What a wonderful surprise to receive a phone call from my long-time friend Trish Lehman, inviting me to join her at a Mixed Media Collage class in Edmonds last weekend. Besides the opportunity to create in a medium I hadn’t really worked in before, I was excited to see Trish, as she’d just returned from a trip to ICELAND and I wanted to hear all about it! We agreed to meet, and I offered to pack a special picnic lunch for us.
The all-day class was taught by an amazing Seattle artist, Caitlin Dundon, the owner of One Heart Studio. Caitlin is known for her trademark handwritten script and colorful mixed media paintings, and she’s a professional calligrapher and instructor in both mixed media collage and pointed pen calligraphy. Her introduction class was titled “Put a Bird On It”, and we were to spend the day using bird imagery and themes to explore the different techniques and possibilities creating work on paper, paperboard and wood.
After Trish and I fortified ourselves with the thermos of coffee I brought and some home made cinnamon rolls I baked the night before, we were ready to get to work. Of course, I couldn’t just “put a bird on it”, I had to use goldfish! There was a wonderful handprinted wrapping paper in the paper box with big fat goldfish on them, and it made me want to create something for Rolland as he loves blue and orange. Thinking the collage thing would be really easy, I started ripping and pasting to my board (OK, it’s actually a gel matte fixative, but I call it pasting). I had the fish hiding in some weeds at the bottom of what I thought was going to be a fishbowl, complete with fishy air bubbles. It didn’t look so great. Caitlin gently got me to think about a couple of ideas to make more of a composition from it – adding another fish, less of a highlight on the air bubbles, more of a “horizon” line toward the top – and she was right on every one of them. I added a light wash of yellow and the whole thing popped in a way that made me like the piece instead of wanting to chuck it.
On to Bird piece number 2. For me, that was a SOCK MONKEY! I’ve been saving paper stuff with sock monkeys on it for a couple years now, thinking one day I’d find a use for them. I had this idea of doing a tree with some monkeys hanging from it, but it evolved into a house. I don’t think a sock monkey house would look like a regular house, so I gave it some cartoony, angled walls, roof and window frame. My original plan to have three monkeys in the house made it too crowded and busy, so I chose my favorite guy (from a calendar of vintage sock monkeys), and had him looking out the window. A tree next to the house was the right addition – highlighted with some yellow to make it pop – and I added a door step in some hand-marbled paper I made WAY BACK in college when I was studying book binding and decorative papers. And last, I added SMile! to my piece, because that’s what always happens when I look at sock monkeys for awhile.
Lunch break! I loaded my favorite vintage picnic hamper with freshly made chicken salad, cantaloupe, yogurt, carrot sticks and bagels. I must say I make a MEAN chicken salad, and of course I’d brought along my favorite Stangl plates from the ’50s to serve it on. For dessert we had some spice cake cupcakes with cream cheese frosting – YUM! Luckily, cupcakes just happen to be Trish’s favorite food, and I’d brought along a few extra for her trip back home to Friday Harbor. Trish reported later that several of them didn’t survive the long journey north…
So the afternoon was winding down, and I’d yet to do anything with my bird! I decided to just crank it out and not overthink it, and I really wanted to finish my project DURING CLASS because the last thing I needed to take home was another unfinished ANYTHING. I’ve been working on this children’s book lately where the main character realizes the way out of his problem is to sing, so I wanted a little bird with SING on the piece. I’d prepped my board with blue and green (I love blue and green!), then I used this very cool technique of transferring my bird image onto fabric before I glued it down. A few leaves cut from a spin painting I’d done at the fair years ago, some music notes, lettering, then my final touch: a pearly, embossed swirl with the same embossed swirl over it in gold. I wanted it to look like that was the song coming from the bird, and I like how it turned out.
A fun, fun afternoon creating really gets my blood pumping, and the collaging techniques let me get a little bit dirty, but not so yucky I couldn’t get cleaned up in a few minutes – it’s so fun to get messy! Trish and I both came away with pieces we loved, and she’s getting ready for a BIG collage project, which I could tell was really starting to gel in her head during this class. I think she’s going to create something wonderful with vintage photographs of her family and I can’t wait to see it. And now I know what I can do with all that vintage wrapping paper, funky paper scraps, ticket stubs and old photos I’ve been saving – make some more art!
Week #2 looked really promising as half the class didn’t show up, which meant I’d get more one-on-one time with our instructor, Ollie. He’d given me a homework assignment from Week #1 to finish ripping out the old upholstery tacks, nails and staples. Because I had completed it (I’m a model student), I was able to get right to work on the chair when class started.
Right off, I had to retie the springs because some of them were broken, and the front spring was tied incorrectly (said Ollie), which made it feel like the front of the chair had a slope to it when you were sitting in it. This was not too difficult, but since I never passed the knot tying section in Cub Scouts, it took me a little longer to figure out. But it’s done right now, and nobody will be sliding off the front!
Problem two with the springs: there are these little staple things that I think he called “cinchers”, that anchor the springs to the heavy canvas webbing in the bottom of the chair. My chair didn’t have ANY of them, so that meant the springs could slide around the webbing, which always made the chair feel kind of spongy. I used the cincher tool to reattach all of the springs to the webbing and the result was fantastic – the bottom of the chair was now firm and felt like it would support weight a lot more evenly.
Step three was to fix a broken part of the frame holding the springs in. If you think of an old timey set of bed springs, this chair has a miniature version for the seat. One section of the outside frame on the top was broken apart, which made it uneven. Ollie was able to put it right with a barrel clamp and a new metal section – a piece he fashioned from a 10 penny nail! Then I wrapped and knotted it with lots of upholstery twine to keep it in place and make sure it wouldn’t poke up through the padding.
Covering the frame is a burlap/canvas cover that the padding sits on top of. This has to be sewn to the outer spring frame with a big, fat curved needle and upholstery thread, which is like a super skinny, industrial strength twine. This is one of those points in the process that hurt my head because each stitch is knotted onto itself as it’s sewn around the outside of the frame. I just suck at visualizing these things, and once I’d master it, I’d have to turn the corner to go another direction and then need to figure it out all over again. I think there must be physics or some higher math involved in this that my brain is just not wired for.
Now on to some new fabric! The part the seat cushion rests on is called decking, and the funky old kelly green fabric had to go. I replaced it with a beige that looked great with my new fabric. There’s tacking and nailing involved to keep the foam padding tight over the front, which I had to do a couple of times to get right – too tight the first time and not tight enough the second, but third time was a charm.
And finally, some sewing – I cut and shaped the piece that goes on the front where your legs would be – I think there’s an actual name for this part, but I can’t remember it. Ollie told me my choice of fabric would make things easier to line up because if has a kind of grid on it, and he was right. I slid it right into place and I felt for the first time I could start to visualize how great the chair would look when it was finished.
These few steps had taken the whole four hours of class, and I was pooped out! All that knotting, pulling, pounding, stapling and stitching wore me out. I think I had it in my head that this was a more “gentlemanly” art, but it’s a lot more blue collar than I expected, and this boy is definitely a white collar, let’s-not-get-that-dirty kinda guy. But it was fun, and I can’t wait for Week #3.
Deciding it was time to stop saying I wanted to learn this and just LEARN it, I signed up for an upholstery class last week.
My choice for the class is a mid-century club chair that belonged to my grandmother. She had it recoverd around 1970 in an OVERSIZED floral print in three shades of orange with lots of avocado and celery green accents. It sounds worse than it really is, but dog chews to the arm, fading to the fabric and the overwhelming smell of cigarettes and wood smoke meant it needed a fix or a toss. I chose to fix it!
Other than the instructor Ollie, I was the only guy in the class. My fellow classmates had all taken the class before, so were far into the reupholstering process already – boy could these ladies use a nail gun! They were tacking, cutting, sewing and stapling like mad. The woman next to me said “I’m finishing this during this class or my husband says the damn thing’s going in the trash.” I could tell she was serious about finishing it.
Since I was just starting, I spent four hours pulling upholstery tacks, decorative hammer nails and staples – and I didn’t even get the chair completely apart! There was a lot of dust and floating bits of old padding and foam in the air to go with it, and I was wishing I’d taken an allergy pill and worn a dust mask – there’s always class #2 for that, huh?.
I found a lot of “hidden treasures” as I ripped my chair apart – a screw driver that was lost inside by the last upholsterer, an ink pen, a few assorted pieces to board games, a couple candy wrappers, and a penny for good luck! The best thing inside was the instructor saying “this chair has a good frame and will look great when you’re done.” Nice to know I hadn’t chosen another fruitless effort to work on –
The chairs can’t stay at the class location, and as I had howmework – to finish ripping it apart – I loaded my chair back into the car to work on in the garage. My instructor said we’d be reusing some of the original padding, so I doused it with a lot of odor neutralizing spray that’s supposed to work on cigarette smell, but I don’t think they ever tested it on something as stinky as this! I’m leaving it outside to help with the de-smelling process.