Create your own plaster plant castings, inspired by Victorian Cameo jewelry
In this article we will show you how to create your own plaster plant castings. The technique of plant plaster relief has been around for a long time and is a great way of creating beautiful keepsakes of seasonal plants. No need for fancy equipment or great skills.
Just follow our tutorial and have fun!
First, find here what you will need:
- Flowers or leaves
- Clay (pottery clay, not an oil-based clay or playdough)
- Plaster powder
- Wooden plank
- Rolling pin
- Plastic cups
- Face mask and gloves for your security
- Optional: Powdered pigment
Today I’m gonna show you how to make plaster castings of plants. So this is one example of the things we can make today. And the idea is to use plants, leaves, flowers that you find anywhere, and then press them into clay to create this mold, temporary mold in which we can cast plaster. And then you get this beautiful relief coming from the plant itself. You don’t have to invent anything beautiful like this nature does it for you. So you can just use all the details of a plant to create these little keepsakes and I’ll show you how to make them yourself at home.
Let’s get started!
So to get started, we’re gonna use clay and you want a soft clay. It doesn’t really matter what type, because we won’t be actually baking it. So you can also reuse it afterwards for other things. You want it to be quite soft and you want to make sure the texture is pretty fine. So you don’t want clay that has a lot of little pieces of what’s called chamotte (grog), little pieces of hard clay inside to give it stability, but in your case, you want it as smooth as possible.
So first I try to make it as flat as possible by hand and using a rolling pin, you can try to make it a nice even slab so that we can cast all our flowers in it. What helps is to use some kind of plank of wood or a piece of textile underneath. So using textile or unvarnished wood will make it really easy for the clay to release so it doesn’t stick. If you use something too smooth, like if I were to use the marble of the table, it would stick really badly to it and then it would make your life really difficult.
So think of what kind of surface you want to use underneath. So in this case I try to roll it nice and smooth as flat as I can. The thickness doesn’t really matter. You want it a bit thicker than the type of plants you’re gonna use. If you want to do really deep relief then you want the clay to be at least as thick as that.
So I roll it out into a nice even slab. It doesn’t have to be specifically straight or even you just want it to be nice and smooth. If you’re using clay that you’ve used before, sometimes you get like here little air bubbles, I just smooth them a bit with my finger.
Eventually we’re gonna press flowers into it so it will grab the attention with the details, not those kinds of little imperfections. So I smoothed it out as much as I can. The last bit of rolling, of course, you want to make sure your rolling pin is nice and clean.
If you have a little piece of clay like this, it’s gonna leave marks over your surface and it has to be a wooden rolling pin, if you use plastic, it’s also gonna stick a lot. So you can use a dowel or maybe the handle of a broom or something if you don’t have a rolling pin. So this is good enough and then you have to think of a mold.
So we have to keep a boundary around your plaster piece to contain the wet plaster while it’s casting. So you can use different types of things. It depends a little bit on the side that you want, something that works really well is a spring form. So the hinge makes it really easy to release. Of course, the size is limited to what you have.
I can also use these little cookie cutter forms, or if you want to go really small, you could use a cut-up paper roll or the rim of a little plastic cup. So these are standard little drinking plastic cups, and I’ve cut them in half. And we’re going to use this part with the rim facing down to contain the plaster. This part we’ll use for something else. This is the same. This is the rim of a plastic takeout container that I’ve cut out and then we can cast inside of it.
So we’re gonna try to think of the composition that we want. If I take one of those for instance and I press it lightly down, I’ll see where the edge ends up. So I have a slight round trace and that’s gonna help me to decide what to do with my composition how to put my flowers down, to get a beautiful harmonious result.
Which flowers or leaves should I take?
Talking about the flowers: or the leaves that you want to use, It’s a little bit the same as our cyanotype tutorial and you have to think of leaves and flowers that are interesting in terms of shape and texture. The color doesn’t really matter. So look for intriguing leaves or beautiful textures, beautiful thicknesses, beautiful nerves of the petals. Interesting geometric shapes, but the color doesn’t really matter.
Of course you want something that’s not too big. So it’s interesting, even on a small scale, unless you want to work really big, but if you’re just starting out, I would keep it small, it’s actually easier. This one is a bit of an olive branch with the olives already hanging onto it. So right now it’s November, it’s the end of November, there’s not a lot of different flowers outside, but I still managed to find a few different things that I want to try and this one is a bit of a sage branch.
So the front is not so interesting, but the back has a really beautiful texture. And the sage leaf is what I used in that first example. So this beautiful texture is what you get here as well. So think a little bit in of volume, in terms of composition. I also have these little narcissus they’re mini ones. I think they’re gonna work real good for this purpose. So I’ll grab one of those.
I have my flower now, what’s the next step?
And you want to think how it’s gonna fit in the shape of the mold like how, it will be arranged and you can cheat a little bit. You can, arrange your flower to give a bit more interesting detail. So here I’ll put this one aside so we can see the two different buds. Maybe I’ll help it unfold a little bit, and sometimes you can reuse the flower, sometimes not. So be prepared to sacrifice your flowers and only be able to do one casting per flower.
So I noticed I just made a mess of tiny pieces of clay that were stuck on my cups. I’ll just smooth it out last time before I get started. So I’ll use the narcissus and I’ll place it sort of in a way that makes sense with the boundaries of my circle that I planned and then we’re gonna flatten it. So you have to sort of help it and think about the way the imprint is gonna look like after the rolling pin has gone on top of it.
So can, you know, manipulate nature a little bit so that it goes in the direction that you want it to. So you lightly push the flower down with your fingers into the clay. So it doesn’t move so much when I come with my rolling pin and that I’ll just flatten the whole thing so that the flower is embedded into the clay and doesn’t stick out above the surface. So you want it to be a bit controlled and gentle and then hopefully, the clay is level with the top of the flower and now you have to delicately remove it.
You can try it by hand first and if that’s difficult, you can also use maybe tweezers or a pin to grab them. You want to make sure you don’t make marks with your fingers or with your tools into the clay besides the plant themselves. So the plants, get the showcase. You don’t want to make other marks so I’ll start with the stem delicately picking it out and sometimes it comes easily in one go and you can reuse the whole thing. And sometimes it’s just too delicate and then you only have one try. This is actually pretty easy.
You can also use it a little paint brush to pick it out, blow it out. So now I have the beautiful imprint of my mini daffodils into the clay and I’m gonna use the rim of my plastic cup, this one, to push around it. So here I can still, you know, play a little bit with the placement. If I’m happy, I’ll just push it down into the clay and you want a really good bond with a clay because soon enough we’re gonna pour the plaster into the mold, and then you need to tap it out so that the air bubbles also get released.
And then the tapping, the mold can get loose and then you don’t want to have a mess of plaster all over your shoes. So I push it down really well. I can also use a tiny bit of clay from the edge here to create a sort of edge, or seam, to put it on top. I’m doing it, especially on this side where the stem was sticking out of my mold. Otherwise that’s a perfect channel for the liquid plaster to escape from. So that’s if I want to make a flower that’s or a plaster relief that’s all one color. So if I pour my plaster in here, I’m only gonna get one color result.
How can I add some colors to my work?
If I want to have a little more contrast like this, it looks a bit like the old fashion Cameo, type of jewelry that you had carved out of two colors, always pink was white. In this case, I used two different plaster layers. So the first one is painted with just pure white plaster and the second one I poured in pink is a white plaster mixed with a little bit of a pigment into it. ‘Cause that’s really like two separate layers. And then they stick to each other.
Plaster always sticks to plaster. So if I want to do something like this, I’m gonna have to paint those little details in by hand with a paintbrush and really dilute plaster. So I’ll show you how to do that. For the one with the plaster contrast color, I’ll use a different flower.
Let me think what I want. Maybe I want to try the big olive branch. This is gonna be the size that I have, I need to roll that a little bit bigger, or I can use a smaller mold, that’s also possible. And this would fit. So here I have the space for my olive branch. I press it down lightly.
So I know a little bit the boundaries of my mold and I can arrange my composition better. So here again, you have to think which one, which side is the good side, which one is gonna give you more details. It’s not always important to have it facing you. Sometimes the backside of the leaf is more interesting. In this case, I also have the olives, that I want to get a good imprint from, so I’ll see how to place it.
But I think the backside in this case is gonna be more interesting. And here again, I have to sort of direct the leaves in a way that there are gonna be pleasant for the look of the whole thing. You can’t overlap thick leaves like this too well because they don’t leave a nice imprint underneath.
So you have to think maybe sacrifice some of the leaves actually, so that you get a clearer neater imprint and I’ll also make sure to spread the olive fruit themselves. So these, oh, they’re a bit mushy. So I’ll push these first down and I’ll see how deep they can go into the clay because the layer of clay is not that thick. So I’ll first spread it out by hand, decide where all my leaves are gonna go and then I’ll go over it with a rolling pin.
This one can go here. So it’s fine to have overlapping leaves, but I find it works best if they’re a little bit like thinner leaves. These ones are really stiff, really tough and the olives themselves are a little bit too mushy. I think when I’m gonna go over them with a rolling pin, they’ll just fall apart, so let’s see. And then these leaves, they’re gonna be a little bit in the way, so let’s see if I can push them here maybe. And this one, I think I’ll sacrifice, this one also. So you can still, you know, control a little bit the details by what you leave and what you remove. I’ll remove this one.
Create the shape that you want
All right, that seems pretty good. Now, moment of truth, let’s see what happens with the rolling pin and the olives when I go over them. In this case, it would be nice to have an even smaller rolling pin actually. The first olive, the mini one went well, now let’s see what happens to these I can see there’s some juice on my rolling pin from a burst olive.
Let’s try to clean it up. So the big olives are a little bit harder to handle. I’ll just push down with my finger but there we go. And you don’t have to get it right the first time, if it really doesn’t do anything that you like, you can of course pull it out, roll out the clay again and give it another try. It’s not nothing final.
I am missing a little bit of volume here in the middle part of the stem. Let’s see if I can do it, with an alternative roller tool, my knife. And there’s a bit of olive juice in the clay but I don’t think that’s gonna matter so much. All right, let’s see what happens when I peel it back out. I might just mop up that olive juice a tiny bit. Just to make it easier to paint my first layer of plaster on it. All right, it looks pretty good and here I have a little bit of a clay liftoff. I’ll just push that down with my paintbrush to make it a bit neater. So this little piece of clay I’ll just tap it back down. All right, so these, I also smooth out a bit.
And so in this case, I want to have a really high contrast between the color of the background and the color of the olives. So I’ll check again with my mold. This will be the outline over the finished piece. And so here I’ll paint the inside of this little lower elements where all the leaves were with really small paintbrush and really dilute plaster of Paris. So we also use plaster of Paris to cast the whole piece, but in a different color.
So here I’ll use a really small paintbrush and very diluted plaster. So a little bit of water was a tiny bit of powder and then paint in the details. So I’ll use my little plastic containers, just a tiny drop of water in it, that was too much of a drop. I’ll put it back. So you really need barely anything and same, a little bit of plaster.
So note on safety, when you work with powdered plaster or powdered pigments, it’s a good idea to wear a dust mask. So not a face mask, corona-style but a dust mask that actually stops dust particles. So something like these, you know, construction masks. So using a mask will prevent you getting all these particles in your lungs, which you don’t want.
So before you start mixing the plaster, wear your mask, when you work with pigments, wear your mask. So I’ll start getting a little bit of the plaster into my waters so now I have just a bit of water here and this will be enough, I think for now. So with my paintbrush, I’ll just dilute and mix it really well. And so this really liquid mix, I’ll just carefully paint it in the spot where I want the white to show. And you can sort of push it along because it’s so liquid, it’s gonna want to fill all the little spaces that have a natural boundary from the leaves.
So it actually isn’t that hard to keep it between the lines. And of course the smaller the elements you choose in terms of flowers or leaves, the more difficult it is. If you have really tiny stems, it’s probably gonna be really hard to fill in those tiny stems with your layer of white. So you can also just leave them without the white or make your life easy and choose something a little bit sturdier with thicker leaves.
So I just tap it in and I don’t want to leave in mark into the fresh clay with my pen brush. It’s really just super delicate, touch it and then the plaster water just fuses on its own. And I started with the leaves or the parts that are higher up at the surface and then I’ll go in and fill in the deeper parts. And your plaster water is gonna start thickening on its own. That’s the chemistry of the plaster of Paris for you.
And so if you’re taking your time and you see that the plaster is getting really too thick and not flowing anymore, that’s fine. You just mix a new batch and that’s gonna make it much easier to fill in all your details. So if it’s not flowing, if it’s not really liquid, just make yourself a new batch. So here I have almost all the leaves and this is maybe gonna be outside of my mold area, but I just do it anyways.
We’ll see where I cut it off. This leaf and now I want to fill in the big stem and I actually start on this side, which is gonna be just outside of my mold area actually, but it’s perfect because then I can just push that extra liquid in I could even tilt my plank so that it just, you know, gravity feeds it down so that I can get a really neat stem without making too much of a mess which would be really easy to go out of the boundaries if I’m not careful, but if I focus on the parts that are at the intersection of branches.
I have a little bit more space to get into the cracks here, at the same time I’m hoping the plaster will follow the space available and I don’t ever try to get it perfect. That’s just not how I work. I just let it flow where it will flow.
All right, so this looks good, actually, maybe I’m gonna do this one as well. That would be too, but too bad to keep it only one color. So I’ll remove my mold a little bit, so I have better access. I have to be a bit gentle or maybe I won’t, let’s keep it like this and then I’ll just fill it in from the top. So here again, I’m gonna fill in just the lower details and it’s really hard to see all the edges and boundaries for this petal.
So I also won’t bother to try. I just let the water, the plaster water flow where it will flow and then get a sort of gradient effect on edges. So I don’t need like a really precise, hard edge between the white and the, or the painted and non-painted, we’ll just see what it looks like. So I’ll keep on filling this in. All right, it looks pretty good to me.
So that comes the part where we mix in the plaster to go around it. So I’ll just push this more down because I started removing it, make sure it’s nice and deep. I’ll use this one also to push it nice and deep into the clay. If you have a little edge like this. It might help to push on the edge of your plastic with a knife and then you can really get it to stick and to go deep inside of the clay. So I push it all around, I make sure I have a good bond and the plaster is not gonna escape. And this one is quite shallow.
Ideally I would have a bit of a thicker edge. The bigger your piece, the thicker you want the plaster to be. To secure it, I’ll just cut a piece of my clay here and roll a long sausage and then I’ll use that as a special, extra boundary on the edge to make sure my plaster won’t escape. So I’ll do it on this side as well.
And of course it’s plastic mold, you can reuse them many times so the plaster once it’s cured, once it’s hard, you remove it from the mold, then you can do a new one. I’ll try different flowers, different leaves and I’ll cast them one after the other. And you can reuse the clay as well. So as soon as the plaster is hard enough, you can peel off the clay and reuse it. So that looks pretty good. And so the idea after you’ve poured your clay, is to shake the mold. So you want to make sure that it’s sturdy enough that when you shake the plank, nothing is gonna fall out.
So now I’ve peeled off the elements, I’ll fill it in with white plaster also. So the little white plaster that I had made in my cup is not too hard. It’s too thick, so I’ll make a new batch. Very important, when you work with plaster, you never ever rinse it down your drain. So of course, if it’s gonna thicken like this on its own, it’s also gonna do the same inside your pipes. So you really want to make sure that the plaster never goes into the drain when it’s liquid.
And so if she wants to dispose off plaster, you first let it harden in your container, in the, I don’t know, newspaper or something that will catch the liquid and then throw away the hard pieces, but you never rinse down hard plaster. What you can do is create a booklet where you rinse down all of your liquid plaster, but you catch the plastery water that’s coming out, and then you let it settle down into the bucket so that it gets collected at the bottom. Then you drain of the clean water on top and whatever sludge you have left at the bottom of your bucket, you throw away in the garbage.
It’s the same with cement other hardening substances, you don’t want them into your pipes. Otherwise it becomes a really expensive hobby. I find this is still a bit too light, so I’ll add a bit more plaster into this. I don’t really have a recipe for this, it’s really by eye and by feel, if I think that it’s not leaving a thick enough layer of plaster behind, I just add a bit more powder to my water. This is better.
You want a visibly white layer And if you make them really small maybe with the toilet paper tubes, I think they could make really cute Christmas ornaments. You just have to make sure you think of making a hole into the plaster before it’s too hard.
Otherwise you’ll have to really drill it out with a drill bit, which is also possible. But if you do it while the plaster is still wet, it’s actually faster and easier.
All right. If you use a metal mold like this, it might be a good idea to use some kind of release agent like Vaseline or something greasy on the inside to make sure your plaster is not gonna stick.
Let’s put some colors!
This looks good and I’m gonna make liquid plaster enough to pour all three. I think I’m gonna go from green. So plaster of Paris, there’s different brands, different types, different suppliers, always follow the instruction coming with the bag of plaster that you actually buy.
It doesn’t keep so long so if you’ve had it for years, then you probably need a new one. I think you can keep it for about a year and make sure it’s out of moisture and then follow the instruction of the manufacturer on how much to mix it. This one is about one volume water for two volumes of plaster and I also add a little bit of powdered pigment in to get my mix.
I also put gloves on before I work with plaster in addition to my mask, because it’s really drying for your hands. So gloves and I’ve done it many, many times. So I do it by eye, but if you’re not familiar with plaster, just do it according to the manufacturer instructions. And it’s also a bit of a guessing game as to how much plaster you actually have to make, depending on how much volume you want to fill.
If you make too much, again, don’t dump the extra into your drain, dump it into something like a newspaper or a bucket that you’ll let sink down before you dump it. I do my powdered pigment in the water and again I do it by eye. When the plaster is wet, it will look darker than when it’s dry. So be a bit more generous than you think and then I’ll add my plaster.
So here I’m actually measuring it for you. So I had one of these little cups full of water and I need until two of the cups full of plaster. So that’s kind of the first one and then you want to sprinkle it into your water. So you want to sprinkle your plaster evenly on the surface and that’s where you wear mask because it gets everywhere in the air and into your lungs.
So that’s the first one spread out. And the more plaster you do per amount of water, the thicker the mix will be. You want it to be goopy, not too liquid, but if it’s too hard, too thick, it won’t spread out nicely and you’ll have more bubbles problems. So again here I spread out my plaster evenly on the surface of the water and then you want to let it sit. You want to let the water absorb into all of your powder. You don’t want like dried, dry powder, dry plaster sitting on top of the water.
We’re going to let that sit for a couple of minutes before swirling it around. So you want the powder to be completely saturated. You can see changing color. It’s a bit more gray when it’s wet. So you want to wait until it’s completely saturated before you stir it. So when my plaster is nice and saturated, I’ll just swirl it and that’s when the gloves are also handy.
So you just swirl it by hand and then you can really feel if there’s any part that are more liquid more needing of a stir or if you still have lumps or anything like that. So you want to really get a good feel by hand and get an even mix with even texture. And at the same time, you can mix your pigment in really well. If you want more of a marble look with your pigment, then you can better add it afterwards.
So you can first mix your plaster and then when it’s nice and even, you sprinkle a bit of your pigment on top and you don’t mix it super well, that’s gonna give you marble-y swirls, which could be nice. Sometimes I find it a bit distracting from the beautiful details of the flowers themselves, a bit of a competition.
So for this time I’m gonna leave it plain green. So once your mix is nice and even you’re gonna pour it into your mold, I’ll start with a big one here, cause I’m not sure exactly how much plaster I have if I have enough for all three molds, if not, I may do a different color for the last one.
All right, let’s see. And it’s up to you, how thick you pour them. If you make them really thin, they’re gonna be really fragile. So if it’s a look preference, that’s fine, but just be really careful when handling them, especially they’re still wet, just fresh plaster, because it’s gonna be much easier to break.
So now I have plaster on my hand, plaster in my buckets or my mold. I’m gonna swirl a little bit of water in it and sort of clean down the edges of the mold or the plastic and let that water settle. So again, don’t pour this down your drain.
Let it settle, you’ll see that it’s gonna become a hard layer at the bottom eventually or a sludge layer. And the water on top will be clean. So this you just let it be until you’re done with your work and it will be much easier to dispose of. And with plaster, you want to clean up first. That’s always the priority before you do anything else. So now you see the surface is not that super even, but that’s fine because we’re going to tap it down to a settle the plaster layer.
So it just grabbed the edge of my plank and I tap it down and you see the plaster spreads on its own and you also notice hopefully little air bubbles coming to the surface. (plank banging)
And here it’s coming out of my mold a little bit. That’s fine ’cause that’s gonna clean up real easy. So this is good, I’ll let it harden. In the meantime, I’ll pour a little bit of different color plaster for the strawberry. I think I’m gonna go for pink and we’ll wait for it to cure, to harden. It takes about half an hour I think. And then we’ll show you the unmolding. And now we wait.
It’s time for the results!
All right so the plaster has hardened, it also feels warm to the touch. So plaster is a chemical reaction when it cures, it gets really warm and then it starts to cool down. From the moment that it starts to cool down I normally release it. So to remove your work, the easiest is to separate the different designs that you have or you just create a separate parts, flip it over and gently peel off the clay.
So first I’ll remove and this clay, you can reuse it, you can just roll it up in a ball and use it again. And then with your finger just go on the edge Dig in a little bit. And here I got the edge of my clay and you see it just releases super easily from the plaster. And so you can see there’s a tiny bit of white detail from the paint brush layer on the pink background. This is still quite wet.
So I’ll let it dry out a little bit before I push it from the mold, because the plaster, when it’s wet is still a bit more fragile. It would be a shame to ruin it for now. And this is the plastic mold. And again, it’s coming loose really easily because of the unvarnished wood. You can achieve the same result with a piece of textile.
So here again, I peel off the layer and you can see the details and there’s a tiny bit of clay left around the edge. We can wait for the plastic to cure completely and then rinse that off. And here the edge of the the mold is a bit angled. So it will make it really easy to pop it out. This one, even if it’s still not completely cured, I can gently pop it out the mold.
And then the final step to make it really gift worthy will be to clean up the edges, refine them a little bit. I can do it with a wet sandpaper. So a sandpaper meant for cars that kind of things, fine grit, works really well with plaster.
Again, you want work on wet plaster, so underwater in a sink or something to catch all the dust, and then you can refine the texture of the back, send it flat on the sandpaper like this and then the edges a little bit to make them a neater, but give it really nice detail.
And the final one, the big one, so the bigger it is, the more careful you want to be with flipping it over and handling in general, especially if you don’t have a really thick layer of plaster. So the thinner it is and the wider the diameter of your mold, the more likely it is to break. Here my plaster spilled a little bit over the edge, no big deal, I can just cut it off. So break this part off.
And you don’t want to leave plaster pieces in your clay if you’re gonna reuse it because it will make it really hard to smooth it out without lumps. So all the clay, that’s a little bit contaminated with hard plaster, I’ll put it aside and I won’t be using it for this again. So here I’ll try to lift the whole part. Get a bit of air underneath A good tool for this would be a piece of string or rope to push underneath the clay to lift it off. So using a piece of string, if it can get it underneath the clay layer and just pull, see it releases really cleanly. And then from this side, we can unpeel the mold.
So again, all the pieces of clay was plaster in it. I’ll make sure they don’t have to go back into the pile so they don’t contaminate the rest. It’s nice and warm on this side. So I’ll try to find a loose edge, let’s see, a very satisfying reveal. So that was the olive branch. It’s funny the clay on the edge of the olives themselves is a different color.
And so I think it was a bit too wet for my plaster layer, but I’ll let this dry and then we’ll see what it looks like in the end. The leaves turned out really beautiful. Again, this one is a bit of an edge, like a slope on the edge, which is really easy to release and then I’ll let it cure completely hard and completely and then give it a good finishing on the edges and this gray part you see here, if I brush against it was my finger.
It’s a layer of really thin clay that we can wash off in the end. So it doesn’t dirty the background color. So I’ll let this dry completely. And I’m curious to see what you do with the technique. So show us your results, tag us on your Instagram pictures and I hope whoever receives it or if it’s for your own house, is really happy with it. Have fun.