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  • Writer's pictureChiara

Plaster and paper

It's early enough in the term that I can try something from left-field. If it works, I'll have the makings of a series of works in bas-relief. If it doesn't work, I will have made some experiments and learned some things anyway. The fact that I can make these experiments at home helps to convince me to have a go.

My goal is to make three-dimensional white casts of my fist. The obvious accessible candidates are plaster and paper. Using ceramics is a whole other challenge that has no chance of fitting this timeline. Of the two I would prefer paper because it is more sympathetic to the bulk of my work. A bit of online research leads me to some video tutorials like this one using paper pulp in a plaster mould. This approach, on the other hand, uses a variety of moulds and begins with freshly made paper sheets.

First I need a mould of my fist.

My first attempt at using plaster is unsuccessful. I ask a friend to help me mix up plaster and use plaster bandage to cast my hand. The plaster doesn't dry well, even with the help of the hair-dryer. The process is messy!

For my second attempt I turn the process upside down and make a frame to hold the plaster. I use freshly purchased plaster powder in case my old supply had absorbed some moisture. I measure out the proportions carefully to eliminate another source of error. Using this approach I can work on my own, if I prepare my materials carefully. I can reclaim my hand as soon as the plaster sets, even while it is still damp.

The weather is cold and wet and this mould takes days to dry even when I leave my heater on all day. Eventually I call it "good enough" and try adding paper pulp. The trouble with using video tutorials is that instructions like "use paper pulp that is dryer than usual" are meaningless.

I make paper pulp from scrap mat board from a local picture framer. I've been taught to make recycled paper this way, so I'm fairly confident with it as a material. I soak it, blend it and squeeze it dry in my hand before pressing it into the mould.

I then squeeze into the pulp with a sponge to remove more moisture.

More days of drying with the heater on, in cold, wet conditions and the plaster mould breaks apart when I try to remove it.

I have used up my allotted days of experimentation and haven't made enough progress to commit to this approach to the project. I shelve the idea for now. Maybe I can make something of it with more time in the summer months, La Niña permitting.

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