Art School: Semester 5, Week 4

Greetings all, and welcome to week 5,478 of the semester. Or at least it feels that way. As I look out on the coming nine weeks I am terrified. There is so much to get done, and so little time. I am spending gobs of time in the studios on days when I have no classes — and on the weekends — trembling in fear of the assignments we haven’t even been given yet. It’s going to be a long semester.

And to make matters worse I am making it worse. (How’s that for a turn of phrase?) I’m going to be doing some work for my design professor with a couple of other students. He’s got some grant money to build some plastic recycling machines, and we’re going to build a chipper, at least, and possibly a pressure driven moulding machine. He wants to do all kinds of things with this stuff, and a few of us are going to get the process started this term. So that will, you know, drop right in to my copious free time.

Yeah. Sure it will.

But enough of this gay banter. I know why you’re all here. You want to know what art school was like this past week, and I will share that information with you, starting … now.


My case, however, is a bit different. You see, I’ve spent some serious time with Rhino CAD already, prepping this:

As you can see, that blue plastic widget is a shield to keep the buttons on the headphones from being pressed when they are in the case. As they are wireless and the battery gets discharged every time they get put into the case, that seems like an obvious design flaw, but such is life. I designed the plastic thing in Rhino CAD and printed it on a Tinkerine 3D printer. For the curious, it used five grams of filament and took about 45 minutes to print. There was an earlier version but the holes for the buttons were too small. They were in the right places, but I couldn’t actually press three of the four buttons with the shield in place. So, things were resized, I reprinted, and voila. Now all I need is some thin, two sided tape…

Anyway, all that work means I am reasonably familiar with Rhino CAD at this point and am thus doing crazy things with the design of my stool for the project. I’ve spent a full day working on the joinery for the design, just trying to get it to do what I want. (I’ll explain that in a future post… there are a host of restrictions to using the particular CNC router we have available, and I am developing reasonably pretty ways of working around those issues.)

This coming week I will start thinking more about the art of the design itself, rather than the mechanics. I will at least do some sketching and possibly some modelling on that front as well. After that I (and the entire class) will create our full designs in Rhino CAD and laser cut scaled down models of those designs in cardboard to test assembly. Finally, once that works, we’re off the races with the real thing, cut from Baltic birch plywood and assembled for real.

I will try to photo my sketches and screen capture something from the CAD software for next week, at least. And if any of the models are interesting, I’ll try to photo them as well.

I should mention I’ve had a request from a reader to present the entire process from start to finish once it’s all done, so people can see how things evolve and change. I’ll do my best on that, but I am already seeing bits of digital design get attempted and thrown away, leaving nothing behind. I don’t know how well I can capture a full view of the process as the digital stuff can be so fleeting. I’ll try, but that may be a challenge.

Aboriginal Carving

I have it roughed out, and am starting to remove material, but I have no photos yet, and the piece is at school, in my locker, ready to be worked on over the weekend. So… yeah. I will try to have photos for you next week. Sorry!


Last week I discussed all three projects: the two-part block mould, the blanket mould, and the low relief we’re going to cast in aluminum. So let’s revisit each of those in turn.

The two-part block mould was of a wooden top, and, honestly, I have abandoned that idea. If you’ll recall, that mould needed repair work (with straws) and that worked, but in the end the casts of the top are messy and nasty. Way too much sanding and repair work is needed to make them useful (or even interesting). You’ll see some of the top casts in the background in the photos below, but other than sanding one up to show I did it, I have moved on to the other cast object as the central one for the main project.

The blanket mould turned out to be both surprising and successful. Last week I think I was still making the mould itself, and I had decided to use the silicone we have available instead of the urethane rubber that was intended, mostly because the urethane had gone missing and I didn’t want to wait. Well, the urethane is still missing, and now the instructions are for everyone to proceed with the silicone, so I am a week ahead and completely unharmed, thanks to my impatience. Here are some photos of the rest of the process of creating the blanket mould, and casting an object from it.

First, here’s the blanked mould all sealed up with silicone poured into it, covering the object within.

And here’s the mould removed from the board after the silicone has cured:

And here’s a view of the first opening of the mould:

Next we see the object fully removed from the plaster mother mould, and rotated to show the object within. Note that the silicone will have to be cut to release the object and give us a place to pour casting material.

Now that done: the silicone is cut open and the object removed.

To cast a copy of the original object, the silicone (called the daughter mould) is reinserted back into the plaster shell (the mother mould), like this:

Then the moulds are put back together wrapped with wire (to hold them fixed in place), and something — hydrostone, in this case — is poured into the opening. Clay is used to stabilize the mould so it stays flat.

An hour or so later, this is what happens. You remove the wire, disassemble the mould, and remove the cast object. Reassemble the mould and fill it up again.

And here’s a closeup of the cast object:

It turns out that the cast object is a lot more interesting — to me, anyway — than the original wood one. In hydrostone it is very different looking, and has a different feel. Thus, when the tops turned out to be both awful to clean up and uninteresting, these nicely filled the void.

My project, then, will be based on a number of these objects, assembled together in some interesting way. I have a couple of possibilities under consideration, and I hope to have the specifics worked out this weekend.

It turns out I was so convinced that I was going to work with these objects (rather than the tops) that I decided to create a two-part block mould of the same thing, so I can cast two at once. That looks like this:

As you can see, the original object is inside a box, the bottom of which is filled with clay (up to a nice seam line on the object) and registration bumps have been pressed into the clay. All of that — the object, the clay, and the box — have been coated with petroleum jelly as a release, and the silicone has been mixed and is sitting in the jug on the left. Then…

Object gone! Covered in silicone.

Alas here my photography broke down. What happened next is:

  • The silicone cured for at least 6 hours.
  • The bottom was removed from the box and all the clay was removed as well. The object and the first layer of silicone were left in, though.
  • A bit of clay was put in to define the pour hole.
  • More release was put on everything, more silicone was mixed and poured, and 6 more hours of curing time was whiled away.
  • The box was cut open, the silicone removed, the two parts separated, and the object within removed, as well as the clay pour hole plug.
  • Two pieces of plywood, some threaded rods, and some nuts were used to create a squishing/clamping thing to hold the silicone halves together.
  • Then it took its place as a casting vehicle. In the photo below you can see it on the right side, front, of the left shelf, while the blanket mould is on the right side of the right shelf.
  • You can also see nine cast objects and a pile of tops as well. Progress!

The casting has continued, and I think I am over 15 total objects at this point, but two were cast in Hydrocal (a latex casting compound) as a test, and one was dropped and has a broken corner, so it’s all a bit fuzzy. I should know a lot more about the numbers and plan next week.

Finally, there was the aluminum cast, for which we are creating low relief carvings in Plasticine. Here’s mine:

Actually that’s not quite the finished version, but it’s close. The nose has been narrowed down a bit from what you see above. I have also coated it with three layers (so far) of latex. There will be at least 13 layers before it’s ready to be turned into a real mould. It’s a complicated process: make a cast in plaster, then cast over that with something else (greensand, I think, and yes, it’s one word, according to Google) to create the thing we’ll cast the aluminum into. I don’t pretend to understand it all yet, but I am the first to start coating the work with latex, so I am ahead here as well.

But there is this large “go make a sculpture” project coming up, and I really want to make something impressive for that. Something definitive, if you will. The amount of work ahead of me is vast, but I am enjoying the sculpture class in a deep, wonderful way. Clearly I have found something I love to do. I knew that at some level from years of stone carving, but now I know it’s not just stone. It’s making things in space, out of almost anything. I might not do a lot of mould making in the future, but I can see all kinds of interesting ways to approach sculpture differently for having done this kind of work. It’s very cool.



And In Conclusion…

Sculptor/Artist. Former programmer. Former volunteer firefighter. Former fencer. Weirdest resume on the planet, I suspect.

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