Tag Archives: decoupage

Is this the creepiest thing I’ve ever made?

Insect Bas Relief Boudoir Stool by Suzanne Forbes May 2019It may not be the creepiest, but it was definitely one of the trickiest!

Insect Bas Relief Boudoir Stool by Suzanne Forbes May 2019It takes a LOT for me to give up on a project. I may delay it, it may take me twenty years to finish, but for me to outright give up on a creative piece in process and throw it out is incredibly rare.

It happened with this one, though – I got well into a first iteration of this creepy insect boudoir seat and had to give up.

It was a technical problem, basically. I’ve talked a lot about how my experiments with mixed media and bricolage are informed by my interest in action figure customizing.

I’ve learned a tremendous amount about how to prime and paint plastic items from action figure custom forums, over the last eighteen years.

In 2001 I used to sit at my desk at ESC, the visual effects company where I worked on the Matrix sequels, and read about “orange peel” and paint rub.

Painting plastic has evolved over the years, but it’s still unpredictable. And moving from the US to Germany meant everything I’d learned about Krylon and Rustoleum had to be thrown out the window and relearned with Dupli-Color. Dupli-Color, founded in the US but now the ubiquitous hardware store spraypaint of Europe, has several different formulations for priming and painting plastic.

For the last four years I’ve been trying to learn all their tricks; I talk a lot about techniques I used for my last bas-relief insect project here. So when I wanted to make a seat for our hallway, I felt pretty confident.Beetle boudoir stool back by Suzanne Forbes April 2019

Because we don’t have cell phones, but we do have a landline, we needed a little seat for the telephone in the hall.

We’re always dragging a chair in from the library when we need to call a doctor or something. I had the idea of buying a simple boudoir stool on Amazon and decorating it to fit the hall, which is perhaps the creepiest part of our whole creepy house. I ordered it and it arrived. I removed the seat, which I planned to re-cover, and wiped the whole stool down with cleaning wipes, then damp paper towels. I used the glue gun to adhere a bunch of plastic bugs and resin flowers around the existing bas-relief floral decorative elements. I had previously washed the bugs and primed them with Dupli-Color clear primer for plastic.

Then I used epoxy clay to really blend the new elements onto the base. Thinking I could expedite things (epoxy clay is a beautiful material for conjoining disparate materials, but expensive and slow) I also used some regular tube spackle for some of the big gaps. To smooth and unify all the surfaces, I painted many areas with Mr Surfacer500, a Japanese gap filler/primer product for model builders. Its grey surface is supposed to function as a primer, so I wasn’t worried about it not adhering or not accepting paint. Then I sprayed the areas with the bugs again, with the Dupli-Color primer. Here’s the original stool out on the balcony at that stage, last July.

Then I spraypainted the whole thing. WOOOOOO what a mess.

Yeah that did not work. There was some kind of reaction between the painted cast resin decorative elements of the stool and the plastic primer, or between the Mr Surfacer500 and the spackle. Tiny bubbles appeared all over the work I’d done, the areas where I’d filled crevices around the bugs to make them look carved from the surface.

Plus, the paint on the original resin elements had become tacky, which means disaster for a mixed-media work. It means there is a reaction preventing the curing of the paint, and that area will never harden and will attract dust for all time. Possibly a reaction between overspray of the Dupli-Color clear plastic primer, which is a chemical scuff, and the paint used on the resin elements.

My project was fucked. I took the picture above to show the chunky, unevenly cured surface, but you can’t see all the damn bubbles!

So I decided I’d remove the paint and re-prime the entire thing.

Guess what, I had primed the bugs and new flowers so effectively that the paint was virtually inseparable from them. And the original curliques and flowers just got gunkier with every solvent I tried. In the end I was trying orange oil and baking powder, which will take off damn near anything, and scraping sections with a dental probe, because I just hated the idea that this was a thing that had to be thrown away.

I could not get a clean surface. I could not get the paint off. I did salvage and scour one centipede, because plastic centipedes with a flat underside are hard to find. Here it is soaking in olive oil to remove the last of the paint.

Luckily, I got a new dollhouse which took my mind off the maddening primer/solvent/paint mess, and eventually I brought myself to throw the bug stool base out. Because it had so many different materials on it, it couldn’t go in any of our German recycling bins. It bothered me.

But it bothered me even more that we were still dragging a chair into the hall to use the phone!

So I decided to try again. I ordered the same stool, and set to work. But this time I tried a new approach, from a new action figure customizing blog. A bunch of incredible tutorials had gone up in December on a site called Action Figure Art. One of them suggesting sealing acrylic paint with Mod Podge! I was ready to try this new approach.

I had used Mod Podge as a primer for a plastic toy exactly once, back in about 2002, to prime a little cat figure for the top of a wedding cake I was making. But I’ve used it for various other projects over the years, mostly for decoupage. It is popular for furniture as a glue, primer, sealer and finish, and comes in different formulas. I ordered the matte finish  for the bug seat, because I wanted to paint on top of it with acrylic paints.

Of course I did the usual prep of washing the bugs with hot water and soap, and I used the glue gun to attach them again. I took my time filling in around and under the bugs with Apoxie Sculpt.

This second attempt was during my Make-Cation, so I had plenty of time.

Here you can see the stool in progress along with some other projects, including the Baroque Bug Frame, which I used the same technique for. Pictures of the frame finished here!Bug bricolage and metal crown projects wip March 2019 suzanne forbes artist

Mod Podge itself is a synthetic polymer, a polyvinyl acetate like white glue to be specific. That may sound scary, but like white glue, it’s very safe. Once I was done smoothing the bugs onto the stool with Apoxie Sculpt, and the Apoxie Sculpt was cured, I started painting coats of Mod Podge over everything. Evenly, over the whole surface of the panels of the stool, bugs and original elements and all.

Mod Podge is a like a rubbery plastic coat you are sealing everything under, a form of isolation coat. That’s why it prevents chemical reactions between plastics and paints. Because it’s thick, it also does some gap filling and overall smoothing. I used about five coats over the panels with the bugs. Then I spraypainted the whole thing, with Dupli-Color Next in Berlin Berry.Bug bricolage footstool wip painted March 2019 suzanne forbes artist

Dupli-Color Next is a “universal” spraypaint, one of the new class of acrylic lacquer spray formulas that’s supposed to go on almost anything without primer.

A similar product is Krylon ColorMaxx. I have found Next to be inconsistent in finish – some areas dry shiny, some matte – but it’s easy to use, with flexible recoating time and low-odor/toxicity. Since I was planning to put a gloss acrylic sealer coat over everything, I didn’t care about the problems with inconsistent finish. It took about two cans total to really cover the whole stool, which is a good example of how spraypaint is actually an inefficient and expensive way to paint things! However, the paint adhered to the Mod Podge finish really nicely.

Bug bricolage footstool wip with painted accents March 2019 suzanne forbes artistThen I started painting on the details.

Because Next spray is acrylic lacquer, not enamel, I could paint on top of it with regular artists’ tube acrylics. I did layers of black wash, then dry-brushing highlights, then lowlight passes. In between the accent paint layers, I added additional layers of Mod Podge. This ensured each batch of highlights was sealed under a protective coat. If I went too heavy with a highlight, I could wipe it off without disturbing the black wash underneath. I can’t even tell you how many layers of this I did – gotta be at least ten. Each Mod Podge layer helped the bas-relief, carved-on effect. 

I also did some sponge-painting effects and scumbling on the panels themselves, to give a nice Impressionist quality. You know how those Impressionists loved cockroaches.

At the very end I used an acrylic-based (rather than solvent-based) gold marker to add a few more highlights. Cause I’m so subtle. Then I let it all cure for a couple days. I had also spraypainted the legs of the stool, with the Berlin Berry, and let them cure too.

Then it was time to spray the fuck out of it with Gloss Acrylic Sealer Coat!

The outrageously comprehensive Mod Podge craft site Mod Podge Rocks repeatedly states that to truly get a hard, non-tacky finish on your Mod Podge project, you need to seal it. That seems pretty shady, since Mod Podge itself is supposed to be a sealer, but I wasn’t taking any chances at this point. Acrylic sealer it was, and four coats!

Finally, I attached the recovered seat with the incredible velvet death’s-head moth fabric.

killstar lydia nightlife dress deaths head moth velvetWow that fabric was a close call. It’s actually a cut-up dress from a goth clothes company called Killstar.

I ordered the largest size they had praying it would cover the seat without a seam, and it just barely did. Killstar have a lot of custom fabrics made and I knew I would never, ever find this fabric anywhere else. It was a hard call to buy a brand-new dress, for forty euros (of course I used a coupon, you know me!), and immediately cut it up. But I knew that the pleasure of seeing the fabric on the stool, day in and day out, would be far greater than having a dress in the closet.

The velvet-and-gilt purple upholstery braid I ordered from the UK covers the places the fabric doesn’t quite stretch!

Passementerie and a glue gun will save your gothic rococo interior decorating ass every time, just ask Tony Duquette! (sigh, you can’t cause he went to the great Paris flea market in the sky.)

Beetle Boudoir Stool by Suzanne Forbes April 2019So here is the telephone stool, in the hall, next to the ugly black plastic telephone that I will eventually replace or cover in holographic foil.

It looks like it’s always been there, right? You’d never know how tricky it was to make!

Make-Cation part One: So MUCH Bricolage, Assemblage and Decoupage!

It was my beloved Friend-Muse-Patron Monique Motil who came up with the idea of “Make-Cation”.

Monique has always been my inspiration for mixed media and assemblage art, and I learned so much about how to trust my creative impulses around materials watching her work evolve over the years. I did my first Make-Cation in Fall 2017, and for eight days in March I did it again! It was a glorious time of renewal, full of energizing fiddling, fooling, fussing and gluing! Nothing makes me happy like taking a hacksaw to a plastic toyl!

Cernunnos crowns by Suzanne Forbes April 2019It may surprise some people but drawing and painting isn’t “fun” for me. It’s hard work where I put my whole identity on the line every time and demand the best I can possibly do from myself. Like going to the gym, it feels great in the sense of being healthy, rewarding and good for me.

Plus there is a huge added bonus in that it gives happiness to the people I document and helps to share their stories with the world. So it is deeply meaningful and feels like service, which I love.

However it’s hard work, and I do it pretty much all the time, so I took a week to do the art that feels like play – making stuff!

Touching and handling beautiful materials like velvet leaves, gold wire and garnet beads makes me feel nourished and exhilarated.

Metal crown project march 2019 Suzanne ForbesI started on Day One with these cheap pot metal crowns and the heaps of metal leaf charms and stampings I’ve had for years.

Assemblage fairie crowns by Suzanne Forbes March 2019I used beads and pearls and resin and glass leaves too, and sewed everything in with different weights of gold wire, then secured it with blobs of E6000.

I learned about using wire to secure decorative elements when I did a Halloween party with the help of a guy who had run commercial haunted houses, in 2001. He said anytime you want something to stay put, wire it in.

I figure people can wear the crowns whenever we finally have our Summer Solstice party.

Then I gave some bugs a bath.

One thing I have learned from action figure customizing folks and Burning Man art folks is that assemblage art lives or dies by its adhesives and primer coat.

The plastic bugs got a nice soak in very hot soapy water to remove any traces of mold release so they would accept paint and glue better.

Once they were completely dry I went bug crazy with the glue gun. I had been wanting to make a gothic rococo gilt frame with horrible insects for many years.

I recently found a €3,99 plastic frame at our local Woolworth’s (we still have those here!) to use as a base. I washed the frame in hot soapy water too, to remove any oils or dirt, and then attached the bugs and some resin flowers with the glue gun.

Bug Bricolage Gothic Rococo frame wip March 2019 suzanne forbes artistOnce the glue was cooled and set I used my precious Apoxie-Sculpt to unite the bugs with the frame, smoothing their edges into the surface so they look more carved or bas-relief. (You can read more about this here.)

Then I coated the whole thing with Mod Podge, which I’ll explain in the next Make-Cation post, and then I spray-painted it gold! Few things are as gratifying as gold spray paint.

Bug Bricolage and decoupage frame by Suzanne Forbes April 2019 detailI also cut some pieces of cardstock to fit some of the gaps in the frame, because I needed to reduce the visual detail after adding the bugs – I wanted to it read clearly from a distance. To help that, I also sprayed it from below with a light mist of black spray paint.

I am so pleased with how it came out. Look how nicely the plastic spider sits at the top! I made a little decoupage piece to go in it using die-cut butterflies and some Dresden trim moons I got at Castle In the Air like 20 years ago.

I Mod-Podged them right onto the black cardboard that was the backing of the frame, because I am a deeply lazy person.Bug Bricolage and decoupage frame by Suzanne Forbes side view April 2019

I also made some Cernunnos crowns, because you never know when you’ll need those.

Bricolage Cernunnos crowns by Suzanne Forbes April 2019I used “reindeer horns” I got on eBay and headbands from Woolworth’s for these, plus some velvet flowers and leaves and stuff that I had hoarded, some from like 1995.

I love how they came out, it is just so satisfying to use up these beautiful old materials and make them into actual things.

Of course I barely made a dent in my supply hoard, but there is world enough, and time, for more creepy assemblage art.

I  made two other things, a completely insane little seat for our hallway, and a little fascinator hat, and I will post those soon!

So much love to my Patrons, who support my creating and making, and made this precious window of creative play possible <3 You can see more of my multi-disciplinary mixed media projects here.

This month’s bricolage roundup.

I mostly think of myself as a horribly lazy person who keeps terrible hours, sleeps a lot and wastes huge swathes of time every day.Suzanne Forbes May Bricolage Collage

But sometimes I think of myself as a highly effective person whose productivity is just really weirdly distributed.

Here are the various bricolage projects I did this month, in between building the workshop, unpacking my mixed media materials, teaching a new class, starting a new painting, and drawing.

These flies are what I call “Uplift Projects”, after David Brin’s “Uplift” series.

They’re commercially produced decorative items I bought somewhere for almost nothing and am “improving” (according to my weird personal lights). I got these awesome glitter flies for 90% off at Cost Plus after Halloween. WIP Uplift Fly on the left, completed one, with beading, Swarovski crystals, more shades of glitter and micropearls on the right.

Mixed Media Suzanne Forbes 2016Mixed Media Suzanne Forbes 2016

 

 

This decoupage table originally came from Ross.

Insect and roses Decoupage Table Suzanne Forbes 2016I made them give me 10% off because it had a chipped corner. I repaired the corner with epoxy clay and spraypainted the whole thing with matt fuchsia acrylic from Dupli-Color, the German spray paint company that has a special line for graffiti artists.

Then I cut out all these amazing German decoupage pieces.

Insect and roses Decoupage Table Suzanne Forbes 2016Insect and roses Decoupage Table Suzanne Forbes 2016These are reproductions of the decoupage elements that have been produced here since the Victorian era.decoupage stag beetles

I used acrylic varnish to attach them in my weird little bug-infested way, painted the trim on the table with artist’s acrylic, and covered the decoupage with twelve coats of acrylic varnish. That actually was a pain in the ass. But worth it, I think. I’ve had the Alphonse Mucha coaster you see on top of the table since I was fourteen years old.

This dresser is a piece I got on Amazon.de through their repacking program.

dresser by Suzanne Forbes 2016You can often buy things that are brand new and perfectly good but have been returned and repacked at the warehouse for a fraction (20% in this case) of the original cost. It was stuffed all higgledy-piggledy into the box but all the (many, many) pieces were there, so I carefully assembled it.

Then I stained it with ten coats of Hazelnuss dunkelbraun stain (the equivalent of  the exploding-on-Pinterest General Finishes Java Gel stain). Ten coats may sound like a lot but with water-based gel stain, the coats go on and dry so fast it’s really no hardship.

perry gargano knobThe knobs are ones I’ve been collecting for years, like the brass verdigris tentacles from Perry Gargano for Anthropologie. (Of course I got mine all on clearance!). I’d learned from my research before we moved that German apartments have ZERO closets or built-in storage. BlueBayer Bat knobsSo I planned for buying a lot of furniture, and even splurged on four bat skull knobs from Blue Bayer on Etsy two weeks before we left.

 

Buying handmade items directly from an artist is the one time I’m happy to pay full price.

ombre table Suzanne ForbesI’ve had this table for almost twenty years- I got it at the Berkeley flea market.

It’s been spray-painted black, then pink, then black again. But this is the first time I tried making it ombré. I’m pretty thrilled with the results.

I used a deep sapphire blue, a dark forest green, and a pale celadon, all gloss finish from Dupli-Color. I built a sorta cheapass spray booth on the balcony out of boxes to paint it in.

ombre table1

 

Don’t spray paint indoors, dude. You don’t want to get what we used to call Technicolor Phlegm.

shadowbox Suzanne Forbes 2016I made this little shadow box out of some ribbon roses I made for my first wedding, hoarded velvet leaves and a frame I got at the Berkeley Flea, also like 20 years ago.

I got this plaster deer head from a German eBay dealer who specializes in vintage hunting lodge taxidermy.

deerhead

Taxidermy is so cheap here, Williamsburg craft beer bar owners would lose their minds. My dealer has been very kind about accepting my “Best Offers” for the most weird, kinda messed up pieces he lists.

I repaired the big chunk of missing plaster with epoxy clay, and repainted it. I left the rest of the damage ’cause I like it. deerheadebay

Now I’m waiting til the next time our handyman James comes over with his magic SuperStudFinder, which can detect metal and electrical wiring in the walls. Our walls have a LOT of janky old wiring in them so I like to check before I drill a great big hole for an anchor.

I think that’s all my bricolage this month.

Oh, and I decorated the frame for the octopus!Octopus Mixed Media Suzanne Forbes May 2016