Baby Casting

The casting of a baby's hand, feet or bottoms is perhaps the first interest of the beginning life casting enthusiast. Creating these tiny molds doesn't require any particular experience and are often perfected on the first try. So they are a good place to start for anyone interested in life casting. In addition, the material requirements are both minimal and inexpensive. The only valuable item in the process is of course, the baby itself. But the materials involved are extremely safe to use on baby's delicate skin as they are hypoallergenic, having been made from such organic compounds as seaweed. Similar material to those used for those expensive spa facials.

Many agree that one of the most precious forms of life casting art one can create, are castings of babies and young children. They are emotionally powerful presents for grandparents as well as great keepsakes for friends and family. Over the years I nave never tired of the reactions that this tiny casting produces, from expressions of jaw dropping joy to copious tears.

Yet not everyone appreciates these cute memorials. Years ago, I had the bright idea of taking a casting of a baby’s hand, posed in a tiny fist and then creating a series of silicone mold copies so that I could produce a number of duplicate castings of the little hand. Over a period of several days I cast 500 babies’ hands in polyurethane. resin – a plastic. I then printed our company's name and address on them so I could pass them out at the National Art Materials’ trade show as a souvenir. Though they were mostly well received by the visitors to our booth, about ten percent of those that were offered the souvenirs actually ran from them – it gave them shivers. At first it surprised me. Then I realized that not everyone thinks of a detached baby’s hand as cute. Some think it is macabre. So let’s hope that your client or grandparent doesn’t think that way, too.

So let's get started by listing the materials needed:

Molding Materials:

(1) 16-OZ Dixe cup

Measuring cup

2- Mixing bowls or containers

Wire kitchen whisk

Box cutter or X-Acto knife

½ Lb Holywood Impression SIFREE alginate (Fast Setting)

Distilled water

1 –lb of CastRite of casting plaster

Preparation:

The materials to cast a new born of child's hand are extremely safe to use on even a newborn. We formulated our Hollywood Impressions alginate to be environmentally friendly, hypoallergenic and of course skin-safe. This material is basically made from seaweed and pulverized paper. 

To make a mold of a youngster, you need a very fast setting alginate, as you probably know, babies and toddlers can’t stay still and wait for your mold material to set. So if you use 80o-90 o F., water with Hollywood Impressions alginate, you will have a set time of a little less than two minutes. That is still too long, but with mixing and readying the alginate, you’ll cut off another 45-60 seconds, leaving a window of a minute – but, again that may be a bit too long to have your tiny subject to wait. So we advise waiting thirty seconds after you finish mixing before using it on the subject. With that bit of a preamble under our belt, we begin the mold making process by first preparing a mold making container. We normally use a 16 Oz Dixie cup which we cut about halfway to two-thirds up from the bottom using a box cutter or an X-Acto knife. This makes the cup shallow enough to create a mold of the baby's hand, plus also capture some of the arm above the wrist. Of course the mold cup depth will vary based on the size of your subject’s hand and arm. You can quickly determine the depth by placing the baby’s hand into the empty cup, making certain it doesn’t touch the bottom and then marking the spot on the side of the cup where you will cut.

With the mold container prepared, fill it with 80o--90oF water (26.6o--32.2oC) to the top of the cup. That is the amount of water you will need to mix with the molding powder.

Now pour the water into a measuring cup to see how much you actually have. It will help measure it against the quantity of alginate powder you will need.

The mix ratio is 7 parts water to 1 part powder by weight. So if you show 7-Oz of water in your measuring cup, you should weigh out 1-Oz of Hollywood Impression alginate. Using a separate container such as a kitchen bowl, to add your water first and the your powder second.

Use a wire kitchen whisk to stir until creamy smooth.

Transfer the mix back into the mold container.

If it is a young baby, have the mother hold her in her arms. Gently take the baby’s forearm in your hand and guide the hand into the cup of alginate. Lower it in until you feel it touch the bottom. Then drop the cup slightly so that the baby’s hand does not touch the bottom.

Distraction in Action. Now the tricky part. The part that separates the good life casing artist from the not as good. Half the time the act of placing a baby’s hand in a new goopy media results in a wriggly hand in very the least and a crying baby at the most. So the secret to capturing a good casting is the combination of timing and simple distraction. Short of waiting until the baby is asleep, you have two simultaneous acts to pull off if you want to get a good casting. The first action is timing. That is, as described above, waiting about 30-45 seconds after mixing and transferring the alginate into the mold container so the baby’s hand in the container is delayed, and only in the container about 30-45 seconds before the alginate sets. The second, is distraction. Believe me, I have experimented with numerous distractions with marginal results until Dave Parvin suggested that I use  a motion of moving the cup up and down while the baby’s hand was in it. The up and down motion seemed to work in most cases, distracting the baby momentarily as to what was going on with his hand, while the alginate was curing. As you move the cup you can feel the resistance created by the alginate as it cures. So that when it becomes more difficult to move up and down, hold it still for ten-fifteen seconds to allow the alginate to snap set. This method works in the majority of cases, but of course is not fool proof. Sometimes you will have finished a baby casting session sans baby casting. Remember,life casting is an art and not science – sometimes art flops. If that is the case, you’ll just have to postpone the session for another day, perhaps when it is nap time.

Mold of Last Resort.Yes, there is a last resort that will save the day and your reputation as a professional studio life castingartist, but it requires that you sacrifice a terry cloth wash cloth. Lay the washcloth on a flat surface and place a scoop alginate in the center, spreading it out so that you you have about a 6-inch circle of alginate which is about an inch, to an inch and one half thick. Ask mom to hold her baby’s forearm to steady it and then using both your hands, carefully wrap the terry cloth around baby’s hand – alginate side in – so that you it have completely encased around the baby’s hand and wrist with the alginate. Keep your hand gently, but firmly clutched around the baby’s hand, allowing it to move as the baby’s hand moves. Once the alginate sets, carefully open the terry cloth slightly and pull the alginate mold off of the baby’s hand. You should have succeeded in obtaining a very good hand casting mold following this novel procedure. 

Carefully pour it into your mold and fill to the top. Tap the mold on its sides for about a minute to help drive air bubbles to the top of the fill hole. Then leave your mold undisturbed for three hours.

De-Molding.After three hours, check the surface of the casting material to make certain it has solidified. If so, it is time to de-mold. If not, let it continue to be left undisturbed until it does set. Slip the alginate out of the cup or container it is in. It might be necessary to slice the side of the cup to release the mold block of alginate so that it can be removed. Once you have removed it, carefully slice down about  two thirds of the way on each side of the mold. Be very careful you do not touch the cats inside as it is still soft enough to be damaged.

Carefully pour it into your mold and fill to the top. Tap the mold on its sides for about a minute to help drive air bubbles to the top of the fill hole. Then leave your mold undisturbed for three hours.

Spread open the alginate mold and carefully pull out the casting. Check it for flaws, there are bound to be a few. You can clean them up with your box cutter. You can also fill in any depression with a little Spackle wall repair compound.

If you are making a presentation or completing a paid commission, wait forty-eight hours and then seal your casting with clear polyurethane matte sealer. Krylon® and Rustoleum® are good brands to consider. 

As a picture without a frame, your casting is really not complete without some sort of display mounting such as wood or marble base. You can attach the casting to either using two-part epoxy found at the local hardware store. Finally, a personalized brass name plate affixed to the base on which you mounted your casting will provide that special gallery touch to your artistic works.

Casting a Baby’s Foot.

The casting of a baby’s or toddler’s foot follows the identical procedure used for hand casting. The inference, of course, is the extremity. Instead of a round mold container you need to use a shallow rectangular container. This can easily be obtained by using a deli container or a small plastic food storage container. You will need a little mold alginate to fill the container as it is usually a little larger the half cup used for the hand.

After the alginate is set, extracting the foot may require you to use a plastic knife to separate the alginate in the back of the heel so the foot can more easily slip out. But that is really the only difference. Casting the foot mold is identical to casting a hand mold.

Casting a Baby’s Bottom

For casting a baby’s bottom you will need a shallow bowl and about one pound of fast setting alginate such as LifeMold. Mix the alginate with warm water that isn’t hard (distilled water is always preferred) and fill the bowl. Have the mom place baby into the bowl while the alginate cures. This should take no more than three minutes or so.

Then lift the baby straight out. You may need a little help for this as the alginate will create a suction against the skin. So take your fingers and gently separate the alginate where it is sticking to the skin to break the suction.

Inspect the mold as it has the tendency to contain loose  bits of alginate at this stage. So hold the alginate and the bowl together so that alginate mold doesn’t drop out and flip it upside down to clear out ant debris. The mold is ready to cast at this stage. Mix casting plaster and water. The mix ratio for CastRite is 10 parts CastRite to 7 parts water by weight. Fill the mold to the top and wait three hours before de-molding.

Then lift the baby straight out. You may need a little help for this as the alginate will create a suction against the skin. So take your fingers and gently separate the alginate where it is sticking to the skin to break the suction.

Once the casting is cleaned up of flashing and small holds filled with Spackle set it aside to dry for forty-eight hours. Then seal with a matte clear polyurethane.

Happy Mold Making!ding.