How to Sculpt Plaster

The title of this post is a question, definitely, not an answer. I’ve been in love for ages with all sorts of Moroccan design… such amazing patterns, colors, tiles, fabrics. But oddly, for me, the very most amazing things are the incredibly detailed white plaster carvings.

Apart from just a couple of videos of artisans at work, using the Internet to learn to carve plaster, even crudely, is not a good method, since it’s such a tactile thing to learn. So, with nothing much to go on, I just plunged in. I bought some craft plaster and some cheap carving tools from a local shop and gave it a whirl.

plaster carved celtic knot design

My first and rough effort at plaster carving

I mixed the plaster according to the package instructions, put it into an empty metal lid left over from a package of food, cut out a simple Celtic knot design from card stock, added some crushed green chalk into an old sock, laid the pattern on the plaster, and pounced the chalk-filled sock on top, to make a color ‘tracing’ of the design.

I then carved and carved, using the card stock design as a reference for when the ribbons of the knot should go over and when they should go under. The lack of an outer edge of my pattern was a challenge. And I learned that once the plaster hardens completely, it’s obviously hard to work with it, ha, ha, but yet perilously easy to carve too much from the wrong spots.

I really want to keep trying to learn this craft properly, but I’m at a loss as to where to find a teacher.

TheĀ New York Times had an article in 2001 about how the Metropolitan Museum of Art hired a crew of artists to create a Moroccan courtyard, which features just stunning video and images of the artisans at work. Obviously, to become a master at this would take a lifetime that I do not have, but I’d still like to learn as much as I can.

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