One of the ways I can tell I’m getting older, apart from teensy weensy clues such as a mirror, is how long it takes me to recover from mould making.
You probably don’t think of mould making as being physically demanding but the older I am the more apparent it is that this is so. Hours of standing are the main problem and seeing, in the tiny sizes. When you are making a two part mould the size of a sugar cube, you need to be able to stand very still, to pour accurately, to get your fingers into tiny spaces and to see what you are doing well. All these attributes are affected by age. I have in the past made moulds for several days at a time. I couldn’t do it now, I’d be found in a small dead heap covered in plaster rubble by day three at the latest.
All the rest, in theory, gets better with experience. For the first five or six years when embedding a master shape in a modelling clay bed you need to draw the midline round it and work out which bits are the undercuts and will not release. For example, for a sphere the equator can be oriented in any direction, the shape will still release from two halves of solid hard plaster mould. For a human head you cannot site the equator round the head east-west under or over the nose, each time you demould the wet poured clay head the nose will pull off and so will the ears if they stick out. You might be able to site the equator north-south down the middle of the nose, which will work well if you have a very double chin and small ears, though you will lose fine detail on the nose such as a hook. Most of the time I site the midline round the jaw, up the edges of the ears, meeting behind the top of the head to allow room for the pour hole. This is not the case with every head. However after twenty five years doing this stuff I can look at the head of any person and tell you instantly where I would put the mid line to demould them. I could go on Mastermind or any television quiz with this skill and win. The skill is not much use in the real world but entertaining on bus journeys and in boring meetings. Though, of course, if I’m ever in a meeting with you you will now know that I am not staring at you out of passionate adoration but just having a look to see where your edges are.
Then there is the million dollar plaster question – how runny? I have a friend who did a degree in ceramics and can tell you the formula of water to dry weight of plaster, just like that. Round here it’s seven rounded old soup spoons of plaster to one pot noodle pot of water two third up from the bottom but varied if it’s the middle of winter or summer. In the middle of winter the radiators are on so I can dry the moulds on them, in summer there is sunshine (this is the theory, not the actuality) in which to dry the moulds. So you can pour them a bit wetter and get better detail but still dry them out. When the head I have modelled is the size of my little finger nail, plaster running wetly round the tiny eyelids is helpful, thick solid plaster sitting on them in a lump like a rhino on a pincushion, is no help at all; it’ll make an impression, but not much. Then there is the interesting question of how long to stir the wet plaster before you pour it into the moulds. Too soon gives great detail but is so thin it runs between the hair fine gaps in the moulding bricks and off the edge of the bench. Then you have to chisel the plaster off the kitchen floor as well as everything else, late at night when you are tired and just want to stop. If you go for the safe option and stir the plaster until it is thick as a brick the holes left in the moulds will be crude and undetailed and so will the dolls.
It’s called experience. I would think I was very odd if I hadn’t spent so many years interviewing artists for magazines. They all say the same: as you age your physical skills and stamina decline but are replaced by your knowledge and experience. It’s a metaphor for life. There must be a day when you are the best you are ever going to get. There you stand at your maximum gorgeouseness and height, finally with a bit of dress sense, wearing clothing appropriate to your age and body type, knowing how to do quite a lot of stuff and able to interact with a number of people with benefit, or at least no actual damage, to both parties and able to cope with most of life without getting in a stew. How nice it would be on that day if you could receive a message, perhaps a little gold edged card in the post saying : Happy Optimum Day! After This – downhill all the way.
On the other hand, with age surprising occurrences, that are unrelated to bits dropping off, can still happen. ’Frinstance in the past fortnight I have been accused of wisdom by three separate people, unbidden, just as a comment in three different locations and circumstances. Who knew? Me apparently. I do remember considering my grandmother to be the fount of all wisdom, though so did everyone else. She had had a lot of life experience. I recall her stories of life growing up in a pub on the river Tyne. As a child it was her job to launder the white smocks she and her sisters wore over their clothes. In late Victorian times, when she was doing this, many of the ships on the river,and hence the customers in the pub, would have been in the coal trade. If people covered in coal dust and little girls in white smocks in the same crowded room sounds like a recipe for endless work, I think it was too. Her father helped, he lit the fire under the copper at five in the morning when he got up so the water would be boiling when she was ready for it. I think she started doing the smocks when she was eight. She gave up millinery to raise her little brother. Grown up he died in the war when his ship was torpedoed and he, small and slight, couldn’t hold on to the driftwood any longer. His shipmate came to tell her because he didn’t want her to learn the news in the official letter. She thanked him for bringing the news himself. She lost a baby and later her husband at only seventy, I am fairly sure the drink got him, though no one has ever said so.
My grandmother excelled at entertaining children, at waiting patiently, at accepting what people could offer, at not fretting, at making the most of what there was, at gratitude and continuing to have faith and love when situations were bleak. She never let all she had learned in the hardest of ways shrink her soul one inch.
The purpose of life is to learn; when you finally fulfil your purpose and have learned the lessons that life can offer as well, even though you are going mouldy round the edges, like a planet you will have acquired your own gravity which will draw people to you. And I’ll pop along too and submerge you up to your equator in wet plaster just as soon as I’ve finished chiselling it off the kitchen floor.
Only 22 weeks to get these moulds poured and up to the NEC