DIY Autumn Project: Leaf Collage
Because I thrive in an organized and visually appealing environment I like our home to have a comfy, cozy, welcome, “Sit down and stay a while,” feel to it. We had a big empty wall that screamed, “Lonely, void, help me,” which led to this project.
The concept came from the desperation of wanting a large piece of art for the lonely living room wall. I found a beautiful painting of a turkey at a Missouri Conservation Artists’ sale but the $2000 price tag did not fit in my budget. Farm Boy is an excellent painter but since he already has a demanding day job I knew he did not have time to paint me a large — very large — turkey in an autumn landscape. I brainstormed from March to September attempting to decide what to place on our large empty wall. Autumn descended and as I looked out my windows at the beautiful colors on the trees I realized I wanted these colors; all year long. How? Bring them in. Hmm? I knew I could do it. Yes, instead of colorful turkey plumage on canvas I would place the hues of fall foliage on canvas. So I began.
Here is how I created my Leaf art:
In Missouri, autumn has peaked which makes it the perfect weekend for collecting colorful fall foliage.
Four years ago I drove around looking for deep purple and red leaves which I did not have in my yard. I found them at a local lake along with gold Ginkgo leaves. I also collected leaves from friend’s yards so I could think of them when I delighted in my finished project. To this day the red Japanese Maple leaves, from my friend Ann’s house, are my favorites.
I am going to estimate I collected around 700 leaves, from small flaming red Burning Bush leaves to a few large dark brown Sycamore leaves. It sounds like a lot of leaves but it doesn’t take long once your begin picking. Other leaves included: Bright orange Sugar Maple, deep purple Red Maple, yellow Silver Maple, several types of brown Oak, gold Ginkgo, red Japanese Maple, purple Sweetgum, pumpkin orange Sassafras, bright gold Shag Bark Hickory, deep reddish brown Red Bud and various shades of tan and brown from Elm and Poplar. I also collected several very small branches with 4-5 leaves still intact.
I allowed the wet leaves to dry then placed them in large heavy books for pressing. 2/3 of the leaves remained pressed 4-5 months. 1/3 of the leaves were pressed for 2-3 weeks then removed so edges could slightly curl.
In a large ventilated area, our garage, I set up 4 sawhorses and placed large pieces of lumber or old doors on top of them. I covered the large flat surfaces with wax paper to eliminate sticking.
I watched for a 50% off sale and then bought a 4’ x 4’ wrapped painter’s canvas at Hobby Lobby for $40.00.
For the base color of the canvas I used two coats of a coordinating trim paint which we had left over after painting trim in our house. You will notice in pictures we do not have baseboards finished yet. I will admit we have way more projects going on than we can keep up with or afford. As the cost of living continues to sharply and painfully increase our rehab budget keeps shrinking. Add to that doctor bills and therapy for a severe traumatic brain injury plus some newly added college costs and well; maybe we will finish the house during retirement — if we ever achieve retirement. Nonetheless, I still enjoy my home of perpetual autumn and I love the people who live in it.
I was after a natural look for preserving the leaves; nothing shiny, which meant wax was not an option. I watched the ads for Hobby Lobby and Michaels to purchase flat finishing/ polyurethane spray 50% off. I used 5-7 cans (memory is foggy here.)
To preserve color and ensure my leaves lasted for years, I used a flat spray and gave the slightly curled leaves two coats on each side, allowing dry time between each application and making sure the leaves did not touch/stick together. When completely dried I loosely piled the leaves in a box and brought them back in the house to deter bugs from feasting on them during the winter months.
When the remaining 2/3’s were finished being pressed I spread them out on the saw horses. Using the flat polyurethane spray I gave the leaves two coats on each side, allowing dry time between each application making sure the leaves were not touching/sticking together.
Attaching the leaves to the canvas proved to be tricky. I attempted just about every type of adhesive and glue a soul can find at the arts and crafts store. None held! Out of desperation I took a look through our garage. Neither wall paper glue nor wood glue worked. While considering Liquid Nails I spied: Henry Premium Multipurpose Carpet and Sheet Vinyl Adhesive. Out of curiosity I opened the tub and my eyes beheld thick goopy beauty! Just what I needed to grab hold of the veins on the back of the leaves. I applied this adhesive, allowed dry time, turned the canvas over, shook it and nothing happened. Nothing. It held the leaves in place. No falling off. No breakage.
Using a small craft/paint brush I turned over each individual leaf and generously applied adhesive to the back then pressed it down on the canvas; wiping away any excess with a damp cloth. I covered the entire canvas with the flat-pressed leaves allowing overage along the straight edges of the canvas.
I allowed the pressed leaves to dry then sprayed two more light coats of poly on the entire project.
Next I generously applied adhesive to the curled three dimensional leaves on the spots where they would touch the canvas base of pressed leaves. I set them in place and allowed them to dry.
I allowed the newly adhered leaves to dry then sprayed three more light coats of poly on the entire project, allowing dry time between each coat.
My boys know when playing with Nerf guns the guns may NOT be aimed at the leaves and they have been careful to obey. Someone did toss a pillow hitting a leaf and breaking a small portion off. To my knowledge this is the only damage to my leaf art. I have had minimal fading to the leaves but with the unfiltered direct light coming into our home I have had minimal fading on everything in the living room. I do not have an expensive camera for taking quality photos but I believe I am showing a good representation of the final product.
I used just under ½ quart of the Carpet & Sheet Vinyl Adhesive for this project.
From start to finish, because of pressing time, this was a 5 month project. My guesstimate on time spent is 25 working hours. (This does not include paint, poly & adhesive dry time.) Total cost was approx. $80.00. That’s $1920.00 less than the $2000.00 turkey painting!
Above: View of the dimensional aspects.
Above: View of edge Side profile
I enjoy my little piece of autumn in winter, spring, summer and fall.