Wednesday, March 2, 2011

The Art of Trial and Error, or My Top 6 Favorite Materials

Gorilla glue. Not your mama's glue.
I have tried just about any kind of glue you can think of, from Elmer's school glue to Aleene's Tacky Glue to rubber cement to Gorilla glue, and each has it's purpose: Elmer's works best on paper and wood, Aleene's is wonderful for repairing ceramic dolphin figurines (it's tacky glue, after all), rubber cement is ideal for paper to paper adhesion, and Gorilla glue... well, you get the idea. I also have very strong opinions about duct tape, and they are not favorable. Duct tape will not stick to cardboard, therefore it is dead to me (except, of course, for when that pesky duct work needs to be repaired). The point of all this is that material choice plays an important role in the success of your piece, but the choice of what material to use can be a difficult one, especially to the rookie crafter/young artist. The best way, I've found, to determine the right material is simply to try them. Trial and error is the best way to get a feel for what will and what will not work in a given situation, and more importantly, how it works. I have over 20 years of trial and error experience under my belt, and in that time I have found many go-to products and materials that I can draw upon when tackling a new project. The following is a list of some of my favorites and a brief description of their uses.

1. Mod Podge:  a decoupage glue that works on fabric or paper, stiffening, sealing, or gluing pieces together. It comes in glossy or matte luster and is water soluble for easy clean up. I use it to apply wallpaper in my doll houses, seal papier mache, and make multi-media collages.

2. Hot Glue: the only thing I use on cardboard, it dries quickly and adheres well. Not recommended for plastic, wood, or ceramics, hot glue works best on textured surfaces. It is a staple in my doll house building kit. You can purchase a hot glue gun and refills at your local craft store, Wal-Mart, or dollar store. (Tip: It's cheaper if you avoid the craft store.)

3. Celluclay: a great papier mache product, it is basically paper pulp. Just add water and voila! Afterward it can be sanded, painted, or sealed (I used Mod Podge, but a clear spray sealer would also work well). This stuff got me through my sculpture classes in college. The only downside--the smell, a mixture of mildew and old shoe.

4. Plaster Strips: better than traditional papier mache because it dries faster and harder, plaster bandages can be cut to size when dry and molded over any armature or form when wet. For a smooth surface, cover in Celluclay. I used this to make molds of my niece and nephew's praying hands as a keepsake for their grandparents, covered in Celluclay, of course.

5. Brown Paper Bags (see Paper or Plastic?): an inexpensive material, brown paper bags have many uses from faux parchment to gift wrap, and I love a neutral brown as a backdrop for something colorful. I have also used brown paper towels and brown butcher paper to similar purpose, often with Mod Podge.

6. Cardboard: one of my absolute favorite materials, cardboard is ubiquitous. I find interesting bits in almost every package, from circles in a frozen pizza box to wonderful rectangular pieces in a package of Onesies. Cardboard tubes from gift wrap, paper towels, etc. can also be fun to use and add an interesting dimension to your craft project. Layered with the corrugation  going in opposite directions, it can be quite sturdy. I have made doll houses, hats, photo props, and costume pieces out of cardboard, and it hasn't let me down yet.

My all-time favorite crafting material!

Add to these materials some sharp scissors, a few acrylic paints, and some brushes, and you can make almost anything. What are some of your favorite products and materials, and how have you used them?

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