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Seed mosaic instructions

The following is a hand-out distributed every year during the Minnesota State Fair at the Crop Art Competition. It's a description of crop art, here called "seed mosaics." I don't know who wrote it or when it was written, and I don't even agree with some of it (see Crop Art Essays for my views), but it is a sort-of official document and I think it's of interest.

--David Steinlicht, January 2004

Crop Art
Minnesota State Fair

In 1965, the Farm Crops Division of the Minnesota State Fair instituted a new feature known as Crop Art and Arrangements. Interest in this field of creative art has necessitated the issuance of some information for anyone interested in this form of artistry. Seed and plant parts of field crops, horticultural crops and tree and shrub plant parts which can be grown in Minnesota may be used.

For the latest rules for entering and showing, write the Entry Department, Minnesota State Fair, 1265 N Snelling Ave, St. Paul, MN 55108. [Please note: The rule book is available in PDF form online at www.mnstatefair.org from June through August.]

Crop art involves the use of seeds instead of paints to create a work of art. Paints are permitted as part of the background.

Lovely seed mosaics, seed plaques, and irregular forms such as birds and animals can be made from seeds and accessories. Even the beginner can create seed mosaics, etc., after a few simple instructions. In some localities, workshops are held to give the necessary instructions. For those persons unable to take advantage of the teaching and also to supplement the beginners quest to being on his own, the following paragraphs will be useful information.

Seed Mosaics

Nature's seeds possess colors and textures which lend themselves to the making of seed art objects. We shall confine ourselves to field crop and horticultural crops, seeds, and tree or shrub plant parts, nuts, etc. Weed seeds, or seeds of cultivated kinds which will not produce a crop of seeds in Minnesota are excluded in the State Fair competition. See the State Fair listing for eligible seeds and plants.

Seeds Start collecting seeds of the eligible crops from whatever source is at your disposal. This could be at your local seed store, or from your farm friends, or from seed catalogs (many sell as little as one pound), or at country elevators, or through your local garden club or arts center or even from your garden.

Backgrounds The material selected should be rigid. Try 3/16 inch plywood. Also useful are masonite, canvas board, heavy map board, unfinished such as paneling. Some artists cover the back board with some kind of fabric such as burlap, linen or similar textured fabric. The wood background when shellacked or clear varnished is just as appealing. When employing a fabric over the rigid backing used, cut the fabric at least one inch larger than the board on all sides. Pull taut and glue and tack to hold in place. Allow to dry.

Tracing the design is more difficult on fabric than on a hard surface. Use graphite carbon and soft pencils to trace the design onto the background.

To proceed

1. Trace the design onto the surface. If a skyline is needed, add it first with paints. Refer to the section on designs.

2. The seeds are attached to the background with Elmers or Fullers glue. Use plenty of glue. Start by applying glue to the lines of the design which have been traced on to the background. Do small areas at a time. Have the seeds handy in saucers or cups. Use a round toothpick or similar tool and place a small amount of glue on it for picking up and placing the seeds. Large seeds can be handled with tweezers or the fingers. Keep glue off the surface where no seeds will be applied. Allow the glue to dry hard. Avoid flexing the support board during the drying.

3. Seed selection for the best colors and textures is part of a successful mosaic. Experience and a good selection of seeds are necessary and the beginner may make two or three mosaics using the same design with improved selection each time. Avoid as much as possible dying or artificially coloring seeds to obtain certain colors. Dye or color seed only if absolutely necessary to get a certain color such as reds or blues.

Size Small to medium art or seed mosaics are the most interesting. With birds, such as wild ducks, one-half to two-thirds normal size of the bird is best. The same holds with making rooster seed mosaics. Consider the subject matter of the mosaic as a guide to size selected. The long length of the mosaic may be either vertical or horizontal, depending on the design selected. Note the maximum size permitted under the State Fair rules. Beautiful mosaics may be 12 x 24 inches, or even as small as 10 x 15 inches, while others may need to be 20 x 30 inches in size.

Framing Always frame rectangular or square mosaics or finish the edge to appear finished. Select frames that blend well with the mosaic. Irregular forms are not framed.

Preparation for showing The mosaic should be fitted with picture hanging wire or hooks, if small, for hanging. The show chairman may hang the mosaic or possibly stand it on a frame, depending on the space available.

Finishing Use a clear lacquer spray, or clear varnish, over the seeds and the supporting background if of wood. Apply after the glue has dried thoroughly. The finish coat will hold the seeds together better and it will also bring more luster and color out of the seeds used.

Skylines, clouds, or other attendant background is usually put on first. This applies to scenes.

Showing Show your seed mosaics at any show that permits them. Certain art shows now permit seed mosaics.

The Minnesota State Fair invited all interested persons from any state who desire to do so to enter the Crop Art and Arrangements shows. There is no entry fee. Attractive awards are being offered. The artist may ship his or her work to the Minnesota State Fair or may bring it in person. For information, write to the address given earlier.

For rules interpretations and possible source of other information, write to Superintendent, Farm Crops Division, MSF, 1265 N Snelling Ave, St. Paul, MN 55108.

Textbook references: Eleanor Van Rennsseler. Decorating with Seed Mosaics, Chipped Glass and Plant Materials. Published by D. Van Nastrand Co., Inc., Princeton, N.J. (Price of this book is $5.95).

[tiny seed]

Crop Art web site ©2004 copyright David Steinlicht. Images on this site ©2004 copyright by the individual artists. Use of these images without permission is prohibited. Questions or comments? Write to: steinlicht@pobox.com