Monday, December 12, 2011

Cones and Common Things: A Christmas Decoration Tutorial

Glammed up fir cones ready to make a festive mark

We here in the Pacific Northwest have a bountiful supply of Douglas Fir trees and a seemly never ending supply of fir cones from these trees.  (If you have ever lived or camped beneath these trees you know what I mean.)  So when I told a friend of mine I was using them for Christmas decorations I got "that look" know, the one that has unspoken words with it that says "You're kidding right?".  It made me laugh...and I still chuckle about it today as it is a reminder to me of how differently my eyes see things sometimes and how wonderful that really is.

Being a plant nerd keeps my eyes connected to the natural world and being a creative type means I'm always looking for how plants can be used for crafting.  I cannot remember a time when I didn't look at plants for what they could be used for actually.  So it's no surprise that I grow things for their utility or craft-ability.  I'm forever scanning the neighborhood for trees such as Liquid Amber, Oak, Pine and others that will grant possible gleaning of cones and pods for my crafting habit.

These little fir cones, and other cones and pods, are so beautiful in their structural design that they are perfect to paint up and scatter about a table centerpiece, place in a bowl or hang on the tree.  The other beautiful part is that it makes these ornaments nearly FREE to make!

Baking sheet lined with foil
An oven
Rubbing Alcohol
Old tooth brush or cotton rag (for applying alcohol)
1/2" flat tipped paint brush (for dry brushing)
Opaque acrylic craft paint in a variety of colors (base colors and highlight colors)
Glitter Glaze acrylic paint(optional)
A box or flat surface lined with wax paper or silicone craft sheet
Fir cones (or other tree cones or flower pods)
Pretty string, ribbon or wire
Old butter tubs (as many as you have base colors)

Use dry undamaged cones only.  Fir cone scales close up tight when the cones are wet and in order to get paint in between the scales you need them to be dry so they will open and allow the pain in between the scales.

Damp cone with scales snugged in tight

Heat oven to 200 F, line a baking sheet with foil, load it up with a single layer of cones and place it in the oven for 20 to 30 minutes (max), keeping a close eye on them.  The heat will dry them further, kill any bugs that might be living in them (gross I know, but necessary) and should melt away any pitch that might be on the cone.  Let cones cool before handling, hot pitch can really burn so be careful. 

If there is still pitch on them that needs to be removed, use a little rubbing alcohol and an old tooth brush to remove it.  Soak the pitch with the alcohol for a bit and then scrub it off. It should come off fairly easily.  Now you are ready to glam them up.

NOTE: I make up several of these cones at a time in batches and find it the fastest and easiest way to make them.

In an old butter tub or other deep container mix 1 part water and 3 parts paint (more or less depending on how opaque you want it to be). This will create a stain you can dip the cones into instead of having to hand paint each one.  Be sure you have enough room at the top of the container so that when you add the cones it does not overflow.

Dry cone with scales opening up and ready for paint

Dip the cones in the paint, swishing them around to be sure it gets up under the cone scales.  Remove with tongs or a slotted spoon, drain and place on lined surface to dry.  Rotate the cones and dab off excess paint from the bottom side that may have pooled up.  Allow these to dry completely before moving to the next step.

Dry and ready to be glammed up!

When the stain/paint is completely dry you can add the highlight colors.  Gold will give them the appearance of being gilt and white (not too much and just on the tips) will make them appear snowy.

Only hit the raised areas of the cone

To apply the dry-brush highlights use a flat-tipped brush, dip it into the color of paint you are using for highlights and before applying it to the cone, brush off the excess, in essence dry off the brush, so it will only lightly cover the surface of what you are painting.  Drag the brush lightly down the cone from top to the bottom tip so that you hit only the raised areas of the cone with the gold.  This will give you that hint of highlight.  Place your freshly adorned cones on a clean non-stick sheet or wax paper to dry

If you want you can try brushing the entire cone (plain or highlighted) with Glitter Glaze acrylic paint which will give them a shiny, frost kissed look that really sparkles...and who doesn't like sparkles at Christmas!

When they are dry they are ready to be piled into a bowl as a center piece, spread them beneath the candles on the mantle or table or you can just tie a ribbon or wire around the top just below the top layer of scales and hang them on the tree or in a window.  They look fabulous on a wreath too!

With all the wonderful color options we have for Christmas decor these days why not go wild...whatever you decide have fun!

Merry Christmas go get your elf on!

 Copyright © 2011 by Patty Hicks
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