Creating detailed replicas of fossils is a key part of paleontology and is more complex than it might initially seem. Known by many as ‘paleo art’, these creations offer crucial information to those studying the era and can even inform a whole area of fossil-related merchandise, film props, educational resources and related media.
The key to successful paleo art is focusing on the detail. Fossil recreations tend to be scrutinised extremely closely and the detail has to be accurate to ensure credibility. So, how is such a project undertaken?
Before practical work can begin on recreating a fossil for a museum, for example, there must be a period of exhaustive research. As well as looking at historical evidence to inform the design, there is the display criteria to understand, as well as other requirements, such as size, colour and the context in which it is going to be shown. Will it sit alone or as part of a wider exhibit?
The right reference
Next, research must continue into the actual construction of the fossil and how it should look. This is arguably the most important step, as the new fossil will be examined by many experts and amateur enthusiasts during its time on public view. It must look utterly authentic and add significant value to the wider exhibition.
Next, the sculptor will be briefed on the work ahead and asked to start creating the original sculpt from which the moulds for the fossil will be taken. Again, detail is key here, as is the commitment to hours of painstaking work, carried out to the highest standard. This can be achieved by an in-house sculptor if one is available, or by an external specialist.
The client should be kept in close contact with progress throughout, however, there will be a key stage where their proactive input will be particularly required. For instance, it is at this stage when the client will need to sign off on the sculptor’s completed cast so that any adjustments can be made before the moulds are finalised. Work will be photographed for this purpose, and also to be kept on file for future reference and record.
Making the mould
Once the client has approved the sculptor’s work, moulds are taken using the most appropriate medium. They will need to be hard-wearing and highly resilient, as they could be used several times to create a number of fossils for different destinations. They will also need to produce intricate castings, so the material must be able to hold the impressions made in it by the original sculpt. Suitable materials include polyurethane resin, or polyester resin, plaster or Jesmonite
Using the moulds, the actual casts are then made, which will go on display. Again, the most appropriate materials for the individual circumstances are selected. Making sure that every detail is reproduced in the final castings is key to creating a truly authentic-looking piece.
Final touches and post finishing
Finally, the castings enter a post-finishing phase, when they are painted, stained, aged and presented to the client for display. Professional grade paints and finishing products are used to achieve the highest quality results. The fossil recreations are then transported to their new home and can begin their work educating and informing those who visit the exhibition about life millions of years ago.