How To Make Botanical Plaster Cast Tiles with Flowers

May 26, 2020

 

I came across this craft a few weeks ago and think I may have actually gasped – incredible diy fossils full of botanical beauty! I first came across the idea via a defunct workshop link, then I found artist Rachel Dein who’s beautiful and perfect work may have started this trend, a quick search on Pinterest found loads of people are doing it, why have I never come across this before?! You may have noticed, I’m more than slightly obsessed with the forms of nature and collect things to bring the outside in all the time. So, when I saw this activity I knew I had to have a go.

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There was a bit of trial and error with this one, it took 4 attempts til I had a tile I was happy with, and I still haven’t perfected it, but it’s certainly a craft I intend to carry on making, once I’ve foraged the exact pieces I want. Really delicate flowers are tricky, conversely dried ones can get stuck in the clay and ruin the impression, on the whole I found that architectural and densely detailed ones do best. After having a few attempts at this I’m going to share progress of where I went wrong alongside what I found worked to hopefully guide you to avoid the mistakes I made!

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The flowers that I think work well in what I categorise as densely detailed stems are chive flowers, lavender, Pennisetum grass and thistles (though you will spend a lot of time picking out debris from thistles with tweezers before you’re ready to cast). For foliage I found heather, mint and the dried leaves of astrantia work really well.

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What you will need:

  • Flowers (see notes above for what works well)
  • Clay
  • Plaster of Paris 
  • A bowl to mix that you don’t use for other purposes
  • A rolling pin (I found my wooden kitchen one far more effective than stone craft rollers)
  • A sheet to protect the surface you’re working on
  • An old magazine

Method;

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Roll your clay;

Roll out a piece of clay insuring that it has a flat surface (this part is crucial, as I learnt to my cost when my first tile picked up surface texture I wasn’t expecting!). Cut clay to the size of your desired tile, you will use these off cuts of clay to create a margin to hold the plaster later.

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Arrange flowers and roll out design;

Arrange your flowers on the clay and position in in a pattern you are happy with using a variety of different shapes. Place a piece of baking parchment on top of your clay tile and a glossy lifestyle magazine on top of that. Apply firm but gentle pressure with the rolling pin, remove magazine and parchment straight away and check the indentations. At this stage you can carefully press any buds that haven’t gone in evenly but be gentle about this and try not to touch the clay.

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Remove flowers and any left over debris;

Remove the floral samples using a pair of tweezers to gently remove any debris that does not come out with the bloom on initial pull. Again, be careful not to touch the clay as this could alter the smoothness of the surface.

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Create border for plaster of Paris;

Attach a border to your tile with the offcuts of clay you saved earlier using your fingers to adhere these edging pieces to the tile so that it is proofed from possible leaks.

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Mix your plaster;

Mix up your plaster of Paris in a container you won’t use for food purposes. I asked google for help with this and stuck to that ratio 2:1 of plaster to water. The success of plaster of Paris is all in the mixing. Add the powder slowly and evenly as you would decorating a cake. Tap the bottom of your container to distribute the plaster, mixing with a spoon for the last third of the mix, but do this gently, the chief aim of mixing plaster of Paris is to avoid air bubbles.

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Pour plaster and leave to dry;

Pour the plaster of Paris mixture over your clay tile and leave to dry. This should take about 20 minutes at room temperature. When it feels set, gently lift away one of the side guards to check, when everything is set remove all clay from tile.

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My first attempt required a lot of cleaning up on the surface, more than was possible, highlighting the need for a smooth surface.

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Perform any last minute touch-ups;

With some water in a bowl and a jay cloth gently remove any remnants of clay from your plaster tile, remembering that a light touch is optimal as you don’t want to dull any of your flower details.

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Leave to dry and sand as desired;

Leave to fully dry for a week, you can now sand around the edges for a straight tile, although I rather like them rustic.

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Where I went wrong;

Finding your perfect blooms will probably take some trial and error, I have already explained the varieties that worked for me above, as a general rule don’t choose anything too delicate or anything dried that has a bulky bloom (seed heads just crumbled into a terrible mess for me). Work your clay a little first to endure an even surface when you roll it. And finally pray that you won’t get air bubbles! Good luck, I’d love to hear how you get on if you try to make one of these. 

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