I decided this year to immerse myself in a variety of courses to ensure i was trying something new, to give me a challenge and to give me something exciting to look forward to.

So earlier in the year i went to the Yorkshire Sculpture Park and had a go at Relief Wax Casting on a course run by the sculptor Liadin Cooke.

Its a full weekend course that allows you to explore the possibilities of working in wax to create sculpture, and looks at casting as a method of production. Its an introduction to the process because there are so many possibilities to try and use.

making the clay pattern

First up we made a clay pattern, sounds easy enough when you’ve decided what you want to make, and it is, so long as you follow the rules and understand the process from the beginning to the end so that you don’t make a mistake early in the process which will be disastrous later on.

Essentially when making your mould out of plaster, which is solid when set, you have to ensure that there are no undercuts to ensure that the wax will come out of the mould when its hard later on in the process, any undercut however small will mean that the cast wax will get stuck or break when you try to remove it. Due to the design i’d chosen i had to spend quite a lot of time working on eliminating the undercuts from mine, truth is that i really wasn’t going to know if this had worked successfully until i actually did it, but Liadin said she thought i was in with a good chance so i went with it. 

When i’d made my clay pattern i then had to attach it to a base and then build walls around it, strong enough to hold the plaster when it gets poured in – the photo below shows this stage of the process.

Pouring the plaster

Then it’s time to mix the plaster, but just before this you cover your hands and arms upto the elbows with vaseline to act as a barrier to the plaster. There’s a real technique for mixing plaster to the right consistency, sprinkling a handful at a time into water in a bucket, ensuring that it gets spread across the whole surface area, which you do until small ‘islands’ start to appear on the surface. When its reached this stage, its time to mix it which activates a chemical reaction and then you really need to work quickly but carefully before its too stiff to pour. There’s a serious element to this part as this reaction causes a large amount of heat to be produced which can cause severe burns!

One of the people on the course kindly took a short video of me pouring the plaster into the clay mould which you can take a look at if you use the Youtube link below.

Sophie aptly named this the ‘Bird House Pour’ https://youtu.be/AX88i779mn0 

Here are photos of the plaster setting in the mould and then when it’s set, the clay surround being peeled away.

the plaster mould

The last bit of this stage is removing the clay pattern out of the plaster mould, at this point i was not at all convinced that i would have any birds with beaks left in my bird house!

casting the wax

Luckily it worked, and i now had my plaster mould which meant i could start melting clear wax which could then be coloured by adding and mixing coloured wax dye.

I painted coloured wax thinly onto the outline of the birds and the eggs in the bird house, on a couple of them i used small twigs and placed them around the inside of the mould and on one of them i put twisted wire inside. Then i poured the hot wax over the painted wax birds and eggs and the ‘extras’ i’d thrown in. I got far too excited about this stage, and it all happens quite quickly, so no photos to show you of this stage.

As the wax starts to set the surface changes and a skin forms, at this point you pick the whole thing up and put it in a bucket of cold water which speeds the process up. When the wax has fully set it should just ‘pop out’ of the mould. Mine needed slightly more encouragement to release it, but luckily it came out in one piece.

Finishing the wax takes time. Neatening edges, filling air bubble holes with extra melted wax, smoothing the surface with white spirit using a rough green pot scrubber then painting with meths to get rid of the slimy surface this creates. I added wings to one of the birds and wire bird nests to all three of them.

Its was a great way to spend a weekend, it’s incredibly messy and labour intensive and i was out of my comfort zone with techniques i had never tried before but I’m extremely pleased with the outcome especially now its framed and finished.

I am definitely looking forward to doing more with wax!

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