The Making of Chupacabra

For the past few years, I've been following a young artist named Santani. She's a Russian woman, born in 1990, who's been making realistic fantasy animals since she was 14. Her work is unbelievably good. Her fantasy animals are so realistic, they're often used as thumbnails for clickbait articles.

I've been deeply inspired by her work, and as a result I've decided to make some of the weirder creatures I draw into stuffed toys. Ultimately, I'm hoping to create a programmable animatronic animal, but for my first attempt I just wanted to try a few techniques and get a feel for some different materials. It will take a long time before I develop the skills to match Santani's incredible attention to detail (if I ever do), but with time I'm sure I'll find my own quirky style.

The first thing I did was craft claws, teeth, and a nose from Sculpey. This is a material used a lot in the construction of fantasy art dolls, because of its incredible versatility and the way it holds paint and other coatings.

Rather then try to make super detailed pieces, I opted for simpler, larger claws and teeth, and chose to sew the face instead of moulding it. I used acrylic paint and nail polish to coat the finished pieces. Each Sculpey piece had a single hole to help me secure it in place later on.

The claws for the hands were simply four little spikes, but I added little toe pads to the back feet because toes are so freaking cute.

At this point I still had no idea what the actual creature was going to look like in the end. I was just making parts.

toes closeup 2.jpg

One of the things I wanted to do was paint my own glass eyes. I spent a lot of time on Ebay and Etsy looking at glass eyes, but in the end I ordered simple, half-dome glass cabochons (this word was super useful in Google searches).


Since painting directly on glass is a bit tricky, I made little disks of Sculpey that were the same size as the glass, and painted those. I included a little wire loop at the back of each disk, to help me secure the eyes later. I used the same acrylic paint and nail polish, and attached the glass to the Sculpey with super glue.

I decided to use leather scraps to make my little friend's body. I found some leather ends at a nearby craft store, and used the more textured parts to attach leather to the feet using super glue. At this point, I learned how effective super glue is on leather - it's got basically the same impact on leather that it has on your skin. After glueing my fingers together a few times, I got the hang of it.

back feet 05.jpg

I glued the leather really carefully around the hands and feet, and tried to figure out how to attach the feet to a body. I still wasn't sure how it was all going to fit together, but it was fun making it up as I went.

I used a simple leather awl to sew the leather scraps, and added some fun fur for accents and a tail. Fun sidenote: I was travelling overseas while I worked on this part, so this little animal came together across several countries. The picture below was taken in Singapore.

all parts 02.jpg

Once the arms and legs were attached, I started slowly working on a face. This was the hardest part. I still wasn't entirely sure what I wanted the face to look like, so I cut out a lot of shapes and arranged them as I went. A lot of super glue was used for this part, too. 

I discovered that you can easily mould leather into simple shapes by soaking it in super glue, which is how I made the ears hod their shape. I'm not sure how well this'll hold up to time... maybe it'll weather badly. But it was pretty great for making ears that held their shape. I also scraped the leather inside the ears a bit to give his ears some depth. Finally, I used fun fur to give my little guy a nice hairstyle.

Making his head the right shape was pretty challenging, and I'm not sure I succeeded... in the end his teeth stuck out a lot more than I wanted them to. But I did succeed in adding firmly secured whiskers (harvested from my broom).

At about this point, I named this little guy Chupacabra, after the legendary goat sucking creature from central and south america. One of the fascinating things about this legend is how recent it is. Until I chose this name, I assumed Chupacabras had been part of a rich human mythology for hundreds of years, but this particular legend is less than 20 years old.

This is the finished product. Chupa's neck is a little crooked, and he looks like he always needs a hug. I'm really proud of how solid he is, even if I had to stuff his butt with pennies to make sure he could sit up, and there are a few stitches showing. I can't wait to make the next one. :)