Tuesday, March 17, 2015

making tracks: a plaster cast tutorial

One of our favorite things to do on walks is look for tracks.  Since most wild animals are active during the early morning or evening - times when we're usually cozy at home - tracks are one of the best ways to observe who's been there and what they've been up to.  

A few weeks ago, we discovered several sets of deer tracks on the sidewalk outside our house.  We had so much fun following the tracks, imagining the family of deer that walked by while the neighborhood slept! 
I decided to build on this interest by making plaster casts of a few tracks with Elise that we could bring home. Something to actually hold in our hands and study!  

Here's how we did it:

What you'll need:

  • plaster of paris - we made 4 tracks and used about 2 pounds
  • water - we used less than our 32 oz bottle held
  • long strips of poster board - ours were about 3 x 18 inches 
  • paper clips - for fastening the poster board strips around the tracks
  • disposable bowls - for mixing the plaster
  • spoons - also for mixing the plaster
  • not pictured:  paper towels (this project is NOT as clean as I've made it look!!!) and bags for cushioning and transporting the finished casts 

^^ Find a track - the deeper and more well-defined the better! ^^

^^ Bend a strip of poster board into a ring slightly larger than the track, secure with a paper clip, and push securely into the ground. ^^

^^ Use a spoon to measure the plaster of paris into a bowl - we weren't too exact!  ;) ^^

^^ Add water and mix well - the ratio should be about 2 parts plaster of paris to 1 part water. ^^

^^ Gently pour the mixture over the track - an inch or so will do. ^^

^^ Have a snack - the plaster of paris will take about a half an hour to set. ^^

^^ We had hoped to make a Rosie track, but she was not cooperative - imagine that! ^^

^^ Use the trowel to loosen the soil around the track, and lift it out - wow!  ^^

^^ We let our casts set completely overnight before giving them a good scrub! ^^

^^ Guess that track!  We've been using our field guides to identify the tracks and read about the animals who made them.  I haven't done it yet, but I've been thinking about making a set of animal cards to match with the tracks...  I'll be sure to share them if I do! ^^


  1. Ohh I've been wanting to do exactly this with Finn for a while!! I hadn't thought about how to keep the plaster together with strips of card though, thanks for that tip. I need to print some track cards to keep with us and refer to on our walks. We have made a few handprints in this way before using clay to push his hand into.

    1. You should do it! It was way less fussy of a project than I thought it was going to be. Our plaster mixtures were all totally different consistencies, and they all worked! Also, the tracks we found were in sand, which I wasn't sure would work - but even the tiniest details, like the creases in the goose's webbing showed up. What kind of tracks do you see on your walks? Can't wait to see how your casts turn out! Also, I'm going to remember your idea of making casts of handprints in clay - I bet those are really well-defined.


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