By: Carol Macon, carol[at]maconsys[dot]com, Colorado Springs, CO
You have found a lovely piece of weathered wood that you would like to use in arrangements. How do you treat it in order to enjoy it for many years? The answer lies in two parts—where you have found the piece and what effect you wish for it to make in your arrangements.
First of all, any piece of weathered wood should be hosed off thoroughly to rid it of insect life and any rotted portions. Spiders, termites, ticks and other insects, some of them very small, can inhabit wood found in forested or farmed areas, and hosing will get rid of obvious problems. You do not want to bring these insects into your home. If the piece is small enough, it can be boiled for a twenty minutes in a large kettle. This is an especially good thing to do if the piece has surfaces inaccessible to the jet of water from the hose. If the piece is too large to boil, pouring boiling water from a kettle into small cracks and crevices may take care of any problems. Some arrangers then scrub the wood clean. If the piece is true ocean driftwood, it may have absorbed a lot of salt water. If the wood comes in contact with the water of your arrangement, salt could leach into the water, affecting the flowers and other plants. The cure for this is scrubbing and then soaking the piece in a tub or basin of very hot water, leaving it until the water cools. If the water is not clear, repeat the process. (Cypress knees sold commercially have been boiled by the collector, have turned a red-gold or gold color and will turn gray as they age.) With any insects and rotting areas gone, your wood is now stabilized. Store the cleaned, dry piece in a dry area, loosely wrapped in plastic.
Most probably, your piece of weathered wood is now a light to medium gray color. Many arrangers, especially arrangers who wish to echo nature in their creations, prefer to use wood in this natural state. In our dry climate, natural, untreated wood will last a long time. If more of a refined, but still natural, look is required, the piece can be treated with a 50/50 mixture of boiled linseed oil and turpentine. Brush the mixture onto thoroughly dry wood with a paintbrush, repeating applications, if necessary, to get the look you require. Dry the piece before using it. Never use raw linseed oil, as the surface of the wood will become tacky and never really dry. This treatment preserves the wood, even in humid conditions, and can be repeated from time to time as needed. However it will tend to darken the piece over time.
Spray shellac provides a very durable surface. You can get it in a matte, semi-gloss or glossy finish. Shellac is, however, susceptible to water damage. This limits the usefulness of a shellactreated piece in any but dried arrangements. For the same effect and the ability to use the piece in contact with water, use a polyurethane spray. A matte poly spray will let the grain of the wood show through better than a glossy one. Perhaps you wish to alter the color of your wood. Swedish Wood Oil, Danish oil and Tung oil are easy to brush on to dry wood and come in pigmented colors, which let the character of the original wood show through. If you use these oils though, you will never be able to paint the piece, because paint will not stick to the oiled wood. Or you may simply spray paint your untreated wood piece. Once you do any of the above, the natural look of the piece is gone. Even if you use a wood stripper on it, it will never look the same. Spray painted pieces can, of course, change color at the arranger’s whim. Matte black or a neutral gray-green are the best colors to use as a foil for most flowering plants.
Finally, unless the aim of your arrangement is to feature the wood, take care that the size of the wood piece does not overwhelm the rest of your materials, or that painted wood does not draw attention to itself. Scale, color harmony, balance and proportion are important qualities in a work of art, and when these qualities are achieved, the result is an arrangement of elegance and distinction.
To download the pdf version of this article click here.