Part 2: Repair, Painting and Reveal!
Read all about the repair, prep work and painting I did to turn our 5 ft plaster tulip into a bold garden focal point. I’ll share all the steps and materials we used in this giant tulip makeover.
Our New Colourful Tulip Sculpture – A Garden Focal Point!
If you have been waiting for the reveal of the tulip after Part 1, you’ll remember that I described how we acquired the tulip and the history of the Canadian Tulip Festival.
I also shared about the repairs needed, as well as some design possibilities. However, if you need a recap, or if you’ve landed on this article without have reading the first part, I recommend you check out Part 1 first.
The Design Feedback Is In – How You Thought I Should Paint the Tulip
In Part 1, I shared nine possible designs and asked for your feedback. My goals for the tulip were that it would be relatively simple, very colourful, and still ultimately look like a tulip.
Let’s recap the potential designs for a moment:
I got quite a lot of responses here on the blog and on social media – the most on any post so far. And the overwhelming favourite among those who responded was #3. Here are the votes I collected:
#1 – 0 votes
#2 – 1 vote
#3 – 15 votes
#4 – 3 votes
#5 – 3 votes
#6 – 2 votes
#7 – 4 votes
#8 – 2 votes
#9 – 4 votes
Other suggestions included painting it funky colours, or leaving it white. Interestingly, no one wanted it to leave it like a perfectly normal red tulip.
Design #3, the clear favourite
I had mentioned in Part 1 that I had a favourite that I was leaning toward already and I wanted to know your opinions. Despite #3 being the favourite of the majority, I did not choose it.
Here’s why: Design #3 was actually the last design I did, and I designed it simply because I had an empty spot on the page to fill. (*sorry!*) While I love it (and I would absolutely choose real Suncatcher tulips to plant in my garden), I felt it would be too difficult to paint.
There would have to be blending of the red paint into yellow, and paint just dries too fast – especially with the super hot summer we’re having. Even with some sort of paint extender, I didn’t feel confident in getting a nice blend rather than a firm line where the colours met, or alternatively, drips. Plus, I didn’t feel that #3 was quite as playful as I was going for.
I apologize if I’ve disappointed any of you because you seemed really passionate about #3, and I thank everyone who submitted their favourite or made a suggestion!
The Design I Chose For Our Colourful Garden Focal Point
The design that I had been leaning toward from the beginning was #8 – a yellow tulip with red polka dots, and a turquoise base. I really liked the yellow flower petals of the tulip, the pop of colour from the turquoise base, and the fun from red polka dots. (If you’ve been reading other posts, I’ve already said multiple times how much I love polka dots!)
Not many people voted for that design. Although, my mom chose that one without remembering that’s the design I was going to choose. She also liked the bright yellow and pop of turquoise. It’s sometimes scary how much we think alike 🙂
I really wanted the tulip to be bright, fun and playful. In addition, I wanted it to be a bold garden focal point. I felt that design #8 fit the bill. However, we almost made a terrible change to the design.
Once we were shopping for paint, we found that even small cans of exterior paint are pricey. We decided to forgo the turquoise bottom to save money, thinking I would just paint the whole base green.
Then weirdly, at the exact same moment a few weeks later, my husband and I both announced that we thought that was the wrong choice and we would regret skimping on the turquoise. So we made a separate trip to get a turquoise can of paint. It was definitely the right choice.
Deciding on Products to Repair and Paint the Tulip
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I’m not going to lie. I’m an over-thinker. Can anyone else relate to that?
I did quite a bit of research into repairing and painting plaster, and trying to make the tulip as weather-proof as possible. In fact, I researched so many different exterior, weather-resistant and weather-proof products that I just got more and more confused. I agonized about using the right combination of products.
I’ve come to terms with the fact that the tulip will need repairs and repainting in the future. But I want to do a good job to make it last as long as possible, and to take care of this piece of Tulip Festival history. I don’t want to cut corners or choose unsuitable products.
In the end, it seemed like summer was passing by too quickly and we needed to make a decision and get started. I decided on a course of action and am hoping it will prove to be successful.
Now that the project is over, I’ve decided there are two key themes. 1) I’ve probably done a lot of unnecessary steps or used too many exterior products when only the top coat needed to be safe for exterior. And 2) I was convinced that we might run out of several of the products, when in fact I could do multiple tulips with what I have leftover. I’m bad at estimating! Oh well – better than running out.
Here’s what I decided on:
Weldbond Glue seems to be a fabulous product. My mom mentioned she has used it for some exterior repairs, and I set about researching it. Normally company websites are boring, but the Weldbond Glue website is HILARIOUS! Nearly everything on it incorporates some sort of joke, such as this gem:
“Weldbond® is not intended for marine applications. It is not recommended for use on exposed exterior surfaces, or underwater…like gluing the appendages back on Octopi or Starfish. Besides, they grow back on their own.”
You’ll get a kick out of reading the Weldbond website. Plus, when someone asks you what you did today, you can honestly say, “I read a website about glue and laughed!”
Weldbond is a super interesting product because you can use it full-strength as a glue to repair almost anything. But you can also dilute it and use it to seal and prime porous surfaces. Since plaster is a porous surface, we felt this might be a good choice because we could use one product in two ways, saving money. We bought the 420 ml bottle and still have so much leftover.
We got a glue syringe from Lee Valley, though you can also get them from Amazon. And we also got a cheap plastic measuring cup for mixing and measuring the diluted glue.
Kilz 3 Premium Primer
This Kilz 3 primer was an impulsive addition to the project and not part of our original plan. I used what we had on hand, but I don’t think this heavy duty primer was necessary at all. If I’d had enough of a regular primer I would have used that instead. However, I did like this primer and it did have excellent hide.
I really wanted to use paint samples for the tulip colours because I thought it would be more economical to get smaller amounts. However I didn’t think that Home Depot sold exterior paint samples. I was convinced that I should still use exterior paint, even though I was going to use exterior urethane over top afterward. So we bought the smallest cans of Behr Premium Plus Exterior Satin we could get.
Then afterward when I was digging through our paint samples, I realized that the Behr Marquee samples we’d been getting previously were Interior/Exterior and I could have used those after all – oh well!
For the red dots, I just bought a bottle of Craftsmart Multi Surface paint in Satin in Red. Just “Red”. I already had a big bottle from working on my doormats, but I had bought another one. And it’s very silly because I squeezed a little bit into a cup for doing the dots and never used more than that. One 2 oz bottle would have been more than enough.
For the exterior paint, we bought P290-7 – Laser Lemon, M390-7 – Hills of Ireland, and MQ4-21 – Caicos Turquoise.
I’m really happy with the colour choices. And of course I have SO much paint leftover. If we ever have to repaint the tulip, we’re all set.
Helmsman Spar Urethane
I had been reading about spar varnish for marine purposes and had read in a few forums about using it for plaster statues. Somehow I latched onto spar urethane instead, and decided to use Minwax Helmsman Spar Urethane. It is supposed to have UV protection, as well being water-resistant, while still allowing the piece to breathe and expand during temperature changes.
I wanted to use water-based and we prefer satin to gloss, so we had to special order it in from an independent hardware store as only the oil-based was readily available. I was worried we wouldn’t have enough to do 4 coats, but as it turned out, I used less than half the can.
As discussed in the previous post, the tulip had lots of needed repairs. We used Weldbond glue to take care of all of them. We used the glue syringe to place glue under flat chunks that were flaking away, as well as to direct glue into cracks. The syringe wasn’t as useful as I’d hoped, but I still think it was helpful.
Then we put on disposable gloves and started smearing Weldbond over smaller cracks, over large pockmarks, and over areas where the fibrous texture underneath the plaster was visible. The glue dries nice and clear.
I was really pleased because there was a huge rectangular crack on the top of a petal and the whole section moved if you pushed on it. We used the glue syringe in the crack and smeared Weldbond over the surface. Once it dried it was completely stable again.
And one of the other areas we were most worried about was the collar of the tulip. Over time, it had been losing chunk after chunk of plaster, leaving rough, porous and stringy sections exposed. We smeared Weldbond glue all over those exposed surfaces and it really seemed to help. It still looks jagged and uneven, but I don’t think it will keep crumbling away at the same rate now.
Preparation for Painting
After letting all the glue dry really well, next I wanted to prime and seal the tulip. Following the directions for Weldbond on their website, they suggest diluting it at a ratio of 1 part Weldbond to 5 parts water for priming and sealing porous surfaces such as plaster. I mixed up 1 tbsp of Weldbond to 5 tbsps of water and did the underside of the base with it as a test. It was the consistency of milk and dripped off very easily.
We decided to mix up the rest at a 1:4 ratio, mixing 1/4 cup of Weldbond with 1 cup water in a plastic measuring cup. I used a very cheap brush for this part because I didn’t want to use a good brush for glue. It was still the consistency of milk and went on quickly.
However, after doing the diluted Weldbond layer, it was difficult to see visible evidence that we had done anything. And because it still looked just as damaged as before, we decided to put a coat of regular primer on it and just tidy things up for painting. I only had a few primer options kicking around. So I grabbed a can of Kilz 3, which goes along with the theme of the tulip of “going beyond what’s required”.
After a quick coat of primer on all surfaces, the tulip looked so much better already!! Even though it was technically white already, this coat of primer made it evident that it had actually been quite dirty, damaged and mottled. Now we were ready to paint!
Painting Our Tulip to Be A Garden Focal Point
Painting the tulip took several days because I had to paint each underside separately, as well as where the collar of the tulip overlaps the stem. But painting brought the most dramatic transformation so far, and it was so exciting to see colour finally on the tulip.
Here was my very first painting session:
Below is with the first two coats of yellow and the turquoise done. The turquoise covered much better and I stopped at 2 coats, but I did 4 coats of the yellow altogether. It was easiest to do the yellow when the tulip was standing up so that I could work all the way around it. We had it propped on a milk crate so the base was easier to paint. However, that meant I had to stand on a stepladder to paint the top. I was always afraid I’d take a tumble and knock the tulip down with me.
Here I had done a couple coats of the green, of which I did 3 coats in total.
When it came time to do the polka dots, I had a strategy. I traced a few different sizes of circular objects on paper and cut them out. Then I used painter’s tape bubbles behind them to attach them to the tulip. My husband and I chose the size we liked best, and I cut out a lot more of them.
Then I used more painter’s tape bubbles to plan the placement of the dots on the tulip. I wanted it to look even but random. Some of them just kept falling down, but otherwise it worked well. Once I was happy, I got out the red craft paint.
Using a small brush I traced around the outside of each paper circle, while holding it down with my fingers. Then I gingerly removed the paper circle and filled in the inside of the circle with a larger brush.
I ended up doing four coats of the red craft paint until it was opaque enough for my liking. On subsequent coats I carefully hand-painted up to the edge of the circles and occasionally I made a mistake and painted outside the lines. Then I would generally just correct it by making the circle a little bigger to encompass that mark.
After the dots had four coats of red, I went back with a small brush and yellow paint and tidied up the worst offenders. I could have continued doing this forever, but eventually I had to stop. I found that I had the most control if I pulled a brush around the outside edge in a counter-clockwise direction, but that meant I had to contort into awkward positions to get all the way around each dot, and I got a terribly sore neck as a result.
In the end, I was very pleased with the dots, but also very glad they were done!
Varnishing for Weather Protection
Strictly speaking, because I used exterior paint, no top coats were required. However, I really wanted to make sure that the tulip is as waterproof as possible. (Again, going above and beyond!) So I did put on four coats of Helmsman Spar Urethane, as recommended on the can for exterior purposes.
This step took a few days because I had to do the undersides of the base and bulb, and let them dry fully. Then I had to do the rest of the stem on its own and let it fully dry. Finally I could put the flower on top and do the coats on it.
This part started to feel a bit boring because it wasn’t changing how it looked. I’ve only ever used varnishes and top coats on small projects before, and I was worried that I was going to ruin the whole project at this point.
The can instructions said to lightly sand with 220 grit sandpaper in between each coat so the next coat adheres properly. I was skeptical, but I tried sanding one little area before putting on the second coat. Because the tulip has such an uneven and imperfect surface, I just took the paint off the high surfaces of bumps. So I immediately stop sanding.
I was worried that I had ruined the project, but I did a little bit of touch-up painting and then continued on with the urethane. No harm done. I did end up with a few drips which were difficult to avoid with all the curves and gravity working against me. But I think it looks pretty good and I feel confident that we’ve protected it as well as we can.
And eventually, the tulip was finished! It was such a relief after a full month of working on it multiple times a day.
I’m still new at making videos, and I tend to repeat myself a lot. But if you’d like to watch me talking about the tulip, and demonstrating a few things, check out the video below!
Our Fabulous Polka Dotted Tulip Garden Focal Point
I love how our tulip turned out! It is everything I wanted it to be. Most of all, it is fun, because in my opinion, polka dots are inherently fun. It is also bright and colourful and stands out in our yard, making a great garden focal point.
It is a one-of-a-kind garden focal point and piece of art that no one else has. Others may have these tulips, but no one else has one that looks like ours.
It is probably the biggest and longest project I’ve ever done. Some of my quilts have taken a long time, but I’m not sure I’ve worked on them multiple times a day for a month. Though my husband helped with set-up, glue repair and constantly stacking and un-stacking the two halves, I did the bulk of the work myself. And I’m feeling quite proud and also quite a bit tired.
We might play around with the location of the tulip still to find the best place for it as our new garden focal point. But for now, it’s slightly protected in the corner of our deck. It’s obvious when you come into the backyard, and I can see it when I’m at the sink doing dishes. Since I don’t particularly enjoy doing the dishes, now I have polka dots to make me a little bit happier. Who could be super grumpy when there are happy polka dots to look at?
One of the things I’m most glad about is that we decided to do the turquoise after all. I don’t think it would pop nearly as much without the contrast of that turquoise to the yellow and red. I’m so pleased with the tulip’s impact as a one-of-a-kind garden focal point, and with the colours we chose.
You might also like my tutorial for brightly painted backyard Barn Quilts.
I want to hear from you. Did I win you over with the finished result? Or do you still wish I’d done design #3? (or whatever your favourite was?) Let me know in the comments below.
All the best,