I can has giant palm fossil?
August 15, 2011 5:19 PM   Subscribe

I saw a huge palm fossil at a gallery this weekend and fell in love. Does want, does not have $140,000. Please help me fake a fossil (for my own enjoyment, not for fraudulent purposes).

A gallery in Jackson Hole has the most amazing gorgeous 6' fossilized palm frond, and I must have something like it. It looks sort of like this.

I did find a place in Texas that fakes them, but I probably can't afford that, either. Also, I'm drawn to the idea of doing it myself.

PLEASE help improve my google-fu to find directions to making a realistic-looking palm fossil. Thank you so much!
posted by cyndigo to Media & Arts (14 answers total) 22 users marked this as a favorite
I might be thinking about this too simplistically, but...

Wet concrete in a frame of 2x4s and plywood back. Add palm frond. Allow to dry. Remove palm frond or allow to decay naturally. Paint the indentation if desired.

Would that get you somewhere close (enough)?
posted by supercres at 5:30 PM on August 15, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: You might try looking at this. Off hand, I would try making a mold from a palm, then using a course colored plaster for the palm and a slightly different color for the background "rock."
posted by Yorrick at 5:32 PM on August 15, 2011

On review, maybe make a plaster mold and use colored/stained concrete for the fossil and background.
posted by Yorrick at 5:35 PM on August 15, 2011

(When I say "concrete"... Cement or plaster would probably be closer to "rock". Of course you can paint that too. The fake fossil sit looks a bit like a watercolor effect.)
posted by supercres at 5:35 PM on August 15, 2011

I was thinking along the lines of something ceramic. There are a lot of crafty types out there (especially on Etsy) who sell, for example, real leaf drink coasters and jewelry that are ceramic. Is there a pottery shop where you live, the kind that lets you make and/or paint and bake your own stuff? Like, take a large ceramic slab, add palm frond, glaze carefully, kiln and voila?
posted by Gator at 5:38 PM on August 15, 2011

Best answer: 1) Decide what you want as your matrix. You may want a mottled mix of clays, or a generic brown, or porcelain, or layers to give the impression of "strata"... I'd go for mottled, myself.

2) Pick a nice palm frond. Too symmetrical will look fake, but you want it balanced.

3) Paint the back of your palm with a layer of gesso. Let it dry a bit. Repeat until you have a good solid thickness to the palm (perhaps an eigth of an inch, should take half a dozen coats)..

4) Press the palm (non-gesso-side down) into your block of clay. Really grind it in good.

5) Fire it with the palm still in place (beware, this will give you something of a raku-like effect, by which I mean expect possibly a lot of smoke).

Voila! Clean off your "fossil", square and cut the sides on a wet-saw, and mount it in a frame and then to your wall. If the first try doesn't give you a enough contrast, you could also paint the "green" side of the palm-sandwich with a glaze of your choice prior to firing it. Just skip the frit, and you'll get a nice stain without too much glassy effect.

/ IANAA, but I dated one for a few years.
posted by pla at 5:41 PM on August 15, 2011 [7 favorites]

Best answer: As someone who has tried to hang a huge heavy piece of artwork recently, consider this problem before you decide what to make your fossil out of. Concrete or similar is going to be really hard to hang. Even clay is going to be heavy. Plaster sounds like it might be more practical, if you can get it looking right.
posted by lollusc at 5:46 PM on August 15, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Okay, here's what I would do, though this is not my thing or my style, but I have sometimes built things for tv/film sets (That house of cards in that one episode of Warehouse 13? All the kids' art in that Bruce Willis movie Red? That was me (and my daughter for some art). But yeah - me!):

I would take spackle, or drywall compound, and smear it on a plywood board or canvas pretty smoothly, covering it the front and edges entirely. It's super cheap, easy to work with and not too heavy to hang, like cement. You just need a skim coat, really, depending on how deep you want the imprint of the frond to be. The, take a plastic drycleaner's bag, press it on it leaving wrinkles and bumps where desired, and then pull it off.*

Then, take a palm frond from a florist, and press that in, and pull it off. (Or leave it there to decay, but, without known results and seeing the example provided, I'd pull it off.)

Take watercolour/watered down leftover house paint/tempera in stone colours (grays,browns), and sponge, roll or and paint it on all over, letting it soak in and stain the drywall compound in a mottled fashion. Use your reference picture. Build colour in layers - it's easier to add then take away. Then, wait for it to dry (It will be lighter-coloured as it dries - make sure you view it where you're going to hang it). It won't take long. You don't need it to cure, or to fire it or anything. Seriously, for as long as you'll like this, it will last.

When it's dry(-er, -ish), take a more pointed art brush and use a darker brown/gray watercolour paint to fill in where the frond was, doing this in layers until you have the effect you want. Maybe if you happen to have powdered tempera around in the right colours, you could put some in your palm and just blow it all over so that it adheres to the plaster and speckles it a bit - but you probably don't need to. I just happen to always have a lot of weird art supplies around.

If you need to seal it so that you can dust it more easily, just use a matte or satin finish spray varnish. Seriously, it'll be good enough to pass even a good look by guests, and will last a good long time. If you use a canvas and are careful when you cover the edges, it will look enough like a slab of stone and it won't be too heavy to hang. Otherwise, at worst, it will look like art you'd buy to hang above the sofa.

I reckon it could cost less than $50, especially if you scrounge the canvas from a thrift store or ask for a scratch and dent from an art supply store. Aside from the canvas, I have all of this around my house right now and could whip one up in a day.

*this may or may not be the creative wall faux finish, painted cream, that looks like aged plaster we used to hide really wonky walls in my husband's office, that's lasted about ten years now. Sorry future homeowners!
posted by peagood at 6:00 PM on August 15, 2011 [11 favorites]

PS - you can lightly sand it, either before or after varnishing, with a wire brush, steel wool or fine-grit sandpaper, to adjust areas and remove colour as needed.

The varnish, depending on whether or not it gets a lot of sun, and how thickly you apply it, may yellow over time.
posted by peagood at 6:03 PM on August 15, 2011 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: OMG y'all are amazing. I had a feeling Metafilter would be able to help, but had no idea how much, and how quickly! Please keep it coming ... I'm prepared to try a number of different techniques to get it just perfect.
posted by cyndigo at 6:09 PM on August 15, 2011

I go with peagood but vote that you leave the palm frond in place until the plaster is dry. I think you'll get a better imprint. Also, I think it would work best with a very delicate type of frond and you stand the best chance of success it you start with a small version and only try a big one when you have your technique figured out.
posted by bonobothegreat at 7:04 PM on August 15, 2011 [1 favorite]

Oh yeah, one of the distinguishing (and elegant) aspects of this type of fossil is that they are compressed within the layers of rock. There's not all that much 3D relief. I would figure out a way to flatten the palm frond. Maybe a rolling pin would work. This is might make the frond all floppy, so you'd have to find a good way to drop it into the plaster.
posted by bonobothegreat at 8:26 PM on August 15, 2011

I don't know why this keeps popping up in my thoughts...

I would try to flatten it between a couple of sheets of plywood (lined with newsprint). I'd get some 2x4s and a half dozen screw clamps around it all, so that it could be left for a week to dry, like a pressed flower.
posted by bonobothegreat at 9:14 PM on August 15, 2011

...after the plaster had dried for a few days, I'd use a paint stripping heat gun to burn the frond away.
posted by bonobothegreat at 11:08 PM on August 15, 2011

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