Before I start casting large bas-reliefs, my tutor has suggested that I make some small trial pieces, and there are, indeed, a number of practical questions I need to consider before I get down to detailed design. I am working on two or three design ideas. These would involve casting from mechanical objects, nuts, bolts, gears etc, casting from natural objects from my garden, in particular thorny strands and then threading these through the plaster, and also printing/casting from a printing plate.
In my trials, I want to consider:
- can I make an effective wooden frame, given my complete lack of carpentry skills
- can I use a lined mould as a non rectangular alternative
- can I calculate the volume of plaster I will need for a given mould
- will the plaster be contained when I pour and will it release cleanly
- what depth and scale of textural marks will have an impact
- how deeply impressed should objects be to be effective
- can I drill holes in the plaster or do I need to preserve a hole with a straw, say, before pouring
- can I use a plastic mesh as reinforcement and as a carrier for a wire hanger
- how wet/dry does the clay need to be able to roll it out and then impress and remove a texture cleanly
- will a bottle work as a rolling pin, since I would prefer not to use my cooking utensils
- timescales for drying
- options for surface treatment
- how can I secure a printing plate within a frame for pouring
- does ink transfer satisfactorily to my plaster (apparently it works better with some plaster than others, although what the chemical difference is, I can’t ascertain)
- will plaster printmaking work from a textured plate, say a linoprint or woodcut instead of the more usual etched plate
My initial attempt at printing from a plate was completely laughable. I made a little woodcut with marks carved into it and texture applied to it; a mini woodcut collagraph. For quickness, rather than make a wooden frame, I made a silver foil frame supported in a tupperware box. I inked my plate and poured my plaster. Immediately, my plate floated through the plaster and my ink melted into it. The only success to this experiment is that I like the silver foil texture. I did go on to make further experiments in printing on plaster, discussed in a further post.
The next job was to make some small wooden frames. I used my framing mitre saw to cut eight pieces exactly the same length and exactly square. My husband then showed me how to drill holes in the sides of the pieces and then use those holes to drill corresponding ones into the end of the next piece to make a box joint. This involves lots of small skills, which I am acquiring through the course, such as choosing the right drill bits and screws, drilling a hole at 90 degrees, using a marking gauge. My husband is wonderful; he never does a job for me, but always makes the much longer time to show me how to do it. He explained that, since I was using one hole to mark the next, the frame would only go together one way and so I should number each joint on the top of the box or I would just have a jigsaw puzzle. One of the great pleasures of this course is that I am using my grandfather’s hand tools which date from the early 1900s. I must, at some point, do a project based around these.
I made a couple of cast tiles to start with to check my working method and answer some of these questions. Some issues I expected didn’t materialise, for instance, releasing the plaster wasn’t difficult, but other problems I hadn’t anticipated occurred. My clay was difficult to use because it had already been used for modelling and was full of bubbles. It has now dried out quite a bit, in spite of having been stored tied up in plastic with a wet sponge, but this made impressing shapes and releasing them easier. I brought the clay up the sides of my mould smoothing it into the wood to make a seal, but plaster still found its way out in places. A reinforcing mesh with wire hanger was added to one tile.
For one tile, I used bits and pieces from the workshop. These created nice, clean impressions with good definition and sculptural height. In one place the clay was pulled up as I lifted a bolt, and this has created a good contract to the raised forms. Can I work in positive and negative on the clay? Modelling raised shape would appear crude, I feel, but perhaps I could work at different levels, or oil/soap items to be placed on top of the clay and released from the plaster after casting. The shapes need to form a composition which is more than just random shapes.
I hadn’t anticipated difficulty cutting the clay off the support once the plaster was dry, but the wire wandered and cut into the plaster in a couple of places. I need to be really careful about this and also make my clay slab deeper.
My second tile looked at more organic forms. I had knitted some copper wire during my experiments for a previous project, and this was rolled into clay. Pieces of bramble were pressed into the clay and a finer, weathered twig. The knitted wire produced a really interesting complex texture with a mixture of random marks and rhythm. However, it was very difficult to remove all the clay residue and I think the texture is rather small-scale. The brambles, particularly the thorns, were really interesting and I like the connotations of thorns as a metaphor for pain or entrapment. The twig was too shallow; not sculptural enough even on this small scale.
The clay was washed off the face of the tiles, but the very detailed textures were difficult to clean. A soft toothbrush was used but it reduced the crispness of the fine textures. I experimented with making holes in the plaster which in its ‘cheese’ start and found it easy to drill clean holes to try threading the tile.
I threaded the tile with bramble impressions, with real bramble to add a further dimensional, textural and material dimension.
In making these tiles, I made too much plaster and poured the spare into quickly made silver foil shapes to experiment further with this for future projects. I tried to make the moulds as textured as possible.
These experiments helped me to sort out lots of little technical issues and to focus on what might or might not be successful. The scale at which a texture is effective is a significant issue to be resolved before making bigger work. I have determined how, I now need to work on what I will produce in bas-relief.