Etsy Shop · How to's · Making Altered Art

The Spirit of the Cottonwood

Yaaaaaay…Spring is starting to jump! Welcome to my blog.

Today I’ve got a “how to” to share with you. Though my Etsy shop (Old Raven) started out many years ago as strictly handmade, it didn’t take long for me to realize I would never be able to make enough items fast enough to keep a viable inventory, so I quickly branched out into Vintage and Antique items (which are much beloved by me) to bolster my stock in conjunction with my handmade items.

But my first love is creating, especially, altered art. And that’s how I spent my Spring Break – lost in my craft room making “The Spirit of the Cottonwoods”. I have made one of these before back in 2016 – and I mention that to show just how rare it is to find the ‘base’ piece of bark that I use to make these.

So, like Spring, let’s jump right in.

As many of you know, I walk my dog every day and many times those walks are in wooded areas. I’m constantly on the lookout for natural pieces or ‘found’ pieces to use in my artwork and the top of the ‘found’ list is naturally shed bark that has an opening like the one above.

These openings have always looked like eye holes to me but I’ll be the first to admit I have a HUGE imagination. Still, I love the woods and have always felt a strong presence of Nature there which inspires me to create my bark ‘spirits’.

This piece of bark was much longer on each end and very tattered from being shed off the tree – I just randomly trimmed up the ends a bit as step one of the project.

I decided to leave the piece below the eye as it is still attached firmly on both ends…it looks kind of like a jaw to me and I liked the look of how it sits on that piece.

Using a dry brush, I gently cover the entire front and back of the bark with ModPodge Matte. I use a dry brush because a ‘watered’ ModPodge may encourage bubbles to form in the glue as can working to briskly as you paint the surface, that’s why I suggest the gentle coverage.

There’s a couple of things I don’t particularly like about ModPodge, even the Matte dries pretty glossy looking and it takes weeks for it to entirely cure. Example: say you cover two separate pieces of things with ModPodge…if you let them touch for too long before they entirely cure they may stick together just a bit so that when you pull them apart they could leave a dull spot where they stuck, or even worse, if they were collaged pieces then they could pull off a piece of your patterned paper from one of the pieces or both!

Also, never put a ModPodge-d piece in the sun or even in indirect sunlight to cure…chances are it will go milky and/or blister in spots, even if it’s a day or two after you’ve applied the ModPodge and it looks and feels dry.

I recently picked up another collage glue product and as I use it on coming projects I’ll report in on whether I like it better or not – stay tuned on that.

So , the above two pics are the bark with one layer on – be sure to cover both front and back completely working the glue into all the little cracks and crevices.

I have a large bin that I keep smaller wood pieces and this is where I went to find my “eye”. I tried a few different models but I finally settled on one.

This raw wood ‘footing’ ball is just a bit over 1″. It looks like it’s completely round from this picture, but….

…it is not. As you can see on the back side it is flat and has a hole drilled into it. This is perfect for my purpose as I want to be able to insert a dowel into the hole to operate the eye.

I used a hot glue gun to fix the wood dowel, but you can use glue, too. I left the length pretty long and will trim it up later on once I decide its final placement.

Before I go any further with the knob, I need to fit it into the eye socket on the bark. I just place it in the area, up tight like it will be for the final fit, and move it gently around, noticing as I do so if it’s hitting on any rough spots on the back side of the bark. Using an X-acto knife I carefully remove any portions of bark that are rubbing. You can do this before you glue the first layer if you want, but the new raw wood will get covered when you add the second/final coat, too.

Paint the eyeball with white acrylic paint…two coats should be enough. Paint the dowel, too.

This is a circle template and they are very handy to have and really inexpensive – I use them on lots of projects. They can be found at most craft stores.

You can see how much of the front of the ball I want to cover with the ‘iris’. Once I have the placement right I will draw a pencil line for my iris being careful to note that it is centered and lined up properly to where the hole is in the back of the knob.

Now this is where you can go completely wild. What color eye do you think a tree spirit might have? If you’re a bit stuck for ideas look up faux crafting eyes on Etsy or eBay and you’ll get plenty of ideas to copy.

This is just a few colors I pulled out for starters.

Always begin with the lightest color in your selection as you can cover a light with a dark but not the other way around. But if you totally blow it (and the eye can be tricky) then just paint it all out with a couple of new coats of white and try again.

I went through a couple of ‘possibles’ for my iris until I found something I liked.

And I will mention, like I always seem to do, it’s the details that make or break a great project. In this case it’s adding a few little red ‘veins’ to the white of the eyeball. I used a red micro pen and no – that’s not the iris that I ended up with.

This is the final iris. Note how I put a thin ring of light yellow around that outside edge of iris – wild creatures frequently don’t have a clear delineation between the iris and the white like humans do and I liked adding that bit of color to blur the line. Next step – I use a triple thick clear gloss glaze to make it all look wet.

I usually find myself multitasking in my craft room and this project was no exception. I was also refilling my shop stock on my kitten knobs so that’s why the eyeball is drying amongst a pile of wood knobs.

I thought I would take a moment and point out a handy tip, if you’re making something that requires multiple coats of paint or sealer and in a busy life, this might help you remember where you’re at in the process. See the note tucked in the front of the left hand egg carton? It says “paint” with a 1, 2, and 3 and below that Clear with a 1, 2 and 3 also.

So these knobs have had their first coat of paint applied and I’ve marked out the “1”. Each new coat, when applied, will see me cross out the coat number as I go along. It’s a little thing but over time this has saved me many mistakes and confusion and allows me to make a finished consistent professional look when I make such products over and over.

There’s nine different kittens in this selection and I usually have to make at least one of each and two of half of the others so it’s a lot of knobs to make in a single setting so I’ve learned to streamline the operation as best I can.

Now back to today’s project.

Before I put my first coat of clear sealer on the eyeball I did add one more step…I covered the entire eyeball with a very watered down wash of brown acrylic paint. The white was just too white for me and I wanted a little more ‘woody’ look, it is a tree, after all. I’m glad I did, too, because once I got the first coat of clear on this looks exactly how I want it.

I always let clear coats set overnight before adding the next coat.

We’re in the home stretch now. You’ll need a piece of brown felt, scissors, a fabric pencil marker, a 1/4 hole punch and your hot glue gun.

First, let me apologize for the quality of pictures here. I recently got a new phone and I’m still trying to dial in on my photos (ugh) and apparently I have a ways to go before I’m back to shooting pics right.

So, cut a piece of felt to approximately fit the back with plenty to spare. Now that we have a working size piece we can fit the top line of felt to the top of the back of the piece of bark, trimming as you go. Cut in the end pieces at this point, too. When you have that done then starting on one end lay a thin bead of glue and press on the felt DO THIS IN SHORT SECTIONS ALL ACROSS THE TOP until you have the top and sides all glued on.

From the front side stick a straight pin through the center of the felt in the area you think will be where the pupil will be. Then flip over the bark and mark the pin hole and using your 1/4″ hole punch – punch a hole in the felt.

Carefully slip the end of the dowel through the hole from the inside of the felt and then gently turn the eye into the socket area. Your dowel should be sticking out from the backside of the felt and bark now.

Again, sorry about the crummy pic here, I always take two shots in case one is bad but the other one was even worse than this one!!! Geez. Hopefully, you can see what I mean though.

And this is how the front should look now. Ooooh, I love it! Now we’re going to fix the eye in the socket but leave enough room for the dowel we attached to let the eye be gently moved around a bit.

Back to the back side of the project. Using a fabric pencil, mark the felt and cut as you go making sure the felt covers the back of the bark and doesn’t show any felt from the front side of the project. Where you need to be really careful is around the eyeball area. Make sure the felt is tight enough to hold the eyeball in place in the socket but with just enough room so that the eyeball can be moved using the dowel to turn it up, down and sideways in the socket. When you’ve finished with the marking and cutting then repeat the gluing procedure gluing in small sections as you go.

The last step is finishing up the dowel. I wanted my bark to rest at an angle using the dowel as a brace so the eye could be clearly seen as the piece sits on a shelf or coffee table. So I began cutting off small sections of dowel until I hit just the right angle.

I glued on a small wood bead to cover the cut end and make it look nice as well as it being a comfortable piece to hold on to when working the eyeball.

And that’s it!

I think my video probably leaves a lot to be desired as far as quality goes, but you get the idea.

This creation is now listed in my shop on Etsy “Old Raven”. Click on the link below if you want to check it out there:

There you have it – the Spirit of the Cottonwoods. Next time you’re in the trees you’ll know why you feel like you’re being watched – you are!

Take care all, I hope you enjoyed this ‘how to’ and will follow my blog for more. -Kriss

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