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sea shells
playing volleyball
architectural detail
plain water
craft store
motifs
Gifts From The Sea, Sheer Fantasy Of Seashells
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Gifts from the Sea, Sheer Fantasy of Seashells

If you are part mermaid, like me, then you are going to love this project.

Are you more likely to be combing the beach for sea shells than playing volleyball with your friends? Have you collected boxes and jars of shells? Aha! Maybe you even purchase shells from Florida, Hawaii, Australia and Indonesia.

That’s hard core shell collecting.

Yes, your collection has a practical, decorative use. Prepare to transform and immortalize some of your treasures into small works of art.

We are going to make masterpieces together today. We are about to create a grouping of bas-relief compositions using a few tools and materials, plus your sea shells.

You don’t have to draw anything this time. Mother Nature is doing most of the work. But you will be orchestrating the finished results.

Seashells have had universal appeal throughout the ages. Shell motifs have been very popular in design through the centuries. Architectural detail, interiors, textiles, and an assortment of objets d’art, all reflect the appreciation we humans have for these little objects.

I often use shell motifs in my designs and drawings. My studio is full of boxes of shells that I have been collecting for years, and they are multiplying like tribbles. I draw and paint from them.

We can approach this project as art for art’s sake, or we can explore a definite practical purpose.

A neglected powder room or bathroom would benefit immensely by mounting a series of these compositions on the wall.

What we’ll be doing is using various shells in interesting arrangements, and setting them in plaster.

Here’s what you’re going to need:

1. Three to six stretched, prepared canvases that can be purchased from a craft store, such as Michael’s, A.C. Moore, or Dick Blick. They’re not very expensive. I bought a value pack bundle of seven 12” canvases from Michael’s for $20. That’s under $3 a piece.

2. Choose the shells you want to use, and line them up on a table. If they are dirty, wash them in plain water and allow them to dry before assembling. I would suggest scallop shells, cowries, angel wings, moon shells, spiral shells, sand dollars, starfish, seahorses, clam shells, small periwinkles. I would avoid clunky heavy shells because they will be set in plaster and may not hold if they are too heavy.

Choose shells that have interesting color. They have a lot of color variation, and can be so beautiful in combinations.

3. One or two tubs of joint compound. How much you need depends on how many canvases you are making and their sizes. You can use plaster of Paris, but it is more work. We’re trying to make this easy. Joint compound is white, but if you want to tint the plaster a color, then you can add some All Medium Liquid Tint from Home Depot, or simply add acrylic paint. Mix it well into the compound with a wooden spoon before using.

4. Craft Glue is a good thing to add to the compound to create a more durable medium that will resist chipping and breakage.

5. A large work surface or a table that you use for projects and a drop cloth will be needed. An old sheet will do.

6. Lattice strips. They are very inexpensive and can be purchased at Home Depot. It is also called lath. Lattice is typically 1 ¾” wide and ¼” thick. Lattice strips will be used to make a frame for your canvases, and will also create a lip to hold the plaster.

Painters often use strip frames for exhibitions. I use them myself. You probably already know what they are, but in case you don't, a strip frame is lattice that is tacked to the edges of the stretched canvas to form a simple frame. Usually the corners of the frame are mitered, which means that all lattice strips are precisely cut at a 90 degree angle which are fit together at the corners to create the mitered join. The cut is made in a miter box with a miter saw. If you own a miter saw and box, great. If not, don’t worry, the corners can be squared off as follows.

Here is the other option which will work just as well for this project.

If all of your canvases are the same size, then the job will be easy. If your canvas is 10" square, then you will need four strips that are 10 1/4" long for each canvas.

You will need to apply the lattice before you do anything else. The purpose of the lattice frame is to create a lip that will provide a ½” deep “bowl” that will contain the plaster you will be putting directly on the canvas.

Be sure you have measured your canvas and are precise when you cut the strips.

Start with positioning the lattice strip on the top edge of the canvas. The left side of the strip should be lined up evenly with the left corner of the canvas, as it faces you. Let the strip project out (overlap) over the surface of the canvas about 1/2" creating that bowl we talked about. That 1/2" will hold the plaster that will be added later on. Now tack the lattice to the canvas stretcher with small tacks or brads. About three tacks will work just fine if your canvas is smaller than 12”.

Now, do the same thing with the bottom strip, but do it in reverse. Make the strip line up evenly with the right corner on the bottom of the canvas edge, which means it will jut out on the left 1/4". Remember to create the 1/2" lip (bowl) projecting toward you as you face the canvas. Now, tack that strip on with tacks or brads just like you did the top.

Continue with the right and left strips, fitting them in so that the edges fit in perfectly, making a join that is completely square. Tack the strips to the canvas stretchers.

Use wood filler to touch up nail heads and joints if needed, and gently sand when dry.

If you want your strip frame to be a color, or even white, now is the time to spray paint it. Do that before you fill the canvas with plaster.

After the frame dries, you are ready to fill the canvas with plaster compound. Work on no more than two compositions at a time, because plaster sets up pretty fast, and you want the plaster to be wet while you are working.

Arrange your composition of shells on a piece of brown paper first to have a sense of where you will place the shells into the plaster. You can always change it around, but once you commit the shells to plaster, it can be a messy job to pull it all up.

Use a putty knife to put the joint compound (tinted or white) onto the canvas. Fill with plaster up to the strip frame edge. Try to be very neat, carefully wiping off any plaster that gets on the strip frame.

You will have a surface of plaster that is about ½” thick, on which to place your shells.

Work on a flat surface. Embed the shells and other elements into the plaster until you are happy with your design. Now, let your compositions dry completely before hanging them.

For a nice decorative look, consider spraying the entire composition matte white, including the frame. But don't spray it until the plaster dries completely.

A series of these all white bas relief compositions on a dark blue wall can make a stunning room.

Also interesting is a repetition of the same shell in different sizes and colors. You are the master of your own creation.

These celebrations of nature are fun and easy to do, and they make beautiful gifts!


Street Talk

Bora Bora? Maybe Maldives? I think there are still some places left to explore before Im ready:)

Reply
  about 1 decade ago
  

May I go with you?

Reply
  about 1 decade ago

lol .. of course:)

  
  about 1 decade ago

Awesome. All I need now is the sea, lol I can tell how much you enjoy this.

Reply
  about 1 decade ago
  

How did I miss your comment Shawn. You're not near water? I do enjoy these things. Best of all, I like drawing them.

Reply
  about 1 decade ago

Actually I am. I live about 20 miles from the mighty Mississippi.

  
  about 1 decade ago
C4rmen  

Art from nature. Nicely written Joan. Your passion is so lovely.

Reply
  about 1 decade ago
  

Thank you Carmen.

Reply
  about 1 decade ago
Barbara9  

i enjoyed this article very much. it motivates an individual to be creative

Reply
  about 1 decade ago
  

Thanks Barbara. I hope people actually try it out.

Reply
  about 1 decade ago

Joan I have so many shells! Just don't have the time any more... But I enjoyed your article so much. I remembered of the time when I was younger and tried to do some of that stuff. It was so nice. I will keep this article. You never know when is the time again for a comeback in art!

Reply
  about 1 decade ago
  

Hi Maria. These things are enjoyable to do when you need to unwind. I know how difficult it is to find time for hobbies. Sometimes we need to treat ourselves to fun. This is a good project to do with the kids, if you happen to have some kids around. Glad you enjoyed the article.

Reply
  about 1 decade ago

I'm a lover of sea shells, Joan, and I really enjoyed reading how to do this! Have always liked the idea of a "beach house" motif.

Reply
  about 1 decade ago
  

You are a kindred spirit Patty. The idea of a beach house appeals to me too. We can dream and include shell motifs in our decor. Glad you enjoyed the idea.

Reply
  about 1 decade ago
Lemuel  

Great tips and very clear instructions, too. I'll share your article with my wife. Thank you, Joan.

Reply
  about 1 decade ago
  

Glad to hear the instructions were clear Lemuel. Hard to do it without pictures. Thanks for commenting.

Reply
  about 1 decade ago

Apart from a great project your article reminded me of my childhood by the sea. I wonder if there were more shells back then or if I just don't look anymore. Thank you for these memories.

Reply
  about 1 decade ago
  

Haha Heather, your beaches are far more exotic than my New England strip of Long Island Sound, I am quite certain. So glad this article helped you to revisit your childhood by the sea. Thank you for dropping by and commenting.

Reply
  about 1 decade ago

Hi Joan S went to your link through looked at the blog and read a few of the entries, looked for a follow button so that I would get notification every time you post a new blog but can't find one. Loved this article, knew a woman that sounds like you and collected shells every time she went to the seaside. but after years a lot had broken and she sat down and made mosaic designs out of the broken pieces, they became such good art that in the end she started to break the shells to get the smaller pieces for her art work.

Reply
  about 1 decade ago
  

Hi Rob, my site is a few years old, and in dire need of a re-design. I actually put more effort into the articles on the site itself than the blog. But you make a good point. People should be notified when there is a new blog. Making mosaics with broken shells is a great idea. Sort've reminds me of Gaudi ceramic mosaics and his wonderful architecture in Barcelona. Thanks for your good comments.

Reply
  about 1 decade ago

Can you not add a follow button on your web site. I'm sure if you check on the settings you can just enable it......

  
  about 1 decade ago
  

A tech put it together for me. I control some parts of it, but not all. Hence, one of the many reasons I need to redo the site. I'll ask her. Don't see why she couldn't enable it unless the software is too old.

  
  about 1 decade ago
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