This post in part of a series where I try to make a Galapagos tortoise out of inner tubes. Find all the posts here.
We left off the last post with a few ideas of how to tackle construction. Crucially I want a model to work off of, like a dress form.
Deciding on a Reference
While looking for reference photographs I realised how little preliminary research I’d done on the Galapagos tortoise. Some of it is very obvious if you know anything about the Galapagos: it’s renown for the variety of species that developed across the various islands. So yes, each island has its own tortoise subspecies, but to boil it down for simplicity, there are two distinct shell shapes: dome and saddleback.
As I mentioned in my last post, I really doubt the judges will be looking for anatomical accuracy. Or for that matter notice if I used a Galapagos tortoise versus any other sort of tortoise. But it does matter to me. I was already leaning towards saddleback as they can have that great upright stance I mentioned in my previous post. But what clinched it was finding a specific tortoise with a huge number of reference photos to work from: Lonesome George.
You may have seen him in the news: the last known Pinta Island saddleback tortoise. Found in 1972, conservationists were looking for a mate for him for decades. Sadly he passed away in 2012 without having any offspring, and his subspecies is currently extinct.
I say currently as there’s some interesting Jurassic Park for tortoise stuff going on to bring Pinta Tortoises back. But I digress.
In addition to all the videos and photos while he was alive, George was taxidermied after he died. There’s a video about it and and a 360 degree view of him on the American Museum of Natural History website. The latter of which is ideal for trying to make a model: I can scrub along the timeline and stop at any angle.
Making the Shell
As it happened we went camping recently, and while digging through the bin of camping supplies I noticed one of our enamel bowls had gone rusty in a few places. But there was a definite upside: it became the basis of my tortoise shell shape.
I used my bowl, paper I saved from parcels, and masking tape to create a basic form, but as it was still a bit squishy I decided a paper mache cover would be best for longevity.
My first was successful but slapdash and a bit thin in places. So I’ve been very systematic covering the rest. At least 5 layers, sometimes six.
Here’s a video of making a good one. As you can see, I put layers in 4 different directions to hopefully give a plywood-like strength to the final piece.
The paste was just a mix of flour and water – starting out in equal proportions, then more water added to thin it out. Whatever I tried, the flour always settled on the bottom, giving my later layers especially gloopy glue. Doesn’t seem to impact the final product, though.
I’ve already made several, and have at least one more in me. Before starting each paper mache cover, I put a layer of compostable clingfilm loosely on my form. Loose so it doesn’t impact the details coming through.
I’m pleased with the results, but they’re really just the beginning. Here’s what I’m thinking going forward:
One will become part of a fully paper mache tortoise. I go through phases of whether or not I think the inner tube version will work, and I’m squarely in a “not sure stage right now” period. Having a completed paper mache version will mean I’ll have *something* to enter and not let the team down, taking the pressure off creating an inner tube version. The paper mache model will also help me get sizing right for the armature of the head/neck/legs for any other versions I create.
I can use the other paper shells as the dress forms for the inner tube version. The spares mean if I inadvertently damage or destroy one it won’t slow me down too much.
Thinking about it…I may need to make more simplified shell shape for inner tube, as having the bumps for scutes in the current form might make it harder to sort my inner tube version out. But I’ll stick with it as is for now.
So stay tuned for my wholly paper mache model. I’ve got garden wire to create a frame for the body and appendages, as well as the 360 degree video and some other in-progress diagrams from the AMNH website to help me out.