I was just talking with a friend of mine in sculpture class about the ways knowledge is imparted to students at the collegiate level as opposed to at the high school level. It seemed as though in high school, every subject stayed within its academic parameters. By that I mean History was History; English was English; Math was Math (you get the point). Every once in a while, I could see, for example, how understanding a particular concept brought up in Calculus would be beneficial in completing a Physics problem, but with a few exceptions everything seemed to fit in its compact little box. At the collegiate level however, I very quickly saw how the more complex ideas we analyzed in, say, my history class had an evident bearing on the goings-on of today, as well as on the writers we discussed in my World Literature course, and on the artists we discussed in my Art History course, and beyond. It was like all of the pieces of a huge jigsaw puzzle, tidbits of information I had retained as a younger me, came together to present this awesome picture, no longer disjointed and half true.
And wouldn’t you know it, the same goes for my studio courses. Throughout my progression in ceramics, I have made about five plaster molds for class projects alongside my peers, watching our professor and helping each other bring the negatives to fruition. Currently, these experiences are coming in handy in my sculpture class as we are making sculptural plaster reliefs in my (wouldn’t you know it) sculpture class. We first began by making a clay positive of our chosen subjects. After checking for undercuts (or beveled edges where wet plaster can become trapped under the clay), we walled up our pieces with wooden planks and sealed any joints where the planks met with more soft clay to prevent wet plaster from seeping through, and finally, after we mixed a fresh batch of plaster, poured it over our clay positive.
A few days later, we were able to work the clay out of the negative, and got ready to pour more plaster onto the negative we had just freed. I hadn’t realized that with a little Vaseline applied to the surface of the plaster mold, fresh wet plaster wouldn’t adhere to it. So we repeated the aforementioned process, but this time, instead of walling up the clay positive, we walled up the plaster negative. In this way, we produced a plaster positive that can be further carved and painted, and reproduced over and over and over again. Here’s a photo from when I poured my plaster over my negative:
Seem simple? Well not exactly. There’s a degree of thinking involved when it comes to positives and negatives in casting, no matter what the medium is you’re casting in, and achieving the right consistency of plaster may take a little more finesse than you’d initially think. I was so thankful I had walked through the steps at least a handful of times in ceramics before being let on our own to create these plaster reliefs in sculpture. The confidence I felt in sculpture helped me to focus on the creation of a successful composition, and not as much on the technical process that it required. My confidence must have been evident to some of my classmates too. They felt free to ask me questions if there was any ambiguity about the materials they needed or the next step. Of course that was validating in and of itself, but moreover, I really felt thrilled to be able to help my peers succeed. I don’t claim to be an expert, but it is so rewarding to be able to extrapolate the information and ideas that are presented to me in class so that I can apply them elsewhere. I’m looking forward to finishing up these pieces, and reveling in the results of our hard work.