Leaf Casting with Plaster of Paris

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Leaf Casting with Plaster of Paris on The Artful Parent

Leaf casting with plaster of Paris turns out to be as easy as playdough casting. And aboslutely beautiful! Here’s the gold-painted hosta leaf that I shared on Facebook and Google+ last night.

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After our plaster casting with playdough the other day, we were inspired to try again with nature items. We started with a nature walk around the garden and the girls filled their buckets with leaves, pinecones, stones, crabapples, seed pods, flowers, peppers, seed heads, and okra.

MATERIALS

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First we made playdough casts of the nature items…

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…and then decided to try leaf casting with plaster. I had seen tutorials for making leaf stepping stones with concrete and have been planning to do so all summer. But for some reason, the concrete kept being a barrier to making them. I’d have to buy it. And mix it. And concrete is unweildy… And, and…

But, we already had the plaster of Paris and it is so easy to mix up (two parts plaster to one part water), so we tried it first with a large okra leaf outside.

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And then with an assortment of leaves inside (placed over wax paper to protect the table). From left to right are a hosta leaf, an oakleaf hydrangea leaf, a fern frond, a perilla leaf, and two viburnum leaves.

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As before, we mixed the plaster of Paris in a gallon-sized ziplock plastic bag and snipped off the end to have control over it as I squeezed it out. I tried to just squeeze within the perimeter of the leaf, but it overflowed a bit onto the wax paper.

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Mostly I squeezed the plaster and Maia spread it around with a spoon.

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Maia and Daphne placed more leaves on top of the plaster for extra leaf prints and extra fun.

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Once the plaster of Paris had hardened, the kids pulled off the top leaves.

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Then we turned the plaster leaves over and pulled off the main leaves as well. This one is the oakleaf hydrangea.

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The hosta plaster leaf turned out really well, too.

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And the okra plaster leaf is amazing, but so large that pieces broke off.

We want to try this again, and I think that next time we’ll use something to help stabilize the plaster on the larger leaves. My idea was to spread a layer of plaster, then lay a piece of cheesecloth over the plaster, and spread another layer of plaster over that. And then maybe another piece of cheesecloth? Also, has anyone tried mixing glue with the plaster? I wonder how that would work…

If you have any ideas for stabilizing the larger plaster leaves, please let me know!

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We painted our plaster leaves with liquid watercolors. As you can see above, the fern never came out of the plaster. So now we know that ferns (at least this kind) don’t work well for leaf casting. But it’s still beautiful.

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See how colorful and vibrant the liquid watercolors are? They didn’t stay that way, sadly. The gold liquid watercolor paint stayed beautiful and perfect, but the rest of the liquid watercolors soaked into the plaster. We ended up re-painting the leaves with with BioColor paint after a few days (except for the leaves with the metallic watercolors).

I don’t have pics of the BioColor-painted leaves yet, but they are beautiful too and the paint stays on the surface of the plaster just fine (it’s not quite as translucent, though). You could also just dye the plaster with food coloring or something ahead of time if you wanted to. Or just use the metallic liquid watercolors. They really do look amazing on these leaves.

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Here Maia is arranging all the plaster leaves, pinecones, and other nature items on my piece of velvet for a photo shoot.

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Plaster oakleaf hydrangea and perilla.

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Plaster okra and hosta leaves.

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We can’t wait to do more of this leaf casting with plaster!

Maia has already pointed out which elephant ear leaf she wants to use. And, thinking ahead to Autumn, I want to make some leaves for a fall nature table and paint them in golds, reds, and yellows. And Maia wants to make some as Christmas ornaments. We always have lots of ideas…

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  1. says

    I live in the Philippines where I can buy only plaster of paris at industrial supply stores. They also sell PVA glue by the gallon to mix with the plaster of paris to give it more strength.

  2. says

    Since we did the leaf plaster casting over wax paper, there wasn’t any mess, really. Except for picking up the leaf bits afterward. Just make sure to toss any extra mixed up plaster of Paris in the trash and NOT down the sink (it will clog your drains if you try to wash it down the sink).

  3. April says

    Crayola makes that fluffy molding stuff- I forget the name- Model magic? Anyway, we’ve used that for leaf prints and it works really well. Esay, clean, light weight and can be painted. Plus, easy to add a hole to before it dries for ornaments, etc.
    Hmm maybe FIMO would work too?

  4. Susan D. says

    How long does the plaster take to dry? Your leaves turned out beautifully! I’d love to do it at the library, but the whole program needs to just be about an hour or so.

  5. K says

    We had a really hard time getting the leaves out of the plaster in a way that preserves the cast. Any tips?

  6. [email protected] says

    Sand works well to stabilize the leaves– you can use the texture, or cover w/Saran wrap. Also, spraying the leaves with a cooking spray will help as a release.
    I’m planning to do this as an activity with visually impaired seniors. Thanks for the inspiration!

  7. Rob says

    Could you bake them in the oven after the plster has dried to dry the stuck-on leaves then brush them away with a soft brush?

  8. Thalia says

    Alo! I am an art teacher from Athens, Greece, so glad to have discovered your site! I am thinking that a great & creative way to stabilize the plaster would be to create an accurate “dam” around the leaves’ shape using clay. I will definitely try this with my students. Thank you!

  9. says

    What a great idea, my son is really getting interested in nature at the moment so to decorate some plaster of paris leaves would be a great activity for us, thank you for sharing

  10. Laura Jean Moore says

    My mom is in a nursing home and ask me to try making something from plaster of paris. This will be perfect! Thanks so much for sharing!

  11. Karen says

    I make leaf castings with concrete and I use the screen material for a screen door, cut down to the size of the leaf, and that helps give a little extra structure to those brittle outsides of the leaf. One layer of concrete, then the screen material and cover with another layer of concrete and let dry. Not sure if you could try this with the plaster of paris but it might be worth a shot to try. You can by the screen material from any hardware store by the foot or yard. Good luck!

  12. ian says

    Glass fibre tape is good to add strength – you can get it from builders merchants as it is used for plastering to stop joints between plasterboard cracking when plastered over.