The challenge I posed myself in This is Not a Tree was to create a work of art that was durable and eco-friendly. The papier-mâché process gets you half-way there. To date, the fly in the ointment has been the paint and the final finish, both of which are, well, “not green”.
While you can purchase some ready-made eco-friendly paints, I decided to go old school and make it. This way I would know exactly what went into the paint, like making a cake from scratch instead of from a mix. After some research, I settled on milk paint. I figured what worked for “This Old House” will work for “This Old Tree”. Not surprisingly, modern day milk paint manufacturers are located in Massachusetts and Pennsylvania where sticklers paint historic homes using historic methods. The stuff is durable. Anyone who has tried to strip milk paint from furniture can attest to this because, unlike latex paints, milk paint permeates the wood rather than lays on top of it.
First the paste, now the paint, I find myself playing with my food. But only to a point. One problem I have is following a recipe with more than 10 steps, and most milk paint recipes I found on line involved making cheese first. This seemed excessive to me. So, imagine my delight when I stumbled upon the cottage cheese recipe by The Real Milk Paint Company, which cuts out steps 1-8. I ran down to Smart & Final and picked up a tub of Knudsen low-fat cottage cheese and mixed it with hydrated lime, water and a little dry milk to get the consistency right. Rather than getting the 50 lb. bag of hydrated lime from Lowe’s, I purchased a more manageable quantity from Earth Pigments along with my titanium white and iron oxide black pigments.
The end result, was not perfect: I should have let the paint ferment longer and strained the curds. But you can’t tell from looking at the tree. Also, I confess that left some paint brushes soaking in water, which began to smell like death after a few days in the heat. After cleaning up properly, the smell disappeared. Even commercial milk paint, like papier-mâché paste, will spoil after a few days if you don’t use it. What’s strange is that it doesn’t go bad *after* you use it.
I finished the tree with a combination of pure tung oil and citrus solvent from The Real Milk Paint company. Both are non-toxic ingredients. The tung oil is derived from type of nut, and the citrus solvent smells like it is made from a million orange peels boiled down to their essence. Both of these ingredients can be used in making oil paint. I am tempted by the recipe on The Earth Pigments website for Traditional Swedish Oil Paint for Exteriors. If there is anything tougher than a New England winter, it’s a Swedish one. Plus, it just sounds like fun.