Furniture Becomes Canvas

Cabinet

It pays to do a good cleanout once in a while. Deep in the rafters of my garage I found a few pieces of small, unpainted wood furniture I've picked up at various decorative painting shows across Canada and the U.S.

I like the unpainted furniture – I can jump right in with a ground and paint. No need to treat or repair an existing surface like most of the wood pieces I pick up at flea markets. And there's a bit of physicality in painting 3D pieces – sometimes you lie on the floor, sometimes you paint upside down, it's a change from painting on canvas at an easel.

This piece, a contemporary cabinet about 40 inches tall, was ready to go and just begged for a whimsical treatment. Working with acrylic paint, collage, graphite and charcoal, I aimed for a loose look of line and shape.

The background colors are layers of acrylic paint sandwiched between layers of gloss gel medium. I worked with liquid acrylics, mostly transparent and alternated those layers with some layers of gel medium and some of opaque colors (transparents mixed with white gesso). I find this layering process exciting – I never know what I'll end up with. And I stop only when I think I need to stop.

In the 90s I spent much of my time creating block prints and screen prints. I kept the rejects…just in case. And now I'm making use of them for collage. The flowers in this piece are torn sections from water-based screen prints. I did a rough pencil sketch first to determine shape placement then glued all the paper bits down with gloss gel medium. I also applied another layer of gloss gel on top of the glued-down pieces. I believe in over-kill.

Next step was to slather a thin layer of Tri-Art Dry Media Ground over the entire cabinet making the surface gritty and receptive to graphite and charcoal. I scooped up a bit of the ground, plopped it onto the surface, then spread the stuff thinly using an old credit card or hotel room key. It's important to keep the medium thin 'cause it leans towards opacity.

Once the medium dried, I went to work with graphite and charcoal. The dark bars at the top of the cabinet are graphite. I own many rolls of tape of varying widths and I use that tape to create random "fences". Using graphite on dry media ground isn't the same as using graphite on paper. The gritty ground chews up the graphite and, while you can get some variations of value, most of the graphite grades end up looking like similar values and intensities. I blend the graphite/charcoal using shop towels.

Now here's the important part. The surface needs to be sealed before varnishing or the graphite/charcoal will bleed. You can use a spray fixative, but, since I work in a small somewhat air-tight studio, I prefer to use gel medium as a sealer. Scoop the gloss gel medium onto the surface gently, then, with deliberate motions, spread out the gel with your palette knife. This step requires patience to avoid smudging the graphite but it works well.

Once the gel has dried, the piece is ready to be varnished. My standard varnish, the one I'm successful with,  is Liquitex Matte Acrylic Varnish. Can't vouch for any other type of varnish.

I'm calling this piece finished (but just don't look inside the drawers).

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