Saturday, March 16, 2013

Another Ikea "Hack"- Tabletop Into Art

This blog post could also be titled, "The Best Laid Plans" as well, as one project, which partially failed, dovetailed into another project which didn't fail at all. So here's the story.

I have very large, tall, blank walls in my new home. Some of the walls are as tall as 18', and beg for color and interest. With a desire to create a large-scale piece of art for my front entry, I bought an 8' x 4' piece of plywood with an oak veneer, and several quarts of house paint. The idea was to create a new "Furnace" piece, one in a series I did many years ago. This is what the (previously) largest Furnace piece looks like:

This measures 3'x4' and was painted on masonite tacked to a deep cradle frame, using a technique called "reductive painting". With reductive painting, you add multiple layers of paint in various colors to your substrate, and then you remove those paint colors by sanding the top layers away, or - as in my case - melt them with rubbing alcohol and scrape through them with a paint scrapper.  For the 8'x4' piece I had in mind, though, I wanted colors that were move reflective of what we're using in the house right now- mainly greens.

My first task was to use joint compound to cover about 1/3 of the plywood, to add texture and movement in the final piece. This is where things began to go awry. It never occurred to me that the joint compound would wreak havoc with the oak veneer on the plywood, but as it dried, the veneer buckled and pulled away from the wood underneath. I don't have a photo of that, because at that point, I was pretty sure the project was a wash and that I wouldn't be blogging about it!

Still, I'm stubborn, and wanted to make things work anyway. I tried gouging some of the bubbled veneer out, left more of the bubbling, and finally decided I liked the texture it gave the wood. This is what desperation will whisper to you, that despite things going pear-shaped, you can still make it all okay.

I slapped the first coat of paint onto the now-damaged plywood, a vibrant yellow. I find that with reductive painting, the brighter the early layers of paint are, the more effective the final product is.

You can see the damage to the wood in the photo above, and here you can see how the veneer bubbled...

The texture was pretty cool, though, right? Right? RIGHT?? (*crickets*)

I pressed onward with the next color, a deep magenta.

As expected, the house paints gave me superb coverage, but were- I was to find out later- a major contributing factor in this piece's ultimate failure.

Next paint later, a lovely lime green.

And then the final layer, blue-green.

All of these paint layers were done in the same afternoon- as soon as one layer was dry to the touch, I'd apply another layer. It's much easier to remove the layers of paint in the next step if they haven't had time to fully cure.

Not that it would have mattered. After the final layer of paint was dry to the touch, I slathered the whole thing in rubbing alcohol, waited a couple of minutes, and started trying to scrape away the paint layers, and... nothing happened. They didn't budge. Not even a little bit. Either the house paints are much more sturdy than artists paints, or the 70% alcohol I used had too little alcohol in it, or some devious combination of the two, but for whatever the reason, the paint wasn't going anywhere.

So I dove on my palm sander with it's heaviest grit paper and went at the paint. Nothing. Nada. I blinked in confusion for a full ten minutes. Mistake # 274 coming up. I got out the big boy: my belt sander. I was pretty maniacal by now.

The belt sander removed the paint layers, alright, like the bruiser it is, but it also took me back down to the bare wood in many places, and sheered off not only the areas of veneer that were bubbled, but all the high spots of joint compound, too. I had a mess on my hands. Naturally, I was too frustrated and angry with myself that I didn't take photos of it. Suffice it to say, though, that it was Ugly with a capital U.

Ok, so I did manage, after a couple of days of looking at what it had become and cursing it, to salvage some of it, but that's a blog post for another day.

In frustration, I tried again, still needing a sizable piece of art for my front entry way. This is where my Ikea hack came into play.

I had an Ikea table top that looked remarkably like this one sitting around...

It measures 36" x 60" x 2" and seemed like as good a candidate as any for my next attempt. Mind you, I would have made my next try on a stretched artist canvas, except that all the rubbing alcohol and scraping of paint tends to stretch the canvas badly out of shape, so a solid surface is really advisable when attempting this technique.

But since I was using another unknown- a pre-finished table top- I decided to go back to the mediums I do know: light modeling paste instead of joint compound, artist's acrylics instead of house paint, and 91% rubbing alcohol instead of 70%. I like to up my odds whenever possible.

Needing to remove the gloss of the pre-finished wood veneer, my belt sander came out again and with a small amount of work, a dust mask, hearing protection, and safety glasses, I sanded the crap out of the table top. I was taking no chances.

Next came the modeling paste, applied down one edge for textural interest.

I used a 3" wet paintbrush "slapped" into the paste to give it the texture I wanted.

Then the paint layers, which I didn't photograph. Yellow, magenta, pale blue-green, and phthalo green as the top layer. Moving quickly through the day so the paint layers didn't have time to cure, I finally covered the whole thing in a couple of bottles of rubbing alcohol and started scraping away at it.


Ta-da! It now stands in my entryway in a kind of in-your-face way that I'm happy with. I wanted to hang it, but frankly, it's hollow-core and I don't know that it can hold its own weight on the wall- after all, it was built to sit on legs, not hang by a wire. 

To give you an idea of scale, here it is in its natural habitat...

If I can devise a safe way to hang it, it will go up onto the wall, where I think it would be much happier.

Happy creating!


Regina B Dunn said...

What a great project. And the results are perfect for your space. It would be fun to have you for a neighbor.

Glen QuiltSwissy said...

Wow! Great process story. Thanks. Sometimes things,don't always turn out the way we expect!

How about hanging it with something akin to the way you would hang a plate? Just a thought. It would basically rest on a shelf or external frame.


Mary Helen-Art Saves Lives said...

This is an enormous project...I can not imagine how you will hang this but it is beautiful! Peace, Mary Helen Fernandez Stewart

MarcyB said...

I love this piece! Now I want to try this technique myself. I think it looks great leaning against the wall but it needs to be on something like a low bench or wooden block to raise it up a bit. I also liked the idea of another commenter about hanging it like a plate. Thank you for sharing this.

MarcyB said...

I love this piece! Now I want to try this technique myself. I think it looks great leaning against the wall but it needs to be on something like a low bench or wooden block to raise it up a bit. I also liked the idea of another commenter about hanging it like a plate. Thank you for sharing this.

Unknown said...

Make a cleat. Take a piece of wood with one side cut at an angle which will fit into it's opposing piece...Screw the cleat into the tabletop with wood screws at the edges where it would have an extra thickness of wood to hold the veneers in. You can also add a line of glue along the cleat. Attach the cleat to the back of the piece.

Do the same for the other segement that the angled pied on the door will fit into....screw that one onto the stud on the wall so it will support the weight of the piece without pulling it out of drywall or plaster.

I probably didn't explain it well enough, so here's a link.

We used to use this a lot when I was hanging at the museum.

measuringspace - sylvia teri said...

What perseverance and tenacity. It paid off in the end because the final result is wonderful. I like your technique.
Please visit me at my blog:

I too love to mess and repair until I reach a satifactory end.

HollyM said...

That is quite a project and what a front hall! I have an old hollow core that i got my husband to sand for me and i plan to paint it for my living room in a similar fashion.

Martha Marshall said...

Great job, Judi! Perfect for your big walls. I like the cleat idea too.

Anonymous said...

I really like that first piece.

Unknown said...

Hi Judi, this was a great post as usual. The finished product is stunning! It will look great in such a big open space. You'll have to show pics after you tackle hanging it. Lol. Again, I love your honesty, that your projects don't always come out right the 1st time!!! TFS

Kate said...

I found your technique fascinating and decided to try it, or at least something like it. I did the layers, but due to "life" I didn't get back to it for days and the paint was hard to remove. I did the best I could and nothing jumped at me, so I panted some more layers. It was then I saw a face and decided to focus on that and leave the unique "etchings" around it. After working on that for several sessions and finding no satisfaction, I layered some more. I finally Ioved the etched background, but didn't feel it was interesting enough to stand alone. I couldn't get the idea of a bare tree and an Oriole out of my mind so I etched out the tree and painted the large bird next to it. I liked the piece and had a great time doing it. Thank you for the inspiration. I have two more pieces in production, great fun! I would include a photo, but I'm not sure how to do that here.