Craft experiments: Photo Transfer to Canvas

I love taking photographs.  Even before the age of smartphones and selfies, I would hold my point and shoot DSL-like camera and click it framing my son and I in a photo that looks like it was taken by someone in front of me.  Friends would often wonder how I did it.  I kept telling them, it’s plain and simple practice.

  1. I would look at the lens and make sure that the reflection I saw there was the framing I was hoping to achieve.
  2. Whether I was taking a blind selfie or not, or taking the photo of another subject, I already knew not to place the subject’s head in the middle of the frame.  (A common  mistake), and instead put it on the upper center of the photo.
  3. I also knew I had to look at the lens, not at my hand.

In truth, this was really one of the skills of motherhood.  Ever since I became a Mom, I took numerous snapshots of my then little baby on a daily basis, capturing every essence of his day.  My camera and I were inseparable.  This is the reason why I have always opted for a fancy point and shoot rather than an actual DSLR.

Through the years, I’ve also learned that taking a snapshot of an actual photograph can produce better results than an actual scan.  (This, of course, is just my humble opinion.)

I have always had a deeply sentimental nature when it came to photographs.  I brought home a ton of my pictures through the years through my various trips home to Manila, and what I couldn’t take  (or chose not to take), I took photos of.  Holding a photo and looking at it, whether or not it’s me in the photo or someone else, evokes a wave of emotions and memories that a simple thought cannot bring.  It is a magical experience all its own.

Then I fell in love with the idea of photographing jeepneys and the many scenes of New York.  From the flora of Bryant Park to the gorgeous foliage of Central Park, to the never-ordinary cityscape showing any of our iconic buildings like the Empire State Building — I have amassed quite a personal trove of photos.

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One thing that the digital age has robbed us of, I think, is the need to actually produce these pictures as hard copy mementos of the moments they captured.  We have become content with visually beholding them in our smart phones or on our computer screens.  We have stopped printing them or creating a physical copy.

I’ve always wanted to incorporate these photos in my artwork but have really not had the chance to try until recently.  Again, I’m a crafter more than an artist, so my creative process is about acquiring the skill rather than cultivating a talent.  I am so green with envy of the real artists out there who can grab a pencil or a brush and with a few strokes create something others can drool over.  I call my attempts, “Personal art”.

Scouring the internet, I’ve found several resources that give tutorials on photo transfers on canvas using a gel or glue medium.  Over the previous week, I tried using regular mod podge after having painted small canvas panels with acrylic beforehand.  I’ve had some practice doing this on Artist Trading Card backgrounds half a lifetime ago, so the backgrounds were the easy piece of the puzzle.

Since this was purely experimental, I decided to go with a 4×5 canvas panel.  Aim small, miss small, as they say.

I already had future projects in mind so I decided to experiment with (1) a full-photo transfer, and (2) a collage transfer, essentially focusing on a cut out.  Below is a macro shot of Angelo when he was maybe 4 or 5, laser printed as recommended.  I printed the photo slightly larger than the canvas panel but I didn’t intend to wrap the edge of the photo print out on the sides of the frame.  From the get-go, I meant to show some of the background by exposing the edges.  I wanted it to be a distressed transfer to give the photo more drama.

The background was a hodge podge of gold, copper and silver acrylic.

This second one was a cut out of the dancing girl figure, a picture of me when I was maybe 3-4 years old.

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Chalk it to my impatience — instead of waiting for the customary drying time of 24 hours, I wanted to see as quickly as possible if the ink would indeed be transferred by applying a generous amount of transfer medium to the print out and then pasting it onto the canvas panel.  (This was, after all, an experiment only, so I threw all caution to the wind.)

Cutting out the figure that I wanted, I pasted it onto the canvas but being careful not to let any glue get onto the backside of the picture.  Two or three tutorials I viewed warned against this because any part of the printout with glue on the backside (the reverse side) would not be rubbed out when you tried to get the transfer reveal.

I think my transfers went well for a first attempt, and as far as first attempts go.  I’ve already stocked up on regular canvas to work with bigger projects which I hope to showcase here in future posts.

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