3.1; Playing with Mouldable Polymer

Aims: to explore a new and unfamiliar material.

Why did I select this material/process/approach? I chose the product Polydoh by Materialix, from a range of mouldable polymers available on Amazon. The decision was made solely because this pack offered six free mini bags of colour, otherwise I could see little difference between the products and their pricings.

Degree of success: What worked/What didn’t? Why? Almost all the samples I produced were ‘successful’, once I got to grips the temperature requirements! I quickly learned not to introduce or remove other surfaces whilst the plastic is too hot, which prevents unwanted sticking and distortion.

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Although there was a fantastic level of detail, it took an incredible amount of strength to separate the materials. At first, I thought the problem was the similarity between the two types of plastic but I learned from experience this is not the case, the Polydoh was simply too hot when I applied it.

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

SET 1: Small samples made from impressing a variety of surfaces, natural/manmade, porous/non-porous:

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The irregular shapes, that are slightly uneven and warped, won me over because of the level of detail they capture. Viewed individually, they look nothing special but as a group they are more appealing. The plastic has a wax like quality without the fragility.

SET 2: The flexibility of the polymer allowed me to impress the shell, partially enclosing it, I was then able to ‘unwrap’ it, stretching and distorting the organic spiralling pattern:

 

 

The resulting pattern can be better appreciated in my drawing, the impressions were faint and required viewing in a particular light. I included them because I like the idea of taking the surface of a 3-D object and stretching it out flat because the distortion causes an instant abstraction.

SET 3: Polydoh was surprisingly effective at capturing the pattern created by knitted stitches. Whereas Latex engulfed the yarn and was impossible to remove, Polydoh peeled away:

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What these samples added to my exploration of a knitted texture was that some fibres adhered to the surface. Although this can not be very well perceived from the photograph, there is a light covering of ‘fluff’, almost like baby hair, embedded into the surface. This is something I would like to exploit because more than the pattern is being recorded. I think this would fit into my investigation of retaining memory from Part 2.

Did I feel comfortable with the materials/techniques? Was there anything I particularly enjoyed? I really enjoyed the immediacy of this product. I found it really quite liberating compared to the other mouldable materials I have tried. The reasons for this are listed below.

Could I repeat this using a different material/techniques? I suppose most of the samples I made could be produced using other materials but I found the polymer really rather unique:

  • It has similar casting properties to clay and Papier-mâché, without extended drying times.
  • When thin, it is flexible like a latex or silicone (although it is not stretchy)
  • It can be pierced or drilled without breakage, or splitting (a property I believe is quite unrivalled).
  • Compared to plaster and clay it is very lightweight.
  • It can’t be poured like plaster or silicone but it is very ‘squishable’!
  • It captures fine detail as well as any other casting material I have trialled.
  • It can be cut with scissors, and it’s surface painted.
  • It isn’t nearly as messy as all the other materials, so it requires less planning and preparation.
  • It doesn’t smell and is totally safe to use (just watch your fingers with the hot water)
  • Best of all it is totally reversible- if you don’t like what you’ve made, ‘recycle’ it by reheating and starting again. (I don’t know how many times this could be done!)

How does this relate to my contextual research? In a rather oblique way working with the polymer did relate to my research into one contemporary artist in particular: Phyllida Barlow. I have been considering a recent article in the Guardian (here):

She uses the shortest route to get something done. She improvises, makes shortcuts, disregards time-honoured craft techniques.” ¹

This is the antithesis of my personal approach to date (perhaps excluding Washing Machine Spoon). I think the raw energy in Barlow’s work is something I could learn from. I am often frustrated by how long it takes me to make anything- my adherence to rules and meticulous nature. Richard Wentworth calls her “a bish-bash-bosh person” ² and that is a little bit how working with the Polydoh made me feel.

How could I use this material in the future? I’m not sure this material would be to everyone’s taste. It is a synthetic and it does have similar amateurish applications to Fimo, however, I really rather like it. It is incredibly immediate and versatile, I think it is a simple way to test an idea before committing to a more complex process.

Essentially, is a sort of three dimensional printing press, I think it could effectively used in conjunction with a Gelli Plate to produce prints.

What do I want/need to do next? The small samples suggest the need for presentation because in all honesty the number of samples I have already produced is driving me crazy! I am loathe to simply glue them to card, I wonder if I can incorporate some sort of puncturing (drilling) with stitch?

The success of translating the texture of knitted stitches with Polydoh has made me want to explore this further (incorporating knits in my work is a long term personal interest). I have decide to return once more to plaster but this time with more focus and the benefit of some relevant contextual research.

¹ and ²:  www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2017/may/09/bish-bash-bosh-how-phyllida-barlow-conquered-the-art-world-at-73

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