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Shane Foulkes Interview

Interview with Shane Foulkes (
Questions by Dan Liebman (
Originally published 2014

It was 2009 when the scrappy upstart Dan’s Dinosaurs received an order for one Carnegie Spinosaurus. I shipped the order before payment was received, and shortly thereafter received an e-mail. The buyer was apparently a paleo-sculptor, and he was so impressed with this gesture of good will, he offered to sell his models in my humble shop. That sculptor was Shane Foulkes. Five years later, the same tiny shop features the work of a dazzling array of paleoartists, and I credit Shane for this unexpected direction and growth. His generosity and wisdom truly exemplify what makes the garage-kit hobby so amazing, and he honors me once again with his participation in this interview.
- Dan

Q. How did you begin this career as a paleo-sculptor?
A. Well, I first started out by wishing I could sculpt! Seriously, I wondered if I could sculpt, and since I was an artist and did 2-D paintings and illustrations, I thought I should give it a try. This was back in 1995, and I bought a book on how to make armatures and sculpting. Once I thought I had it all in my head, I made my first attempt - a 1/18th scale Iguanodon. From there I showed it to someone who was a veteran in the hobby, and he told me I should market my work, and the rest is history!

Q. If you could go back in time, is there anything you would tell yourself, as a developing artist? Or anything to budding artists in general?
A. Yeah sure, the one thing that is the most important issue is to be patient. If you’re sculpting just for fun, then have at it and enjoy. If you’re attempting to do this with a plan to merge into the hobby kit market and make some green, then I say make sure you let the public decide if you should proceed, show your finished work on forums and such or magazines like PT, and wait for feedback. This will tell you if you’re ready or not. Then show it to someone well established in this area, and ask for a legit critique and honest opinion about your work. Many artists have a hard time hearing tough judgment. Please remember to keep the chip off your shoulder and let the pros help you get better. You will be glad you did.

Q. You are widely respected for your dedication to scientific accuracy. Do you have any favorite sources that you consult before beginning the work?
A. Most of my sources comes from the net. I search for material in both photos and text form, and I read a lot about the latest finds and research each potential sculpt, until I have enough to represent the species as much as possible. Mounted skeletons throughout the world have many flaws so using them “only” as a guide for reference is subject to flaws as well, I still use them but only after I compare them to top tier artists’ reconstructions. Combining the two allows me to compare and see what makes the best sense in my eyes. Understanding anatomy is crucial. Knowing how the limbs fit in the socket, which affect the stance and allows the feet to fit within the track ways, is just an example. Misaligned parts will really affect the final look and function of the subject and its ability to work and function in life. I also have a small library of books for material sources. I have made friends with some of the top paleontologist and they have been great about taking the time to answer any questions.

Q. Can you outline how the sculpting process goes?
A. Wow, that’s a pretty vague question, lol, but I will try to simplify it down. First, I’m getting the subject’s info down through research, then deciding what scale to make the model in. I offer many scales to meet my customers’ needs - something for everyone. Next, I enlarge the images of the subject to meet the scale I’m working in, which I call my layout. That way, you can take direct measurements from the photo straight to the model. I use wood blocks to represent the hip structure and shoulder area. I cut them down to fit within the perimeter of the layout image. Then I use coat hanger wire or small diameter brass rods; both are easy to cut through with wire cutters or a fine saw. I make each section of the skeleton with wire. For example, I measure the neck length then cut the wire to that spec. I measure the leg from the hip to the bottom of the foot, and cut that length of wire, and so on. I then make all the areas of the joints with a marker, so I know where to bend the knees, elbows, ankles and such. Then I drill small holes into the wood blocks (hips and shoulders) so that they line up with the attachment of that joint in the layout. Do the same for the neck, backbone, and tail, and drill holes into the block, making sure I keep the block and wire framework inside the outline of the layout. Once that’s done, I pose the “exoskeleton” armature in the pose I like, then glue and putty all the attachment areas of wire and wood so the model cannot move. I then bulk out the figure with aluminum foil to about 80% of the subject’s true bulk, and cover the foil with masking tape as I go. Then end result is a tape covered model that’s 80% bulked out and ready for clay. I cover the entire model with a layer of clay, then bake. For the skull, I actually sculpt a clay skull to match the image. Instead of just creating a blocky shape for the head, I sculpt the skull then bake it (if the subject has teeth I do them later). Once it’s hardened, I attach the skull to the armature, bend into the desired angle, and glue in place. I then add more foil and tape to blend the neck to the skull, cover that with clay, and bake again. Then I add the teeth if needed. The teeth are sculpted individually, baked and glued into place. At this point I sculpt one side of the model, then bake it, then sculpt the other side to match, bake again, and I’m done. Doing this allows me to hold onto the side opposite I’m working on, and get into the small areas for detail and control.

Q. Since new fossils are constantly being discovered, our image of prehistoric life is always in flux. Does this result in any frustration for you - for example, are all these feathered theropods going to be a nightmare to sculpt?
A. Yes, evidence is always changing the way we imagine dinosaurs. I like the proto-feathered look, and yes, the feathery detail on the surface of the model will pose more of a challenge than sculpting skin and scales. I’m up for it.

Q. What are some of the most common mistakes you've noticed when looking over the reconstructions of other artists?
A. Well, don’t like bashing others, so I will keep the comments generic, but one thing that is oh so common is the neck length of renderings of T. rex, always too long. Some even look allosaur-like. The other thing I see a lot is that they don’t make the animals’ girth large enough. A lot are too skinny or lean. A few years back it was everyone is putting feathers on everything! We find one suggestion for theropods with feathers and every thing that crawls is having them now. Of course, that is not so farfetched these days. lol.

Q. Some artists favor an over-the-top, dramatic scene that makes dinosaurs look more like movie monsters. Your models depict a more realistic, natural prehistoric world. Do you feel this is a personal choice in style, or do these quieter, more mature reconstructions reflect something of yourself?
A. Nope, nothing to do with me. I try to imagine what life would have been like 140 to 65 million years ago and do my best to see in my “mind’s eye” how these animals would have moved, behaved, and interacted with each other. These weren’t monsters from hell; it feels normal looking at the animals alive today, and I’m sure dinosaur life was as normal as it is now, some sleeping, feeding, killing, parenting, and living in cahoots within their social groups. Pose is very important and movement is so crucial. It must appeal to most everyone and not be boring. I do my best to pick interesting subject matters.

Q. I have noticed that when some people ask me about buying their first resin kit, they are sometimes apprehensive, but always delighted whenever they receive their model. What do you believe are the best ways to establish trust within this field?
A. It’s all about communication, that is so important. Talk to others who buy a lot of models in this hobby, establish contact with sellers and ask questions that concern you. Don’t pull punches, if it’s on your mind, ask it. If the seller acts annoyed or feels he or she shouldn’t be questioned and gives you the “Don’t you know who I am?” routine, then stay away from this person. They won’t be offering good customer service. A lot of new customers come my way and talk with me about purchases like it was my first day selling kits. It’s funny and yet not. I tell them that with me, it’s all about trying to impress. Customers are the ones who pay my bills and allow me to do what I do. I need them. So I will go beyond the norm to make sure the experience is a fun and positive one. I want you back! I was a customer once too before I got into this business, and I can tell you firsthand I learned a lot about what NOT to do, and what I want to see happen if I ever got into being a producer. There are about four of us out there that I would recommend and are safe to deal with. Others hit and miss, and some, buyer beware! I am always willing to give advice about others who do what I do in this hobby and help steer you in the safe direction even outside my own business. Hey, I still buy, collect, and support others in this hobby too.

Q. One of the great things about the resin or "garage" kit hobby, is that everyone can apply their own paint application to a high quality model. Do you employ any particular strategy or ideas when you are painting a model?
A. Too many times I hear, “I didn’t want to paint the kit yet until I get better at painting”. They don’t want to mess up on the higher quality kits so they tend to start on cheaper, lower quality kits. If they mess up, it’s no big loss.

Well, I can tell you, if you are a newbie and start testing your skills on subpar kits, the finished project will still be subpar. I see it this way: What auto body painter wants to paint a beat up old junker? It’s not appealing throughout the project, and in the end, the poor quality will sour what efforts you applied. Great quality kits tend to lead the novice painter to do better work because the canvas you’re working on is already great looking, and it can help the average paint job if the kit is well detailed. Jump in and play, you will impress yourself and do even better on the next one.

Q. Do you have a good sense of what models will be popular, or have there been surprises?
A. Yes, of course, I can’t foresee the future. Some kits I think are going to sell well do just okay, and some I create make more sales than I thought. My track record for producing kits that are successful is very high. But now and then I get put in my place. Never think you have it all figured out. Be humble and follow your instincts.

Q. There are some stunning photos of your displays and personal collection. What has been like to develop this extensive career within the home, and shared with the family?
A. This is the question that generates a story as an answer, but I won’t bore you. I am very blessed and grateful that I’m able to do this for a living. I have been on the other end of it working 9 to 5 jobs for over 25 years, and the whole time I’m thinking, “This is NOT me!” I’m meant to do more, something involving my art skills, not stepping and fetching for others while I waste my talents. I didn’t want to be 65 and look back and say, “Man, I should done this or that…” So in 1996, I took the plunge and tried my hand at sculpting and discovered I do it better than anything else. Who knew? I developed this as a side hobby until the year 2000 after I built up a customer base, then I quit the old job. I’m taking charge of my own future, I will make or break myself, and I won’t leave my remaining years and future in the hands of some dead end company. Man, am I glad I did. 18 years now and going strong. I worked very hard to make it happen. My wife has been oh so supportive, she says how miserable I was over the years prior. It’s good some months and not so on others, but it balances out. I have to be more salesman than sculptor, lol.

Q. Do people outside of the paleo-community ever have interesting reactions when you explain your profession to them?
A. Yes, that’s always a difficult one. They look at me and say, “You make dinosaurs? Like for kids and stuff?” I tell them in a simplistic manner what I do, and tell them I’m a paleosculptor, and they say the classic, “What’s that and who buys this stuff?” I tell them model kit hobbyists and collectors of fine wildlife art. “Huh”, they say, “that’s cool, but how do you make a living off it? “It goes on and on. They have such a hard time trying to understand what they don’t understand! Some of them don’t even know what I mean when I say I sell model kits, and then of course the famous assumption that I simply open up a sock drawer and out pops a dinosaur model, ta da!

Q. Hey, worse things have been known to pop out of sock drawers. While you offer many of your sculpts for sale as resin castings, sometimes there are private commissions as well. Do you have a preference?
A. I do take on lots of commissions. I would like to do fewer of them so that my customers can get the final product faster. But when there is a full work bench of projects, they take longer to complete. On the flip side, commission has saved me on several occasions. I have to have them in order to keep the funds coming in, so I can stay in business when my kits sales and build up work is slowed.

Q. Many of your supporters and friends have come to know you as a man of principle, and strong faith. How has this affected the course of your work?
A. I’m old school, I believe in honesty and respect and being fair. Doing the right thing is a must. Holding myself to strong principals makes me answer to myself and to God. It’s easy when you run your own business to sweep your mistakes under the rug, and there is no one over you to hold you accountable, so I hold my action accountable to God. This allows me to always feel like I have to be hard on myself and push. Being  my own boss, I’m obligated  to look at my actions and how I manage my business from another perspective, and not ignore my faults but correct them, without regrets, and I strive to do the right thing even if it doesn’t benefit me.

Q. What do you enjoy when you're not sculpting?
A. I enjoy not sculpting, lol. When you do as much as I do, it’s nice to deviate from it completely. I love to go fishing, anything outdoors, I love classic car shows, going to the movies, spending time with my son. From time to time my wife Michele and I like to have a date night or date day, time for ourselves too. I try to balance everything when possible, not too much business, I don’t want to get burnt out. My family is everything to me.

Q. Any interesting ideas for the future, either for yourself or the resin hobby in general?
A. For the future I would like to do something big! But it takes so long, that’s the down side. I’m happy what I’m doing. This will be something that I can continue to do after I “retire” to help pay the bills. I would love to have my work on a larger scale, as in movie work. Just a little taste! I hope that I’m making a difference by being a part of this hobby and that what I do will be remembered many years from now. I love helping others get started and give them the encouragement they need to chase their dreams. Kinda sounds like a Miss America answer, but its true. I also want to take this time to thank all the customers who support me for all these years, and to the new ones who I hope to keep for many more. Thanks for helping make my dream of doing what I love to do a reality.