Friday, June 1, 2012

Cracked Plaster Tutorial

In the All Together Now blog hop hosted by Amy, I gave away a cracked plaster on burlap piece (see a couple of posts ago), and some people expressed interest in learning more about how to do it.  Here are a couple of other pieces I've made using this technique.  (It's kind of hard to see the cracks on these unless you enlarge...)

Now let me say first, that I adapted this technique from Stephanie Lee, from her and Judy Wise's wonderful book Plaster Studio.  Stephanie also asked me to mention that they now have a Plaster Studio E-Book available on her website, which contains lots of videos of them working with plaster, which I'm excited about checking out.

So I'm going to just give a quick overview of the way I do it, which is a little different than the way Stephanie does it. The difference is that I stop short of the edge of the canvas in an irregular way so that the burlap shows, and I wrap it around the side ( I love burlap!).  With Stephanie's way you don't see the burlap - so it's just a matter of personal preference.

Step 1:  Have your piece of burlap cut out, large enough that it can fold around the back of whatever size canvas you're using. Make sure you have something under it to protect your surface, a plastic garbage bag or something.  Mix up a batch of plaster, just simple plaster of paris that you can buy at Home Depot or pretty much any hardware store. I buy one that's in what looks like a cardboard milk carton, it's a good size.  Add water to it and mix it up til it's kind of soft frosting consistency - not soupy, but not peanut butter either.  Make more than you think you'll need, just in case.

Step 2: Scoop a bunch of the plaster onto your canvas and using a small trowel or  something like it, start spreading it around the area of your burlap that you want to cover, working it into the burlap really well so that the plaster really adheres. The more rough and uneven you apply it the more texture there will be, so if you want smooth texture you'll need to work pretty quickly so it's not already drying by the time you're trying to really smooth out the top surface. Make the plaster a little wetter in that case. I'm guessing a thickness of about 1/4", more and less in different areas, is how mine have ended up.

Step 3: Let it dry overnight.

Step 4: Get cracking!  Start bending and rolling your plaster covered burlap (inward), in alternate directions, until you're happy with the cracks. This part is fun... The more cracks, the more texture and color variation there will be.

Step 5: Now center your plaster area over your canvas as you want it, turn it over, and start stapling the burlap to your canvas with a staple gun.  This goes quickly and is easier than it may sound, the only tricky part is the corners - trim away as much excess as you can, fold over very tightly and put quite a few staples in.  Trim away all excess.

Step 6:  Paint.  I don't think there's anything more fun to paint than cracked plaster. It's all about the layers.  Brush a layer of paint over the plaster, making sure it seeps into the cracks, then start rubbing it off with a paper towel or rag so that most (not all) of the color is in the cracks, more in some areas than others.   Then just repeat this process till you're happy, with different colors. Paint on, rub off....And as you rub, it starts developing a beautiful sheen.

Step 7:  Decorate. Here's where you let your style shine through. I try to not have too much going on, you don't want to compete with the beautiful cracks and paint too much. You might find that as you work little tiny loose pieces of plaster may come off, leaving a white bit.  Just dab a little paint into the area and wipe off. You can seal the piece with a matte or glossy sealant before you start embellishing, if you'd like.

Not sure how "quick" that overview was, but I hope some of you give it a try - I think you'll really enjoy it.  Please feel free to let me know if you have any questions!


  1. excellent.
    i actually bought the plaster studio last year, but i didn't really work through it.

    you've reinspired me. really. i have your beautiful cracked plaster piece here and it's motivating me to get going with plaster again.


  2. I love the two pieces you've shown. Is that a rusty 'rose' from a watering can? Love it!

    This sounds like such a fun technique to try....


  3. ooh thanks for that! I'll be trying this soon.

  4. Thank you, thank you, thank you! Great tutorial and as a lover of all things cracked and distressed I will be having a go at this SOON!

    Post bookmarked!



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