Note: To protect the privacy of our members, e-mail addresses have been removed from the archived messages. As a result, some links may be broken.

Find Lesson Plans on! GettyGames

plaster preparation....long post too


From: Bunki Kramer (bkramer_at_TeacherArtExchange)
Date: Sat Oct 06 2001 - 09:55:02 PDT

from: Bunki Kramer (
Los Cerros Middle School
968 Blemer Road
Danville, CA 94526
art webpage -

Marsha and I mix in the exact same proportions (1/3, 1/3, 1/3) but we tend
to get the really fine vermiculite and our finished projects take on a more
white with mica-looking flakes in them...not tan appearance. I've not tried
coffee grounds which sound interesting.

We carve with small kitchen paring knives which I can get 3 for $1 when on
sale. We do fine detail work with our carvings so we need the sharp/small
points/sides. This is middle school level.

>>Does the plaster get all over everything and is it healthy in the air?

In our classroom it DOES get all over everything...even when kids are told
to keep it wrapped in a big sheet of newspaper overnight. They are not real
adept at folding newspaper over it without getting some "crumbs" on the
floor to walk on and make big white footprints....sooooo...we carve outside
under a big tree by my classroom. I take big trashcans outside too. Kids
carry their chairs. Plaster is wrapped cleanly in newspaper before coming
back inside.

I mix it right in the classroom during class time while they are working on
a previous project. Table is covered in newspaper and I mix just enough for
5-6 people at a time. Just before I pour the water in, I call up 6 people
and they stand around the table while I mix. When it starts setting up
SLIGHTLY, I pour out six mounds on the table. Kids immediately start to make
a big smooth ball with their plaster which takes about 4-5 mins. They take
it back to their seat and I mix for another 6 students. I repeat this until
everyone has a ball. I usually have 35 students and I can get all of them
done well before the 46 min. bell rings. I like this method because the kids
can feel the plaster balls as they go through the different stages of
hardening. First it's slimy and cold, next it's warm to the touch due to the
chemical reaction, and finally it's cold and clammy when finished. Good
science tie-end. Each student wraps the ball in newspaper for the next day's

Sometimes while carving, they do break but I make an extra 5-6 balls for
that purpose. My aged kids are pretty good about breakage. There are usually
one or two who don't get the message right away to handle and carve gently
so this solves the problem.

Our sculptural goal is to carve something that covers two senses....feel and
sight. It must look good as well as feel good (smooth, flowing) with the
eyes closed. They must start with a hole going from one side to another, add
more holes, and then (for lack of a better word) start "filigreeing" the
ball. It also takes us 2-3 days for carving.

Personally...I like the ball method for us because when we used to use
little milk cartons, I'd get little toilets or houses...your basic square
stuff. With the ball shape and keeping it fairly non-objective, they can
concentrate on the elements and principles of design. They are ALL still
very different from each other.

After carving, I place them high up on the cabinet tops to dry and it takes
about 3 weeks for ours to harden completely. We take them down, sand them,
and then give them a final quick dunk in a pail of water to get off all the
dust, dry for another day, and then complete.

Someone suggested several years ago on this list to rub them with milk and
that works pretty good. Some years we've even painted them with tempera and
then spray with fixative.

Whenever I do this project, I also make one for the principal and give him a
carving tool. He likes to take it home and carve also. He says it gives him
a "release" from the days problems. He's made several at home. I know
because he always brings it in to show us and I'm eagle-eyed enough to check
out if it's different from the last one he did....(grin). He keeps some on
his desk in his office.

I like the fact that on this listserv we all do it slightly differently. I'm
going to try the coffee grounds next time. Thanks for the idea.