A Mini Succulent Garden

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This weekend brought news that we were in for more snow Monday. I have seriously had my fill of winter!!! I could wait no longer for spring…if the real blooms aren’t happening, I was going in search of some faux ones. Normally, I’m not a fan of silk flowers and fake plants, but Michael’s has some beauties. And I needed a visual reminder that, YES, it IS Spring even if the weather says otherwise.

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I took a nice little haul home from Michael’s where their Garden Collection line from Ashland  was on sale. I picked up these little pieces…succulents attached to cute mossy rocks. The mossy ‘rock’ base was made from styrofoam and I found they wouldn’t stay where I put them as the plants made them top heavy.  I fixed it with sticking in a tooth pick into the bases and driving them down into the crushed gravel. I already had the metal planter and pebbles so this project just cost me $1.69 (a great sale!) for each succulent grouping and $3 for the crushed gravel…$8 all in, and I love it!

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Aren’t they as pretty as the real deal ?! I was so enamoured by these that I was inspired to make a miniature version.

I will share a couple of tips I found useful for anyone attempting a polymer clay garden…

As with real succulent gardens…less is not more. You may want to leave some empty spaces for a place to rest your eye, but keep them minimal. People who design succulent planters always go all out, filling all the nooks and crannies. And at first I wasn’t happy with my planter until I added the large rocks. You can do the same with your miniature garden…if you don’t have any pebbles, you could make them from your clay.

I found a lovely combination of clay colours to make the translucent-green base for the succulents. Pictured below is the combination I used left to right : translucent sculpey, wasabi, treasure (to make it glisten a bit), and olive. You can gauge how much is needed by my cutting mat. This was enough to make all the plants (with the exception of the dark green one).

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…and this is the colour you end up with after mixing them:

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Also, I found toothpicks a great help for building my plants around. I could also use them in a bowl of rice to stand them up while baking. Then I just snipped them off before assembling my garden.

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As a focal interest, I chose to make a little pagoda. I love how it turned out; primitive and cute! I formed the roof first, and pre-baked that before continuing with the rest of the building. This, I also did on a toothpick.

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I chose Fimo Effect “stardust” to mimic slabs of black granite. They are bonded together with liquid sculpey. I plan on sanding it and buffing it out to a nice shine later.

I used chalk pastels to add subtle red blushing to the leaves. I used a mix of glaze and purple acrylic paint to colour the top of the center plant, but it didn’t show as purple. I will try to carefully add another thin layer later.

Both planters were fun to do. I am, of course, most pleased with the miniature one. I didn’t go to a botanical reference book…this was all about fun and freely sculpting. I think, in the process, I took the liberty to create some new species of succulents!

Now…if only the snow would go away so I can grow a real succulent garden outside!

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Cold Porcelain Clay (part 2)

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This is just a quick follow-up post on my experiment with the clay I made yesterday.

After I made the clay, I packed it into a nice ball and ‘greased’ it a bit with some baby lotion and tightly wrapped it in saran wrap. This afternoon, I put it to the test with a few bakery items for my daughter’s school project. I made some little cakes and bread, and what will be truffles, after I finish painting them.

First off, the clay should form perfect little peaks when you pull it apart. If it’s a bit grainy, that apparently means it was over cooked (that is, it lost too much water). If this happens to you, just work in a bit of warm water (a few drops at a time).

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What I found was, this is great stuff if your items are meant to have a rounded organic kind of shape. It shrinks up a bit when it dries, and it tends to take on a slightly ‘puffy’ appearance. This would make it an excellent choice for all those kawaii type charms that are round and cute (it would be fabulous for kawaii animals like sheep).

The sides of my cakes took on a puffy appearance, even though I tried to coax the sides flatter with a card. Same thing happened to the bread loaves (see the picture below). The bread loaves went totally puffy and would not take detail. I think a way to prevent this would be to allow the piece to dry inside a mold. I did, however, have a positive experience when the clay was rolled thin to make the flowers that decorated the pink cake. It held the details perfectly. I suppose a finished product could be sanded to the look one wants, or carefully carved to add detail or texture.

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Bottom line, some things take detail with this clay well, some do not.

If you colour your clay (which I suggest) you only need a bit of chalk pastel or dab of acrylic paint. Food colouring paste or oil would probably be fine too. The piece dries a lot darker than the original colour of the clay. If you look at the salmon pink cake, the clay was mixed to look like a very delicate pastel pink. I also thought I had not added enough brown to the clay that made my chocolate cake, but it dried to a very rich cocoa colour. It looks like real cocoa! It’s important to note that this clay does accept some surface colouring or blushing with chalk pastels, but it doesn’t take it very well. I had to use a LOT of chalk pastel dust to surface colour those breads. I will probably stick to my polymer clay for making breads.

It takes a day for the items to completely dry. I’m guessing 24 hours, as the bottoms are still not dry. Then they must be sealed when you have your finished product. Mod Podge or acrylic spray would be good choices. You don’t want to use something too wet. If you are making jewelry with this clay, seal it well so it never comes in contact with water.

This clay was a joy to work with, even if it had minor disappointments. I don’t have to worry about a mess, chemicals, or getting polymer gunk off my hands. I don’t have to worry about it staining clothes. It’s also an excellent and cheap way to let the kids bring out their inner Michelangelo  too.

My thoughts on ‘Cold Porcelain Clay’

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So, I kept seeing posts on cold porcelain clay on Pinterest and YouTube and I decided to give it a try. If you don’t know what I’m referring to, it’s a type of clay which can be made at home with very few ingredients. It’s mainly  cornstarch and glue, with a bit of baby oil and preservative like lemon juice or vinegar. The reason it has been dubbed porcelain is due to it’s fine texture and soft, translucent appearance.

I have to say, I am impressed and it’s much more than I expected! It does make a lovely clay texture. It’s cheap. It holds detail well (but it does shrink up just a bit). It colors easily with a bit of chalk pastels, acrylic paint or dye. Just beware of adding water colorpaint as it will goop up the dough since it messes with the balance of moisture in the clay. It makes beautiful flowers.

I have heard claims that it’s finished product is as durable as polymer clay miniatures and charms. I can’t back that up. Not yet anyway. But it does have a lot of glue, so I can see how it would be very stable when hardened.

I made it for a bakery display I am working on for my daughter. I’m helping her with a project on our family tree. Our ancestors were bakers and candy makers, so I am making a few miniature cakes for part of her display. I didn’t want to use my polymer clay if I didn’t have to. I remembered the cold porcelain recipe from online. I halved the amounts as I only wanted a small ball of clay. What I was left with was plenty to make several miniature cakes and left overs.

All it requires is: 1/2 cup cornstarch, 1/2 cup white ‘school glue’, 1 tbsp vinegar, 1 tbsp baby oil. You will also need a small non stick pot, plastic wrap, a resealable bag, and baby lotion for your hands.

An important piece of info: there will come a time in the kneading process where you will wonder if it is ever going to turn from a sticky mess into the velvety clay you see pictured. It does! Just keep kneading. It’s amazing how smooth and unsticky it will suddenly transition into. You just have to see it for yourself.

I quickly snapped a picture of my results but unfortunately did not think to blog about it until afterwards. Instead, I leave you with some excellent videos which may encourage you to give it a try. It’s an economical and fun way to pass an afternoon with your kids.

Here are 2 methods of making this clay. The first is an excellent tutorial for making it in a microwave. The last one is stovetop method, which I used. I hope you give it a whirl and have fun creating!