Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Sunflower Masks 3 - Seed

The first masks I made were actually a series of Medusas, again, influenced by my interest in Greek Mythology (and, probably, some transference/projection issues my therapist would rather not discuss; or maybe she would).  Anyway, I was absolutely clueless as to how to proceed once I'd had the first mold of my face done.  How to put the clay in the mold?  And did I have to prepare the mold in any way before introducing the clay?

For some reason, I thought I needed some kind of separating agent, not realizing the very porosity of the plaster mold would provide that for me.  So, in my ignorance, I sprayed Pam (yes, Pam) on the mold before I put in the clay.  This actually is a really bad idea, as it turns out, because the oil in the spray actually slows down the clay's drying process while contributing to the mold's degradation.  I have since learned that I don't need to do anything to the mold at all before I put any clay in to cast a face.

Separating agents aside, my first attempt to make a cast from a life cast was to take wads of clay and push them into the mold and try to get them to squish together.  This didn't work very well - or at least, not in the manner I had wished - as, when I pulled the clay out of the mold the nose (which was a separate piece of clay) became twisted out of plumb and, as I recall, came completely off the rest of the cast.  There were also crevasses between the individual wads of clay.

Although the piece did not look the way I had anticipated, I actually found it pretty interesting and used it for my first Medusa, adding three snake's heads to the piece and eventually raku firing it, glazing the face with Crackle White and the snakes with Copper Sand.  I later used an image of this piece for the postcard advertising my first show back in 1995.  So, although it didn't actually work as projected, the final project was pretty darned cool.

So, after much trial and error, here's how you create a good cast from a life mask mold.  Roll out a slab of clay that's about a quarter inch thick.  If you're using a slab roller with a piece of canvas, once you've rolled out the clay, pull back the canvas to loosen the clay, flip the canvas back, flip the whole thing over and pull back the other side of the canvas so the clay is not stuck to the canvas on either side.  Using the flat side of a metal kidney, gently scrap the slab's surface to remove any of the canvas pattern; regardless of how carefully you push the clay into the mold, this pattern will still be visible, whereas any marks from the kidney will not.  Cut a piece of clay of a size to fit the mold, keeping in mind the depth of the mold.  Carefully lifting the cut slab, lower it into the mold, gently forcing it into the plaster, paying particular attention to the nose, mouth, eyes and brow.  Use a sponge to work the clay into these areas.  If the clay cracks (this often happens around the edges of the nose and mouth), pull pieces from the remainder of the slab and carefully work in.  Work the clay all the way to the edges of the mold, finally cutting off the remainder (or not, depending on what you are doing).  Set the mold aside for the clay to dry somewhat.

Do not let the clay dry completely.  You want the clay to have dried enough to pull the clay cast from the mold without damaging it.  (It'll take some trial and error to get there.)  Once the clay is firm enough to work, trim it so it sits flush to a flat surface and put a hole in on either side about where the outer corners of the eyes are (to facilitate wire for hanging) and you're finally ready to assemble your piece.

This pair of masks represent the final of the first three designs I developed for my Clyties - I call it seed because I take small pieces of clay and roll them into ovoid forms to roughly mimic sunflower seeds.  I futzed around for some years before I figured out that, if I rolled out a slab of clay and used the same punch tool for every wad of clay, I could get fairly consistently-sized seeds.  (Yes, I am a genius....)  I like to arrange the seeds to emphasize facial masses - the brow, the line between nose and mouth, the curve of the chin.  I score the facial surface and brush with slip before applying the seeds.  Even so, some do come loose and I tend to make an on-the-spot decision as to whether they are still needed or not in the final composition.  Depending on where I am in the process, I may just use some vinegar slip to re-apply the loose seeds.  If the piece has already been bisque fired, a drop of glaze in the socket from where the seed came loose will remedy the problem.

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