Dewey Dude the Chick Sitter ;) (or How to Harden Off Your Chicks)

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Recently I started taking the chicks out to the greenhouse during the day.  I set up Dewey Dude’s puppy crate with some branches for perching and wrapped chicken wire around the crate so they couldn’t slip out.

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My scruffy little chicks checking out their new daytime digs

 

They’ve got their food and water and can even nibble on some Swiss Chard that’s growing close to the cage.  They’re still protected from any serious wind, and the top of the crate is covered so there’s shade as well.  This allows them to slowly get used to outdoor conditions, as they get some sun and a bit of a breeze, but nothing too intense.  Plus they can eat all the bugs they can catch within the crate- yum! LOL  Just like hardening off plants, young chickens need to slowly get used to outdoor conditions.

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“Hey, not bad!  Food, water, perches, fresh air, greens- yeah this is nice!”

 

I started them off with a few hours and gradually increased the time in the greenhouse to most of the day, bringing them back inside in the evening.  They really seem to enjoy having room to run around and spread their wings, and they love the perches.

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“Thanks Mom- we like this set up!”

They’re still kind of skittish, but when I just hold my hand in the crate for a few minutes the bravest ones will come over and check me out.  Then I pet them and scratch their little chests, which they really like.

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Dewey Dude, the official Chick Sitter

And Dewey Dude has become my official Chick Sitter 😉  He leads the way when I take the chicks (in a box) from the house to the greenhouse.  Then he keeps an eye on them once they’re in the cage.  During the day he frequently checks on them just to be sure they’re OK.  They seem to like him too- they’ll come over the side of the cage where Dewey’s at and nibble on his nose or toes 🙂  He doesn’t even mind when they do that!  He is such a good dog!

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“Don’t worry Mom, I’ll keep an eye on the girls”

There’s that guarding instinct in action 😉  I still have to watch him when the chicks get excited and start fluttering around, because he wants to paw or mouth them, and it wouldn’t take much for him to accidentally kill them.  As he gets older (he’s 11 months old now) he does get calmer and better able to control himself.  I’m sure the day will come when I’ll be able to allow him to be among the chickens unsupervised.

The next move for the chicks will be out to a separate enclosure within the big chicken’s pen.  When the little ones are about the same size as the big girls I’ll allow them to fully integrate, but when they’re so much smaller the big girls could hurt them.  Chickens can be surprisingly mean.  This is the first time I’ve tried the dog crate in the greenhouse for the chicks (I forgot we even had it until we got Dewey Dude- LOL).  Last year I let the chicks “free range” in the greenhouse, but that had it’s drawbacks.  They ate too many greens and damaged what little lettuce I had growing in there, and they were very difficult to catch when it came time to go back to the house in the evening.  Each year I learn more and figure out better ways of doing things.

So that’s what’s going on with my little feathered friends right now 🙂  Before you know it they’ll be all grown up and laying eggs for us!  And my sweet puppy is so happy to have such an important job- he’s the best chick sitter I could ask for ❤

~Michelle of CreativeCritters
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It’s Time For Spring Chicks!

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Yep, it’s that time of year again- time to start raising the next batch of chickens.  In the past Sal has gotten 6 or 7 day old chicks from our local feed store every other year or so.  This time we’re doing it differently and have decided to get new chicks every year so there won’t be any reduction in overall egg production as the youngsters grow to maturity and the older hens stop producing.  Our 7 Rhode Island Red chickens from last year (now 1 year old) are still producing reliably and haven’t started to molt yet, so we should have plenty of eggs until the little ones are ready to start laying.  This year instead of our usual Rhode Island Reds we got 6 White Leghorns.  The Reds lay brown eggs and the Leghorns lay white eggs, so we’ll be able to know who’s producing and how much.

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One of my Rhode Island Red chickens

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Our 6 new White Leghorn chicks

So far we’ve had good luck getting our day old chicks from Olsen’s feed store.  A few days before we’re ready to pick them up I wash the chick cage with soap and water and scrub it thoroughly (I do the same thing before we put it into storage too), then spray it with vinegar to sanitize it.  Their feeder and water container get the same treatment and everything is allowed to dry in the sun.  Sal made this cage years ago, when he first started raising chickens and it has served us well.  By the time the chicks get too big for this cage they’re usually ready to go out to the coop.  There’s a removable tray under the bottom of the cage that we line with paper so it’s easy to clean.  Of course the bigger these critters get, the more often I need to change their paper (they can be messy little buggers!).

For the first few weeks (or longer, depending on the weather) we keep the cage on the island in the kitchen, with the heat lamp positioned over the top.  Figuring out the right position of the heat lamp is a bit of trial and error, but the basic rule is if the chicks are all clustered together under the lamp they’re cold and you need to move the light closer.  If they’re avoiding the lamp and are scattered around the cage, as far from the light as possible they’re hot and the light is too close.  They should wander around the cage comfortably and sleep in small groups all around the cage floor.  It took me a while, but I’ve gotten pretty good at figuring out how to keep them comfortable.

The really fun part is always introducing the other animals to the chicks.  I do like having the chicks get used to the cats and dogs so they’re not afraid of them, and having the dogs especially realize that these chicks are not prey, but family members they’re supposed to protect.

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“This thing is fascinating!”

This is Dewey Dude’s first experience with chicks, and I’m making a special effort to get him familiar with them.  He’s getting better with the older chickens, but still wants to jump on them sometimes.  He’s a very skilled hunter (he caught his first mouse when he was just 3 months old, and since then has caught a variety of birds, rodents, and rabbits) so I want to be sure he understands that this is not the same as the critters he hunts.  He’s very intelligent and watches me talking to the chicks and holding and petting them, so that also reinforces the idea that these little things are part of the family and are to be protected.  Ziggi’s been through all this before and really has very little interest in the chicks (or the adult chickens, for that matter).

Then of course there’s the cats.

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Ginko is utterly fascinated with the chicks.  He’s always been a housecat and has never caught anything bigger than a spider, but he’s got some pretty strong hunting insticts.  He’s not quite sure what to do with these things, but they sure do smell interesting!  BTW, I’m very careful that no animals get hurt or stressed out during these little meetings.  I’m actually surprised at how calm the chicks are when I take them out and let them interact with the cats and dogs.  Of course if the chicks were running around the house unsupervised I’m sure it wouldn’t take Ginko too long to figure out what a cat does with a critter like this.  Calcifer, on the other hand, is a complete love.

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I could probably let all 6 chicks cuddle with him in the chair and he wouldn’t mind at all.  He’s actually a little afraid of them when they start cheeping loudly and fluttering around in their cage (they really get excited if a gnat or something flies into their cage!).

And so this is just another sign of spring around here- the peeping of fluffy little chicks on the counter 😉  When the weather warms a bit more we’ll put the cage out in the garage with the heat lamp and I’ll start taking them outside for brief “field trips” to get them used to the outdoors, the sun, the wind, the feel of grass under their feet, etc.  Sal’s going to build them a separate little coop in the main chicken enclosure so when they’re big enough to go out full time they can safely be with the big chickens.  When they’re the same size as the Reds I’ll allow the flocks to intermingle.  If I put them together when the chicks are too small they could get hurt- chickens can be pretty vicious.  And when the Reds stop producing we’ll give them away to someone who wants them for bug patrol like we did with the last batch.

This will be the fourth year that I’ve raised chickens, and each year I learn a bit more.  I’ve already learned that Leghorns spook easier than Rhode Island Reds.  Loud noises have the chicks peeping and fluttering all over the cage, and any time I change the water or feed them they all spaz out- LOL.  They are getting used to me though, and I hope spending  a good bit of time with them will help them calm down and realize I’m not going to hurt them.  They do seem to enjoy it when I hold them and pet their little heads- they close their eyes and get this blissful expression 🙂

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Just hanging out with my peeps 😉

So that’s life down on the farm 🙂  I’m not sure how often I’ll be able to post now that it’s getting to be planting season, but I’ll try to keep you all up to date on the latest happenings.  On that note, the seedlings are all doing well.  I’ve got them under lights in the guest bathroom like I did last year (you can check out this post to see just what I did last year https://gettingcreativewithcreativecritters.wordpress.com/2015/02/03/starting-seeds-indoors-the-beginning-of-the-2015-gardening-season/).  I’ve been putting them out in the greenhouse during the day for extra sunlight and that seems to really be getting them off to a good start.  Then I bring them back in before it gets too cool in the evening.

Hopefully this season will be at least as productive as last!

~Michelle of CreativeCritters

Calcifer Kitty Isn’t Feeling Well :(

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Poor Calcifer hasn’t been feeling well this week.  It started Monday when I couldn’t get him to eat more than a few pieces of his dry food, or take more than a token lick of his canned food.  Since Calcifer is normally a very finicky cat this wasn’t totally unusual.  But after it continued like this for the rest of the day I knew something was wrong.  He acted like he wanted to eat, but just couldn’t.  I gave him some NutriCal, which is a high calorie supplement in a gel form and is supposed to help stimulate a cat’s appetite, and later some hairball medicine in case he had a hairball stuck.  He’s a very fluffy cat so he ends up ingesting a lot of fur even though I brush him and Ginko just about every day.  Unfortunately Calcifer also washes Ginko so he ingests even more fur from his brother, who’s quite the shedder.Calcifer washing Ginko

Then I checked Calcifer’s teeth and gums to see if he had an infection in his mouth that was keeping him from eating.  Surprisingly he didn’t object too much about me handling his mouth and running my finger along his gums.  He’s actually got some very healthy looking teeth and gums, so that didn’t appear to be the issue.

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When he still wasn’t eating the next day I knew I had to do something.  He’s not a very heavy cat in the first place and really can’t afford to lose any weight.  So I called the vet and made an appointment to get him in as soon as possible.  Unfortunately that wasn’t until Thursday, so in the meantime I had to figure out how to get some food into my skinny kitty.  I got him some chicken baby food and some Kitten Chow and he showed some interest in that.  When Ozzy was elderly and sick from kidney disease the only thing that would spark his appetite was chicken baby food, so I had hopes it would have the same result with Calcifer (even though he’s only 6, not at all elderly).

I felt better that I was at least getting a little something into his belly, but he still wasn’t eating much and wasn’t feeling good.  Even Ginko knew his brother was sick and was being very sweet to him.

calcifer and ginko cuddling

Wednesday I brought Calcifer’s carrier up from the tack room and put his favorite blanket in there so he would get comfortable with it and not freak out when it was time to go to the vet the next day.  Both cats took turns hanging out in the new Cat Cave 😉  Calcifer really seemed comfy and cozy in there.

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Before his appointment I gave him some Rescue Remedy to help take the edge off his fear.  He actually likes the flavor and will lick it right from the dropper.  When it was time to go he was already curled up in his carrier and all I had to do was close the door.  Of course he wasn’t at all happy about the ride to the vet, or the exam, but he took it better than I expected.

This was the first time I’ve been to the Prescott Valley Vet Clinic and I must say I really liked them.  Dr. Rogers and her assistants were very good with Calcifer and gave him a thorough exam.  They took some blood tests to see if any of the usual cat issues were the problem: thyroid, diabetes, liver, kidney.  He had a fever so she gave me some antibiotics for whatever infection he may have.  She also gave him some subcutaneous fluids since he was a little dehydrated.  When we got home Ginko was very concerned about Calcifer and gently washed all the places where they poked and prodded him.

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I gave Calcifer his first dose of antibiotics when we got home and he actually perked up a bit and ate some baby food and kitten food.  Today he seemed to be feeling even better and ate more kitten food and even a bit of his canned food.  I’m still giving him the NutriCal and will continue until he puts on the weight he’s lost.  The vet said he should weigh 10 or 11 pounds and he was down to just 8 😦

Dr. Rogers called this afternoon with his test results and he seems to be a very healthy cat, thankfully.  No issues with his thyroid, kidneys, no diabetes, and just slightly low liver enzymes- nothing to be worried about.  So he may have just picked up a small infection and that put him off his food.  He’s got a few more doses of his antibiotic and the vet has some pills that are supposed to help his appetite, so I’ll pick those up next week.

I’m still feeding him every few hours, sitting on the floor with him and putting a small pile of kitten food on the floor, just the way he likes it, and letting him lick the baby food off the spoon.  It’s time consuming, but he’s worth it.  Hopefully he’ll get back to eating like normal (which still isn’t all that much).  But I’ll do whatever I have to to keep Calcifer healthy.  I love this cat with all my heart ❤

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And if anyone has any tips on getting a finicky cat to eat, please leave a comment below- I can use all the help I can get!

~Michelle of CreativeCritters

Personalized Catnip Pot

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One of our friends rescued a kitten several months ago and has been in the process of spoiling her silly 😉  Pita is a frisky gray tabby cat who earned her name by being a bit of a PITA, according to her mom- LOL.  In spite of being the occasional pain Pita is a much loved kitty and is very affectionate.  The first time Sal and I visited Pita leaped right onto my shoulder and started rubbing against my head and purring in my ear.  She stayed there for most of our visit!  Of course I immediately fell in love with this sweet and adorable kitty.  I’ve already sent Gayle home with some fresh clipped catnip as well as a bag of dried catnip, but I decided this kitty needed her own supply on demand.  And since my own catnip is doing so well I knew I’d be able to divide one of the clumps and pot it up so Pita could have her fresh nip whenever she wanted it.  But of course I couldn’t just plop it in a pot and be done with it- oh no, not me!  I had to make it extra special, so I made the pot personalized by sculpting a miniature Pita kitty lounging on the rim and adding a sign saying PITA’S CATNIP, just so everyone would know who the catnip belonged to. 😉

Calcifer says, "Cute kitty- awfully small though."

Calcifer says, “Cute kitty- awfully small though.”

Of course Calcifer had to inspect my work 😉

So where's the catnip?

So where’s the catnip?

I dug up a few healthy little shoots that should do well.  They had some nice roots and I think this pot will be full of catnip in no time.

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I just wanted to share this quick little project with you all.  Lately it’s been all about catnip!  I’ve been busy making new catnip toys to replace the ones I’ve sold.  If you’re interested in any of my catnip or cat toys check out my Organic Catnip Toys category in CreativeCritters.

And of course if you’d like me to create a custom order for you (pet sculptures, cat toys, etc.) just let me know and I’d be happy to work with you 🙂

~Michelle of CreativeCritters

Meet the Family: Dewey Dude!

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So far you’ve met my sweet Maine Coon cat, Calcifer, my comical kitty Ginko, and our German Shorthair Pointer/ Australian Cattle Dog mix, Ziggi.

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Calcifer

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Ginko

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Ziggi

Well now it’s time to meet the newest member of the family, Dewey Dude, a German Shepherd/ Rottweiler mix puppy.

Dewey Dude

   Dewey Dude  

Dewey Dude was a gift from my boyfriend for my 40th birthday and I couldn’t have gotten a better present!  We had been discussing getting another dog for several months and Sal decided that my 40th was the perfect time.  We took some time to find just the right pup, wanting a dog that would fit in well with our lifestyle and one that would be a good companion for not only myself, but Ziggi as well.  And that meant a big dog who enjoyed being outdoors and living an active life.  Dewey is a German Shepherd/ Rottweiler mix.  Both are large breeds, and both have intelligence and protective, as well as herding instincts.  I can’t be sure just how big Dewey will get, but I’m betting he’ll be pretty large when he’s full grown.

We adopted Dewey Dude from a shelter in Phoenix after I saw his profile on a German Shepherd rescue website.  It was a choice between him and his brother, and although his brother was cute and friendly I fell in love with Dewey the moment I held him.  He was pretty calm and those eyes just melted my heart.  Plus he had very pretty markings, with a brindle pattern on his legs and cheeks and a gorgeous white flame on his chest.  I just knew that he was the one for me ❤

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Before we brought him home I set up his crate in the kitchen.  Of course Calcifer and Ginko had to give it their seal of approval!

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Little did they know what would soon be sleeping in that cozy crate!

Dewey Dude and Ginko

Just look at Ginko’s fluffed up tail!  He didn’t know what to think of this strange new creature.  And Dewey was simply curious about Ginko- from the start this puppy seemed to just want to be friends with everyone.

Ziggi and Dewey Dude

  Ziggi and Dewey Dude

Ziggi was less than thrilled with his over-affectionate new little brother, but over the last few weeks he seems to be accepting him as a part of the family.  He even plays with Dewey now, and if the pup gets himself into trouble Ziggi’s the first one to answer his whimper for help.  When we ask Ziggi “Where’s Dewey Dude?”  he usually goes and finds him.  Ziggi is a very intelligent dog himself, and he’s already helping us train Dewey.

The cats are now okay with Dewey so long as there’s a gate or glass door between them 😉

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For his part Dewey has figured out that the cats run away when he gets excited and barks at them, so he’s learned (for the most part) to stay calm if he wants them to hang out with him.  He really is very smart dog!

Dewey learned “Go potty” and “sit” in his first few days with us, quickly followed by “time to eat”, “inside”, “outside” “lay down”, “come”, drink your water”, and “go for a walk”.  He knows who I am, who Sal is, who Ziggi is, and who Calcifer and Ginko are, all by name.  We’re still working on “no bite”, but I’m seeing a lot of progress in the last day or so.  He’s a very tactile dog and likes to paw things and people or put his mouth on them.  But Sal and I are being consistent in not allowing him to bite us, because although it may be kind of cute now, once he’s full grown that could be a very dangerous habit.

He’s very affectionate though and likes to get kisses and cuddles on a regular basis.

dewey and me

Within no time at all this sweet little puppy had completely stolen my heart!  I love him so much and am so proud of him already.  Even though he just turned 3 months old he’s only had one accident in the house, and that was my fault for not letting him out right after we finished playing.  He likes to play fetch with me and is really good about bringing the ball back, something Ziggi just refuses to do.  I’ve started walking him regularly and he picked up on leash training very quickly.  He doesn’t seem to have any fears or phobias and has already gone through two thunderstorms with no signs of fear at all.  In fact, I had to make him come in out of the rain the other day- getting wet didn’t bother him at all!  He’s not scared of other dogs, thinks horses are just fascinating, and gets along great with other people and kids.

Every day I watch him grow and mature.  His confidence grows by the day and with each new experience.  He loves the kiddie pool we got for him and Ziggi and even knows how to stick his head under water to retrieve a toy (or leaf, or bug, or whatever might catch his eye).

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dewey dude

I know I haven’t written many posts lately, being so busy with the garden and yard, not to mention this little guy, but I had to take a few minutes to share my newest baby with you all.  Anyone who knows me knows that my pets are my family and as such are incredibly important to me.  I put a lot into raising them and ensuring that they live happy, healthy, fulfilled lives.  Just think- this sweet puppy and his brothers were unwanted and homeless, but now I have the chance to give Dewey Dude all the love and joy he could ever want.  His brother got adopted as well 🙂

Don’t you just love stories with a happy ending?  Although this is really just the beginning of course!  I hope to be able to share many happy stories of Dewey Dude’s life an adventures 🙂

~Michelle of CreativeCritters

Whimsical Frog Pendants from CreativeCritters

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The latest addition to my ArtFire shop are these adorable and whimsical little frog jewelry pendants.

Whimsical Red Frog on Green Blue and Gold Clay Leaf Jewelry Pendant

I became inspired to sculpt these cute little critters after re-reading a few books from Christie Friesen.  I love her fun, free form style.  Although many of my Christie inspired projects bear little resemblance to the original tutorial, her general style can usually be seen in them.

Whimsical Teal Blue and Green Polymer Clay Tree Frog Jewelry Pendant

For these pendants I started out by shaping several leaves from polymer clay.  I swirled together shades of blue, green, and gold then wandered around the house checking out the leaf shapes on the many houseplants we have.  Each leaf was shaped by hand, and each is unique.  They’re not exact replicas of any certain type of leaves, just sort of inspired by the shapes I observed.  I CAN follow precise instructions, but I really enjoy just going with the flow and allowing my work to develop almost by itself.  And I love creating things that make me and my customers smile.

Whimsical Polymer Clay Yellow and Teal Tree Frog Jewelry Pendant And these cute little froggies certainly do that!  Some of them have been embellished with glass beads for a little extra sparkle and color.  That’s another Christie thing- she likes to add a variety of beads, jewelry findings, and other interesting things to her work.  Since I’ve got lots of vintage jewelry, much of it broken or missing stones, I often add bits and pieces to my work as well.  There’s just something about vintage jewelry that is so cool- I’ve got some pretty wild pieces I’ve saved from my Gramma’s collection and from my neighbor, as well as plenty of jewelry I’ve picked up at garage sales.  Nothing goes to waste!  One of the (many) things I love about polymer clay is how easy it is to incorporate a variety of different materials into the final piece.

Whimsical Yellow Green and Gold Tree Frog Leaf Jewelry Pendant I also like using embossing powders to add more color and texture.  I don’t always know just how it will turn out after it’s baked, but that’s part of the fun.  I thought this little frog would be more speckled, but once I baked him the embossing powder formed larger patches of color, which is fine by me.

I’m sure there will be more frogs in my future (I’m thinking about making more plush frogs too), but since I seem to have a touch of craft ADD I’ve since moved on to dragon pendants.  Really, though, you just never know what I’ll create next 😉

If you’d like to learn more about each of the pendants pictured above just click on the picture to be directed to their individual listings in my shop.  Thanks so much for stopping by! 🙂

~Michelle of CreativeCritters

Calciferious the Cat Dragon

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This magnificent beast is Calciferious, Calcifer kitty’s alter ego.  This is another Cat Dragon sculpture and was inspired by my fluffy Maine Coon cat.  Calcifer frequently sits in what I call his “Captain Cool” pose, so I decided to make his dragon persona sitting in this pose.

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This sculpture took weeks to complete, but it was an absolute labor of love.  Unfortunately the very first work in progress pictures are on my laptop, which died a while back (one of the reasons I haven’t posted for quite a while).  I tried something new with this piece and the center of the sculpture is weighted with a special rock that I found at our favorite camp site.  I made a cardboard base, glued the rock in place on the base, then wrapped it all in aluminum foil, filling and shaping to create a feline/ dragon body shape.  The front legs have heavy gauge wire running through them for added strength.  Then I started adding the base layer of clay.  This sculpture took a LOT of polymer clay!  After getting the head, neck, body, legs, and tail sculpted the fun part really started- adding the scales.  I used star shapes in varying sizes for most of the body, legs, and tail.

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I tried to mimic Calcifer’s colors and patterns, only with a dragony twist.  I used black, silver, and gold for everything but the wings.  It was slow going, shaping and placing each scale, checking with the real cat to get the stripes and colors just right.  I wasn’t in any hurry though, and I just let the sculpture flow.  At first I used star shapes for his chest too, but then I decided that carefully shaped leaves would give him that fluffy look that I wanted.

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This turned out to be just perfect and added so much more to the sculpture.  Here you can see the stripes along his side and how the colors change from his belly to his back (this is harder to see after I added the wings).

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I brought the fluffy scales (is there such a thing?) up under his chin and just to his ears, like his fluffy fur is in real life.  That’s one of the features I love about Cal and I really wanted to capture that in clay.  I even used Calcifer’s real whiskers.  (Cats shed their whiskers and I’ve saved whiskers from all my cats.) I poked holes in the muzzle before baking then put a dab of glue on the end of each whisker and inserted it in the hole after the sculpture was baked.  You can bake whiskers at 275 degrees (the temperature for baking polymer clay), but sometimes the white ones tend to yellow a bit or curl.

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I added all of his scales before adding the wings, which I sculpted separately and prebaked.  I used purple and gold scales because those colors are just very “Calcifer” and I liked the way they complimented the rest of the piece.

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This is actually a rather large sculpture, for me at least, since I normally work in miniature.  It ended up measuring about 10 inches long and 10 inches high.  But since Cal has such a big personality, I had to make a big sculpture to encompass all that he is 😉  Here you can see Calciferious hanging out in the living room.  Did I mention that he’s a shelf sitter?  I designed him to sit comfortably on a shelf or the edge of a table.

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I think he goes pretty nicely with the decor too.  I’m still deciding if I want to list him for sale.  For now I think I’ll just keep him all to myself- I don’t think I can part with him just yet.

~Michelle of CreativeCritters