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Some technical information on how Sophie Howard makes and reproduces her sculpture

1. Process of making original and reproduced ceramic forms.

The forms of Sophie's ceramic sculptures are made originally by hand. These either become finished pieces as they are,  or a plaster mould is made to produce replicas.

Soft clay is used to build a form. An original may be built hollow, or alternatively formed from solid clay which is later hollowed out. The actual building process cannot happen all at once, as allowing the piece to firm up as it gradually dries,  makes it possible to form taller self supporting pieces. The clay is altered as it goes from the softness of butter to the constituency of chocolate. Detail can be added and refined, and the piece is hollowed out and reassembled. Once complete, an original would then be left to dry out thoroughly before being fired at least once. Originals and casts all must eventually be hollow or they will explode in the kiln when fired. 

If a piece is to be used to make a plaster mould, to reproduce that same form, it would not be hollowed out as it will be discarded once the mould is made around it, making way for the casts to be created within the empty mould. The clay form to be cast must be still damp, as the process  depends on the difference between damp clay and dry plaster.

A simple plaster mould of a three dimensional form can be made in two interlocking parts. Those two parts must separate  from each other each time they are used without catching, like a box and lid. If  a clay form has more complex shapes, more sections of mould may have to be made to ensure each piece comes away freely from the others. Each section of mould is made separately, and clay is used to ensure the parts of the plaster mould do not become fused together. When the mould is complete, it is allowed to set before being carefully disassembled, washed, and dried out completely. This drying can take days.

Once dry, a layer of damp clay can be pressed into the mould's interior sections, which are pushed together. The dryness of the plaster sucks moisture from the clay and makes the clay shrink away and loosen from from the walls inside the mould. The mould is removed and the cast tidied up and allowed to dry out before firing, glazing and other finishing.

2. Making sculptures to be cast into bronze or resin.

If modelling a sculpture which will be cast into bronze or resin I would not use clay generally. I would use a wax or other non-drying material. As this will remain permanently soft it can be repeatedly altered without falling apart. The modelling of an original form is otherwise the same as with clay.

I would not attempt to perform bronze casting but would hand that task over to a foundry, as I often  do for the making of resin copies.

However I do make some resin copies myself and for that will make a silicone mould. Silicone is a  flexible material that can be used to make moulds either in sections or as one piece. Pourable, it sets to a jelly-like hardness. A mould can be made in sections or even left in one piece to be 'opened' and 'closed' by stretching. The silicone case, once emptied of the original, is refilled with semi-liquid resin. Once set that cast can be removed and finished. The finishing will involve tidying the surface, and coating it with a powdered metal mixed with resin, such as bronze. When the thin bronze layer is set hard it must be rubbed down with wire wool to bring the metal to the surface so that it can be treated with a chemical solution that speeds the natural process of colouration, producing verdigris. When a desired finish is achieved I wax and polish the piece.

Sophie Howard July 2013


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