It wasn’t all that long ago that the craft beer explosion happened, but it’s hard to think back to when beer—at least in my life—was a choice between Budweiser and Miller products. While I’m sure there’s debate aplenty about the community that formed around craft beer, you can’t dismiss all of the awesome artwork that community has produced. One of the best design ideas I’ve seen spreading around the Internet has been beer cap holders. They come in many sizes and shapes—usually states and countries—and are an artistic way to keep track of which craft breweries you’ve sampled fizzy drinks from.
The fact that most of these holders were laser cut was only part of the reason for my interest; many of the examples I saw had different amounts of studs to grip the bottle caps, and I wondered which one was the best solution. Sure, I could’ve done the research and stopped there, but that’s not nearly as much fun. A bottle cap holder I would make!
In my research, I learned that most pop caps (and the twist caps based on their design) have 21 teeth. Despite this, my first few prototypes had six studs. Once I realized they didn’t fit very well on the teeth of the caps I redesigned to include seven evenly distributed studs. I also experimented with stud design, settling on trapezoids after rectangles were too tight and triangles were just a little too loose. This mission to match the studs with the cap teeth would eventually cause me an issue: Goose Island’s caps have 27 teeth! Every other cap I had was only 21. While some size variance made some caps tighter and some caps looser, only Goose Island had to sit this one out. I hate geese anyway.
Once I had a single cap holder squared away, I spent an unreasonable amount of time trying to fit a grid of them into the word “beer”. I agonized over spacing, wanting to stick to some kind of grid without ending up with awkward, noticeable gaps. It wasn’t long before I realized I’d have to design my own letters based off of the grid rather than relying on otherwise well-made typefaces.
After a few attempts at grid-based letters that turned out far too large for the scope of this project, I ironically ended up back at a typeface: one I designed years ago based off of the bitmap version of Chicago present in Final Fantasy VI. Why not add a geeky touch? It also very easily solved the issue of making the letters fit on a grid due to its low resolution pixel quality.
Once I had the design complete, I whipped up a quick (and honestly lazy) box joint connection to hold two pieces together; the sign was very nearly three feet long and I couldn’t cut it out of one piece of oak ply. In hindsight, I should have engraved the sections of wood that held together each letter; they’re just a little too noticeable and wouldn’t be if darkened. I also inserted some small holes for screws that will eventually hold this a small distance from whatever wall it ends up on. A light sanding later and the finished piece was ready for caps!
…As it turns out, I don’t have many caps. I’ll fix that!
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 🙂
I’ve been playing a lot lately with a new toy I picked up from Inventables: a powered LED strip for edge lighting acrylic. It’s made in particular to work in tandem with specially made acrylics that transmit light efficiently, but I’ve found it works really well with simpler transparent and fluorescent acrylics.
My first test was with transparent orange material sourced at the Aurora Public Library’s Makerspace—check it out if you’re local!—and it seemed appropriate to design a little sign for the space as the test. Because the LED strip is designed to snap to the edge of a 1/4″ piece of acrylic and I only had 1/8″ material available, I decided to split the design across two layers of acrylic. The front layer included all of the vector engraving and the back layer was just the main title text filled. The resulting look is striking, but using two transparent layers means you have to be extra careful not to let any fingerprints or dust get in between.
Around the same time, I was working with a local artist to create some wall décor based on the classic Pac-Man maze. We agreed pretty quickly that the lit effect would look great and settled on some fluorescent blue acrylic. The first several tests confirmed that the two layer effect would be excellent; dividing the pellets, ghosts and other objects from the maze walls might not be very visible in the photography, but it’s a really neat trick when you’re examining the piece up close.
One concern I continue to have is whether a single LED strip will be able to illuminate the entire flourescent blue acrylic sheet—this piece is 16 inches tall, towering compared to the 4″ makerspace sign. A quick test on some scrap acrylic shows that the light visibly dims near the top, but I won’t be able to know for sure how the final piece will look until a last-minute shipment of materials arrives. Speaking of that, here’s a pro tip: don’t assume you’ve got all the materials you need until the day you’re scheduled to cut! Always check, even if it’s something you always keep in stock, like the black cast acrylic that was supposed to be the backing layer for the finished Pac-Man piece.
Edge lit acrylic is a great look, and I’m might have to investigate the “EndLighten” brand or similar substrates to maximize light transmission. I know I’m also going to be looking into portable equivalents; this hardware has to plug into a wall. I’m sure that’ll be a post in the future; until then, look forward to an update on this post with additional pictures of the finished Pac-Man piece!
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!