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I DIY, You Choose

March 3, 2010

[Note: This is my first interactive post! Plus, a version of it is being published simultaneously on The Times Home section blog, so if you’re coming here from there, please go the end to cast your vote on the lampshade you think works best.]

Finding a whimsical vintage lamp at the flea market is always fun. Getting it for a great price makes it better. But, what if it doesn’t have a shade? You might top off your great find with something off-the-rack (yawn) … or, maybe have a shade made for it (what does that cost?). Or, you could go the DIY route and create something custom for it … something that honors the style of the lamp, makes it contemporary and is truly one-of-a-kind. This is the route I decided to take after convincing my friend Jan to buy such a lamp — a stylized tree trunk with a red bird perched on it — at the Long Beach Flea Market. She paid $20 for it and I took it home. I decided it’d be more interesting if I made not one, but three shades, and let you choose which you thought worked best with Jan’s lamp. I limited myself to using identical inexpensive shades (Ikea, $10 each); I gave myself a $10 materials cost limit for each shade as well. Helpfully, the shades were perfect in size and proportion for Jan’s lamp, and being an artist I already had some materials on hand, like acrylic paint, white glue and a craft knife. Nothing I used was expensive or hard to find.

Because the lamp looked like a stylized tree trunk I thought it only natural that the shade reference a tree’s canopy, but not in a literal way. Let’s look at shades …

Like sunlight through leaves

SEEING SUNSPOTS: The look of dappled sunlight through leafy foliage inspired this shade. I wanted a translucent look so I bought colored tissue paper and randomly cut leaf-like shapes out of it, in soft yellows. I thinned basic white glue with water and placing a leaf shape on the shade, I used a soft, wide brush dipped in the diluted glue to smooth it into position. I added more shapes, overlapping some, into an irregular arrangement. Allowing the shade to dry I put it on the lamp and turned it on. Looked great! But for contrast, and to create a surprise when lit, I used the same process to add some pale blue green shapes inside the shade. These new shapes won’t be readily visible when the shade is dark, only with the light shining through at night. The overlapping tissue shapes create an ethereal effect, both when dark and even more when lit. Cost: about $5 for a pack of colored tissue; I already had the glue.

Blooming and branching abstractly

BLOOMING BRANCHES: For this version I wanted to use the colors in the lamp itself: the gray of the tree trunk and the bird’s bright red, to create an abstract depiction of flowering spring branches. First, I painted the shade with gray acrylic paint and allowed it to dry thoroughly. At the craft store I bought a clearance roll of narrow red ribbon with bright white stitching. The contrast of the stitching and the red ribbon would really pop against the gray shade. I found tiny seashells with mottled gray insides and rounded shapes that would make perfect flower petals. Back home I experimented positioning the ribbon onto the shade’s surface using straight pins. Where the ribbon branches changed direction I folded the ribbon. Pleased with the ribbon’s placement I fired up the hot glue gun and, section at a time, glued them into their final positions. Using more hot glue I tacked three larger shells at the end of each branch, open side up, gluing smaller shells inside those. The geometric branches and their shell blossoms are now ready for their spring debut. Cost: About $8, for a roll of ribbon and a small bag of shells.

Letting the light shine through

PEEK-A-BOO FOLIAGE: When I finished the previous shade I was intrigued by the way it became opaque once painted. I liked it, but it made me wonder if I could introduce a design by cutting into the shade, thereby allowing the light to create the design. But what about when it wasn’t lit? The design would need some texture or dimension to stand out. So I experimented with stiff paper, cutting into it, popping it out from behind, folding parts of it for dimensionality, and I had my solution: I’d cut leafy shapes into the shade and do the same. I didn’t want to ruin the apple green paint with pencil guidelines so I took a deep breath and using my craft knife cut a shape into the shade. Pushing the cut shape out from behind and pinching the tip to created the leaf’s spine. Because of the shade’s thin plastic backing, the shapes were easy to cut and they took to folding well. Emboldened I then freehand cut more leaves/shapes into the shade, creating a kind of leafy arabesque design. Placing the shade on the lamp base and lighting it looked great except for one thing: I could see the bulb from some sides through the cut shapes. An easy fix presented itself in the tissue from the first project: one thin sheet of pale yellow paper glued behind the cut area and light still shined through but it hid everything else. Perfect! Cost: Nothing! I already had the acrylic paint and craft knife.

Vote below for your favorite shade; votes will be taken for one week and will end on March 10th.


17 Comments leave one →
  1. March 4, 2010 8:45 pm

    I think Seeing Sunspots will ensure that Jan isn’t in her usual foul mood. She can be so cranky!

    • reubix1 permalink*
      March 5, 2010 2:59 am

      Thanks for checking in from 0ver yonder, Adrienne …

  2. SusanG permalink
    March 4, 2010 9:07 pm

    I’m voting for the Foliage one because I LOVE the complimentary green shade with the red bird. It’s also a nice surprise when the light is turned on!

    • reubix1 permalink*
      March 5, 2010 3:01 am

      Thanks for weighing in, Susan… love your blog, too!

  3. Cynthia permalink
    March 4, 2010 9:18 pm

    the peek- a-boo foliage is so cool….i love the surprise when the light is on …the green lamp shade looks great with the red bird….so cool!

    • reubix1 permalink*
      March 5, 2010 3:02 am

      This is the one to beat so far, Cynthia… thanks for voting!

  4. Nancy Rivera Brooks permalink
    March 5, 2010 2:34 am

    I like the green one because if you squint it looks like a crazy face peeking out from behind an agave. Then again, that might give Jan’s kids bad dreams…

    • reubix1 permalink*
      March 5, 2010 3:02 am

      Now that you mention it, Nancy….

  5. Bonnie Reynolds permalink
    March 5, 2010 4:32 am

    I like a three but voted for Peek- a-boo; I really liked the lamp base – just the kind I would have bought myself. I saw this post in the Times this morning but didn’t realize it was you; guess I wasn’t very observant And, this was something in the home section that was finally in my price range!

    • reubix1 permalink*
      March 5, 2010 4:48 am

      Hi, Bonnie, thanks for the great comment and look for more posts like this soon; both here and on The Times’ blog.

  6. Princess Constanza permalink
    March 5, 2010 4:51 am

    Love them all, but voted on the last one . The peekaboo shade is anything but DIY…very classy!
    All of them inspired me to get creative with two shades I recently acquired!

    Thanks for sharing. 🙂

    • reubix1 permalink*
      March 5, 2010 4:54 am

      Thanks very much for the comment; I’m glad you found the shades inspiring!

  7. Jessica permalink
    March 5, 2010 3:46 pm

    I like the idea of the first shade best, though I think it’d be more striking if you had used brighter greens to keep up with the colorful bird. I think that’s why the last works so well – the bright green shade makes the lamp look more like a vintage treasure than quirky flea market find. And I love how the leaves mimic the grass pattern at the bottom of the lamp.

    I’d be glad to give the lamp a new home in Austin, Texas, if Jan ever decides she doesn’t want it…

    • reubix1 permalink*
      March 5, 2010 4:08 pm

      Hey, Jessica in Austin… here’s why I didn’t use brighter (darker) greens on shade no. 1: darker colored tissue papers tended to bleed when the diluted glue/water mixture touched them… and mixing two or more darker colors made a blobby-colored mess (although it could be a look, too, I guess)… I had a 4th shade I used for testing and you would not want to see it. I tried finding non-bleeding tissue and came up empty. And, you’re not alone on the third shade: that’s the odds-on winner of the poll so far! I’ll check with Jan on what she wants to do with the non-winning shades … you never know!

  8. susanna permalink
    March 6, 2010 5:36 pm

    Love these. I need to tag along with you in LB again. No fair Jan getting all the cool stuff!

    • reubix1 permalink*
      March 7, 2010 4:07 am

      Hey, Sue… you know how Jan is … she hates sharing!

  9. kathleen permalink
    March 9, 2010 8:06 pm

    I love lamps!!!My e-mail was the idea of my children due to how many lamps i have in every room of our house. I love flea markets, thrift stores, antiques, gardening ect. Your sight is wonderful.My son’s girlfriend sent me the article on your lamps. I did cast my vote. They all go well with the base but my favorite is the green shade.

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