The inspiration for this week’s post is Carry A. Nation, the famous barroom smasher. Carry believed that alcohol was the root of all society’s evils, and she took hatchet to things she didn’t like (namely bars, whisky bottles and paintings of scantily clad ladies). Though some called her mad, her barroom appearances had the strange effect of *increasing* business for tavern owners, so much so they often invited her to smash up the joint. Carry didn’t mind, as her message was still being heard. She was also a shrewd marketer, and sold merchandise to support her cause. She lived comfortably and even ran a home for women and children whose lives had been effected by alcohol.
Given that I’m actually enjoying a Not Your Father’s Root Beer while writing this post, you can assume I will not be taking up the cause of temperance. The museum I work for is doing a fabulous fundraiser set in a 1910s saloon, which will feature none other than Carry Nation, as portrayed by my mentor Ellie Carlson of Ellie Presents. (Happily, our event is sold out, otherwise I’d be selling you tickets too.) Ellie owns an original Carry Nation hatchet pin, and was commenting that she couldn’t get anything like it to sell in character. Cue the laser.
Ellie’s pin is a brass hatchet that features a mother of pearl head, which cleverly stops just short of the edge of the brass to make it look like it has a wicked sharp blade. Brushed gold make a nice substitute for the brass, and I finally got to experiment with mother of pearl veneer.
We first played around with mother of pearl in the laser when we tested engraving on different bead materials back in Week 32. The beads turned out beautifully (if a little sooty. But that just made the engraving stand out better.)
Because our event was coming up in short order, I ordered a “pressure sensitive” (aka peel and stick) sheet of mother of pearl veneer off Amazon. at $25 for a 9×6 inch sheet, it’s not cheap, and I should ave read the reviews better. The reviews were poor for this seller, and upon opening the package, I found my sheet had the same issues. Oops. The iridescence, created by the nacre on the inside of the shell, was inconsistent. The package was flimsy, just a soft box and a sheet of styrofoam, so the surface was a spider web of cracks. Lesson learned – find a reputable seller. Timing and budget didn’t allow for a second sheet to be purchased.
The hatchets were small enough, I figured I could find a good spot on the sheet to cut them out. I went with a full hatchet head design rather than the one with the short back, like Ellie’s pin, mostly for ease in aligning the mother of pearl to the base. Carry Nation herself had a lot of different styles of pins, so I figured I could take the liberties. For laser settings, we gave it a little more power than card stock. It sliced through quickly and easily, though the edges were a little sooty, like the beads. Not unexpected for organic materials. (I later learned that when cutting mother of pearl with a knife you should cut from back to front. It’s a very brittle material – I’m not sure if it would have made a difference on the laser, though.)
After I peeled the backing off the cut veneer, I had another disappointment. I didn’t expect the mother of pearl to be so sheer! I could read through it. I expected more body, so it would standout from the brushed gold acrylic. Honestly, it was difficult to even see it was there at a glace. As a test, I cut out a silver version of the ax. The veneer stood out slightly better on it, but not enough to make a difference.
In the end, Ellie and I decided it was better to do the pins without the mother of pearl. This of course, isn’t a radical departure from Carry Nation herself – she sold a cheaper version of the pin without the mother of pearl as well. I want to try using the mother of pearl again, perhaps on earrings or accents, where the perfection of the sheet doesn’t matter as much. But I’m not sure it’s something I would order again.
I’ve been wanting to experiment with resin for years! I just never got around to it – in all honestly, I read so many horror stories, I was a little timid. So let me tell you – just do it. It’s not hard, the mess can be contained, and the results are worth it!
My love of paper almost rivals my love of lasers. I’ve shied away from combining the two for my jewelry line at Isette because paper is fragile and prone to wear and dirt. Resin is perfect to protect the paper, and even adds another dimension to it thanks to the doming property.
Here’s my step but step guide to resin topped laser cut stud earrings – I’m a complete resin newbie, but I love the results!
Step 1: Glue the paper to the wood. I laser cut some thin bamboo blanks and rough cut some fun paper I had in my stash – a page from an old dictionary, regular gray scrapbook paper, and some beautiful handmade Japanese paper. I used professional quality PVA glue, which is acid free and long lasting. One of the tricks I learned from years of bookbinding – put a coating of glue on both sides of the piece you are gluing together. Let them get a little tacky, and then adhere them together. The bond is stronger, and paper is much less wrinkly and easier to work with when glued this way. I let them dry together overnight.
Step 2: Laser cut your shapes from the papered wood. I love making stud earrings, so this is what I designed first. Simple shapes – drops, dots and hearts. I sized them a bit larger than my usual stud earrings, so they would be easier to work with if I had to handle them a lot when applying resin. It also allowed more real estate for the patterns to shine through.
I also whipped up some simple bar shaped pendants, and pre-cut some holes to put jump rings through.
Step 3: Set up your work area. Resin can be a little messy and drippy – it’s best to be prepared. Cover your surfaces. The internet suggested using silicone mats, which are nice an flexible and the resin pops off of when dry. I used my earring gluing board – not flexible at all, and I kind of regretted it. There is a piece that is likely permanently stuck on now.
I went out an purchased some Perler Bead boards to use as doming board. Doming boards are useful for thin items you with to top with resin. Like water, resin has a surface tension which makes a nice dome on the end project. If you get a little heavy handed with the resin, it’s very easy to spill over the edge. If it’s on a flat surface, the spill over pulls a lot of the resin over the edge with it and stays attached to the piece. If your piece is on a doming board, the resin drops away, preserving the surface tension on the top of the laser cut piece.
Step 4: Mix up your resin. Resin is generally sold as a two part system, so you are sold a bottle of resin and a bottle of hardener. I used Doming Resin from Rio Grande which called for equal amounts of each. I didn’t know how far resin would go, so I mixed up a 6 dram batch (3 drams of resin, 3 drams of hardener). Of this, I probably used 2, and the rest hardened before I could finish all my pieces anyway. So, smaller batches are key!
Resin experts recommend stirring the two together slowly, as to not create excess air bubbles which might affect the quality of the resin later. As I mixed, the resin became cloudy, then cleared up.
Step 5: Pour! Or in my case, drip and dab is more appropriate, but it doesn’t sound as action-y. I used toothpicks to get a large drop to put on the stud earrings. This dome resin was more viscous than I expected, kind of like “soft ball stage” consistency, if you make candy. So it stayed balled and so I started messing with it right away trying to spread the resin to the edges to with my toothpick. It was messy, and not at all the right technique.
A better way is to hurry up and wait. Weird but true. I had a much better time with the resin when I dropped resin on a series of studs, then waited a bit to let the resin spread out on it’s own, maybe a minute or so. By the time I was done dolloping resin on the last piece, the first one was ready to spread. The resin settled naturally out – not enough to cover the whole piece, but pretty close. I could easily “walk” the resin to the edge and the dome evened out accordingly. (By “walk”, I mean I dragged the toothpick, upright, to the edge, creating a path. Don’t use the toothpick like a spatula – it just sticks in the resin and disrupts the dome.) The circles had better natural coverage than the other shapes. For hearts, I learned it was better to put two smaller drips in the loves of the heart, and then walk the resin down to the point. With a single big drip it was more likely to just flow off the “v” of the heart.
Lesson learned: The scrapbook paper and the dictionary pages changed color pretty significantly – I should have sealed them first to create a barrier and keep them from getting soaked. The high quality Japanese paper fared brilliantly.
Step 6: Wait. When your pieces are covered as you desire, stop messing with them. It’s time for them to cure overnight. Get a lid that you can put over the wet resin to keep dust of them and marring your hard work. Make sure it isn’t touching your resin, of course! Go to bed and dream about how delightfully shiny your jewels will be.
Step 7: Admire and Finish.
Admiring your handiwork is a very important step in the process – the resin will look really cool! Clean up any resin than may have dripped over and stuck to the back and sides – I had quite a bit. I got better about dripping on the right amount by the end, so I’ll chalk that up to learning curve. I basically peeled it off with a pair of curved nosed pliers and my thumbnail. Quick and dirty, but it got the clean up job done. Attach any stud backs you desire!
In the case of the pendants, drill out the resin filled holes. I need to try the pendants again without the pre-cut holes – It might just be easier to drill since I have to drill out the resin anyway. And it would save me a resin spill underneath.
I love how they turned out, and I’m looking forward to combining lasers and resin in other ways! If you give resin coating a try, let me know how it turns out for you!
PS – what do you think of the new jewelry cards? This post is the debut of the new design 🙂
This month I thought it would be fun to add a new skill: properly preparing a wood surface for painting. I have painted laser cut wood in the past (Week 64 is a notable example), but honestly, the preparation and finished result is not what I’d consider fine art. So, with the help of Scott Sherwood, Fine Art Conservator, we will learn some basic first steps to preparing unfinished laser cut plywood shapes for paint.
Supplies you will need:
Laser cut wood shapes
Grain filler (I picked up DAP Plastic Wood from the local DIY store)
Scraper or palette knife (we used a metal spatula!)
Gesso (Liquitex is Scott’s favorite, easily attainable brand)
Sandpaper (240 or 400)
Step 1: Cut your shapes
For ease, I precut some plywood into shapes I had on file – a bird, the whale and a couple different quatrefoil examples. I also had a couple plywood circles left over from an earlier project and threw them in the mix. Cutting first means the edges will get some over paint and need to be finished at the end – if that is a problem or you have a particularly intricate shape, I’d suggest preparing the surface and possibly even applying the background color before cutting.
Step 2: Determine whether you have open grain wood or closed grain wood
Some wood simply has more prominent grain than others. Oak is a prime example of open grain wood. The shapes I specifically cut for this project were on closed grain (I believe it’s birch ply), but the circles were open grain oak ply.
Open grain needs to be filled in order to achieve a smooth surface, and that is where the DAP grain filler comes into play. I purchased it in a tube, and it comes out like a putty almost. We slathered it on against the grain, making sure it got into the pores of the wood. Scott said “fill it proud!” Well, we definitely did – it looked like we frosted cupcakes when we were done. In retrospect, we make have over filled, and I would probably have thinned the paste a touch with water to make it easier to work with. Live an learn! Wait for it to dry (it was thick, so we waited 24 hours) and then sand off the excess. You sand enough that you want to see the prominent grains, but it will be smooth as glass.
Picking up a closed grained wood allows you to skip this step, which I would recommend unless you wanted to look of oak or a specific open grain wood on the back.
Step 3: Acrylic Gesso Wash
Gesso, for those that do not know, is a priming paint. There are versions for painting with oil paints and for acrylic paints. Oil paint *can* go over acrylic gesso, so, for versatility’s sake, we used acrylic gesso. It is made with white pigment, chalk, an acrylic binder (to make it a liquid) and a smattering of other chemically stable elements.
Why prime your wood with gesso?
It creates a uniform, layer under the paint
It gives you surface a nice “tooth” to hold paint
It keeps paint from soaking into the material underneath
It protects the paint from chemical changes on the board underneath – wood is organic, and the process they use to create plywood is not exactly archival.
You can slap the gesso on, undiluted, but it really doesn’t penetrate the wood very well. We mixed up a gesso wash, which is gesso + water. It may have been a 50/50 ratio, I should have been measuring! But you want it nice and runny. We put it on with a foam brush. You can also use your fingers if you like a more tactile experience. We really smushed it on, working it into the grain of the wood, which created a sort of foamy looking paint layer. When we were satisfied with had penetrated well, we wiped off the excess paint with a paper towel. Let dry thoroughly.
Step 4: Light Sanding
The gesso wash soaked in well, and caused some of the grains of wood to swell, and the dried surface was slightly uneven. We hit it quick with some 400 sandpaper to smooth it out. It’s not uncommon for artists to sand between each prep layer – it gives a nice even finished look.
Step 5: Full Strength Gesso
This is the step where the ground work you lay down has a stronger effect on the finished piece. Scott suggested a couple different ways to incorporate texture with the gesso layer on the laser cut shapes: with brushes, or with foam rollers.
Full strength gesso has the ability to hold some texture; it’s not self leveling as a more watery version would be. We took brushes to the whale and the swallow. I made swirls of gesso on the whale, trying to emulate a turbulent sea. Scott chose to paint gesso on the bird with long, flowing brush strokes, to evoke the feeling of flight, or airiness. The subtle peaks and valleys of the gesso will still be present behind whatever paint it will have in the end, adding a depth.
The more geometric shapes for the foam roller treatment. Rolling on the full strength gesso created a fabulously fine pebble texture, almost like vinyl. The first layer looks suspiciously like a popcorn ceiling treatment, but it calms down with repeated applications
We let all the pieces dry overnight.
Step 6: Repeat Step 5 as necessary
Everyone has different goals for their primer, and different levels of “done.” We put a second coat on, and looking as I’m writing this post, I’m tempted to do a third. As it dried (and sadly got got banged up a bit when I cleared off the table they were on) imperfections became clear – the brush lines weren’t exactly where I wanted them, or had areas where the vinyl-like texture was less pronounced. If you want, you can also do a quick sanding between each coat of gesso – it’s up to you and the finish you want!
Step 7: Add art!
When you feel your board is primed properly – but that, I mean it has even coverage of gesso, a good texture and reminded me of a sheet of really nice paper that I was itching to put my pencil to – you are ready to add your art. I didn’t intend for the project to go to the actual art stage, but Scott and I were experimenting, and I couldn’t resist picking up a tube of “sap green” acrylic when buying the gesso (colors are so PRETTY.) Here are three different paint treatments you can do:
Wash – We mixed the acrylic paint with water, which created a very flowing semi-transparent layer of paint. It was very light in color and was very wet. If we were using oil based paints, we would have used turpentine to thin it.
Glaze – Glazed are made when a color is added to a “transparent gel medium.” I’m not 100% sure what the medium is made of, but the color was really vibrant. Glaze is nice because it is translucent – light can penetrate the layer and make it really pop.
Tint – here we mixed white gesso with the acrylic and came up with a lovely minty green. It is opaque.
The gesso base is also good for charcoal, pencils, pastels, oils, even mixed media or collages. It’s a good standard base to build on. Today, most painting is done on canvas, but it actually wasn’t until the 16th and 17th century canvas became popular. By painting on panels, you are paying homage to an old tradition (even though the panel was cut with new technology!)
This post is in no way comprehensive (even though it is the longest one I’ve ever written!), and it’s one professional’s opinion. Artists come to develop their own style and preparation methods they like – experiment! And enjoy!
So, only posting one new project a month was supposed to give us more time to get more complex projects done. I started this project 3 weeks ago, I swear, but didn’t get finished until 15 minutes before post! (…don’t mind the few threads I still have to tuck in). So, here we have one false start, two new skills acquired, a last minute trip to the store because I ran out of thread, and in the end potentially a totally unique project – quilted wood*.
The idea for this post was born out of a discussion with Rebecca at Hugs are Fun about making reverse applique with wood. The concept is interesting – use the laser to cut whatever interesting designs you’d like, and have fabric peek though the negative spaces. When brainstorming options on how to adhere the fabric to the wood, I thought “Why not quilt it?” And if I’m quilting it, I might as well go whole hog and bind the edges as well.
First step was to design my pattern. I couldn’t get traditional quilt blocks out of my head do I pulled out the Old Maid’s Puzzle Block – I used it back in Week 64 and still had the vector files. I thickened the lines and merged them so I wouldn’t end up with a heap of triangles when I was done, and ran a line of holes for stitches at the base of each triangle, and the border edge. For ease, I just did a simple backstitch, but you could really jazz this up with you wanted to figure out hole placement for fancy stitches.
A quilt is made up of layers and this project is no different – I have a thin (1/16′ bamboo) top layer with the reverse applique design, a fabric layer and then a solid, 1/8″ bamboo back layer. The stitches hold the layers together. Aligning the holes that are laser cut is a breeze – the top and the bottom are the same pattern that I removed the cut out triangles from. The is no real possibility of misalignment.
Have I mentioned I’ve never actually quilted or bound a quilt before? No? All I can say is thank goodness for on-line videos. I picked some fabric I had for the middle layer, ran to my local quilt store, Prairie Stitches Quilt Shoppe, to ask for expert advice on binding fabrics (and picked up a package of Wonder Clips!) and picked out complimentary colors from my embroidery floss collection. Who knew that having a laser cutting blog would build up my sewing stash?!
I used the Wonder Clips to hold the layers together and did the internal stitching in pink first. I made this relatively small, 6×6, so I wouldn’t have to piece together fabrics to make a continuous binding. I just purchased 1/8th a yard from a bolt and had a ton to spare. There multiple types of quilting bindings, and they have confusingly similar names. I chose to make double fold binding tape for the edging because it was simpler – one stitch through and you are done. Single fold binding requires two passes of stitches and flexibility to fold over corners, neither of which are an option on the wood.
Making double fold binding tape wasn’t as nerve-wracking as I thought it would be – you simply iron your strip of fabric in half, the long way, and then iron each edge to the middle fold. I used this video by Toni Barsi for tips on how to apply double fold bias tape and how to get it to go around your corners neatly!
It turned out to be a very cute project, and I learned to create and then used double fold quilt binding. I can see how the techniques could be refined to make some interesting and artistic quilts! Now, to find a use for my little oddball quilt…
*I did a quick Google search and didn’t find any other examples of people quilting wood – “Quilted wood” is amazing wood grain, but not a quilt, and “wood quilt” brings up pictured of wooden pieces arranged like a quilt pattern, but not actually sewn. I’d be interested if anyone has found a quilted, layered wood project like this.