A side benefit of woodworking is copious amounts of fresh saw dust. And by benefit, I mean the added exercise and back strain resulting from hauling this stuff to the curb. As part of my overall mission to find beauty in common building materials (plaster, OSB, home latex paint, etc.) I took a look at my saw dust collection and started to experiment with it. I will spare you from all the failures and instead highlight a method that I have found to be work really well.
The idea here is that you take the saw dust, mix it with common household paint, and you get colored little balls of paint/dust. You then use wood glue or white glue to secure the dust to a wood canvas. Kind of like glitter on an industrial scale. Then the the entire canvas is covered with a clear coating that helps protect the dust as well as helping to further secure the dust to the canvas. The effect is really pretty cool. The balls reflects and absorbs light in a manner that really provides depth and movement that you don’t get with a flat paint.
This is, however, a rather long process that takes some planning. You have to figure out what colors you want to use and make those up ahead of time. You then have to add one color at a time and let it dry completely before adding another. This can take days since the dry time is rather slow, so I would often work on several at a time. The actual work, though, is quite relaxing. The hardest part, for me, is deciding which image to commit to.
I am sure there are hundreds of ways you could pull this off, but here is the process that I use.
MAKING COLORED SAWDUST
1.) Get some sawdust. If you don’t have much of your own, then head to to a lumber yard that mills trim. Bring a trash bag and ask them if you can have some sawdust. They might give you a weird look, but just explain that you are an artist. They will immediately recognize that you are weird and give you want you want. In all seriousness, I recommend going to a true lumber yard rather than one of the home centers. The home centers will have sawdust, but it will be a mix of all kinds of wood, including plywood, pressure treated, mdf etc. You want clean wood, so go to one of the places that is trimming real wood all day. I did this one time after I had just cleaned up my shop and through everything away before realizing that I needed more dust for an upcoming project. They were very accommodating.
2.) I found that dust size was pretty critical factor in my ability to control the final look of the painting, with larger shavings refusing to play nice. To filter those pieces out, I took a 1’X1′ piece of window screen and stapled it to a deep 2″X4″frame. I then place this over a large bucket, dump in a pile of shavings, and push them around until only the larger piece were on top. Discard the large pieces and repeat until you have enough. I highly recommend wearing a dust mask and gloves for this process.
3.) I am using regular house interior latex paint. Nothing fancy. Part of the reason for this is that it takes a lot of paint to get to the desired look and artist paints can be crazy expensive. The other reason is that it is readily available, has no VOC’s, and can is really easy to work with and clean up. I found that I could buy a gallon each of the Primary Colors (RYB), a White, and a Black and make any color I needed.
4.) Add about 6 cups of the filtered dust to a small bowl or bucket.
5.) To this bucket, add about 10 large spoonfuls of paint. Stir it up the best you can.
5.) Get an old Food Processor. Seriously. You will render it unusable for food, so don’t use something you care about. I picked up one from a 2nd hand store. Dump the contents of the bucket into the processor. Mix until all the paint clumps are mixed in. Clean immediately.
6.) Dump the paint dust out onto wax paper. Spread it thinly and let it dry for 24 hours or so. You will know it is dry when everything is hard and clumped together.
7.) Put the dried mixture back into the processor and buzz it until you have fine powder again.
8.) At this point, you should be able to put the dust into plastic bags for use in your project. You can, however, repeated the process with a little more paint if you want a darker color. Experiment until you figure out what works and WRITE DOWN what you did! Put the formula into the bag with the dust. There is nothing worse then wanting more of a certain color and not being able to figure out how you did it.
9.) Repeat the above until you have enough colors to do your project.I work in batches, making sure to clean the processor between each color).
PAINTING WITH SAWDUST
1.) You are going to be putting a heavy dose of wood and glue on your canvas, so experiment with what works for you. I found that 1/4″ plywood, primed, worked great for me. The priming keeps the wood from absorbing too much of the glue. I believe this would work on canvas, but I have not tried it.
2.) For this type of project, I like to work on a computer to plan out what I am doing and then transfer that to the canvas. If it particularly complicated, then I set up a project to make it easier to transfer. Is use colored pens to outline the shapes to act as a reminder of what color goes where.
3.) Put the canvas on a flat work surface in an area that can get messy (like my workshop). Get comfortable and start outlining the areas for your first color. I found that I had pretty good glue control by using a Plastic Condiment Bottles. You can adjust the diameter of the nozzle by using a razor blade and cutting it like you would a caulk tube. After outline, squeeze some glue in to the middle of the same and spread it out so that there is a thick layer of glue everywhere. Use a toothpick or piece of scrap would to help the glue along. You will use a bunch of glue, so I suggest buying it by the gallon.
4.) Once you have applied glue to all of the areas for your first color, go ahead and lay on the sawdust. Be very generous and pile it on thick. Press down on the sawdust once enough has been put on. No glue should be visible.
5.) Let it sit for at least 24 hours. The glue must not be soft at all.
6.) Pick up the work piece and gently tap it on its side to remove the loose dust. Do this over large piece of paper/aluminum foil so that you can easily transfer the dust back to the bag for later use. You may find that some areas are looking a little bare if the glue was not as thick as it needed to be. That is okay; we will fix it later.
7.) Do your next color as you did the first. If your next color is against a previous applied color, then let the glue flow right up to the edge so that no white space is visible.
8.) Repeat until your canvas is completely filled in.
9.) Go back and fill in any areas that jump out to you as too bare (a little bit of glue, a bit more dust). You can probably do several areas at once on this step.
10.) Once everything is dry, then head to the finish line. You need to clear coat the entire canvas To help further lock in the sawdust and to provide protection. I like the Polycrylic Clear Spray from Minwax since it is water based, low odor, and is truly clear and will not yellow over time. Lightly coat the entire piece. You can also do minor correction at this point if you want to . Maybe do some color blending or other little details since the poly will act as a light glue (see tips below for an example). Let this dry and repeat a few more times until it looks like everything is properly stuck together.
1.) Left over colors that are are too mixed up to go back into their original bags can be thrown into a new bag that can then be painted black. The fact that there are already colored helps to deliver a nice dark black.
2.) Experiment with different types of paint. How about wood dyes or stains?
3.) Colors can be mixed in a cup to provide a gradient. Here I mixed several colors to get the background look.
4.) When using the Poly Coat step to add more dust, but sure that you don’t blow those away when spaying. I recommend that you add a layer of poly, add the dust, and then let it sit until dry before adding top coat.The red that bleeds into the white was done using this technique.
5.) Keep your Poly Coats light or you can end creating creating puddles which will end up looking white. You don’t want that.
6.) In this one, I created the background by pouring on the glue and then started laying on different colors in a random pattern. I want the background to imply movement and did not want it to be too precise.
7.) Be patient. I found that having multiple painting going at once through different stages of the process was really helpful. But when I get manic about something I tend to want to see it done. So TRY to be patient.
So that’s about it. You can see more example in My Gallery. Have fun and send us any projects you have completed. We would love to share it on this site!
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