Tuesday, 8 January 2013

Wheelchair Spoke Guards–Mixed Media Project

A lot of wheelchair users have spoke guards on their wheelchairs. These prevent your fingers and clothing getting caught in the spokes, and being a blank surface the size of the large drive wheels, they are also a brilliant way of expressing your individuality. There are websites offering off-the-peg and bespoke designs, but at a price. A few years ago I found a supplier of plain ones – clear or black, and bought several pairs.

My first pair I painted with pink flowers, to co-ordinate with the silk flowers I put down the front frame of my wheelchair. They have been much admired, but I never really felt satisfied with them, knowing I could do them better if I did them again! The problem was that I painted them from the back, to protect the front surface from getting scratched, and I had to completely rethink how I painted – painting the last bits first! It was really difficult. This is the result, on my old wheelchair.

Rolls Royce Spring Flowers Aug 08

On the black pair, I attached sparkly gems of various sizes. Here is my new wheelchair (a Quickie Helium) with Christmas decorations on it.


I’ve had these black ones on for a long time now, and the flowers I’ve got on the front are looking very tired. The cable for the lights has snapped so they are inoperable. Time for a makeover!

Ever since I’ve taken up art more seriously, I’ve wanted to use these surfaces as a basis for art! What a beautiful way to express yourself by taking your art wherever you go! The idea has remained theoretical for too long, and today I decided to do something about it.

I have a spare pair of clear spoke guards, and I am using them as templates for creating new ones from papier mache and mixed media art. I have no idea yet if this idea is going to work – they need to be strong, but flexible. My power add-on system has three large spokes which go from the large hubs to the push-rims, and as you can see in the above photo, this does cause quite a bit of flexion in the guard. I also don’t want them to end up too heavy – the plastic ones do weigh quite a bit. It isn’t too much of a consideration with the power assist switched on, but in manual mode, every ounce counts! If the worst comes to the worst and they end up not being strong enough on their own, I shall just have to attach them to the plastic pair, but this is obviously not the ideal solution. (Perhaps I could make a heavy-gauge wire frame like a lampshade frame, and attach it to that!!)

This is what I have done so far. I apologise for the quality of the photos but they are frame grabs from the video I am making, which doesn’t yield top-class results, I’m afraid. When I’m in video mode, I forget all about taking still photos.

First I covered one spoke guard with cling film, and painted on watered-down PVA adhesive, to which I adhered a sheet of scrim fabric. The idea of the cling film is to enable me to lift the finished guard off the template guard underneath, hopefully leaving it unblemished.

01 Painting the Cling Film with PVA

02 Scrim Layer

In case you are wondering, those two dark objects on the left are my KNEES!! I am having to work on this project on the floor, because I haven’t got a large enough work area to sit at my table – this is something I am hoping to remedy when I eventually get my dream ARTHaven when we move… You can also see, in this picture, how transparent the spoke guard has become as the PVA has dried, and you can see the newspaper showing through.

After the scrim layer was dry, I started to apply small pieces of paper, also with PVA adhesive. I have a huge roll of butcher paper which the removal men left behind when we moved house, and I think this will work well if I build up sufficient layers.

03 First Layer of Butcher Paper

So that I don’t end up making it thicker in one area than another, between each layer of paper, I am sticking down pieces of tissue paper in a different colour, so that I can easily see which bits I have completed.

04 Laying Down the First Tissue Paper Layer

I am not sure how many layers it is going to take. The spoke guard is now in the airing cupboard drying off completely, after only 2 layers of each kind of paper – I am going to have to do considerably more than this, and I am hoping that it is going to be rigid enough, with the amount of glue that I am applying. The slightly domed shape of the spoke guard will help maintain the shape, and with the addition of gesso, gel mediums and acrylic paints etc. this should also add some strength.

I am reassured that the cling film does seem to have protected the spoke guard underneath, and that it peels away from the scrim OK. I have already trimmed off the excess papier mache that I have done so far. I didn’t want to leave that job till the end in case it was too thick and hard to cut easily.

The surface will be embellished with various textures to start with – I have some poultry grit and various other bits and pieces, including cord and some air-dry clay pebbles I made for another project, and I am intending to add some flowers too. They will be painted with acrylics. The palette will be fairly muted, I think, but there may be some splashes of accent brighter colours too. They need to be fairly robust, without too much projecting from around the hub region (my hubby delights in scraping them against door frames at every opportunity!! – lots of the little gems have been knocked off the black pair) – they also need to be pretty water-resistant in case I get caught in the rain, although that is to be avoided if at all possible because the power-assist system will not react well to getting wet! Any paper embellishments I make will therefore have to be either stuck down flush with the surface and completely covered with gel medium, or dipped in UTEE before being attached.

I am making a series of videos of the whole process, but I am not going to upload any of them until the project is complete, because there’s nothing more frustrating that the promise of a sequel on Youtube, only to find it’s never been made!

If this project is successful, I will never need to buy another set of spoke guards. Even plain ones are quite expensive, and how much more fun to use them as an expression of one’s creativity.

I am also trying to work out a way of making something similar to cover the front frames, which can be easily removed and replaced with alternative designs.

I’ve been hankering after doing this for so long, and I’m so fed up with how my wheelchair looks these days. It will give me a boost to have a new look! I have it in mind to design a steampunk set with lots of gears, and a nice rusty, metallic grungey look. I am thinking of laying down small sheets of embossed metal for that one, with faux rivets. Who knows? I may end up with a Zentangle wheelchair one of these days! How cool is that?


  1. Oh Shoshi! Am I the only one who laughed out loud when you wrote about those black blobs being your knees!!
    Gosh girl.I think you and I would laugh a lot if we met in person.Love the idea of jazzing up your chair!
    Judy xx

  2. What a fun project Shoshi. My Dad would have got quite a 'kick' from something like that if only I'd thought of it for his chair - but too late now I fear!

  3. Another string to your bow! You'll be getting orders next! x

  4. Can't wait to see them, Shoshi - but I will be patient:) It will be fun to see the videos. Take care, though!

  5. I love the flower designs, I think they look fab & I cant wait to see the new version.

  6. what a great idea. can't wait to see the finished spoke guards.

  7. wow, the flowers and spring theme are beautiful! How fun!


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