Somehow I seem to have found myself moving almost full circle in my use of scale. I began with intricate delicate jewellery in silver and moved abruptly in a dramatic change of scale to a few bulky fabrications in painted MDF, then mild steel sculpture as big as I could make it. I yearned to go bigger, larger than life but for that you need money, strength, a whole workshop full of specialist equipment, space and hopefully a commission. After a liberating but all too brief dalliance with pleated paper and an even briefer sojourn with copper sheet, I adopted a more restrained approach, all white sculpture on a domestic scale in a medium quite new to me until now, cast plaster. Gradually and almost without realising what was afoot, the scale has slid back down, close to jewellery sized pieces.
Throughout this whole exploration of materials and processes, runs my habitual theme of repetition, it seems to be the one constant, indeed it is undeniably quite my favourite. And of course my second favourite, the aspect that sits so well with repetition – cast shadows.
I have at last succeeded in making the piece I had planned, though this is very much a test piece, I think I have made all the required mistakes now, so when I make another, it will be of good quality.
Speeding up the drying process by putting the cast in the oven at less than 50°C leaving the door ajar so that moisture can escape, can prevent rust stains forming (seen here in the third image).
My first customer
Hopefully I have learned enough from the last two experiments to make a good casting this time.
I set up the wok again with Plasticine walls and a slightly larger saucepan lid and made up a much larger batch of plaster hoping to cast the whole thing in one go.
I poured the plaster into the wok and started swirling it genlty, hoping to make it stick to each part of the surface – impeded somewhat by the thick layer of petroleum jelly. During the next 10 minutes the plaster gradually thickened and began to build a smooth layer over the whole surface area. As I swirled the liquid it behaved like a tidal wave coming around and around in a regular sweep but as it began to set it grew thicker and was in danger of leaving a literal tide mark in an unsuitable way. I set the wok down to rest and watched as the excess plaster solidified in an almost even spare-tyre kind of shape in the centre.
I decided this time not to try to manipulate the surface in any way and I am pleased to say that it is smooth and even, though somewhat thicker towards the centre with a discernable swelling about 2 cms from the pan lid, it looks pink here but it dries white.
I suspect that the outer/upper edges are fairly thin and that I will need to make another pouring.
I wanted to make a “stone” version of a form I have made often as jewellery, the Reuleaux Triangle – the original form developed by the mechanical engineer Franz Reuleaux in the late 19th century.
- I needed to mark out my new wok – I couldn’t find a set of dividers large enough – 25cms, so I made a very simple one from strips of wood. I borrowed a wing nut, bolt and nut from something else, cut two pices of 30cms and one 18cm long, drilled some holes at roughly .5cm intervals on the short piece and used two nails to fit them together, added some points just with sellotape.
- I marked the wok roughly in blue felt-tip pen and then found the centre-point using the dividers, drew a circle, divided that into six. I drilled a small indent at three of those points and used those as the centres to draw the three arcs.
- I made Plasticene walls along the scored lines and set a saucepan lid at the centre to form the central hole. I hoped that brushing the whole thing with petroleum jelly would make it easy to remove when set.
- Using Cassini’s plaster from Maragon, I mixed up a test bacth that was enough to coat only about half of the mould, I added progressively both by making more mixture but also by scraping the surfcae and using that to infill gaps. Not a good idea as it turned out.
- The plaster becomes very hard and waterproof after maximum of 5 days but is workable to varying degrees for 2-3 days, at 15 minutes it seemed a bit like cheese, almost rubbery and not easily spread out or carved, though i did try to scrape the surface smnooth with a swan-necked cabinet scraper and what is charmingly called an Alabaster Knife from Tiranti, sculpture suppliers in London
- 24 hours later it was dry enough to slip clear of the wok, petroleum jelly works but the uneven inside surface was terribly difficult to work on, dimpled, rough and flawed and the outer surface was marked with poorly patched areas, badly mixed plaster (small inclusions of plaster dust), rust and ink stains as well as bubbles!
- So – it had to go in the bin . . .
I have never tried casting anything in plaster until now, using the large nylon salad bowl my mother gave me 20 years ago as my modelling form.
Playdough walls to define the shape and everything covered liberally with Vaseline. I poured the plaster and allowed it to thicken and spooned out the excess. I made two castings and after finishing them to a smooth polished surface, I glued them together.
As I failed to realise how fragile it was, ordinary Plaster of Paris without an armature, it broke . . .
Now I am starting again but bigger and better. I have acquired a large wok and a bag of terracotta coloured sculpture plaster which not only is very tough but also has iron inclusions which will gradually rust on the surface.
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