Craft: Garden photo wood blocks

Now that most of our garden photos are being taken digitally and tend to get stowed away in folders on our phones and computers, preserving our favorite shots is more important than ever. Plus, nothing beats having your favorite flowers surrounding you indoors in the winter. Transferring photo images onto wood is garden crafting magic and the finished pieces have a rustic, vintage look to them. They are indeed garden art!

What you’ll need:

  • A photo printed on a laser printer (ink jet prints will give you faint, blurry images). A copy center like FedEx Kinkos can print one out for you or most workplaces have laser printers. Once transferred, the photo will be in reverse, which is often fine with plant images, but if it does matter to your image, such as a photo of your house, you can flip (mirror image) the digital image in a photo editing program. Most copy centers can also do this for you.
  • A raw, unfinished piece of wood sanded smooth and the size of your photo print. I tend to find the wood I would like to use, then size the digital photo to fit.
  • Mod Podge photo transfer medium in a matte finish, available at craft stores or online.
  • The only tools necessary are fine grain sandpaper to sand the wood, a small paint brush to apply the Mod Podge, a smoothing tool like a credit card or flat wooden handle of a spatula and a small kitchen sponge or rag.

I have found that photos with vibrant colors and a fair amount of contrast will create the most striking pieces. A golden yellow sunflower with its dark center and intricate petals set against a deep blue sky will “pop” more than several all-green hosta leaves. But a variegated hosta could have striking results. Any wood piece you care to use will work as long as it is sanded relatively smooth. I like to use regular 2×4”s cut to 5-inch lengths and sanded with a fine grain sand paper. Sanding blocks, available at hardware stores, are easy to work with. A small inexpensive paintbrush or foam applicator is all that’s needed to apply the Mod Podge.

The steps are simple:

  1. With a paint or foam brush, apply a generous coating of the Mod Podge medium onto the printed image side of the photo until it is completely opaque and you cannot see any of the image. Make sure to cover up to the edges.
  2. Carefully slide the photo, image face down, onto the wood and using a smoothing tool, as well as your fingers, smooth and rub and press the image into the medium, eliminating all air bubbles. The process is similar to wall papering if you are familiar. Be careful not to rub too hard and tear the photo.
  3. Let the piece dry for 8 to 10 hours or until it appears thoroughly dry and somewhat crisp to the touch.
  4. Soak a sponge or small rag (a terry-cloth rag works well) with water and place over the paper image for a minute or so to begin to dissolve the paper. Gently rub and scour the paper off with the rag until the wood is free of paper. Don’t be afraid of using more water if needed, the image is fully transferred and cannot be affected. The ink from the photo is transferred to the wood and the medium has created a thin, but hard and clear resin-like coating that is permanent but quite unobtrusive. If there are any overly thick spots of dried Mod Podge, gently sand them flat.
  5. You can apply a coat of polyurethane if you like, though you may find it unnecessary. Affix hardware or drill a small hole in the back to hang or if your photo is on a block of wood, you can simply set it on a shelf and enjoy throughout the winter. They also make lovely holiday gifts.

This article appeared in my DIY column in Northern Gardener magazine.

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