Sunday, May 6, 2012

Explosion at the China Factory: Garden Art for the Artistically Inept

I once showed a friend a picture of a beautiful handmade birdhouse.  Exquisitely   crafted and sold through an art gallery, it was the work of an artist with a unique talent. While I dreamed up ways of paying for it, she looked it over and casually remarked, "I could make that." You can?? I was shocked. Not only did I have no idea of how to begin such a project, I didn't want to. I simply wanted to own it.

Last summer, in the midst of realizing my garden was in need of a huge makeover, I decided it also needed a little funk, soul, groove, mojo. Call it what you will, but my garden needed a jolt of personality, especially the front porch. Shady and often forgotten about while I concentrated on the larger garden in the back, my front porch was a dismal desert of blahness. In my desperation to find something that would grow without needing an aquatic IV, I stuck birdhouses in large pots, planted creeeping bramble in the front, and called it a day. But what I really wanted was a cool piece of art I could stick on the front porch to add some color and funk. Interested in mosaics, I soon realized large pieces were vastly beyond my garden budget. In a moment of stress and sleep deprivation induced insanity, it occurred to me that maybe I could make my own.


My mosaic pot is filled with periwinkle (vinca) vines. They are still quite small but the enormous 'Baltyk' clematis is happily growing over the top of the pot. A small round birdhouse is potted in the grey urn, but the clematis has devoured that, too.

I began an internet search of mosaic garden projects only to discover web pages with multipage directions requiring supplies I wasn't interested in buying and didn't know how to use. But I'd seen enough pictures of incredible mosaic art, that I just kept searching for directions that made sense to someone as artistically challenged as myself. When I finally found them, they went like this: "Take a hammer and smash stuff and then get concrete and stick the stuff to other stuff." I'm not sure what rocket scientist wrote these heart softening words, but I figured if that was all it took, I could possibly succeed.

A few trips to the thrift store and Lowe's later, I was ready to begin. I had decided to wrap the ceramic plates in newspaper, stuff the bundle in a plastic bag, stick the bundle in an empty storage container and then begin smashing. Then I waited. Several heated conversations later with my angst-ridden teenage son, I headed to the basement, a hammer in hand. Clad in pajamas, a dog chewed baseball hat, and goggles, I grabbed the plates and started smashing. The release was profound, cathartic, and wonderfully loud. What I lacked in artistry, I made up for in teenagers. The final plates were smashed by my daughter and her best friend after both having emotional, "I hate boys because they smell and are stupid" days at school.

Creating my mosaic took a year and is best viewed from a distance. From across the street, I am the mutant genius lovechild of Picasso and Michelangelo. From the porch, I am a lunatic with a hammer and too much concrete. But if I can do it, ANYBODY can do it.


My pot came out just like me: colorful and a bit funky.


I didn't bother to grout it since it was so uneven and the ceramic plates were of different thicknesses.


Step One: Buy a pot.  


Step Two: Go to a thrift store and buy ceramic/china plates. Tell the sales clerk not to wrap them since you're going to smash them, anyway. Enjoy her confused expression. 


I chose plates with bright colors in either florals or solids.



I used the round lip on these plates to form the edge of the design near the top of the pot.


Step Four: Smash the plates!


I didn't use the green glass pieces since they didn't show up well against the concrete.


I eventually separated them into color families. 


Step Five: Mix equal parts wood glue and water and then brush onto the surface of your pot. Let it dry.
Once the pot had been primed with watered down wood glue, I mixed this with enough water to make a thick mixture. Using a cheap triangular shaped trowel I found with the masonry supplies at Lowe's, I applied a blob of concrete onto the pot, spread it fairly evenly and then stuck on a piece of smashed ceramic plate. It was really easy.


I turned my front porch into a workshop.


I added the flat marbles because I wasn't sure I'd have enough ceramic pieces. I like the contrast of their smoothness against the rough texture of the concrete.


Once I was finally done, I stuffed the bottom of the pot with bags of sand to give it stability. 


I wedged a piece of styrofoam into the pot above the sand to give the flower pots a level surface to sit on.


I found two pots in the garage to use for the plants. Since they won't be visible, I didn't care what they looked like.


The pot doesn't have a drainage hole, so I put an aluminum tray leftover from the project under one of the pots and an old plastic drainage tray under the other.


Goodbye, Dismal Desert of Blahness! Hello, Happy!

NOTE: I discovered after posting this that several of the plates I used had been donated by a close friend to the thrift store where I went shopping. Now I love my pot even more!

35 comments:

  1. Hello, happy indeed! Your porch looks awesome! You've inspired me...I've got everything I need, just needed the inspiration ;) Thanks!

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    1. Hooray for inspiration! I'd love to see what you make. :o)

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  2. OH MY GOD, TAMMY! You must have gone to the thrift store shortly after I dropped some stuff off because those two bird plates were mine! ROFL!!! That is just too weird!

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    1. That is the coolest coincidence ever!! I now love my pot even more!

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  3. I love the result! It is funky, bold, colorful and awesome! I think the marbles are a great touch. You made it sound so simple. I think this may be a fun project to do with my Junior Master Gardener kids. Thanks for the inspiration!

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    1. I promise this project was easy! I'm not sure how waterproof the mortar is, though. The pot is in a spot where it won't get rained on.

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  4. Makes me want to drive by your house just for the pleasure of stopping to admire your handiwork. What shall I say at the border, "going to see my friend's pot"?

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    1. I totally think coming to see my pot is a valid reason to enter the US. :o)

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  5. I love this project, particularly the easy instructions" "Take a hammer and smash stuff and then get concrete and stick the stuff to other stuff." I could do that.

    Yours came out so great. A conversation piece, a work of art, and a useful planter too. And it is utterly beautiful!

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    1. Thank you!! I picked up the tip about wood glue from a book but ended up following the "take a hammer and smash stuff" directions the most. I loved the creative process and noticed people watching me work on it as they walked by my house.

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  6. Well, I would say you are artistically accomplished! You did a great job of mixing the colors and textures, and the blue around the rim adds just the right touch. Thank you for providing such clear, easy to follow (and amusing!) instructions.

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    1. I feel a bit like an artist when I see my pot. :o) I thought of you yesterday when I saw leaf castings in a gift shop. They were expensive and not quite as beautiful as yours!

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  7. I think I would enjoy the smashing part. lol.

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  8. Way too nifty!!!! I want to do this! Your color combinations and patterns are fantastic, even if you just plopped them on. :) Great project, great result!

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  9. A.W.E.S.O.M.E. - First, the content of this post is just the best. Anyone that says "mojo", "funk" and "soul" in one sentence is someone I want to read! Then - throw a "shoot from the hip", "off the chain", wicked-awesome project that looks THAT good ?!? Now I'm vested.

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  10. Only you could make a DIY project so darn funny. Your pot turned out just great!

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  11. I have "Westerland" also - yours looks much nicer than mine (too much shade and no support). It is a beautiful rose isn't it? Sorry for the post here, I couldn't find the comments link under the post.

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  12. That is a wonderful looking pot, I think you're a bit more artistically inclined than you let on! :) The instructions were superb, take hammer and smash stuff, makes me want to run out and make a pot just so I can take out a days grief on some glass.

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  13. It really turned out great and I love the addition of the glass beads. Really colorful too.

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  14. Don't you love it when you just decide to go for something... The more we do, the more we realize we can do! Congratulations, the pot looks wonderful, full of colour and creativity :)

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  15. I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE your mosaic pot. This post made me SO happy! I think it looks wonderful and is a super addition to your garden!

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  16. Love it! Thanks for sharing - being the creatively-challenged sort myself, you make it sound so easy!

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  17. I love it! It does add a wonderful touch of personality to your porch. Although I don't think I could have smashed the pretty garden plates! I also like the addition of the flat marbles. i think they add a 'professional' touch.

    On another note, I appreciate your comment on my 'Cheating the Deep Shadows' post. I actually have a couple of pulmonarias. I wasn't sure how they would do in our heat and humidity, but they are thriving! Their silvery leaves do light up the shadows. After I had published my post I found a recent photo and wondered why I had not thought to include them.

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  18. You did a great job! It looks beautiful. Does it make the pot a lot heavier? I have some unglazed pots I could try this on.

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  19. Love it!!! Like your description of how to do it-- simple and to the point. I don't think I could have smashed the watering can on or the one with the Goldfinch on it. Those are very pretty.

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  20. Beautiful! I have often wondered how to make one of these. Thank you for the instructions.

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  21. I bet the smashing part was so much fun!! I admire your creativity and craftiness. I also think your explanation and pictures were clear and to the point. Nice work, and you're left with a beautiful container!

    p.s. How many more weeks left of school? I have 2 weeks left on my horrible work project! I'm counting the days!

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  22. Looks great! I still have a bunch of plates leftover from my mosaic birdbath project -- it might be time to do another project! Thanks for the inspiration!

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  23. I'm a beginner with mosaics. So far I have only finished a couple of little projects, like my house number, but I have started on a series of stepping stones for my front garden. Seeing your fabulous pot makes me very impatient to get home and get back into it.

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  24. I love this! You did a great job, it is absolutely beautiful! And I love the idea of using mortar with polymers. Great idea. Thanks for sharing!

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  25. Your ceramic studded pot is an amazing piece of art. Reminds me of Antonio Gaudi's mosaic work in Guel Park.

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