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How to Make a Facial Plaster Cast (with and without alginate)

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Through trial and error, through my MFA, I have done plaster casts on my partner and I wanted to share my experience.

Let's try and make this as easy as possible...

This is through experience in moments of trial and error. There were times of frustration, wasting of materials and many hours waiting for things to dry, whilst my partner/model had to write on paper with his eyes closed if he wanted to talk to me...But all in all, it's a new experience and I highly suggest you should try this at least once. For all of your curious cats out there...Let's get started.

What you will need

  • Clothes you don't mind getting dirty (you wear these whilst plastering)
  • big plastic bowl x 2
  • jug of lukewarm/almost cold water
  • plaster strips (I used around one/two full ones)
  • scissors
  • vaseline
  • Q-tips
  • plaster of paris
  • alginate (depending on what you want to do)
  • be close to a sink! (will need constant top ups of water)
  • bald cap
  • small amount of latex/spirit gum

Okay, so you're in your comfy clothes that you don't mind getting dirty. Hopefully you are also in a space where you don't mind about cleaning up after accidentally spilling some watery plaster on the floor. Just pre-warning, as it will happen, no matter how careful you are.

Remember, this is a difficult and touch-go kind of job. You will have to use your own gut feeling to figure out whether the plaster is wet enough and to the right consistency. I've read and researched this to a T, and I'll be straight with you, no matter how easy they explain it, it took a couple of tries to get it right. So make sure you have back-up strips and plaster of paris just in case.

What I would suggest to do is cut the plaster bandage like strip (one super long one) into smaller strips. I would double their consistency by folding them untop of each other, making it stronger in the process. I would suggest smaller and larger strips for the different places of the face.

Plaster bandage used for body casting. Cut these into strips

Plaster bandage used for body casting. Cut these into strips

I would then begin to prepare your model. The vaseline and the Q-tips come into play here. It's for the facial hair on your model, whether that be light stubble, beard, odd hairs and especially eyebrows. You take an Q-tip, place it in the Vaseline and put a huge blob of Vaseline unto the hairy parts of your model's face.

Why am I telling you to do this? So that the Alginate and/or the plaster strips don't stick to the hairs. Like a very strong plaster on your bare skin, ripping it off = pain. Same principle here.

Also, for health and safety purposes, the Q-tips come in play. Because cutting up those plaster strips is already getting messy...

Next up is placing the bald cap unto place over their head hair. This will leave a weird flap on the top of their head; don't worry about this, this is just to cover the hair. Also, you'll notice that it will slightly go over the forehead. This is good. Because to keep the bald cap into place, it's best to use a small amount of latex unto a Q-tip or spirit gum with the additional brush to stroke some unto the skin, so that the bald cap and the forehead will stick together. This will help with the entire process, promise me.

Placing the bald cap unto the model using latex

Placing the bald cap unto the model using latex

With or without?

WITH ALGINATE> A picky whiny substance that gives you the cold shoulder almost immediately in warm water (it solidifies quicker in warmer water). Whatever the colour (some are green), you will need to read the labels and begin to mix the contents with water. The water needs to be almost cold. THIS IS VERY IMPORTANT. This will give you time to place unto the model's face in a semi slobberish consistency that won't go almost everywhere. Make sure to cover most of their face, leaving holes for their nostrils so they can breathe. When that is finished, then place the plaster strips untop.

WITHOUT ALGINATE> continue unto the next step to plaster strips.

Plastered face

Underneath the plaster strips is the cooling alginate.

Underneath the plaster strips is the cooling alginate.

Model with plaster strips on face.

Model with plaster strips on face.

It's best to do many layers and wait until it hardens before taking it off the model's face.

It's best to do many layers and wait until it hardens before taking it off the model's face.

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So the pictures give you a general idea of what I chose to do.

The model had a bald cap to cover his hair and had alginate placed unto his face. Immediately after that, I rushed to the next process of placing plaster strips unto his face, taking care to leave enough room for him to breathe.

It is important to talk to your model, as I can only image it to be a scary experience.

And if it isn't obvious at this stage, their eyes and their mouths much be closed as all times.

I waited for about 20 minutes for the plaster strips to dry completely. It was comical having to check; it was like knocking on a front door. Super tough.

It's best to ask your model to nod or shake their head if they feel the alginate/plaster strips are dry and tough as well; just in case.

If everything is fine, then it's time for the big reveal.

...But that's okay. It's your first time perhaps?

Anyway, your model can then begin to shower themselves and get themselves cleaned up.

However, for you, the next process is this:

You've perhaps mixed alginate. Right? If so, then you can have a go at mixing plaster of paris with semi cold/lukewarm water. Like I said before, the hotter the water, the quicker it hardens.

Use the plaster strip and/or not alginate plaster cast as a base, almost like a bowl itself. Carefully place it somewhere, like a box, with towels etc around it to support the weight.

The plaster cast of my model's face facing downward, filled in with plaster of paris.

The plaster cast of my model's face facing downward, filled in with plaster of paris.

Following the instructions on the Plaster of Paris content, mix water and POP together to an almost thick gravy like consistency. We don't want it to be like water...too runny.

When you have mixed this in the second bowl, you can pour it straight in, taking care to get into every crevice.

Once filled to the top, you let it dry. This could take only a few hours, but I would suggest an overnight of letting it dry, just in case.

Left: Next steps unto my creative journey.  Right: The potential final cast when finished!

Left: Next steps unto my creative journey. Right: The potential final cast when finished!

Look to the right of that picture!

That might be your end result!

Let me tell you, it's difficult to get the plaster of paris cast out, peeling the plaster strips off etc. Also, the plaster strips and/or not alginate are, at this moment until furthermore, now completely useless, so an act of throwing them away can work here.

The final result, after some sanding down and a few layers of varnish, can look like what it did in the picture above.

Sanding it down = more defined features

Varnish = helps stop it rotting away (plaster does rot after a while, much like wood without protection)

Hopefully you and your model had fun in this process.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2019 L P


Blonde Blythe from U.S.A. on February 19, 2019:

Interesting and informative article! Very well written with many helpful tips! When I think of facial plaster casts, I remember the scene in the movie, "The Trouble with Angels," from 1966, Starring Hayley Mills. Unfortunately, the recipient of the facial plaster cast in this movie didn't fare as well as your model!

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