How to Try New Media – Silicone Casting pt 1

When I’m doing a convention, it’s like a mini art show with a carefully picked selection of my art on the table, and one of the more common comments I get is “Wow, you did all this art?” because what ends up on the table is usually art that covers a variety of media (jewelry, prints, wearables, sculpture, etc) rather than just one or two types of art with different subjects. The main reason for this is that I consider myself to be an artistic experimenter and jack of all trades.

To be an artist requires two basic things: something you want to make art about (the imagery, the message, the look, etc) and you need something to make your art from; the medium you choose to make your art. Some artists find a medium they love and they focus on honing their skills on it and pushing that medium to its limits, some artists have a couple of favourite media and switch between them as they like, and some artists are like me who have some strange urge to try all sorts of new media if for no other reason than curiousity and the desire to try new things and see what I can bring to the medium, how I can combine it with my ideas.

There are plenty of tutorials out there about how to use this or that particular media, and at first I thought I was going to write one of my own the next time I tried a new media. But then as I was working out the kinks I decided that instead I wanted to talk more broadly about the act of trying something new and what it entails. And I’m going to use my experiments with silicone casting last year as an example of my process for trying something new, what I learned along the way and how I dealt with various hurdles that came up on my path to project completion.

1. Picking a Project

The very first step is to decide what project you want to pursue, which sounds simple but has a number of factors:

  • What you would like to make?
  • Why do you want to make it?
  • What do you intend to do with it once it’s done?

My silicone casting came about as a result of wanting to make some jewelry that would have a look similiar to the dragonscale books I used to make more regularly, which had always gotten a lot of positive responses from other people. I had envisioned a wide cuff made out of a castable bendable plastic, which would allow me to make a greater number of pieces in a shorter amount of time, compared to my dragonscale books which are all handmade and each scale shaped by hand, which is far more time-consuming. The cuff was to be held together on one’s wrist with metal snaps and I had thought vinyl would be the best choice to cast with.

2. Putting Ideas on Paper

The act of writing out your ideas, no matter how small or obvious, is very important to figuring out what you will need to get and do in order to see your artwork come to life. You can always cross things out later but don’t be like me and convince yourself you will totally remember that thought you had later on, because you probably won’t due to all sorts of other important ideas crowding it out. And sometimes the act of writing out your thoughts, especially questions you have, can be very helpful in clarifying problem areas or blank spots that need fleshing out – you will get a better idea of what you know and what you need to find out.

3. Research the Materials and Methodology Needed

Once you’ve written out what you want to make and sketched out the final form you hope it will have, you need to figure out what materials and tools you’ll need. Sometimes you will have some idea what materials you’ll need, like I did with my vinyl idea, and sometimes you’ll have no idea at all. This is why the best thing you can do is try to find an expert/professional that you can talk to about your project and its needs, to ask questions and help refine your idea, work out kinks and try to avoid missteps that will either make the artwork undoable or waste your resources, ie time, money, etc.

I have some experience with casting, as I did bronze casting one time back when I was at McMaster, so I had a vague idea of what I would need to make a mold that I could cast vinyl cuffs with and what I would need to do to make a model of my bracelet to make the mold from. Based on my research on the Internet and suggestions made from other artists, I made my way to Sculpture Supply Canada– a store that specializes in many different types of sculpture, selling both materials and tools. I spoke to a lovely and very helpful lady at the store, to whom I showed my sketches and notes and we talked the whole project out and the process of mold-making and casting, so I could be sure I understood what I was doing, both to make a mold and then how to properly use the mold. Based on her discussion, I decided to switch from vinyl to silicone, specifically a food-grade silicone, which I liked because it meant I was using a material that I could say was safe to wear against your skin. We also decided that I would use the same silicone to make my mold, which was nice to keep things simple.

Part One: Pick A Project
Part Two: Organize Your Steps
Part Three: Safety First!
Part Four: Getting the Details Right
Part Five: Try Things Out and Evaluate

~Sunhawk

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