This needs to be a ten hour YouTube video loop May 13, 2017 9:02 AM   Subscribe

In which a community website moderator and artist of some repute cleans up a stencil -based work and OH GOD THIS IS SO SATISFYING. Recent works by the same artist include fractal images, cubes, and more peeling.
posted by Wordshore to MetaFilter-Related at 9:02 AM (22 comments total) 12 users marked this as a favorite

I like how, with the kinda flexing of the canvas, it could almost be a late-1970s special effect for like, a dimensional portal in a kids' tv show about mathtronauts.
posted by LobsterMitten (staff) at 9:11 AM on May 13, 2017 [6 favorites]

I'm confused what is going on in the video. Is he dripping the paint onto the canvas somehow? How is it humanly possible to get straight lines?
posted by AFABulous at 9:38 AM on May 13, 2017

I watched the video several times and I remain confused also.

The peeling pic makes me happy. Also that red with that blue, yum. Masking tape's great, you slap paint on with careless abandon, then peel and presto, all is neat and precise.
posted by valetta at 9:42 AM on May 13, 2017

I think he's using a tape stencil, then painting over it, then the video is him peeling up the tape.
posted by LobsterMitten (staff) at 9:50 AM on May 13, 2017 [2 favorites]

Heya! I've been really enjoying doing all this painting lately, and, yeah, that stencil-pulling video seems to have sorta hit the spot for people since I posted it yesterday. I'm working on a proper site for my art stuff but I should just sit down and do a new blog post on my recent work and processes at some point, stick it on Projects.

Is he dripping the paint onto the canvas somehow? How is it humanly possible to get straight lines?

So, here's what's going on in that video: I've already laid an adhesive vinyl stencil down, and then used a stencil brush to apply oil paint to the whole canvas, mixing a string of six or seven shades of color from a dark orange, a midtone orange, and a yellow, moving outward in concentric rings with each shade and doing a bit of mixing on the canvas to blend 'em. Then, at the start of the video, I've already used a knife to pry up the end of the vinyl, and it's me pulling upward on that to remove it cleanly from the canvas surface and leave my lines nice and clean.

So what you're seeing is the vinyl coming off and leaving the final painting, a circular orange gradient in the negative space of that spiral, behind.

The actual stencil is cut with a machine; I bought a Cricut Explore Air 2 late last year for art stuff, and it's essentially a pen plotter except with a knife. Great little machine. Lousy software but you can work around it.

So the process before the video here involves designing a vector graphics file (I'm using Inkscape because it's free and it works and I didn't have any previous vector graphics tools or experience), importing that into the Cricut's design software, nudging a couple things to get it to the right scale and placement for cutting, and then letting the machine do the precise work of cutting into a 12"x12" sheet of adhesive-backed vinyl, the stuff you'd use for stickers/decals.

The machine does the cut (this one is one long, glorious, back-and-forth looping cut where the machine never has to pick up the blade, which I love just for its own sake), and then I use a knife and a lot of careful two-handed fiddling to pick off the positive space parts of the design from the vinyl's backing, avoiding letting the scrap vinyl stick to the stuff I want to keep so I don't screw things up accidentally.

Then I need to transfer the remaining vinyl stencil pattern to my canvas. Vinyl is flimsy and self-destructive so you basically have to lay some sort of transfer material over it and use that to transfer it the actual canvas; the transfer material is something adhesive that keeps the stencil all in relative place, and then you peel the transfer material off the stencil while leaving the stencil itself adhering to the canvas. (I have not yet found a transfer material I'm happy with; everything I've tried has too much adhesion and makes it hard to get the stencil, adhesive though it is, to stick to the canvas rather than trying to pull up with the transfer material. It's stressful and fiddly and every once in a while I just destroy a stencil and have to start over. I need to find something lower tack to work with for my own sanity.)

Once the stencil is in place, I paint and then pull the stencil off. This one was gloriously, satisfyingly easy to remove; usually my patterns are more interwoven and so require a ton of fiddly, careful work piecewise to get all the vinyl off without letting any of it slap back down on the painting and either smudge the wet paint or scrape/splat the wet paint on its backside onto areas of bare canvas.
posted by cortex (staff) at 9:57 AM on May 13, 2017 [13 favorites]

So this is the final painting, and all of that white space is where the stencil was; everything with color was the bare canvas not covered by it. The video is of that final step, all the actual work having been done. All I had to do at that point was just not pull too fast or recklessly and tear the vinyl; it'd have fallen down on the painting and left a bunch of fuckin' mess if I had.

Usually I work with the canvas clamped on the big ol' easel I built earlier this year, which reduces the stencil collapse danger in this stage, but right now I've got a big wet painting sitting on that and I wasn't overly concerned about pulling this stencil since it was likely to be so well-behaved.
posted by cortex (staff) at 10:01 AM on May 13, 2017 [9 favorites]

Watching this video play in Instagram with the sound up was very satisfying to me. My cat did not agree.
posted by MCMikeNamara at 10:16 AM on May 13, 2017

OK thanks for the process explanation! Now I want to know - how long do I have to stare into it before I see God?
posted by AFABulous at 10:30 AM on May 13, 2017 [2 favorites]

Thanks for the explanation cortex, now I can relax and enjoy the vicarious peeling.
posted by valetta at 10:30 AM on May 13, 2017

Is there a reason you remove the stencil while the paint is still wet? Actually when I think about it it's bc the oil paint cures into a polymer that will prevent the clean lift of the stencil, never mind. I work in watercolor which does not have this problem though it has its own frustrations.
posted by KathrynT at 10:54 AM on May 13, 2017

Yep, I want to get it off before a film forms that might tear. Which with oil paints is a matter of hours-to-days, but no reason not to just take care of it immediately is my feeling.

I started in on oils last year basically on a whim and have really taken to it as a medium, more than I expected; I'm starting to mess around with acrylics a little bit and they are in some ways a better fit for some of the things I'm trying to do, but their upside that they dry tremendously quickly compared to oils is also a real challenge for that reason. Getting the paint on and the stencil off before the whole thing turned into a contiguous sheet of plastic would be difficult.
posted by cortex (staff) at 11:06 AM on May 13, 2017 [2 favorites]

this should be #1 search result for "peeling video" but I'd be afraid to see what #2 is.
posted by oneswellfoop at 11:49 AM on May 13, 2017 [1 favorite]

Yeah. One of the things that influenced my decision to work in watercolors is that I'm painting at my kitchen table with my kids at home. If I have to jump up and run because someone is barfing or bleeding or something, I might ruin the painting I'm working on, but I won't ruin every single art supply I own, which would be the case with acrylics.

Regardless, though, I love your work and I love both the process and the product documentation!
posted by KathrynT at 11:59 AM on May 13, 2017 [1 favorite]

Ok, i was thinking about your need for a better, more low-tack solution for transferring the stencils, and I had an idea which may be terrible or which you may have already tried. But what about plain water? Wet vinyl tends to cling. What I'm picturing is wetting down a plain vinyl shower curtain or something, getting your stencil arranged appropriately on it, then placing the canvas working side down on top of the stencil and smoothing it on from the back side. Or there might even be enough cling to flip it over and apply it to the canvas with the working side up, I don't know.
posted by KathrynT at 1:28 PM on May 13, 2017

I'm skeptical that that would be sufficient cling to be sure that nothing would slip or drop away, but it's an interesting point and for some stencils that kind of suction effect miiiight be workable.
posted by cortex (staff) at 5:23 PM on May 13, 2017

They make post-it adhesive in both glue stick and spray can form. Would that on a big sheet of paper or something reusable do the trick?
posted by daisyace at 5:51 PM on May 13, 2017

Oh hey, that's a dang good idea. I ordered some spray adhesive the other day for similar purposes and got so distracted by other stuff that I forgot to test that idea out. Will do so next time I try to transfer a stencil!
posted by cortex (staff) at 8:19 PM on May 13, 2017

The actual stencil is cut with a machine; I bought a Cricut Explore Air 2 late last year for art stuff, and it's essentially a pen plotter except with a knife.

This sounds really cool. My dad was an engineer at GM, and I remember one time when I was a kid visiting him at his office. He had a pen plotter. It was the first time I'd seen one and I was fascinated and amazed. I would totally watch videos of your stencil cutter at work, though it's hard to believe you'll ever top this stencil-peeling vid.
posted by Orlop at 1:46 AM on May 14, 2017

I've been marvelling in awe at your twitter feed of projects. Specifically that you manage more output of a complicated, handcrafted nature than I am just taking pictures for my 365 project. Are we sure cortex hasn't secretly developed cloning technology? It seems like the only way to explain the amount of stuff he gets done.

If you've tried masking tape as a transfer medium be aware that it is available in several different strengths[PDF] from "poop on a blanket" to "fall off in a light breeze". Your local home improvement Borg will usually have a decent selection.
posted by Mitheral at 5:39 AM on May 14, 2017 [1 favorite]

If you've tried masking tape as a transfer medium be aware that it is available in several different strengths

Yeah, looking for wide but low-tack masking tape should definitely be on the todo list as well; laying out a sheet of that in strips could work well. I've currently been distracted on the tape front by the discovery of extremely thin masking tape; my wife lent me a roll of 1/2" drafting tape a few weeks ago and I thought that was exciting, but then I hit the art store and looked in a row I don't usually pay much attention to and there was 3/8" and 1/4" and I was like holy HELL yes.

And then I found the 1/8" stuff on Amazon. *steeples fingers*

The machine-cutting approach really takes some heck out of the complicated and precise patterns but I do like the idea of going at a canvas with nothing but masking tape and an idea sometimes.

My dad was an engineer at GM, and I remember one time when I was a kid visiting him at his office. He had a pen plotter. It was the first time I'd seen one and I was fascinated and amazed.

I had a similar childhood experience! My dad worked in architecture for a while and one office he was at when I was maybe six or seven had a small pen plotter that he showed me when I was there one evening at quitting time. And I was old enough at that point that I was starting to discover geometry which was a precocious early math love for me, and he showed me how he could generate a regular polygon with n sides for arbitrary n on his drafting workstation and then make the plotter draw it, and I loved it. He did probably a pentagon and then an octogon and then a dodecagon, something like that, as I sort of pushed on the what-if question of how many sides a polygon could even have. We got to the idea of making a circle by just making a polygon with a ton of sides, which at the time I found sort of magical though knowing Dad he might've tried to explain limits to a seven year old and I was probably like okay but can we make it draw some more now.

I would totally watch videos of your stencil cutter at work, though it's hard to believe you'll ever top this stencil-peeling vid.

I should try videoing it some time, though the cutting in action doesn't pop visually quite as much as you might think because it's leaving very thin lines in material rather than doing anything really obvious to the material. So it's more just a cutting head moving back and forth while a tray slides in and out. No big obvious reveal on what it's been up to until you pull it out and peel off some bits.
posted by cortex (staff) at 6:55 AM on May 14, 2017 [2 favorites]

B-but how do you get such precise right angles with tape? I've tried taping around corners before and it just turns into a hideous glumpy mess.
posted by turbid dahlia at 9:42 PM on May 15, 2017

I don't! I machine cut material, usually a square foot sheet of adhesive vinyl. Really easy to tell a die-cutter to cut a right angle.

That said: my recommendation for getting a tight straight corner with tape is to give up entirely on taping-around-the-corner and just do it in two pieces and use a blade.

So if you're e.g. going to run tape to the east, and then make a sharp turn south, just pull the tape out eastward to a bit past the where the turn is gonna happen, and then cut the tape with your scissors or knife at a bit of a diagonal, maybe 30 degrees, with the longer outside edge stopping right where the outer corner should be. Then cut the tape again, with a similarly shallow angle so it'll overlap with the tape on the inside of the corner, and line the sharp tip up just right with the outside corner, and proceed south with that piece. You end up with a sharp, precise corner inside and out.

Depending on your tape and your surface and your medium that may not be enough to completely prevent seeping, but it'll get you a straight, sharp starting point at least.
posted by cortex (staff) at 9:09 AM on May 16, 2017 [1 favorite]

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