Introduction to part three

I am so excited (and a bit nervous) going into this part of the course. I have never tried any of the techniques apart from using air dry clay and plaster of Paris briefly when I was very young and it must be said I only achieved very poor results back then!

I have been wanting to try a few techniques for a while and am excited at the prospect of being able to try them out at last as part of a course.

Because I have never used some of these materials careful research into the safe use of them is going to be particularly important. You hear such horror stories and I don’t want to cause myself an injury!

I started my research by searching the Internet for material safety data sheets (MSDS) relevant to the materials I am investigating. I then browsed for instructions for use and any other information I could find. I found this to be very useful and informative exercise and feel a lot more confident in trying the materials for doing it.

A brief outline of each material’s health and safety implications and technical details:

Papier mache

Described in our course materials as: A really easy material to make and use at home, consisting of paper pieces or pulp bound together with an adhesive, such as glue, starch or wallpaper paste. The main health and safety concerns with this material are mainly associated with using adhesive I.e risk of allergic reaction and risk if the adhesive is consumed by accident. Gloves are therefore recommended.


For casting: Rip or shred paper into small pieces and add to blender with water. Blend until pulped sufficiently, then add adhesive and mix.
For layering i.e. around a balloon: Cut strips of paper and apply with adhesive. Allow to dry.

Cleaning up:

Do not pour unused pulp down the drain. Allow to dry and dispose of in household rubbish bin.


Described in our course materials as: Plaster comes in a variety of types, the main differences being the coarseness of the particles and the setting time. For your casting purposes fine casting plaster is probably best.The main safety instructions for this material seem to be that caution should be taken to avoid getting the powder into your eyes and avoid inhalation due to its fine particles. Therefore wearing a dust mask is highly recommended. Also that plaster should never be mixed with your bare hands and children should be supervised at all times when using plaster of Paris.


The ideal ratio is 2 parts plaster of Paris to 1 part water. The water should be measured first then the powder added by sprinkling or sifting the powder into the water. Tap the container regularly to disperse air bubbles and powder more evenly. Once the powder is visible on the top of the water and not easily absorbed gently mix until smooth.

Cleaning up:

To dispose of any leftover mixture allow to harden then dispose of in the bin. Do not pour down the drain. To clean utensils, scrape off hardened plaster and wipe with a damp cloth.

Liquid latex

Described in our course materials as: This is a natural product extracted from the rubber tree to produce a gum. When liquid latex comes into contact with air it emulsified to form a rubbery skin that retains it’s shape and texture. Latex can be brushed or poured to create a cast or mould. Again never dispose of unused latex down the drain.

There is a risk of allergic reactions to latex including anaphylaxis and skin irritation. Therefore gloves, goggles and protective clothing is advised.


Described in our course materials as: There are many forms of clay available – paper clay, craft clay, Fimo, Plasticine, etc. Their common characteristic is that they come from the packet moist to the touch and dry when the come into contact with the air or heat. Some, for example Plasticine, remain pliable and don’t dry. There could be a slight risk of skin irritation when using clay.

Moldable polymers like ThermoMorph and Instamorph

Described in our course materials as: These start off as hard pellets; they become pliable when warmed in hot water and set when cooled.

The main health and safety considerations involve the heating of the material and the residual heat whilst working with it. Heating above the recommended 66 degrees will increase these risks and could cause burns. Anther consideration is that of choking (particularly for small children). It does all appear to be non toxic but ingestion would not be suggested.


Described in our course materials as: This is a composite material made up of aggregate (sand and stones), cement and water. When water is added to the dry materials, a chemical reaction occurs causing the material to become solid.

The HSE safety sheet on concrete states:

‘Wet cement can cause burns. The principal cause is
thought to be the alkalinity of the wet cement. If wet
cement becomes trapped against the skin, for example
by kneeling in it or if cement falls into a boot or glove, a
serious burn or ulcer can rapidly develop. These often
take months to heal, and in extreme cases will need
skin grafts or can even lead to amputation. Serious
chemical burns to the eyes can also be caused
following a splash of cement.’

Other health and safety considerations include inhalation of dust and dermatitis. Protective clothing including goggles, gloves and masks are advisable when using concrete.


Described in our course materials as: A form of concrete where the aggregate is a paper pulp, replacing the sand and stone to form a pliable lightweight material. The biggest hurdle to overcome in home production seems to be finding or building a mixer that will grind the paper especially for larger scale projects although it could be mixed with a plaster mixer in a bucket using ready shredded paper for smaller amounts. Again there is a risk on inhalation of particles and skin irritation when using papercrete.


Described in our course materials as: There are two groups of resins, polyester resins and Eco resins. Polyester resins are versatile man-made plastics used to make everyday objects. They release poisonous fumes when active so always work in a well-ventilated space and use gloves and goggles. Eco resins on the other hand, are non toxic, renewable or solvent free. Resin comes in a liquid form that solidifies when it comes in contact with a catalyst. One of the exciting aspects of using resin is that it can be used in clear form, allowing items to be suspended within it.

Polyester Resin is highly toxic so should only be used in a well ventilated area and with a protective mask to avoid inhalation. It is a liquid that hardens with a few drops of catalyst when added,

Epoxy resin has a lesser toxicity so is more suited to using at home, still with ventilation. It sets quickly when used correctly. Epoxy resin comes in two parts: resin and hardener.

My choice of casting and moulding materials are as follows:

Papier mache

I have chosen to explore this medium as although I have used it a lot in the past for crafts I have never tried to use it for casting or with a mould. This, I hope will help me to take the material further than I have before.

Plaster of Paris

I vaguely remember using plaster of Paris as a child in a craft kit to mould a small plaque which I then painted so it will be interesting to try it again during the following exercises.

Liquid latex

I purchased a bottle of latex a few years ago to make a mould of a piece of fairground carving with. In the end I didn’t get around to it so I am going to try and use it up over this section of the course as I am still curious as to its use.

Air dry clay

As I mentioned at the beginning of this post, I used air dry clay as a child with limited success so am itching to try it again. I have had an idea in my head for a while that I would like to try eventually on normal clay that requires firing but this could work well too.

Moldable polymers

I am really quite intrigued by these products and am looking forward to trying them out. It will be interesting to see if the claims made actually work. I am very unsure of their usefulness but I am looking forward to experimenting with them.


I can see real possibilities with this material and am really looking forward to trying it. I want to try suspending items in the resin and also I would like to try casting some shapes and textures as well.

My plan is to treat this project as a workshop in that I am going to assemble all the necessary equipment and spend some time on each material. Building up a collection of samples as I go. Most of these materials take time to set or cure so there will be some delays between each one.


About Julie Hooker

Having recently returned to my roots in Surrey, I am currently studying a BA Hons degree with the OCA. My work is often inspired by the local countryside in the beautiful Surrey Hills area and the wild rugged nature of the North Cornish coast. Steam engines and abandoned industrial history are also recent themes. A free machine embroiderer and felt maker; I like to explore the use of natural, found materials to create my art, whether that be as raw materials to stitch or weave with or as a material with which to produce dye or print with. Previously, I completed City and Guilds parts 1 & 2 Creative Embroidery at the East Berkshire College in Windsor in 2007. I was also awarded first place in the wearable art section of the National Quilt Championships 2008 and 2009 held annually at Sandown Park.
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