About modeling for a lifecasting


Having a portion of your body turned into a work of art is an extraordinary opportunity, a once-in-a-lifetime event for most people! If you're considering a lifecast sculpture for yourself — or arranging a session as a gift for someone else — this page will help you gain a better understanding of the modeling process. Just as we at ELS are dedicated to creating an artwork that you will be proud of, we are also dedicated to making the modeling experience as safe, special and rewarding as possible for all clients.


"Perfect" bodies not required

The first thing we should stress is that lifecasting is not reserved for models with "perfect" bodily features. We want everyone to appreciate the innate beauty of their own form — their "essensual" beauty — and this shouldn't be measured against the unrealistic and sometimes extreme beauty standards perpetuated by our society.

Through the collaborative process between the model and the artist, we work on different poses until we find what is most flattering for each model. If desired and appropriate, there are many ways in which we can focus on the model's strengths and downplay other features. Then, after the bodymold has been made, we still have complete artistic and aesthetic control over the appearance of the work because of the 2-stage molding process we use (see the about page for details). During the intermediate wax stage, we encourage the model to come see the progress of their work. If any changes are desired, ELS artists are able and happy to re-touch, re-sculpt, remove or augment any features needed to make the piece look as good as the client wants. Adding sculpted hair to a face portrait is a good example of the kind of augmentation we can provide.

While some of the works in our gallery have been enhanced by this re-touching process, it is not our mission to create only sculptures with "perfect-looking" features. We encourage all potential lifecasting models to approach the process with their own unique features in mind, and not be intimidated by other works.


What it takes to be a lifecast model

Once started, the bodymolding process typically takes 30-40 minutes to complete. Any person healthy enough to hold a pose for that amount of time is a potential lifecast model. In fact, body molds are frequently taken from pregnant women, even near the end of their term. We know — we've done it! To pose for a face casting or "face mask," you will need to be able to breath comfortably through your nostrils only for the same period of time.


What is possible

We can cast any and all external features of the human body, from a hand or a face to the entire body. Couples can be molded together. Multiple models can have their hands molded together. Face masks can be taken from multiple family members and combined into one group portrait. While just about anything is possible, the labor and therefore the cost will increase with the complexity and size of the work.


Nudity is not required

The only bodily areas that have to be exposed during the lifecasting process are the ones being molded. We also have limited abilities to create the bodymold over clothing, making the clothing a feature in the finished piece. A young dancer in a leotard would be a good example of this type of pose. Of course there are many types of poses that don't even involve private areas on the torso, but where the torso is desired and the model doesn't wish to be exposed, there may be a suitable alternative.


Female lifecasting artist available

For models who would be more comfortable having a female artist during their bodymolding session, we're happy to schedule Laura Ramberg for an extra fee. Laura is a well-known Lawrence-area sculptor and art teacher. She is also a mother of five and a midwife, making her imminently qualified to assist with the creation of a pregnancy casting or "belly mask." Laura is also available to help custom-decorate your lifecasting or belly mask in a creative manner. See the artists page for more information.


Cost information

Please review our pricing page to see how costs are affected by the type of pose and the choices available for the finished sculpture. This page also describes how ELS models are eligible to receive a cash commission for every duplicate sold.


Taking the first step

Once you're ready to explore the possibility of a lifecast of your own — even if you aren't sure you're ready to commit — the artists invite you to schedule an initial (no-obligation) consultation. During this meeting we will discus the pose you have in mind, and review photos of similar works by ELS and other artists. This will help you understand what is possible and will also help initiate the creative process for your pose.

We'll also discuss the options regarding the look of the finished work, and how the options affect the pricing. We can cast in a number of different materials, surface treatments and colors. These choices affect the look, weight and cost of the finished piece. There may also be accessories to consider, such as a display base for a tabletop piece.

We know that the more informed you are, the more comfortable you will be with your decision, and the better the final result will be.


Ordering the commission

A commission is an instruction for an artist to create an art work for a client for a given fee. Once all the details and pricing have been agreed upon, we will complete a contract and ask for a booking fee of $50 (which will be deducted from the final payment of the art work). The contract protects the interests of everyone involved by describing what the model and artist can expect from each other, who has the rights to the products of the bodymolding session, etc. To see a sample ELS contract, click here.


Posing the model

For all but the simplest pieces, we usually need an advance session for working out the pose. This is where the artists will collaborate with the model, looking for the pose that will best satisfy the goals we all have for the work. Every model is different, both in body and in how they want their finished piece to look. Our experience with the entire process is a valuable asset during this step, assuring that we choose a pose that will not only be attractive in its finished form but is also practical for all the steps in the process.

With your consent, photos will be taken during this step to help us select the best pose or combine elements from different poses. Sometimes photos show us nice shapes or forms that we missed in the posing session. Photos are also very helpful later in the casting process, especially if any retouching is to be done.

Once the best pose has been selected, custom fixtures, braces and pads may be made to help support the model and reduce fatigue during the bodymolding session. For best results, it is important that the model feels calm, relaxed and attractive during the molding session, and is able to hold the pose for 30-40 minutes without discomfort.

If the bodymolding session is to take place within the coming week, we may be able to complete this advance posing session during the initial consultation and commission signing. If not, we will schedule a posing session within a week of the bodymolding session.


Before your bodymolding session

If your pose will include the pubic region, please consider shaving the area or at least trimming it closely before your session. The same thing goes for any areas with longish hair, such as armpit hair or chest hair on men. "Peach fuzz" and other fine hair does not present a molding problem, but longer and coarser hair can. Short hair is prevented from sticking with oil or body lotion, and is usually not visible in the finished bodymold.

If you're not interested in shaving or trimming these areas, we do have a couple of options. If the hair is not too voluminous we can fill it in with a hair styling glue, and even "style" it as desired (this can add significant time to the bodymolding session). This will prevent the molding materials from getting intertwined in the hair and sticking. With a thicker hair mass, we can wet the area with petroleum jelly or hair conditioner, and then apply plaster gauze over the area first. Like the first option, this will prevent the molding materials from intertwining with the hair and sticking. With either method, the bodymold will capture the shape and texture of the hair mass, and this will be featured in the finished casting unless we sculpt it out in the re-touching phase (not that there is anything wrong with it showing!).


Preparing for the bodymolding session

Please wear comfortable clothing that you don't care too much about. Old sweats might be a good choice. We will try to protect your skin and clothing outside of the area we're molding, but sometimes "drips happen," and some molding materials (like plaster) may not be removable from fabric. If you will be standing, the same thing goes for the shoes you bring (if you feel you'll need shoes at all).

You are encouraged to bring anything to the bodymolding session that will help you be comfortable. This can include a robe, music CDs, beverages, snacks, etc. (we will have drinking water on hand). You may also bring a friend to take photos or provide support. Some models might like to have a friend hold their hand while their face is being cast. Please instruct your guest to not make you laugh during the process, and to not distract the artists with too much conversation while they're concentrating on the work at hand.

When you arrive, the studio will be approximately 75 degrees for your comfort and preparations for the session will be underway. For torso poses, you should promptly remove all clothing in the affected areas so that your skin will have a chance to release any indentations caused by clothing contact (this is where you may want the robe). It's best to not wear undergarments or tight-fitting clothing for one hour before the session. If you're wearing any makeup in the areas we'll be molding, please remove it at this time.

Jewelry should also be removed in the affected areas. There may be some instances where jewelry can be included in the bodymold, but if it is desired in the artwork we will generally add it in the intermediate wax stage described above.

While we're making final preparations, you may be asked to apply a lotion or conditioner to the skin and hair in areas we'll be molding. This aids in releasing the mold from your body with minimal effort or damage to the mold. For skin, we have baby oil and also a healthy coconut-based skin lotion, but feel free to bring your own lotion. If we're molding the face, we will apply a lotion or conditioner to your eyelashes, eyebrows and the edges of your hair, and fit you with a shower cap or swim cap to protect your hair.

If the pose calls for casting the mouth or face, you will be unable to verbally communicate with us once the mouth is covered. For your comfort and safety, before we begin applying materials we will agree on some clear non-verbal cues you can use to either express discomfort or request an immediate bail-out from the process. The need for a bail-out is unlikely, but your safety is paramount and we want to be prepared for anything that might call for a rapid termination of the process and removal of the materials. Some models feel relaxed and secure in the envelope of the mold, and some may feel a bit of claustrophobia. If you are concerned about how the process will feel to you, you might want to bring a friend to hold your hand and reassure you.

At this point we will have you get into the pose for a last-minute check of the look and any special braces or pads. Then you will have an opportunity to relax, stretch and use the restroom. Once we start mixing the molding material, the work will commence very quickly and you need to be ready in the desired pose.


Applying the materials

The first material we will apply is a dental-grade alginate, made from the seaweed kelp. This material is very non-toxic and skin-safe, and will be applied at ~80°F for your comfort and to prevent goose-bumps. The alginate we use features a pleasant spearmint aroma. We only have about 5 minutes to apply the alginate before it begins to cure to a rubbery state, so we will be working quickly at this time. The alginate will be smoothed onto the body with a motion that forces air bubbles out and away from your features. We may shake you around a bit, and you need to do your best to hold the pose without slipping.

Before the alginate hardens completely, you will feel fingers pressing all over you as we force fibrous materials into the outer surface of the alginate. These fibers will help the subsequent plaster layers adhere to the alginate "print coat."

Next, we will begin applying strips of plaster gauze wetted with warm water. You will feel light pressure all over during this process, and again it is important that you hold the pose without slipping or losing the desired form. After a few minutes you will begin to feel the first layer of plaster getting stiff all around you. As we continue you will feel the mold getting stiffer and heavier, and you will feel us tapping on the mold to check for the desired thickness and hardness. The harder the outer shell gets, the more it will support you, and the more you can relax and stop worrying about rigidly holding the pose.


Removing the mold

Once the plaster shell is done, we will begin removing the mold from the model. What we have, in effect, is a giant , custom-fit suction cup attached to the body. Releasing the mold is mainly a matter of introducing air between the skin and the alginate. We will first release the mold perimeter by inserting moistened fingers between the skin and the alginate. Once the perimeter is released we will ask you to slowly begin pulling your bodily features away from the alginate while we support the mold and gently pull. Extremities such as fingers should be gently flexed until you feel them release. If your face is involved, you can wiggle your lips free, flex your face muscles and even blow air out of your mouth to help your face pulll free. At this point the mold should readily fall off into our hands. It is important that the releasing process be done slowly and deliberately to minimize the possibility of damaging the delicate alginate layer.

After we admire the new bodymold for a minute or two, we will help you remove any excess alginate or plaster drippings from your skin. There are usually some light crusties lingering where the mold edges were, which should easily scrape off your oiled skin. Crusties in the hair are carefully pulled out with a flea comb. You are welcome to take a shower before you dress, if you like. Before you leave, we'd love to take a few photos of you holding your new lifemold.

At this point the model's work is done until we have a positive casting ready to show. We will proceed promptly with casting a wax or plaster positive fom the bodymold, as this needs to be done before the alginate begins shrinking and cracking as it dries out. The rest of the process is described in the about page.


Thank you for you interest in Essensual Life Sculpture! If you have further questions, please don't hesitate to contact Alan or Doug.




about | gallery | modeling | artists |  home


All materials ©2005 Essensual Life Sculpture