Wednesday, 30 January 2013

Mixed Media–Wheelchair Spoke Guards

Warning: Picture-rich post!

My mixed media spoke guards are now finished and duly installed on the wheelchair, just in time for the craft show last Thursday. I lost count how many lovely comments I received about them, and was surprised how much interest was expressed – people were amazed when I pointed out the materials I’d used, and several people asked if the spoke guards were made of felt! They all had a good feel at the quite tactile surface, and were surprised how hard they were, despite the fabric-like appearance. A question I was frequently asked was if they were waterproof – I’m afraid I don’t know the answer to that one, except that I think they are probably shower proof, with all the gel medium etc., but I wouldn’t immerse them in water.

Since I became a wheelchair user, I have noticed some very interesting psychology when it comes to decorations. My first Christmas, I adorned the wheelchair with tinsel and baubles and everyone smiled, pointed, came and chatted, and were generally very positive. After Christmas I removed the decorations and I was invisible again. I then decided I would always decorate it, and again I got the positive response. It seems to break down barriers of embarrassment in the face of disability, and even though people’s eyes are drawn to the badge of disability (the wheelchair), what they do is to relate to the user as an individual, rather than “someone-in-a-wheelchair.” It’s fascinating. I wrote an article about this for the quarterly journal of Invest in M.E. a few years ago.

My previous post on my new spoke guards gave details of the beginning of the project. Although the result was successful, I learnt a lot of things along the way, and will make subsequent spoke guards more efficiently, and with a better end result. Enough to say at this stage that they were constructed from papier mache. This post is all about the mixed media treatment they received, in creating a background and surface embellishment.

This first picture shows a collection of materials to be used in the project. In the end I didn’t use all of them; instead of building up texture with the Polyfilla One Fill, I used acrylic gel medium exclusively for adhering the various background and texture elements, and some of the materials I’d thought of using to provide extra texture proved surplus to requirement – sometimes one needs to know when to stop, in order to produce a cohesive whole!

09 Materials for Decorating

I am sure that Judy of Judy’s Fabrications blog will be thrilled that at long last, I have used the beautiful fabric flowers she sent me when we did our flower swap last year. I have been wondering how best to use them, and this way, lots of other people get to enjoy them too, as I take my art with me wherever I go!

You can watch the whole process in the videos at the end of this post.

This picture shows one of the spoke guards ready for decoration, with some of the flowers laid on – I marked their position in pencil, and built up the rest of the design around their placement.

11 Mock-up with Fabric Flowers

You can see that I have pierced holes around the outside of the guard for attachment to the wheel with cable ties, and the centre has been cut to size to allow for the wheel hub. The three large notches cut from the rim would not normally be necessary for regular wheels, but I have a Yamaha power-assist system on my wheelchair with motors in the large wheel hubs, with three extensions to the push rims; when I push on these, the power is transferred to the motors in the hubs and augmented, greatly reducing the energy I need to move the wheelchair. The notches are to allow for a small amount of play in the mechanism; without them, the system will not operate properly.

The creation of the background began with the laying down of some flowers cut from an old piece of gift wrapping paper. They were stuck down with Golden Regular Matte Gel Medium.

12 Paper Flowers Applied

When these were dry, I began laying down torn fragments of tissue paper, also with gel medium (I eventually used soft, rather than regular, as it didn’t lift the paper so much). You can see the two blank areas where the fabric flowers will eventually be applied.

13 Applying the Tissue Paper

The next picture shows the spoke guards with the tissue paper application completed and dried.

14 Tissue Paper Application Completed

To soften and blend the effect, I added three applications of acrylic glaze, using my Pebeo fluid acrylic paints, mixing them with some acrylic polymer, first using a creamy-white colour. This before-and-after photo is the result; it has reduced the pinkness a little, and softened the hard edges somewhat.

16 Before and After First Glaze

It still needed something extra, and I used some yellow glaze, and then some beige, and blended with the use of further polymer, this is the result. I was careful to rub back the glaze over the paper flowers, so that they continued to show through, but in a nice soft, subtle way.

18 Glazing Completed, with Materials

To add a bit more interest to the background, I did some reverse stencilling, using my honeycomb stencil which I cut using Sheba, my Black Cat Cougar cutting machine. (For details of this machine, see my sidebar.)

19 Beginning the Stencilling

I began by painting a small area with a light brown acrylic paint, and laid the stencil over the top. I then wiped it carefully with a piece of damp kitchen paper to remove the paint from the areas not covered by the stencil. I cut some red sequin waste into basic leaf shapes, and using the fabric flowers as a guide to position them, I stuck them down with regular gel medium – they required a fairly heavy application to make sure they were secure.

20 With Leaves and Stencilling and Mock-up with Flowers

Following this, I added some swirls cut from brown card using Sheba, again placing them correctly with the aid of the fabric flowers laid on temporarily.

21 With Swirls

The next step was to add some stems (these eventually turned into roots!) to connect the various elements into a continuous whole around the spoke guard. To do this, I took a small quantity of nice slubby yarn in my stash, cut into shorter lengths and stuck down with regular gel medium. I found it easiest to lay the yarn roughly where I wanted it, and to adhere the slubs first, and then the rest of the yarn, making sure it was well and truly soaked with the medium and pressed down onto the surface.

22 Laying Down the Yarn

I used this technique, applying yarn with gel medium, on the small seaside-themed box I made for a friend last year – this project also utilised the tissue paper collage process as well.

23 Tidying the Yarn

As the gel medium began to dry, I went round the applied yarn and scraped back any excess, and finally rubbed away any residue with my finger. When dried, this is what it looked like. You can see the pale pink and green of the yarn through the clear gel medium.

24 The Yarn Drying

Adding some texture around the yarn was super-fun! With generous amounts of regular gel medium, I stuck down several air-dry clay pebbles I made a while back, and also some poultry grit, which I bought at our local agricultural merchants when my hubby and I went a few months ago so that he could get something for the garden – I went on a little wander with “art” uppermost in my mind, and found all sorts of things to create texture! Poultry grit consists of small broken fragments of seashell, which chickens eat (unbelievable but true!) and somehow manage to absorb and utilise to form shells on their eggs. This poultry grit looks far from appetising to me… but then I’m not a chicken.

25 With Pebbles and Poultry Grit

It’s fabulous for texture, though!

Another thing I found in that place was a packet of small orange rubber rings, that farmers use to dock the tails of lambs! I popped those in my basket too, and here they are, in a different incarnation, embellishing Shoshi’s wheelchair!!! I applied these with a generous amount of gel medium as before, and it squeezed up in the centre of the rings, which looked interesting.

26 With Rubber Rings

After applying all the texture elements, I stippled soft gel medium over the whole thing with a hoof-oil brush (also obtained from the agricultural merchants) just to seal everything in, and prevent any potentially loose bits of poultry grit from falling off. The whole thing ended up feeling very firm and secure, and you can apply quite hard pressure to the various elements and there’s no movement at all. The flatter elements (leaves and swirls, and the original paper flowers) feel welded to the surface, and you cannot get a fingernail underneath any of it, so there is no danger of these lifting. The acrylic gel mediums are excellent for this sort of work and give superb results.

The next step was to add gesso to all the texture elements that would be painted – this was everything except the poultry grit, which looks gorgeous as is, with its natural shell colouring.

27 Gesso on Texture

Once this was dry, the next step was one of the most fun parts of this whole technique – adding shading to the texture. I have seen various mixed media artists on Youtube using this technique, and it is most effective. Cheap black acrylic paint is applied roughly over all the textured areas, making sure it goes right down into all the crevices.

28 Adding Shading to the Texture

Working in small areas at a time so that the paint doesn’t dry, you then wipe it off the surface and clean up the surrounding area. Initially I used a piece of damp kitchen paper to clean off the textured areas but later discovered that a wet sponge was more effective (and also saved on kitchen paper!). A piece of damp kitchen paper is best for cleaning off the background areas. What happens is that the black paint is left in the crevices where you can’t wipe it off, and this gives tremendous depth to the work, with very little effort.

29 Shading Complete

Here is a close-up of the shaded texture. You can also see how effective the poultry grit is as a texture.

31 Detail of Shaded Texture

The roots were painted with a selection of brown and cream fluid acrylics.

33 Painting the Roots

When I rubbed the black paint off, the gesso started to come off the rubber rings, which was a nuisance, but I decided to apply some Treasure Copper (like Rub’n’Buff) onto them and this, combined with the patchy gesso, gave a nice distressed effect. Someone at the show asked me if they were made from Cheerios!!

34 Copper Rub'n'Buff on Rubber Rings

This more or less completed the decoration of the spoke guards. Before adding the fabric flowers, I gave the backs of the spoke guards two coats of cream emulsion paint, and then painted the whole spoke guard, front and back, with matte acrylic varnish to seal everything.

36 Painting the Back

Here are the finished spoke guards, with the fabric flowers laid in place, ready to be stuck down with hot glue.

37 Mock-Up with Flowers

This is a detail shot, showing how all the elements work together. You can just see the original collaged paper flowers, and the soft effect of the overlaid tissue paper. I love how Judy’s flowers complement the darker, more neutral texture elements, and bring out the soft colour of the background. Thank you Judy! I am thrilled with how your flowers have worked on this project.

40 Flower Mock-Up Detail 1

Mounted on the wheels, they look like this.

43 Completed Spoke Guards on Wheels

Finally, the wheelchair with the new spoke guards installed on the wheels.

44 Wheelchair with Spoke Guards

After taking this picture, the final step was to replace the tired floral decorations down the front frame. I used new silk flowers and the remaining few fabric flowers not used on the spoke guards.

45 New Front Frame Floral Decorations

Though I say so myself, I am extremely pleased with the result of this project. At the outset, I wasn’t at all sure that it would work, as I had never made anything like this with papier mache – I wondered if they would be firm, yet flexible, enough to stand up to the task, and also to enable the power assist system to function properly. Overall, everything has come out better than I could have expected, and it’s given me the confidence to make some more, and try my hand at some other styles – Zentangle? Steampunk? Marbling? The possibilities are endless!

Here are the videos, covering first the background, and then the embellishments. Enjoy!

Edit: Some time after making these, I was given some old estate agents’ “for sale” boards as the company was changing its logo. These are made of a double layer of corrugated plastic, each layer having a flat skin top and bottom. They are just large enough to cut a 24” circle for a spoke guard out of each. I can then cut out a gusset and attach the edges together with duct tape in order to make the convex shape. Painted with gesso, these will then be ready for mixed media application. This should be a lot more straightforward than constructing them from papier mache, and it will make them more lightweight, and also more waterproof.


A combination of exhaustion after the craft show, various family commitments, social engagements, and working on my blog posts post-show and about my new wheelchair spoke guards, I haven’t got a proper WOYWW post for you today. My desk, and my ARTHaven in general, are full of Really Useful Boxes and other stuff I got at the show, still waiting to be sorted out, and there’s nothing constructive or interesting on my desk.

However… given the interest expressed in my spoke guard project, I thought I would show you the end result, and direct you to the post about it. Making the videos took a considerable amount of time and effort, because I was using a different camera, and a tripod instead of my video rig, and I had problems with the lighting, but the result is more or less acceptable, I think.

Happy WOYWW everybody, and I’m sorry for my lack of visits to everyone’s desks, but life has got in the way a bit recently!

Sunday, 27 January 2013

Craft 4 Crafters Show, 24th January 2013

On Thursday my dear hubby very kindly drove me over to Exeter to the Westpoint Exhibition Centre for the annual Craft 4 Crafters show. Not getting out much, unless he takes me, this was a huge treat for me, and I’d been looking forward to it for ages! I’d also arranged to meet Margaret from Blogland, and her hubby, who were down in Devon on holiday – Margaret suggested I carried a red rose so I’d be recognisable, and as I was going around, I spotted them from behind (she’d given me a couple of clues as to their appearance) and I tapped her on the back, and she turned round and saw me there with a long stemmed rose between my teeth, looked a bit blank (as well she might!) and then burst out laughing! We had a great time together, meeting for lunch.

I don’t think there were as many stands as last year, and some that were listed weren’t there, but I put this down to the snow. It’s been pretty clear down here in South and parts of East Devon, but up country it’s been much worse, and people may have been put off coming – this would probably also explain the reduced numbers of the public attending, which suited me fine as it was easier to get around and see everything.

My new wheelchair spoke guards (finished just in time for the event!) and my new floral decorations down the front frame were a great success and I lost count how many lovely positive comments I had about them, and how many smiles they generated! Blog post imminent!

Here are some photos of the day. I tried not to duplicate too many of the ones I took last year (like the wonderful display of huge quantities of glitter, and all those beads!) to provide a bit of variety.

There was a stand for Origami South West, hosted by Sean Clarke, who gave me a little private lesson on how to make an origami flower (“we don’t usually teach this on the stand as it’s a bit advanced…” – but I’m always up for a challenge and didn’t want to do anything too simple!!) – I made a reasonably successful one!

Here are some of the pictures I took of the stand.

These rings are constructed from individual modular parts which are slotted together without glue or pins. I love the interlocking rings.

The same principle applies to these beautiful panels hanging on the wall. They remind me of patchwork.

These were some floral bouquets and arrangements, with some floral panels behind.

I loved these naturalistic blossom sprays which reminded me of oriental paintings. Behind was a little tree with hanging ornaments.

Then we had some fun! Here is Sean holding an intricately-folded piece made from brown paper, which he said took him six hours to create.

Here is a little video clip I made:

I’m afraid I couldn’t resist taking more photos of Stef Francis’ stand as it’s always so colourful and her textile art pieces are so stunning.

On the Inkylicious stand, I got chatting with the lady there, and she said she’d seen my Youtube videos on how to use their Ink Dusters! I was thrilled. She said they had been too busy to upload any tutorials, and I said when I did mine, there was nothing, and because I was so pleased with them, I thought I’d be the first.

On the Storage 4 Crafts stand, I bought some Really Useful Boxes – unfortunately they didn’t have both the sizes I wanted but I got a couple of larger ones as well as the smaller ones I’d intended buying. I couldn’t get too many or they wouldn’t have fitted in the car!

I came across a stand hosted by Textures and Beyond, a group of exhibiting textile artists who don’t necessarily sell their work, but just like to exhibit as a group. This year their theme was royal blue, and the pieces had to be tall and narrow. To me, they spoke of a marine life theme. Gorgeous pieces, aren’t they.

A new one this year (at least to me!) was Marbling 4 Fun, with Craig Joubert. I knew about the normal sort of marbling, where you put oil based paints onto the surface of water and swirl them around, and then apply paper to the surface, but this was something different – the ink is water based, and you add something to the water in the tank to make it slightly gloopy so that the ink rests on the surface. The patterns you create with the ink that you drop on are a lot more controllable, and also, you can marble absolutely any kind of surface! There were examples of stone, metal, leather, paper, fabric, wood… I was so fascinated by this that I’m afraid I broke the vow I made before leaving for the show – “Whatever I see, I am NOT going to start a new craft or art form!” Really, I can’t take me anywhere… Craig popped a little marbled stone, a fabric sample and a clothes peg in with my kit.

Here is the stand.

The beautiful quilts behind were interesting.

The one in the foreground with the white background is apparently fairly new, but the large one behind is about 20 years old, and has been washed repeatedly! (I thought this was a new form of marbling, but apparently not.) You can see how controlled the patterns can be. In the following photo, of a small wall hanging, the patterns remind me of fractals.

For the first time in my experience, there was a Zentangle stand at the show! I got so excited about this, and spent some time visiting there, looking at all the gorgeous stuff she’d tangled – shoes, boxes, canvases, fabric, coasters… and all the books she had for sale, that I quite forgot to photograph any of it! Duh… Anyway, quite a few of the pieces on the stand are on her website, so you can see them there. She was doing good business selling her various kits, including one for kids, and demonstrating. It was great to see Zentangle in evidence at the show.

The NaturaLeigh stand was an interesting contrast to most of the rest of the stands which tended to be very colourful – everything was natural white in colour, and very shabby chic. They were selling natural herbal beauty products and crafty fabrics in natural fibres.

Madeleine Millington was there again with her wonderful felt creations, and dressed as usual in colours to co-ordinate with her work! She is a friend of my sister-in-law’s so I always seek her out and we had a nice chat.

Towards the end of the day I came across Jo McIntosh on her Knit One Weave One stand – she is a textile artist living in St. Ives, Cornwall. I had to stop and speak to her because her appearance was so striking and creative, with her green hair and her gorgeous bright clothing! It all shouted, “I am a true artist!” She was so friendly and lovely, and I asked her if she knew Carolyn Saxby, a mixed media artist from St. Ives, and she said she was one of her greatest friends, and they often exhibited together! Such a nice contact, and I was thrilled to have met her.

Finally, here are some pictures of some of the purchases I made – filling the gaps with colours I was missing from my distress inks etc. and one or two nice extra things too!

At the back is the very pretty bag that the yarns came in – I bought 3 different balls of yarn for my art work. Most of these are slubby (great for mixed media) and/or dip dyed and variegated, so you can cut off lengths of whatever colour you want. At the back on the left is a tag given to me by the gentleman on Ali Crafts, from whom I bought the stencil brushes and the Graphics 45 keyholes, and also the refills for my Tim Holtz blending tool.

In front are some of the Distress Stains I bought to fill the gaps in my collection, including, grouped together front left, the three new metallic ones which I am looking forward to trying. According to various Youtube videos, these blend very well with normal Distress Stains to give a beautiful metallic shimmer to the colours, and you can create great backgrounds with them. I also bought the Fall Seasonal collection of Distress Inks. Unfortunately nobody seemed to stock any of the re-inkers which I am missing but this isn’t a problem as I can get them online when necessary.

Next level down is the Origami South West information sheet, folded in an origami pattern! I did unfold it and actually managed to get it back again, folded correctly! I’ve stuck on the two flowers we made on the stand – yes, you’ve guessed it, the red one was the one I made lol! (Well, it did get a bit squashed on the way home…)

On the right is the marbling kit. You get several pots of different colours, which can be mixed, some fixing agent and the gelling agent for the water, as well as some plastic pipettes for applying the colours. In front of the box are the samples I was given when purchasing the kit – the fabric sample, stone, and clothes peg.

All these items are arranged on some Really Useful Boxes that I bought. Now I’ve got to summon the energy to sort out all the stuff, make labels for my new Distress products, and start filling my new boxes, and I might even get a bit more organised!

Here is a close-up of the two origami flowers I came away with. I don’t think my red one is too bad really – one of the petals tore when I was trying to shape it and it’s not quite as even as Sean’s one, but I shall definitely practise this one as it’s so pretty! I’ve tracked down a Youtube video giving instructions for this lovely flower if anyone’s interested.

Here’s the marbling kit. In the demo, Craig used the lid of the box as a tray for marbling small items. He explained that he also used a cat litter tray for larger things, and even constructed his own tray from cardboard, lined with plastic, for such items as lengths of fabric etc.

The items he gave me show the versatility of the process.

The amazing thing is that if you dip something like a clothes peg right into the tray, the pattern continues right around the object! As you can see from the fabric sample, the pattern is also very controllable. I’m looking forward to getting started with this!

My hubby came to collect me at 5 p.m. and we went to his brother and our sister-in-law’s for a Chinese takeaway supper, which made a perfect end to a wonderful day.

Wednesday, 23 January 2013


Another Wednesday comes around, and another opportunity for a world-wide snoop at everyone’s work desks! To join in the fun, click the WOYWW link in my sidebar, which will take you to the blog of Julia, our hostess.

My side table is more active than my main desk at the moment, as I have been making excellent progress with my wheelchair spoke guard project. This photo was taken on Monday because by the time Wednesday has arrived, I’ve cleared my desk and it’s too boring for words.

At least I’ve made some progress after last week – I decided I couldn’t continue to work on the floor as I was ending up in too much pain, so I made a huge effort to clear my side table, which is just large enough to work on a single spoke guard, in an awful lot more comfort! This is what was on my main desk.

It’s the materials all laid out ready for decorating the spoke guards.

I am in the middle of sorting out all the video clips and photos of the project, and will upload a post about it fairly soon, I hope. Late on Tuesday night I have finished the spoke guards apart from waiting for the final coat of varnish to dry, and attaching the flowers, and I hope to have them finished and installed in time for Thursday, when I am off to a craft show in Exeter. We’re out for lunch today, and I’m busy with Wonderwoman (my home help) and a Tesco delivery, and making final preparations for the show (making sandwiches, checking my list, etc. etc.) so I won’t have much time to go on the computer.

It will be a long day for me, and I shall be exhausted afterwards, I’ve no doubt, so please forgive my possible lack of desk visits this coming week. Have a happy WOYWW, one and all!

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