Tuesday, December 7, 2010
Medium is the Big Idea of the Day
All I knew was that I wanted to do something with a snapshot of Shakespeare Street. I’d taken the picture the previous summer, at the request of my dearest friend Lori, during an ice cream break in Baltimore’s Inner Harbor. Although she’s the most creative librarian in the world, Lori’s not a photographer—but she instantly “saw” the possibilities of the Shakespeare Street sign against the brick backdrop and wanted me to capture the image. Later that evening, I posted it to her facebook wall and didn’t think of the picture again until her birthday rolled around months later.
At the time, I happened to be writing an article about acrylic medium, and the more I explored the possibilities of this bottled liquid magic, the more inspired I became. With an old frame, a few shredded pages, and an enlarged print, Shakespeare Street was about to become a unified work of mixed media art.
Acrylic medium is the binding agent used in acrylic paint. Think of it as paint minus color. Serious acrylic painters use it to thin their paints when they want to create an illusion of transparency, say, in a water scene. But because it is a binding agent, it will adhere to any surface that will accept acrylic paint—making it a great medium for collage projects. So I decided to put it to the test and create a Shakespeare-themed collage frame for an 8x10 print of the street sign.
Let me just put it out here, up front: I’m really picky. I say this because there are definitely less expensive ways to put together a similar project, but I was aiming for some pretty specific results. Feel free to experiment. Try a 5x7 print, for instance, if the 8x10 seems daunting. Print it at home, if you’d like. I took my print job to a local camera store that has since gone out of business. If you’re lucky enough to have a camera store, by all means check them out. It only cost about $5 to get the print made, and when I wasn’t really happy with the crop, the owner instantly printed a second print for me—and let me keep the first one, too. That’s a level of service you’ll never get at a Super Store.
As far as the old frame I mentioned above— I ended up buying one at full price, even though I scoped the thrift stores first. There are some stellar deals to be found on frames in the second run market. I know an art instructor who regularly trolls yard sales and consignment shops for frames to keep in his studio. His personal standard is never to pay more than $2.00 for a frame, but he must keep his sources close to his vest—I’ve never found deals quite that good.
This time, I shelled out about $12.00 on a new frame because I wanted a flat surface—no beveled edges. This was because my plan was to cover the frame in its entirety with layered strips of shredded text by and about the Bard. I didn’t want to deal with any grooves or valleys.
For the collage material, I hit the bargain table at my local book store. If time is on your side, or you aren’t looking for something as specific as works by a particular author, you could browse the bookshelf at the thrift store while you’re looking for your $2.00 frame, but this time, I stuck with the sure thing.
Armed with an enlarged print, a wooden frame, and a copy of Twelfth Night, I grabbed my acrylic medium from my paint cabinet and prepared my work space. Oh? You don’t have acrylic medium in your cabinet? Don’t panic. You’ll find it wherever artist quality acrylic paints are sold (say, at Michaels).
Mine looks like this:
Blurry, I know. But I'm just not up to reshooting. Hopefully, you can make out the price tag. If not, it's 13.99. Not the cheapest binding agent in the world, but this is no .69 cent Elmer’s back to school fare. You might be tempted to think you can do the same with a bottle of school glue or even some Modge Poge, but you won’t get the pro results you’ll find inside the bottle of acrylic medium, so don’t scimp here . As the condition of my bottle may indicate, there are a whole lot of projects possibilities inside that little container, so just give it a try.
The first thing I did was rough up the finish on my new frame with a bit of sandpaper, effectively turning my new frame into a distressed, thrift store-esque find.
This was where I had to remind myself that I bought the frame for its shape and design, not the finish! I then began ripping out select phrases and selections from my copy of Twelfth Night. I selected this particular work because it had a lot of commentary, and I’d be able to find phrases and references to other Shakespeare works as well. This is the part where I reminded myself that I bout the text as art supplies, not as reading material. (Read this entire paragraph as a commercial for using found materials, if at all possible—imagine the pride of completing a stunning piece of art without spending anything…except the $14 on the acrylic medium…)
I then saturated each scrap with medium, strategically placing and leach phrase or quote where I wanted it to appear. I layered the paper in certain sections. If you do this, it’s important to let each layer dry before adding more wet materials over top. Acrylic medium dries quickly—much faster than glue—so this wasn’t a problem even for the most impatient artist I know (ahem…I prefer “efficient” to “hasty” by the way).
After all of the collage pieces were in place, I decided to use the acrylic medium, for its full magic value by adding a bit of acrylic paint and giving it a hint of color. My first thought was to go with the Old World theme and “antique” it with a bit of warmth—I think I mixed some sort of brown/yellow/orange. Fortunately I did this on an unused scrap which I placed over the frame after it dried to test the effect, which was dreadful. I gave the image itself a critical eye and realized that despite all the brick, the image was loaded with cool under tones from the windows, and I decided to play those up. I mixed a bit a paynes grey and blue in with my medium and brushed it lightly over the entire surface of the frame. And I liked it very much, so I stopped.
This project has unlimited variations, so I hope you’ll have some fun with it. You can use color collage material, or play with the color you add to the acrylic medium. You could also mix confetti or other additives into the medium itself for unlimited effects. Transparent layers of color, alternating layers of color and texture, anything is possible! You’ll find that as long as keep your layers somewhat thin and let them dry between layers, the medium won’t clump or peel. If you create any original works, I hope you’ll take pictures and post them on my facebook page to inspire us all!