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What is slipcasting?

What is slipcasting? - The Bright Angle

One of the methods we use in our studio is called slipcasting, which is a technique using mold systems and liquid porcelain to produce ceramic objects.

Currently the process we are set up to do in our studio is slipcasting ceramics. For a long time the idea of slipcasting was polluted by its utilization in industrial techniques to mass produce items, which I think is largely due to a number of factors. 

One factor would be the uninvolved nature of production labor, where there is very little problem solving or cerebral involvement. Another factor is that the mass produced items seem so sterile because of the manner in which they were produced and because the designers were typically uninvolved or removed from the production process. For example, you would not have a trained potter with years of experience designing cast ceramic objects.

Slipcasting porcelain ceramics at The Bright Angle Studio in Asheville NC

The first step to slipcasting is acknowledging that the object that you are designing will be made with a process where the liquid porcelain has to go in and out of a cavity. In your design considerations for a slipcast piece, you will be expecting there to be seams where the mold is opened because you will have to disassemble the mold around the object after it is made.

The second step of the slipcasting process is to make the original model. Once the concept and design have been established, that concept will need to be translated into two dimensions. Primarily profiles of the piece will be established on paper and in the computer. Once you have the two dimensional profile or framework for the piece, you can create the item three dimensionally by considering how to capture a negative of that positive model and imagining the mold system. 

Step three will be to make models by sculpting in clay, carving out of plaster, 3d printing, using computer aided modeling tools or using found objects.

Step four is to make a mold or mold system for the model, which is a complex and involved problem that entails figuring out how to make negative stamps to encase the model while leaving space for the liquid porcelain to be inserted. Then the mold will be set to dry.

Step five will be to fill the mold with liquid clay, or slip. The clay acts as a sponge for water, so the mold will suck the water from the clay. A skin forms on the interior face of the mold, and ultimately the longer you leave it in the mold the thicker it will become. You then will dump the excess clay back out of the mold, leaving the cast of the piece. Once it's dry, the mold will be disassembled and a hollow model will be pulled from the mold. Positive from the negative. Afterwards the cast piece will be cleaned up, dried, fired, and glazed.

People know that buying from an artist is better than buying something from Walmart, but often struggle to recognize the difference in value between item that's handmade from one that's sold in a big box store. A mug is a simple example. One that is designed by a potter will deeply consider the user experience.

A smaller mug will have a one fingered handle, and it will make sense because you only need one finger to hold the liquid and its balanced visually. Potters will consider the foot of the mug and how it will sit on a table. Our mugs will not scratch surfaces. We also consider the shape of the lip, because if it's bent in it will hold heat better for comfort.

Users often don't take these design specs into account. But once they know that the craftspeople behind them do, they often appreciate and respect the item more. I call what we do at TBA handufacturing. We don’t have conveyor belts or automated machines. We make molds to that allow us to reproduce our carefully crafted designs with high quality and consistency so they are available to a wide number of people. That being said, each product we offer is still limited edition.