Thursday, 25 February 2010

Body Casting with Plaster of Paris Bandages

The advantage of plaster of Paris bandages to create a body cast are:
· its light weight,
· rapid setting characteristics,
· the degree of detail picked up, and
· rigidity.

Its disadvantages are
· its easy deformation while wet,
· its fragility when dry, and
· it is a messy procedure.

The advantages over other methods of taking a cast from life are such that this is an almost ideal casting medium.


There are some preliminaries that need to be completed before starting. You need to make sure your model knows what will be happening and is comfortable with it. You need to empower the model so she/he can call a halt to the casting if they are uncomfortable with anything in the process.

Make sure the area is warm for the model as the person will be standing without clothing for at least half an hour. To ensure the model is not chilled, use warm water to soak the plaster of Paris bandages. Top this up with hot water as necessary.

Explain the process to the model. If you have some pictures or examples of previous work this helps the model visualise what will happen and what the result will be. There needs to be some rapport between you two and the model needs to know what to expect because some parts of taking the casting are very intimate.

Provide supports as the model will have to maintain pose for up to 30 minutes. This can be as simple as straps to support the arms, or a table to lean on.

You should provide showering or bathing facilities for the model to enable the cleaning of the remaining oils and Vaseline, as well as the drips of plaster of Paris that will be on the skin outside the casting area. This will help warm the model up again, if the temperature has not been warm enough.

You should consider what clothing you wear too. The plaster of Paris does not come out of cloth at all well. So what you use should be of a nature that can be thrown away or reserved for future casting projects. I have found bare feet provides the most secure footing.

You need some waterproof floor covering to reduce the amount of clean up after casting. If the waterproof floor covering has some texture that is better than smooth plastic sheet. The floor covering becomes very slippery when wet.

Taking the Cast

You will of course have a good idea of the pose you want for the cast. But you must try it out with the model to ensure you really like the pose and make any alterations. You also need to determine if the model can hold the pose for the required amount of time. Then the various props or supports can be put in place for the model. Most of this can be done clothed.

The model needs a separator between the skin and and the plaster of Paris/modrock. Olive oil has staying properties that baby oil does not and this is what I use now. Ensure that it is applied liberally – so don’t use extra virgin.

Olive oil is fine for arms, and torso of female models. Male models may have significant amounts of hair on their arms and chests. This will be difficult to separate from the cast, so you really need to find male models with little hair. Where there are significant amounts of hair, Vaseline is the best I have found. It needs to be put on very liberally, providing the surface on which the plaster of Paris is placed. So, enormous amounts of Vaseline need to be placed on pubic, armpit, and chest hairs. It should coat the area providing a smooth surface with few hairs poking through.

I obtain plaster of Paris bandages from hospital suppliers as they are cheaper than from art stores, although you have to buy in larger amounts. Cut the bandages into ca. 300mm lengths for ease of application. Longer strips tend to fall off the skin due to the weight of the unattached piece. For detailed areas or places where there are creases, shorter pieces are needed. These are usually available as off cuts from the end of the roll when you are cutting the longer strips. If not, you need to cut some shorter strips in preparation, as once you start you need to work rapidly as you will not have time to pause to cut more strips or make them smaller.

Mark the limits of the cast in oil pastels on top of the oils. This provides a guide on the limits of where the plaster of Paris bandages need to go. This comes off the skin easily and additionally leaves a faint mark on the cast for future reference on where the cast should be filled to replicate the pose you decided upon.

Lay strips one at a time and overlapping from the top to the bottom of the area. Doing it in reverse makes it difficult to keep the bandages against the skin. Also place the beginning strips so as to form a hook or hanger to keep the cast on.

Ensure you are overlapping the strips by laying them in different directions, even after the area seems completely covered. Also make sure you have extra thickness at the edges of the cast to assist in taking it off. Three layers of plaster of Paris on the main areas is usually enough, but 5 or 6 at the edges is a good idea.

You need to work systematically as once the plaster of Paris has cured, you cannot attach further strips. It takes only about 5 – 8 minutes for the strips to cure and become stiff.
Work smoothly and rapidly to minimise the length of time the model has to maintain the pose.
Even though you need to work rapidly and systematically, you must not go so fast that you fail to eliminate bubbles, or adequately cover all the area with several layers. You should ensure that you smooth the plaster of Paris through the bandage weave to the skin. If you watch what you are doing you can catch the bubbles that often form under the bandage. Smooth the bubble to the edge of the bandage where the air can be gently forced out.

Another care needs to be taken to avoid pressing too hard on the wet plaster of Paris bandages, as you will leave dents that will not be pushed back out by the skin of the model. It always is a fine balance between too little and too much pressure.

As you cannot see whether you have enough layers on after you have laid down the first, you need to work in a systematic fashion, such as alternate diagonals or horizontally and vertically. This together with overlapping each bandage, helps to ensure you have enough layers.

When you have finished applying the strips over the area, you can begin the clean up while the lower part of the cast sets.

Taking the cast off is a delicate process. Even on an apparently hairless skin, there are many small fine hairs that stick to the cast. This resists the removal of the cast. The areas where Vaseline had to be applied will be even more “sticky”. First break the seal between the skin and the edge of the cast all around. Then lift the cast from the skin. If you are doing a front or back torso, lift the cast upwards as this is more comfortable for the model. If possible, get the model to help in this process.

Although the top of the cast sounds firm when tapping it, it still is delicate. You have to be careful when handling the cast while it is wet. You can place the cast on a soft surface with the hollow down, so the form is not crushed or you can hang it from a string round the cast.

These two pictures illustrate the finished and dried plaster cast, inside and outside.

Even when completely dry, the plaster of Paris cast is fragile. It needs some protection. A simple protection is oil based varnish – not the flexible ones like polyurethane. This also provides some additional strength. It protects against water based mould materials too.

Following these procedures will provide you with a one-use life cast with lots of detail captured.


  1. don't use the dried plaster a paris powder for this!

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  4. This is very well done. We recently did a project like this with Lehigh University. The students did a similar project casting the body. the plaster we used worked very well too and cost us less. for some of the larger body areas we used 8 inch size as it covers more. I never thought of the olive oil. Works better than baby oil.

  5. I have been plaster casting for many years. Your commentary is very good. I have the models use Vaseline - a thin coat rather than oil. I cast the mold with paper pulp so I find I need 4 layers of plaster to cover the breast area which supports the weight when I am casting. It is important to keep the models hydrated and have their knees bent. the best advice I ever got was to use breath mints and not step on their feet. you can find me on fb at John dedo Cristina. Also I use two different qualities of plaster strips. The best I have found is from Nelson materials.

  6. I wish I had read this first! I just purchased some from DickBlick Art supply and then, after reading, checked the hospital supply and yes, much cheaper for marginally larger volume. Dang it. Thank you for the tip, in the future I will use this information and your tips. Great resource!

  7. My body was casted when I was 15 years old and I'm 62 now. My entire body was casted, fully clothed, over the course of a week to create a standing statue for a display. Quite an experience! We used vasoline on my skin and clothes. The detail of my clothing in the completed project was amazing! I found this while looking for information on whether I could make a lamp and if the dried plaster would withstand the heat of a 60w bulb, so my search continues. I loved reliving the process while reading this.

    1. if you use an LED light bulb, you can eliminate most problems. I would suggest purchasing a SLIM simple lamp from good will, and encasing it to make the lamp you want