Inspired by the recent factory tours in Stoke I have done this year and my love of Kate Malone’s work (her Instagram #Kate_Malone_Ceramics is great by the way! I bought one of her famous pumpkins that featured in her Waddesdon Manner exhibition this year during her open studio – photos on my Instgram #pstratfordceramics) I have long wanted to make my own mold. But it looks messy and a little complicated. And messy it is, but complicated less so, as I found out!
Until this weekend despite my desire to make a plaster mold, I hadn’t actually found something I wanted to create and repeat multiple times. More often than not the same thing can be hand built to the same dimensions using the same templates and tools. However this weekend I came across my first Munchkin pumpkin! Don’t get me wrong it wasn’t the first time I’d ever seen one, but they aren’t usually for sale in the local supermarket and if they are they’re priced at something ridiculous. However these ones were just £1! And were beautiful. Sumptuous, perfectly shaped and a gorgeous deep orange colour. I had to have one! (Two. I bought two).
Now that I had an object of desire I wanted to reproduce (channelling my inner Malone) I needed some plaster. As you may have read in earlier posts, I’m used to working with plaster to make wedging boards and my local art shop, which is usually quite pricey, sells 2.5kg buckets of plaster of paris for £7.95. Which isn’t too bad – online it can be a little cheaper but postage usually brings it to around £10 or so. Plus the wait. And impatient I certainly am! So I ran down to the art shop to purchase my plaster – but they were out of stock! They only had 1kg bag left. After a little friendly chat and explanation of what I was doing, they very kindly said they had a couple of kilos in the warehouse which they could bring in the next day and even more kindly said that because of the wait, I could have 3kg for the price of 2.5kg – woo hoo!
I headed back home one happy potter. The next stage was a little tricky however.
I knew I needed to cast the pumpkin in a container, as I don’t have the wooden molds that you see in the videos online or blogs. Hmm. I also knew I needed to re-use the mold in order to get the same shape for both sides, or have two disposable molds. HMMMM. After a lot of thinking and trying out of cardboard, chopping boards, emptying food and trying to find matching shapes, I came across a bucket container I had from a previous batt wash purchase. The bucket was perfect in shape, not too big and not too small, and tall enough to fit the clay, the munchkin and the plaster. Sorted!
In order to make extraction possible, I lined the container with a plastic bag before putting in a clay base, then building up clay around my munchkin. It was tricker than I had thought to get a nice smooth, even surface. I had previously marked the halfway point of the pumpkin with black marker, so that I knew where to bring the clay up to. It also occurred to me it’d be incredibly difficult to remove once set due to the air vacuum, so I poked a hole down one side. This could also serve as a marker so I knew which way to line up the molds when casting. I read about needing to ‘soap’ the item as well, to make sure it released easily from the plaster. I wasn’t sure what ‘soaping’ was, I understood the concept and read about people using some specialist kind of soap or oil… I just went for the fairy liquid, diluted just a tiny bit, and tried to be careful to keep the bubbles to a minimum.
Evertyhing was working out wonderfully! Until..
I mixed up half the plaster (500g) with approx half a pint of water. It immediately went into little rocks. CRAP. I hurredly tried to add more water… didn’t work… pass it through a sieve… didn’t work… perhaps it would be fine?! I poured it over the munchkin.
3 hours later it still had not set.
I scrapped the custard like mix out and started again. This time, I thought, I’ll sieve the plaster before it goes in the water and I’ll be really accurate with my measurements.
For a second time in just a few hours, the plaster was slopped off the top and thrown in the bin. I was annoyed. I’ve used plaster many times before. What was I doing wrong? It hadn’t behaved like nay plaster I’d used before.
The next morning I wandered down to the art shop to collect my two extra kilos. I wasn’t looking forward to this – what if the plaster behaved exactly like the last attempts? I spoke to the store manager and he said, helpfully, to follow the instructions. I couldn’t be mad I felt, because they’d given me 0.5kg plaster for free. But it didn’t matter how much I paid, if the product didn’t work. On the way home I did some googling and read that if the plaster was damp it can create these pebble like beads and is essentially unusable. I think this must be what had happened – it described the condition of the plaster accurately. Perhaps this last bag had been sat on the shelf for a long time in damp conditions. Who knows.
Nonetheless I persevered on, determined to cast my Munchkin.
This time I went for the full kilo and one pint of water.. straight away, the plaster felt different in my hand as I mixed it, and I knew I was on to a winner! I poured the plaster over my munchkin and it set beautifully in less than 10mins. WHOOOPPEEEEEEEEEE!!
The plastic bag trick worked well and I was able to remove my clay and plaster easily. I turned it upside down and pulled the clay off – and out came the munchkin! OH NO. OUT CAME THE MUNCHKIN. I knew if I wanted make the second cast, I’d need to try and line up the pumpkin. Arse.
I used the shape of the stalk of the munchkin to line up the second clay setting as best I could. The fairy liquid seemed to have worked well last time, so I repeated that process by painting on a few layers of soap and letting them dry. The final kilo of plaster worked perfectly as well, and before I knew it – I had made my first casts!
The edges were a little untidy and the two surfaces a little uneven, so I used the grater tool (that’s definitely not its proper name) to neaten up the edges and smooth out the top surfaces.
I let the plaster molds dry a little more and in the afternoon I had a go at making my first munchkin!
I made two discs of clay and pressed them into the mold. I added a little extra for the stalk side, evened out the edges, scored, slipped, stuck the two together and smoothed out the join. As you can see the clay munchkin is a little smaller than the real one, but I was really happy with how it turned out! I think it might be smaller because I trimmed down the edges before putting the two halves together. It seemed to have lost some of the volume of the original munchkin.
This morning I had another go at making a munchkin. I did the same work with two even discs of clay but this time, I worked up the edges a little – in the photo below, the first munchkin is on the left and the second is on the right. I’m really happy with both to be honest!
The biggest problems I experienced were with the plaster (but I think I know why now) and finding a suitable reusable mold shape.
Of course before they’re fired they’ll need a hole poked in the bottom of them, and they’re a little late to be ready in time for halloween, but overall I’m really happy with how they went and I’ll happily make as many munchkins as I can over the next few weeks! I’m thinking I can cut out some faces or use underglaze to paint them different colours and spooky designs. Of course I’ll post the results when they’re finished!
Now I just need to find something else worth casting..