Step by Step: Leaf Molds

Here’s a change from the more complicated two and three part molds I’ve been making. This is the easiest kind.
Here’s what I started out with. Whenever I’d mix up too much plaster, I’d hurriedly shape it into a mound I then later file and wet sand into shape. You can see them next to unfiled shapes below. Basically, all you do is make sure there are no undercuts and pour plaster on top of them. The little one is broken because I took this picture after I pried them out of their molds. After I made the molds, then I’m done with these plaster leaves.


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So now I have the negative of the leaf. I simply pour the slip in and let it set for a bit. By blowing on the edge of the casting you can guage its thickness pretty easily. Then the excess is poured out.
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I don’t usually set the castings in front of a fan to dry until they’ve set for a few days. I think I must have been running out of room. However, after I take the leaves out, I do put the molds in front of the fan to dry out the water that the mold sucked up from the slip.

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Once the castings become more solid than liquid, they shrink slightly from drying and release themselves from their molds. Now the leaves get some handwork. I just trim and smooth here and there. Pretty easy.

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Here are some leaves in various states of drying. I also poke a hole in the round edges of the leaves for stringing.


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And here’s a small mock-up of how they will look in the installation. Of course, they’ll be glazed white and the strands will be much longer.


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Now I’ve shown several moldmaking demonstrations one at a time, but this is usually all happening at the same time. The image below shows several different things going on.
I have molds that I’m done with in the background. Everything on the rack is sitting in front of a fan. There are freshly poured molds drying out. There are molds that need to dry out in between castings. There are plaster prototypes drying out so I can make molds from them. And then finally, there are the actually castings drying out so I can bisque fire them. So, yes, I stay busy.

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Step by Step Mold for Multiple Castings

Since I need so many of my little “Podbabies” for the installation, casting them one at a time just isn’t feasible. So here I’m showing you the process of using castings from the initial single mold to create what I call a multi-mold. There’s probably an actual technical term, but ah…here we go.
So here’s the original podbaby mold, one of the first I made. I made a few castings from this, but the mold was a flawed design. Live and learn.

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I’ve taken some of those castings and prepared the same setup for all the previous molds. 1.Building up a base with oil-clay 2.covering it with a smooth layer of water-based clay 3.including plastic tubing for pour & drain holes. This does take some time.

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Here it is completely set up in the cottles. The little imprints are called “keys,” and they insure that the two pieces of the mold will register precisely with each other. It looks a bit slimy because it’s been coated in mold release. Not 100% necessary for clay on plaster, but I think it helps.

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Here’s the first section of the mold after pouring plaster. Then I just flipped the whole thing over, remove all the clay, clean up the mold and set it back up in the cottles. Pour again and hazahh.

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So here are the two halves completed and cleaned with water and vinegar with new castings in them.

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This is how I actually cast with the mold. From the image above, you can see that there are holes for casting and draining. In the image below, the entire mold has been raised and the draining holes in the bottom have plastic tubes in them and are plugged with oil clay. When it’s ready to drain (about six minutes after I pour the slip), I just set the whole thing over my slip bucket and take the oil clay plugs off the tubes.

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Each piece is then individually handworked and smoothed. I cut out the middle sections, and adjust the dip where they meet. I couldn’t create that dip in the mold itself because it would create an undercut and make it impossible to work with. In reading about it, it was difficult to understand how undercuts affected molds until I actually started doing it. Then it was, “Oh yeah. Okay. That doesn’t work.” Here is a podbaby on one of the stands I’ve been experimenting with. Now it’s just waiting to dry.

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For reference, here’s my first drawing that I did of these little guys a couple of years ago.

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Coral – from prototype to casting

Here is a series of images showing the making of one version of “Corals” for the installation.

Pouring the plaster blank.

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Turning the blank on a lathe.

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Staight off the lathe.

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On the right, after shaping.

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Burying half of “Coral” into oil clay to start the moldmaking process.

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Securing the mold area with cottle boards.

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Then I carefully add a layer of water-based clay on top of the oil clay to make a smooth, even surface that goes just up to the midline of the prototype.

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After I pour the plaster and let it set, I remove the cottle boards and seperate the two sections. I no longer need all the clay.

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After cleaning up the plaster section, it goes back in the cottle boards for a second pour. Prepping the plaster with layers of oil soap and mold release is crucial for getting sections to release from each other, especially when you pour plaster on plaster.

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Just after the second pour.

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The two sections apart and prototype removed. I’m still not done though. This is going to be a three part mold.

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Now the mold is strapped together, empty and upside down. I’ve carefully made a clay seal so that I can make the bottom section of the mold. This will make sure the piece sits steadily on a lowered rim rather than a flat base that would make it wobbly.

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Putting the cottle boards on and getting it ready to pour the bottom of the mold.

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So now I have all three sections I included a hole in the bottom section of the mold for a section of plastic tubing. This will act as the drainage hold when I pour the liquid clay, “slip,” into the mold.

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The setup for pouring the slip into the mold. There is a hole in either end with plastic tubing inserted. For the pour, I’ve blocked up the drainage hole on the bottom with oil clay, and jerryrigged it. After I pour the slip, I let it sit for a while. The plaster soaks up the water in the slip closest to it, thus slowly building thickness. The longer you let the slip set, the thicker the clay wall will be.

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When the slip has set enough, I put a bucket on the floor between the stools, unplug the drainage hole and let all the excess slip drain out into a bucket. I can use that slip again.

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I let the castings set up over night and take them out of the molds the next day. So here are some castings straight out of the mold. The one on the right is the one we’ve been looking at.

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And here is a casting of Coral after I’ve done some hand shaping and smoothing. So there you have it, from prototype to casting. Eventually, I’ll add images after bisque firing, glazing, and the grand finale. Long process, isn’t it?

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Progress: Moldmaking Excitement

Okay, so I haven’t posted in a while, so I’m doing a few in quick succession here. I’ve made my first few molds in the past week, which has been messy and mildly successful with one decent failure. The first chapter in this project was the building of the prototypes. The finished versions here…

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So, here is the second chapter: The Making of the Molds
I’m starting out with a simple egg mold for making more podbabies.

So here we go . . .

Here is the first mold attempt. The green stuff is an oil-based clay that I pack in the bottom of the clamped “cottle board” assembly. Then I add the prototype, in this case, simply a wood egg and pack clay up to its midpoint. Pour the plaster, let it set, undo the assembly and this is the result.

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Here those two sections are separated.

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And here is the plaster section with the egg back in the cottles. The crucial step here is to spray a mold release, in this case Pam. Yes, I mean the Pam the use in your kitchen. I asked around about mold release and people kept telling me to use Pam. Okay. Anyways, this step is crucial and I need to keep reminding myself of that, because I’ve forgotten it once (okay, twice).

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Note the hunk of plaster in the upper right. Whenever I have a bit of extra plaster at the end of a pour, I use it to make a “hump mold.” I don’t make this stuff up. I’ve made a few in different sizes and I’ll end up using them for another stage of the installation.

Now to the semi-failed mold. I stopped taking pics once I realized this was a no-go. Now I wished I had kept taking them. The failures are interesting.

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I tried to mold this horizontally to avoid having a drain hole in the bottom. However, like I said, the spraying of The Pam is essential. I forgot here and once I poured the plaster, could not get the thing out.

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Sooooo…yeah. I went ahead and poured the second half since I thought I’d have to try again. Then I lovingly took a hammer and chisel to the big upper section so I could recover the prototype. The prototype had been rubbed down many times with oil soap so it created just enough of an oil layer that I could successful chip it out with minimal damage. I like the mold shape of the lower half and can think of a way to use it. So that’s why it’s a semi-failure. In any case, I’ve since figured out a better to mold it. I would be doing it right now, if it weren’t for the crazy weather keeping me home.

Whew. Congrats if you made it through all that.

Third Friday Open Studio, KC Star, Prototype Update

Well, this is kind of three posts in one. So, here we go:

#1: Don’t forget this is Third Friday, so Urban Culture Project sites are open 6-9. Of course, that includes the Bonfils Artist Studios, so I will be arting it up during that time. Stop by if you’re in the area!

Bonfils Artist Studios / 125 E. 12th St., KCMO
(corner of 12th & Grand, one bldg. west of the NAIA)

#2: I may have a small blurb and picture in this Sunday’s KC Star Arts section concerning an Inspiration Grant I was recently awarded from the KC Arts Fund. I haven’t really announced the grant yet, since there is an issue with the venue at the moment. It looks like the article is really going forward, but I’m counting it as certain until I see the thing. 🙂 So look for me this Sunday in the The Star!

#3 Progress, progress, progress
Here are some images of the work I did last weekend down at the farm. Being the girly girl I am, I asked for a bed extension accessory for my lathe as an early birthday present. I wouldn’t have been able to turn the plaster without it. Anyways, I was definitely scared that it wasn’t going to work, and while, of course, there are issues, it went as well as I could have hoped.

I know I promised a painting update, but I had to spend last Friday dealing with a car and its misbehaving alternator. So hopefully I can make some headway this Friday. And maybe get a new little one started….??


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Sketches & Making Messes

Okay, here are some pics of two drawings I’m working on off & on. The berries are 9×12; the boat 16×12.

Also, I’ve begun the long, long process of creating a sculpture installation for the fall. So here are first pics of my first attempt at pouring plaster. Good lord, that was a mess. There were a few moments of chaos, but it worked out.

The picture below is of retaining walls of aluminum flashing I made to create long cylinders of plaster in various sizes. I’ll put these on my lathe down at the farm and turn them into specific shapes (I’m just praying that they’re not too heavy, which is a complete possibility). They will then be prototypes that I use to make plaster molds. I’ll then slip cast the ceramic pieces using the molds. So, yes, a long, long process and mind you, I haven’t done this before. And this is all for _one_ set of elements in the installation. So, very quickly, this is going to get confusing. So for clarification, I call the pieces I’m working on now “Corals.”

Anyways, I plan on painting all day Friday, so I should have an update on the painting I’m thinking of naming “Every Woman a Widow.” Be good, give all moms hugs this weekend and I’ll explain the meaning next week. 🙂


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