From the list of materials provided to research I chose to use plaster and paper mache for my initial samples.
These were easily available and relatively cheap. They also had slightly different characteristics in that the plaster would be liquid when prepared and would set to a hard surface over time. This meant that it would have to be contained in some way against the surface being used while papier mache would be damp when prepared but would be able to hold its shape while it dried.
I began by finding plastic items that could be filled with either the plaster or papier mache. From my research it became apparent that both these materials would release easily from plastic items, so it made sense to start with these. I found some plastic trays that had held fruit, pork pies and an oven ready meal. I also came across some giant bubble wrap packing, an ice cube bag and some cling film.
I prepared the plaster first. I used an old plastic cream pot to measure out the powder in to a large bucket. This pot could then remain with the powder and I would have a consistent measure for future batches. Water was then added to the powder. This can’t really be done a little at a time as the mixture seems to split when more water is added and it just sits on the top. I placed five pots of powder in to the bucket and then added a jug full of water. This gave quite a thin mixture, possibly a bit too runny so I added an extra potful of powder. This gave a stiffer mixture but I was still able to pour it easily.
I poured the plaster in to a tray from some mangoes, a black plastic tray from a oven-ready meal and in to two sections of a tray that held pork pies. I still had some items I wanted to fill with plaster so made another batch and then added some to the surface of a sheet of giant bubble wrap packaging, a silver tray from another ready-meal and then dropped a small amount in to the centre of a piece of cling film and tied it up to set. I still had the ice cube bag to fill and the remaining plaster mixture was a little too thick to pour easily in to the bag. I thinned what was left with a little more water until it was easier to pour. This went in to the ice cube bag but didn’t move through the interlinked sections very easily. Slightly shaking the bag helped to move the plaster through the bags interior and eventually filled every section.
Below are the samples produced.
Black plastic tray
Pork pie container
Giant bubble wrap
Ice cube bag
The paper mache samples were similar to the plaster samples above in that I began by filling food trays with the moulding material to produce my first samples.
I didn’t use strips of paper and glue for this paper mache samples but instead pulped the paper. This can be a time consuming process leaving scraps of paper in buckets of water for several days to allow the water to breakdown the paper. Instead I used a slightly quicker method. I bought a cheap blender and used that to chop the paper in to small pieces. I filled the blender jug with one litre of water, began the blender and then fed in strip of paper (newspaper) through the hole in the blender jug lid. This had to be done a little at a time as the solution became stiffer the more paper was fed in to the blender. I stopped adding paper when the solution in the jug became almost too stiff to blend and the blender was beginning to struggle to turn.
I poured the solution out through a sieve to trap the pulp and then squeezed a little of the water out of the pulp. This was then added back in to fresh water to suspend the pulp a little so that it could be poured in to the moulds. I first tried it in a sausage tray and another fruit tray. As I was working outside to do these samples I used the end of the pulp to cast the cracks between some of our paving slabs. I laid some cling-film between the slabs and then filled this with the pulp.
I was working over quite a warm weekend so expected that these paper pulp samples would dry out easily across two sunny days, however they did not. I left them a further week indoors and they were still damp. I then thought of how I might be able to dry these samples out further. The heat applied would have to be indirect as they were in plastic trays. First I tried them in the microwave. 30 second bursts on full power. The sausage tray worked well as the papier mache started steaming, indicating that the water contained within it was evaporating away. The fruit tray however began to melt. The container started to warp. This would have given an interesting sample but in my rush to get the container out of the microwave in case it melted in to a heap I dropped it on to the tiled kitchen floor. I left it there to cool but when I picked it up the paper mache was still damp and fell out of the container through a melted hole in its side. Rather than trying to stuff the paper mache back into the container I tried to form it in to two other shapes. These were loosely made over my hand after the pulp had dried.
The sausage tray contents were still wet so I still had those to dry out. The only other thing that I could think of that needed to be dried out slowly was a meringue. So I set our oven to its lowest temperature (100⁰C) and placed the sample on a baking tray on the lowest shelf. I watched it for ten minutes to check that the tray wasn’t going to melt and when I was certain it wasn’t I left it in the oven for three hours. I checked back every half hour in case the paper had dried out. After the three hours were up I removed the tray from the oven and left it to cool on a cooling rack. The paper was very dry after this treatment and was easily removed from the tray once it had cooled.
The paper mache left outside took a little longer. After a week it had been rained on a few times and was no closer to being dried out. After two weeks it had started to dry slightly. I pulled up the cling film and the papier mache still held its shape. I turned it out on to the baking tray and gave it the same heat treatment as the sample above. This worked as well as previously, except that the paper around the edges of the sample was very thin and dried out much quicker than the body of the sample, therefore it had to be removed from the oven a bit earlier than I would have liked but the residual heat completed the drying process on the cooling rack.
Below are the samples produced.
Fruit tray and new samples
Paving slab cracks
Drawings produced from samples made in Project One
Overall I enjoyed this project. I wasn’t expecting too however. I felt that even after doing the research I didn’t have any firm ideas I wanted to start with. Also I am terrible at leaving things to set or cure. I like to lift a corner just to see how they are doing so knew that my impatience might be detrimental to some of these samples if I started to fiddle with them before they were set. Thankfully that was only a problem for one paper mache sample that got dropped while it was still wet, but was then fashioned in to two more samples so nothing was really lost there.
I was quite excited to try the plaster for these samples. I went to B&Q to buy the powder and was lucky to come across some broken bags that had been reduced in price. As I was not using the plaster for its normal use it made no difference to me if the bag was broken or the powder a little bit wet so I was happy to snap up this bargain. It also came in a sturdy plastic bag that would be useful to store the bag of plaster in once I started to produce the samples.
From the samples I produced I was very surprised at the smoothness of the surface of those that had been moulded in the plastic trays. I suppose as the trays have few imperfections in their surface and there are no rough scratches that have transferred over to the plaster samples surface. All of my plaster samples surprised me with the details that were captured on their surfaces. The pork pie tray has some very light, wavy marks on its surface but these have been picked up in the plaster.
The main drawback with the plaster is that it has to be contained while it is setting due to its liquid state. Also the samples I produced were quite thick and are now therefore quite heavy. Also they will need careful storing and transport to both my Tutor for marking and to Assessment.
I am quite pleased with the samples produced in the ice cube bag. These are plaster replicas of what would have been formed with ice. I could imagine hundreds and hundreds of these would look impressive stacked together in a large glass box, or laid over the floor of a room.
I also think that the sample from the cling film parcel may have more possibilities. This could be scaled right down and lots of very small ‘drops’ made. The cling film might also be replaced with other kinds of plastic, some much more stiff that might produce different marks on the final sample produced. This could also be scaled up massively and a tarpaulin full of plaster used to form the sample, this might need cranes or more industrial equipment to form the mould or even lift the resulting sample.
I had used paper pulp before for making hand-made paper but had never used it for this sort of sample making. I had a completely underestimated how long the samples I had produced might take to dry. Hand-made paper sheets made using this method normally dry overnight, but they are very thin, these samples were over 1cm think in some cases so it is no surprise that they took longer to dry. I am pleased with the samples I have produced but not in the way I handled some of them while trying to dry them out. The low heat in the oven worked well but microwaving them did not work so well.
These samples were much lighter than the plaster samples. This might be useful for future projects as paper mache samples could be suspended while it might be difficult to do the same with plaster samples. Also the paper surface is easier to break through to stitch, for example, where as a plaster surface would have to have holes cast in to it to stitch in to. This might limit the plasters usefulness as a stitched surface, but not exclude it.
This project highlighted how some things can’t be rushed and that patience is required when things are drying out. Also the course notes suggested making one sample, recording it and then moving on to the next sample. This was true in terms of refining the method used to produce the plaster or paper pulp but I could not apply this when moulding, for example, the plaster samples as I would have been making one per day for weeks. As such my samples are quite similar for each material but have generated some quite different overall results that I can take forward to the next part of the project.