Okay, so who *doesn’t* love tiny handmade things? (This blog post probably isn’t for you.)
If you’ve ever wondered how my tiny cameos come into existence, you are definitely in the right place! In this post I will be talking about my process for the frames and paintings that go in them, from designing and sculpting to the finished little treasures that I never want to let go of! Bare with me here, as the actual process bit is a little long.
Before I begin, I would like to thank ArtResin who has graciously sent me a kit to write my post with. I currently use their resin exclusively for my pieces, as through many trials and errors with other brands I’ve found it’s the easiest, most predictable resin to use that has a super clean finish, and blends really well with colors.
These little guys have been a passion project of mine for the last five years or so. I was inspired by Mab Graves and her miniature paintings, as well as a gothic jewelry line called Dahlia Deranged that has rather large cameos with little resin skulls and bugs on them. My first few frames were fairly crude, but I’ve never been much of a sculptor so I was happy with them none the less. I also didn’t know how to go about encasing them when they were finished, so they were left with a thick coat of varnish and that was that. The beginnings were very humble, but most things seem to start that way.
I had stopped working on them for a while, feeling discouraged with my skill and the fact that there wasn’t much interest in them yet. But perseverance pays off! With a lot of practice and patience my sculpting and painting have improved, and now I can say I really do love these cameos. Don’t ever let skill discourage you, it’s something that you can fix with time and energy!
Now, to the good part! How they’re made:
To start, I like to sketch up little ideas for the frames. I use a lot of vintage cameo frames as inspiration, but as I am a little more weird I also tend to add a Tim Burton-esque feel to them. When I am happy with the sketch I move straight to sculpting. I used to use sculpey clay, but I found that it shrank during the curing process a little and that would mess up my final painting dimensions, so I switched to using monster clay. It can be weird to work with at first since you have to heat it up to soften it and work, but it’s actually really great to use.
When I’m ready to make my mold I like to spray a light coat of varnish on the clay, just to ensure nothing weird happens with the clay and the silicone. From what I gather it would be fine to use monster clay without varnish to make molds, but I like to be extra. I use old legos to build a little rectangle wall around the cameo about 2″ taller than the cameo to ensure I get a deep enough mold. For silicone I generally use oomoo 30 as it’s one of the more inexpensive and easy silicones to use and I don’t put super heavy use on them. I can get a solid amount of casts out of the mold before it starts to deteriorate. As always, when pouring stuff I like to go for the high and slow method that produces a thin stream of product to reduce bubbles.
After the molds are set (I like to take out the original the next day, then let them sit for another day just to be sure it’s really cured well), it’s time to cast!
Casting with ArtResin is super easy. It uses a 50/50 ratio of resin and hardener and has a lovely, slightly thick consistency. To prep the molds I use a mold release spray (the resin can stick to the mold a little otherwise, making it hard to pull them out, this can really ruin molds fast!) as the instructions on the can say. Then, I use a metallic powder and dust the inside of the mold. I like to be fairly generous but make sure there’s nothing loose in there afterwards.
I’ll mix up the resin usually right before I dust the molds with the powder, so after mixing it has time to sit for a minute and start doing it’s thing. To get the black I like I use a resin specific color additive, and literally only put like 2-3 drops in the resin part for a nice, opaque black. Do this before mixing in the hardener! I also like to listen to music when I mix, because I try to stir the resin and hardener together for the duration of a song to really make sure it’s all blended well. Badly blended resin can be a sticky disaster.
Once again, to pour I try to have a slow, high, small stream to reduce bubbles. I pour enough resin in each mold so it’s exactly level with the top of the mold, maybe a *hair* more, as with ArtResin it really sticks together well and doesn’t tend to run a lot. Sometimes I overfill too much, but as long as there’s enough resin for all the cameos I’m casting I’m not usually concerned about that, and just clean up the overflow as it happens.
After 24 hours of cure time, we have little cameos! I gently break the seal around the edges first, then carefully pull them out. Sometimes the edges aren’t entirely clean, so I use a dremel with a little sanding bit on it to smooth them out. Use a mask if you do this, resin particles are no good for your lungs!
Assembly time! To assemble the final pieces I usually save up a few paintings, as it’s easier to do a few at a time than just one. I’ll cut the paintings to size, then pick which cameos I think will look best with them color and theme wise. This is one of my favorite parts, to watch all the work come together is really magical!
I use an epoxy glue to adhere the paintings to the cameos, and once that’s dry (usually over night) I’ll then make up a batch of clear resin to pour over the top. Make sure your paintings are sealed well, because weird things can happen with the pigments if not! I like to try to get a nice dome effect with the clear coat, so my cameos all have a little bit of a lip to hold the resin in. Once poured, one of the most satisfying parts happens. Usually the resin has lots of little bubbles in it, so I take a little kitchen torch to them (just barely kissing the surface), and they almost instantly disappear! It’s really addicting to watch.
Once that layer cures, they’re all done! Now we have lovely little cameos to share with the world.
If you made it this far, thank you for bearing with me through that! Whew! That was a lot of explanation.
Want to check out my current cameo selection? Look no further!
If you have any questions, I’d be happy to answer them! 🙂
Thanks for reading!