Evolution of a Custom Order

When a friend asked if I could make a crib mobile for her son’s room, I was willing to give it a try even though I’ve never made a mobile.  She shared some photos of the nursery, which has a Calvin and Hobbs theme with birch tree silhouettes on the wall.  She didn’t want anything too cutesy because the plan was for the mobile to be part of the room’s decor beyond the baby years.

colored sketch of leaf mobile

This was the sketch of my original plan for the mobile. I used the same pan pastels to color the sketch as I planned to use on the mobile.

My original idea was strands of leaves hanging from a piece of birch branch. I had some color direction from the nursery photos: burnt orange, navy blue, leafy green.  However, since colors vary across monitors, I made some test leaves to find out if I was on the right track.  And of course, I was using polymer clay as the basis for everything.

polymer clay leaves in blue, green, and orange

These were the first batch of test leaves. You probably can’t tell from the photo, but there are four different finishes: antiqued matte, antiqued ceramic, plain matte, and plain ceramic.

The first leaves I made were an off-white base colored with pan pastels.  I used acrylic paint to give an antiqued finish to highlight the veins in some and left some “plain.”  I also coated some with liquid polymer clay for a faux ceramic look, and used matter polyurethane on others. The feedback from my friend was that she would like them to be “darker.”  I wasn’t sure if she meant a darker shade, in which case I would add black to the colors, or if she meant a more saturated color.  I had a feeling it was the latter, so on to more test leaves.

polymer clay leaves with various faux finishes

The second batch of test leaves includes colored clay (custom blends of Sculpey Premo! in the top row) and some white clay colored with alcohol inks.

I knew I couldn’t get the colors more saturated using the pan pastels, so I moved on to coloring the white leaves with alcohol inks.  I also threw in a few leaves made from colored clay in custom blends.  The leaves colored with inks got a faux ceramic finish, and those made with colored clay got some antiquing with acrylic paints. I also used a different vein pattern, and used a ripple edged cutter for some.  Now I was ready to give my friend the test leaves so she could take them home and see them in place.

pile of test leaves on twine

I added labels to the leaves to identify the finish and delivered this pile to my friend for review. I also gave her some color swatches of other inks and pastel options.

My friend took the test leaves home, along with my sketch, and consulted with her husband.  They liked all the test leaves and decided on a mix of dark and light shades of orange, green, and blue.  They also asked if I could make the top out of two crossed branches (instead of a single) and add some stars and moons.

polymer clay birch branches and leaves waiting assembly

These are the final leaves and branches, all made from polymer clay, ready for assembly. Almost. Some of the green and blue leaves still needed antiquing.

Rather than use all the test leaves in their various finishes, I decided to stick with colored clay with acrylic antiquing.  I mixed some intermediate colors of clay to give it more interest.  The branches were the biggest challenge because I needed something that wouldn’t bend or break from the weight of the dangling leaves, stars, and moon.  I used aluminum wire and foil as an armature, and the branches turned out better than expected.

sketch of mobile with stars and moon added to leaves

When my friend asked for “stars and moons in between the leaves” I wasn’t sure what she meant, so I revised my original sketch based on what I assumed she meant. And then showed it to her to see if I was on the right path.

I also ordered some glow-in-the-dark powders to mix into translucent clay for the stars and moon.  (Btw, I read about how to use the powders and where to get them from The Blue Bottle Tree.  If you’re into polymer clay, you really need to subscribe to Ginger’s site and follow her on social media because she has all the best information.)

crib mobile with leaves, moon, and stars

This is the finished mobile, complete with glow-in-the-dark moon and stars. It was difficult to get a well-light photo because the only place I could hang it from was the shower curtain rod.

I was initially skeptical about adding the stars and moon, thinking it would clutter up the design.  In the end, I was actually happy with how it all turned out, especially when the lights are out.  You’ll have to trust me on the glory of the glow-in-the-dark stars and moon, because it turns out taking good photos of that stuff takes lots more patience than I have.  I fussed with my camera’s settings for about 20 minutes and then called it good enough.

side by side comparison of mobile in day and night

Trust me when I tell you those yellow stars and that blue moon are completely charming in the dark. They glow brightly for hours. And they aren’t all fuzzy the way my bad photography makes them appear.

Assembling the mobile took some trial and error.  I ended up using wire to connect the two branches because I couldn’t keep them stable with my sad knotting skills.  I used twine to connect the leaves to the branches, for a more rustic look.  The stars are on fishing line, with crystal clear beads as spacers.  They blend into the leaves nicely by day.

leaf mobile hanging above baby in crib

Here is the final design in its new home with another happy customer.

I am very pleased to report that my friend and her husband were happy with the final mobile.  And it looks like my friends’ baby is happy with the final design as well.  I had so much fun with this custom design.  I may even make a wall hanging with the left-over test leaves: something more like my original single-branch design. I may even branch out (oh, I crack me up) into more home decor with my polymer clay creations.  I have no plans to get better at glow-in-the-dark photography however.