Giacometti Inspired Plaster Cast Sculptures




Introduction: Giacometti Inspired Plaster Cast Sculptures

About: I am an arts and crafts teacher in a secondary school in the Netherlands. ( I love making things. Especially out of nothing, worthless materials, garbage and cheap stuff. Besides that I...

In their first year my students get extra art classes above the regular ones, the, so called, talent-classes. Here as a teacher I can do something more time-consuming assessments or a bit more difficult projects. One of these projects is inspired by the sculptures of Swiss Artist Alberto Giacometti. This specific project I picked up in a workshop at our international exchange school in London.
It is all about how to make a little sculpture based on a wire frame covered with plaster cloth.

Wouldn't it be cool to make a real sculpture out of bronze? The metal professional artists use to cast there sculptures. Well, that is quite hard to accomplish in a school environment since for instance it demands making a mold, let alone a heat of at least 950 degrees Celsius to melt the bronze!
So for this sculpture we choose a more user friendly material, which we will cover up ás bronze: plaster. But don't be fooled, plaster is used as much by artists, even more, as bronze is. It is cheaper and perfect for making sketches (and very handy in case something goes wrong and you brake a leg, but if you keep too normal safety precautions that won't happen)

Alberto Giacometti

This project is inspired by the sculptures of Giacometti, a Swiss artist who lived from 1901 till 1966. A lot of his well-known sculptures are very tall and thin. The first part of this project is to figure out more about him and why these sculptures are so tall and thin. You are going to make a poster with this information and pictures. In the first step you will see an example of such a poster. This instructable is more about the practical making of the sculpture.

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Step 1: Background Information and Designing

You will start with doing some research on Giacometti. You can visit a library or the Internet. Try to search for simple information but use your own language. Make a poster out of it and don't forget some pictures, you even may draw them by yourself. Beneath is an example made by me.

One very interesting animation I don't want to keep back, you can see here:

part 2:

After making the poster you could make some sketches with pencil but you can also start with sketching with iron wire.

Which brings us to the ingredients:

-Metal wire (steel, aluminum or copper, as long as it is bendable)
-Painters masking tape
-plaster rolls (small)
-Acrylic paint- Bronze, silver, gold, brown and green, depending on what color you want)
-some cloth to rub out the paint
-Little cardboard boxes or small blocks of wood for the pedestals (I usually just randomly cut some different forms on the table saw out of rest wood from the wood shop)

-bending pliers
-cutting pliers
-washing-up bowl to wet the plaster in
-old papers or place-mats to keep your workbench clean

Ok, on to the next step: Making an armature.

Step 2: The Armature and the Stand

Depending on a chosen theme you will make one or more little armatures (wire puppets).
Two years ago we had the theme Rendezvous, so two people meet. Last year was about what you would like to do an artificial mountain if one was build in Holland. This year we try to image what happened between people at the tower of Babylon when people started to talk different languages.

There are different ways to form metal wire: with your hands, with round pliers like long nose pliers, to make fluid round bends or with straight ones like flat nose pliers, to make angled bends.
Be cautious with cutting the wire! Keep your hands over the cut or aim away from yourself or others. Cut parts can shoot out.  You can use either diagonal cutting pliers, pump pliers or combination pliers.

I find the most easy way to start is with two pieces of wire from about 20 cm each. One for the head, shoulders  arms and hands and one for the body and legs. You can stick them together with tape.
The other way is to make it from one piece.
In the images you can see both ways.
You can bend the figure until you are happy with it.

Than you tape it to a chosen piece of wood or cardboard box. Don't worry if it is a bit loose;if the plaster is dry it will be strong enough and stick together.

It can be smart to sand the wood before using it.

Step 3: Dressing Up With Gypsum

Now we will cut some pieces of plaster roll. Keep it to small pieces, not bigger than 10 cm of length and about 2 to 3 cm in width. It can be handy to cut a little supply so you won't have to try to cut with your scissors with hands full of wet gypsum.
That said it is a good idea to use older scissors. Plaster isn't doing good to tools. They usually getting blunt and rusty.

After clipping enough plaster tape you can dress up the wire figure with it. To do so just dip a piece in a bowl with water for a few seconds. Not to long or you'll end up only with the cloth after you washed away the plaster out of it.
Then drape it around the wires. Starting with the wire which is attached to the base, so it gets firmly sticked together. first a piece from the frond  than a piece from the other side. Rub the plaster gently smooth. It hardens quite fast so work quickly.
After securing the joints, not only to the base but every part you joined with painters tape, go on with the rest.
It can be nice to let some pieces drape down, resembling clothes. Be creative.

After finishing, let the sculpture first dry completely before you get on to the next step.

A short thing about cleaning up. Don't use wet towels or such. As you have discovered by now plaster reacts with water, in an exothermic process which means it gets warm during curing. Doing so will hard out the plaster, leaving only more white stripes where you used the wet towels. use only a broom and dustpan and brush or a vacuum cleaner.
The same reason is why you never throw away the bowl with water through the sink. It will obstruct the drains!

Step 4: Painting and Patinating

Ok, after drying it time to paint it. This will give your plaster statue the look of a real bronze art-piece.

First paint the whole object in one color of bronze acrylic paint, This will give a very shiny, "bling-bling" look. Some student always would like to keep it that way but I usually try to persuade them to go on with the next step, the patinating. This will change it from plastic metal look too real metal look.

After the first layer is dry, and with acrylic this is quick an can be even speed up with a hairdryer or paintburner (be carefull!), you start with patinating. A patine with metal is a process where chemicals are used on the metal to start chemical reactions on the outside to give it a special color or structure. It give a more lively appearance. For instance the green oxide on copper and bronze.
So we will do with a layer of paint over the first one.

I usually mix up a bit of green and brown. Not very well mixed, so sometimes more brown and sometimes more green is shown.
With a brush paint especially the deeper parts and in to the holes in the plaster. After that, when the paint is still wet, rub off the most from the higher parts with an old rag.You can dampen this a bit. Keep doing this until you are satisfied with the results. It's easier to do a small part before you get on with a new small part.
After that, to spice things up a bit , take some gold, silver or bronze paint on your brush and just touch or brush lightly on the higher parts. This way you get a bit of glance, like the metal has been touched there often or been polished.

Let it dry and you are finished. You may call yourself an sculptor and start exhibit your work!

Step 5: A Small Exhibition

Here are some nice examples of works made my daughter and me. (When she made her sculpture she was 7) and one from the last year exhibition at my school.

3rd Annual Make It Stick Contest

Participated in the
3rd Annual Make It Stick Contest

Hands-on Learning Contest

Participated in the
Hands-on Learning Contest

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    3 Discussions

    Chris Bilton
    Chris Bilton

    4 years ago

    looks fun, will have to have a go, thank you


    7 years ago on Introduction

    Those are beautiful. I'm really inspired by the simplicity of it. Thanks!

    Dave A
    Dave A

    Reply 7 years ago on Introduction

    Thank you. Always nice to hear I inspired somebody (especially valuated by me as a teacher in art ;-) )