Sunday, April 17, 2011

Mary's Narcissistic Craft Corner

Or... easy DIY wall art for your nest. They say a picture is worth a thousand words... but should I just include a thousand words, anyway? Sure!
Okay, so here is my background knowledge on this super, no brainer method. Or in other words, this section should be titled "things you may not know about me". I have a degree in art and design from Cal Poly. Before that, I studied at Cuesta, Chico State, and the Academy of Art in San Francisco. Before that, I took every art class offered in high school and then did two years of independent study. Before that... well, my dad used to hand me paints and paper to keep me busy in my high chair. So there you go. I do actually know how to do this by hand, and I can draw from life and all that, but this is what I use to achieve a quicker, more accurate basic outline. If at any time during this post, you get all, "ya, but mine won't look like that", stop yourself and say: "self! I didn't study art for twenty years straight, now did I? I am probably trained in something that makes money!" and leave it at that. Yours will still look super awesome and will be all about you- your style, your thing, your mo-jo. It'll be great.

And ahem, if you did study art for twenty years straight... you so don't need to be reading this right now. Please.

Okay, so what you will need is a $25 projector, a really basic one, like this:

Seriously, this is what I use. Although, they have apparently redesigned it to be more...aerodynamic? I drag it upstairs in the falling-apart original cardboard box I bought it in twelve years ago, prop it on a stool or dining room chair and plug it in. I have an expanse of white wall in our bedroom, with an outlet right there. I slide the photo or whatever I have printed off the computer under it (being sure that it fits the little square you can see on the bottom there). Inside this thing there is literally a bulb, a mirror, and a little box to run the bulb. Super high-tech. Then I slide the chair back and forth (picture projected on wall is completely blurry) just to adjust the size I want. Then I use the, er, lens... I guess. Just using that word is making me laugh to myself... to focus the picture. Then I hang the canvas, or paper, or whatever I am using on the wall, and make more adjustments if necessary. Then, I trace away! If I am doing a portrait, I trace in pencil, and I include all the shadows so when I am finished it looks a lot like a paint by number. If, during the tracing, anyone or anything disturbs the projector and repositions the projection, I throw an enormous tantrum and storm up and down the stairs until I have collected myself enough to do the painful re-alignment work.

I regularly combine multiple photos, and when I do that, I make sure to do the photo in the foreground first, so that when I do the background, I know to stop that line when I run into my foreground drawing, and I don't have to do any erasing or trying to figure out later which is which. Here are some examples of what I am left with:

 For this piece, I actually received three photos. One of each of the dogs, and one of this place with the stacked rocks. So I did this outline in three separate 'drag-the-projector-and-chair-around, re-focus, and make-sure-its-straight' sessions. Perhaps one or two 'un-tape, move and re-tape the paper' sessions. Be sure to use painter's tape if you care about your walls. But there you have it.

Note: In situations like this one, if you are going to aim for realism (and not just graphic shapes and outlines, which I will talk about later) be sure to pay close attention to where the shadows are pointing. The drawing won't look right to the eye if shadows are going all different directions, or if your subjects are noticably different sizes from their surroundings.

I suggest, if you are going to do a simple line drawing (which is so easy with the projector) that you make the major subject's outlines thicker/darker around the outside, and the backgrounds and inner shadow outlines softer and lighter. Try it and I think you'll get my drift. You can kind of see that in the drawing above. I don't focus on that so much when I know I am going to put paint over it.

Here is another:
In the background photo, they were only about as big as those red parentheticals, but it still worked. I imagined them celebrating their engagement sipping champagne on a balcony somewhere,
overlooking the lake. Sigh... it helps me to make up stories
about these sorts of things while I'm painting.

I was super nervous about this job because I didn't know the people and had never seen them in person. It wasn't the first time I had done that, and it probably won't be the last, but it always puts me a little bit on the edge of my seat while I'm working. You won't have this issue, as you will probably be creating art of your friends and family for your own walls and theirs!

One more example of this paint-by-number look:

 This one is done from a friend's wedding photo. I did the background paint first and then laid down the foreground outline and the background outline...I don't know why I forget to do that sometimes.

So, this is how they all turned out in the end:

 I tried a more modern approach with the second one (you can pick up those graphic stamps at a craft store and work them into your piece, or use them as a background pattern). I have to say, this last one is my all-time favorite. By the time they are at this stage, my outline is long gone and I am flying through the air with no safety net. I usually have at least one or two major freakouts (see the knuckle area on her hand in that last one? Huge freakout). But this was more to satisfy your curiosity than to suggest that from step #1 to step # 457 is a short hop. Just try step #1 and see where your imagination leads you.

Here's a fun one: you can blow up a profile photograph and trace the outline, for a look that is similar to an old Victorian silhouette portrait. Instead of making it black, use it as a template and cut that shape out of fabric, or patterned craft paper, and frame it. Or adhere it onto a background of colored cardstock. Here's an example that I did up in Photoshop:
digital paper by designer mItsybelle. See more products here.
You can use a template like that for anything. I mean, you could stitch a cut out piece of fabric onto a pillow, or turn it into a stencil. The ideas are endless.

I will leave you with a little progression of one of my portraits from start to finish:

One with glare, and one without. Can't wait for that awesome camera.
Hope you have fun with it! Comment if you have made something beautiful, I would love to hear about it!


  1. AHHHH i love it i love your art! I always have! You make it look so easy, but if i did this... might not turn out so hot. hahah

  2. I love the black and white wedding one. Last painting is also good times.

  3. Amazing!! So neat for me to discover how talented you are. Thanks for sharing!=)

  4. Aw thanks guys! I've been a little woozy and sick so I'm glad the post didn't confuse anybody else! Haha. Meems, you do great art, you should get back into it, your stuff is wonderful. Anyone who can trace an outline can make some pretty amazing stuff using a projector.
    More ideas:
    Use some colored pencils while you outline, and you have a super realistic, colorfully graphic work of art!
    Project a block letter (like a monogram) in any font, and trace the outline, and fill it in however you'd like. You can even trace a pattern into the inside. Personalized art for your house!

    I will probably do some of these and post them. Best $20 I ever spent 12 years ago! Haha!