Friday, October 14, 2011

Concrete Sunflower Leaf

Hi there. I'm back.

I've spent the last week playing with concrete instead of blogging. Fritz swears that if he sees anymore concrete in the next year, it will be too soon. Me? I'm just getting started.

While I was playing around with concrete, the boys and I made some fun little leaf impressions that made a great, simple kid project. It was so easy - the results so agreeable -  that I thought I would share; also I think it would make a really cool Holiday gift idea. You know how you always see these craft ideas for kids, and then you try it out, and - well, it's not a craft idea for kids, it's a craft idea for adults that LOOKS like kids made it? This one was nice and simple and we really did it with a 4.5 year old and 18 month old. Also, I think it looks not-so-childish and rather sophisticated.

The trick with this project, is that the kid's participation is really in the process: gathering the leaves and mixing and dumping of the concrete. And the result is all about the materials (concrete and a leaf). Now that I think about it, it's just the kind of project an architect would love. But that doesn't mean anyone else will like it... Well, just humor me, okay?

Concrete can sound intimidating if you've never worked with it before, BUT IT'S SO EASY.

First, get some concrete. You don't want coarse rocks in it, so look for a sand or topping mix, like this:

It weighs a lot (60 lbs), so have another adult help you carry it. I'd avoid any concrete that says anything about drying in 45 minutes or an hour. You're working with KIDS. A snail's pace is OKAY. If someone needs a bathroom break 30 seconds into 'plopping' (below), the slower setting concrete will be your best friend. You won't use the whole bag, so consider putting the concrete bag in a garbage bag, so that once the concrete bag is opened, the dust will not go everywhere. Also, the dust isn't great for breathing, so we wore masks when working with the dry mix. Also, we worked outside.

You'll need a bucket for mixing in, as well as something for stirring. We're not making a lot of concrete here, so we used a wooden paint stick to stir. Noah used gloves, because he doesn't like to touch anything concrete. I put a plastic tarp on the floor, and we used parchment paper in the spot where we 'plopped,' You'll see that in a bit. Ignore the green trinkets, we didn't use them on this project.

Then we went and found the biggest leaves with the biggest veins that we could. For us, this was a sunflower leaf.

I'm going to guess that you want to stay around 6-8" in diameter on the leaf. Anything bigger probably wouldn't be able to support it's own weight using this technique. Our leaf wasn't very nice. Insects has chewed some holes in it. No matter! Veins are facing up, so that they make an impression in the concrete which we will plop on top:

Then we started mixing concrete. A little bit of water.
And a little bit of concrete:

And mix! This was the really fun part for the boys, so we took our time and enjoyed it. The concrete will be about the right consistency when you can plop it on top of itself and it creates little hills buttes. If it's too fluid, add some more mix. If it's too stiff, add some water. HINT: Give your helpers SMALL containers for adding water and mix. You could even use a squirt gun or medicine dropper for adding water. And start stirring right away because 1) concrete is heavy and you don't want to have big 'ole lumps of mix in the bottom that you - or your little helpers - can't stir and 2) everybody wants to help a lot. So: little bit of mix + little bit of water, then stir, and repeat until you have enough concrete to cover your leaves. (Just eyeball the amount. How's that for specificity?)

Then, plop that concrete on top of the leaf. More...
and more.
Then shape the concrete around edges of the leaf. This part, I did myself: basically, pushing all the extra concrete way from the edge of leaf, so that the concrete is ONLY on top of the leaf. Here, the parchment paper comes in handy to protect the floor from all the excess concrete that was plopped on top.

I allowed the boys to stick sticks in the concrete because they wanted to and I knew it wouldn't ruin the finished product. Rinse the bucket well as soon as you are done, because whatever you leave in there is staying in there. On the other hand, don't sweat the sticks. After the boys went to bed that evening, I pulled the sticks back out.

Then we let it dry for about 24 hours. At which point, I picked up the concrete lump and pulled off the leaf. The concrete was more or less 'set' at this point, but it wasn't finished drying yet. Complete drying took another 2-3 days.

Then we put it in among our naturalistic-rock-filled-deck steps:

Cute! I think.


Katie (Mama May I) said...

Love it! I'm seeing a lot of embellished concrete in your future. :)

Swistle said...

Wow, that really did turn out adorable!

Pregnantly Plump said...

That looks really cool. Glad it was a fun project for everyone.