PHOTOS BY THE HORTICULT

Make Your Own: Vintage Botanical Wall Decals

PHOTOS BY THE HORTICULT

Scientific illustrations of flora, fauna and fungi are an unending source of excitement for us. When we learned, via design blog Miss Moss, that Biodiversity Heritage Library offers almost 80,000 of them in high-resolution on its Flickr page, we made a beeline for the botanical sets in particular, some of which date back to as early as the 18th century.

The Botanist’s Repository for New, and Rare Plants (1797) was one such album, where we fell in love with a pink Protea speciosa latifolia. The illustration sums up why the genre appeals to us: It’s a plant depicted scientifically, but also with a sense of the organism’s (real or imagined) emotional life.

We immediately thought this illustration would make a spanking maximalist wallpaper.

Problem is, we’re renters, and wall papering is forbidden by our lease. (As are the gleaming hardwood floors we’re trying to daydream into existence to replace our IRL carpeting.) Because we never let our rental status get the best of us, we figured out this workaround:

DIY Temporary Botanical Illustration Decals

(If you prefer permanent decals, the Painted Hive has an indispensable tutorial here.)

First, assemble:

- A high-resolution botanical illustration. We like Biodiversity Heritage Library’s selection; keep in mind that you will be cutting out the illustration around its margins, so you might want to choose a plant with simple lines. (Like this waterlily by Francois Stroobant.)

- Printable and removable decal paper for your type of printer. We used a Window and Wall Signage pack from Avery, which is temporary up to four months; Papilio also makes an inkjet removable vinyl, which you must buy directly from the company.

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- A ruler, preferably an L square.

- A clear acrylic sealer (to waterproof your decal)

- Scissors and/or a razorblade

- Pencil

- Eraser

- Your favorite library card

- Loctite high performance middleweight bonding spray adhesive, available at Home Depot

Now make your decal:

1. Size your illustration according to your tastes. There’s often an easy way to do this in the printer dialog of your image program.

2. Print your illustration onto decal paper(s).

3. In a well-ventilated space, spray your decal with clear acrylic sealer. (Mind the fumes!)

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4. Once your illustration is dry enough to handle (consult instructions on spray can; ours said two hours), cut out your illustration closely around its margins. We used a razorblade to get an exact cut between the leaves, and scissors for the smoother lines.

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It took us about seven minutes to cut around the silhouette of each protea.

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5. If you’re going for the faux wallpaper look, lay out your decals first to determine the vertical and horizontal distances between each decal using a ruler or framing square.

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We made our distances 9″H x 5″W from top row stem to bottom row stem. This gave us an overlap in our pattern. We transferred the pattern by drawing a two-row grid of 9″H x 5″W boxes on our wall.

6. On your desired wall space (which should be clean and dry), mark a grid with pencil according to your previous measurements.

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7. Remove adhesive backing from each decal.

8. Generously spray Loctite middleweight bonding adhesive to the backside of each decal, being sure to give full coverage to the edges. The bond is temporary if you apply to one side of the material and stick to wall within seconds of spraying; permanent if you apply to both and let dry for a minute before sticking. Loctite has more details here(Adhesion properties will vary on different surfaces and in different environments; we recommend testing out a small blank decal on your wall and monitoring it over the course of a week before committing to the full project.)

9. Stick your decal(s) onto the wall.

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10. Erase or wash off pencil marks.

11. Smooth over decals with your favorite library card.

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Our transformed bathroom wall. Faux wallpaper is still in progress; we have at least another row to add!

Water lilies vintage botanical wall decals.

April 2014 update: we removed the proteas and replaced them with waterlilies. We used the Papilio decal paper and prefer it. Details here.

What’s your favorite botanical illustration?

—TH


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  • jen mcgovern

    sooo great! wondering about using the spray adhesive on backing, instead of just applying it with the sticking back it already has? im assuming that adhesive isnt strong enough? what a great idea! thanks for sharing…

    • http://thehorticult.com/ The Horticult

      Hi Jen! Glad you enjoyed the piece; we’d been looking for ages for something to do with our obsession w/ botanical illustrations.

      Indeed (for our purposes at least) we felt the adhesive on the Avery paper we got just wasn’t strong enough. Maybe it was our wall, which is quite smooth; other surfaces might yield better staying power. The Loctite works like a dream — the decals stay nice and flat, and when we tried to remove them, they peeled off without a fuss. ;-)

      • jen mcgovern

        thank you for such a fast response! thats great to hear about the removal! perfect for apartment living:) I’m SO glad i found your site.

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  • Dominique Lyons

    Great post! I love this idea as is, but for my purposes, I’m thinking some cute characters for my kids room! I didn’t even know avery sold this!

  • AvidGardener3

    How awesome of you to lay this out so clearly. I hadn’t yet checked avery to see what they had. I really appreciate your thorough instructions and links to artwork. As an “avid gardner” for many decades, I appreciate a way to bring the garden indoors!

    • http://thehorticult.com/ The Horticult

      Our pleasure, AvidGardener3! Isn’t that artwork a marvel? We’re aiming to have some kind of plant wherever we turn — even if it’s just come out of our printer ;-) Since this posting, we’ve tested out the Papilio option and would give it the slight edge over Avery — it’s a bit more sturdy and, after the waterproof spray, the color has an extra richness. But either way, this is a fun project.

      • AvidGardener3

        OH I’m so glad you’re still active! The artwork is priceless. I spent two hours last night trying to get my printer connected to new network so I could check out how some would print. I really found you quite by accident. I had in mind to do a faux finish in multiple layers and wanted reverse stencils. I thought of using wall decals and voila, there you were after a few searches on the topic. Now I’m not sure what I’m going to do. I’ve thought of silk leaves embedded in glaze, then changed to petroglyphs. (hence the reverse decal idea)… and now you’ve given me all sorts of NEW ideas! I have a large pond right outside my picture window and fell in love with the water lilies, and other sets I found through your link. Can you tell me if the wall decals were still easy to move after this time? The spray seems to indicate that time may make it more permanent. My local Office Depot may carry the Avery removeable sign sheets. All I need to do is make a decision on what I want on the walls!!! lol Thanks for such inspiration! I love that I can change my mind and do something different later!

        • http://thehorticult.com/ The Horticult

          Those waterlilies are divine! We’re itching to use them. Re the ease of moving the wall decals after a few months: We removed ours right at the four-month mark, in early December — we didn’t want to chance it and have it become more permanent. They mostly came right off, and whatever little bits remained came off with a little rubbing alcohol. So we now have a blank slate for our next botanical favorite. Also, after we take them off the wall, they are not reusable; they can tear a bit/lose tackiness during the removal process.

          • AvidGardener3

            I really appreciate learning more from your experience. I was looking at some wall decals on clearance at Target today. One of them said that if a decal is hard to remove, use a warm hair dryer on it for a minute to loosen the tack. Maybe that would help for your next adventure in them. I’ll use the Avery sign labels and prints from the horticulture site for prints in a few of my rooms. I just keep coming up with ways to use your technique! I think some prints centered on kitchen cabinet doors would be stunning, too. Give me a week or two, once the waterlilies are up, I’ll let you know how it all works.