Tuesday, 26 May 2015

Tutorial: Making paper plaster mould

I use this method to make larger moulds without cottles. It creates lighter, stronger and less bulky moulds than traditional plaster technique, and requires less preparation time.  

Materials and equipment:

- model
- mould release (I use soft soap or watered down clay slip)
- containers for mixing and measuring
- scales
- plaster (I use Gyprock Superfine Plaster)
- water
- paper pulp ( available in bulk from roof insulation places)
optional: kitchen timer

A word about undercuts:

Undercut is any indentation or protrusion in the shape that will prevent it coming out of the mould. You have to be careful to prevent undercuts when making even the simple drop - out mould, and even more so with multiple piece moulds.
For example, if you are making a 2 piece mould of a sphere, dividing it on any point but the widest will create an undercut and prevent your object from coming freely out from the mould:

1) Preparing the model

The model needs to be non-porous. I am using a cardboard model, put together with sellotape and  covered with remnants of sticky back plastic.As I am making a 2 piece mould, I have used cardboard to create a barrier  between 2 halves. The barrier is 4 cm wide, so I will have the visual indication of the plaster thickness. It should not get wider than 4 cm.

2) Mixing the plaster

I always weigh the water and the plaster - that way all my moulds ( and parts of the moulds) have a consistent porosity. That is not really important when press-moulding, but it is essential when slipcasting. I just find it easier as it takes the guesswork out of the process.
Ratios that I use are 700g of plaster to a 1000g ( which is 1 kg or 1 l) of water.
I estimate the volume of plaster that I will need in litres, trying to err on the generous side. I ask myself how many 1 litre milk cartons can I put in the space I intend to fill with plaster. In this case the answer is 2. 
So I poured 1.4 litres (equivalent to 1.4 kg) of water into a bucket, put it on the scales and added 2 kg of plaster to it. that will give me a rough 2 l of plaster in volume.
Rule worth remembering: Always add powder to the water.

- Add plaster to water (ratio 700g plaster to 1000g water)
- wait for the plaster to be absorbed 
- mix plaster & water into the smooth consistency
- leave it to thicken (maybe 10-15 minutes - that is where the kitchen timer comes in handy if you know the properties of your plaster)
- it is ready when your finger run across the surface leaves clear path
- mix the plaster thoroughly but quickly

3) Applying

Apply plaster from the highest point, letting it run down all the walls. Use your fingers to make sure that all areas are covered and there are no air pockets. You have only short time to do this, so work quickly.Aim for about 1 cm thickness. The purpose of this layer is to preserve all fine details of the model and absorb the moisture from the clay.
Because the plaster is on the point of stiffening when you start applying it, the moisture does not have the time to weaken the cardboard. 

4)Mixing the paper plaster

Usually you will need more volume of plaster for the second layer, as it is larger. 
Start the same way as for the first layer:

- Add plaster to water (ratio 700 g plaster to 1000 g water)
- wait for the plaster to be absorbed 
- mix plaster & water into the smooth consistency 
- add dry paper pulp while mixing, until consistency thickens and it becomes pliable.
- apply immediately on to the mould

5) Preparing the second half

 This is the point that I add a cardboard wall to the future opening of the mould. It makes it easier to build a neat plaster wall around the opening. yes, the photo is of the different mould, but the principal is the same. You can do this earlier in the process,but then you would be working on a higher base for the first half of the mould.

 Don't forget to make several round holes ( the smallest coin twirled around will do the job, or any roundish studio tools you can put your hands on). Those holes will be the "keys" helping to accurately lock two halves of the mould together.

 Apply mould release. Plaster will stick to plaster unless you create some sort of non- porous barrier. On this photo, I am applying a watered down casting slip. Sometimes I use soft soap (liquid soap) that I rub with the tips of my fingers into the plaster. If using soft soap, keep applying layers until it saturates the surface of the plaster.
I usually apply it to the sides of the mould as well as the top edge, as some plaster is likely to spill over the side. This will make it easier to clean

6)  Repeat steps 2, 3 & 4

And here it is, finished mould. You don't even have to wait fort he plaster to cool down. Gently tap it onto the ground on the seam and it should crack open like an egg. I love this moment.

I tend to let the mould dry for a few days before using it. If you are going to use it for slip casting, you will need to wait for a week or more as the mould needs to thoroughly dry out in order to absorb the water from the casting slip.
If it will be used for a press moulding, it can be used almost immediately.

Did you find this tutorial useful?
Is it similar or different to the way you make moulds? 
Do you have suggestions or tips to share?

I would love to hear your comments.

Saturday, 23 May 2015


I don't usually post about private life, but on this occasion I am making an exception, as it was an exceptional event.
On Sunday 25th April my son married his beautiful girlfriend.
Photographer: Hannah Gosling

To commemorate the occasion, I made little vases for each guest.
I threw them on the wheel from 230g of white stoneware clay.
I used every lump, no rejects, no fuss.
I have spent lovely meditative two days throwing & thinking about the young couple.
Here are the results:

In the kiln before the glaze firing:

 and after:

At the reception:

Photographer: Ryan Walker

Thursday, 14 May 2015

Paralysis of Choice

 I had so much pleasure in making Orbis and Icos (click here to view January post), reinforced by their popularity at the Sculpture by the sea, that I have decided to explore further in that direction. 
My mind was blown away with the images of various polyhedron online, and I binged endlessly, looking for the shapes that would be suitable for me. I am looking for the geometrical shapes simple enough to make in clay, complex enough to be interesting and intriguing, and evocative of the shapes found in nature; planktons, polens….

For a while, I was just filling my mind with the images and possibilities, feasting on the new stimuli…but I noticed that I was going back to Kepler’s solids more and more often.
Geometric figures (Platonic solids and other regular polyhedra). Source: Kepler, Harmonices libri V (1619), between pp186 and 187.

With such an abundance of shapes to choose from, I had difficulty deciding which one to focus on. I created a new folder in my “Inspirations” file called ‘Geometry’ and started hoarding images.
I call it “Paralysis of choice”, as the abundance of choice can be just as paralyzing as when all the inspiration dries up. You know what I am talking about; It is like a hungry person looking at the lunch menu with so many mouth-watering choices that she is quite unable to make a decision, prolonging the agony of hunger and indecision. It can quite easily get out of hand, especially if there are no deadlines to push one forward.

As I could not choose one, I compromised by choosing 3 polyhedra that fitted the criteria and started making full scale cardboard models. Making always breaks the spell. As I made the models, I started visualizing ceramic possibilities in my head, and when I was too tired to work in the studio I would sit and doodle, sketch and try to capture the thoughts and images in my head. The flood gates are open and the ideas are flooding in.Those are my momentary top 3 choices:

I've made two models and cast them in plaster:

 And I have to show you this one:

I am so pleased that it worked (so far - it has not been fired yet).
It is made with porcelain slip (You guessed, recycled Australian Fine China casting slip).
I have put it in the kiln while leather hard to avoid handling it at it's most fragile state when it completely dries out. If I had a full kiln, I could of fired it immediately, straight to vitrifying temperature. As I don't, it will have to wait a while, and than be fired to bisque first, to accommodate other things in the kiln.

If you are interested in polyhedra, and perhaps tempted to make some, THIS is a good starting point.