Mark Mittlesteadt Central Wisconsin, Marathon County, Lincoln County Premier Artist and Muralist 2nd Nature Creations LLC Facebook 2nd Nature Creations LLC Linked In

Construction of a Mural and Diorama Exhibit...

This is the step by step progress showing in photos how the Prairie Exhibit at the DC EVerest School Forest's "Wild Wisconsin" Museum was contructed.

This exhibit was to show a living Wisconsin Prairie scene before it was changed forever by humans. The purpose of a diorama is to suspend the disbelief of the viewer, make them forget they are standing in a room, and using the magic of art to make them believe they are standing in an actual Prairie viewing the wild plants and animals in their native habitat.

In order to accomplish this we first have to realize that we are dealing with a square room where a flat vertical wall meets a flat horizontal floor. Through the use of murals and 3D sculpted landforms, we are able to eliminate this artificial enclosure of an inside room and create a new 3D world.

First comes the "mock-up" (or preliminary drawing/painting) depicting the mural leading down into the floor where the taxidermy mounts and artificial plants will be placed.

This mock-up painting above was about 24 inches wide to scale up to the wall mural. You can see the lighter, unfinished area of the painting at the bottom is where the 3D world on the floor in the exhibit will be. The mural will go down to the raised floor (where 3D components get attached) right about where the turkeys in the mural on the left are and all across. You will see later how the "mound" in the middle of the mock-up is where a 3D hill and taxidermy mounts will go.

Next, because the image is only about 24 inches wide, but the mural needs to be about 18 feet wide, the mock-up gets sectioned off to match the sections that will be drawn on the wall, so we can paint this mural and keep everything where it needs to be once the diorama scene is placed in front of it.

In the image above, you can see the raised floor on the bottom. You can see the "sections" taped off indicating the sections of the mock-up. Some of the mural is already started with a thunderstorm taking shape on the far right in the distance. At this point the centerpiece or "main attraction" of the exhibit had already been placed in front of the wall to make sure the mural wotks with it, and then was removed.

In the image above, you will see that as the mural starts taking shape, one of the main attractions of this exhibit (a Coyote that will be mounted on a hilly mound of soil) is placed back into the scene just to check how it fits into the mural.

Again, more of the mural takes shape. The rolling hills of the vast Prairie are being formed and a forest along the edge of the Prairie begins to form.

In the image above you can see that many creatures of the Prairie have been added to the mural, each not only serving the purpose of their function in a Prairie ecosystem, but also their function in leading the viewers' eye around the display. The buckets used to prop up the Coyote were becoming distracting, so a piece of burlap was placed over them to aid in showing how the hilly soil mound will blend with the background.

Notice too, that a Badger was added to this centerpiece. The Badger and Coyote hunt for similar prey and while it appears they might fight over the woodchuck burrowed in the hill, they actually work together to get it. The Badger being a great digger and the Coyote being faster and more agile allows them to team up to find food. This is also a very important part of the exhibit so it is necessary that everything in the mural draws attention to it.

The next two images show more of the mounts that will be on display and they are placed into the scene to ensure the mural is effective in showing the entire scene properly and yet not have the mounts block anything in the mural...

Above you can see the mock-up painting to the left.

A Sandhill Crane is added and positioned to make sure it's shape is nicely silhouetted against the mural.

Now that the mural is mostly completed, the framing in construction of the hill with the woodchuck burrows begins. The mounts are continually placed in the scene, positioned and then removed to ensure everything is developing the way it needs to. This is the skeleton of the hill no one ever sees in the finished work.

In the image above you can see where some artificial plants that will be used, are placed into the scene and against the wall. This is to ensure that the plants in the mural look similar so that when filled in, the line between floor and wall seemlessly disappears and that the entire scene looks like it just goes from where you are standing on out into the open Prairie in as realistic a manner as possible.

Now that the framework is completed, it gets covered in thin sheets of plywood as a base for the styrofoam to be glued and screwed to later. Normally the styrofoam would be sufficient over the framework, but this base would be climbed on a lot in the process of completing the exhibit and we had to make sure it was solid and stable. The animals and some plants were added to make sure it still looks like what was originally envisioned.

The sheets of 2" styrofoam are glued and screwed onto this "deck". Two large flat rocks (real rocks) were placed into it to make sure the styrofoam kept them from shifting later as these rocks will be showing in the final display. Once the glue has set (about another full day of drying) then the styrofoam can be shaped.

Some basic sculpting of the landform is done and the small chips, dust and pebbles of styrofoam leftover from the sculpting is glued onto this new surface to fill in open areas.

All seems, voids and openings are filled with expanding foam and even more leftover styro chips are glued down.

The entire landform now gets a coating of white glue and completely covered in styro chips. Once dry (about two days in this case), the leftover, loose pieces are swept and vaccuumed away making it ready for the first coat of paint.

The landform gets it's first coat of paint. A nice dark chocolatey color that fills in all the cracks, crevices and any other minor depressions in this textured surface. This step is critical in achieving realistic looking soil as the lighter subsequent coats will not fill in those areas and the dark brown color will give relief to the lighter textured surface. Note the two large, flat slab rocks (natural) to the left of the mound are still exposed.

The next two images show the landform with three coats of different colored paint applied to it.

With each lighter coat, the paint is applied with a lighter "dry-brush" technique where only the raised texture of the surface pulls the paint off the brush. This gives this artificial soil multiple rich colors to mimic the way soil looks in nature. In person one is tempted to take a shovel and dig into it, with many visitors thinking real soil was brought in and put there!

More plants, animals and artificial rocks (I made) are placed into the exhibit. You can see some branches and leaves of some oak trees that are in the Nocturnal exhibit to the left of the Prairie in the museum.

A low angle shot of the Badger and Coyote with the Bison of the mural off in the distance.

A close-up of an American Kestral (Sparrow Hawk) resting on an artificial rock with a small grass snake in its talons. Note that artificial grass all around it (with some real dead grass thrown in to enhance the realistic effect) and some of that grass in the background is actually the grass painted in the mural.

Another angle of the Sandhill Crane in the left side of the completed exhibit, showing the (painted) turkey family in the mural, in the distance.

An overall view of the nearly completed exhibit, showing the raised platform that is not yet hidden.

The right side of the complete exhibit. Note in the far right distant background there is a taxidermy mount of a bluebird mounted right on the wall that appears to be perched on a Sumac branch that is actually in the mural itself. More artificial Prairie flowers have been added to the exhibit mimicing many that are in the mural.

So there you have it. These were the steps involved in creating the Prairie exhibit in the "Wild Wisconsin" Museum at the DC Everest School Forest.

To see more of this museum that 2nd Nature Creations LLC created, click on the link below...