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Marmota Monax, the Montauk

Marmota Monax is a creature inspired by the marmot family (think "groundhog"). Somehow, I don't think he's afraid of his own shadow.


  • clay
  • wire
  • block foam
  • white glue
  • paint
  • empty plastic jug
  • fur
  • newspaper
  • fine sandpaper
  • plastic bags
  • paper towel roll


Part 1: Carve and Cover with Mache

While scrounging around, I found some florist foam in my supplies. You certainly don't need to use this material. I just happened to have it on hand, and didn't feel like building a frame out of wire.

I took 4 squares and ran wooden bbq skewers through them, connecting the pieces together, to create one large rectangular shape. This will be the base of Castor's head. I used wire clippers to snap the ends of the bbq skewers off.

I used a knife to carve out the basic shape of his skull and some divots for cheek, eye and nose details. Always cut the holes deeper and wider than what you hope to have in the end product: the layers of paper mache and clay will quickly fill these in.

I covered the skull with tinfoil.

Finally, I used a strip layer mache technique to cover the entire shape.

Done for the day. Let dry.

Part 2: Detailing With Clay

Marmota Monax has many levels of details. In order to achieve that, I decided to build upon each lyaer as I went.

This is a very helpful step in that some of these areas will be hard to get to as I continue to build him. For example, the tiny bone structure I molded on the inside of his nose would have been impossible to do later on. I never would have been able to get all the way inside after I'd built up the muzzle. It's the same with eye sockets. It's also how I achieved that look of 'windows' in the skull.

Initially I used creative paperclay for some of the sculpting, and then  homemade clay recipe (plaster mixed with celluclay) for the rest of the bulky parts. I finished some of it with Delight Paperclay because I like the texture.

Just remember: it's a matter of shape, let dry, repeat, building up layers and details.

Then use a fine-grain sandpaper to smooth out the surface.


Part 3: Building a Torso

Household recyclables make up his armature - plastic bags and paper bags taped to an empty glue jug.

His neck is a sturdy paper tube from a tinfol roll. It's been cut in half and slipped halfway in / halfway out of the glue bottle opening.

He's given a sloppy coat of clay (just because I want to test a new recipe. His body probably won't be visible as an end product) and left to dry.

Next step is to make him some hands and feet.

Part 4: Creating Arms

I cut a length of 14" galvanized utility wire and folded it in half. After holding it against the body and adjusting the size, I wrapped the arm with a plastic shopping bag and packing tape leaving the ends of the wire exposed (I'll need them to attach the arms to the torso, and the fingers to the hands).

This was followed by layers of strip mache.

Next: Covering with clay and adding the fingers.

The fingers are simply small lengths of wire covered with Crayola Model Magic and shaped into a pointed claw.

I could have used cotton balls or paper or anything else to build up the claws but I was impatient. I will need to strengthen these little digits still with something else since Crayola's product is very flimsy.

I tucked the ends of wire into a piece of styrofoam to a) help with drying and b) to hold the claws side by side for me to compare as I build the next one.

I'd made the wires for the fingers too short to wrap them around the wire sticking out of the end of the arm at the wrist. Instead, I packed it with Crayola clay and inserted the fingers into it with the finger wire nestled against the inside edge of the paper mache.

The one thing about the Crayola clay is that you can bend it even after it's dry, and because it has the wire at the core of the finger it won't just snap off. This was handy since I found a small lantern at the dollar store (after I'd made the fingers) that I want the prop to hold.

I covered the arm and wrists with a basic clay and then (eventually) recovered the knuckles and claws with Delight paperclay.

When all was dry, it was time to attach the arms to the shoulder area of the body. What I did do was make some small holes through the plaster in the body, ran wire through the shoulder loops built into the arm ends (at the top of each arm) and then covered it with clay.

It needed to be supported while the first layer dried.

Let dry. Repeat.

Now here's some important points: Is there a better way to have done this? Yes. Should I have attached wire to the glue bottle before it was covered with clay and have it come out at the shoulders in anticipation of attaching the arms? Yes. But I didn't.

The arm is solid and he'll be able to hold the lantern without any trouble.

Time to deal with the feet using the same technique, and then start to paint.

Part 5: Painting

I don't have many pictures of this process mainly because I didn't have my camera with me when I started.

The entire body was given a coat of white latex primer.

The torso was given a coat of black acrylic.

Originally I was going to make a cloak for Monax that covered his body. In the middle of the project, I decided I would attempt to cover it (the parts covered in black) in dog fur. No, I didn't shave a dog. The beloved family pet has loads of fur that comes free when brushed.

Marmota Monax base paintFor the face, I started with sloppy lines of black in any divots/sunken spots on his face. I then put a brown streak on the outside edges of those, and then a medium blue highlight on top of those. Let dry.

Do the same for the hands and feet.

The next steps involves layering of whites - greyish whites on the base of any bulging surface (for example, the eyebrow bones) and stark whites on the highest points.

Almost all the initial dark colours I used on the 'skin' are covered over with a variant of white paint. I would dry brush white over the dark hues that I still wanted to be visible. This makes the shading subtle.

The teeth have a mixture of black and brown along the gum line. That is allowed to dry before I use a watered-down grey to soften the edges, dabbing the brush along the black line.

Part 6: Attaching the Fur

When I was building this, my mother had 3 Bouvier des Flandres. Their coats are thick (and hypoallergenic), and when they're brushed, they give up bags full of hair. This is where I got my supply.

I used simple white glue to attach the fur to the prop. Here's what I learnt:

1) Slightly matted fur gives you a great base to glue against the prop's surface.

2) Soft fur can be rubbed between your hands to mat it (be aware, this brings out strong doggie smell).

3) A small chunk of hair that has loose ends can be squished together at one end, covered and glue and applied quite easily.

4) I'm a strange lady.

I was extremely pleased with the result.

I added a few strands and small clumps to his skull.