People often ask me questions about the techniques I use to create some of my work, particularly the smashed beverage can paintings. Hopefully, this post will address everyone's questions and shed some light on my overall process.
I started using the smashed cans for a canvas in 2001. I came up with the idea during my walks when I lived in NJ. I discovered all of these discarded beer and soda cans in the streets and thought it would be cool if I could make something out of them. I'd try to find 24-oz size cans because they give you more surface area to work with. Since moving from New Jersey to Charlotte, NC, I had to slightly adjust my methods for getting cans because Charlotte is extremely clean and I can't find as many cans on the streets anymore. Instead, I buy some cans and crush them with a 5lbs. rubber mallet from Home Depot. Then, I put them on the floor of my garage for a couple of weeks and drive my SUV over them while coming and going.
After finding the cans, there is some preparation work that needs to be done before painting on them. In order to get the surface of the cans smoother and ready to adhere the base collage, I use Golden Extra Heavy Gel - Matte Finish. (Any brand of gel medium you use will be fine.) I put the gel medium on pretty thick to fill in some of the larger ridges in the cans, sometimes putting two or three coats to get the surface as smooth as possible. Because it can take a couple of hours for the gel medium to dry, I'll prepare 3 or 4 cans at once to save some time. Once the cans are completely dry, I can start on the base collage.
A base collage is created to add depth. As each detailed layer is added, the background recedes. For the base collage, I flip through magazines and look for pages with colors or images that look interesting. Most of this collage will be covered up and in the background so I don't spend much time thinking about the imagery or text. When I select something that looks interesting, I rip it out of the magazine, or use scissors to trim any excess off the sides, and glue it down to the smashed cans surface with Glue Stick. Once the clippings are dry, I put a thin coat of Golden Acrylic Matte Medium to seal the collage. Once the medium is dry, I pick a background color and do a wash of diluted acrylic paint over the can. This light wash of color unifies the background and provides a good base to work from.
The characters come from my doodles and a sketchbook I always have with me. I scan the sketch as a line drawing with my scanner at 300dpi and save it as a Tiff file. Once the image is scanned, I import it into Adobe Illustrator and use the sketch as a guide. In Illustrator, I change the line art image to a faint grey and then use the pen tool to create the black outlines over the top of the sketch. Once I'm happy with the character, I print it out with a laser printer. This step will not work with an ink-jet printer because the ink will run once water is added to it.
After the character is printed, I decide if I want a rough edge around the character or a clean edge. For the rough edge, I just rip around the printed character. For the clean edge, I use scissors to cut around the character. After it's ripped out or cut, I paste it on the cans surface with Glue Stick. Sometimes after it's glued down, there will be some glue on the surface. Just wash the paper with water and a brush. This will also pick up some of the toner and create an aged look.
After the glue and the water wash is completely dry, I start painting the characters with acrylic paint. I use the acrylics like water colors, diluting the paint and changing the color from dark to light. The darker areas get more paint the lighter areas get less. After the darker areas are built up, highlights are put in the lighter areas with opaque use of the acrylic paint.
Once I'm happy with the finished paint on the character, I coat the can with a thin coat of acrylic medium. I use printed words and numbers or cut them from magazines to finish the composition. To add some additional visual interest, I add some other painted details in the form of circles and shapes. After the details are completed, I finish the piece up with a coat of matte medium and then two coats of Matte Varnish.
Well, I hope you enjoyed this step by step walk through of how I go about creating my smashed can pieces. If you would like to see a bunch of my smashed can pieces visit my smashed can flickr set.