Monday, 16 September 2013

Life casting

The topic of this post should be very obvious at this point given the title and the bronze hand in the picture above. This is simply about capturing how small your little one was, capturing a moment in time. let me explain how I came to do it.

When my son was born, I knew of a place that did life casts of hands or feet of your little ones, or even the paws of your dog if you so desired, or took hand prints or fingerprints and cast them in jewellery. What mother doesn't want a momento of when her child was tiny? The thing is, paying someone to cast a replica of your child's hand does not come cheap. So at the time, when it came to christmas, I asked for my son's handprint to be captured in a heart shaped pendant. but my husband longed for a cast. when we had the spare money we said. That time never seemed to come.

Our son grew and grew, and three and a half years later (nearly to day all bar a week and 12 hours), our daughter joined our family. Once again, the christmas following I wanted a watching pendant. Given she was a few weeks old we did her foot as a hand would have been very difficult to do. I have my matching set, but again I saw that longing. Fast forward to May and I was considering what to do for my husband's birthday in June. I had cooked up some handprint impressions in salt dough for a little something for father's day so the children had something to give him, but wanted something special for his birthday.

Just a side note here, I thought of these hand impressions as a cheap nothing really, as they were made with things already in the house. Gifts on a budget kind of thing. I painted them gold and he adored them and they now sit framed and hung in our kitchen. It just goes to show doesn't it. By that time I had already done the casts but at least I knew he was going to love it!

Back onto the point. As I was hunting round the internet I came across this casting kit. I thought at £16 including the postage... well it was worth a shot. It was very different from the £110 wanted by the professionals. I am a stay at home mum, so I had the time. So I took the plunge, bought the kit and started to work in secret. I don't have pictures of the entire process since I was working alone and in secrecy, but here are my thoughts on the process.

The kits come with bags, dental alginate to make the moulds, casting stone or very fine plaster of paris to you and me. Also mixing stirrers, toothpicks, different sized bags, a small paintbrush and a pot of acrylic paint in your chosen colour. Its a fun and messy process. Top tips before you start if you are thinking of doing it:

* messy clothes that you don't mind getting ruined for you and baby. That alginate does NOT come off if it gets on you and your clothes. So cover your surfaces too.

* baby lotion on the appendage to cast is your friend.

* Have everything ready to hand to make your mould because you have to act FAST once you add water to that alginate. It changes colour to give you an idea of when its soft or hard, which is useful.

* the younger your child the better. They are stiller / more cooperative when small. Katy would just about sit for a hand cast with a small amount of protest. I got ONE attempt at a foot and then she destroyed any further attempts at making a mould. She HATED having her feet done. She was seven months at the time. Just things to consider.

* expect to spend ages scraping alginate off the container you mixed it in, the thing you mixed it with etc.

If you are okay with all of the above let's get on to the process.

I sucked at using the bags to cast. I confess, I did so many attempts at moulds I even ordered extra alginate (amazingly found on ebay rather cheap). I could not get the bags to work. It does work for some people though so its not the kit, it was me. I wound up using an appropriately sized beaker for doing her hands and it worked beautifully. Its trickier than it sounds to get their whole appendage covered but not touching the sides you know! And even when you get a successful mould you have no idea how it is going to turn out until you cast it. And you have to do that quickly as the mould starts to degrade in a couple of hours.

Across all my attempts I got a near perfect right hand, an okayish left with a dodgy thumb and a foot that could have gone better. It IS possible to mix up a little plaster and sculpt any dodgy areas, and sand at the end. Emery boards are your friends here.

The near perfect one had unfortunately had an air bubble trapped in the tip of her little finger. But with care, some wet plaster, and concentration, I filled it in so you couldn't tell. Anything bigger than that... well you'll see. If you get a good cast, you are golden, and I was thankfully. So I painted mine in my chosen bronze, hunted the depths of the internet for a frame deep enough, (ebay again) and when it arrived, wrapped the cast, put it loose inside the frame, wrapped the frame and handed to my husband on his birthday.

He was over the moon. He was shocked, surprised and so incredibly happy. All in all I think the entire thing with frame cost me £35 (including extra alginate). And for his happiness it was worth it. Mounting it was a new challenge but good old Araldite in copious amounts and a steady hand and I had succeeded in giving my husband what he had always craved. A tiny momento of babyhood.

So what of the other two casts. I decided to work on them this week and see what I could make of them. Here they are out of the moulds:

They were nowhere near as good as the one that was selected for my husband's present. However, I spent some time smoothing, sculpting a bit, especially the bad thumb on the hand, and then painted them yesterday.

They are far from perfect, but lovely enough to be saved in a cabinet, even if they don't take pride of place on the wall like the other.

So what do I think of these home kits? I think they are great. They are fun, inexpensive, definitely better if two people are doing it rather than one, but possible to do alone. And they do capture something so very special. So if you fancy it, give it a go. Be prepared to be a little frustrated with the process, but you really can get something wonderful from it.

Till next time


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