Once upon a time I made a life-size Darth Vader gorilla. He talked, he breathed, he had a working light sabre and when his helmet came off it revealed the burnt charred scars of Anakin Skyrilla after Obi Wan Kamonkey cut off his legs and arm and left him to burn beside the lava.

I made Darth Vader for The Great Gorillas Project, run by Paignton Zoo. We raised thousands of pounds for gorilla conservation. The sponsors were Cavanna Homes. Three years later, I got an exciting email from Ellie of Cavanna Homes: “Paignton Zoo is launching The Great Big Rhino Project. We’re planning on sponsoring a rhino – will you send in any designs? And would you like to be our artist again?” Yes and yes!

In fact, I had already heard that Paignton Zoo was planning another trail, and I had a great idea - a triceratops rhino! My original design was dinosaur brown, but Cavanna Homes suggested I paint Rhinosaur teal and blue – their company colours. What a great idea! So a lovely blend of sea colours he became.

The idea for Rhinosaur came about for three reasons:

1: I like to adapt the shape of the original structure. I had just created Stormy GoGoDragon for GoGoDragons in Norwich and felt a triceratops would complement the set and be an artistic challenge, and a great stand-out rhino.

2: I wanted a design to portray the serious message about the longevity of rhinos. Creating Rhinosaur sends a very powerful message that if we do not preserve rhinos their fate will be that of the dinosaurs. Future generations will only know about them as though they are myth, from books, movies and stories from older generations.

3: The joy of a 3-year-old. You can’t help but be affected by youth, the joy they bring, the excitement they create when they see something they love. Dinosaurs are a big hit for my nephew Harry, so it had been on my mind to transform a sculpture into one when the right trail came along. Rhino to Rhinosaur seemed a perfect fit!

A beautiful blank white rhino sculpture arrived in early October 2015 to give me plenty of time to build him. Just as I was getting going, removing his ears and sculpting his frill, the ceiling in my flat fell in! With a change of landlords and flatmates, life was against me until Christmas. Nearly three precious months were lost, but by January I was back on track with a roof over my head – literally - and I was back in my studio. Horrah! So, from January until May, Rhinosaur came to life.

Rhinosaur is my 23rd public art sculpture. Every part of his body has been adapted. He is one of my most extensive builds to date. Here’s how I did it:

I started with his head. Firstly, I cut off his ears and constructed an 80cm wooden circular frame to hold the frill. The frame was then built up with chicken wire, fibreglass, foam, more fibreglass, latex and car body filler.

Once the frame of the frill was constructed I made additional horns; two in the front and close to 75 on the head/frill, with a few dozen down his back and tail, plus a beak. He was covered in latex which was then coated with fibre glass to create the scale effect on his head.

To make the scales on his body, I used Liquid Nails coated in Evo-Stik glue then coated with fibreglass resin, then more fibreglass, primer then paint. His tail and toes were a complete build from foam, latex, reinforced fibreglass and more fibreglass. He was then primed, painted and airbrushed with bone detail.

Mid-way through I decided that Rhinosaur - or @RhinosaurCav - needed a prehistoric bird friend on his back, as modern-day real-life wild rhinos are often seen with birds on them. That led to the creation of Ted the Pterodactyl. I thought that Ted might also be a deterrent to help stop people sitting on his back.

And so Rhinosaur was born. I finished him in May, he was relocated to Devon and went to Living Coasts to be part of The Great Big Rhino Project in late July. I hope you all love him. He was a huge amount of work; I hope he raises loads for Paignton Zoo and rhino conservation at the auction in November. I achieved my artistic challenge with him and I hope he portrays the serious message of how much we need to value and preserve these majestic creatures. We do not want them to suffer the same fate and become a distant memory, a fable, a story… to become extinct like the dinosaurs.

Mandii Pope

The Great Big Rhino Auction takes place on Thursday 3rd November at the Riveria International Conference Centre. For more information, please click here.

Quotes Loads to see and do, for a full day out. Quotes