110: Resin Topped Stud Earrings

DSC00962I’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!

Variety of papers
Variety of papers
Glue prep - coat with paste, and let it get tacky!
Glue prep – coat with paste, and let it get tacky!
Blanks ready to be made into studs!
Blanks ready to be made into studs!

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.

Freshly cut!
Freshly cut!

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.

MDF glue board, with the Perler bead board on top.
MDF glue board, with the Perler bead board on top.

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.

All laid out on the perler bead board.
All laid out on the first Perler bead board.

I donned by respirator, as the resin can be strong smelling and I was working with tiny pieces, and gloves are good to limit your exposure (nitrile, not latex).  Resin Obsession Website has a full list of safety tips.

Unmixed resin!
Unmixed resin.
Unfinished studs, with 4 drams of unusable resin. It was like spreading taffy at the end!
Unfinished studs, with 4 drams of unusable resin. It was like spreading taffy at the end!

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.

Resin drops spreading as I try to be patient.
Resin drops spreading as I try to be patient.
Patience only lasts so long. Helping the resin to the edge!
Patience only lasts so long. Helping the resin to the edge!

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.

Too much resin!
Too much resin!
You can see the difference between the resin topped and the "raw" paper pieces. If I would have sealed the paper, it wouldn't have changed color as much.
You can see the difference between the resin topped and the “raw” paper pieces. If I would have sealed the paper, it wouldn’t have changed color as much.

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.

The studs *barely* fit on the posts of the doming board. It was a delicate balancing act to get them to stay on the board flat and spread the resin around.
The studs *barely* fit on the posts of the doming board. It was a delicate balancing act to get them to stay on the board flat and spread the resin around.

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!

Resin overflow.
Resin overflow, from the underside.

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.

Pretty and perfect on my brand new post earring cards! Also laser cut, or course.
Pretty and perfect on my brand new post earring cards! Also laser cut, or course.

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 🙂

 

109: Edge-Lit Acrylic

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.

The first dual-layer design.
The first dual-layer design.

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.

The short sign lit up easily.
The short sign lit up easily. Please ignore the Macbook!

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.

A small cross-section of the Pac-Man design in two layers.
A small cross-section of the Pac-Man design in two layers.

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.

A later single layer test cut with rounded vector engraved maze walls.
A later single layer test cut with rounded vector engraved maze walls.

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 crazy square panorama shows how the lighting falls off near the top. We'll see how it looks in the finished piece!
This crazy square panorama shows how the lighting falls off near the top. We’ll see how it looks in the finished piece!

108: Preparing Laser Cut Wood for Paint

Scott at work!  Mixing the green wash (there is a touch of gel medium in the glass too)
Scott at work! Mixing the green wash with our trusty note taking and testing plate.  

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.

week 108

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)
  • Water
  • Paper Towel
  • Brushes
  • Foam roller
  • Sandpaper (240 or 400)

Step 1:  Cut your shapes

Our professional work surface
Our professional work surface. Apologies for the poor photos – I was not using my own camera, and we hopped from natural light to fluorescent light too much.  Another lesson learned!

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

Closed grain on the left, open grain on the right
Closed grain on the left, open grain on the right
Raking the light across the surface makes uneveness pop right out
Raking the light across the surface makes uneveness pop right out.  The ampersand wasn’t cut for this project, but something I had laying around.

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.

Like buttercream frosting :)
Like buttercream frosting 🙂
Post filled and sanded disks. They are amazingly smooth!
Post filled and sanded disks. They are amazingly smooth!  The lighter spots are the fill.
Side angle on the sanded disks to better show texture.
Side angle on the sanded disks to better show texture.

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.
It's hard to see in the photo, but the gesso wash is pretty frothy!
It’s hard to see in the photo, but the gesso wash is pretty frothy!
Wiping away the gesso wash
Wiping away the gesso wash

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.

Swirled whale texture
Swirled whale texture
Flowing bird texture
Flowing bird texture

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.

First layer of the foam roller texture
First layer of the foam roller texture

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:

From left to right: Wash, glaze and tint. It's amazing these greens all came from the same tube of acrylic!
From left to right: Wash, glaze and tint. It’s amazing these greens all came from the same tube of acrylic!

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.

Rolling on the tint.
Rolling on the tint.

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!

 

107: Thick Acrylic

A few months ago, my friend Arty got in touch with me and said he had “some thick acrylic” left over from a recent storefront revamp at a mobile phone store. Not really knowing what I was getting into, I said “hey any scrap material that I can laser is good with me!”

This stuff is so clear it's almost hard to see.
This stuff is so clear it’s almost hard to see.

Much more recently, I went to pick up the acrylic that he’d been graciously holding onto for me. As it turned out, the acrylic wasn’t just thick. It was far thicker than I could process with the laser, with 7/8″ as the thinnest edge. But there were several chunks of uniformly cut acrylic, and every surface was smooth enough that you could see clear through to the other side. This was material worth experimenting on!

The first engraving test confirmed that it was cast acrylic.
The first engraving test confirmed that it was cast acrylic.

I first determined whether it was cast or extruded acrylic by doing a surface engraving featuring some art deco frame stock. The surface engraving was powdery and white, which was perfect—cast acrylic engraves in a much more visible manner than extruded acrylic.

The second design didn't really convey the "frosted ice" look I was going for.
The second design didn’t really convey the “frosted ice” look I was going for.

The second design I tried was based on a “frosted ice” theme I developed while working with a client a couple of years ago. While it looked great on the snowflake shapes I used originally, the effect was lost on the square chunk of acrylic, and the “FROSTY” text I added didn’t really come out clearly.

Two different sizes of blocks "comprised" of tetriminos.
Two different sizes of blocks “comprised” of tetriminos.

I revisited some tetrimino patterns from a very early 52LASERS post. Using three different engraving techniques, I created a pattern that highlighted certain shapes with fills and deeper cuts. The result not only looks awesome from straight on, it created some really stunning effects when looking through the unengraved side of the acrylic.

Looking through the clean edge shows off each "deep cut" tetrimino.
Looking through the clean edge shows off each “deep cut” tetrimino.
Any fan of Tetris will recognize these shapes!
Any fan of Tetris will recognize these shapes!

I still have plenty of stock of these blocks left, so if you can think of any more creative ways to jazz up the acrylic’s surface, let me know in the comments!

Quite a supply of material too thick to cut through!
Quite a supply of material too thick to cut through!

One laser, fifty-two weeks