installed a newly taxidermied screech owl on top of the dead tree, replacing the old, bug-damaged one. img_0303I had to figure out how to get a ladder into the diorama and stabilize it on the uneven foreground without damaging the assorted foreground plants and animals. The dead tree was well rooted in the foreground, so I was able to prop the ladder against it.

I removed the long-tailed weasel from the stone wall to see if we could get some more color back into the pelt. On removal, I discovered that there has been serious bug damage to the fur. Collin recolored it as best he could with dry pigments and we reinstalled it on the stone wall for now.


Note the insect damage on the rear haunches


A new taxidermy mount (or a 3D printed model?) will be needed as a replacement. We also noticed that the puffball found on the label is not visible in the foreground. I rooted around near the ruffed grouse and found a very sad-looking puffball amid the leaf litter. puffball


I sculpted a new cluster of three that Eunice painted. img_0311Collin noticed that there is lichen on the painted rocks in the background and none on the fabricated rock in the foreground. He will paint some new lichen rosettes onto the foreground rock. Stefan is making new fern fronds to replace some old shriveled ones near the stone wall.

The Shoreline is ready for installation of the spring-wire-strengthened grasses. The carved and painted American Bittern is ready to get drilled and installed in a location within the cattails. A new American Crow taxidermy mount will replace the stiff-looking one in the center foreground. img_0312Kristof would like to see a Fish Crow there rather than an American Crow because they are more common on the shoreline, but for now without a Fish Crow to mount and the label indicating an American Crow, I will install the new American Crow.

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