Plaster Keepsakes

I was first learned about how simple plaster casting was from the Artful Parent. This project was such a hit last year that I had to do it again. My students enjoy the process of making impressions in play dough and the parents love the product of a plaster keepsake.

  • Play dough (I use MaryAnn Kohl’s recipe-click here for instructions and ingredients)
  • Plaster of Paris
  • Objects to make impessions
  • Ribbon (cut and looped with masking tape)
  • Ziplock bags (heavy duty gallon size preferred)
  • Scissors

Before we got into the real impression making I encouraged my students to play with the materials in whatever way was interesting to them. This is important because once you have the final impression the kids can’t play with the play dough any more. So it would be a tease to set out all the fun toys and mark making tools and only let them try the impression once. Plus it does take a bit of experimentation to figure out how deep to push objects and how to peel them out of the dough.
I like to use MaryAnne Kohl’s play clay recipe for my play dough. It has a great consistency and stays soft for months if stored in an airtight container.
The first step requires rolling a  flat pancake of play dough about 1/2 inch thick using a rolling pin. Some students brought toys from home that are dear to them or that represent their interests while others enjoyed my options which ranged from plastic animals, trains, mardi gras beads, texture stamps, to nature items like dried poppy and eucalyptus pods.
Mixing plaster in a heavy duty ziplock is my preferred method. I buy my plaster (plaster of paris) in a large bag from the local hardware store but you can also find buckets at any art store. Ratios of water to plaster might vary subtly between different brands. I do 2:1 plaster:water. Note, you mix dry ingredients into wet so pour your water in the bag or mixing bucket first! The bag, though wasteful, contains the plaster mixture, allows students to help with mixing, and makes pouring super easy. You just cut the corner and use it like a pastry bag. To see the pouring in action check out this post.
I do recommend having your ribbons pre cut and I tape them together before to hold a loop. Right after I pour the plaster I insert the tape part of the ribbon loop so it dries inside the casting. For those doing this project in a classroom setting it’s important to have a name tag next to each child’s work because after you cover up the play dough you can’t tell who’s is who. After the plaster sets I use a sharpie to put the name and date of each child’s work. You could also carve in the names when the plaster is half set. Plaster sets in 20-30 minutes but I usually wait a few hours before removing the casting from the play dough.
Here are some before and after play dough molds and plaster casts. Because this project is a keepsake it was important that each child choose objects that spoke to them. I explained to the parents that most likely whatever each child gravitated towards in my box of options was a good representation of their current interest in this stage of their life.
This student brought little plastic sharks from home and then over laid  small Mardi Gras beads. The effect of the two together and the final composition reminded me of sharks swimming through a kelp bed.
I was so impressed with the creativity that came out of parent child collaborations. Many moms were excited for the opportunity to grab a hand print. This parent came up with the ingenious idea to press in a small animal toy after the hand print was made. The layering of objects came out fabulous.

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