Tutorial Tuesdays: Molds and Foam

Hi Everyone! Each Tuesday I plan to post some sort of instructional guide of an art process that relates to the expedition in some way. This first one has to do with the JaRt 2013 contest we have going on.

It’s called Art Under Pressure, and basically the rules are: you make a sculpture out of Styrofoam, send us some pictures, we pick the winners, the winners send us the sculptures, and we send them to the ocean floor. The sculptures are placed inside of a mesh bag and the bag is attached to the camera rig that zips down to the seafloor to check the drill site out before we start drilling. The pressure of the transit sucks all of the air out of the Styrofoam and shrinks it. If you send an 8 oz cup down, it will come back up the size of a shot glass. Someone along the way had the bright idea to send one of those foam heads down, and it came back as a shrunken head. Pretty cool.

Over the years though, people have discovered some issues. The way the cups are placed as they are traveling has a lot to do with how they will shrink. Unless they are placed right side up, they won’t uniformly shrink. Most of the time, they balloon out in certain areas based on what part of the cup was facing up (…which could be a pretty cool effect if you gave it enough thought). Also, there is a desire to start making more complex sculptures to send down. The issue you can run into if you use glue: glue won’t shrink…so any area with it will just rip the cup to shreds. We don’t want that. And that’s assuming you’ve used a non-water based glue. Water based stuff won’t stick under that kind of pressure. So, if you’re planning on submitting a sculpture: Please remember to use permanent inks, markers, pens, etc. Otherwise it won’t work.

I found out about this contest and ‘volunteered’ to experiment with new shapes and materials. Really, this was just an excuse for me to play. I want to send stuff to the ocean floor, and shrink it! Who wouldn’t?!

I wanted to play around with some different types of foam to see if they would react the same way. In the past, someone tried sending that green florists foam down, and nothing happened to it. It’s probably too dense. My Pop and I played around with that injecting “Great Stuff! Foam in a Can” into molds. (You can find it at Home Depot. Very cheap).

“I left 4 heads for you on board. Please send them to the bottom of the ocean.” – taken out of context, I think this is one of the best lines I’ve ever received in an email.

OK. Let’s get started.

Materials Used

  • Great Stuff – insulation foam in a can
  • Dog toys from the Dollar Store
  • Cheap cupcake pans
  • Heavy duty chemical gloves – an old worn out pair
  • Scissors, Xacto knife
  • Grommet tool (not totally necessary, but fun to use since we had it)
  • Clamps

We just used whatever we had lying around, or found really cheap items from the store. The plan was to inject the foam into the toys, and the cut the plastic off once the Great Stuff! cured.

First we had to cut the squeakers out of the toys.


Then we filled the objects.



We clamped the gloves down to the end of the table to keep the foam from overflowing.

OK, lots of overflow. This stuff expands like crazy, so be careful.

And then, we waited. We let them cure overnight. But by the next morning, I couldn’t take it any longer and cut the glove open.

It was a slow process, since the foam stuck to the fabric of the glove. I couldn’t just rip at it because it would have taken chunks out of the foam. So, I used an Xacto knife and took my time.


When I sliced the pig open, I found that the foam hadn’t set up at all! I was disappointed. I really wanted to shrink a little pig.

Thought it was just a goof, so I tried the others.

None of them had worked! It was humorously frustrating. In the end, we successfully recovered 2 hands and 4 cupcakes.

The gloves may have worked because fabric is a woven material which has air holes to provide oxygen –  which apparently is essential for the chemical reaction in Great Stuff! The plastic toys didn’t have that, so no oxygen could get in. I’m not completely sure why the cupcake tins worked…


Anyhow. Find some molds laying around and inject them with this foam stuff. It’s a messy process, but as long as the foam cures it should work out. Try Jell-O molds, or some other kind of fabric shape…like a hat. Or stockings!

My next step is to send these down to the ocean floor, but that will have to wait for another Tuesday.

Write your questions in the comment section. I’m here to test out any idea you come up with. My next goal is to test some different glues 🙂

Happy experimenting!

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