By the time this year is over, I will hopefully have much to reflect on about new things I tried, or ways that I stretched out of my comfort zone as an artist. And this will be right up there on the list of new projects I tackled. I have decorated small furniture items before. Much of it was just junk and ready for the trash, that I couldn’t stand looking at in my own house. Stakes and investments for these projects were never lower. But here was an opportunity to make something that might actually make a difference to a child while generating donations for an organization helping people in the community who are in need. I had not heard of Community Warehouse before, even from my time when I lived in Portland. Upon further research, it really made me excited to do my part.
Community Warehouse in Portland and Tualatin, Oregon. From their website:
We connect donated household goods and furnishings to our neighbors in need, creating stronger home foundations and brighter futures.
Essentially, they are a furniture bank, connecting with local social services to get donated household and furniture items into the hands of people and families who are in desperate need. That’s their year-round effort. But once a year, in two days in fact, they have an event called Chair Affair. And I have a piece in this year’s event.
The chairs for the Chair Affair are specifically for children. That means the chairs are child sized, also donated or procured second-hand. Several artists participate in decorating the chairs and then the “Affair” part is a great gala with food, drinks, entertainment and an auction on the chairs. In the weeks that follow the event, CW works to connect each chair (which hopefully generated a lot of money at the affair to help with the program year round) with a child in need of a personal and precious chair that he or she gets to take home, for keeps.
I was offered a choice of chairs by the good folks at CW and I chose this metal bench. Even though it is small, it is very sturdy. My very small-sized kitty is in one photo so you can see the scale. I imagined a boy or girl (I really did strive to be unisex this time) sitting on this sweet little bench and reading a story or playing or just dreaming. It definitely had a musical look to it. I thought the back looked like music stands or harps. I also saw Steampunk “Lite” in it (no skulls or Cthulhu, in other words) and opted to run with that because I felt it would have broader appeal to both boys and girls. “Steampunk Flying Machines” inspired me and I proceeded to spend days scouring Etsy and other sources, buying every old concept image of dirigibles, hot air balloons and other Jules Verne inspired aircraft. Truly, I have enough unique flying machine images to decorate 10 benches.
Sometime in its lifetime, an adult sized person used the bench as a step-stool and put a nice dent in the seat, but my husband pounded it out with a mallet and it adds character.
And here is what I made, Play, Read, Imagine, Invent.
The birdseye view is an image of Portland, Oregon about 100 years ago.
The lettering was applied using reverse image transfer with a Victorian-looking font.
Mt. Hood and detail of some decorative elements.
Mt. St. Helens still had its peak!
It HAD to have tassels, like a Victorian era piece. (Attached with computer cable ties underneath.)
I ended up painting much of the sky myself since no available image looked right. I lived in Portland for 9 years. I know those skies!
There were certain challenges with this piece. I definitely learned many lessons. The (brand name omitted) metal paint kit that was supposed to give the metal a lovely blue patina in 6 easy steps was a complete bust. The spray that makes the blue patina needed to be applied within a few minutes of applying the last coat of paint, and that was difficult given the size of the piece. It would work great on a vase or a pot. That was the one panic moment. So then I got the idea to stencil some blue elements on the edges and that not only gave it the patina but also added some visual interest. Adding flecks of blue paint everywhere else literally took me days. But it was so worth it.
I had never done image transfer before. That was probably the most satisfying effect. I had to make everything primer white first so that the lettering showed (same process as the seat) and then I had to blend and stipple it back to metal color to make it look like the words were always part of the bench.
Everything had to be poly coated afterwards, and a part of me will always wonder how it wears in an active child’s bedroom.
Our little photo studio here at home that we use to shoot photos of purses was not nearly big enough for this project. We discovered a local studio that rented for $40 an hour. It had everything we needed to shoot (we brought our own strobes and cameras) and it was good to learn about this for future needs.
Transporting the piece back and forth for the 3 1/2 hour drive to Portland may not be as easy in the future. My friends Robin and Tom got the bench to me and back out to Portland in time for the event. I had a month to do the work. I will be scouring the second hand stores near me for pieces for future Chair Affair events and it will definitely be my turn to drive it out next time.
And OH MY GOD, be sure to check out the other artists’ work for this year’s Affair. Talk about humbling to even be included. Wow.
I may not ever know who ends up with the chair, but I sincerely hope he or she loves it and treasures their time spent sitting in it.
Studio props. Not so much.
Photographer, Bruce, hard at work.