Look to nature for perfect flowers

 Michele Carter of PepperWood Miniatures shares her trade secrets

No matter what I am attempting to create in miniature, I strive for as much realism as possible.  When I started my business making bouquets and floral accessories, I wanted to differentiate my work by finding ways to make them look truly realistic. In order to accomplish this, I turn to Mother Nature for help. Here are some of the 'trade secrets' I use to try to re-create nature in miniature.

You'll find lots of plants right in your own back yard.  I live in the rural foothills of San Jose, California, and I spend a lot of time scouring my property for small-scale plant materials that could be used in arrangements. One of the treasures I discovered in my yard is a weed (sorry, I haven't a clue what it's called)  with seed clusters that look like mini-pumpkins when dried and painted orange. They're perfect  for autumn table arrangements or wreaths. The Eucalyptus trees in my yard provide prodigious amounts of pods that look like little bells.  When dry, they range in tone from a silvery blue color, to a brownish tone.  For a Della Robbia wreath, I selected some silver-blue bells and painted the inside of the bells gold. For a pinecone wreath, I chose the more brown-hued bells. You could also include them in a bouquet to provide an interesting texture.

And that's just the beginning.  My purple Passion Flower vine yields delicate tendrils that can be used for making ivy in perfect scale.  A Pepper Tree sheds many useful items, including, of course, the peppercorns.  And the clusters that hang down (which usually end up in my hair) consist of very delicate twigs, which are in perfect scale for small bushes and plants.  Simply secure one of the twigs in a pot and add leaves and a few blossoms, and you have a much more realistic looking plant than if you used only wire stems, or tried to duplicate the natural branching patterns.

When I've really looked, I have found many other weeds and dried seeds on my property that have interesting colors or textures.  When you are out walking anywhere ' a park, a meadow, or a vacant lot, ' there are many weeds.  You will be amazed at what you find when you look at nature with a miniaturist's eye.

Don't stop looking at nature's bounty when you come into your home. Open those kitchen cupboards, and you will discover a plethora of dried materials. Most dried seeds which can provide color and texture to dried arrangements.  I used peppercorns (they come in red, black, green and white), caraway seeds, mustard seeds, and cloves in making both an autumn wreath and a pinecone wreath.  Ground coffee, poppy seeds and the tea from a tea bag can be used as dirt and mulch for landscaping.   Decorative whiskbrooms (they come in straw and dark brown) are made from small-scale twigs that are fairly straight, yet wavy, and have a very Ikebana-like feel when gathered together in an elegant vase. They could also be used in a floral arrangement to provide contrasting color, structure, and texture. And finally, poke through your bowl of potpourri and you will find a treasure trove of dried flowers, leaves and seeds. 

Check out the dried flower selection at your local craft store.  Most carry a broad range of dried flowers and plant materials, which at first blush may appear to be too big to be correct for 1/12th scale. But these can be brought to scale by using only a portion of the bloom.  For example, I have some dried Queen Anne's Lace with flower heads that are about 4 to 5 inches across,  however, when I looked closely at the blooms, they were made up of hundreds of tiny blossoms that are perfect 1/12th scale blooms. 

If you want to recreate in miniature it in miniature, simply separate the individual blooms from the flower head with tweezers and glue to #30 wire stems and you have instant miniature Queen Anne's Lace!  Dried Yarrow can also be broken down into smaller blooms in the same way.  Another 'weed' that I have successfully dried is mustard. The flower heads are delicate and can be separated into even smaller florets. 

Pick them when they are bright yellow, and hang them upside down in a dry, warn place out of direct sunlight. Use dried material as 'filler' for your bouquets

I use many different dried flowers and plant materials in combination with my hand-made paper flowers. 

The added texture and detail do two things: first, they disguise the wire stems, which really aren't terribly attractive or realistic looking; and second, they provide the small-scale texture or 'filler' to contrast with my flowers, which makes the bouquet look much more natural.  If you look at a bouquet from a florist shop, you will notice that they always use filler materials.  Sometimes it is just greenery, other times they use lacey flowers like Baby's Breath. 

Have you ever noticed that the florist strips most of the leaves from the flowers before he builds the arrangement?  So when I build a bouquet of Roses, for example, I don't spend a lot of time fussing with Rose leaves.  A few strategically-placed leaves in a bouquet of 12 Roses is really all you need if you use a dried filler material in combination with your handmade blossoms. 

TIP:  Any time you use natural dried plant material in an arrangement, be sure to 'fix' it with clear matte acrylic spray.  This keeps the dried materials from shedding. Be careful not to over spray paper flowers, as the petals can become transparent.

Your computer can be a real asset for making leaves. If you have a scanner and a computer with the appropriate software, you can create beautifully detailed leaves.  I look for plants that have leaves with very bold patterns. If you use leaves that are plain with not much pattern or contrast, by the time you get them down to scale, they won't look much different than if you had used green paper. I pick a good selection of leaves, making sure to have some of different sizes and shapes.  Then I scan them into my MAC and reduce them to proper scale in PhotoShop.  I often have to touch up the colors on the leaves in order to retain the contrast and detail when they are reduced. 

Once I have them looking good at the right size, I print them out on non-glossy paper.  Then I paint the back of the paper a coordinating shade of green (and by the way ' there are many different greens available in acrylic hobby paints other than 'Americana Leaf Green') and once dry, I hand cut as many leaves as I need.  If the leaf is shiny in real life, I finish them off by lightly brushing the leaves with water-based satin varnish.

So grab some zip-lock baggies, and maybe a plant identification book, and then go for a walk.  When you look to nature, you will be rewarded with lots of tiny treasures.

Michele Carter is a professionally trained artist and a skilled miniaturist who has just recently opened her business, PepperWood Miniatures, making high-quality, collectible miniature floral arrangements. Michele turned the hobby she loves into a home-based business after leaving her career in marketing communications after 25 years.  An avid gardener, Michele has spent years landscaping her entire yard on her farm in the foothills of San Jose, California.  The transition to making the flowers she loves in miniature was a natural,  To see more of her work, visit her web site at www.pepperwoodminiatures.com.

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