Artist Katie Hodson used the Engine Micro Bursary she was awarded this summer to attend a casting workshop at London Sculpture Workshop. She reflects on her production experiences and learning processes below.
The two day intensive concrete and plaster casting workshop was based at the London Sculpture Workshop, an amazing space regularly running an array of sculpture based workshops alongside an open access programme. The aim of the course was to give an overview of accessible materials and processes that could be applied to a variety of projects. For me, the course was a chance to learn more complex mould making techniques – within my practice I had been used to constructing simple moulds with straight pieces of timber and I was interested in creating more fluid forms.
What initially surprised me was the variety of people that had enrolled on the two day course. We did a quick round of intros (name and any experience of casting) and naively I had expected to be amongst a group of artists – but most people had no prior experience of any sort of casting process. We split into smaller groups of four and settled around a workshop table – I was working alongside an antique restorer, a stay at home mum and a retired craftsman.
The session was led by Lauren Wilson (a graduate from The Slade) who began by introducing us to making moulds using a combination of shaped metal pieces. She showed us how to cut, bend and shape pieces of steel using a guillotine, a series of rollers and hand bending techniques. I had never had the opportunity to use equipment like this before but the processes were very quick and simple, and I was amazed at what could be achieved in such a short space of time. I really enjoyed the hands on approach, and the fact that we could easily do all of the processes ourselves.
After experimenting with these processes, we began to combine the metal pieces to form enclosed moulds. I thought the process would be really complicated – potentially welding or something similar, but we simply used gaffa tape along the edges of the metal and then filled in any gaps around the sides or base with clay.
We were then introduced to plaster as a material. Having worked regularly with plaster I was familiar with the process and relevant health and safety but we were also shown how to colour the mix with liquid pigments that I had not used before; the colours were a lot more vibrant than mixes I had done with powder pigments. We were encouraged to be experimental with both our moulds and the plaster. It was refreshing to play around with materials and shapes without having to have a concept or pre-existing idea, simply learning through processes.
The first mould I made was a simple shape with a curved edge – after successfully casting this, I then created an insert for the next mould to cast a hole in the centre, an idea I had been wanting to try for a while. Lauren showed me how to use a thin flexible plastic to create a cylinder for the centre of the mould, which we then filled with clay to hold it in place. We discussed the flexible plastic as an alternative to the metal as a mould making material if there was no immediate access to a metal workshop or the tools needed.
After a day focussing on plaster, the second day of the course introduced two varieties of concrete. We discussed the increased issue of health and safety with this material, and Lauren demonstrated the mixing and casting processes. We continued to make moulds in the same way as the first day of the course.
I found the first variety of concrete quite difficult to work with, it was a fast setting mixture and went off before I had a chance to pour it. The second variety of concrete was a lot easier, and we were shown how to mix large quantities of it using a mixer attachment and a drill – I wish I’d known this in the run up to my degree show, it definitely would have saved a lot of arm ache from mixing by hand!
Over the two days we all produced around 6 or 7 individual cast pieces. It was amazing to see the variety that was produced from the same set of instructions and materials – it was so great to be submerged in such an experimental environment for a weekend. The staff and facilities at the London Sculpture Workshop were amazing, and we definitely need something like this in the West Midlands. This course was a great support for my practice, and has given me lots of ideas to push my practice forward but also ways to work around limited equipment after leaving the workshops of University.