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Custom Tools

As we create our custom filters and modifiers, we’ll need to make marks and random impressions on paint and substrates. Commercial tools (Figure 4.15) are available to do this, but I prefer to make my own, both to give myself a broader range of alterations and so that my work looks different as tools wear out and I have to replace them. We’ll also need tools for painting surfaces and that we’ll make marks on.


FIGURE 4.15 It’s easy to make inexpensive versions of tools like these.

To make the marking tools (Figure 4.16), you’ll need some adhesive-backed craft foam, a few paper clips, and a pair of scissors. Cut two layers of foam sheets into a variety of rake-like shapes. Peel off the paper on the adhesive and then press the two sticky sides together. If you want a firmer tool, stick the two sheets together before cutting them. Trim the new tool to be as wide as one of the paper clips.


FIGURE 4.16 The other cool thing about homemade marking tools is that no two are alike.

To make a disposable paint applicator (Figure 4.17), purchase a floor paint pad from your local home center and cut it into strips that are ½-inch wide. Open a binder clip and pinch the pad to the edges of the foam side of one of the strips. This will cause the fuzzy side to make a nice round surface. I really like using these to apply shellac because they’re cheap and disposable.


FIGURE 4.17 Cleanup is easy—just open the clip and let the pad fall into the trash can.

For the distressing chain (Figure 4.18), take a piece of strong wire or cord and then string some nuts, bolts, or other metal objects on it (make sure whatever objects you choose won’t break when you drop the chain on things).


FIGURE 4.18 This is a great way to clean out that junk drawer you’ve been meaning to get to.

Making a Distressed Mirror

One of the classic ways to distort an image is to shoot into a mirror rather than directly at the subject. We’ll take this one step further and shoot images in a custom-made distressed mirror. This will let you modify the shape and size of the mirror to get some really creative effects.

To make a distressed mirror:

Here I show how to make a distressed mirror with a wood window frame (which I then leave in my final work), but you can just use a sheet of tempered glass by itself.

  1. If you’re using an old window, scrape and sand the wood frame until it has the finish you want (Figure 4.19).

    FIGURE 4.19

    FIGURE 4.19 You can use a plain piece of glass if you’d prefer.

  2. Use the glass cleaning paste from Chapter 2 and clean both sides of the glass (Figure 4.20).

    FIGURE 4.20

    FIGURE 4.20 Cleaning the glass is important—not because of marks but because oil and grease can keep the paint from sticking.

  3. Place the glass pane on a level surface, and then place bits of pebble or other objects on the surface to act as resists (Figure 4.21).

    FIGURE 4.21

    FIGURE 4.21 I like the distressed look to go with my beat-up window frame.

  4. Spray the back surface with a layer of mirror paint (Figure 4.22). If you’d like, you can be a bit sloppy and let it puddle or be uneven (a bad paint job can be good in this case!).

    FIGURE 4.22

    FIGURE 4.22 Have fun here, be creative, and make a mess!

  5. Now for the creative part. While the paint is wet, you can either spray it with some water and then blot it dry to pick up some of the paint or use the distressing chain to make marks (Figure 4.23) that go through the paint to the glass (make sure you don’t break the glass). I got lucky because it rained as I was applying the spray paint, which gave it a wonderful natural patter.

    FIGURE 4.23

    FIGURE 4.23 I learned the water technique as part of my acrylic paintings—everything old has a new use.

  6. After the paint is dry, remove everything from the surface. If you’d like, you can paint the back of the mirror with a solid color or leave it alone—it all depends on the look you’re trying to achieve in your final image (Figure 4.24).

    FIGURE 4.24

    FIGURE 4.24 I like bringing my own window and mirror with me to a shoot rather than hoping I’ll find one there. You can even flip it over—it’s like having two mirrors in one package.

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