Marusya, the T-Rex by Nick Allen – Guest Post

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Today’s guest post is by Nick Allen, a journalist who somehow found the time to build this fabulous T-Rex out of items scrounged from garbage bins. I love the bumps on her back. Nicholas tells us how he made her below…

And now, here’s Nick:

© 2011 Nick Allen — I made the T-Rex model using a simple interior wood frame, then shaped the rough body shape with chicken wire and packed it with polystyrene blocks, then filled out with building foam and carved off the excess until the body was formed.

I made the tail out of a pair of old wooden skis, cut and fixed together with metal jubilee clips. I also used these to fasten the wooden toe struts together. The studded spine was done with rows of bolts with their edges rounded off with plaster.The entire body was covered with a heavy layer of gritty wall primer for solidity. The eyes, acquired from a taxidermist, are those of a wolverine and the teeth were all hand carved from bits of wood and set in resin. It is mounted on an old Soviet sports machine, which like other materials like the skis and wood, was retrieved from garbage skips in Moscow as a recycling project.

For all her faults (stumpy legs owing to miscalculation of the frame, slightly unauthentic structure of skull, plus other niggling glitches I could cite), the model named ‘Marusya’ (affectionate form of Maria in Russian) has stood in Moscow’s Darwin Museum of Natural History since November 2006. I was recently told by a friend who visited the museum that schoolchildren pose by her for class photos, and that she was surrounded with small gifts at the New Year. What more could I hope for?!

Moving Marusya
Moving Marusya

Nick will soon be making a life size Tyrannosaurus head using a similar armature to the one he described above, and covered with paper mache clay. I can’t wait to see how it turns out. This is inspiring, and I’m very glad he agreed to let us all see her.

28 thoughts on “Marusya, the T-Rex by Nick Allen – Guest Post”

  1. I LOVE THIS! I’m still a really young artist but I’m hoping that I can make art like this when I’m older! I love how this combines paper mache and recycling! 😀

  2. That was a great idea, Nick, to make a sculpture out of random garbage! my friends and i were looking for a project to do this summer and i think something of that sort might be just the thing! I don’t think we’ll do a dinosaur, but perhapse a mountain lion, or a giraffe would be really cool… anyway thanks so much for the idea and great job on your sculpture!

    • Hi Christina. Nick’s sculpture didn’t actually use any paper mache, although his next one will. Check my comment a bit farther up, that tells you how he created that wonderful skin. I did send out one email alert that incorrectly identified the beast as a paper mache sculpture, but I soon realized my mistake. I hope I didn’t cause too much confusion.

  3. I am interested in building life size projects – I am curious about the foam you used to sculpture your piece. Is it a specific type – name of type of foam – where would i purchase it. Could a piece like this go outside – if so what would you coat it with to protect it from the elements! thank you – Judy

    • Hi Judy.
      Me oh my, I didn’t expect such a delayed enthusiastic reaction to the model, which I finished 4 years ago.. I don’t consider myself a master model builder by any means but will gladly share my thoughts and knowledge gleaned in building it. The building foam comes in cans and sprays, it’s usually used for insulating gaps in window frames etc. It was probably an extremely unhealthy variant since carving it threw up lots of particles and I didn’t always wear a mask, but what’s done is done. As for outdoor display, the model wouldn’t last long against the elements. And considering that you should anticipate people climbing on it if it’s outdoors, I would approach it differently. I have done a bit of MIG welding before, and would weld a metal frame. (I am intrigued to do more modelling using welding gear some time, and a personal favourite of mine is Larry Williams of, check out his dinosaurs, they are truly magnificent.) I dont know yet what I’d use for the main body shape (ideas people?) but without resorting to fibreglass, I have wondered about using concrete for the finish, and think that pebble dash gently smoothed with an angle grinder would create a good scaley effect. Pushing the cost up considerably on a large model, there is also a putty called Bondo that is used for automobile bodywork repairs that dries rock hard. N

      • Liquitex makes an acrylic medium called – Resin gel, let me know if you can use this product. It sort of resembles quicksand in the jar.

      • Hi Nick,
        I love your sculpture and am excited to see your next adventure. I used Quickcrete for my mountain lion on Jonni’s website. It’s a wall mix and has fiber, just add water and you have a nice cement. I used it on a similar armature that you’ve done. I don’t think it attaches to the spray foam, I used a cement bonding agent on the foam last time but still have some concerns about the bonding. However it attaches to the chicken wire just fine. Can’t wait to see your next sculpture.

      • Nick, you might want to see how Monique Robert does her internal structure. She uses paper mache objects to fill in her larger sculptures. The book is worth it (but no one tops Jonni for helpful hints and encouragement!)

        My first paper mache project for a client was a 10 foot tall tree that came apart to fit in the back of my van. It was for inside use only so I didn’t have to worry about the exterior surface. I used a 5 gallon bucket bolted to a wood base. Then used the chicken wire with the smaller holes and laced bamboo stakes into it for strength and rigidity. In the upper branch holes, I used old aluminum swimming pool poles. The whole thing even with all branches on was light enough to pick up with one hand ( I left the bale of the bucket attached and a hole in the back of the tree trunk so I could lift it from the inside.) I did have to weigh down the base with some rocks so that it didn’t tip over on stage.

        I think my point is you could think about it as you would an egg, build with stacks of light weight roundish things and your strength will be there. She makes the same circles and ovals (spheres and eggs) that you would when getting the basic shapes right in a drawing inside her armatures. And then bridges the shapes together. I think it would work great in theory but I haven’t done anything large enough again to warrant it yet. Looking at the date of your post, I’ve been you’ve figured out all sorts of different techniques by now!

          • Thank you, Jonni. I was surprised! I had to make it tall enough that dancers could dance under it but the lights started at 10 feet, so it ended up being kind of umbrella shaped. I wasn’t sure the effect was going to be a good one. It was! The dancer in the photo is my daughter. <3

            • Your daughter is beautiful, and that photo with her in the front and your tree in the back is priceless. I hope you have it framed and displayed where everyone who comes to your house can see it.

      • That is so cool. I used to make dinosaur skeletons out of steel. It was a long time ago and there was like 300 parts and about 40 hours. Since I worked at a small steel fabrication shop, I used scraps of steel. I have not done 3D art in a long time but last summer I made a life size deer out of strips of thin steel. From a distance, he looks good and even the deer hunters had to take a second look. I hope that you keep on making things.

    • PS The outdoors display question prompted me to do a bit of web browsing and I found this recommendation: “One more medium you could use is hydrocal plaster, it’s definitely permanent & again, seems expensive because of the weight, but is fairly inexpensive. Just make sure it’s hydrocal or dental plaster, they dry ROCK hard, as opposed to regular plaster which would ware & chip & can break easily. (All of the above can be painted or colored using different methods, I used spray paints on the Bondo materials & lots of stuff on the plaster including ink & coffee.”

      • The question of outdoor display pops up a lot here on the blog. So many of us would like to make our sculptures a bit more public, it seems. We don’t aspire to museum quality, necessarily, but just having a friendly sculpture out in the yard would be nice. I’m not sure the hydrocal would work, though. One would need to do some lengthy testing, since most forms of plaster will eventually melt when exposed to the elements. Hydrocal does contain some Portland cement, I think, and that might help. However, Nikki’s idea of using concrete might be more permanent. And a lot less expensive.

        • Nick, did you say you used coffee for coloring? if you could tell me how, that might be just the color i need for the details on my mountain lion!

  4. Nick sent me additional information about how the “skin” was made. He originally contacted me because his next project will use the paper mache clay, but this one in the photos above was made without paper mache of any kind. To me, that makes the creature even more astounding –

    Here’s how it was done, in Nick’s words:

    The skin is building foam, carved and sanded, then covered with plaster and sanded again, and then coated thoroughly in wall primer to give it a tough leathery finish, and then sprayed. I had to leave Moscow before it was finished so I had to forgo a scaley finish, but I will effect one on the head i am going to build.

    I can’t wait to see how the next one turns out.

    • you know, if you were looking for a reptile like skin, i might have a method for you. One time i was making a lizard, and i made my paper mache body and every thing, but when it was dry, i put on a thin layer of the stickiest glue i could find and sprinckled some beach sand (carefully separated, of couse~ i took only the granier, dry pieces, not the dirt dirt that you might find in your typical back yard) on top of the glue before it dried. when that was dry, i sprayed a layer of some sort of varnish/ gluey stuff on top. let that dry.. then i lightly painted on top of that and got a wonderful lizard. something like that might work on a larger scale, even if the model isn’t paper mache. good luck!

  5. Thats amazing Nick! Bravo to you. It’s got a such a life-like look to it, I just love it. Well done, very well done.

    • Hi Pete. The finish was a bit of a rush job as I had to leave Russia to work elsewhere. I was going to varnish the model using a clear matt variant, but as it was I simply spray painted several coats over the gritty wall primer coating. The model is on display in a busy hallway but is roped off, so there’s been no wear and tear on it and the paint job has held nicely. N

  6. After we are done we all count what could have been different, but to me she looks like a wonderful success, and her paint colours in particular are beautifully muted! She is indeed inspiring, but I’m wondering if a bigger one is to be made the same way, how much casing of the garbage is going to have to be done!


  7. Nick!
    Wonderfully crafted T. Rex!
    It is ironic that I am creating a T. Rex-bank similar to a piggy bank. I’m building it around a Peter Pan Peanut Butter jar, a plastic one. When I learn how to post pictures on here again, I will share. Also working on a hippo-bank around another peanut butter jar. I am planning to do many animal-banks. I was doing large projects as you can tell from my web site, but I am out of room in my small home.
    Best of luck with future projects.


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