Even the hottest art can be made cooler in some way. I like to impart a new dimension onto flat pictures by recreating them on layered plywood “canvases”. This topographical technique takes it to a level you’ve got to see in person to fully appreciate. While this 7 layered fireplace painting may seem a bit daunting, the same technique works with just about any image. It’s especially well suited to (and easier to pull off with) comic panels and animation cells. When you’re ready to liven up that wall space beside the faded Bob Ross poster – and you’re up for some beginner level woodworking and painting tasks – this layered wall art project will give the critic in you something to rave about (see bonus 3D photo gallery at the end)! Let me show you how to make your own layered wall art.
A Versatile Technique For Creating Amazing Layered Wall Art
I usually use this technique with comic panels and love the results. But to really test its potential, I decided to step out of my comfort zone and try an actual painting. When you dare to try something new you expand your knowledge and skill set. It’s how you grow as a maker and craftsperson (not to be confused with my expanding gut, which grows because of food makers and craft beer).
Art Made Easy
I collaborated with a fellow creator, The Art Sherpa, to bring you this wonderful fireplace themed layered wall art in an easy, approachable manner. For a full, step by step tutorial on how to paint the fireplace, check out her video at the end of this article.
I’ve painted lots of projects; but I’ve never actually “done a painting”. This is literally my first attempt ever at a real painting. So trust me when I say this project is within your grasp. I wouldn’t leave you hanging like that! You’ve got this!
Layered Wall Art – Pattern Seeker
The process begins by designing a set of patterns. In this case, I’ve already done the work for you. Download the free pattern set here: Fireplace art pattern set (Wood ‘n’ Stuff_The Art Sherpa).
I have two different methods for creating patterns. If it’s a line drawing – such as a comic or animation cell – I’ll usually print several black and white copies of the image (one for each layer plus a spare in case I make an error) and use those to plot my layers. When the image is more complicated (like this painting), Photoshop, Inkscape, or some other image-creating software with “layers” does the job.
First look at your source image and identify which elements of the picture are closer and which are farther. Then decide how many layers you want (keeping in mind that each layer is 3/16” thick).
Peeling Back The Layers
I usually start with the background and work my way forward. Most of the time the background layer is just a rectangle sized to the overall dimensions of the entire picture.
After I decide what will be expressed on a given layer, I cut it out with scissors (when designing from paper copies). Then I grab another copy of the picture and cut out the next layer. At this point we’re only deciding each layer’s overall shape; the details will be added later.
Making Layered Wall Art Patterns On The Computer
When designing patterns on computer, I use the software’s “layers” feature so that I can superimpose my lines for the various layers while keeping them as separate, distinct entities.
It’s a rather straight-forward process when making a basic two-layered piece. However, when more than a couple distinct depths are involved, it can get trickier. Keep in mind that each layer tends to cover the same area as the ones above it, plus whatever it itself adds to the picture.
But sometimes you may want part of a given layer to “float”. In this project, the surround and some of the flames float in front of lower levels. That is, they have parts that don’t contact the layer below them.
Areas that flow from layer to layer – like the logs in the above picture – are represented in each associated layer, giving them thickness.
Adding Information When Making Layered Wall Art
There’s a very interesting feature of this technique that may not be obvious at first: Not only is depth being added to the fireplace picture by converting it to layered wall art, but parts of the scene that were intrinsically hidden in the original artwork can now be experienced!
The ability to have “floating” elements means that you can include parts of the scene that were never visible before, things the original artist never even knew were present in their own artwork! And, you can do so without disturbing the original composition at all! It’s like you’re magically imbuing the picture with holographic qualities.
No matter how you go about creating your patterns, you’ll ultimately need them in paper form (unless you’re cutting yours with a CNC machine). Print the patterns ( Fireplace art pattern set (Wood ‘n’ Stuff_The Art Sherpa) ), trim away the margins and tape them together. There are only seven layers, but two of them (layers 4 & 5) each get a spacer.
Each pattern should be printed across four sheets of standard 8-1/2” x 11” printer paper. Resize them as you see fit; just be sure to scale them all the same.
Layered 3D Wall Art – Fill In The Blanks
I used my table saw to cut seven 16-1/2” x 21-5/8” blanks from a little over half a sheet of 3/16” home center underlayment plywood.
The paper patterns can be adhered to the wood using spray adhesive. In this case, I transferred them with carbon paper, using a pencil to trace the lines.
Cutting Up Some Fire Wood
Now that the patterns are transferred, cut them out with a scroll saw or coping saw.
I used a spiral blade because it will cut in all directions. That way the workpiece doesn’t have to be rotated to follow the line; a real bonus with larger pieces. Some people find spiral blades harder to use but I actually find them easier and a lot faster on this thin plywood. Take it slow at first and you’ll get the hang of it.
Sanding The Layers
With many projects, sanding can be a time consuming hassle; but not this time! The faces of the plywood are already smooth enough that light sanding is all it takes. And the edges shouldn’t require much work, if any. So all the tight inside curves aren’t really an issue and can be ignored for the most part (providing your cuts are relatively accurate and clean). If you hate sanding as much as I, you’ll find this to be a refreshing experience.
Most of the sanding is in knocking down the rough, hard corners on all of the cut edges (but not the original outside edges). With 120 grit paper on a cushioned sanding block – or a medium sanding sponge – smoothing this project is quick and easy. Knock down the corners by holding the sanding block at an angle, as shown above. Just take care not to catch and break any of the flames.
Layered Wall Art – Marking Where To Paint
It can be tricky to know exactly where to paint when working with discrete layers. Make life easier by lightly tracing the outline of each layer onto the one directly below it, ignoring any floating areas. Place the second layer onto the background and trace its outline. Then add the next layer and so on.
Painting The Layered Wall Art
Here’s where the project temporarily diverges, depending upon the picture you’re creating. It may also be where some of you start to get nervous. If you’re making this fireplace picture, I highly recommend following along with the step by step fireplace painting tutorial video at the end of this article. Combine that with what you learn here and you’ll be in good shape.
If the thought of trying to paint this frightens you and the tutorial doesn’t ease your fears: it’s OK! Your own layered wall art can be as basic or complicated as you desire. This method works perfectly well with simple pictures too; even better in many cases.
Layered Wall Art With Comic Panels
As I keep pointing out, cartoon and comic panels look amazing when done in this style. Painting is a more like coloring in a book than channeling DaVinci. It’s much easier to pull off, too, because the picture elements are usually outlined with bold black lines, making pattern creation a lot more intuitive.
Lines Matter – Coloring Comic Panel Layered Wall Art
To paint comic panels and cartoon cells, use carbon paper to transfer the lines. Keep the traced lines narrower than the originals. You want to be able to paint your lines wider than the carbon tracings so that they are all hidden in the final product.
Paint the colors first, then the black lines. Remember that in most cases the shapes cut into the layers will follow black lines in the artwork. So be sure to paint the scroll sawn edges (and not just the faces of the layers) black as needed.
Back To The Fireplace
This particular painting begins with a black canvas. I used matte black acrylic paint on every visible surface. Notice I didn’t paint the areas that will be hidden by other layers. I also did not paint the rocks themselves black.
Be sure to paint over and slightly beyond the lines traced from the higher layers to make sure no unpainted surfaces peek through when the layers are stacked.
Color Me Impressed
The painting tutorial recommends specific paints/colors. But I’m a rebel; and I’m cheap. Basically, I’ll rebel as long as it doesn’t cost too much! High quality paints can quickly drag a low budget from the black to the red. The ones I use, however, are only about $0.59 each and they’re perfect for this type of project.
As for the gray, I’ve been milking that same bottle for almost 15 years now. Amazingly, it’s still in great condition!
I just grabbed the closest colors I could find at the local big box store. In the original painting, orange was produced by mixing yellow and red. But the particular yellow and red I used didn’t yield a satisfactory orange, no matter what ratio I tried. Therefor, I shunned the resulting baby vomit and added “apricot” to my palette.
Since these are matte finish paints, expect everything to look a bit dull and boring at first. After the project is fully assembled, a clear gloss coat will make it pop with vibrancy. In my experience, these layered wall art pieces look best with matte paints followed by clear spray lacquer. Resist the temptation to use glossy paints.
Getting Off To A Rocky Start
I used three distinct shades of gray to color and “texture” the rocks; the original and two that were created by mixing with white in varying proportions.
After painting, the rocks were glued to the fireplace surround and set aside on a flat surface until final assembly.
I’m no painter (I was serious when I said this is my first painting attempt. Since preschool, at least). And I’m definitely not qualified to teach painting. So – for the rest of the painting process – I refer you to the expert. I’ll just throw in some work-in-progress photos to help clarify how it all translates to the layered version.
We’ll resume woodworking when it’s time to make the frame.
Your Many Beautiful Layers
It’s easy to get confused when breaking a picture up into a bunch of layers. If you get lost, just re-stack the layers to get your bearings.
Here’s what some of my layers looked like at various stages during the painting process:
Assembling The Layered wall Art
Before gluing together the layered wall art, let’s determine exactly where glue should be. If glue is applied to the floating flames, it may run down and cause a mess. So stack the layers upside down and mark off any floating areas.
As with the rocks, apply glue to the backs of the various layers, not the faces. The background layer, of course, gets no glue. Leave a small margin around the edges to prevent squeeze-out.
The glue up should be done on a flat surface. Carefully stack the layers and cover them with a flat board that is larger than the pieces being glued. Then stack weight on top of that. Check that the outside edges of the layers are properly aligned and be careful that nothing slides around. For best results, glue only one layer at a time, waiting for the glue to dry before moving on to the next layer.
Frame The Flame
Now that the hard part is done, let’s frame our masterpiece. The frame is cut from “1 by” (3/4”) pine board to a width slightly larger than the stacked layers are tall, so that the frame will stick out approx. 1/16” farther than the top of the rocks. In my case, that was 1-11/16”.
With shallower pictures, I make my frames stick out at least a 1/2”. But actual dimensions depend on whatever looks best with a given project.
After ripping a sufficient length of 3/4” x 1-11/16” pieces for the frame, I put my mitering jig on the table saw and cut a 45° angle on end of the first piece. You can use a miter gauge or a different saw to make the cuts, but a good jig makes it easy to be dead accurate.
Paint The Layered Wall Art Frame
Paint the four frame pieces black on the front and back, the outsides and the inside portions that will be visible. I also painted a fiery glow on the inside of the bottom frame piece. This little touch adds a lot to the finished project, as the frame becomes part of the painting.
Gluing The Frame To The Layered Wall Art
With a picture this large, I feel more comfortable gluing only one frame piece at a time. Once the glue has had a little time to set up, unclamp the assembly and move to the next side. Apply a thin layer of glue to both mating surfaces, but take care to avoid squeeze-out as much as possible.
Layered 3D Wall Art – The Finishing Touches
Once the glue dried completely, I sprayed six or seven coats of Rust-Oleum rattle can spray lacquer. This brings out the vibrancy in the colors and protects the project from dirty fingers, dust and humidity in the air. Be sure to spray from all directions to avoid “spray shadows”. Give the back a couple coats as well.
Finally, attach a couple metal hangers to the back and proudly display your work of art. Congratulations!
The Critic’s Review
These pictures don’t quite do the project justice. For a better viewing experience, check out the bonus 3D photo gallery at the end of this article. Then you’ll see why I love this technique so much.
The White Glove Treatment
We hope you’ve been inspired to step outside of your comfort zone and make some amazing art of your own. Whether you build this fireplace or apply the technique to other pictures, it will be a fun, and possibly challenging, project that you’ll be proud to show off.
Free pattern set for this project: Fireplace art pattern set (Wood ‘n’ Stuff_The Art Sherpa)
To see this build in action, check out my video:
The Art Sherpa’s Fireplace painting tutorial can be viewed here:
Bonus 3D Gallery – Beyond The Velvet Rope
In two dimensions, it’s hard to convey how cool this layered wall art really is. So, for those who know how to view stereograms – such as Magic Eye images by N.E. Thing Enterprises, which are actually auto-stereograms (because both views are represented within a single image) – we have a special treat! These are 3D images that can be viewed with the naked eye! If your eyes are clothed, please disrobe them before viewing. I’ll explain how to do it, but here’s a link to another explanation as well (see the part about “cross viewing”): http://www.studio3d.com/pages2/freeview.html
These pictures should be viewed using the cross-eye method, where you focus at a point between your eyes and the image. It may take some practice and/or cause a little eye strain at first. But that should go away as soon as you find focus and understand what to do.
Get the best 3D effect by viewing the pictures at full size. But if you have trouble, try zooming out or viewing from a farther distance until you get the hang of it.
To understand what you’re trying to do, hold up an index finger about 12 to 18 inches from of your eyes. While looking at your finger, notice how everything in the background now appears as double vision. The same effect happens with windows, though you may never notice it. But you will now!
Each picture consists of two slightly different views placed side by side. As you focus between yourself and the picture, the picture will double (becoming four images). The pictures start out with two images. But as your focal point changes those will double to become four. Let them keep spreading apart until two of the four overlap to create a third image in the middle.
If the images don’t overlap quite right, try tilting your head slightly left or right. Keep your eyes on the middle of the three images and enjoy. Best of luck to you!