Monday, August 16, 2010

Working with Imperfections: Cardboard Quilt #3

Nita's Little Hood Ornament—approximately 27 x 32 inches on cardboard and plywood.

M Y   A R T — This is another of my cardboard quilts, a three-layer sandwich of corrugated cardboard squares mounted on a thin plywood base.

The negative of this portrait of my young mother was very damaged. The emulsion was heavily scratched and the overall negative was faded. There was something about the sheer joy of my tiny mother sitting on a pillow on the hood of her mother's Model T that really appealed to me though. Her eyes are closed in a big smile, again, not the best face for a portrait, but it really spoke to me. After I scanned it and adjusted the highlights and shadows so that it popped more, I printed it out in a sepia version and a crisp black and white version. I cut them both into small irregular squares, and pieced the two versions together on the painted cardboard background, as I always do on my wooden pieces. The paint colors I chose for this piece, using the spectrum as I almost always do, were muted lavenders, oranges, greens, golds and blues as well as black. There are also small squares of silver leaf dotting the image, which I like to do when there is a mechanical device such as an automobile in the image. Adding a newer metallic to an image with older metal in it helps bring the piece full circle, so-to-speak.

In this piece, I wanted to emphasize the scratchiness of this image, to work WITH the imperfections, as opposed to try to cover them up. I have so many perfect antique images, that there was no reason to pretend this was one of them.  After the paper/print work was down and the painting was done, before I did any clearcoating with polyurethane or glazes, I misted the entire top layer with water. I gently pressed into the cardboard with a seasponge and kept repeating this step, misting and pressing, until the cardboard had gently 'wilted' into the corrugated layers underneath, creating a dimpled or mottled effect. I let the piece dry completely for a couple of weeks, then I lightly skimmed the surface with wall-joint compound, the same white material that contractors use on new, or repaired, walls. I let it dry and then sanded all of it off except what filled those 'dimples' on the surface. The result was a finish that worked with the original damaged image, reflecting its true nature in a way that elevated it. The newly painted portions became as gentle and as dappled as the image itself. 

I'm really happy with the way this piece turned out. A friend of my late mother, who turned 99 this year, liked it so much it's hanging in her home today.


  1. This one, I love, Casey. I'm amazed at the variety of materials you use - from silver leaf to joint compound and cardboard. Toulouse-Lautrec painted on cardboard, too.

    I've used scraps of fabrics and painted a little picture of myself as a child on a piece of wallpaper I found in an old hardware store. I never really stayed with that sort of thing, though

    I don't know if you are familiar with Joseph Cornell, but he was a master of "Assemblage" much like you.

    His work was more sculptural, but very much akin to what you're doing, I think. Very personal pieces with universal appeal. Layers of memories.


  2. I really like this image too. Very nice homage to your mother. I'm particularly intrigued by the technique you used. I should commission you to do this to a current photo of myself - talk about covering up imperfections !

  3. thanks!

    I was familiar with Cornell, but hadn't seen a good website with links to so many of his works. I'm going to try some 3D pieces, maybe this winter. I have so many little objects that would look great gathered together in some sort of container or box.

  4. PERFECT....................