Saturday, February 14, 2015

DIY Styro Fruit Box Watercolor Paper Stretcher

I have a lot of styrofoam fruit boxes lying around from my hydroponic lettuce project.  These are the containers most grapes come packaged in.  Most fruit stands will be happy to sell them to you for Php 20.  I did a bit of research a while back on whether styro is safe for use in hydroponics and from what I had read realized that I may have a use for it even in watercolor painting.  Learned styro does not have acid or base properties.  It is also basically inert or stable.  Perfect material for making watercolor paper stretcher support.  

You will need a sharp cutter and a metal ruler to cut out the rectangular panel on the bottom and top of the box.

I was on a roll and finished cutting this many boxes.  You can see where to cut the styro box to get the biggest possible panel.  

Kuya Ric asked for the castoffs when he saw it.  He said he was going to melt them and use to patch up their tin roofing.  

You will need to wash the styro panels thoroughly with water and detergent.  I used a soft scrub brush to clean the surfaces of dirt and any fungicide that might have gotten to it when the grapes were sprayed with the chemical to make it last longer.  (I saw a sticker warning on the box about the fungicide spraying.)  Dry the panels thoroughly.  Place them on a table under the sun.  

You will need to glue two pieces of panels together.  One panel would easily give way to the forces exerted by the shrinking paper but two would be sturdy enough to withstand the pull forces.  You can use Elmer's glue or if you can find styro glue like the one shown on the right, that is even better.

Weigh the panels down with books on top to get a better bond between the panels.  Set aside and come back to it the next day.

With sandpaper I wrapped around a box of soap, I smoothed the surfaces and sides of the stretcher.  Even did a bit of beveling and rounding of sharp corners.  Wear a face mask when you do the sanding.  You would not want to get styro dust into your respiratory system.

I coated the surface with gesso.  You can skip this part.  Not really necessary except that I had some leftover gesso lying around.  Much later though, I noticed the gesso somehow helped protect the panel by making it easier to lift the gummed paper tape off the surface with little or no damage left behind.  Run water over the surface and get rid of any gunk left behind.  I dried the board under the sun.   Looks good as new and ready for stretching again.

Not bad, eh?  It took in staples well.  Does not hurt the wrist as much as when stapling on wood board.  Gummed paper tape also adhered to the styro well.  Stretched papers were very flat.

Thank you for checking in to read this article.  As always, feedback or modification ideas welcome.

Friday, February 13, 2015

DIY Archival Storage for Unframed Watercolor Paintings

I sometimes get asked how I store unframed finished paintings.  The usual problems that come up when storing watercolors are insect damage, yellowing, spotting and fading.  I had the same problems before but through trial and error, I seem to have stumbled upon a possible solution.

Materials needed:
cardboard sheet
clear tape
clear plastic (medium thickness book cover, or thicker)
ribbons (optional)

To make an archival envelope for the painting, I first made the envelope using a cardboard sheet folded and cut to make an envelope with unglued sides.  Put a layer of gesso on the parts that will touch the painting.  Take away the painting first of course.  Make sure the painting is placed in a safe place where it will not accidentally get gesso splatter when you prepare the envelop.  You need this gesso buffer between the cardboard and watercolor paper to prevent the paper from yellowing or spotting in the future because of contact with non acid free cardboard.  Putting the painting in the envelope will protect it from light which causes fading.

I would then wrap the envelope with two sheets of Manila paper.  This extra layer would act as added protection for the painting against moisture and heat that may get through the plastic casing.  Yes, hard to believe, moisture can get through the plastic but somehow it happens.  Learned in science class of how plastic despite seeming to be waterproof is not completely impermeable (plastic, starch and iodine science experiment).  This may be one reason why during the rainy season when the air can get very damp, watercolor paintings stored in plastic casings still may develop mildew/mold despite being completely encased.  The additional Manila paper buffer seems to do a great job keeping any moisture getting in from reaching the gessoed envelop and painting so I continue the practice to this day.  

Above pic shows the plastic casing I made for the pack.  I use plastic sheets (book cover plastic bought by the yard) found in school supplies store locally.  Try to get the thicker kind, they are less prone to becoming brittle.  I would then tape all openings with clear tape except for one side for which I would leave enough plastic that I can fold several times over (for locking).   I then would create a ribbon fastener.  Just tape an end of each ribbon fastener onto the plastic with clear tape.

The plastic casing is a good barrier against insects, moisture, and dirt.  When termites got to my stuff (was storing my supplies and old paintings in a cabinet), it was this plastic casing that saved my old practice paintings (late 1990s).  See pic to the right and bottom.  I like thinking it broke some termite teeth.  They were not able to get in.  The casings were dirty but it took only some wiping to get off the sticky gunk and I was happy to learn the paintings were okay.    


Now, seeing as how the paintings fared well over the years with just the plastic casing, why bother with the Manila paper and the gessoed envelop?  Brace yourself, another nerdy moment.  Ahaha.  I learned in a food packaging seminar (Seminar was free and I love free learning experiences) that not all plastics are the same.  Some are food grade, some not.  It is safe to assume some are archival and some also are not. (I was able to buy some archival portfolio plastic sleeves online before so I know the plastic used for artworks is different (label said so)).  While the book cover plastic available locally seems not to yellow, some plastic packaging do.  Some friends have told me they found stored unused paper yellowing despite leaving them in plastic packages.  They noticed only the paper surfaces directly in contact with the plastic had yellowed.  Since we do not know if the book cover plastics are really of archival quality, I make sure the paintings I store now do not get directly in contact with the plastic.

I have been checking the paintings I stored using the new process every few months.  Some I get to check after a year.  Seems to be doing great.  This also lets me air out the paintings every now and then.

For those who will try this DIY, feedback is always appreciated.  This is also a learning experience for me.

As always, thank you very much to readers and supporters for looking in.