Concrete leaf casting

29 05 2008

Debbi and I have been making these concrete leaf castings for several years now, and my Garden Club members have also tried their hand at it. There are many sites that show how to make them. This one has step-by-step instructions with photos.

Since most of the leaves we create are smaller, we don’t often do the chicken wire reinforcement. Larger elephant ears do require a bit of reinforcement, though, and we have made some of those (the larger they are, the more likely you’ll need two people to move it when it’s dry!). Most of the ones we have done are made with leaves from hostas, pokeweed, grape leaves, caladium leaves, and smaller elephant ears. Leaves that have nice, deep veins work best. If you want to hang your leaf on a fence or wall, insert a curved piece of clothes hanger or thick wire (formed into a loop) into the back before the leaf is cured.

Artists Little and Lewis (http://www.littleandlewis.com/) suggest using powdered pigments to color your concrete before creating the leaves. Read more about their approach by going to www.marthastewart.com . Do a search for “concrete leaf casting” to find the segment where Little & Lewis discuss leaf casting and list supplies.

We haven’t tried the “color-in-the-concrete” approach yet. We do ours in the natural color and then paint after curing is done. Our favorite style is to paint the front and back with black acrylic paint, then rub on powdered metallic powdered pigments (the type often used in Sculpey jewelry projects). We used the Pearl Ex powdered pigment series, and we find silver, gold, bronze, blues, greens, and purples work much better than the pastel colors. We only apply the additional coloring and metallic powder to the front. The back remains black only.

Check out Pearl Ex pigments on the Jacquard Products website.

I buy my pigments from Michael’s or A.C. Moore Craft Store. They sell them in sets of 12 different colors, or you can buy a larger bottle of one color. It doesn’t take much to cover the leaf. We use a soft cloth to rub in the pigments, which are very concentrated and go a long way. It is necessary to paint the leaf black (or a dark brown) in order for the metallic pigments to be intense in color.

If you try this style, you’ll need to seal your leaf with an outdoor spray sealant to keep the pigment from rubbing off. The metallic pigments are stunning! Don’t expect them to hold up 100% in direct sunlight over a few years, though. The paint will chip a little but you can always paint over it and do it again to freshen it up. They still look good chipped and faded, though…sort of a shabby chic, relic-look! And you can try a new color scheme the next time around. If you hang or display yours indoors, you’ll still need to seal the pieces so they can be handled. And they certainly won’t fade as soon if they’re used as indoor art.

Here’s another posting I found that lists supplies, steps, and shows leaves painted with acrylic or latex paint.

http://www.garden.org/regional/report/arch/inmygarden/2527

The good news: supplies for this project are CHEAP, CHEAP, CHEAP and the results are incredible! The downside? Those bags of cement/quickrete, etc. are HEAVY!

UPDATE: Thanks to Kim, a fellow garden blogger, for this link to Craig Cramer’s blog, “Ellis Hollow.” Check out his advice here.

© Cindy Dyer. All rights reserved.

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35 responses

30 05 2008
Stacy

Ok, those are absolutely gorgeous.

31 05 2008
Pam/Digging

I’ve never seen them done with metallic colors before. They’re gorgeous!

1 06 2008
Kim

These are GORGEOUS and something I might be able to do – now to find some big leaves . . . . . . Thanks for sharing this great technique.

1 09 2008
roger

We make fountains from rhubarb leaves and use a product called Vinyl Concrete Patch.
Has consistinency of flour and just add water. 40# bag at Home Depot. No grittyness to the surfaces of leaves.

1 09 2008
roger

I have pics of some of our fountains. Just email me and subject line—fountains.

8 09 2008
Phillip

This has long been on my “things to do” list. I can’t wait to try it. I have the Little and Lewis book and am just amazed at what they have done.

10 10 2008
Lisa

Hi, I just ordered some of those metallic powders from jacard. Those leaves are BEAUTIFUL!… I am having a very difficult time however with the leaves I made already with the paint peeling. I read on more then a few sites to use spray acrylic like rustoleum or krylon. So I did. And I get peeling. What am I doing wrong? I give each leaf at least 5 coats. Let them dry and I am getting peeling on the ones for my pond. The constant water running over them disintegrates the acrylic so fast in less then a couple weeks. I need some advise. The leaves that just sit pretty in the garden seem to be doing fine. just the ones that have constant water in them peel. Any suggestions or advise?

10 10 2008
Lisa

Sorry, should have asked in the last comment I sent. But, how to apply the metallic powder? use a brush or what? thanks

11 10 2008
cindydyer

Hi Lisa,

You’re not doing anything wrong! I get the same peeling effect on mine that are positioned near the pond, too. I don’t have water running over them, but they still must absorb more moisture than the ones set up in “dry” areas in the garden. You can “refresh” them each year (even if it is a hassle). I’ve done that a few times. I am looking for some alternative sealant to solve just that problem. I’m getting that same problem you are despite the fact water isn’t running over them. The difference is that the peeling doesn’t start in a few weeks…the finish has lasted at least 6 months before I see a little peeling (and it’s just a little here and there) on any of the leaves. I’m not sure we can solve the problem with it peeling if there’s constant water running over them. Can you photograph a sample leaf that has the problem and e-mail that to me for review? We’ll figure out something for both our problems!

Cindy

11 10 2008
cindydyer

Lisa,

Forgot about your second question. I start with a cheap foam brush but end up using my fingers (don’t know if that’s a health hazard or not). You could start with the brush (a little goes a LONG way with the metallic powders) and then use your fingers to really rub it in.

31 01 2009
Pam Robinson

I would like to see Rogers’ fountains, but I can’t access his e-mail.
I tried the metalic power last year, and have some beautiful leaves. Everybody loves them. Gave away quite a few last year to friends and family. Thanks for the tip. Love your website.
Thank you Pam R.

18 02 2009
Pam Robinson

Hi Cindy,
I would like to see Roger’s fountains, but his name is not linked to his e-mail. Is it possible to get his e-mail? Also, I corrected my website address, don’t know what I was thinking. Can’t wait for Spring and my plants to start growing, I am excited to start “leafing” again. I have found so much useful information about leaf casting that this year will be better than last. Thank you so much for all the information and tips. My favorite part is painting the leaves. Each one is so different, even the “mistakes.”
Hoping to hear from you soon,
Pam

19 02 2009
cindydyer

Hi Pam,

When you inquired about the broken link awhile back, I went and checked it out, too. I don’t know any alternate link. I found that in my own searches and added it to the posting. Let me see if I can find out some more about him and I’ll get back to you. I’m anxious to start making leaves again in spring, too! Do you have photos of the ones that you have done? I’m glad my notes have inspired you! That’s what I’m here for. ;-)

5 06 2009
Deborah

great site, love all the info! I am hoping to start the cement leaves, and lots of information has been provided. Thanks

Deborah

27 06 2009
Lisa Rivers

I have been doing concrete leaf casts for about a year and have just run into my casting cracking during the curing phase. Help!

27 06 2009
cindydyer

Hi Lisa,

Are you making them in the shade or in the sun? Direct sun and heat will interrupt the chemical curing process of concrete, causing cracks to form. Plastic covering will help. It is better to cast in the shade.

The hardening time is about 24-48 hours. You should go out and mist them occasionally. I’ve also ready that the concrete must be consistently wet. Dry-out time weakens the concrete. Some people put submerge the leaves for 4-5+ days in a water bath and swear that strengthens the concrete. Others claim that it should be more like 28 days! I’ve read that they use those inexpensive plastic or fiberglass kiddie pools to do the submerging. I’ll be doing that the next time I cast leaves! If they’re larger leaves, you should also reinforce with fiberglass tape and/or wire.

10 09 2009
Beth

Your concrete casting are beautiful and i am very excited to try them with my crafting group at the nursing home. Not quite sure what you use as your “outdoor spray sealant” what exactly is it, a water seal? also i have some ladies who would like to use theirs as a candy dish. is the sealant fool safe?

10 09 2009
cindydyer

Hi Beth,

Thanks, Beth. I believe I got the sealant from Michael’s. Look for something that seals pots (terracotta). I used a matte finish spray. If you paint them and add the metallic powders, you will DEFINITELY need to seal them as the powder would rub off otherwise. If you paint them in solid acrylic (or a mixture of solids), you wouldn’t necessarily have to seal them IF they’re used indoors. Outdoors is a whole ‘nother arena.

I wouldn’t put unwrapped candies in the dish, though. I’m pretty sure it wouldn’t qualify as food safe. Let me do a little research and see what I can find that would make it food safe for unwrapped candies (such as mints and nuts).

Good luck with your project with the ladies! If you get some shots, please do forward them (along with a story, if you like). I’d love to post something on my blog!

I’ll get back to you with more notes!

28 06 2010
Mountain Nana

I would like to make a three tier concrete leaf water feature. I’m not sure how to make the base for the casted leaves and run the tubing from the bottom to the top. This water feature will be placed on an existing concrete pad and I would like to make it around 45″ tall.

1 07 2010
Cindy

a friend of mine makes leaves she uses an Acid wash and a release powder have you ever used something like this

9 07 2010
Tina

Question on the painting of leaves before applying the pigment: Do you allow the black or brown paint dry completely before rubbing in the pigment? Or is it still wet when you apply the pigment? Any additional details would be much appreciated…we’ve been making our leaves for years, but would like to try the metallic pigment on black paint…
THANKS!

3 08 2010
celtickath

These leaves are incredible! Looked at Michael’s, Hobby Lobby, and could not find the metallic pigment. Only a liquid. Also, could you use other dark colors, like a navy blue? And what do you use to put on the metallic paint? I’ve used a q-tip, sponge, and nothing looks like the pictures – DARN!! Help would be good here, as I’ve used up the couple of leaves already made up. Can you just paint over the mistakes, and make them good again?????

3 08 2010
cindydyer

Hi and thanks! Yes, you can also use metallic paint—I haven’t tried that, but I’m sure it would work just as well (and might be a bit cheaper and less messy than powdered pigments). I always paint my leaves flat black—cheap black acrylic paint—either craft paints or artist acrylic paints, whichever you have and whichever is cheapest (since you’re going to cover them up). I’ve tried other colors and black works the best if you’re going to smudge in the metallic powders. After the black base coat is dry, I use a slightly dampened cloth and/or my fingers to rub in whatever metallic pigments I want to use. Sometimes I do them solid, sometimes I do them variegated with different metallic powders. I always seal the piece with an outdoor sealant. And YES, you can definitely paint over them. I’ve done that before. If they are meant for outside display and will be subject to the elements, then they WILL fade, even if you sealed them. I’ve taken them in, cleaned them off, repainted them black, then started the process all over again—so yes, you can paint over your mistakes and even jazz up a leaf that has been “weathered.” FYI—I’m not using metallic paint (although, as I mentioned, you probably could). I’m using Pearl Ex pigments, which you should be able to find at Michael’s. If you still can’t find them, get them from Jacquard (http://www.jacquardproducts.com/products/pearlex/powders/sets.php), the company that manufactures them. I don’t want to know if using your fingers is a health hazard—that’s how we rub the powder in best! You’ll probably find the POWDERED metallic pigments in the sculpey clay aisle, most likely. Hope these tips help!

9 11 2010
Britt

I am so inspired. My friend and I are going to make some leaves on Friday. Plan to use white portland cement and colorants. We are very excited.

Roger posted that he uses Vinyl Concrete Patch instead. Does anything need to be added to the mix before the casting?

28 11 2010
Kim Medlin

The concrete cast leaves are gorgeous. We cast about 8 elephant ear leaves and they turned out awesome. We are considering making them and selling them at trade shows and such. Has anybody tried that? How much do they sell for? Any ideas/hints? Thanks!

1 07 2011
Judy Strickland

Hi, I have a question — I read and followed the step by step instructions for making the leaf castings and made about 5 of them last summer. Sadly only one of them remains. I am not sure what you consider “small” but mine were about 18in in length. I used concrete, allowed it to dry over night and then to cure slowly inside my house so it could dry thoroughly and not so quickly our hot Florida sun. When picking up a couple of the, supporting them all the time, they just shattered in my hands. Only one of them survives. I don’t know what in the world I did wrong. Can you help me figure it out? They were so beautiful and took so much time to make — I was brokenhearted. Is there another product other than regular concrete — something like “Quickcrete” or something like that which might work better? Any suggestions will be much appreciated. Thanks, Judy

1 07 2011
Judy Strickland

I’d like to add that these were thoroughly dry when they shattered and were at least 2-3 months old. Only my first attempt survives. Thanks for any help.

18 08 2011
Holly

I have finished casting several large and small leaves. They need to cure for several more days/weeks. I want to paint them and use the metallic paints you’ve described. My question is: Do I apply concrete sealant before or after I paint the leaves? They will all be outdoor pieces. THANK YOU.

18 08 2011
cindydyer

Hi Holly,

I paint the leaf black and THEN paint the metallic…and THEN I seal it. This way, the black paint will kind of soak in and give you a good solid base for the metallic paint. When you’re done and the final coat of metallic paint is dry, then I would seal it. I’d love to see the results of your efforts. I’ll post them on this blog! If you learn any new tips or tricks that you’d like to share, I’ll include those, too.

8 01 2012
Marva Ramsey

How can I access photos of some of the fountains? We have made our leaves and want to make fountains for some of our master gardener projects. Need ideas…

1 06 2012
Kat Ford

I just wanted to put in a comment to help those looking for the pigments. I went to Michaels today and it took FOREVER to find, but the manager helped me the pearl ex pigments (they only had the 12 packs no individuals) were in with the embossing powders! So, if you guys are looking at MIchaels look there! The first employee couldn’t help me but the manager suggested looking there and we found them! Can’t wait to try it (my base coat is drying now!) I have been using Metallic paints on mine and they work beautifully. Feel free to add me on facebook if anyone wants to see photos!

29 06 2012
Nan

Does anyone now how to stagger three of the concrete leaves to make a water feature that begins at the top of one leaf, downward to the second than the third?

1 10 2012
susan sheldon nolen

Wow, these are amazing!

10 11 2012
Lisa Walters

Hi Cindy,

First I have to let you know your leaves are beautiful! This will be my second year making them as well. My first question for you is do you use any fortifer I have seen on some sites that chicken wire is used but wondered what else could be used. I really don’t have another question but you must also be an artist because I try to blend my colors as well but mine don’t even measure up to yours!!! Great job!! Thanks for taking the time to read and hopefully answer my question!!!

25 06 2013
Denise Chevarie

This would look good in a flower bed , wow amazing ;)

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