Thursday, April 23, 2009

Revisiting Celluclay with Isabelle

First of all, I just have to get it out of my system... isn't Isabelle cute? She's so much bigger than the last time I posted her pics here.

Anyway. Isabelle has been coveting the new "Scrutinizing Eyes II" masks and has asked me repeatedly for one to paint. They take so long to make I hesitated to give her one, but then I figured it might be a good opportunity to try out some new casting methods I'd been thinking of. So for the first time in about eight years I cast masks with Celluclay, a commercial paper mache pulp.

Celluclay has one significant advantage of traditional glue and paper strip paper mache- it is about a thousand times quicker and easier to use. The glue and paper strip "Scrutinizing Eyes II" masks take 9 to 10 hours to cast and finish, but similar Celluclay masks takes about 3 to 4 hours to cast and finish. Theoretically, anyway, assuming the process results in a viable mask. Which in the past it hasn't.

There's been a number of reasons. First of all, I believed that Celluclay warps more easily than other kinds of paper mache. Now I'm not so sure that's true. Yes, some of the early masks I made with it did warp, but I've since learned things that could have prevented this. Such as, a paper mache mask that is not sealed properly will warp no matter what, and acrylic gesso does not seal anything, while Sculpt and Coat or diluted Weldbond PVA glue does. I've also learned that the shape of a mask will influence how it warps just as much as the materials it's made from, and some shapes just require special handling. (For more about this, see this post here: )

Another issue has been Celluclay's apparent inability to adhere to my detail coat of choice, a mixture made from Weldbond, Polyfilla and cheesecloth. (For more about my detail coats, see this post here: But then came the big "duh" moment.. I was using actual glue- Weldbond, a kind of Elmer's on steroids- to adhere the paper strips to my detail coat, while I was relying on the dried powdered glue in the Celluclay mix to do the same job. I was comparing apples to oranges! What would happen if I used real glue?

So I cast two test masks. First I cast my detail coat into the mold and let it dry thoroughly. Then I thinned Weldbond with just enough water to make it mixable and added it to Celluclay, which I then used to fill the mold. Then I set it aside to dry, and waited, and waited. Then I remembered that Celluclay packed in thick layers in a rubber mold will NEVER dry. I put the mold under a fan and waited several days, and even then it only dried on the surface. When I finally demolded it, some of the surface of the mask stuck to the mold and pulled off. Paper mache generally doesn't stick to rubber molds, but it sure as heck will stick to a rubber mold better than it will to water! The damage was repairable, but it was still a hassle. Best to be avoided.

So for the next mask, I tried applying a layer of Weldbond over the detail coat, adding a THIN layer of Celluclay over that, letting it dry, and repeating this process about three times. I did not mix the Celluclay with anything other than water, as I didn't think I could handle the thin layers if they were too sticky. The mask dried fine in the mold, and none of it stuck to the rubber, but I did get a curious slight wrinkling effect on the surface. I suspect the Celluclay pulled at the detail coat and wrinkled it up as it dried. I haven't quite figured out what I'm going to do about this yet, if I'm going to worry about it at all- it is fairly subtle, and I suspect I could sand a lot of it out if I were motivated.

So in the end the Celluclay did not warp any more than the paper strips did, and ultimately it did adhere well to the detail coat. The biggest downside of Celluclay that I now see is its weight. A Scrutinizing Eyes II mask made with paper strips weighs only one ounce, while a similar Celluclay mask weighs three. Just for comparison's sake, a fairly normal pair of prescription glasses weighs one ounce, while the great big huge honking Coke bottle pair you will never catch me wearing on this blog weighs two. Still, it's possible for certain well-balanced, helmet-type masks that are inclined to stay on of their own accord anyway, that the Celluclay could work quite well.

So the moral of the story is that Celluclay is once again a possibility. Stay tuned!

1 comment:

Heather said...

OMG! She's adorable! And she looks so grown up! I'm glad you posted the pics.