Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Making a Wall Decoration

Back when I was taking high school art classes, we were required to experiment with a number of techniques for various projects. One of those projects was constructing a layered "3D poster" by building up elements using thick poster board. This required you to sub-divide your art into portions that were "flat" on the lowest level (the main "canvas") and elements which were to be cut out of a separate sheet of board and pasted on top of the first sheet.

Image pinched from Wikipedia's page on Rock and Roll Over because I'm too lazy to scan in my CD cover.

For my project, I chose to reproduce KISS's "Rock and Roll Over" cover art (pictured above). If you look at it, you can see there is a lot of intricate work around the top of the hair and I happened to choose the black portion of the inner area as my second layer. That meant I had to trace it onto poster board and cut it out with an Xacto-knife. My high school art teacher was convinced that I would not be able to successfully carve out the intricate edges around the tops of the heads and tried to dissuade me from this undertaking. Rabid KISS fan that I was, however, I would not be dissuaded and I did just fine. The end result was quite nice. Unfortunately, this bit of artwork is long gone now.

This sort of art is appealing for a large-scale decoration because it has texture and depth. While posters and pictures are quite flat, this sort of thing feels more "alive". One thing I had decided in redoing the living room is that I wanted to add more texture in general to the decor (hence the Indian woven fabric on my T.V. stand with nubby thread running through it as a design).

The model art created in Adobe Illustrator.

With the memory of this in mind and the gaping black space above my T.V. tasking me, I decided to give this sort of project a less ambitious (but hopefully more stylishly-themed) go. As I mentioned in a previous post, I decided to go with something chess themed. The first stage was designing the basic elements in Adobe Illustrator (as I mentioned and showed in my original post). Though drawing the pieces, particularly the knights, was somewhat tricky, this was actually the easy part of the project since making perfect lines and boxes is simple on the computer.

The next stage was to take a piece of corrugated plastic that was about 5 feet x 4 feet in size and cut out a 600 mm x 600 mm square. Since the sheet was so huge and unwieldy and I had no place to keep it, It was a serious struggle cutting it down to size. The bottom edge isn't perfect by a long shot but it's otherwise pretty decently done.

The next step was to measure and draw on the chess board grid with a pencil. I had hoped to avoid painting the white portion by erasing the lines when I was finished. Since I didn't have a 60 mm straight edge, I had to do this with a metallic self-rewinding tape measure and it was no picnic.

Next, I cut out 32 60 mm x 60 mm squares to use as raised tiles for half the board. This was actually much harder to do straight than one might expect because the blade kept slipping into the hollow part of the corrugated plastic and shearing. The final squares are barely adequate but I had little choice short of finding a new material to work with. Since I didn't want to work with cardboard or paper (because I'm afraid it'll develop problems in the super humid summer followed by the super dry winter), I decided to just accept the imperfection.

The picture above shows the squares and a sample sheet for the pieces graphic. I painted one square yellow and one blue to color test them against the black pieces. My husband wasn't too keen on the yellow so I thought I'd give blue a shot. Unfortunately, the blue was too dark so I went with the yellow.

Painting 34 (two spare) squares of plastic yellow is pretty messy and I ended up with yellow fingers from trying to hold them while painting them edge to edge. They ended up needing two coats of paint because of streaks.

You can see the ragged bottom edge pretty well here but it won't be as visible when it's completed.

After mulling over various methods of attaching the squares, I settled on using double-sided tape because it is instant, clean, and easy to pull off if I make a mistake. Using a straight edge, I taped them down with extra-thin tape from the 100 yen store.

After the yellow squares were attached, I painted the rest of it white because the pencil lines would not erase clean. I used a cut up postcard to protect the edges of the yellow squares from the white in between but it still smudged over on occasion. You can clearly see the corrugation of the plastic even through 3 layers of white paint. This is actually fine with me as it adds more texture to the piece.

The board was the hardest part. I knew that if anything was going to go wrong, it would be with its construction. While it's not as perfect as I'd like, it's certainly fine enough. The next point I had to consider was how to attach the chess pieces. I originally wanted them to be a third layer on the same corrugated plastic but it was far too hard to work with for anything requiring even a modest level of detail. I printed the art on label paper and put it on a pizza box which was made of relatively thin cardboard but this didn't work very well either and was going to also put paper into the equation.

In the end, I decided to settle for printing the pieces on photo paper, cutting each piece out with an Xacto-knife and laminating them. I figure the lamination will keep the paper from being affected by the humidity and make them shiny so they will fit the shiny painted look of the board. Laminating also tends to make the pictures look sharper and crisper. The main drawback is that the pieces are nearly flat and I had hoped for a third raised layer.

Cutting out and laminating all the pieces was time-consuming and, again, my results were far from perfect though only close scrutiny is likely to reveal the imperfections. I noted with irony that the pawns, which were easiest to draw in Illustrator, were the hardest to cut out and attach to the board because of their narrow, curvy shape and there were more of them than any other piece. I had to cut down the double-sided tape several times to get it to fit on the pawns but finally got all the pieces attached.

In order to make the edge look more finished, I trimmed it with heavy foil tape. I'm not sure what the original purpose of this type of tape is supposed to be but it is literally very stiff foil which is sticky on one side. It was very hard to work with and didn't go on nearly as well as I'd hoped (there are crinkles in it as one would expect in foil). If I could do it over again, I'd use some other type of silver tape which wasn't as prone to wrinkling but I can't rip this stuff off and do it again because I'm sure it'll tear off the paint in strips. Nonetheless, I think it looks better with the tape than it would without it and looks quite nice up on the wall next to the Monty Python poster.


Shawn said...

That looks quite nice! I was inclined to agree with your husband about the colors, but it actually turned out a lot better than I had pictured from the original. If I had any inspiration, this post might actually push me to do something similar. I'll have to keep an eye out for something worth putting on my wall :)

Shari said...

As is often the case with my pictures, this looks better in person than it does in the photo.

One thing I've realize is the "best way" to get a good picture is to take a massive close up of a portion from an extreme angle and crop out 90% of the item you're picturing. Unfortunately, that doesn't really show much of anything. All it does is make you look like a cool photographer.

Right now, I'm having trouble with the hanger I attached to the back. It keeps slipping off and this thing has fallen twice now (chipped the paint the second time) so I've got to do something better.

Thanks for the comment. :-)