Friday, March 15, 2013

The Empty Tomb - a craft tutorial

In a post last week, I mentioned that I have been working on a Resurrection theme mantle display. One item I really wanted was an empty tomb.

Turns out, empty tombs sculputres aren't really made. Not that I could find, anyway. Hmmm.

I decided to take matters into my own hands. I googled for pictures of the real thing, as well as some plaster molding directions, then headed to the kitchen armed with some plaster of Paris to see what I could come up with.

This project was not very difficult, but required me to put aside my perfectionistic tendencies, because it is not an exact science. If you decide to make this, I'm sure you'll find a better way to do some of these steps... in fact, if you do, come back & leave a comment to help out your fellow crafters.

The first thing I need to stress is that plaster of Paris cannot, repeat cannot, be rinsed down the drain. It will solidify down there and create a cement-like clog. So please, please, please use disposable products for working with the plaster, and paper towels to clean up. Dampened paper towels work very well to remove plaster from hands and tools, and then you can throw the towels out without sending anything down the drain.

- dry Plaster of Paris for mixing
- a container you can throw away for mixing the plaster (empty milk jug with the top cut off, anyone?)
- a paint stirring stick from the hardware store, or another tool that can be thrown away
- a small cardboard/paperboard box for creating a mold your tomb (I used the box from a Swiffer Dusters starter kit, 7.5" x 5" x 2.5")
- a very small box for the "empty tomb" opening (I used a 1 3/4" box that 4 batteries came in)
- a small plastic circular container for a mold for the stone - the goal is to find something that has fairly straight sides & a flat bottom, that will result in a stone that can cover the "empty tomb" opening created by the very small box (I used a Ziploc 1 cup storage container - you could use a tuna can, the bottom of a plastic drink bottle, etc.)
- tape
- aluminum foil
- black paint (poster, chalkboard, latex - something water based) - brown paint (again, water based - I used kids' watercolor paint... yes, really!)
- a clear sealer, I used Varathane polyurethane in matte, because I wanted both a water-based product and a matte finish (there weren't any shiny rocks on that hillside!)
- knife
- small paintbrush
- paper towels

Step One: Building the mold for the tomb and stone

Cut the side or top off of the box to be used for the tomb mold (shown in the photo above supplies list). Use tape to position the very small box where you want it, to be the form for the tomb opening (shown in the above photo).

Using a large piece of foil, line the inside of the tomb mold. I formed the foil over the very small box first, then worked outward to the edges of the larger box. You must be very careful not to puncture or tear the foil as you work it around the very small box, or you'll end up with plaster leaking through the tears.

I did not smooth out the foil too much - this is what creates the natural variations in the casting that look like real stone.

Notice that at the corners of what will be the top side of the tomb, I did not work the foil into the corners, but left it rounded.

Fold the excess foil to the outside of the box, to get it out of your way.

Next, form another piece of foil to the inside of the round container, to make the mold for the stone.

Whew, that was probably the hardest part (and it wasn't too hard, was it?)

Step Two: Casting the plaster figures

Using some sort of large container that is disposable, mix 2 parts plaster of Paris to 1 part cool water. I did 1 c. water, 2 c. plaster. Stir gently with the wood paint stick, don't mix vigorously or you'll end up with lots of bubbles that can show up in your final casting.

Next, add some black paint to the plaster mix, to get it good and grey. I mixed in paint three times before I got it dark enough for my tastes. You could add brown instead, to get a more earthy looking rock color.

Now it's time to pour! I poured plaster into the tomb stone mold first, to be about 1/2-3/4" thick. Then I poured the rest into the tomb mold.

Gently tap the molds on the counter or table top you are using to encourage any tiny air bubbles to rise to the surface and pop.

Now you get to let it cure. Overnight is best, to be sure it is good and dry.

Remember to clean up with damp paper towels, no rinsing anything down the drain.

Tick-tock tick-tock tick-tock ding! It's tomorrow, time for the next step!

Step Three: Unmold and smooth

Here is the exhilarating, terrifying moment when you turn the plaster pieces upside down on your hand, remove the box/container with the other hand, then peel the foil off...

Put both figures on a cutting board that you can clean with damp paper towels later. Using a knife, start smoothing the outer edges of the tomb figure, cutting away any jagged places that became too shaped by the foil. Don't be afraid to really go at it. I didn't want a very crinkly look on the sides, so I kept shaving plaster away.

For the tomb stone, notice in the picture above that I basically carved away all of the rough edges all the way around, to recreate a stone that could be rolled. I also flattened out an area to create a side that it would rest on for display without rolling around.

Throw all of your shavings away, wipe the knife and carving area off with damp paper towels.

Step Four: Paint

This part is completely up to your preference for how you want your finished tomb to look. If you prefer more brown for your paint, use brown instead of black for the main stone area.

I started with black and painted the inside of the tomb opening. I was having fun, so I kept going and added paint to some of the larger crinkle-cracks (as I like to call them). I rubbed the paint around with a dampened paper towel to work it in and remove the excess. If you do this, only work in a small section at a time, because the paint absorbs quickly into the plaster.

Just keep working on it until you like how it looks. I probably removed more paint with the paper towels than what actually stayed on, I didn't want it too dark.

Repeat this on the tomb stone face. However, I did not put any paint on the smoothed, round sides of the stone, for a more realistic, carved-stone look.

Next, I applied a wash of the brown watercolor paint. I actually did the small cracks more heavily, to enhance the natural stone look some more. This paint also absorbs easily, so keep an eye on how you apply it, don't go too heavy until you're ready.

I let the whole thing dry overnight, and then I did the final step,

Step Five: Sealing

I laid my figures on another sheet of foil before I did this, to catch the drips. A plastic mat or something would work well, too.

Brush on several coats of sealer. Be sure to seal the side that the figures will stand on, to keep plaster from sticking to its resting place. I went ahead and sealed the entire thing, front, back, and all around.

Water-based is great, because you can rinse the brush off easily, and clean up is a snap.

Let the sealer cure at least overnight.

Give or take 24 hours later, you're done!

Keep in mind that a plaster casting is still somewhat soft, meaning this is not hard as a rock. It should be protected in storage from bumps and pressure, and probably will not hold up well if played with. Did you try this tutorial? I'd love to hear how it went for you!

1 comment:

Deborah said...

Good job and a great project with a strong message. Happy Easter (early) to you and yours.