You’ve probably seen examples of this wonderful art form on TV or on the internet- full size, 3 dimensional, stone sculptures of baby hands and feet. These are called LifeCasts.
You’ve probably wondered how they did it and most people assume that it is very complicated or expensive to do. Not so…
The materials and techniques used by professional LifeCasters are neither expensive nor are they beyond the reach of most amateurs. In fact the materials cost for a baby hand cast is no more than $4.00.
New parents are always agog with the cuteness of their baby. They can’t get enough of holding and kissing the baby’s hands and feet. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to have a sculpture of all that cuteness so you can remember and share it with the child as they grow up? They also make wonderful gifts for grandparents who live far from the young family.
In fact, many young mothers are learning the technique, sharing it with their close friends and actually starting LifeCasting businesses for fun and profit.
Here’s the nuts and bolts:
LifeCasting is a “molding” and “casting” procedure. The most common molding material used is something called Alginate (AL-jin-it). Alginate is sold as a powder. When you mix it with water, it forms a thick liquid. This liquid is put into a small container (bucket) and the baby’s hand or foot is pushed down into the alginate mixture. In a minute or so, the alginate “sets” (changes from a liquid to a rubbery solid). At this point, the baby’s hand or foot is gently pulled out of the mold leaving a hole EXACTLY the same size and shape as the baby’s hand or foot.
At this point, the mold is “poured” with the casting material. The most common casting material is a type of plaster called Gypsum Cement (commonly called “stone”) which is much stronger than Plaster of Paris. The gypsum cement is mixed with water and is poured down into the mold until it is full. In about an hour, the stone has hardened and the alginate mold is removed revealing the casting.
Usually there is a small amount of cleanup of the casting required, but that is basically it. The casting can be painted, but only after waiting a couple of days for the water to evaporate out of the stone.
You will need a “bucket” that is JUST big enough to accommodate the hand. A bucket that is too large will just require MORE alginate to fill the extra space. The baby’s hand or foot must not touch the inside of the bucket during the procedure or it will ruin the mold. For that reason, a transparent or translucent plastic is the best so you can see if the hand or foot is touching.
Alginates come in a variety of setting times. Don’t get one with a long setting time because the baby can get fussy. Also look for an alginate that you can mix with warm water. If you start with 95°F water, the alginate will have cooled to about 92°F when you are ready to put the baby’s hand in. This is great because baby skin temperature is about the same. Done this way, sleeping babies almost never wake up and alert babies are much easier to distract with a rattle or toy of some sort. If they’re not too conscious of the alginate on their hand there is a smaller chance that they will wiggle their hand or foot too much, which could ruin the mold.
Children from about 6 months to 3 years are extremely difficult to LifeCast. They just don’t sleep enough and you can’t yet explain to them WHY they should be happy to have their hands in a scary bucket of goo.
Some alginate manufacturers make “color-changing” alginate for use in hand casting. The alginate turns bright pink when you first mix it and fades to white about 40 seconds before it “sets”. This way you don’t have to run a stopwatch- just wait until the alginate is white before you put the baby’s hand or foot in.
Lots of information is available online. The search terms you would look for are Alginate or Lifecasting.
It really is neither expensive or difficult to learn these techniques but it IS a lot of fun.