Bless this mess
I follow a few hundred creators on Instagram who work with eco-resin, plaster, Jesmonite and hobby concrete. There are so many gorgeous colours and patterns, coasters, pots and trays, made and displayed in the most creative ways. Heaps of inspiration and so much potential! The versatility of materials like Jesmonite or Plaster of Paris inspired thousands of creators around the world to start their own businesses and sell their hand made pieces. These eco-resin materials are easy to use and offer a wide range of options for creatives. But in this world of endless possibilities how come the results all look sort of the same? Circles, rectangles, ovals and hexagons on endless repeat as I scroll through my Instagram feed. The answer is cheap, mass-produced, easily accessible silicone moulds.
The idea popped into my head even before I knew anything about silicone or moulds or how to make them. There is so much potential in makers and materials to create outstanding pieces but we all seem to be stuck in the confines of factory made import moulds! They are impossible to compete with. They are mass-produced, highly affordable, great quality and easy to use – so everyone is buying them, myself included. I imagined how much cooler it would be if I could design new shapes, pour moulds out of them and make them as popular as their factory made friends are, to help creators stand out from the uniform crowd of ovals and hexagons etc.
I admit I got a tiny bit obsessed with this idea. I wanted to try and make moulds that would break the uniformity of the eco-resin community. My idea grew into a healthy fixation that led me to a lot of internet searches about silicone mould making. It all seemed very straight forward. I imagined if I just followed these easy steps I could create my own silicone moulds, sell them to creators, then sit back and enjoy the new varieties of popular shapes as I scroll through my insta feed.
It turns out there is a lot more to mould making than I imagined. First of all I had to consider what brand of silicone I should use, how to make the frames for different shapes, how these frames will stay leak proof and reusable and how to deal with pesky air bubbles. Also do I need a vacuum chamber at all, how do I keep the silicon from ruining my models by inseparably sticking to their surface etc...
I have so many design ideas on paper but they need to be made in 3D first and foremost. Then there is the issue of what kind of materials these models should be made from? Silicone is a very sensitive material that picks up every little detail on a surface, which is not ideal when the model is full of bumps and imperfections – so my initial thoughts of using models made from clay or wood went out the window.
Silicone sticks to everything so after distroying some early prototypes I had to find an efficient release agent that helps separate the silicone from the model when demoulding. I even tried my own home made Seal&Glow wax for this purpose – with great disappointment.
My initial successes made me even more motivated and determined to keep experimenting. When I introduced my first single piece of hand made mould of a small semi-circle shaped tray on Instragram, people wanted to buy more than I could possibly produce. The amount of interest was encouraging but I knew I couldn’t cater for all the needs with the method I currently use.
I’m now at week 3 on my mould making journey. Here is my take away so far:
Silicone mould making is messy, time consuming and expensive. I find it difficult to achieve consistently high quality pieces without producing a few faulty ones along the way. One kilogram of good quality silicone costs around £20-25 and from a 1kg container it's almost impossible to pour out every precious drop, so there is a lot of waste involved. Production is slow because silicone takes 12+ hours to cure. But...
On the other hand I love the process and ritual of mixing and pouring and there is nothing more satisfying than demoulding silicone that peels right off the model. I also love the feedbacks from creators who were brave enough to buy my first moulds. It’s very gratifying to see the gorgeous creations made with my mould!
I know the best is yet to come!