It’s hard to believe that only a decade ago using molds as part of your ceramic process was stigmatized by its association with commercial products and “pour and paint” hobby shops. But then we were still submitting 35 mm slides for show entries, too. I feel somewhat vindicated that slip-cast and other forms of mold-formed ceramic work is now universally accepted as a legitimate artistic process. Molds have always been a major element of my creative process. I use them in a variety of ways, from constructing sculptures and vessels, to enhancing thrown vessels with decorative elements. Virtually every piece I make is at least partly made from a mold, if not entirely mold made.
Plaster molds are made of objects both simple and complex, allowing them to be replicated in ceramics. Virtually any object can be cast. Hard shiny objects like glass can be cast with little or no preparation, while finely detailed or fragile objects may have to be cast first in silicone or alginate before being translated into plaster. Some molds are ‘one piece’, while more complex objects may require as many as ten or more components to form a single object. Mold-making is something of an art in and of itself, and figuring out how to make a mold of an object in the fewest number of pieces can be challenging, occupying many studio hours. But once made, a mold can be used countless times before finally wearing down. Some of my favorite molds are the oldest, their crisp lines now softened.
Plaster molds are filled with liquid clay formulated specifically for its casting properties. Water is absorbed by the plaster leaving a layer of slip attached to the wall of the mold. When the layer is sufficiently thick, the mold is emptied of any remaining liquid slip. The cast will ‘release’ from the mold with further drying and can be safely removed from the mold while still in a slightly plastic state. At this point the cast can be used ‘as is’, or altered and combined with other casts at a similar stage of drying. In this way, many small casts can be combined to create a larger work. While a few vessel forms are used ‘straight out of the mold’, the vast majority of my work is composed of assembled parts.
The only difference between slip molds and press molds is the clay used in the process. In press molds, plastic clay is pressed into the mold. Most press molds are simple one piece molds and fairly shallow allowing the cast to be easily removed. Two (and more) piece molds can also be used with plastic clay but the greater the number of mold parts and the greater the complexity of the object, the more difficult turning out good casts becomes. I use press molds primarily as surface decoration on thrown vessels. Press molds may very well be the earliest form of mechanically formed clay objects.
The objects I choose to replicate represent the wide variety of personal influences and interests that find their way into my art. No object is beyond consideration and examining various objects for their ‘moldability’, twisting them this way and that, holding them up against the light, greatly slows my progress through antique stores, junk malls, flea markets and big-box stores. I am currently looking for a vintage mannequin if anyone happens to have a line on one….