When you’re an artist, the tools and materials you choose to work with are so critical that they can make or break your experience creating an artwork. You would think that choosing what tools to use would be obvious, but the vast majority of the time, it’s not. Often times, the only way to really know if a tool is going to work or not is to buy it and try it out. I’ve gone months and years banging my head against the wall trying to accomplish a very specific task, because I had no idea a particular tool existed that would have made all of my problems go away in a heart beat.
I was really interested in casting with plaster my freshman year at RISD, but I never got to take a class that focused specific on those techniques. Consequently, when I did create a plaster piece, I was constantly doing things wrong simply because I had the wrong tool. When you work with plaster, inevitably there will be some bump or surface in the piece that you need to get rid of. I tried everything I could think of to smooth out those bumps on my plaster pieces: all different grits and types of sand paper, drywall sanding screens, a surform shaver, and more. Every tool I used was either not strong enough and took forever to get the right surface, or it was too coarse and could end up creating dents and marks in the plaster that messed up the smooth surface I needed.
It wasn’t until I went to graduate school 10 years later that one of my friends introduced me to metal rifflers, which are these tools that have curved ends that have a coarse surface. Rifflers are absolutely perfect for shaving down the bumps on a plaster piece. The curved ends of a riffler fit perfectly on the organic surface of of a plaster sculpture. The coarse surface of that curved end does much more than sand paper, but isn’t so coarse that it digs too deep into the plaster.
TEN years to figure this out. If only there had been a resource where I could have asked a team of professionals what would be best tool for this particular purpose, or an art supply glossary where I could have looked this type of thing up…. Hint: if a resource that like would help you too, then subscribe to my email list today, and an announcement will arrive in your inbox in a few weeks that may solve this problem.
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Portfolio Video Critiques for Art Students & Artists
Prof Clara Lieu offers 30 minute video critiques on 8-20 artworks for students working on a portfolio for art school admission, and for artists of any age working on their artwork. Watch a sample below, and get more info here.
Every month, we assign a topic for you to respond to with an artwork. We give out prizes in several categories, and post select submissions on our Instagram and other sites throughout the month. Use #artprofwip and Prof Clara Lieu might just stop by and give you some feedback! We have a special prize for art teachers who assign the Art Dare to one of their classes. More info is here.
Ask the Art Prof Live was a weekly live video broadcast on our Facebook page where Prof Clara Lieu provided professional advice for art students and professional artists. Ask the Art Prof began as a written column in 2013 and was featured in the Huffington Post from 2013-2015. See the full archive of columns here. Prof Lieu discussed being an artist today, art technique & materials, work strategies for artists, career advice, teaching art, and more.