As I mentioned in my previous post, I had a few “UFO’s” or un-finished objects I wanted to complete while visiting my parents. Overall I was able to complete 2.75 of the 4 projects I had planned. One of the fully completed projects was a Subway Art wood transfer project I had planned as a gift for my father.
My parents own some land in Western New Mexico. Last November, my dad and I undertook the task of tearing down a shoddy deck that wrapped around their “bunkhouse”. During this process we discovered a trap door/access panel that neither of us had noticed before.
Weathered deck trap door from New Mexico
Backside of the trap door
Later that evening, we relaxed by watching one our traditional ranch movies; the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical Oklahoma! Towards the end of the movie, there is a line delivered by the spunky Aunt Eller that struck a chord with me and seemed to be the perfect embodiment of the attitude in our particular part of New Mexico.
Thus the idea for a Subway Art project was born.
The first thing I did was begin to research different ways to transfer images or words to wood on Pinterest. I was unsure of what method I would end up using, but figured having a variety of methods would not hurt.
I then went about creating the layout for my subway art quote from Oklahoma! I tried using a few online word and subway art generators, but none worked since they mainly grouped the words either A- out of order or B- clustered them based on frequency.
Not having any real graphic design software, I then decided to use Microsoft Word to bring the layout in my mind to life. Each word was created as a separate text box, allowing me to change the font, size, weight, and direction to suit my tastes. I thought I could fit it all on an 8.5 x 11 sheet to transfer to the board. In the end, the layout occupied two sheets of 11 x 17 ledger paper.
Final Subway Art layout
Sanded board ready to go
After the layout was finalized, it was time to prep the board. I decided to use the weathered top side since to give the final product more character. I sanded the board down with some 200 grit sandpaper using my mom’s handheld power sander. Since only the front side was going to be seen, it and the sides were the only part to get sanded down.
Remember the pinterest board from before? It was time to start trying out the various methods. At this point, my father was actually involved in helping me with the project. We decided the first method to try was printing on wax paper and then rubbing it onto the board. The printer became angry very quickly with the wax paper and the idea was quickly nixed.
Gel Medium, Foam brush and Mirror Image printed layout
After doing a bit more reading online, I decided the method using a Gel Medium was the best option, given I was on a limited timetable to complete the project. Not knowing how much of the gel medium I would need, I purchased two tubes of it from Michael’s Craft Store (approx. $2.75 after using a 40% off coupon).
For any of the wood transfer methods involving text, the image must be printed using the “mirror print” option. Not wanting a whole lot of paper “border”, I trimmed it all pretty close to the printed text.
I then applied the gel medium directly to the wood board. Because it was so weathered, a bit of the gel medium soaked in, but I had plenty to give it all a pretty good coat overall and saturate the wood. The paper was then placed face down on top of the gel medium and left to “bake” overnight in my parent’s hot Arizona garage for almost 24 hours.
Cleaning up the edges of the dried gel medium
The next evening, the gel medium had turned from a white liquid to a clear gel substance. I used the power sander again to remove the excess gel from the outside area of the printed text.
The next step was to remove the top layer paper to reveal the text underneath. I used a regular paint brush and room temperature water to lightly saturate the surface.
As I wet the paper, I discovered that parts of the gel medium seemed to adhere better in some parts than others. This I suspect is from using an old, porus, weathered board that was made of 2×4’s instead of a nice solid piece of wood.
Lightly wetting the paper. Notice the uneven spots.
Removing the top layer of paper
I worked in two sections, top and bottom to remove the paper. On the top, I simply used my fingers to rub off the paper. Some of it came off in big sections, others in small little bits. I had to be careful to not rub too hard or it would pull up the entire layer of paper and remove the printed text. In the end I think this gave it somewhat of a nice vintage feel.
Like scraping ice off a car window, the gift card made a nice impromptu tool that did the job well
One of my personal motto’s is “Work Smarter, Not Harder”. After tediously removing the upper part of the wood transfer, I decided to try using an old gift card to remove the lower half of the transfer. Still being careful to not scrape too hard and remove the entire sheet of paper, I was amazed at how well this method worked. Not only was this quicker, it removed the paper more evenly and gave it a polished look.
After removing all the paper, I once again took to the power sander to CAREFULLY remove even more of the paper/gel medium combo. I was worried the paper would not stain well and contrast too much against the (eventual) stained wood. I wanted as little excess as possible.
For staining the board, I used an old opened leftover can of Minwax stain my mom had stored in the garage. I am not the stainer in our family. I sand, my mom stains. That being said, I do not follow the typical rules of staining. I did one (somewhat thick) coat of stain across the top and sides of the board. It was left to dry overnight and be evaluated for a second coat in the morning.
One coat of stain, left to dry overnight
In the end, I only put one coat of stain on the board. I thought it was a nice enough color and achieved the task of making the paper blend. Since this project was finishing up on the day my parents were heading back to New Mexico (the eventual home of this project), I decided not to put on any type of top coat to seal it. Because it was going to be hung inside the house and should look vintage, I figured it would be ok and age well.
The final task was figuring out how this monster could be hung on the wall. Since there was buffer space at the top and bottom, I decided a rustic looking twine would be a nice, practical finish that would literally hold it all together. In my mind, I had ideas of grandeur and fancy decorative knots on the front. In the end, I had multiple splinters and simple square knots. To be honest, I think it looks just as good.
Finished Subway Art Wood Transfer
Backside hanging deail
Sadly, the former trap door has not yet made it onto the wall; although it is back at its home in New Mexico.
The final product is almost exactly what I had envisioned last November and makes the perfect addition the the Wild West ranch life of my parent’s property.
View of the Bunkhouse and Main house from the hill