Lately I've been making a lot of ceramic bees using a press mold I made from a dead bee that I found last fall. Thanks to my friend and colleague Leah Samuelson, I have a second bee to work from. (If any of you want to send me any dead bees you happen to find, please send me an email).
Anyway, having a new specimen gave me the opportunity to document the process. I'm not sure if this will be a particularly enticing DIY project, but just in case here's how to go about making your very own plaster mold from a bee (or anything else small enough to fit in a plastic cup). There are other, more sophisticated (and more expensive) ways of making a mold from a small object, but I like the fact that this way is quick, easy, and a little messy.
You need two plastic cups, some plaster (you can get 25 lb bags from big box hardware stores), some oil soap (grocery store), a paint brush, some tweezers, and a bee.
Step 1 is to "paint" your bee with oil soap- this helps keep it from sticking to the plaster (it will stick anyways, due to the small legs and wings, but this will still make it easier to remove it when your done). I also cut one of the plastic cups down to make it easier to work with, but that's not necessary.
Next, make up enough plaster to fill half the cup mold. I make enough to make the mold about 1.5" deep. I also mix the plaster to a thick, pudding-like consistency. The thicker, the faster it sets, so you may want to test that out. As soon as I pour the plaster I use tweezers to carefully place the bee "belly-down" into the plaster, gently pushing it about 1/2 way into the plaster.
Professional tip: when the plaster gets to a "jello" consistency, use you finger to make two half-circle indentions in the plaster. These will serve as "keys" which will allow the mold to always line up accurately. These are not critical for a mold this size, and the grooves from the cup can help align the mold if it is not keyed.
Once the bottom half of the mold is completely dry, use the brush to paint the surface of the mold and the bee (again) with oil soap. This will keep the top half of the mold from sticking to the bottom half. Don't forget! (been there, done that). Mix up fresh plaster and pour cover the top of the bee by at least 1/2" (I shoot for 1").
That's it. Let the plaster set overnight, then cut open the cup and pry apart (it might be a little stuck- I usually use a screwdriver to wedge it open. To use as a press mold, put a gumball-sized piece of clay in the mold and squeeze shut. removing it is tricky, but you'll get the hang of it. I'll post more pictures tomorrow (once the mold is dry). Enjoy!
the studio chair
A place for me to ramble on when I need to take a break.