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Before & After: Artupholstery

July 10, 2012


Lately I’ve been craving more colorful furniture and accessories outdoors … of course, I’ve decided to add the color myself. The bench, above, is the first of those efforts. Probably ’60s era, it’s a single fiberglass wave mounted on tubular metal legs … something we’ve all seen thousands of times. I found mine at Treasures N Junk in Ontario for a super-low price and have had it for months … the whole time wondering how I might salvage its rough condition and make it a piece to be proud of. My first thought was to paint it; I just couldn’t decide on a color. Then it hit me: why have just a single color, and why paint? — why not upholster it? Not with traditional padding and upholstery fabric (that’s outside my skill set) but with something I already had on hand, something that was just taking up space and moldering in the garage … Something like my collection of bizarre old thrift store and flea market paintings … Already wildly colorful, waterproof and on still-flexible canvas, I reasoned my loopy masterpieces would make perfectly unconventional upholstery fabric and give my bench new life … Totally unique, I love the funky final product! Here’s how I did it …

Raw materials

The bench as I bought it was in pretty rough shape, it had been painted a couple of times and the paint was peeling; its edges seemed a bit chewed up, too, and I imagined they’d been dragged behind a pickup on a rough country road. The paintings: I’d had them for years, moving them from house to house … I tried to get rid of them during purges by  putting them up for sale — I tried giving them to people — but still they stayed. By using them as upholstery fabric I could keep them and get them out of the garage; win-win. I removed their mostly-wooden frames and and used a damp cloth to freshen up their dusty painted faces.

Ready for smoothing

My poor bench needed freshening up as well. I first used rough, then fine grade, sandpaper, to smooth out its surface; bits of old paint fell off like snowflakes. I ran sandpaper over the bench’s edges to refine them …

Shapely legs

As for the legs, they got a good scrubbing and I spray painted them with a gray/black hammered metal-look paint. They dried in no time due to the heat and I returned to the bench …

Primer time

Using an all-purpose primer in neutral gray, I painted on three coats. Instantly the bench became a literal blank canvas, perfect for applying old canvases to.

Uniform cuts

My first idea was to apply the paintings as-is, whole, to the bench’s surface; but while doing a cursory positioning to see whether I had sufficient canvases to cover it, I decided that look was boring. Not enough energy. Why not more of a crazy quilt-type effect, with the canvases cut into uniform strips and positioned more whimsically? I took a deep breath and went for it, using the smallest of the paintings to determine a standard width (8-inches), and cutting all the others to match using a T-square and craft knife. Finally, I trimmed all other edges so that they’d butt-up cleanly each other.

Strip show

Now I felt like I had all sorts of possibilities as I arranged and rearranged them on the bench’s surface … finally arriving at a pattern that had the requisite energy and color story I was after …

Stick up

To adhere the strips firmly to the bench I decided to go with something that would allow the best chance at repositioning at will: extra-strength, water-based, wood glue. Plus, unlike with contact cement, I wouldn’t have to glue both surfaces, which would’ve been a certain mess. Using a wide, stiff nylon bristle brush I slopped the glue on making sure it covered the entire reverse of each strip. I did each strip one at a time, starting in the center and working out. This way I could keep my arrangement intact as I worked …

Extra tack

Certain strips on certain parts of the bench didn’t stick firmly on the edges. A piece of blue painter’s tape added the extra hold I needed while the pieces dried. So far so good, it looked great! To be sure everything had a chance to dry thoroughly I let it dry overnight in the garage … The day’s heat had stored up nicely enough to cure the glue completely, I figured …

Edgy hues

My original goal was to leave the paintings on the bench’s surface as I’d glued them on, without any additional edging; that was not to be. The next day I noticed that many of the painted strips had shrunken just a bit. No longer were they snuggling up to each other cleanly as I’d positioned them. This would never do, so I racked my brain for a solution that would be clean, colorful and complement the paintings themselves … Then it came to me: What about the box of graphic artist studio tapes I’d bought at that local architect’s estate sale?! I pulled them out and sure enough they would be perfect … all the bench’s new colors were there, they were flexible and already self-adhesive … plus, I’d worked with these same tapes way back in the ’80s! Cranking up some ’80s Madonna (I know, sad) I got to taping. I had a limited supply to work with so I prayed I would have enough; they don’t make this stuff anymore. I used the widest and most colorful ones on the outside and back and seat edges (lime green and orange, baby blue) and covered the other seams with narrower tapes in a dark brown.

Defined, lined

With all the edging in place the piece looked much more finished than before. I think this was one of those “sometimes accidents happen for a reason” moments. Now to protect my handiwork …

Milky first

For protection, I again went for something that was waterproof and offered easy clean up: A water-based sealer and varnish. Using the same brushes as for the strip gluing, I brushed on first two milky coats (they dried clear) … then, three additional coats … then, when Paul said, “Boy, that’s gonna need a lot of coats of varnish.”, I applied five more … for ten coats total!  I’m glad I did, though, despite it being a lot of work (and a LOT of drying). The bench will be used, and stay, outside.

Grand finale

Once all that varnish was dry, we screwed its gorgeous gray-black legs back on, and voilá! My fiberglass bench looks like new and is certain to be the life of any party, what with its repeating go-go girls, wild abstractions, and odd-fellows (not to mention one middle-aged lady who’s not sure she approves of the company she’s keeping). I’m disregarding her death-ray side eye: This bench is now a work of art!

CREDIT: I have to give credit where credit is due: Unlike past RR projects I didn’t do this one entirely on my own. With my current spinal issues I am unable to lift or move, well, most anything … that’s where my partner and assistant, Paul, has been indispensable. Not only does he rein me in by reminding me not to engage in activities that will provoke further injury, but he’s entirely willing to do the grunt work, too. That includes bench moving, lifting, arranging, and whatever else is needed, to help me accomplish my projects and subsequent photos … It takes what seems like ages to get anything done, but I have to say thanks, Paul, for not only saving my back but for helping me not lose my mind while I’m at home on medical leave.

39 Comments leave one →
  1. July 10, 2012 4:33 am

    This looks really, really good. I’m impressed!

    • reubix1 permalink*
      July 10, 2012 4:36 am

      Thanks, I owe it all to Paul’s assistance! … and how you durrin’?!

      • July 10, 2012 5:26 am

        Paul is the most perfect angel. Tell him I said hello. I’ve been really busy lately, but I’m doing good! I’ve been loving your latest projects, btw.

      • reubix1 permalink*
        July 10, 2012 5:28 am

        Oh, good, I’m glad you’re fine and just busy … I was almost afraid to ask with my run of (bad) luck of late! You are right, too, about Paul: He’s anglin’ to replace Mother Teresa I think! Howdy to your other-half, too!

  2. July 10, 2012 5:22 am

    How absolutely wonderful!

    • reubix1 permalink*
      July 10, 2012 5:24 am

      Thanks, Kim, now I want to decoupolster, er, upholsterpage, everything!

  3. July 10, 2012 5:32 am

    Oh my! At first I figured you painted it (which would have been cool) but to see that it’s made from cut up paintings on canvas is even better somehow! The texture (even after all that varnish) must be pretty interesting. We’re you tempted to work in one of your paintings “just because?”

    Oh and a high five to Paul, and it’s good to know you got a good one.

    • reubix1 permalink*
      July 10, 2012 5:37 am

      Hey, Loree, you’re right: the texture is interesting with all those thicknesses of paint. Some of them were obviously painted with a palette knife, but I’m convinced they won’t offend anyone’s posterior (here’s hoping!). And, you must know me pretty well by now, too, because I did work one of my paintings literally into the picture: it’s the small one at the top of the first photo; a man with an extended ‘fro beneath some eucalyptus leaves.

      Believe me, Paul is a prize … still not sure I like sharing credit with him, though! 😉

  4. July 10, 2012 5:38 am


  5. July 10, 2012 6:40 am

    What a great use for those old paintings. I never would have thought you can do that. Like how your creativity develops around obstacles and the step by step process. What to do with an old bench…amazing!

    • reubix1 permalink*
      July 10, 2012 12:22 pm

      Thanks for the compliment, thanks for commenting.;-)

  6. July 10, 2012 1:36 pm

    Your original oil painting bench and it’s step by step creation is FABULOUS!! I LOVE IT!! You are such an inspiration.

    • reubix1 permalink*
      July 10, 2012 1:39 pm

      Thanks, Guida … with all that drying time, it took forever (for me), but was worth it!

  7. July 10, 2012 2:16 pm

    speechless…I need to do this to my fence!

    • reubix1 permalink*
      July 10, 2012 3:27 pm

      Now that would be awesome, Denise! Send pics

  8. July 10, 2012 4:26 pm

    yet another work of art–and one that’s ingenious and enduring as well. LOVE IT!!

    • reubix1 permalink*
      July 10, 2012 6:19 pm

      Thanks much! I can’t stop looking at it … and wondering how many places Paul will have to move it to until I say, “Stop!”.

  9. Judy P. permalink
    July 10, 2012 10:46 pm

    WOW!! The bench is beautiful! Awesome!! Will it do okay outdoors? or will you bring it inside? I could see it in an entryway… or a kitchen! It’s really great! Take care of that back!

    • reubix1 permalink*
      July 10, 2012 11:08 pm

      Hey, JP, nice to see you at the Rancho … where it’s hotter’n’hell … I’ll be talking to you soon and thanks for the compliment!

  10. DaveinToronto permalink
    July 11, 2012 12:50 pm

    Fantastic! Love it.

  11. carol permalink
    July 11, 2012 9:26 pm

    Stunningly beautiful!! And thanks for the great tutorial. How is progress with your back issues?

    • reubix1 permalink*
      July 11, 2012 9:39 pm

      Thanks, Carol, I appreciate it … as for the back: I had an epidural (first time) on Monday … my back hurts more than ever but they said to expect that as a newbie … the better news is my toes have feeling again and my legs are not as painful for the first time in months! They’ve said about 5 days-in and things should be better still. Here’s hoping!

  12. July 12, 2012 10:19 pm

    Fantastic!!! I’d love to see it in situ as well as to hear how it holds up to the weather!

    • reubix1 permalink*
      July 12, 2012 10:24 pm

      The in situ shots are coming — As soon as I get to the other furniture pieces I’m transforming…like you, I’m interested in how they hold up outside too …

  13. Jenn permalink
    July 13, 2012 2:48 am

    Thank you Paul, you’ve enabled a fantastic piece of art!

    • reubix1 permalink*
      July 13, 2012 3:24 am

      I truly couldn’t have done it without him!

  14. July 13, 2012 6:06 am

    Oh my goodness! This is just SOOOOO cool! Amazing work. And thanks for sharing the link so I could check it out 😀

    • reubix1 permalink*
      July 13, 2012 3:37 pm

      You’re welcome, thanks for commenting!

  15. July 14, 2012 6:17 pm

    Reuben, once again, your genius comes through. This is incredible! I love how you take us step by step through your thought process and execution. Paul is the best assistant, and I know that I can never replace him. But, if you ever need some extra hands, give me a call… I would love to work with you, and Paul (smile). Give Paul my love!!!

    • reubix1 permalink*
      July 14, 2012 7:35 pm

      Thanks, WF! If Paul begins to slack off as manservant I will definitely call you … I’m happy you found the step-by-step interesting; I think it’s a good thing to be let in on the thought process involved… See you soon!

  16. Vickie Perez permalink
    July 15, 2012 4:34 am

    Such an inspiration you can be… Seems that you’re just full of “it”. So much knowledge between those ears of yours. It seems a hundred years ago that I’ve done anything along these lines. You know, like painting and such. I guess that I’ve got hopes of starting again one day. Time will tell. Thanks again.

    • reubix1 permalink*
      July 15, 2012 5:16 am

      As always, Vickie, you’re welcome … You may not be painting right now, but you CAN and that makes the difference … Don’t give up and it’ll happen… Something I have to tell myself often, too!

  17. Vickie Perez permalink
    July 20, 2012 6:45 am

    Thank you for your encouragement. I’ve been wanting to start painting but haven’t done anything for some time. Too many other things that have been taking place. Things happen when they are supposed to so I know that I’ll start again. I have faith. I just hope that my hands will remember what to do. We’ll see………….

    • reubix1 permalink*
      July 20, 2012 2:07 pm

      Interesting, Vickie, I have the same fear: Will my hands remember how to paint?! I guess we’ll both just have to try and see what happens!

  18. August 24, 2012 12:18 am

    Genius! Love the use of thrift store paintings…so much better than having them stashed in your garage. Bravo!

    • reubix1 permalink*
      August 24, 2012 12:42 am

      Thanksamillion, Lori … high praise coming from the High Priestess of the Remix!


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