Driftwood for Arts and Crafts: Finding... Process

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Using "found objects" to create folk art/crafts is nothing new, but the opportunity to display these unique pieces on eBay is very exciting! 
Natural driftwood offers endless possibilities for carving, painting, collage, etc with minimal investment of time and money.  Are you ready for a trip to the beach?  Grab a pair of comfortable shoes and let's go driftwood hunting!

 

LOCATION, LoCaTiOn, lOcAtioN!

If you live near a large body of water - be it ocean, lake or river - you have already overcome half the battle.  Wear loose-fitting clothing, suitable foot protection, a decent hat. A long sleeve shirt with pockets will prove helpful.  Protective gloves are NOT a bad idea either.

Toss an extra or jacket in with your gear;  it's often cooler and windy near the water!

 Don't forget sunblock and sunglasses!  Bring a large tote bag (back pack or duffle bag) some bottled water and snacks.  You will be getting some good exercise; walking, bending will make you thirsty.  It would probably be wise to lock your wallet/purse (but not your keys!) in your vehicle while you search for driftwood. 

Invite a friend, spouse or partner to accompany you. Two people can find MORE driftwood than one,  companionship provides safety and you'll both have fun together!

Timing is everything!

Note:Access to public beaches should not be a problem, but here in New Jersey, some PRIVATE beaches are restricted.  If this is the case, always ask permission BEFORE you step on the sand.

Best "harvests" occur after storms and/or high tides.  Early morning and late afternoon are optimum times for spotting driftwood, providing the sun is at your back.  Shadows are sharper and you can spot items that may not be visible at high noon.  As a bonus, you'll probably notice sea glass and a variety of shells.  Now you're glad you wore that shirt with POCKETS!

Personally, I've found  best driftwood selection in fall & spring. During summer months, much gets burned in beach fires.  Shores are less crowded in "off season" and a mild winter day can be a beautiful time for a walk on the beach!

Selection - Making Decisions

Perhaps the most difficult aspect is deciding what to keep & carry back home and what to leave behind.  This depends on what your forte is (sculptor, painter, gardener...) so be selective.  Look for driftwood that is uncommon and quirky if you carve.  Smoother wood is better for paint applications, although rough wood texture can make any scene more interesting.

Consider color too.  Wood that is bleached silvery-white has proven "sea worthy"...probably an excellent piece for your project.  Darker wood has not been "seasoned' yet and may have peeling bark.  

Please be aware and careful -  rusty nails might protrude from wood!

Appearance is essential, but weight and condition are critical factors to consider when making your final selections.  You don't really want to lug a ten pound slab of driftwood back to your car, do you?  Check for rot, worms and other creepy stuff.  Aren't you glad you brought gloves?

Always tap the wood against a rock, to see if it's going to splinter. When driftwood is WET, it will feel solid, so you want to check it's soundness before harvesting. 

Now that you have made your choices, it's simply a matter of carrying your full tote bag back to wherever you parked the car!  That willing partner or friend makes the work load  much lighter.

BACK at the STUDIO/WORKSHOP

You'll sort your driftwood finds by size and purpose.  Pour one cup of household bleach into a five gallon bucket, filled with warn water. Soak smaller pieces for 30 minutes.  This is best done outdoors or in a utility room.  Don't leave the wood in bleach for more than half an hour, as it tends to make the surface "slimy"  After soaking, rinse with plain water and let air dry on open shelving or wire  racks.  Drying outdoors is recomended...even if it rains, so what?  It's an extra rinse!

Total drying time make take several days to two weeks - depending on humidity and conditions.  Full sunlight is best, in an open area where air can circulate freely.  Turn driftwood each day, so both sides can dry!  You don't want to start a project on damp wood,  so be patient for complete drying.

Another drying method is to place (smaller) pieces of driftwood on a baking sheet (lined with aluminum foil) put in cool oven, turn (bake) temperature @ 325 degrees Farenheit, set timer for 30 minutes.  While I've done this a few times, the fumes released from "baking" wood are unpleasant ...could possible be toxic, so why risk it? 

Firing or baking outdoors is another option.  Use an open fire-pit with metal wrack. Wrap the wood in aluminum foil to prevent charing.  Wait untill you have a nice, glowing bed of embers - not flames!

 "Baking" wood requires your complete attention, indoors or outside. Old, weathered wood is highly combustible; watch it carefully.  You want DRIED driftwood...not charcoal! 

Again, check with local authority to see if open fires are allowed on your property.  This activity is prohibited in New Jersey, which is why my driftwood pieces are "naturally sun and air dried"

After sufficient drying (prefered method being air drying outdoors) bring your driftwood into the studio/ workshop.  Check again for splinters, nails and other problems. 

 Put the wood  aside for a while and study it before jumping into your project.  Let each piece of driftwood "suggest" what it may become.  Mermaid,  lighthouse,  Santa or handpainted rustic sign? 

Think about the colors of paint you will use and how they'll work with the natural wood color.  Take  scrap paper, lay the driftwood piece on it and trace the outline.  Do a lay-out sketch on paper before committing to paint on wood; this helps resolve problems with design and composition. 

Painter's Paradise!

Acrylic paint is the prefered medium for driftwood but they also accept oils very well.  Keep in mind that acrylics dry rapidly but oils can take several weeks or more.  Some of my favorite brands are Jo Sonya's Acrylic Gouache, Dahler Rowney and Golden Acrylics.  These dry with a matte finish,  Apple Barrel Indoor -Outdoor acrylic paints dry with a glossy finish.

You may paint directly onto the natural wood surface - OR - you may want to underpaint first.  This can be done quickly with a good spray paint (such as Krylon) in a neutral color, like medium gray or off-white.  You can also underpaint with a sponge brush (make sure the paint application is thin)  and it's practical to underpaint several pieces at one time.

As soon as your underpainting is fully dry, you can either paint directly  "ala prima",  sketch a few lines in with black ink or trace a pattern using carbon paper.  Whatever "floats your boat" - but be creative and use your imagination!  Instead of slavishly copying a pattern from a book, change  the composition...add or delete objects and lines...make it YOURS!

I always tell my students that they (The Artist in Charge!) are actually editors of the work they're creating.  An artist gets to choose what to keep and what to delete.  Have an open mind and don't be intimidated!  Acrylic paint is very forgiving.  If something does not turn out as you expected, let it dry and paint over it!

When you are satisfied with your painting, let it sit and dry for at least 24 - 48 hours.  Take a long look at it again.  Turn it upside down. View it by peering into a mirror, with the painting behind you. Squint one eye shut, then the other - this really gives you a different perspective.

 Inspect it under bright light or outdoors.  This little "quality control" step can save you a great deal of anxiety later on - especially if you are selling your work.

Don't forget to sign your finished project!  Artist may place their signatures anywhere they wish.  My preference is to initial the lower left corner, with full signature & date on reverse of each piece.

Speaking of finished, you are not quite done yet.  After 48 hours of complete drying (paint has to "cure") you will need to spray a clear coat protective finish on your work.  Again,  Krylon make a very good matte  SPRAY finish amd Cabot makes an excellent high gloss spray.  Read directions on spray cans carefully and do this job OUTDOORS!

Last, but not least, you will need hardware or some sort of hanging apparatus for your finished driftwood treasure.  My hubby - an avid woodworker guy - does all the hardware installations, and I'm thankful for that.  Copper wire looks neat on smaller pieces.  Sawtooth hangers (metal claw) are necessary for larger, heavier driftwood.  A hot glue gun come in handy too.  You can attach jute cord or ribbon, providing the wood is NOT too heavy.

If you can't install hardware yourself, enlist the services of a neighbor or friend.  Wait untill you have several pieces that need hardware and then...treat them to coffee!

KEEP or SELL?

Congratulations - your driftwood project turned out wonderfully well!  Should you keep it for yourself, give as a gift,  or possibly sell it on eBay?  If going the online auction route, take good photographs.

Natural filtered daylight is far better than an indoor flash.  Take several photos, from all angles.  Shoot details!  For example, if it's a driftwood Santa, photograph his face in a close-up.

 Word of caution here: DO NOT put your driftwood folk art on a wooden surface for photos.  Do not put your driftwood on the kitchen floor, rug, carpet or against a cement wall...tacky, tacky, tacky!

This is the number one mistake I see sellers make on eBay - for artwork and everything else.  Use a CLEAN plain off-white tablecloth, sheet or towel  as background.  You worked hard to create your driftwood masterpiece - don't short -change yourself by using a poor background in your photos.

If the eBay gods smile down upon you and your driftwood sells (yipee!) make certain that you ship carefully.  Wrap each piece in tissue paper or craft paper, then bubble wrap. One layer should do it.

 Find a suitable  RIGID box; use packing peanuts, crumpled scrap paper or more bubble wrap to cushion the item.  Before closing box with strong tape, shake and see if driftwood rattles around inside.  If you can hear it move, you need MORE packing material.

Happy beach combing and painting!

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