Monthly Archives: January 2015

Project 6: Modelling in plaster

I had some initial ideas for plaster sculptures before reading through the notes / looking at the research:

Plaster idea sketches Sketchbook021


I looked through the suggested research and made some notes in my sketchbook:

Reg Bulter

‘Study for a Great Tower, 1963’. This sculpture fits well with my residencies idea and could inspire a similar sculpture. The sculpture is apparently made of “Bronze wire and metal”, “welded to stone base”. The image actually looks more like a modelled form in plaster or similar, equally the base looks more like flowing plaster as well, and I’m sure you can’t weld metal to stone, so I am not convinced the materials quoted are correct. Although it is a man made tower, the way it is fashioned means that it has more of an organic than man made feel about it. I like the inclusion of a small figure for scale in the maquette and the way it is photographed outdoors to make it look as if it is the full size object.


Elizabeth Frink

‘Harbinger Bird III, 1960’ A simplified bird sculpture which is hard to appreciate looking at a picture in a book. Presumably this was modelled out of clay before being cast into bronze. The thin legs of this sculpture gave me pause to think about a few options for sculptures.


Bernard Meadows

‘Large Flat Bird, 1957’. Again, very difficult to appreciate this from a small image ina book, but it does show how far the sculpture has come from a bird if that was the original inspiration. Am I looking too literally at my ideas again? Maybe.

F.E. McWilliam

‘Puy de Dome Figure, 1962’. This has the feel of an angular Henry Moore. The flat panels it is made up of look like they are made up of very interesting shapes and texture – they look like the framework of a building which has been exposed. This could be combined with the idea of a tower sculpture? Would this be done by impressing wooden dowel in clay and then casting in plaster?


Henry Moore

‘Standing Figure (knife-edge), 1961’. The textures look like they could be interesting on this sculpture – it maybe retains the marks of his hand whilst sculpting the figure out of wet plaster? It is a very minimal sculpture of a figure, although obvious what it is. I don’t think I particularly like it, but can’t put my finger on why? I think it looks like it doesn’t know what texture it wants to be. It is part smooth and part rough, but neither seems to work for me, alone or together in this form.

Germaine Richer

‘The Bat, 1952’. A pretty abstracted sculpture of a bat. There are some very interesting webbed areas on the base and the top looks like a tree branch. I don’t think I understand this one! It is interesting to see that this sculpture is in plaster and looks to be untreated – whether it was used to produce a bronze or not is unknown.

Barbara Hepworth

I also have a book on the Hepworth plasters which I looked through before starting out in this section. Hepworth used plaster extensively, but mainly as a means to carve than to model. She used aluminium mesh and chicken wire armatures.

Interestingly, she made working models at the size the bronze was to be, but would often make small versions after the large ones. She believed that changing the scale changed the object, writing

‘if it is right in maquette form it would be utterly wrong when increased in size. The converse is also true – miniatures of large objects become merely toy-like’.

She also did not use drawings or sketch models before commencing on her sculptures, unless required by a commission, conceiving the sculpture in her mind – something I can relate to!

She uses a wide variety of surface textures on her plasters, which was an important factor to her, providing instructions to her foundry that it was:

‘essential that all scratches and marks should show’.

She even used a hatchet and an axe to make some of her expressive marks.

She didn’t use polystyrene as a base, despite having experimented with it. She also casted blocks of plaster to then carve, something I think we do on this course in one of the next stages.

Sometimes she coloured her plasters to indicate the bronze patina she wanted, and also to visualise how it would look in its final bronze material. Interestingly, it was also sometimes done to highlight if the plaster had been damaged in transit.

I find her work very inspiring and look forward to this stage and working in plaster.


The course suggests selecting a subject from the still life subject matter, or the stacked sculpture drawings and maquettes. I could ignore this and persue my residencies ideas, but I feel I have unfinished business with my still life + the idea of towers sculpted in the style of F.G. McWilliam appeals to me. I may do both! – I did!

Still Life – plaster

I think my best sketch of the development of this sculpture was the cloth/flowing area from the top of the box to the ground (incorporating the gloves and book), with dripping bottles and the flat edges of the box where it is exposed:

P5 Clay sketch 5

I started out making a polystyrene box, then adding polystyrene to this and the baseboard to get the rough shape of the flowing element that I was after. I used cardboard tubes to provide the base of the bottles.

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Nor really knowing what I needed to get, I tried a few different options for adding material to the sculptures:

Plaster Bandage from Tiranti.

These cost around £3 each for 15cm x 2.7 metres and didn’t go very far. They were very nice to use though and resulted in little mess or waste.

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Coarse Scrim from Titanti.

This was much cheaper at under £5 for 7.6cm x 100 metres. It didn’t stick well to the polystyrene if working against gravity (which the above did well) and provided a much rougher surface.

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Scrim bought for the printmaking course.

This was similar material to the plaster bandage and worked just as well as it, but with more mess from making up the plaster. A much more economical way of doing it though.

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I added polystyrene shapes to the wave as I was going along and filled in the gaps around the bottles to blend them into the sculpture. As a result of this, it took me 7 hours to plaster this sculpture and the tower on below – most of that time spent on this one! Also, this sculpture ended up being very heavy as I used a huge amount of plaster on it. It is obviously worth getting the shape as close as possible early on to avoid this happening.

7 hours later, this is the final plaster before starting to carve/sand. I’m suspecting it could take a long time to dry out as well, especially as my workshop is cold!

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Towers – plaster

It would be quite nice to work on a huge scale with these, but I have to be a bit realistic in fitting them in the house (never mind where I put all these sculptures when they are complete!) + I have a limited amount of materials to work with at the moment.

I started making some rough box shapes (this may be better to do by casting the blocks, but I will see how it goes).

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I then used the plaster bandage and printmaking scrim to cover the boxes (the coarse scrim did not stick to them), before adding a layer of plaster. There seems to be a very short window of time to work with the plaster when it is solid enough to stick to the sides of the sculpture, this resulted in getting a very rough surface on the boxes as I was busy trying to get it all on the sculpture before it set, so had little time to make it smooth. I suspect this will result in an awful lot of sanding later on (depending what look I go for)! Maybe it is the plaster I am using (fine potters plaster), so I might have to try some different stuff for the assignment, especially as I have almost got through the huge bag I started with anyway.

This is where the tower ended up before starting to carve/sand:

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Towers – sanding

It soon became clear when I started work again on this sculpture that I had been very sloppy applying plaster to this – a combination of being at the end of my mammoth plastering session and being too tired, and the difficulty of applying plaster to the undersides and vertical edges of this sculpture. To rescue this sculpture to what I had in mind would have required a huge amount of sanding and re-application of plaster, so I decided to use this one as a test-bed for tooling/texturing/painting/etc. for my other sculpture.


Still life – sanding

The plaster was not thick enough in parts to do the amount of sanding I had in mind, only allowing for texturing marks to be made and edges smoothed down. I could hardly lift this sculpture anyway, so decided not to go back and reapply plaster. I smoothed the flowing/cloth areas, leaving the bottles in their deliberately roughly applied texture.

Still life – painting

I did a few test paintings to determine the colour combination to use and then painted this sculpture in acrylic paints. I painted the bottles first in a light red all over, then in a darker red just on the surface areas, leaving the indentations as light red. I then painted the rest of the sculpture in yellow ochre, using a random brush movement over the surface.

The final sculpture:

Plaster, wood, acrylic paint

Plaster1 Plaster2 Plaster3 Plaster4Plaster5 Plaster6 Plaster7 Plaster8Plaster9 Plaster10 Plaster11 Plaster12

Appraisal of outcomes

Demonstration of technical and visual skills

This could have been modelled better in the first place to avoid having to modify it quite as much as I went along, resulting in a very heavy sculpture which used a lot of plaster to construct.

I think the colours work well together. The red areas look solid and sedentary and the yellow area looks like it’s moving and this contrast provides interest.

Quality of Outcome

The final form is quite pleasing, although I would modify the top of the box area to make it less regular if I started again. Probably working with a thick, plaster soaked cloth would have given the flowing form I was after, rather than working with small pieces of bandage. This would then be followed by some layers of plaster to enable some carving to be done.

The main flaw with this sculpture is that the flowing area needs to be much smoother to achieve what I had in mind. If this had been achieved, the painting of this area would also need to be done in a much smoother, seamless colour.

Demonstration of Creativity

This sculpture shows more creativity than my clay sculpture and asks questions of the viewer:

What are the red objects? If they are bottles (which you would expect to be smooth), why are they all rough? Are they towers in a city – equally, why are they rough? Are they oozing some kind of liquid?

What is flowing around and through them? Is it lava, or some form of goo oozing out of the square edged form?


A much better sculpture than the clay still life “copy” it is based on, although not as good (in the flowing area) as the development sketch.

Other views

In an effort to try to develop my thinking about how my sculptures are received, I posted images of this sculpture on the Facebook OCA fine art student group and asked for comments. These are the responses I got:

  • are you trying to show flow? To me the problem is there is a disconnect between the pillars and the rest of it. Also the surface of the flowing bit isn’t smooth enough. Only an opinion – unify the colour and smooth it out.
  • I see organic flowing over more man made shapes. This is a juxtaposition between organic and angular forms. The angular suggests architectural elements. The colours are warm suggesting heat. Therefore my reading has to be a pyroclastic flow obscuring parts of a town. Specifically, I am reminded of Vesuvius and Pompeii. There is symmetry in that idea. Lava hid the sculptural elements of that culture and is echoed within you own.
  • My first impression was of something escaping through a corroded retaining structure. The top of the ‘flow’ has skull like characteristics, especially in the view showing it with the angular block at the base. I also get hints of a nose and eyes sinking between the two pillars. I sense life dissolving, decay loss of faculties (dementia?)
  • My first impression was of a flow of molten butter but it could also be read as gold seeping out from behind a barrier. When I put this into Google I got lots of references to Job and washing his steps in butter and the rocks giving forth rivers of oil – is it a biblical reference about the loss of wealth?
  • it’s very interesting I really like the shape and flow of the central part – I think the red is bothering me.

So, a very wide variety of different interpretations of the piece, some I had no idea could have been interpreted from what I had produced! I think that going forwards, I should be asking myself some questions:

  • What was I trying to achieve? Have I achieved this?
  • To an outsider, what does this look like?
  • What association do the colours have? Do those associations match what I had in mind?
  • What do the surface textures suggest? Do those associations match what I had in mind?
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Plaster, wood, acrylic paint

Consequences seed pod

‘Consequences – seed pod’
Bronze, ceramic, plaster, acrylic paint


Posted in Monthy Output | Leave a comment

Round 3: Carol’s sketchbook

Due to Christmas and illness, my contribution to this sketchbook was a bit sparse – that, and I forgot to photograph what I did put in!

Posted in Sketchbook Circle | Leave a comment