Concrete Leaves

Concrete Leaves

Part of Ep. 1204 Great Gardens & Garden Greats

Make beautiful concrete leaf sculptures with host Shelley Ryan and David Calhoon of Swanstone Gardens in Green Bay. Calhoon shows that it's easy for all!

Premiere date: Sep 22, 2004

TRANSCRIPT+
Wisc Gardener Transcript: 

Shelley:
We’re going to practice a little bit of garden magic and turn this ordinary Hosta leaf into a work of art.  I’m at Swan Stone Gardens in Green Bay with one of the owners, David Calhoun.  (Make your own concrete leaf with this formula.)

David Calhoun:
Good Morning Shelley.

Shelley:
Good Morning.  David, these are beautiful, tell me about your business.  How did you come up with this.

Calhoun:
Well, Jean and I have been making leaves here for about two years in the classroom and we’ve been teaching it almost every weekend.  We’ve been having a great time with it, making some really nice sculptures.

Shelley:
Well you use these out in the garden as what?

Calhoun:
It can be used for a bird bath or just a little collecting spot for water for butterflies.

Shelley:
Or, I’m thinking, wall hanging.

Calhoun:
Wall hanging, yes, backdrops for other sculptures.

Shelley:
Oh sure, special leaves?  What do you use?

Calhoun:
We want to look at the backside of the leaf, Shelley, and we want to look for that heavy veinage that’s on the back, like a rhubarb would be really nice or a burdock.

Shelley:
So weeds finally have a purpose. 

Calhoun:
Yes, you can use the burdock leaf to make a nice water catcher for your .

Shelley:
Oh, beautiful and this one over here you told me that’s a cabbage leaf. 

Calhoun:
A cabbage leaf, yes.

Shelley:
So even when the growing season’s over, I could go into the grocery store and look for discards.

Calhoun:
Yes, you certainly could. 

Shelley:
Well, great.  Show me how. 

Calhoun:
All right, that cabbage leaf you’re looking at is like a nice flat leaf so we want to make a sand mold and we want to sculpt that like we’re making a sand castle.  So we want it to be kind of a wet consistency to hold the sculpture.

Shelley:
So you drizzled water into kid sand, play sand?

Calhoun:
Yes, it’s just play sand.  Right.  So a nice flat mold like this would make one like that, a nice flat leaf, but this one seems to want to have a little cup to it.

Shelley:
Yes, it speaks to us that way doesn’t it.

Calhoun:
So we’re going to cup that up a little bit.  Just real quickly make a nice–

Shelley:
So that’s just water and sand. 

Calhoun:
That’s just water and sand.

Shelley:
I can do that.

Calhoun:
And what we want this to do is to fit the leaf basically. 

Shelley:
Ok.

Calhoun:
So, see how nicely that fits on top of there?

Shelley:
Ok.

Calhoun:
Ok, now what we want to do is put a piece of cellophane on there and I think you have some over there.

Shelley:
I have one here.

Calhoun:
You can put that on and that’s three hold.  One reason is to keep the sand a way from the concrete when we put it on the leaf.  And the second reason is to keep the moisture in the sand so we have a slow dry process here.  And the third thing is, when you’re putting the concrete on there sometimes gravity has a tendency to get away on your.  You can use it to pull that up a little.

Shelley:
Ok.

Calhoun:
So, the product we’re going to use is silica sand, which is a real fine sand like this.

Shelley:
From the hardware store I can get that.

Calhoun:
Yes, basically anywhere.  And Portland cement.

Shelley:
This is just kind of–

Calhoun:
Just Portland cement.

Shelley:
Again, hardware store.

Calhoun:
Right.  We want to use one part to one part.  If you were using a container this big, you would use one of each.  Or this big, depending on how many leaves you’re going to make.  Portland comes in 94-pound bags.

Shelley:
So maybe have a leaf-making party with a bunch of friends. 

Calhoun:
Yes and it’s very addicting.

Shelley:
Ok.  After looking around here, I see that.  So you put those two together, I assume that you’re doing a lot of this, too.  You might want to wear a mask because the dust.

Calhoun:
The dust can kind of get at you a little bit.  So we want to add a little bit of bonding adhesive to our solution and that kind of works like an Elmer’s glue and just kind of gels everything together. 

Shelley:
How much?

Calhoun:
Just a little bit in.

Shelley:
Quarter cup, Ok.

Calhoun:
Then we’re going to use a color, a concrete color.  What that does, is it colors the concrete all the way through so your sculpture won’t bleed. 

Shelley:
Now here you’ve got some mixed up and it’s got the red showing through it already.  Are you adding water to this?

Calhoun:
Yeah, we added a little water to get it to the consistency of bread dough.  When you think of concrete, you think of pouring a floor or a sidewalk or something you’re pouring with it, but we want to mold with it.  So we want it to be able to handle it like bread dough.

Shelley:
I’ve worked with concrete a few times, so you’re adding a little trickle of water at a time?

Calhoun:
Yeah, just a little bit at a time because it can get real sloppy real fast.  So then you take your nice big ball of it and you put it on the heaviest part of the vein. 

Shelley:
Then it won’t blow away.

Calhoun:
It slipped off our mold just a little.  We’ll move it back.  And then you want to gently massage it down to the edges of the leaf. 

Shelley:
Here’s where the gloves come in handy so you don’t have permanent red fingers either. 

Calhoun:
It doesn’t take long for gravity to hold and make it slip down a little bit.  So you just kind of methodically work it down.  It’s kind of a fun relaxing thing to do. 

Shelley:
Kind of massaging a leaf, huh?

Calhoun:
Yeah.

Shelley:
Now you’ve got it thicker in the back and you’re tapering the thickness?

Calhoun:
We want to be about a half an inch over this heaviest vein in the back, so that’s the weakest part of it.  So you want that to be nice and strong.  You just continue working it down and then you want to just smooth the edges and have a nice smooth sculpture.

Shelley:
And stay right on the edge.

Calhoun:
Yeah.

Shelley:
Now you’ve got one here, where you’ve already gone to the edges, right?

Calhoun:
Yes.

Shelley:
Tell me what happens after I’ve pushed that all to the edges, it looks like another piece of Saran Wrap.

Calhoun:
Now we’re going to wait 24 hours.

Shelley:
Ok.

Calhoun:
It’s to dry out.

Shelley:
With the Saran wrap piece on it so it’s curing.

Calhoun:
Right, just like this.  Out of the sun, someplace like in the garage or in a shady spot somewhere.

Shelley:
Ok.

Calhoun:
Then what I want you to do is to take your hand and slip it right under the sand so your supporting it.  You don’t want to tip it because you’ll break it.  Now flip it over. 

Shelley:
Ooh...this is a cabbage leaf.  Look at that.

Calhoun:
And see it’s a nice edge, so it doesn’t have to have a lot of filing.  Now if it did, I would want to go at that with a Dremmel.  Use a Dremmel tool like this.

Shelley:
To just file the edges.

Calhoun:
Just file the edges down just a little bit and clean that up.  Jean, my partner, likes to use a regular bastard file, just a little one and go at it with that, just a different process.

Shelley:
So either way works if you have a dremmel or not, basically.

Calhoun:
Look at when you take that leaf off, you’re left with that beautiful veinage from that leaf.  Now, if you were a butterfly, wouldn’t you like to just land on here for a little drink in the morning.

Shelley:
I can’t wait to try this myself.  David, thank you very much.

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