Each year, as the holiday season comes to a close and I examine my depleted supply of spending money, I'm reminded of a craft that has provided my family — adults and children alike — with hours of pleasure as well as some much-needed extra cash. You see, we've learned how to design a unique and beautiful kind of stationery that's not only fun to produce, but also makes great year-round gifts and is popular in craft shops.
The materials you need to duplicate our project are easily obtained. In fact, you may already have many of the items in your home or office. You'll need to gather together some turpentine, rubbing alcohol, paper towels, linseed oil, small paper cups, an old telephone book and water. You'll also have to locate wooden sticks (used for stirring the mixture and dropping the paint), oil paints (only very small amounts are needed), a large pan that will hold your paper without forcing you to bend it, a can of spray fixative (the kind that's used to keep charcoal drawings from smudging — one such product is called Krylon Clear), and a package of high-quality, smooth-finish typewriter paper that's no less than 20-pound weight. (A thinner bond will tend to wrinkle excessively after being placed in the decorating solution.)
Before you begin, it's best to "treat" all the sheets you intend to print by moving them outdoors (or to a well-ventilated area) and spraying the fixative on one side of each. (This procedure insures that the oil paint won't soak into the paper and create stains instead of designs. It will also help prevent the water from soaking the stationery.)
Next, cover your work area with newspaper and place your supplies in the following order (from left to right): treated paper, turpentine, oil, paper cups, selected oil paints, a pan of water, paper towels, alcohol, and — finally — the telephone directory.
Now, you're ready to prepare your dye. Using small sticks, mix up a combination of one part oil paint (a tiny dab will do it!), one part linseed oil and two parts turpentine. Naturally, you'll want to use a different cup and stick for each separate color. (We find that our stationery turns out best when we use no more than three or four colors, and we generally stick to light shades for writing paper — although darker prints do make nice wall decorations.)
Put a drop of one paint mixture on the surface of the water in the pan. (If your container is dark-colored, sink a white piece of paper to the bottom and weight it down with something like nuts or nails in order to make the design you're creating show up more clearly.)
The drop of color — because it's been thinned with turpentine — will quickly spread to form a miniature oil slick. You can then release another dab of paint mix — this time of a different color — and watch it react with the first. (It's possible to help things along by whirling the liquid with a stick or by blowing on its surface.)
Sometimes, if the mixture turns out to be too heavy, the second drop may just sit there forming a far too concentrated blob of color. To disperse that dab of paint, touch the center with a stick that's been dipped in rubbing alcohol or else blot the drop with a piece of paper.
When you think the pattern in the water looks good, take one sheet of paper and drop it (fixed side down) onto the oil slick. It's important not to immerse the sheet. Instead, simply lay it lightly on the surface for a split second, just long enough to allow it to pick up the oil pattern.
Quickly lift the stationery out — grasping it at the top and the bottom of the sheet while keeping it horizontal — and blot the piece on a paper towel. Then insert the print between two pages of the telephone book.
Go on repeating the process — dabbing and swirling the colors, dropping and lifting the paper and blotting and storing the designs — until you've gone through your whole stack of prepared sheets. When you've finished, place several heavy books on top of the telephone directory for a day or two, after which time your stationery should come out dry and wrinkle-free.
We usually package our designs, a dozen to each set, by simply stacking the sheets against a cardboard backing and covering the bundle with clear acetate, secured with transparent tape. Of course, some sets are kept for personal use, others we give away as gifts and still others are sold at a nearby co-op crafts store for two dollars a package.
You may want to "peddle your papers", too. But, even if you aren't looking for a salable craft, simply making this personal gift item is a decidedly pleasurable pastime!
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