Cleaning Animal Skulls for Use in Art

Animal skulls are often used as canvases for multiple art forms. Oftentimes an artist feels compelled to preserve the skull of a deceased animal they found during a walk or hike and honor the life of that animal through art. At issue is the fact that Mother Nature doesn’t always leave the skull lying around in a condition that’s ready accept paint or other medium. To get to the skull, one must be ready to put in the elbow grease. Or get a colony of dermestid beetles like ones used in deer skull cleaning. Here’s a look at what’s involved in cleaning a skull.

Softening the Remaining Flesh for Removal

The longer a skull has been exposed, the harder it is to remove the remaining tissues. What remains on a skull can become leathery and tough to remove, but a fresh skull can pose challenges as well. You’ll have a difficult time of getting all the bits and pieces off if you don’t soften them first. Simmering the entire skull in a pot of Dawn dish soap and water for a few hours to get all the remaining tissue to soften is an effective, if somewhat smelly, method. The job of removal becomes much easier when the tissues are pliable.

Cleaning the Skull

Once the flesh has been softened by boiling, it’s time to remove the tissues. You’ll want an assortment of scalpels, knives and rounded palette knives to help you get the tissues off the surface of the skull. Exercise care and caution as it’s very easy to damage the delicate areas around the eyes and nose. If necessary, return the skull to the pot of water for repeated attempts at softening what’s left. Make sure to clear the entire skull of tissue and that includes removing the brain.

Getting the Skull Bright White

Once you’ve removed every piece of flesh you can find, you’ll find the skull is an off-white or yellow color. Fats and body fluids stain the skull and you may notice a film of grease covering the skull. At this point, you need to degrease the skull which involves scrubbing it with a brush and dish soap. Once the skull has dried and feels dry to the touch, you can submerge it in a bath of 3% hydrogen peroxide and let the skull soak until it whitens.

Letting Dermestid Beetles Do the Work

Cleaning a skull for use in artwork is a lot of work and it’s something you might find unpleasant. Spare your senses and get a colony of dermestid beetles to do the work for you. Put the beetles and the skull together in a box and place them in an environment recommended by the seller of the beetles. The beetles are experts at cleaning every last bit of tissue off a skull, so you don’t have to. Think of it as speeding up a natural process without the use of chemicals and scrub brushes.

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