Therefore, as promised, methods and material review for my rock cave!
My best advice here is to keep searching until you have exactly what you want. I spent weeks trying to find Modge-Podge, finally settling for Liquitex, a similar product. Ironically, I later found Modge-Podge at Wall-mart for half the price. Now, I have to say, however, that the Liquitex seems to have worked really well. It was the least toxic substance I could find, it was the right finish, and it is resistant to moisture.
For the paint, all I did was dig through some old (really old) arts and crafts boxes in the basement and found a decent pallet of naturalistic rock colours. I based my pallet choice on some of the rocks I've collected to use in future tanks; rocks found along the shoreline, in fields, etc. Rocks are one of the few things I prefer to find outside than actually buy. They aren't porous (obviously) so they're easy to disinfect and use. Sorry, side-bar. This is one of the parts of the build that might require a bit of an artistic background. I've been taught colour selection and identification since I was young, so it's all fairly second nature to me. Luckily for everyone, the rules of art are somewhat flexible. And by that, of course, I mean it's all up to you. It all comes down to what you're able to achieve. Choose colours that reflect the type of habitat you want to create for your animals. For this build, as I recall, I used the following colours; a creamy white, a deep blue, a dark grey, a mocha brown, and bit of black.
Lastly, the right tools for the right job. I'm lucky enough to have a plethora of brushes both new and old kicking around. I used just one brush for the majority of the painting, one sponge brush for the sealant, and one fine brush for the cave painting details. I originally wanted to use a spray-bottle to apply the sealant, but Liquitex specifies not to mix with water, which would have been necessary to reduce its consistency. The sponge brush work fairly well, leaving a nice pitted texture, which I found worked better than the unnatural strokes of a course brush.
The best way I can describe how to get a natural rocky look is to just dump on the paint. Don't mix it on the pallet, mix on the canvas (the rock). This makes for a blotchy, heterogenous mix of colours which looks much more natural than straight lines of different, solid colours. Another tip is just that, the tip. Use the tip of the brush and... just... tap it on. Hard to explain. Let the bristles give the rock that "sprayed on" look like that of centuries of mud and weather working on the stone. Once you've got a nice mix of colours, don't over work it! This will blend the colours and ruin that natural texture you've jsut spent fifteen minutes getting!
Also, don't feel rushed, but if you can establish a base over the entire build while the initial coat is still wet, you'll have a much easier time mixing the colours up just the way you want them. If, by chance, you want a dusty look, try a little dry brush action, which I won't get into detail here. I'll leave that up to the much artsier people of the internet.
You want to see the third phase of the leo tank? Yeah you do.
For anyone who's followed the progression of my leo tank, much change can be observed. Chief among them, the substrate. Although the use of sand makes me leery, this is not your run of the mill sand. It's Zoo-Med's Excavator Clay Burrowing Substrate. Before I launch into it, I have to mention the following:
This is a clay-based substrate; there IS a risk of impaction.
Having said that, here's why I still chose to use it.
First of all, the clay is a great base to hold all the driftwood and stones in place, and it makes for great hills and depressions. It also holds heat far better than the Eco-Carpet. It's also more natural and visually appealing, though by no means should you compromise functionality for looks. This clay sand compacts nicely and forms a fairly solid base. It's much harder to accidentally ingest this than regular sand. Also, in my case, the crickets usually make for the dark "safety" of the cave. As such, the cave still makes use of the Eco-Carpet, for exactly that reason. It becomes the feeding ground for crickets. Another designated feeding area is the large flat stone I sunk into the clay sand just outside of the cave. So far, it's been great.
The clay is made of sculpt burrows and tunnels, but I've heard tales of the tunnels collapsing, most likely due to poor construction. I didn't even try this, for exactly that reason; I didn't want to risk having a tunnel collapse on my leo.
The overall result has so far been pretty good. The cave, thanks to the new Heat Wave Desert under-mounted tank by Exo-Terra, I'm holding a pretty cozy temperature inside the cave. I haven't yet been able to buy the thermometer I've been eying to get an exact reading, but it's certainly around 30 °C. Bronka spends most of his time basking half inside the cave, half outside, sleeping right under the heat lamp. I put not a small amount of thought into the layout of this setup; the cave is both the first and second floor of a three-storey "bungalow", the third being the old piece of driftwood I've been using since I first got him. This layout effectively creates a sort of Rete's stack, despite the fact that it's far warmer at the bottom. The new piece, clearly visible on the right, was a great find! It's hollow, making for a very cozy natural hide out of the direct light. I will be placing moist moss in it soon enough, finally providing the two natural hides he should have; cool and warm, dry and moist. I've seen him out exploring much more since he's moved in. I truly thinks he enjoys it! The front door access has made picking him out ofthe tank much easier, allowing me to handle him much more than before!
Although I could fit a couple extra furnishings, I think I'll limit myself another rock or two, just to minimize the overall amount of open sand, effectively reducing risk of ingestion. He has a lot to climb on as it is, and I think he appreciates the wide open spaces he now has as well.
Coming up in the next post, I'll talk about the creature I'm really working on acquiring, and possibly revisit some of my previous product reviews.