Photography: Image Transfers onto Plaster

Eventually, if you carry on reading this blog for any length of time, you will realise that I am an experimenter. I really like experimenting with my images, and images of myself in particular (after I’ve experimented with changing the way I look with wigs, clothes and make up, obviously).

I’ve had an idea to explore fragility for a while now. I began using Polaroid emulsion lifts – if you’ve tried making them, you’ll understand the delicate nature of the emulsion during the process, and how tricky they can be to achieve.

I then switched to the idea of using image transfers when I finally bought a colour laser printer. It’s probably my relative inexperience with the image transfer process, and the fact that I try it on many different surfaces, but image transfers are also fragile in the making.

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Flowers pressed into clay, used as a mould for plaster, and painted

I wanted to transfer images to a fragile material, and I thought back to a painted plaster plaque I’d created several years ago that after a month or so began to peel, flake and crumble away. Perhaps I’d mixed the plaster poorly. But either way, I think that if I could transfer an image to material like that it would be ideal for what I have in mind.

This is where I’ve got to so far:

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And this is how:

  • Mix plaster using 2 parts Plaster of Paris to 1 part water or according to instructions and let it set in the mold (I used old takeaway containers). Be sensible about this: wear gloves, wipe up plaster spills immediately and don’t breath it in! In terms of weight, I used 300g plaster and 150ml of cold water.
  • Let that set for about 3 hours; it doesn’t fully set for some time after that, but it’s usable when it’s set solid and cooled down.
  • Print your laser images, remembering to reverse them if you are using text or need them to appear exactly as they do on screen. I had Hebrew text on one and so I reversed it. With the image of myself I didn’t bother.
  • Cut the image to size.
  • Coat the plaster with acrylic medium; you can use gloss or matt. The plaster soaks it up, so I gave it a couple of coats and allowed it to soak in, and then a coat for the transfer process. As the plaster is so porous, I also coated the laser image with acrylic medium.
  • Stick the image face down onto the plaster and rub firmly to get rid of any air bubbles.
  • Let it dry. I gave it an hour or so.
  • Gently rub the paper from the plaster in circular motions, damping your fingertips if you need to. This removes the paper layer. Hopefully you will be left with a mainly intact image transfer by the end!

I don’t know how these plaster plaques will survive long term, but for my purpose they’re not designed to last. I wonder if the porosity of the plaster will eventually have an effect on the surface, because I don’t think the surface was fully sealed and I haven’t sealed it after the transfer process. However, the degradation of the image is what I am interested in and so I will probably mix up a softer plaster in an attempt to get the surface to flake or break up quickly.

All this speaks not only to the reliance we put on photography as a memory tool, but also  to the idea that the any physical form decays and ends. I’m now at a time in life where I am having to fight to stay in shape and to keep signs of ageing at bay. Images, be they digital, physical, or mental just don’t last forever.

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The plaster transfer here is probably too thick so I will make the next batch thinner

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