A couple of weeks ago, I had the idea to try making some leaf impressions in clay to create something that looked a little bit like leaf fossils. I was really happy with how they turned out, so I thought I would share with you how I made them.
Here are some of the things you will need for this project: an assortment of pretty, highly textured leaves for the impressions, waxed paper, air dry clay, a rolling pin or brayer, a dowel for making a hole if you want to hang it, a paint brush and some water. Going out into the woods and treasure hunting for leaves with interesting shapes and textures is the most fun part of this step!
Follow the instructions on your clay to get it to a workable consistency. For me, this involved kneading the clay with damp hands to get it soft enough that it was no longer crumbly and was very malleable. Just be careful not to add too much water, because that can cause cracking as it dries. Form your clay into small balls about 1-2" in diameter. This really depends on how large you want your ornament to be and how large your leaves are. As you can see, this is a bit messy, so you might need .....
To enlist the help of a little friend to kindly hold your rings so you don't get them all gunky with clay. Luckily, Mr. Troll was more than willing to help out as always :)
Place a ball of the readied clay between two sheets of waxed paper and roll out into whatever shape you would like. I wanted mine to be round, so I rolled out the clay just as I would a pie crust, turning it slightly as I rolled it out so that it would be an even thickness all around. Then I dipped the leaf in some water, let the excess water drip off and pressed the back side (the veiny part) into the clay. I put the top piece of waxed paper back on top and rolled over the leaf with the brayer and pressed it a little bit with my finger to get a good, deep impression. Then I removed top piece of waxed paper and carefully lifted the leaf by its stem and voila! A lovely leaf impression. You can use the paintbrush dampened with water (not too wet!) to smooth out the clay around the leaf before you lift it off if you want a nice smooth background.
Mr. Troll says this one is his favorite. We made six in all.
Here they are looking like a tray of cookies. The piece of waxed paper on the bottom really helps when lifting them and handling them. As you can see, mine are not perfect! But I like that handmade look, so I was happy with them. I placed them in a cardboard box and covered them lightly with a plastic bag to keep them from drying too quickly and cracking. It took them about a week to cure inside the plastic bag, then I removed the bag and let them sit for another day or two before sealing them with a clear, matte acrylic spray sealant.
To finish them off and give them more of a fossilized look, I "stained" them with some very thin washes of acrylic paint, first in Hooker's green and then with raw umber. The raw umber really sank into the vein impressions and brought out the details quite nicely.
Some parts of the clay soaked up the paint more than others leaving an uneven look which I hadn't predicted, but I quite like. Mr. Troll is happy with how his ferny one turned out. I think it's my favorite too!
Here is the completed batch. As you can see, each one is quite different. I think they do look rather fossil-y which is what I was hoping for. This is a fun activity to do with the kids too. One of my sons did the silver maple (bottom row far left) and the other son did the small fern one on the bottom right. They enjoyed the whole process almost as much as their mother! And the great thing is that this is a very forgiving medium. If you're not happy with it, you can just squish it back into a ball and start over - very nice when working with kids!!
So, if you find some beautiful autumn leaves this year that you would like to "preserve" for posterity, why not give these faux fossils a try? Let me know if you do. I'd love to see what you come up with!
Happy leaf hunting, everyone!!!