Leafmaking method finalized (I think!)

I keep saying I have got something to take on the road and then I find problems. Today, I finally produced leaves that are very close to what I thought I could get from this process. They are very accurate in form, they are the right color, and they have all the graphic detail of the actual leaf I collected. I am testing my leaf making process on a series of Red Osier leaves that I will eventually add to the iconic Shoreline diorama produced by James Perry Wilson and Ralph Morrill here at the Peabody Museum.

Materials Needed:


Epson Inkjet printer

Jacquard Inkjet printing fabric (Classic Poly Taffeta and Cotton Sheeting)

5 minute epoxy plaster for moldmaking

Computer with photoshop

The first step was to collect the leaves. Since I knew I was going to incorporate these into the Shoreline diorama, I had to collect them at the same time depicted in the diorama. James Perry Wilson was very specific about the dates depicted in his dioramas and the Shoreline is set at 11 am. on June 15th.

Red Osier growing in situ.

Red Osier growing in situ.

Red Osier June 16 b

I take many photos on site to be used as references for my fabricated leaves and to make the branches accurate. The next photographs are taken back at the museum of the leaves, both front and back. Each leaf is given a number such as BL1, (B series, Large leaf, and #1) and these numbers are photographed with the leaves. These identifying numbers are kept with the photos when all the leaves are bundled into a photographic file. The numbers are eventually put on the molds as well.

Without stopping to take a breath, the mold making is begun so the leaves don’t dry or distort. Thin plaster is brushed onto the back of each leaf (I brush on some photo flo or thinned dish soap first so the plaster doesn’t bead up on the leaf surface). Thin plaster is used to minimize deformation of the three dimensionality of the leaves. Once the first layer of plaster is set, another layer is painted over it. As the second layer sets, a third is added and so on until a rigid cast of the underside of each leaf is made. I add fiberglass to a middle layer for strength.

First half of mold with leaf

First half of mold with leaf and identifying number

Once the first part of the mold is completed, turn over the leaf and start the second part of the mold. First, I vaseline all plaster surfaces as a release and try to keep vaseline off the leaf. For the second half it is possible to make the plaster thicker. I cover the leaf and plaster with approximately 3/16″ of plaster. I add a layer of fiberglass and cover with another 3/16″ of plaster. Once this is set up, the two halves are split apart and the leaf can be removed and discarded.

Now, there is a numbered photograph and a corresponding numbered mold for each leaf. The photographs are then cut and pasted together in photoshop. Orient the leaves so the vein side will face down into the mold. The upper print will be flipped in orientation to the vein side.

Photoshopped leaves printed on fabric

Photoshopped leaves printed on fabric. Note the two different colored sides. Also the veins are enhanced so they will show up better.

To print, I use Jacquard inkjet fabric that can be printed in an Epson Inkjet printer. The Epson inks are archival for 100 years. I use a Classic Polyester Taffeta fabric for the vein side and Cotton Sheeting for the front. I use one heavier weight fabric and a thinner one so the printed colors and images don’t merge together when cast. With this technique, I can print a leaf with two different colored sides. To cast, a pair of prints are chosen, cut out of the sheet, and the fabric removed off the paper. The vein side is cut with a bit more white fabric surrounding it. This is so the two halves can be registered.

Pair of leaves cut out

IMG_4060 IMG_4061

Using a light box align veins

Using a light box align veins

IMG_4064   Now, on to the casting…I mix enough clear five minute epoxy to cover both halves of the mold. (Vaseline is used as a separator on the plaster mold. On the plaster mold of the leaf itself, the vaseline is applied thinly-enough to make the leaf surface shine, but not enough to show up as a texture in the cast.) I cover the vein side of the mold with epoxy first and quickly put the printed fabric (vein side down) into it. As the fabric wets down, the veins of the mold can be seen through the fabric and it is possible to match the printed veins to the veins in the mold. Once the veins are matched, I place the second print over the first matching the registration marks. I quickly cover the second half of the mold with epoxy and carefully lay it on top of the fabric and other mold half. I clamp with spring clamps and, or c-clamps. This step is a bit fussy because it is possible that the fabric will slide away from alignment as the second half of the mold is clamped. I have found that practice helps, but if done with care, the cast will usually be aligned correctly.

Spring Clamps or C Clamps or a combination of the two work well

Spring Clamps or C Clamps or a combination of the two work well

I give the epoxy about 15 minutes to set up well enough to pull out of the mold. Since the epoxy is still rubbery, I can use a scissors to cut away the flashing of fabric and epoxy. I lay the cast leaf back into the vein side of the mold and let it harden into its correct shape.

The finished leaf hardening in the mold.

The finished leaf hardening in the mold.

Final product!

Final product!

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