If you know me in real life then you’ll know I have a love of skulls, beetles, bugs and a general interest in the macabre. Call me weird (I kinda like that), my aunt is a witch and I guess a little of that weird shit rubbed off on me. I like to think of my back story a little like Maleficent’s, but cards on the table, I’m way darker.
I’m constantly scrolling taxidermy websites and looking to Pinterest for decorated longhorns and roe skulls, if you haven’t looked, seriously, you can find some amazing hand carved, real animal skulls on there if you’re willing to stump up for the extortionate shipping charges. In America these were common place, we could walk the malls and find these in TJ Maxx and nobody would bat an eyelid, you could go to cattle farms and buy this kind of thing with your food shopping, as long as you were prepared to go through the clean up process yourself. Here in the UK however, things like this are a little harder to get hold of, unless you know where to look.
I came across Moth Studios as part of the Breeze Creatives group in Newcastle. This group of creative souls from the North East is housed in a rabbit warren of super cool studios at Bamburgh House. Owner Sherene has a love and an insane talent for taxidermy and entomology. Her studio is lined with bugs, spiders, posed anthropomorphic mice, birds and collected animal skulls. We’ve become friends over the years that we’ve known each other and support each others businesses, it’s a most excellent relationship. Moth Studios have a pretty unique way of coming up with the goods so to speak, with a massive number of suppliers from all over the UK and further afield, Sherene regularly travels to pick up dead animals, insects and skulls that people have either found, or have had living on farms. It’s an odd conversation the first time you have it, now it’s just standard; this morning in fact we were chatting about how there’s a robin in the freezer that will make a perfect Christmas themed piece. Everything she uses has been collected, found or donated and died naturally, that’s the first hard and fast rule of Moth Studios. Nothing produced in the studio will ever have come from hunted or deliberately killed livestock.
So, after spending time out in the States and seeing this type of thing in American ranches, I promised myself that when I finally got round to overhauling my sitting room, I’d hang some sort of skull in there. The best part? With Moth Studios I’d get a hand in create the final product myself. I booked myself on to one of their Skull decorating workshops and got more and more nervous as the weeks and days ticked by until my class. What if I wasn’t creative enough? What if I couldn’t rise to the challenge? What if I was freaked out by having to actually hold a real animal skull??
I needn’t have worried. The class is super relaxed and the studio is equipped with everything you need. From pinned butterflies and peacock feathers to moss and bark, there’s pretty much everything imaginable for decorating your chosen skull type. Classes are set up for a maximum of 7 people so you get enough time with Sherene if you need specific help with ideas, or anything else. On arrival you choose one large skull (usually from a roe deer or fox) and one small (normally from a squirrel or bird) then everything else is down to you.
Skulls in hand, I took my seat and pretty much spent 30 minutes just watching what other people did. After I decided I was going for a flowers and moss kind of vibe; I grabbed some fake flowers, moss and gold foil and set to work. It’s quite an intense class, especially for someone like me who’s not that visually creative outside the arena of fashion, but once you get in the zone, it’s incredibly therapeutic. Sidebar, I live with an incredibly challenging disabled child (Sherene will vouch), life gets tough, things get in your head and escaping that is hard. This class? Pure bliss for someone who lives their life minute to minute owing to reasons way beyond their sphere of control and influence. It’s a chance to unwind and the level of focus required means that you have little time for other thoughts to creep in and take over. Some people take up pottery or knitting, me? I’m out here painting up skulls and loving every minute.
Three blissful hours later I’m the proud owner and creator of a pretty awesome roe skull. Decorated with flowers, feathers, moss, a little barkflower and painstakingly applied gold foil. I’m proud. Real proud. The small skull I left in its natural state, I had an idea to create some kind of bio-zone type thing inside a kilner jar along with some moss, sticks and bark with a pinned butterfly and I was pretty impressed with the fact that I did this within days of bringing the stuff home, rather than leave it sitting, like I’ve done with my gym kit for the last six months.
Next up, bug pinning, I have a feeling I’m going to be a regular here…