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Before & After: Hot Seat

July 8, 2011

The sight of a sad, but still functional, piece of outdoor furniture at a garage sale is a surefire enticement for me. Consider this wood-framed, canvas slung beach chair: still very sturdy, fabric in perfect shape, folds for storage; a bit of extra seating at a party. Also: boring, bland and the Rancho’s miles from the ocean … Could I make this seaside relic Rancho-relevant? For $5 I was sure that I could. I brought the chair home and began to plan its reformation. First, since the seat and back was canvas, it was no-brainer that I paint something on it. Second: Whatever I painted on it needed to reflect it’s new home, namely the Rancho. Lastly: It had to be lively, interesting and a simple ‘read’; nothing overly fussy or traditionally garden-y. I decided on a graphic scene of cactus sun worship that would start at the bottom edge of the seat then trail up to the top of the seat’s back. To begin, I went shopping for fabric paints at an art supply store in downtown LA. Happily, they had marked down all their fabric paints by 50%, so I bought almost all the colors they had, in two styles: a loose, fluid version and much tighter, viscous one (and I saved so much on paint I treated myself to new brushes). As with my vinyl sofa painting project, I decided to employ the “take a deep breath, and just start painting” approach to the project. I could see what I wanted to do in my head, so why waste time with sketches and templates and drawing it out very precisely on the canvas first? Pretty heady stuff, but this approach can also lead to moments of panic, as well as surprises … more on that later. For now, can I just say I love how the chair turned out: the branch-y cactus with its creamy white blossom reaching for the sun has a simple, fun graphic effect; a little bit of desert surrealism … But, lets go back to the beginning and I’ll show you what-all I did …

To start, I removed the chair’s canvas cover; laundered it, hung it out to dry (which took mere minutes in the day’s heat) and stretched it out on a long table with both newspaper and an old pillowcase underneath to serve as a blotter.

Moist and fluid

For the top part of the canvas I wanted to depict the spots you see when you’re out in the sun and close your eyes; those fuzzy little hot blobs of light you see inside your eyelids. To accomplish this I decided I’d use the fluid version of the fabric paint. These colors are super-liquid; to play up that quality even more I sprayed the canvas with water until it was very damp … this allowed the paint to bleed and fade at the edges as I painted it on. I made quick circles using yellows and oranges. Satisfied with their ethereal quality, I hung the canvas to dry …

Thicker, opaque

Laying the dry canvas back on the table, sans blotter now, I next used the opaque, thicker paint to accent some of the fuzz spots. The combination of these more opaque circles over the blurry, earlier ones, produced an interesting effect … something like the look of corrosion on metal … and you know how much I love that! I added some larger, dry-brushed rings in white to simulate heatwaves. Terrific … now for the cactus …

Branches, arms

Painting a realistic, single-color cactus would never do, so I purposely chose an ‘off’ color for it: a brick red. Using a wide, stiff brush, I randomly painted a sculptural cactus shape up from the bottom of the canvas … but, it seemed a little wan, just red like that. So, following the red outline, I painted inside it with solid black for definition. Nice … but what about spines?

Spines, filling

The spines I improvised … I halved an emery board and dipped the cut end in the black paint, stamping pricklers along the cactus’ outline. But, I wanted more … so I added further color and definition by loosely filling in the cactus shape with a new color: an opaque yellow ochre, mixed with lime green. Perfect now, except …

Sun and rays

The sun spots didn’t seem to be holding their own visually against the cactus’ strong shape; I needed something more prominent, like the sun itself. So, choosing the most-central sunspot, and using the same wide, flat brush, I painted thick spokes of opaque yellow and orange. I allowed them to dry, then made another pass, this time adding full-strength white paint onto the brush to produce a striated effect. Now the sun had real presence, not to mention a great citrus punch … kinda like a juicy halved grapefruit. Great! Then panic; something was missing …


That missing something was an element that would better connect the cactus to the sun; they seemed too separate … and, I had nothing; I didn’t want to extend the cactus up further and was reluctant to add more sunspots … plus, I was exhausted by the afternoon’s heat. I dragged the table and paints back into the garage to ponder my dilemma until the next day. The next morning during my walk, nature presented the solution: over a neighbor’s fence, San Pedro cacti were loaded with huge creamy white blossoms that literally seemed to be reaching for the morning sun — that was it! I would connect cactus and sky by including a cactus flower reaching for the sun … and, I’d play up the ‘reaching’ aspect further by making the flower into a hand … Returning to my canvas, I used the same technique as for the cactus: painting first the hand shape with brick red; filled in with black; then white. Now, it was perfect!

I’m really liking upcycling outdoor furniture with paint .. I think a wicker chair project would be fun next … stay tuned.

16 Comments leave one →
  1. July 8, 2011 7:15 pm

    Magnifique !!!!! superbe ……

  2. July 8, 2011 7:33 pm

    It was $5 and now it looks like a million bucks. Bravo!

  3. July 8, 2011 10:26 pm

    I have got to get out of Magnolia Center and come see all of your plants and creations one of these days. Very cool!

    • reubix1 permalink*
      July 8, 2011 10:36 pm

      Thanks, Kim… let me know when you’d like to visit …

  4. July 8, 2011 11:01 pm

    love the chair, very artistic, you know, you can make some extra money with your talent Think about it. 😀

    • reubix1 permalink*
      July 8, 2011 11:04 pm

      Oh, I think about it, Lilia … but that’s as far as I get!

  5. July 8, 2011 11:21 pm

    I love this! We have an old patio umbrella…..have tried to dye it, but that didn’t work…perhaps painting it would be an option. Thanks for the inspiration!

    • reubix1 permalink*
      July 8, 2011 11:24 pm

      Try it … and send me a picture of your project if you do; I’ll post it here!

  6. Donita Smith permalink
    July 8, 2011 11:56 pm

    Digging it. Totally.

    • reubix1 permalink*
      July 8, 2011 11:59 pm

      Thanks, Donita … I hope you’re keeping cool!

  7. Mrs. Monstera permalink
    July 10, 2011 10:06 pm

    That is incredibly cool. It reminds me of an illustration from a Dr. Seuss book.

  8. July 12, 2011 11:52 pm

    (and I saved so much on paint I treated myself to new brushes) — LOVE THIS!

    Also am very happy you shared your process with us. An inside look at the artist!

    • reubix1 permalink*
      July 13, 2011 12:02 am

      Thanks, Jenn! This was a fun one …

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