Friday, October 5, 2012

Concrete Leaves...In Living Color

I posted about making cast concrete leaves this summer here,  and since then I've been back to Roberta Palmer's backyard classroom to make more.  Once you've taken a class, she lets you work on your own, making as many castings as you can fit in your three big cardboard take-home boxes.
The dark areas on the kiwi castings, above,  are leaf fragments that I haven't removed yet.  The kiwi leaves are fuzzy, have to be sprayed with cooking spray before casting, and are still really difficult to remove. But they are such a cute HEART shape!

I made 9 more, to add to the three that I already had.  My crazy friend Chris went with me, for her third visit, so I think her grand total was 20 leaves!  We both wanted to make plenty, both for ourselves and to give as Christmas gifts.  So the leaf count between the two of us is up to 32.  Okay, Chris decided to take Roberta's painting class, taking several leaves she'd already made and cured, to learn Roberta's techniques of masterfully painting with exterior latex paints, dry-brushing, staining, and finishing.  Roberta is quite a perfectionist, and the beautiful leaves she sells at many markets and shows around Portland are only her very best---resulting in 'rejects' that she literally throws away.  Seeing Chris's enthusiasm and growing 'collection', she offered all FIFTEEN of her 'seconds' to Chris for free!  Chris brought them all over to my house,  we looked them over, and said "How can these be REJECTS?? They are better than the ones we've made!!".  Now the total count between us is 47 LEAVES! (Obsessed much??)
The leaves starting to pile up on my kitchen table...
...and my kitchen island.  Boxes-full are out out of camera range.

Chris showed me the paint techniques she'd learned; I tried to follow, but just ended up doing my own thing and winging it.  I had many pots of latex paints left over from a mural project I did at my daughter's school, plus lots of acrylic craft paints, so we just plunged in and started painting.  Here are a few of the ones we've finished...I think we did almost twenty over two evenings!  Some we loved, some were a little funky, some we'll keep working on until we like them.  Here's what we've got so far:
There are bowl shapes, flat trivets, ones with a copper coupling to display later on a copper pipe, others with wire embedded for hanging.
These get several coats of outdoor sealant to help them withstand the elements.
It's really a lot of fun painting them.  The trick is to add subtle dry-brushing of a color over a dried color to blend it all, and that easy technique makes them come alive.

As much as I love the painted ones, I still like the look of those left in their natural concrete state.  Here are the first three I made, in my backyard (so many fall leaves fell in the past couple of days--it's a little messy out there right now...):
Our yard is kind of rustic and free-form, not a traditional 'manicured' space, and I like the look of the plain concrete with all of our rocks, etc.  But I'll probably put a few of the painted ones here and there as well.  I mean, there are 47 of them, for Pete's sake...I could practically pave the whole yard with them!
The rhubarb leaf on the right always fills with water and makes a sweet small birdbath.

I think we are done making any new leaves (ya think??), and will concentrate on painting the remaining ones.  We have our annual Holiday Boutique in November at Chris's house, and will have a few for sale there, but mostly they'll be gifts and 'keepers'.  
My dear goof-ball Chris with our 'mini masterpieces'!


  1. Now THAT'S what I'm talking about! Maggie (and Chris!) these are gorgeous with those perfect colors. Mine still have about 21 days to go on the cure and I am itching to try the painting. Thank you for sharing!

  2. Oh wow, these are stunning! You have an entire forest there full of these fabulous creations. I love the ones you have in your yard on a pole. They fit right in and look so natural. Love 'em all!

  3. Maggie I LOVE those leaves!!! How clever are you? OMG you have so many pretty ones! I'm with you... it'd be hard to choose just one. Hope your sale goes well. I need to get busy & get a web site/Etsy shop up. I have an amazing new line of ear rings & I just haven't had time to do what I need to do. I see you started an Etsy shop. How's that going? We're off for our annv trip & then home for yet more remodel work. Paint & carpet in the den & living room. After that NO MORE until after the holidays. Thanks for the sweet comments you left about the bathroom remodel. It's pretty & I LOVE it but, hated the process. Have a great week.

  4. margo, it's been a while since I've been home long enough to visit your blog (and indeed I'm presently at martha's house, NOT at home), but now that I'm looking at it, I can see that you've gone totally nuts. one of these days you'll say to people, "yes, I have about 500 cast concrete leaves in my house; who doesn't?" ... like my pottery: I can only (bear to) give only so many of them away! anyway, they're lovely, and I love them in your garden, as well as strewn all over your kitchen!

  5. Hi Maggie, I would love to learn how to do this. How do you seal the concrete to keep it from breaking?!?

    1. My mixture of 1 part Portland Cement plus 1 part Play Sand worked great for these smaller leaves. Some have been in my yard for 5 years with no breaking. No sealant on the plain concrete leaves outside, just left them natural, and there has been no breakage. I have a few painted ones outside as well, and I sprayed them with several coats of sealer/poly-varnish so the paint would last.

      From what I've read, if you were making a very large leaf casting, you would probably want to mix in some concrete reinforce (an acrylic additive) to your cement + sand mixture, plus maybe a wire mesh layered inside the concrete. I haven't made a really large casting (like from a Gunnera leaf, a couple feet across); mine have all been less than a foot across.

  6. HOW did you attach them to a post? I love those!! Did you put the post in while it was drying? THANKS!

    1. Hi Gretchen--
      I stuck a small copper pipe fitting piece into the wet cement while I was forming it. Then, when piece was all dry, I could just slip it onto a copper pipe in my yard. Got the pipe and the fitting in the plumbing dept of Home Depot, if I remember correctly, and my husband cut the long pipe into shorter 2-3' lengths. You can go to my previous post to see the small copper fitting on the bottom of the leaves. Look at the last few pictures on this post:



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