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My first attempt at making footprint casts


For a while now I have wanted to make plaster casts of wild animal footprints. You can make them from plaster of paris, using the impression of the animal's footprint as a mould, then you have a permanent model which you can take away showing the bottom of the animal's foot. 

I did these ones about a month ago, before the weather started to get cold. When it gets colder, it takes longer for the cast to set, so if you are in the UK this might be something to leave until next spring. Here's how I did it (and my way wasn't perfect !)

1. Get your stuff together

We had to get loads of equipment like a old drinks bottle, scissors, a spoon, and plaster of paris and we had to fit it all into a small bucket and then we put it in my rucksack. The old 2 litre drink bottle was for the water, the scissors were to cut the bottle and the spoon was for mixing the plaster. The top of the bottle would be for a funnel but we didn't use it in the end. It looks a lot but it all fitted together like this:

2. Find some footprints

I knew a muddy deer path that would be good for finding footprints and we found two good ones. Me and dad have walked by this path many times so we knew that there would be footprints. Deer footprints are called 'slots' and  look like two curved sausages side by side in this pic. The two toes can point together or further apart as the animal runs fast or downhill.

A good footprint will be clean, uncluttered and have no other footprints over the top. The best place to find them is in smooth mud. This one was perfect and it was from an adult red deer.

3. Prepare the site

I prepared two footprints at the same time.

I put a cut-out of a 2 litre bottle round the casts and pressed it into the mud so we could later pour the plaster of paris in to it.

4. Prepare the plaster of paris

As soon as plaster of paris is mixed, it goes hard, so you need to make it when you are right next to the footprint.

I mixed water with the plaster of paris. I had measured the right amount before, but it got thicker faster than I thought, so dad had go down to the stream to get more water to dilute it down with and I had to mix it up fast with a tea spoon to make it smooth and without air bubbles. At the end I tapped the container to make air bubbles come to the surface.

5. Pour it in and leave it

I poured the mixture in and left it. Dad and I went walking down old stream beds and just exploring the wood for about two hours then came back for the casts. It was supposed to dry in one hour but I gave it two to make sure.

6. CAREFULLY take it out

They were VERY delicate so I had to be very careful when he took them out of the ground, and put them CAREFULLY in a box in my rucksack wrapped in kitchen roll, then I took them home and let them dry.

. This is what they looked like when they were out of the ground. I left the mud in for now:

7. Leave to dry for three more days

It took a long time for them to dry, and a week later they were still flakey and delicate so we had to be careful. I used a soft brush to take out most of the mud:

8. Finished !

When they were finished they looked AMAZING!! Well the one on the right does.

To the left are real red deer hooves:

I am really happy that I got some really good plaster casts now but i will definitely know what to do differently next time.  This was my first go at doing plaster casts and it did not go perfectly but I am still very happy and I would do this again. If I could change something it would be maybe bringing more water and making the mixture more quickly so I could pour it before it starts to harden.

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Psydrache said...

When I was a child I used to do this as well. I really have to do it again. I used soft cardboard for making the borders and, sadly, I used a very slow dry plaster. But it exists special plaster which grow hard very fast and after it's dry its very hard, smooth and even waterproof. In Switzerland/Germany it's called "Edelweiss Gips" of the brand "Edelform". I think you could get it in handycraft shops or internet.

Jake said...

Thanks ! I will maybe try it next time I do some plaster casts !

Jake said...

Thanks !

Jon Price said...

Hi Jake,

That looks very interesting. You could try a plaster called 'Herculite'.
It's specifically made for mold making and casting, plus it's a lot harder when set than Plaster of Paris. It's available in different quantities and I've seen it for sale on eBay.

I used to use it for making model railway bridges etc, but lately I've switched to using resin. Herculite is fine, but can be a bit brittle if using it to cast thin objects and then posting them, (as I used to), but it would be fine for footprint casts.

Keep up the good work and I'm looking forward to your book.

Jon :o)

Wolf said...

Hey Jake, I think it would be cool if you would do a post on what sort of tools you use and your whole process of preparing skeletons.

Sarah R said...

I've read that if you do this in soft sand, you should spray hair spray really thick on it to keep it in one piece. I don't think that'd be very good for the wildlife, though...
I tried something kind of like this once. I didn't have the materials because I was at my grandparents' house, though, so instead I went outside with a long-handled lighter and a couple of candles that I could melt. Turned out great, actually! A little bit difficult to see because it was several different colors, but still neat.
It was in soft dirt, but it worked really well because the first drops of wax sort of sealed it up and I dripped it gently so that it didn't damage the print. If you ever have something tiny you want to get a print of, try candle wax.

Jake said...

Cool tips ! Thanks !

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