How many ideas light up in your mind? Daily, about a thousand things roll through my head. About 5 of them ever make it to paper or onto a screen. About one of those I might actually pursue. About 1/8 of those actually become anything. Sometimes I get frustrated with my ratio of shit-I-get-done to shit-that-I-never-see-through, but then again, I'm always improving, and I'm learning to be happy with myself for things that I do accomplish in the realm of making.
I’ve been dabbling in the world of concrete planters for a few years now. Like with many things I end up making, I saw something for sale in a cute boutique and thought, “I can make that!” and set to work. I’ve made planters for friends and family, as well as for auction items in charity and other gifts here and there. These have all been made with empty milk cartons and yogurt containers as molds – a readily available and no-cost process. When I worked for Gallagher Designs, I was able to incorporate some small cactus planters into a Super Bowl suite invitation for Nike, which entailed eating A LOT of yogurt for Matt and I. The yogurt hangover was worth it in the end.
I make these, and other up-cycled planters under the name Alchemy & Evergreen, a sorta-business I’ve had on the side for a little while. I consider myself a serial entrepreneur, and sometimes things pan out and sometimes they don’t. I’ve only received a handful of custom-orders, and a few weeks ago I was approached to create some more. The cool thing is, this new project forced me out the typical milk-and-yogurt-carton molds and revealed to me that I can make much more complex and customized shapes.
The entire process for me was trial and error. I didn’t even look up fellow creatives to see how they may have done it (gasp!). I simply went for it and used my own knowledge about how concrete is cast, and materials that would be easy for me to cut and put together. In addition, I purposefully tried to utilize materials that I already had sitting in my basement in order to minimize the up front cost of creating these. AND SO, the materials I used are as follows:
- Black foam core (I had some in my basement) -- BUT I recommend WHITE to avoid unwanted staining!
- Scotch tape (junk drawer staple)
- Xacto knife (after 4 years of art training in college, I have a million of these on hand)
- Vaseline (and q-tips to apply it – I have these items from past concrete planter projects)
- Rapid set cement mix (I purchased large bag that I will use for many projects to come for $18 at Home Depot)
- Quickrete cement dye (client wanted a dark + gritty concrete, so this was a must-have expense. About $8 at Home Depot)
- Sand paper and/or a hand sander
STEP 1 – decide on your shape(s) and make a template out of paper
I was shown two photos of two different shapes – a ½ of an isodecahedron (thank you basic math skills and Google for helping me figure this out), and a set of 3 triangular planters. I used Google to find an isodecahedron template, scaled it to the appropriate size, and printed it on regular printer paper. I then folded the shape to make sure it was in fact the desired size and shape, then unfolded it so that I could trace it onto my foam core. The triangle planters weren’t quite so scientific – I made this template myself without the help of the inter webs, although I'm sure you could find a template if you needed to!
STEP 2 – cut out your template from foam core, score fold lines
Just as you cut out your template out of printer paper, do the same with your foam core. SCORE fold lines so clean seams are formed at each corner. The goal here is to have the most scored/folded seams and the least amount of cuts. The cut seams take a little more attention to seal properly so that your concrete doesn’t flow out of these areas. Fold your template together and neatly tape on the OUTSIDE of your mold each seam. I also put tape on the scored + folded seams for extra strength and to keep the whole thing nice and sturdy.
STEP 3 – Create an insert for the middle of your planter mold.
This step probably takes the most on-the-fly ingenuity. Decide how much space you want to place your plant in, also taking into account that you can’t have the walls of your planter TOO thin. I’m still experimenting the the threshold of how thin I can actually get the walls to be without cracking, and I encourage you to do the same!
STEP 4 – GREASE UP!!
Vaseline is something that I didn’t start utilizing until after my first foray (and failure) into making concrete planters. Concrete likes to stick to the molds, which can cause a number of issues including having to use so much force to pry your piece out of the mold that it cracks or breaks. Important places to grease:
- The corners – you can also glob Vaseline in the corners that have slight cracks in order to prevent concrete from seeping out of the mold. Just remember: if you get TOO big of a glob, it may affect the shape that the concrete dries in.
- Faces of any un-coated portion of the mold. This is a MUST when using foam core. The paper layer of the foam core WILL stick to the concrete if you are not careful. Just swipe a very thin layer across each surface and it will do the trick.
- Around the entire insert that will become the void where you place your plant. There is nothing worse than having a beautiful concrete planter in which you can’t get that middle insert out of.
STEP 5 – MIX YOUR CONCRETE AND POUR
I use an old plastic bucket and an old plastic spatula to mix. I don’t think it matters too much what you use, but make sure it isn’t any of your finest kitchenware.
Take a look at the recommendations for mixing on the bag, but I always start with the dry mix and then SLOWLY add water, mixing until it is slightly thicker than cake batter. Make sure all the lumps are mixed in, and you have an even texture. Once it’s mixed, you can add the dye if you’d like a different tint or shade. After I mix, I usually tap the whole tub/bucket on the counter a few times to allow some of the air bubbles to escape.
It’s always better to make too much “batter” than not enough, and it may take some of your own experimenting to figure out how much dry mix translates to what quantity of wet batter. For a reference, I used approximately 3.5 cups of dry mix for each of the 5” isodecahedron planters you see below.
POUR! Pour your mix into your molds slowly, tapping it every once in a while to ensure an even pour and to get rid of as much air bubbles as you can. Once you get it poured and evened out, slowly press your middle insert into the concrete as desired. You may have to hold this here for a few minutes while your concrete sets enough to hold it in.
STEP 6 – CURE AND RELEASE FROM MOLD
The Quickcrete doesn’t take too long to harden. You’ll notice that your planter/mold gets really HOT. I’m not entirely sure why this happens, but I figure it’s due to some sort of chemical reaction during the drying process. Just let it sit! I personally have a really hard time with this because I am impatient, but seriously, just let it do it’s thing. I try to let it sit for a couple hours minimum before I carefully remove (usually with an exacto knife) the mold to reveal the final product.
AFTER THE CURE
Grab your sand paper and sand away any rough edges or odd seams. If you want it really smooth and thorough, you can use a hand sander to do this job.
You can paint these, add more stain for a gritty look, or do any number of fun creative things to add your own flair. Have fun with it! The cool thing about these is that even if they turn out less than perfect, the texture of the concrete lends itself to that sort of “DGAF” vibe, so it’s all good :)