How to Make Chalkware

Ornamental chalkware figurines became popular in the United States in the 19th Century, particularly among lower-income Americans. Much easier and cheaper to make than costly ceramics, chalkware was often referred to as “poor man’s porcelain.” The molded plaster of paris simply dried to hard pieces that didn’t have to be glazed and fired in a kiln. They were inexpensively hand-painted. You can easily create your very own nostalgic chalkware at home.

Things You'll Need

  • Old newspapers
  • Old magazines
  • 3D chocolate or soap molds
  • Alligator clips
  • Plaster of paris
  • Cups or bowls
  • Cooling racks
  • Butter knife
  • Sandpaper
  • Acrylic paints
  • Paintbrushes and sponges

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Spread a few layers of newspapers over a flat working surface. Set cups or bowls out, one for each mold you plan to use. Each cup or bowl should be big enough to set the upside-down mold into it to keep it steady once plaster of paris has been poured into it. Tear sheets out of old magazines or newspapers, wad them up and set them aside. Use these to pack around the mold in the cups or bowls.

Run water into the 3D molds to wet the inside surfaces. Shake out any excess, but don’t dry the molds. This will make the set figurines easier to remove from the molds after the plaster of paris has hardened. Close the molds and add a few alligator clips to their outer edges. This will help to prevent any of the plaster from leaking out of them.

Turn each mold upside down, with the fill hole up. Set them inside cups or bowls and pack them into place with wadded up newspaper or magazine pages. You want the molds to remain still while the plaster is setting inside of them.

Mix the plaster of paris according to the package instructions. Slowly pour the mixture into the molds a little at a time to avoid forming bubbles. If you see bubbles, stop pouring and slowly rotate the cup or bowl a few times to eliminate them. You can stir the plaster if need be. Fill the molds completely.

Let the plaster of paris set in the molds as per the instructions. It will probably take about an hour. Remove the chalkware figurines from the molds. They should pop out easily. Set the pieces on kitchen cooling racks and allow them to air dry for at least 24 hours before handling them.

Use a butter knife to gently scrape the mold lines from the pieces. Then smooth the lines a little more with sandpaper. Remove any chalky dust with a soft brush. Paint your chalkware with acrylics.

Tips & Warnings

  • Have all of your supplies ready before you mix your plaster of paris because it sets up quickly once it has been prepared to pour.

References

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