Revisiting Mouldable Polymers

Aims: To cast the internal space of a balloon with Polydoh granules.

Why did I select this material/process/approach? This was a spur of the moment, intuitive decision. I had been thinking about the balloon/plaster/volcanic eruption episode- which isn’t something I will forget in a hurry! I simply thought dry granules would be easier to pour into a balloon that wet plaster. I had no idea what would happen but was fairly confident that the balloon would withstand the hot water because of previous experimentation vulcanising latex.

The importance of the above description of what I was thinking is that it clearly illustrates my changing approach to sampling as guided by my tutor. I have a sense that I am beginning to understand the importance of sampling without a clear picture of the result in my head beforehand. This willingness to ‘play’, without fear of ‘wasting materials’ or ‘messing up’ has been the crucial learning for me in Part 3.

With that said, I find myself wondering if the next question matters more or less? It seems rather a strange paradox that the less I worry about the final result (or success) of the sample, the more important my discoveries are.

Degree of success: What worked/What didn’t? Why?

As recorded in my sketchbook, some methods worked better than others. I felt the samples were most successful when viewed close up under a very strong backlight:

Did I discover anything new or unexpected? It was all new and unexpected! I began to draw some of the samples using familiar media with the inclusion of correction fluid, inspired by Rachel Whiteread:

In the spirit of trying new things, I opened a tin of Inktense blocks that I brought ages ago and never got round to trying… and WOW! I love them!

The blocks felt quite familiar, they are shaped like oil pastels which I love drawing with and they can be manipulated with water like the pencils I am comfortable with. I was really impressed with how the colours pop but most of all like the way I can draw on top of each layer once it has dried, watercolour pencils just won’t allow that. I felt the blocks encouraged me to be a bit looser in my drawing style and to leave the sketches rather more unrefined than I would normally. Having said that, after exploring the inside of the Polydoh shapes by casting their internal space in silicone, I tried a more finished drawing:


How could I use this sample/technique/material/research in the future? For the first time, I began to appreciate the positive effect working in mixed media is having on my drawing. Drawing is one of my strengths and something I really enjoy, finding a new medium that suits me has been exciting. It feels incredibly freeing.


How does my learning relate to tutor feedback/personal development? Cari has encouraged me to include more drawing in my sketchbooks. We have discussed ways to refine my practice to prevent narrative and duplication of information between the sketchbook and blog. The purpose of this was to increase the time I had to make and draw. I am now beginning to feel the benefits of this and appreciate the relationship between drawing and making.

What do I want/need to do next? I want to draw with Inktense blocks for ever!


3.2; Silicone and Resin

Aims: To cast one of my Balloon Pebbles in an alternative material: Create a silicone mould to cast a clear resin duplicate.


Why did I select this material/process/approach? Curiosity of new materials informed my choices. I felt very inspired by Rachel Whiteread’s resin castings and have been a long time admirer of Meredith Woolnough’s encapsulations, I simply wanted to experience these materials myself.

Sample properties: Look/Feel. Structure/texture/colour. As expected the resin casting is a perfect copy of the plaster original.

Where the resin was in contact with the silicone the finish is like frosted glass. Only on the top, where there was contact with air, have I achieved the glossy, transparent surface I was expecting. This surprised me because in the tutorials I had read, people complained that the exposed resin can remain sticky and not cure properly (suggesting sealing with cling film or the like). This was not my experience.

A rather unusual lip has formed in an irregular circle shape, this was due to the hot glue seal I used to adhere the plaster sample to the base and prevent seepage. At the time I worried about this but I have decided it is one of those serendipitous imperfections that create interest and add character. It creates a clear window through which the magnified grid can be viewed. There is a happy contrast between rounded and straight edged shapes in this sample.

The frosted finish and uneven edges could be addressed by polishing and buffing. Although it might be difficult over the relief texture it would be possible, had I chosen a more complex texture rather than the grid I don’t know how a clear surface could be achieved. Clearly, if I were to develop this investigation, more technical research would be required to solve this issue.

Did I feel comfortable with the materials/techniques? Was there anything I particularly enjoyed? It was surprisingly easy to achieve the result I did. I admit I was a bit apprehensive about mixing chemicals, measuring proportions and dealing with the Health and Safety issues, but it was really much more straight forward than I imagined.


The above photograph shows how I have been using drawing to plan and record my methods. Below is an image of the silicone mould, such a lot of work went into preparing and using it, it seems a shame not to feature it.


How does this relate to my contextual research?

In my sketchbook, I copied out a quote by Rachel Whiteread from Mullins¹,

“A lot of the work I do involves pushing materials to the limit. With the resin pieces, the people I spoke to about the material, the chemists, were saying that the scale of what I wanted to do was impossible. The materials were designed for making paperweights, very small objects. I spent a long time figuring out how I could push it. Playing with materials is very much part of my ongoing investigation.”

This seemed particularly fitting as I rushed my way through this whistle-stop tour of moulding and casting. It highlighted to me that all I had created was indeed a paperweight! I thought about her Water Tower project in Manhattan, in all it majesty, and felt my sample was rather inadequate. The realisation that a comparison between my first try at resin casting with the carefully researched and developed final product of an established artist, was actually really not helpful! This offered me a different perspective on sampling and indeed on this course as a whole. How can I ever hope to ‘push materials to the limits’ without trying them first!

Was I experimental/logical/controlled/expressive enough? I had to be methodical and controlled for this technical experiment because of the nature of the unfamiliar products I was trying. I often wish my art was more expressive but this was one occasion where my organisation and logical approach was useful.

¹ MULLINS, C. Rachel Whiteread (2004) TATE PUBLISHINGS. P70



3.2; Adding Colour to Plaster, continued…

SAMPLE THREE: My approach for making this sample was quite different from what I am used to, it developed from my consideration of my Feedback for Part 2. Cari has encouraged me to: “demonstrate experimentation, investigation and growth” and to seek this above “perfection and refinement”. This advice felt really counterintuitive to begin with, I have always regarded improvement as getting better at something: as mastery of a technique. I am beginning to really appreciate the benefit of ‘growth’ above ‘improvement’.

I began with just the seed of an idea about casting the internal space of a hat. This interested me because it seems the closest I can get to casting the inside of my head. (That probably sounds stranger than it is meant!) In Sample 2, I found a way to record the space in my lungs by blowing the contents into plaster. This inspired me to think about how the mind/imagination could be represented.

I played around with some hat type metaphors and sayings for a while, then decided to grab a hat and some plaster and get on with it… I think this is key to my changing approach. I investigated the ideas through materials before ‘thinking them to death’. Usually I would: decide what to do using skills I already have, design it in my sketchbook, then simply transfer the pre-determined outcome into physical materials.


This was what I achieved. Whether or not it speaks of what is ‘inside my head’ no longer seems to matter. I poured multiple batches of different colour plaster, I peeled and cut at the straw bonnet, I knocked shards away, I photographed and I drew. I literally learned so much when I didn’t really know where the investigation was leading that the process has become more important than the result. I know I was ‘playing’ and I think that is what both my tutors to date have been alluding to, a sort of freedom from myself?

I could continue this post by analysing the physical qualities of this sample, the shapes, colours and textures but I have already covered some of this in my sketchbook. I don’t want to repeat myself but also I don’t want to detract from the fact it was the experience that was the learning here not the finished product.



3.2; Adding Colour to Plaster

Aims: To find an alterative means of colouring my plaster samples created by casting inside a balloon.

Why did I select this material/process/approach? Although I liked the achromatic appearance of the samples I wanted to try to compensate for the loss of colour once the balloon had been removed. I knew from earlier experimentation that the porous surface of plaster can be painted by sealing it before hand but was keen to find an alternative.

In the video about Maarten de Ceulaer that I watched here, he appears to have coloured the water before adding plaster. I wondered if Brusho would work since a tiny amount of powder in a large quantity of water produces quite intense colours?

Sample properties: Look/Feel. Structure/texture/colour.

SAMPLE ONE: I rescued this sample from the bin, hence why pieces are missing. I initially rejected it because as I removed the balloon it disintegrated. Being my first test of adding Brusho, I wondered if the chemical structure of the plaster had been altered in such a way that made it more porous and chalky. I later discovered it was over handling at the curing stage that caused the breakages.


I’m glad I saved the sample, the surface quality is totally different from anything else I achieved with plaster. It does not have the silken smooth finish I associate with Ferrand Scott. The rougher texture suits the broken nature of the sample. The raised bubbles which are reminiscent of bubble wrap were actually created by pressing into a previous sample, in this regard they are informally arranged, which I think is more appropriate than a regular alignment in this instance. Reconstructing the pieces formed new negative spaces that are rather interesting.

I would like to develop this sample but as yet am unsure what to do exactly. I wonder if some sort of Kintsugi style join would work. I had some success with using hot glue and transfer foil in Part 2, as identified by my tutor:

“Your use of the hot glue, which can be very hard to use in a sophisticated manner, was also interesting. The foiling completely changed its visual impact: it highlighted the irregular form of the glue in a way that made it a relevant part of the design (rather than a bogged joining method, as it so often looks).”

SAMPLE TWO: Looking at Rachel Whiteread encouraged me to try a more conceptional approach to sampling. This sample was inspired by the volcanic eruption that occurred when I blew into a balloon, partially filled with plaster, with a straw.


The craters formed in the plaster were made by blowing through a straw, as such the internal space of my lungs is recorded in the disc. The Brusho has highlighted the irregularities of the shapes created which were a pleasure to draw:



Some strange things happened over the next few days: the colour on top of the sample deepened, as a result of colour particles being pulled to the surface as the moisture content evaporated:

Conversely the base of the sample lighted, appearing almost bleached of colour. I would have expected the colour to be stronger underneath where the plaster sat on the desk (a bit like currants sinking to the bottom in a cake) this was not the case. This slightly unpredictable set of findings would need further investigation if a more archival colour was required. However, thinking about how Eva Hesse’s work (particularly in latex) must have degenerated over the years I wonder if this is part of the story of the object?








3.2; Casting Within a Balloon

Aims: Revisit my last investigation, substituting a balloon for the plastic bags.

Why did I select this material/process/approach? Plaster contained within a plastic bag revealed much more about the bag than the texture that I was trying to impress. I wanted to push the plaster onto the surfaces with more force to create a more dramatic and bulging effect. I was afraid the bags might split, latex offered greater strength and elasticity.

Degree of success: What worked/What didn’t? Why? For anyone attempting to try filling a balloon with plaster I would advise caution! Let’s just say I was glad that I was outside! A basic understanding of physics (or “a bit of common sense”- my husband) might have prevented the volcanic eruptions that occurred as I tried to force more plaster into the vessel by blowing into it through a straw… I felt a bit defeated as I continued working with the very small packages I had managed to create but actually their reduced size turned out to be a blessing…

Sample properties: Look/Feel. Structure/texture/colour. Being so much smaller than I had originally envisaged (having been studying Maarten de Ceulaer) the samples now fitted into the palm of my hand. I found them extremely tactile and comforting to hold.

I really like the sugary colours, which are a lot softer and sweeter than I would usually tend to work with. The latex has a sheen that invites touch and I suppose it is almost sensual the way it clings to the curves of the imprinted textures. I also noted an almost edible appeal, similar to that of a scented candle or a perfumed soap. This is an interesting observation, the samples appealed to my sense of smell and taste despite being unscented.

Although I had been looking at Rachel Dein, Rachel Whiteread and Victoria Ferrand Scott’s predominantly achromatic works, I was reluctant to unwrap the samples, really enjoying qualities coloured latex evoked. However, after 24 hours or so, some of the latex began to separate from the plaster inside.


This gentle slackening was attractive for a period of time but eventually the latex lost it’s grip on the texture within, giving me little choice but to remove the coverings:


How does this relate to my contextual research? There are definite similarities between the sample on the right and Ferrand Scott’s ‘Restraint’. The repetition of bulging squares with a pristine finish in both, reminds me of a Georgia O’Keeffe landscape with sensuous curves and undulations. When I made bulging domes from knitted samples I picked up texture and fibres which related more to Rebecca Fairley’s concrete samples. It is interesting to me that both artists have chosen to present their work as groups or families, displayed laid on the floor, close to one another in grid format, neither joined nor touching. These multiple samples are square, how would I present my group of circles?

How does my learning relate to tutor feedback/personal development? Personally, I prefer the samples above but my tutor’s comments caused me to look carefully at this damaged casting:

I can appreciate the difference that imperfection has made:

Did I feel comfortable with the materials/techniques? Was there anything I particularly enjoyed? Despite the mess, I really did enjoy this making session…


After this set of balloon castings I began experimenting with adding colour to the plaster, to compensate for the loss of the latex coverings. I also tried other containers. I found myself deeply immersed in the investigation, this felt very different to when I have planned in advance what I want to make: I was definitely playing! This was something else that my tutor has encouraged.

What do I want/need to do next? Record the second part of this ‘play session’ where I used colour.




3.2; Casting within a Plastic Bag

Aims: Explore how a plastic bag of plaster can be manipulated by pressing it onto a textural surface. 

Why did I select this material/process/approach? Placing a liquid material into a vessel and manipulating the surface by allowing it to rest on a textured object as it hardens, really appealed to me. I like the fact the material will be contained and will only pick up external detail through a protective layer.

During earlier experiments (3.1, Moulding from a surface) I had to keep the gauge of my knitted swatches fairly tight to prevent seepage, even then silicone still escaped through the material. The sample below has been inverted so the ‘stalactites’ have become ‘stalagmites’. Displaying mouldings upside down to defy the forces of gravity is something I noticed that both Rebecca Fairley and Victoria Ferrand Scott have done).


Using a plastic bag as a method of containment will allow me to explore more open gauge knitting, meshes and even surfaces with holes in.

Sample properties: Look/Feel. Structure/texture/colour.

Both samples are quite thin rectangles of pure white plaster. The regularity of the patterns is pleasing to me but I think the variation of detail from quite sharp at the edges to much softer at the centres adds more interest than if they had been perfect all over.

Degree of success: What worked/What didn’t? Why? I have been looking at the sculptural work of Jeff Muhs (in sketchbook, I must add this in another post) he achieves curves that are much more bulging. I have to say I was expecting the plaster in my samples to be a bit more dramatic and dynamic but it seems to have settled fairly evenly, not really challenging it’s container. I thought about reasons for this: plastic bag too thick? Not weighted heavily enough? The bags were sealed, should they have been left open?

I investigated these possible solutions in another set of samples. I found that these had greater definition but also displayed more marks from the bags themselves:

In fact on the reverse of the samples the thinner plastic was so deeply embedded I couldn’t remove it:


How does this relate to my contextual research and personal development? I found the bubbles, creases and retention of the bags more annoying than I probably should. Having been so inspired by Victoria Ferrand Scott’s marble-like pristine finishes, I judged these as ‘failures’. In hindsight, I wonder if this was perhaps a bit short-sighted of me? There are some lovely shapes, patterns and textures hiding on the backs of these samples. Yet again, I need to remind myself of my tutors advise to seek imperfections, I had no idea my requirement for perfection was so deep seated but it seems like it is going to be a hard habit to break.

What do I want/need to do next? I have just discovered Maarten de Ceulaer’s balloon bowls via, each of his creations is unique and he positively celebrates imperfection. I need time to reflect on his technique and approach, then I think I would like to try using balloons instead of plastic bags.

It might also be cathartic to revisit the imperfections on the reverse of my samples and draw from these, if time permits.

3.1; Research: Victoria Ferrand Scott

Ferrand Scott’s sculptures cast in plaster and concrete are minimal. The surfaces are polished smooth and the shapes are organic and sensual. I feel quite reverential towards the sculptures, torn between wanting to touch and afraid to reach out.

Restraint (2001) reminds me of a Georgia O’Keeffe landscape. In both cases the bulges are curvaceous and feminine, line is eliminated and definition is provided through light and shadow.

Restraint is an installation, arranged in a grid format that naturally appealed to me.  Looking at how the modules are formally arranged on the floor reminded me of Whiteread’s Untitled Floor (1992). Having spent several months during Part 2, considering how to join elements within a design, I now seem to be attracted to those that interact more freely and are interconnected only by the space that travels around them.

The open space between the components is where the similarity between these two seems to end. Whereas Whiteread incorporates the marks of everyday wear and tear, Ferrand Scott seeks a flawless surface. This use of perfection has been counteracted by the spontaneous shapes that gravity has pulled the casting material into.

I enjoy pattern but am beginning to appreciate how highlighting certain features can disturb rhythm to dramatic effect, for example: the subtle variation in shape and height of each cluster of peaks in Restraint. In ‘Pointers for the Next Assignment’ my tutor advised:

“Push yourself to keep exploring imperfection and irregularity.” 

I learned a lot about when and how perfection can be used, by comparing these two artist. If Whiteread’s finish was as smooth and polished as Ferrand Scott’s her sculptures would lose their reference to humanity. If Ferrand Scott’s surfaces contained pocks and flaws this would detract from the subtlety of the forms.

My plaster investigation in Project 1, actually drew more from Rebecca Fairley’s work than Ferrand Scott because the domes I created included texture and loose fibres. In Project 2, when the casting medium is contained within a vessel, I hope to create some smoother shapes that focus more on form than texture. This will give me an opportunity to explore the link between perfection and imperfection.