Casting ‘Elfan’ and ‘Contemplation’

'Elfan' - half rubber mould with jacket
'Elfan' - half rubber mould with jacket

While I am still struggling with how to deal with problems with the rubber mould of ‘Ibu sleeps’, I decide I have to crack on with casting the other two sculptures. This is when the real mess starts. The patio is set up, with enough bowls, buckets and plastic sheeting to last a lifetime. What I should add here is that I am doing an easy cast ie the plaster is solid. When I pay others to do it, they build up the plaster carefully in layers so it is hollow, and hence lighter.

I so rarely cast that I dig out my ‘documentation’ books. These are where I record everything I learn related to sculpting. I find my notes from spending a day casting with Andrew Brown in 2010. I also find notes from a chat with Alex, a fellow sculptor who works directly in plaster. My notes remind me that I am a messy caster, and should therefore dress appropriately. On goes the ‘artist’ gear – everything has remnants of plaster from previous bouts of casting. I wear the black ‘workplace’ Crocs as I know I will spill plaster on my feet. Every surface is covered in plastic sheeting.

'Contemplation' - half rubber mould in its jacket
'Contemplation' - half rubber mould in its jacket

I have washed and dried both moulds, making sure they are carefully reassembled and tightly secured with ‘butterflies’. I have the black flexible plaster bucket/basket at the ready. This serves two useful purposes. Wish I had bought two now. One: you can place your sculpture in the bucket in case plaster pours through the seams and out. Two: you can pour excess plaster into the bucket, then let it dry. It then pops out in a big plaster disc which can be safely thrown away. Never get wet plaster anywhere near a sink or drain. Hard lesson to learn. I also have an ordinary bucket of hand-hot water. This I use for rinsing my hands when covered with plaster, and for rinsing out the flexible small bowls in which I mix the plaster. At the end of the session, let the plaster settle to the bottom. You can then pour off the water and scoop out the damp plaster that has settled on the bottom and chuck it in the bin. Don’t leave it too long before clearing it out – plaster can bond with the plastic of the bucket. Not many uses for a bucket full of plaster.

I am ready…now for mixing the plaster. That’s one thing that is hard to document – how thick should the plaster be/feel before you pour it into the mould?  I can’t remember. So I follow the guidelines from my colleagues. Fill two-thirds of the flexible plaster bowl with cold water. Sprinkle handfuls of plaster onto the surface of the water. Keep an eye out for an island forming in the centre. Carry on sprinkling the plaster until this island stops ‘melting’ into the water. This should give you a good plaster mix. How thick the plaster becomes depends on how long you leave it. Slowly immerse your hand in the bowl and gently mix the plaster, trying to avoid creating air bubbles. When Alex mixes plaster she uses a bucket and slowly mixes in one direction, with a knuckled hand. When it feels nicely smooth, take your hand out and rinse it off in the bucket of hand-hot water. Gently tap the bowl of plaster on a hard surface to encourage any bubbles to surface (these can be scooped off if needed). As I will be pouring the plaster, I don’t want it to get too thick. I leave it until it is starting to thicken – and when I withdraw my hand my fingers remain plaster-white.

'Elfan' mould in bucket ready for filling
'Elfan' mould in bucket ready for filling

I place the mould at my feet, in a bucket/container, in case the plaster runs out. I bend the plaster bowl so it is easy to pour. The first bowl I make is a small bowl. I follow Andrew’s method, of using a small bowl of plaster first.  I pour the plaster into the mould. I pick up the mould and turn it this way and that so there is a thin layer of plaster in every nook and cranny. I pour out the excess into the black flexible plaster bucket/basket.  I now mix-up a larger bowl of plaster in the same way as before. Once I have poured this second bowl in I again lift up the mould and turn it so that plaster gets everywhere – including the ears, eyes and mouth. Once back on the ground, I tap the mould on the ground for up to a couple of minutes, to help air bubbles surface. The third bowl is just poured in, to the top. Again, I tap the filled mould on the ground to release air bubbles.

Any plaster left over in the bowl can be poured into the flexible bucket, or left to dry and popped out (if you don’t need to immediately use the bowl again). Whatever you do, don’t add water and pour it down your sink. I prop the mould up so that the plaster doesn’t spill out of the top while it is still wet. And leave it for a good 45 minutes, if not more, before opening up the mould. For this, I unscrew all the ‘butterflies’ and carefully ease off the rubber from the plaster. Hurrah! ‘Elfan’ has turned out well, both ears intact, no large air bubbles. I repeat the whole process for ‘Contemplation’.

'Contemplation' just out of the mould
'Contemplation' just out of the mould

Both have come out really well. Just need to spend a couple of hours clearing up after myself. Hmm – spot white footprints on the patio. Hard to blame anyone else. Can’t even blame the neighbour’s cat. Next steps, other than clearing up? Cleaning up the plaster cast, rubbing down and patinating, followed by inserting a ‘stud’/metal thread and positioning it on a stand/plinth. But that’s for another day. I need to check whether my mould of ‘Ibu sleeps’ is any the better for gel Superglue and a bag of sand.

'Elfan' - just out of the mould
'Elfan' - just out of the mould
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