February 5, 2014

DIY Chinese Calendar Wall Art

It's a new year, which means just like kuzoos, glitter, and novelty crowns, those freebie calendars are bound to turn up. Free calendars from dentists, calendars from your doctors, and sometimes, if you're lucky, calendars from your local Chinese restaurant.

Perhaps I'm just a little bit of a hoarder at heart, but I always felt bad throwing away the freebie Chinese calendars. Sure, you can't really write your appointments or friend's birthdays onto bamboo, but they have an artsy and exotic vibe to them which I just adore. So, I thought -- why let them go to waste? Why not upcycle a Chinese calendar into a free piece of art?

Gather inspiration and study it before painting a single stroke. All you need to get started is to find yourself a freebie Chinese calendar. 

1. Inspiration! Which for me often involves Pinspiration! I gathered visuals to narrow down the style, the colors, the feel I wanted. You could collect images from a favorite artist or art period. If you haven't painted anything in a while, find simpler compositions. Monochromatic compositions or basic shapes are a good place to start.

I thought of surrealist painters mixed with a touch of ancient Asian art for my piece. Art by Rotko with his color blocking, I thought, might be a bit easier to mimic, while the freehanded strokes of modern surrealists could mimic natural forms without literally painting a daisy on the bamboo canvas.

2. Paint the Chinese calendar with white paint or gesso. Gesso completely covered the ink in two coats. If you’re using regular acrylic paint, you may need three or four coats. 

 Make sure you have paper or wax paper underneath the canvas, since paint does leak through the bamboo slats. Also, make sure the canvas is pulled flat and straight to prevent wrinkling.

3. Paint your abstract art. You may prefer to mark off the edges with painter’s tape or leave an exposed rough edge. Brush from side to side or with slightly watered down paint in order to fill all of the cracks.

4. Step back and admire your abstract artwork!
So that was the plan, but I had forgotten one thing...
Painting abstract

Art is really hard!!

My first draft of color splashed onto the canvas looked like a kid's finger painting. It was ok, but it seemed really messy and not really artsy at all.

Fortunately, my husband is also an artist and was there to pat me on my back, help me step back from the bamboo for a few minutes, and take a new look at what I was doing.  He helped me remember what I had forgotten about creating art. Here are a few tips:
  • Color hue – don’t go straight from the bottle. Mix with whites, grays, blacks, etc. to bring depth to your hue. Love the color on the pallet or don’t put it on the canvas.
  • Brush strokes – in abstract art, the importance of the line or brush stroke cannot be overstated. The brush strokes are the subjects of the piece, so the bumpy texture of the bamboo canvas can be used for or against your composition. It definitely adds an extra level of difficulty. I suggest using thick or watered down paint and angling your brush directly 90 degrees to the canvas as much as possible if you don’t want the graph effect to show.
  • Contrast – to avoid the muddy, finger-paint style of artwork, it’s always helped me to remember contrast. Abstract painting is not painting a wall. Uniformity can be boring and dull. The eye naturally is drawn to contrast, so leaving contrast of two colors, two hues, or two brush strokes can help to create a focal point or an interest point on the canvas.
  • Balance – Think of the canvas as a whole. Free yourself from the need to be perfectly symmetrical, but consider how balance can affect the composition. Similarities on the top and bottom or left and right can bring cohesion and make the painting feel like it is all meant to be together. 
  • Layers – if at first you don’t succeed, just keep painting. Unlike other art mediums, paint is forgiving. A fresh coat of white paint or gesso will let you start over, or layer more colors on top of your existing composition. Who knows if that sprinkle of red or smudge of yellow could be what brings the piece together. When I didn't like my first draft, I covered it up with a thin layer of white paint. When it still didn't look right, I added an abstract pattern to be a focal point or a subject for the painting.

  • Don’t stop until you love it – Most artists don’t love their work. They’ve been staring at it for hours, days, weeks. They’re sick of it! Most artists are their own biggest critics, so if you don’t love what you have, that’s ok. But you don’t have to put it on the wall right away. Step away from it for a while. Look at inspiration photos. Get second opinions. A good night’s sleep can make the difference between throwing the canvas in the trash and hanging it on your wall. So when I say don’t stop until you love it, I really mean don’t give up. A little more practice or a little more playtime might be all you need to really have the perfect accent for your wall.
 After all, it is a free canvas, so what do you have to lose?

Even now, I'm still feeling out my painting. I may take it down any day now and start all over again. It turned out more Hawaiian travel poster than Dali surrealism, like I hoped. But the longer it is on my wall, the more it grows on me and I am starting to like it. 

What do you think of my painting? Have you ever tried your hand at painting abstract art?

1 comment:

  1. Great idea!! Mine would turn out really bad. Thanks for sharing at The Weekend Retreat, hope to see you back on Thursday!


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