Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Our Cities Subway Art

So everyone in the craft blog-o-sphere has done their version of Subway Art.  I was first inspired by this super-popular tutorial early this year from Lil Blue Boo.  I kept thinking about how I could make something for my home.  And then, I thought about the HUGE empty space about my 2 story fireplace.  We have a very high vaulted ceiling in our family room and I have never found the right artwork to go over that mantle.  I figured, hmmmm....maybe some Subway Art?  So I hemmed and hawwed and finally got to work on the project.  I mostly followed Lil Blue boo's tutorial BUT I should have paid closer attention to it, so that I could have saved myself a step!  I wanted to make my Subway Art all about the cities my hubby and I have lived in.  So mine has every city that we each lived in before meeting each other, and all the ones since (including our boy's birth cities, even though we technically didn't live in Highland Park!).

I made the lay-out for the design using my plain old Word program on the computer and used the fonts; arial, arial narrow and arial black to get some variety in the thickness of the letters.  I tried to justify the margins, but for letters this big, that didn't work.  So I simply centered the text and kept making the font for each word bigger and bigger until the city name reached the margins of the page.  I'm sure there is an easier way to do this, but that's how I did mine.

Next, I had to choose how big I wanted to blow up the image.  I decided to make my art BIG.  Looking back, I should have realized that sheets of plywood and mdf come pre-cut at Home Depot and are much cheaper this way (I think they are pre-cut as a quarter sheet).  My image was just big enough that I needed to purchase a whole sheet and have it cut (no biggie, it still only wound up being about $25).  Anyway, I took my template over to Staples and had it enlarged on their special printer for about $5.  I then used the huge image to prepare my lettering stencil.

Next, I set about tracing the letters onto contact paper (this is where I messed up!).  Ashley used adhesive to attach her image to the contact paper and just cut it....saving herself a step.  I traced out the whole stinking thing first.  Then I cut out my letters.  UGHHH.  This is not a project for the non-patient.  I'm not going to lie.  This was tedious, boring work.  But finally, I had my letters.  I kept each line in a separate folder until I was ready to apply it to my board. 

Next, I prepared my plywood.  Next time, I'd use MDF.  The plywood was a nightmare to work with.  It wouldn't take an even coat of spray paint no matter what I did!!  So I just wound up rolling on my off-white background color.  I didn't want stark white, so I used some left over cream paint from another project.

Now, here is where my earlier mistake of tracing the letters came in handy.  I still had my original uncut image for reference.  I quickly traced the outlines of the letters on the back with pencil, then I placed the image over my painted wood.  Then I lightly traced over the letters on top (which transferred a light image to the wood).  Sorry, I don't have a picture of this!  Basically, it gave me the exact, straight placement and spacing for each letter in each word.  Since I had already invested so much time in this god forsaken wonderful project, I knew it would make me crazy if it wasn't perfect!

Next, I placed the contact paper stencils I had cut out on the wood board, following the placements that I had traced on with pencil.  I pressed them down pretty firmly.  Next, the black layer.  Since the plywood was crap not smooth, I wound up having to roll on black paint with a small sponge roller.  Spray paint would have been better on the stencils, but that wasn't in the cards for me!  Then, I let it dry and peeled away the letters.  Now, since I had to roll my paint on, I had to do quite a bit of touching up of the edges of the letters.  Not fun.

But once it was done, I was thrilled.  The finished product looked a bit stark for me, so I mixed together a couple of shades of brown craft paint with glossy mod podge and tried out some test antique mixes.  I was a little worried at this point, but I decided to just go for it, and threw some tinted mod-podge on there (it's streaky and un-even and I think that kind of adds to the charm).  I was really happy with the final result.  I was not brave enough to sand the edges, though....I had spent way to many tedious hours to risk not liking that!

and here is the final result!

I am so pleased with how it finally turned out and it is the perfect reflection of our far-flung family and how far we have come.  I love it and my husband is tolerating having homemade art as our main family room display.  win win!!  Also, this whole project wound up costing about $40, not bad for a piece that is about 4 feet tall!