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Saturday, November 20, 2010

The big damn can project, part 1

Every art project I take on is a learning experience – some more than others.  Occasionally the learning is more along the lines of a reminder, as in, "Why did you not figure this out last time? Why are you telling me you did figure it out, when you've gone and chosen to do it again, on purpose?"

Yeah. This was one of those projects.  And I liked it.

For my younger readers – back in the day you didn't get your milk at the grocery store, and it didn't come in plastic jugs or cardboard cartons.  It came in glass bottles, or in these big damn cans:


And the big damn cans (I don't even want to know what they weighed when they were full of milk) are now considered quaint antiques that look nifty as decorative objects, pretty much just like spinning wheels and really old rocking chairs.

So okay. Friend of mine has this big damn can. She keeps it out in her flower bed, and she wants me to decorate it a little so it looks nice.  Her mom has a big damn can of her own (I just like saying that) that she's decorated with an American eagle or something like that; my friend has some Irish blood, and she wants me to take hers and put some Celtic knotwork on it.  She's willing to pay me, which is always nice, in cash and in stained glass, something she claims she's just a beginner at (ha!).

I like stained glass. I like knotwork.  My like of knotwork causes me to repeatedly forget just how involved the process of making knotwork can be.  Gorgeous end result – ridiculous amount of work to get there.  That would be Reminder Lesson #1.

So, I break out my books and putter around finding a pattern that my friend and I both like… then I spend a couple months tweaking it before committing the design to paper.  See, knotwork starts out with a simple lattice as a skeleton; changing the shape of the diamonds in the lattice can radically change the look of the final knot pattern. Graph paper (trust me, always use graph paper when you do this, it will make your life way easier) lends itself well to one diamond shape, while the pattern in the book had a different one, and I wasted a lot of time trying out different variations and sizes.

Reminder Lesson #2: Go with the first thing that looks good – not because I'm lazy but because I am easily distracted by the joy of experimentation.

Finally, I settled on a design and got to work making a stencil to use, since even I am not quite insane enough to try and draw the knotwork directly onto a curved surface like the big damn can.  Drawing a Celtic knot is complicated enough; when you add in the extra step of taking a scalpel and cutting out channels in the finished knot, well, you pretty much cancel out the "no really, I'm not crazy" of opting to make a stencil in the first place.

It gets even crazier when you have to make the stencil twice.

Yes.  I did.


See, it's a funny thing about paper – it's flimsy.  If you tape it to a big damn can and then paint over it, it's gonna try and stick to the thing, and only be usable once.

The picture above is what the stencil looks like, salvaged and taped to a sheet of plastic, so as to serve as Reminder Lesson #3.  Yeah, I know, it probably won't work, but it's a nice souvenir anyway.


At least clear plastic makes it really easy to trace the design and start over; and this time I only really needed to trace the channels, not the entire knot.  It worked perfectly, and I was able to wrap the knot almost all the way around the can – there's a gap of about four or five inches in the back, largely because I didn't feel like calculating pi into my measurements.



The design you see there was repeated four times each around the top and bottom of the can.


Wait, you think it's finished?  You don't know me well yet, do you?  The bulk of the really difficult work is done, I'll say that; stay tuned for the next installment, In Which Things Get Colorful.

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