Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Upcycling a Thrift Store Find with Paper Mosaics

A few weeks ago I was cruising my favorite thrift store when I spotted some small framed mirrors. There were six of them, all identical to each other. Their 11 inch square, plain black frames were perfectly flat. Their backs still bore Ikea labels. Surprisingly, they were in very good shape despite having been tossed haphazardly into a bin. I snapped up three of them then and there but now regret not buying the entire lot when I had the chance. At just $1.51 each they were bargains!

From the minute I saw them I knew they'd be ideal candidates for a makeover with paper mosaics. I've just completed the first of the three, shown below:

Paper "tiles" in shades of blue, blue green, violet, and yellow green revive this thrift store mirror. To avoid reflections while photographing it I temporarily covered the mirror area with black card stock.

Will I put it in my Etsy shop or keep it? I haven't decided yet.

A paper mosaic treatment is a great way to update an old, shabby or dated-looking thrift store find. Or that beat up piece of furniture that's been languishing for years in your garage. Whether you call it upcycling, rescuing or rehabbing, the end result is spectacular. All it takes is patience, a variety of papers, decoupage medium, a flat artist's brush, a ruler, scissors or a paper cutter, paper towel or a soft cloth, and a utility knife or X-acto knife.

Here's how, step by step:

1. Clean the surface of the item to be covered to remove all traces of dust and dirt.
2. You may have to scuff a slick surface with sandpaper to provide some "tooth." If so, remove any sanding dust before proceeding.
3. Cut your papers into strips. The strips can be all the same width, as on the mirror above (mine were all one inch wide) or they can be cut to different widths. The length of the strips can vary according to your preference, but it's easier to work with short strips rather than long ones. The length of the longest strip on my mirror was four inches.
4. Try out various color and pattern combinations to see how they look together. You can plan your arrangement out in advance (take a picture with your cell phone to help you remember where things go). Or you can just wing it. I chose to wing it.
5. Apply decoupage medium (my preference was Modge Podge) evenly to the back of a paper strip and press it onto the surface. Smooth out any air bubbles. If excess medium oozes out from underneath, gently blot it up with a slightly dampened cloth or paper towel.
6. Continue adding paper strips as above, positioning them snugly against one another until the surface is completely covered with the paper "tiles." Allow to dry for at least 24 hours (it can take longer in very humid conditions for it to dry completely).
7. Trim excess paper from edges. For the mirror, I placed it face down on a cutting mat and trimmed off excess paper with an X-acto knife with a sharp, brand new blade.
8. Apply another coat of decoupage medium to the surface. Allow to dry thoroughly.
9. Apply one or more coats of acrylic varnish to help protect the surface from dust, fingerprints and scratches. Allow each coat to dry thoroughly before applying the next coat.

Use papers of a similar thickness for a nice smooth finish. Text weight papers are easiest to work with.
A paper cutter makes cutting the strips go much easier and faster. Be sure to use a fresh new blade!
For a different but equally appealing look, you can paint the item in a single color first using acrylic or latex paint, then apply the paper strips, leaving small gaps between them.

Text and images ©2014 Lynn Edwards

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