Friday, 31 July 2015

Angels Take Flight

Today I cast some Friendly Plastic pellets in the moulds I made for the angel wings and for some gearwheels. This was a lot more successful than the UTEE although I’ve had some further thoughts about that which I will mention later.

Here is the equipment needed for the FP pellets. You can see that I am working on my Presspahn ultra-heat-proof mat (as I did yesterday with the melting pot) – please see my sidebar for details of these mats which protect the surface underneath.

01 Equipment and Materials

On the left you can see my electric skillet heating up. I have put some water in it and set it to between 60 and 70 degrees centigrade which is the temperature at which the FP pellets soften and become useable. To the right is the tub which contained my original FP pellets and behind it, the ziplock bag of generic low-melting point plastic pellets that I bought to replace them – at greatly reduced cost! It pays to shop around because you are paying for the Friendly Plastic name and the stuff is exactly the same. You can certainly find it on Ebay. On the right you can see the moulds I made, and my UTEE spatula and spoon for fishing the FP out of the water.

Here are the pellets in the water, beginning to heat up. On the right is a ball of previously melted FP from a previous session. In future I shall flatten out any unused FP into thinner sheets which won’t take so long to melt. You can see that in its unmelted state it is opaque white.

02 Beginning to Melt the Pellets

Beginning to melt. If you look carefully you can see that some of the pellets are white in the centre and transparent around the edges as they start to soften. I call this the “frogspawn stage.”

03 Frogspawn Stage

Fully melted and ready for use (apart from the large ball which is still in its frogspawn state – you can clearly see the transparent “shell” around the still-unmelted inner core).

04 Melted and Ready

The water is just too hot to put your hands in, so you need something to take the FP out with. I use my UTEE kit – there’s a plastic spoon whose handle is also a pair of tweezers, and a silicone spatula. This is useful for pulling the small fragments of FP together so that they stick together, and it’s great because it’s non-stick. Melted FP does tend to stick to plastic.

This is what it looks like when removed from the water. You can see that I have broken off a small piece ready to use. It has to be moulded in your hands to get rid of air bubbles and to make it the shape you want. You have a few minutes before it begins to harden.

05 Removed from Water

At any time, if it starts to harden and go opaque, and you haven’t finished, you can put it back in the hot water till it goes clear again, and if you want you can put it back in its mould too – these silicone moulds are heat proof and come to no harm in the hot water. This will make the FP go clear and malleable again.

At this point I didn’t take any more photos because I was working fast and concentrating, and more or less forgot about the camera!

Here are the pieces I cast. You can see that they have gone opaque white again as they have cooled and hardened. You can see several pieces of left-over FP which I have flattened out ready for re-melting next time.

06 Castings

These are the two angel wings I made from the moulds I used yesterday for the UTEE. Because the moulds are so shallow, there was a lot of excess FP around them, and I cut this away with an X-acto knife, putting the offcuts back in the water to melt again.

07 Trimming the Angel Wings

This was quite hard work as the stuff gets fairly hard once set. I couldn’t cut most of it with scissors but used the scissors to help once I’d got started with the knife.

After the trimming, some of the edges were a bit rough. I tried filing these with a needle file but this didn’t work very well, so I heated up my hot knife and rubbed it gently around the edges, squeezing to the back any thickness that was generated around the edges.

08 Smoothing the Edges of the Angel Wings

You can see that on the smaller one, the inner edge is still a bit transparent from the heat. The hot knife made the edges a bit dirty but that doesn’t matter because they are going to be painted anyway.

Further thoughts on the UTEE

The main disadvantage of the UTEE was that it was too fragile. It was flexible when very thin but not nearly durable enough, and if thicker, tended to be more brittle and liable to break. Overnight I thought about this and wondered whether it would be possible to give it some support – this was my idea with the Angelina fibre but this didn’t work. I really like the look of the transparent wings, especially with the gold Perfect Pearls painted on the mould first, and if I can replicate this but with added strength, it might still work. It struck me that if I proceeded as before, and then, when the UTEE was still in the mould and still hot, I could lay down on top of it a piece of acetate which would stick to the UTEE and give it strength without sacrificing flexibility, and then trim off the excess. Being transparent, the acetate would be invisible. Of course, this would have to be acetate which would stand the high temperature – the normal variety would simply melt and buckle. I have a supply of acetate sheets for use with a laser printer which of course works by heat, and I have used this stuff in the past when needing to put heat in contact with acetate, for instance when one wants to use a hot glue gun. I think this might work. Watch this space.

Another thought about UTEE is that I could make some simple, thick wings just cut to shape without a mould, and stamped with a texture stamp such as you can see here. I love this technique. You can introduce lovely iridescent colours with Perfect Pearls or equivalent.

I have also just come across some stuff called silk clay (thank you Diana of Velvet Moth Studio – Diana says she gets ideas for materials and equipment from my blog so it’s nice to be able to find things on her blog too, which will help me!). Before this I hadn’t heard of it before. It seems that it is an air-drying modelling clay that cures to a rubbery, flexible consistency, and I think this might work well. You can wrap it around something else as well (e.g. beads) so that you use less, and add strength, and if it proves too flexible for my purposes, I might wrap it around some acetate or card before pressing it onto the mould. It was this that gave me the idea of strengthening the UTEE with acetate. Anyway, initially I could find very little about it except kids’ stuff, and a lot of videos not in English (I think it may be of Danish manufacture) but eventually I came across some good stuff in English and for adults, including this very good tutorial on Splitcoaststampers, a site that is well worth a visit for those who don’t know it as it’s full of tutorials, galleries of people’s work, ideas, etc. It seems that you can colour this clay with water-based products (distress inks, acrylic and watercolour paints etc.) as well as alcohol inks and alcohol-based markers. It is available in lots of colours but for our purposes you really only need white. Again, watch this space! I’ve got a small tub of white silk clay on order and we’ll see how I get on with it.

I am glad that I did my abortive experiments with the UTEE because they may not have been so abortive after all. The Friendly Plastic wings are definitely better, and seem flexible and strong enough. Whether there is enough definition on them to show up the design remains to be seen after they are painted. As with the gearwheels I have made in the past from this material, I am planning to paint them (and the gearwheels from today) with black gesso and then add gilding wax, which I know looks good.

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