Glamorous Swans

Brass SwansThe large brass swans on the hearth called to me. Up to that point we had only acquired unique and unusual furniture to paint. But these tall swans looked amazing. I’ve seen them labeled Mid-Century Modern or Hollywood Regency style. They exuded glamour and personality despite a few dings. I couldn’t believe our luck and snatched them up. Unfortunately they were brass, extremely popular several decades ago, but not so in vogue these days. Real swans have an average lifespan of about 15 years, but these lovelies easily surpassed that and are still going strong. One thing was clear: time for a makeover. The day arrived when we settled the female, called a pen, into our car’s back seat, seat-belted her in, and headed for the beach. Lugging her into Mid-Life Crisis by the Beach — they are surprisingly heavy — I showed her to Pat. Mid-Life Crisis by the Beach If I haven’t described Pat before, she embodies enthusiasm, creativity and encouragement. A visit to her shop inevitably refreshes my spirit. We talked about Annie Sloan Chalk Paint colors and some new products from Artisan Enhancements. The eyes would be the key to this project, Pat advised. Make them regally Egyptian. In her enthusiasm, Pat picked up a brush and began painting an eye violet, then blue, soon adding eye shadow and black mascara. Just practicing.

Source: ladybutterbug.com
Source: ladybutterbug.com

Armed with inspiration, we headed home. Zinsser Shellac went on first because it just makes life easier. I started with the male swan, or cob, and mixed Artisan Enhancements’ Pearl Plaster with ASCP Pure White. I simulated feathers with long brush strokes. This was a strikingly different look from my previous time using Pearl Plaster when I gave a pair of elephants rough skin with Fine Stone and finished them up with a pearly shimmer. Studying the finished product, I decided the cob wasn’t pearly enough. I covered him with a thin coat of Pearl Plaster. It provided a lovely iridescent sheen. Painted Swan I applied a mixture of Old White and Arles to highlight their beaks. But the eyes. Ah, the eyes challenged me. When I know I must draw a straight line, my hand plays tricks. After failing to achieve the look I wanted, I turned to index cards and practiced with multiple brushes to get it right. Statistically, one has to achieve success eventually but it took me a while. The day finally came when I decided I was, in fact, satisfied with their eyes. I lightly brushed Pearl Plaster over them, using a cloth to wipe away any thickness. Painted Swans 1 The final step: finding a way to accentuate those long necks. Amanda, the floral designer at Michael’s was delightful. She found ribbon that matched the eyes, eye shadow, and snowy feathers, and created the beautiful bows. She suggested a nautical theme with a rope and strands of shells but I didn’t want to go in that direction. We agreed on the ivy, which she carefully arranged, and topped off with delicate white butterflies. And here they are. They’ve shed their outdated brassy coats and donned softer, fluffy feathers. Their eyes are so expressive and Amanda’s ivy and ribbons complete their  ensemble. They could hold their own at any red carpet event. Painted Swans 5 Painted Swans 3     Let us know what you think about the swans. If you’d like to receive our posts, just sign up below.

Ann Marie and David

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Preserving Boxwood, Part 2

Staged Boxwood 1

To recap, I put cut stems from the boxwood bushes in front of our house into a solution of glycerin, water, citric acid and green floral dye. You can read about that process here.

After a couple of weeks I removed the stems from the solution at the sink. I wasn’t interested in taking a chance on drips from the dye accidently staining our furniture. I rinsed each stem completely, paying extra attention to the wet dye at the base.

I gently shook off the water, blotted the stems dry and bundled them into two bunches. I grabbed a spool of red ribbon and tied each bunch, leaving a long tail to hang it. The next stop: out to our screened-in porch where I hung them from immobile fan blades.

Boxwood on Porch

They stayed on the porch a bit over a week, until we had a few days of rain. I didn’t want them to soak up the moisture again so I brought them into the house and strung them up for another several days.

I took both my painted containers to Michaels to make sure I bought the right sized foam bricks. The choices almost paralyzed me: shelves on both sides brimming with rectangular bricks, spheres, half spheres, narrow ones, wide, flat, thick, wet foam, dry foam, styrofoam, green, white. I went with the package of 6 dry foam bricks and headed for the cashier with my coupon in hand. It came to less than $3.

Two bricks fit the rectangular container perfectly.

Foam in Container

Now the arranging began in earnest — and it wasn’t pretty. I tried three times before I was satisfied. These are issues I encountered:

1. I had waited for the solutions in the glass vase and plastic container to evaporate but that never happened. I bit the bullet and stopped waiting. I’d read stories about fuzzy moss beginning to grow and wanted to avoid that experience.

2. Some of the stems were more like branches and the dye just didn’t make it all the way up to the tips. This resulted in the robust leaves on the bottom  half of the branch being dark green while the yellowing upper leaves curled dryly. I learned to be more careful in performing the cuttings on the bush, selecting stems and not branches.

Don't cut your stems as thick as these. The solution won't reach the leaves.
Don’t cut your stems as thick as these. The solution won’t reach the leaves.

3. I must not have placed a couple of stems properly in the solution. I could have blamed the quick evaporation of the liquid, but since that never happened, I believe I failed to immerse them — make contact with — the solution when I shoved them in. The result was predictable: yellowing, dry leaves.

4. My stems were wildly uneven. This can be advantageous when arranging flowers but it was a mess with boxwood. I had to snip and prune the the jumble into a quasi-uniform height. That meant aggressively pruning the tall, thick branches and then stripping leaves off the bases so I could easily place them in the foam.

Boxwood Yellowing leaves

5. My four cats loved the dyed boxwood. They jumped onto my  work table and gnawed the stems. Or they knocked them to the floor and tried to drag them off. That made me crazy. I worried the dye would poison them. David asked me to look up the answer on Google but I only got as far as discovering the Cat Fanciers’ Association lists boxwood as toxic to felines. So, I didn’t need to worry about their eating the dyed  boxwood because just plain boxwood could  potentially be lethal or, at least, cause diarrhea and vomiting. I rounded our cats up, put them in the bedroom and closed the door.

I finished my arrangement on my third attempt, at which time I decided I could live with it. High praise, indeed. The stems don’t look uniform like the ones in magazine photos or shown below in an advertisement. My arrangement has a hint of wildness that works for me.

11.5" Preserved Boxwood available at Silks Are Forever
11.5″ Preserved Boxwood available at Silks Are Forever

I put my arrangement up on the refrigerator, hoping the cats would forget about it. After few weeks I reintroduced it. So far, they ignore it. If they decide to munch on the leaves, my preserved boxwood will make a lovely gift.

And what of my second container? I used up the preserved boxwood in my first attempt. I still plan to craft the foam from those remaining bricks into a semicircle, but the second one sits empty as an attractively painted bowl.

I’ll need to buy another 8 oz. bottle of glycerin but I have plenty of floral dye and citric acid left. To say nothing of my boxwood bushes. Further efforts, however, will depend on our cats: Boston, Heidi, Starbuck and Pepper Popcorn.

I’ll leave you with an image of our boxwood bushes all dolled up for Christmas.

Boxwood With Xmas Lights

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