“Beauty for Ashes”

painting made with ashes
painting made with ashes

January 2019, wood ashes and acrylic on metal

Most of the things I make are meaningful to me in some way, and this piece is no exception. The tree is made entirely out of ashes and glue, and it is meant to represent a time of sadness or mourning, out of which God will bring growth, joy, and peace. The tree is certainly not dead, and when springtime arrives, it will burst into bud, stronger and more beautiful than ever before.

I’d imagine that most people can relate to the “beauty for ashes” theme in some way. But for me personally, there have been many piles of metaphorical ashes in my life, but there hasn’t been a single one that Jesus has failed to turn into something beautiful.

I started out with a bare piece of galvanized metal that had the edges rolled to the back so it wouldn’t be sharp. I cleaned it with acetone (nail polish remover), and then added a background of night sky and snowy rolling hills. I used my favorite brand of acrylic paint in just four colors: titanium white, uniform blue, metallic silver sterling, and metallic sequin black. I thought using a few metallic colors in the sky gave it a little bit of shimmer, and lent it that cold, clear feeling that the sky takes on in winter.

You could certainly use a different type of paint or glue than I’ve used, but if your glue isn’t water-based, you can’t mix the ashes with water. And if you use oil paints, you won’t be able to make a water-based glue or sealant stick to it. So make sure that whatever materials you’re using are all compatible with each other. If you use acrylic paints and Mod Podge like I have, you’ll be fine.

I used the metallic black paint to write in some text taken from Isaiah 61, that says:

“The Lord will comfort those who mourn. He will give unto them beauty for ashes, that they may be as trees of righteousness.”

Then I let it dry and gave the whole thing a couple of coats of Mod Podge so that I could wipe off the ashes more easily if I made a mistake while I was adding the tree.

Here’s a handy tip: mix the ashes and glue together in a cookie tray (like you’d get from a pack of Oreos or a cookie like that) because the cookie trays have little ridges all over them that make it really easy to work lumps out of the ashes mixture, and you can just recycle the tray when you’re through.

I mixed wood ashes with water until it was the consistency of thin paint. Then I added Mod Podge (about 2 parts ashes/water and one part Mod Podge, but I didn’t measure anything) and mixed it well. This gave me a mixture that was about the consistency of pudding.

I started by roughing in the “bones” of the tree, and then went back and added coat after coat of ashes to build the tree up to a textured 3-D shape, letting it dry thoroughly after each coat. The ashes mixture is a different color before it’s dry, as you can see in the photos. If you make a mistake, a damp Q-tip makes a good eraser. When I was getting to the finer tips of the branches, I switched to using a toothpick instead of a brush.

When I was done with the tree, I gave the whole thing two more coats of Mod Podge to seal it and protect the ashes. I curled the ends of a picture hanging wire (to help it grab the adhesive better) and attached it to the back of the piece using E-6000 adhesive. I also added foam squares on the corners to keep the metal from scuffing the wall.

painting made with ashes

I really like the way it turned out. I feel like I literally made beauty out of ashes, like how the passage talks about beauty being made from metaphorical ashes. It symbolizes something that’s close to my heart, and I hope you enjoyed seeing it as well.

~ Jessie

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18 Responses

    1. Hi Lollita, I’m glad you liked it!

      You could make it using a wooden board or plank as a base, and you could give canvas a try, but I was worried that the canvas would flex too much, and that the ashes tree might crack or crumble.

      But I was also planning on displaying my piece in a public place, and I figured people would be poking at it, so you might not need to worry so much if yours will be displayed in a more protected area.

      1. Awesome I definitely would like to try it sometime but I’m no artist as far as drawing 😉 but you certainly did a great job and I’m sure if you made others people would buy them

      2. Terre

        you could probably use canvas board in place of the metal background. it is a hard enough surface that it should hold up well to the application of the tree… just a thought. 🙂

      3. That does sound like a good idea! I had the metal on hand already, but canvas board would be easy to come by and would probably work great. Thanks for your comment!

  1. Susan

    Before reading the comments, I was wondering the same thing as Lollita and like her, I am no artist as far as drawing goes, but would like to try making it. I agree with her that people would buy these if you made them for sale. Thank you for sharing this. It really touched me.

  2. Shelly

    Perfect! My father passed on last fall and l have been trying to think of something to do with some of his ashes. This will be a wonderful way to keep him in my remembrance.

    1. Lol, that’s a great question. I actually have a little woodstove with a glass door right there in my sewing room, but any friend who uses a fireplace should have plenty to share.

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