Life Casting & Cancer. A Cross Country Project.

Where to begin? I just moved to Austin from Chicago. Let’s start there. BUT before you go congratulating me on the move, or trash talking Chicago’s weather, I need to tell you that I love Chicago. I love its weather. I love everything about that city, and consider it to be one of the best places in the country (if not the world). I’m off track. My love for Chicago isn’t the point of this story. Not at all.

A couple of weeks ago, I got an email from someone who wanted to hire me to do a hand casting. This wasn’t just any hand casting, it was a casting of a little girl named Emily and her family. Emily has T-Cell Lymphoblastic Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma (a form of cancer). She has been battling this since 2011, and the most recent prognosis from her doctors was not good. Three family friends – Dawn, Brenda and Gina, reached out to me to do this casting for the family. The problem was – they were in Chicago.

The reason I moved to Austin was not to get away from Chicago winters. It wasn’t because I longed to have a thriving music scene (I had that in Chicago). The reason I moved to Austin is because in January of this year, I found out that my Dad has pancreatic cancer. He lives in Austin. So, now I live in Austin. As a matter of fact, my Mom is an eleven year breast cancer survivor. When she was diagnosed I knew nothing about cancer and cancer treatments. I was scared, but trusted that everything would be okay. She refused chemotherapy, and was treated with radiation and minor surgery. Had I known then what I know now, I don’t think my Dad would be in this situation. I’ll get back to that.

Here I am, just newly moved to Austin, and I get this emotional request from Chicago. I tried recommending someone in the area that could do the casting. Unfortunately, his studio was closed until after Easter. Things were getting anxious back in Chicago and Dawn asked if I could coach them through doing the casting on their own. I did. I sent here supply lists of everything she would need and where to get it. I sent her links to youtube videos, and my own step by step links. The day of the casting I did what I could to coach them over the phone. The plan was – they would do the casting, leave it in the alginate mold, and send it to me to demold and finish. Today, this arrived:


I would like to draw your attention to the bright orange sticker, and the smashed lower left hand corner. Anymore, I feel that a “FRAGILE” indication on a box is reason enough for a courier to smash the crap out of it. This package was destroyed by UPS, but I have had the US Post destroy several of my packages as well. If you are going to ship something, ALWAYS get insurance. Luckily, everything inside was fine.


This is what it looked like, fresh out of the box and still in the mold. Much of the “work” with life casting happens on the back end. The casting process, itself, is like playtime. Everyone stick your hands in the goo and have a party! After the plaster has set up, and the piece is demolded there is a ton of scraping, sculpting and sanding.



At this point, I have started to demold the piece. You can see some of the finger tips are missing, and will have to be sculpted in.



I have scrapped down the bottom so the base will be level. There are some bubbles and fingertips to be filled in later, but over all – it looks pretty good.



Here we see the top of the casting. It turned out really well. Dawn and Brenda did a fantastic job. Aside from the missing finger tips, which are common, the casting is in great shape. I use dental tools and files to clean up bubbles and imperfections in the skin. I also want to make the ends of the arms look a lot cleaner than they currently do.



At this point, I’ve clean off all the alginate, and pulled off the excess plaster bandage that comprised part of the mold.



Here we can see that all the surface bubbles have been taken care of. I’ve also started working on cleaning up the ends of the arms. Once the piece has dried out, I will be able to sand it, add some skin texture back in, and sculpt in those missing finger tips.


The casting is dry, so I begin the clean up process by sanding down the edges of the arms – making sure they are smooth.


Right now, the arms are looking pretty good, but there is still that issue I mentioned earlier about the finger tips . . .


Chris-Guarino-Hand-wreath-9Ugh. Is there anything worse than demolding a hand casting and discoing missing fingertips? Honestly, people, if you’ve gotten this far in this blog and can’t think of anything worse than missing fingertips in a life casting, I admire your life and encourage you to go back to the top of this blog and read more carefully. Missing fingertips are a pain, but I don’t lose sleep over them.

Chris-Guarino-Hand-wreath-10Here is one set – almost complete. I’ll refine them a little more tomorrow after the material has set up.

Chris-Guarino-Hand-wreath-11Here is another set. at this point, I have gone around the entire casting filling in bubbles, missing fingertips, and random holes. When this all sets up and is dry, I’ll go back over everything to add finishing touches and skin texture. Then I will clear coat it and get it ready for the molding process.

Chris-Guarino-Hand-wreath-12This posting is called “Life Casting & Cancer,” and I would be remiss if I focused on one more than the other. At this stage in the game, there probably isn’t a single person in these United States that hasn’t known someone with some form of cancer. I know several. Unless you are one of those people who think waiting in line at the post office, or finding the fingertips missing from your hand casting are the worst thing in the world, chances are – you know someone too. Before I get into this, I need to say that I am not a doctor, and this is not medical advice. It is my opinion, and it its information I found useful. Right now, I would like to share what I have found with you.

When I found out my Dad had pancreatic cancer, I was told his prognosis was 12 to 18 months with chemo, radiation, and surgery. It was 2 to 3 months if he did nothing. I waited for my parents to tell me the good news. Surely, there was more to that sentence. Something like, “But thanks to this great scientific breakthrough, we have the ability to blah, blah, blah, cure your Dad.” There wasn’t anymore to that sentence. Not in the world modern medicine.  I broke down. What else do you do in that situation? Its a fairly typical reaction.
But then, I got online.
See, when my Mom was diagnosed, the internet was in its infancy. It didn’t occur to me to turn to it for legitimate information. Things are so much different now, and that is a very, very good thing.

The first thing I typed in was “Curing pancreatic cancer.” That search lead me to one of the best cancer survivor resources I have found – There I found stories and videos of people who have healed their cancer through lifestyle change and nutrition. They did it in the face of the 12 to 18 month death sentence. Some of them have done it after their doctors have told them there is nothing more they can do for them. They did it by building their bodies up instead of tearing them down with poison. Not only did I find cancer survivors there, I found pancreatic cancer survivors there. This gave me hope, and opened my eyes to a world I did not know existed.

Through the site I learned about Dr. Gerson and his success healing cancer with his nutrition and detox based Gerson Therapy. If I found out I had cancer today, I would call Dr. Patrick Vickers at the Baja Gerson Treatment Center tomorrow.

I learned about all sorts of toxins in our daily environment that we can eliminate to make our bodies healthier. This list spans from the water we drink, to the soap we use, to the toothpaste we buy. Think about how many products you put on your skin, in your mouth and in your hair everyday. Did you know there is a carcinogenic agent on the receipts you get at the store? Maybe its time to go paperless.

What about our food? I used to think eating organic was a sham. I couldn’t understand why it cost more if they did less to it. Now I know the extra cost for healthy food far outweighs the huge cost of a cancer diagnosis. Most of the food in our grocery stores has been processed or modified in some way or another. We’re swapping nutrients for shelf life, and we are all starting to see the cost of this. We have one of the world’s highest cancer rates.

Okay, I want to stop this before it gets too preachy. The point is, if I was able to get this information when my Mom was diagnosed, we could have avoided this with my Dad. I’ll just say this, if you or someone you know has cancer, here are some things you should look into:

Gerson Treatment Center

American Anti-Cancer Institute

Those four sites are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to healing cancer. Please dive into them and share the things you learn with others. I also have just received permission to share Emily’s website on my blog, and if you are reading this, I encourage you to go to her site and send some love her way! Here is the link: Emily’s Entourage and on Facebook: Emily’s Entourage

Okay, its been a few days since I had an opportunity to work on this, but for simplicity’s sake, I’m just going to call it “Day 3.”

Chris-Guarino-Hand-wreath-13I’m going to produce multiple copies of this casting for the family, so I need to make a mold of the piece to do this. I start out by building a clay wall around the piece to contain the rubber of the detail layer.


Chris-Guarino-Hand-wreath-14Next, I add a thin layer of rubber to pick up all the little details of the piece. 


Chris-Guarino-Hand-wreath-15After the detail layer has set up, I add a thicker layer of rubber. Once this has set up, I’ll start building the mother mold.

I’m going to try to finish the mold tomorrow, but I have an art fair I’m doing this weekend that I need to get ready for, so I don’t know if I will get to it. I’ll guess we’ll find out tomorrow night! Are you on the edge of your seats? I am.

The mother mold is done! For this mother mold, I just used expanding foam. I needed something to give the rubber some support, but I knew I would only be replicating this a couple of times, so I didn’t want to get too elaborate with it.
Chris-Guarino-Hand-wreath-16Looks great, right? Don’t worry about it. Its not meant to be pretty, it just has to provide support (which it does).

Chris-Guarino-Hand-wreath-17Here we see the underside where I will fill the mold.

I’m using a material called Forton MG to cast the replica piece. Its a lot stronger than plaster and will last forever. While this one sets up in the mold, I’m getting the original plaster one ready to paint.
Chris-Guarino-Hand-wreath-19Here it is after I have applied the primer to it. This one will get finished up tomorrow, and after it dries it will be ready to ship out. The family has chosen a faux bronze finish for this piece.

DAY 5 (Four weeks later)
Is it already Day 5? Seems like only four weeks ago I started this post. Anyway, here is the finished piece. This is the original piece Dawn and Brenda sent me to complete. They have chosen a bronze finish which looks amazing. I put felt on the bottom of it so as not to scratch the underside or any surface they choose to put it on. They have chosen to have the Forton copy to be finished white. That one will get mailed out either today or tomorrow.


This has been quite a surreal experience, and I hope the efforts of all involved were able to shine a little bit of light into a dark situation. In closing, I would like to say – appreciate what you have, and recognize the value of the people in your life. These situations are becoming more and more prevalent these days.


Creating a new Maternity cast from a failed D.I.Y. attempt.


Many people fall victim to the “Do it Yourself” approach to life casting. Product descriptions make the process seem simple and encourage expecting parents to try it out themselves. The results are far from breathtaking. Many times the final product leaves the parents feeling cheated and ends up in a box where is proceeds to degrade and fall apart over the years. The most popular type of D.I.Y. Life Casting is Plaster Bandage. These are rolls of gauze bandages impregnated with plaster. You soak them in warm water, put them over Vaseline covered skin, and wait for them to set up. I’m going to show the steps I take to turn one of these monstrosities into a stunning maternity casting you can be proud of.

Step 1

Chris-Guarino-Life-Casting-step-1A client came to me with a mold she did of her pregnancy with a “do it yourself” plaster bandage kit six years ago. The mold was structurally sturdy, but relatively unshapely, and the inside was full of creases and cracks. I spent some time reshaping the mold, and building up weak spots to get it ready for casting.

Step 2


Here is the casting pulled from the mold. Already it looks better. I did some clean up work around the edges before taking this photo, but there is still a ton of work to do to get it to look like a proper life cast.

Step 3


Sanding, patching, filling, more sanding.
In this step, I try to get the cast as smooth as possible by sanding and rasping all the bumps and creases and filling in all the pits and dens. Due to the nature of plaster bandage molds, this is always the most time and labor intensive part.

Step 4


After thinking about whether to have me sculpt the nipples and other details back into the casting, the client decided to go for a more stylized approach and have everything sanded smooth.

Step 5


Gesso is applied to the casting to add in skin texture and disguise small imperfections.

Step 6


Here is the finished casting with removable cover. The client chose a porcelain white finish for the body, and a light grey for the cover. From this angle you can really see its shape.

There you ave it. Complete reshaping and reconstruction of a malformed and worn out casting. If you have ever done one of these, and would like me to make things right for you, let me know. The great part about this service is – we don’t have to reside in the same part of the country! In most cases, you can simply ship me your old casting, and I can send you back one you can be proud of. Check out more casting repairs here.

What is Life Casting?

It seems no matter where I go, when I tell someone that I am a Life Caster, they get get a look in their eye that tells me they think I just told them that I am a life coach. I am not. Thant’s why I carry business cards with photos of actual life casts on them so I can immediately put the matter to bed.

Life Casting is the process of creating a sculpture from the imprint or cast of a person’s body, face, hand, etc. The material used to take the casting is called alginate. It is nontoxic, skin safe and made from seaweed. It is the same material your dentist uses when he makes a casting of your teeth. One of the great properties of alginate is that it sticks to nothing – not skin, not hair, and not clothing. So you can get great casts with high amounts of detail over any surface, and it doesn’t hurt coming off!
Chris-Guarino-WiLC-2A very popular casting among expectant mothers is the Maternity Casting. This can be done in several different styles. The photo above shows a full torso maternity casting. Some couples opt for just a casting of the belly. I will to show some examples of different styles and finishes in future blogs, but for now, you can see a few on my portfolio page.

Chris-Guarino-WiLC-3Here we have the casting that grandparents go crazy for – the infant hand and foot casting! Infants are great, and they grow so fast. Life casting provides away to freeze time and cherish the delicate size and intricacies of your child’s hand (or foot) forever.

I know what you’re saying, you want to preserve your hands too! And why not? There are few things more touching than an infant’s tiny hand wrapped around his father’s finger, or a mother ‘s hands gently holding her daughter’s feet.

Chris-Guarino-WiLC-4Why not just get the who family together? The photo above shows a family of five who opted to have their hand casts put on a marble base. I am currently working on casting of another family that will be displayed in a shadowbox along with the infant’s portrait.

Chris-Guarino-WiLC-6Specialty hand castings are also popular keepsakes. If you have an object (toy, baseball, etc) you would like incorporated into your casting, it can easily be done.

Chris-Guarino-WiLC-7The Portrait Cast. Nothing captures a truer likeness of someone in a certain moment in time better than the portrait cast.

Chris-Guarino-WiLC-8Finally, I’d like to show some pet castings. Yes, pet’s can have life castings too! I have done castings of several dog’s, and believe it or not, even a cat. Of course prints are the easiest thing, but as long as the animal is well behaved, a great casting can be taken of their paws!

Well, that’s it for your intro to Life Casting! I hope you all had a good time.If you have any questions, comments, or would like to schedule an appointment – let me know here: