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Making Molds from Nature

Gayle Dowell is known as the Prairie Jeweler. She creates jewelry using prairie grasses and wildflowers in fine silver and 22k gold.


Why I Make Molds and How I do It

Creating metal clay jewelry pieces from nature is an easy process when you know how to make molds from those natural elements. Metal clay is a clay material that can be formed with molds, carved in its dry state and fired in a kiln or torch fired until the pieces are a solid metal. This clay material has opened up design possibilities and since I'm so inspired by nature, creating jewelry pieces using metal clay and molds of natural elements just made sense. This lens will show how I make molds of the grasses and flowers that I use in making my jewelry. These molds can be used to form pieces from polymer clay or ceramic clay and I'm sure other uses as well.

Using Polymer Clay or Sculpey Mold Maker to Make Molds

When I started making molds, I used Sculpey Moldmaker. Polymer clay can also be used. It is a great material and as can be seen in the picture below (mold is on the left with the resulting clay piece on the right), it picks up a lot of the detail of the object being molded. I've used this method for awhile, but wanted to find something a little easier to use as this method takes some time because I have to bake the clay after it is molded. I wanted to by-pass this step so that I could easily make molds as I hiked the prairies of Kansas. This molding compound makes a rigid mold that is not flexible.



Molding Compounds

Depending on how the molding compound will be used and how durable or flexible the final mold needs to be will dictate which molding compound to use. A word of caution, not all air dry modeling clay is the same. I've purchased several different brands and found them to be very different in how they hold up after drying or how well the metal clay releases from the molds. My overall best pick for a molding compound has to be the Sculpey Bake and Bend clay. It is flexible, the clay releases from the baked clay well and it picks up good detail from my grasses and flowers.

Using Air Dry Clay for Molds

Model Air Dry Modeling Clay which is an air dry clay, works well and is portable. I got the same great detail as the Sculpey Mold Maker without having to bake it. It takes a long time to dry, but I wedge my pieces between two pieces of clear glass 4" x 4" to transport with the natural element still in the clay and then I let it dry when I get home. I did find that the molds can start to deteriorate if you use a very wet clay in the molds. For me, it works well enough for my more temporary rigid molds, and I like the price as I make a lot of molds. No need to use a mold release on this one as the metal clays do not stick to the molds. In fact, using a mold release will damage the detail. I've found that spraying a clear acrylic spray over the mold helps prolong the life of the mold.

Be aware that not all air dry clay is the same. There is an air dry clay that Crayola makes and it does not hold up well as a mold.


Step One

In using Model Air Dry Modeling Clay, I always start by pressing the compound or clay between a non-stick surface and a piece of glass. Flattening the compound first before impressing your object into the compound keeps excess compound from forming over the object, or if molding a fragile object will keep the object from breaking from the pressures of the moving compound.


Step Two

After I flatten the compound in step one, I arrange my natural elements on top of the clay to form a pleasing composition. It is important to make sure to stay clear of edges so the whole piece will be molded which will give more design options when molding the final project with the mold.


Step Three

Next, I take a piece of clear glass and set it on top of the object to be molded which is on top of the modeling compound. I then apply just enough pressure to sink the object in the compound. Using the clear glass bevel tiles (these can be found on amazon or a craft supply store that carries stained glass supplies) allows me to see what is happening as I press and I know when to stop exerting pressure on the item and compound. Also the glass is such a slick surface that the compound does not stick to its surface. I've also used clear acrylic tiles found with rubber stamp supplies.


Step Four

Depending on what I am doing at the time, I either let the compound sit with the object still in the mold compound, or I will take the natural element out as soon as I press it. If I am hiking and need to transport, I will press between two pieces of clear glass and secure with rubber bands until I get home. This protects the surface of the mold in transport. If I am home, I will take the object out of the compound and let dry. I get very little shrinkage with this clay and the mold will be rigid when dry. I usually let it dry all day and flip it over to speed up the drying time. Drying time will depend on the thickness of the mold and air humidity.


Using Silicone Putty for Mold Making

Another mold making option is Easy Mold Silicone Molding Putty for Casting and Jewelry Making 1/2 Pound. Fairly easy to use, it is fast and gives me great detail without any shrinkage. It consists of two different parts of putty that I mix together in equal portions which has to be done quickly before it sets. Then it cures in 25 minutes and it is ready to use. For portability, I divide out my clay in airtight containers before I head out on my hike. I mix the clay on site. I leave the object in the silicone and wedge between two pieces of glass until it sets. This tends to be a little more expensive and I reserve this for molds that I want to use a lot. I have molds that I made two years ago that I still use and I see no wear on them and they stay flexible. As shown in the photo below, I purchase mine from Rio Grande, but the Easy Mold Silicone Molding Putty is the same material.

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Step One

With the Easy Mold Silicone Molding Putty, it is important to measure out equal amounts of the two parts of putty. Depending on the brand, it may be different in color. When these two parts are mixed together, the reaction starts and the putty starts to set up. It takes only 3-5 minutes before the putty is at a stage that it sets-up and can no longer be molded. Acting quickly to impress your object after mixing will create better results.


Step Two

The rest of the process is the same as the above tutorial for the Model Air Dry Modeling Clay. Pressing the clay flat, embedding the object by exerting pressure with a piece of clear glass. Be sure to use glass that has a smooth edge for safety reasons. I use beveled glass tiles that are thick, but I've also found thick acrylic tiles in my neighborhood craft supply store. Glass can break under pressure. Set up time is about 25 minutes. The end product is a mold that is flexible, long lasting and has no shrinkage.


© 2011 Gayle Dowell

Let me know that you were here by leaving a comment...

Kate Anderson on September 10, 2020:

Great tutorial. Have been using inferior materials so glad I stumbled onto your site. Thank you.

Gayle Dowell (author) from Kansas on December 14, 2019:

The Sculpey Bake and Bend Clay would be fairly waterproof and well as a two part silicone mold making material. There are a lot of varieties of the silicone mold making material where you mix part A with part B and it activates it so it sets-up. They are flexible but would think they would take the pushing of the material.

kmacprint on December 13, 2019:

Hi Gayle,

Do you have any tips for making waterproof molds for paper casting? I think I need them to be fairly ridgid but maybe not? I have to be able to lay damp sheets of handmade paper onto the molds and push with brushes the material into the details of the mold? Any advice would be greatly appreciated as I have tried many different materials for mold making and I will certainly try yours Thanks so much for the EXCELLENT article on this .

Beautiful work you do as well!

Gayle Dowell (author) from Kansas on August 01, 2017:

Thanks for the E-bay tip on the coasters! Great idea!

Julie B on July 31, 2017:

I found glass coasters on E bay which work well for moulding and were very cheap!

Gayle Dowell (author) from Kansas on August 14, 2015:

Thanks for the tip. I will have to try it and see if it will work.

Dawsie on August 14, 2015:

To help preserve your air dried moods why not use the pave pol glue which goes rock hard once dry all you need to do is mix it 50-50 with water I have used this on fabric as I like the way it goes rock hard and it can then go into the garden as a sculpture. I can not see why it would not work the same for the air dried clay as its a pores so it should work with it. One it will make it last longer and two it will make it water tight. You don't need to brush it on just pour it one and let it drip off that way you won't get any brush marks on your moods.

I hope this helps :-)

Moya Joslin on January 15, 2015:

Really great and practical. The ability to include natural objects is a so nice

Natasha from Hawaii on November 07, 2014:

Really pretty! I used to capture leaves in resin, but some of them didn't dry well. This would be a great way to preserve leaves and flowers that don't cooperate with poured resin. Very cool.

Gayle Dowell (author) from Kansas on October 18, 2014:

Thank you Tim. The beauty of this is the fact that these molds can be used for a variety of creative applications. I feel that I'm only scratching the surface with the possibilities.

Timothy Arends from Chicago Region on October 17, 2014:

Really nice work! I can see how the finished product can be the basis for a whole host of additional craft projects. The possibilities are endless!

Gayle Dowell (author) from Kansas on October 16, 2014:

Yes, that I think is half the fun...finding everyday items and repurposing them for your art. Thanks for commenting!

Gayle Dowell (author) from Kansas on October 16, 2014:

Thank you Maria. I hope that you found it inspiring.

Antoinette Lee Toscano from Raleigh, NC on October 16, 2014:

What a great way to incorporate nature into your everyday life, and you made it so simple. Thanks so much for this.

gottaloveit2 on October 16, 2014:

Very good article! I've just started messing around with molds for my clay bowls. I've had some fun looking around and finding everyday items that make a nice impression (pun intended).

Gayle Dowell (author) from Kansas on October 15, 2014:

Thanks so much!

Rebecca Mealey from Northeastern Georgia, USA on October 15, 2014:

I love the idea of making molds from nature. Thanks for sharing your expertise and creativity. How very unique!

Gayle Dowell (author) from Kansas on October 15, 2014:

*blushes* Oh, thank you.

Susan Caplan McCarthy from Massachusetts, USA on October 14, 2014:

Beautiful. Even the molds are lovely pieces of art.

Gayle Dowell (author) from Kansas on October 14, 2014:

You are welcome. I'm glad that I can be of help or inspiration to some.

Gayle Dowell (author) from Kansas on October 14, 2014:

I hope that you can find some alternative products in China. I have to admit that the research on the clays were half the fun!

Joy Neasley from Nashville, TN on October 13, 2014:

I love the molds... I am in China right now though, and I cannot find these things... some research will have to be done on my part to see if I can match the clays. I enjoyed the page... very easy to understand and follow. Thank you.

Loraine Brummer from Hartington, Nebraska on October 13, 2014:

I've often wondered if there was an easy way to make molds. Thanks for all the info.

Gayle Dowell (author) from Kansas on October 12, 2014:

@Arachnea Thank you. It would work very well for making beads and pendants with clay. Hopefully I have shared my experience with the mold making material so that one could find exactly the mold they needed for their work and save them the time and trouble in doing the research themselves.

Tanya Jones from Texas USA on October 11, 2014:

Now this is useful. I can see this being useful when working with clay for making beads and pendants.

Gayle Dowell (author) from Kansas on October 11, 2014:

Thank you! It is really is an easy process and not just an illusion. :)

Shinichi Mine from Tokyo, Japan on October 11, 2014:

I love this. You do make it look easy.

BodyHairRemoval on June 03, 2014:

What a unique and cool lense!

Rose Jones on March 24, 2014:

Excellent lens - well deserving of Purple!

Bercton1 on December 23, 2013:

Very innovative stuff!

Jogalog on October 16, 2013:

This is a really nice craft that would be great to do with kids too.

anonymous on July 14, 2013:

Thanks for the great tips! This looks so easy. I'm inspired now to go make some more molds :)

Fay Favored from USA on July 04, 2013:

I really like this idea of making molds using organic materials. It gives me some ideas. Thanks.

Margaret Schindel from Massachusetts on July 01, 2013:

This is a wonderful tutorial for making molds of natural materials, which can be notoriously difficult to mold well! Using the glass to impress organic materials into the moldmaking clay or silicone molding putty makes a huge difference. Your photos are just terrific! P.S. I've never tried using air-dry clay for this purpose, so thanks very much for the tip!

junkcat on June 23, 2013:

I would like to give this a try.

Mommy-Bear on June 17, 2013:

Great lens. You make it seem so easy I might give it a try.

Olga_Senukova on June 05, 2013:

Thank for this lens. I didn't know a lot of this! Olga

Peggy Hazelwood from Desert Southwest, U.S.A. on May 28, 2013:

I love it! This is a great way to make molds. I've tried it before with polymer clay but the molds are rigid of course after baking. Love this technique!

Cynthia Haltom from Diamondhead on May 16, 2013:

How impressive, I have always wondered how these molds were made, I didn't realize that there was a material sold commercially for these type of projects.

mina009 on May 15, 2013:

Such an inspiring lens, great tips!!

Renaissance Woman from Colorado on May 15, 2013:

I was just thinking, while out hiking yesterday, that I would love to make some nature inspired art. Love what you have done here. I plan to try it just as soon as I pick up some supplies. Thanks for the great tutorial, photos, and tips. Beautifully presented.

anonymous on May 04, 2013:

This is a great step by step on how you create such lovely jewelry! Thank you!

brownee lm on April 21, 2013:

This is so cool! I am going to have to try this!

Cynthia Haltom from Diamondhead on April 19, 2013:

I've always wondered how to work molds.

Cynthia Haltom from Diamondhead on April 19, 2013:

I've always wondered how to work molds.

Mary Norton from Ontario, Canada on April 12, 2013:

I like to work on polymer when I settle down in one place.

AtHomeWithMCA on April 08, 2013:

Very pretty. I'd love to make one of these!!

mattcut on March 27, 2013:

Beautiful work ! Thanks for sharing your experience !

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