Here is part one of my two part tutorial on how to make gumpaste dusty miller leaves. I chose this subject since there seems to be so few leaf lessons available on the Internet. I find this quite amazing since leaves really do add so much to our botanical creations. So, I thought it would be fun to showcase the unique and very attractive dusty miller leaf.
Another reason I selected this leaf as my subject is because they are quite popular in bridal bouquets which means they will be equally lovely if you use them on your cake(s). Their soft coloring and felt-like look is the perfect companion for so many pretty gumpaste flowers. So, I hope my writing about my adventures here in trying to create some realistic dusty miller leaves will be useful to you.
My Dusty Miller Leaf Instructions
My first step when creating any new flower, leaf, etc. is to find a live specimen(s) (when possible) and/or lots of suitable photographs on the Internet. These examples give me a basis for how I hope my finished pieces will turn out. I then usually turn to one or more of my many sugarcrafting books for some guidance. I find this helpful because these professional sugarcrafters have done many of the preliminary steps (what I like to call trial and error) for me which can make the process easier. Since none of my books had this particular leaf as one of their gumpasting subjects I was left on my own to figure it out.
Coloring the Gumpaste
After studying (doing my homework) I knew my goal was to make leaves that were almost whitish-gray with a subtle bluish-green hue. When viewing the real plant in person you can see that the newer leaves have the most delicate white-gray coloring while some of the older ones have very little gray (I am not sure if my photo does their coloring justice). So, for this pending project I decided to create my leaves with the younger growth coloring.
With that in mind, I had to make some gumpaste that would achieve this distinctive coloring. I started out with three different mixtures containing Wilton gumpaste (white) and Squires Kitchen Eucalyptus Sugar Florist Paste. Here are the combinations I tried: #1 mixture is 75% white & 25% eucalyptus, #2 is 50% white & 50% eucalyptus and #3 is25% white & 75% eucalyptus. After they dried on my test pieces I ended up choosing mixture #2 as my favorite followed by #3. For me #1 was too pale for my liking. I was happy with the 50/50 combination because it produced just the right amount of blue with just that tiny hint of green undertone I was looking for in my leaves.
You could choose to use some pale green mixed with white, but keep in mind that the real McCoy plant seems to me to have more of a subtle blue tinge to it.
Cutting Out the Gumpaste
As with any petal, leaf or one-piece flower you have a couple choices when cutting them out. The first way can be achieved with a DIY pattern and a cutting wheel (and/or a Xacto knife). Another option is to try to find a similar/comparable cutter that you may already own to do the job. Or lastly, when available, use a cutter that is specifically designed for the particular item you are trying to create. Luckily for me there were actual dusty miller leaf cutters (the Gio’s Collection) available from Sugar Art Studios. The reason I felt fortunate is because this plant’s lacy leaves have lots of little intricate notches which makes them kind of (okay, very) difficult to cut out neatly on one’s own. So for me I felt it would be a worthwhile investment because not only are these cutters metal (my cutter of choice over plastic ones), I also knew I would be able to use them again in the future to make other types of leaves such as anemones, ranunculus, daisies, etc. For any of you who decide to go the DIY route and cut these leaves out freehand I would like to pay my respects in advance and applaud your skill and infinite patience.
Additional Cutter Information
At first I was only going to purchase one cutter: the lacy leaf #2. In the end I opted to purchase all three of the dusty miller cutters from the Gio’s Collection because I love to try and mimic Mother Nature whenever I can and having them all at hand might help insure doing so. My initial instincts were correct and the lacy leaf #2 worked superbly. After making some more leaves with the broad leaf #1 I can highly recommend adding it to your cutter collection as well. Although adequate enough, the #3 cutter produced a dusty miller leaf that was just a little too bulky for the delicate feeling that I wanted to achieve for my topper. So, it’s your call whether you want to invest in the entire set of three or cut your choice down to purchasing just one or two.
A fun fact I ran across when I was doing my homework was seeing in an Instagram showing some of Ron Ben-Israel’s dusty miller leaves and it certainly looks to me like he uses these cutters. This means that when we use them as well, we are in very talented company.
Wiring, Veining & Drying
To begin making my leaves I rolled out my well-kneaded gumpaste onto a groove board (see Choosing the Best Board or Work Surface for Gumpasting) to a thickness of about 2mm to 3mm as I like to use a thicker piece of gumpaste for fleshy-type leaves such as these. After cutting out the leaf with the cutter I then flipped it over and I snipped off the excess gumpaste at the base of the leaf. Using a large ball tool I softened its outer edges on a foam pad (not shown in photo collage). I carefully inserted into the base of the stem a piece of 3” to 4” (longer if you like) white colored #24 gauge wire which I had dipped in glue and and then threaded into the central ridge. Make sure you insert it at at least a 1/3 of the way up the leaf.
To give the leaf some nice realistic markings, my next step (which is optional) was to place the leaf onto a double-sided silicone veiner that I had dusted lightly with cornstarch. Like the cutters, my dusty miller veiner was purchased from Sugar Art Studios and I was very happy with the detailing it created on both sides. I was also pleased with how nicely it fit Giovanna Smith’s (Gio’s Collection) cutters. If you don’t have a suitable veiner you can always place your leaf on a foam pad and mark it with a Dresden tool to create these veins. I would suggest looking at Shutterstock to see some good photos that may help give you some guidance to achieve the veining.
At this point it was ready to be dried. I placed the leaf on my drying device and gently shaped it to give it some life. I left it there to dry overnight.
Stay tuned because in Part Two I will reveal how to add the leaf’s finishing touches :D!