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Monday, March 3, 2014

Puzzling Art

Copyright Jim Lane
Four Seasons Plus Two (Winter Sunrise), 1999, Jim Lane
Have you ever been puzzled by art? If you answer, "yes, more often than not," then congratulations, you're a very honest individual. But that's not quite what I was getting at. Have you ever been at a loss as to what to give a friend, "who has everything" for Christmas or a birthday? Have you ever been in a situation where you needed to give a gift but had more time than money with which to do so? As an artist, have you ever dreamed of seeing your work reproduced in the form of a jigsaw puzzles. If you can answer "yes" to any or all of those questions, I have an idea that you might want to try. I went on line expecting to find lots of examples of this type of art but was somewhat dismayed to find hardly any, so I guess it must be a fairly unique idea. Here's what you do:
Copyright, Jim Lane
Four Season Plus Two (Winter), 1999, Jim Lane
Go to a discount store and look for the easiest commercial jigsaw puzzle you can find. I would suggest one of about 500 pieces but that's largely irrelevant. Take it home and put it together on a large, flat, piece of corrugated cardboard (Foam Core works nicely too). You might want to con someone else into helping you or, better still, doing it for you. Next, take a can of spray gesso or flat white spray paint and cover the image with several very light coats so that the image largely disappears (avoid as much "wetness" as possible and doing this step outdoors is a good idea). Having done that and come up with a dry, fairly opaque surface, draw an image you wish to paint on that surface. If you plan to give the puzzle as a gift, choose a subject of interest to the recipient. As anyone who has ever done a jigsaw puzzle knows, the repetition of small details makes for a more difficult puzzle. Once you have the image drawn out to whatever degree you're accustomed, paint the image. DO NOT USE OILS OR WATERCOLORS. Cardboard and water are not on speaking terms and oils bleed. You'll destroy the whole thing.

Hearts Royal Flush, John Vito Figorito--painting on puzzle blank, only 25 pieces.
Okay for a young person, perhaps a bit too simple for an adult.
Paint with acrylics, as thickly as you can comfortably manage. If you must thin, use some form of acrylic medium, but in any case, use it very sparingly. Once the painting is finished and completely dry, photograph the results and print it out. Attach the printout to the box over the original image. (You DID save the box, right?) Then very carefully, begin taking the puzzle apart piece by piece. Be neat. Use an Exacto knife as needed (cutting from the front) to get clean edges. This step could take longer than the painting. When you're back to the original number of pieces, pack them back into the box, tape it shut, wrap it up, and prepare to be viewed as a talented cheapskate.
Copyright, Jim Lane
Four Seasons Plus Two (Winter Night), 1999, Jim Lane
(The third block from the left, second row up, is upside down.)
There are several variations of this idea. My own was to make (or buy) puzzle pieces from small, identically-sized wooden cubes, arranging them in a homemade wooden tray, then rotating the blocks (methodically) painting six different related images (above, and the two top images). I used four seasons of the same landscape plus two views at different times of the day. That's six times the work outlined above and probably not ideal as a gift. The concept allows the owner to rearrange the blocks as programmed by the artist (according to the current season) or to create some level of abstraction by arranging them to his or her own tastes. A frame attached to the front of the holding tray using Velcro will allow the work to be wall-mounted on a sturdy nail (the work will be quite heavy). I would suggest numbering each piece (a ball-point pen works nicely) on one side only and as tiny as possible so as to allow the original image to be reconstitute.
Amazon's offering
If you're into portraits, a painting of the recipient or a loved one might be well-received. (A self-portrait would probably be a bit tacky.) You might include a fresh sheet of mounting board, puzzle glue, and a gift certificate for a frame to lessen the cheapskate effect. If the recipient is young, choose an age-appropriate number of puzzle pieces. If you wish to avoid the first step of putting the puzzle together, sells blank puzzles of up to 564 pieces (above, $11.00). It's an interesting spiral design. I couldn't tell if they were already put together or not. (Let's hope so.) In any case, you'll still need to spray several thin coats of some kind of flat white or off-white paint over them to isolate the cardboard from the dampness of the paint. Paint as dryly as possible; warping is a constant concern. If you want to have some fun, try painting one piece so it doesn't match any adjoining it. Any more than that will likely get you a fruitcake back next year in return.
A sci-fi fantasy image using pieces glued in layers
by Nürnberg-based artist, Gerhard Mayer.
(I'm uncertain whether there's any paint involved here.)
Other artists have created variations of this by mixing visually similar or related areas of two or more different puzzles of the same size from the same manufacturer (they tend to use the same knife template). A German artist, Gerhard Mayer, (above) creates abstract works by sorting out pieces from many puzzles and gluing them together in layers to create his images (not intended to be taken apart). And, of course, blank puzzles make great art projects for children to create pictures using markers and/or crayons. If you're a digital photographer (and who isn't nowadays) try printing out your image and simply gluing it to a puzzle (blank or otherwise) of the same size, then very carefully cutting the pieces apart with an Exacto. Some minor re-gluing of the image to individual pieces may be necessary. And, if the puzzle idea appeals to you but the work doesn't, the photo departments of various discount stores will print your image on a blank puzzle (usually less than 50 pieces).

Photo by Michalakis Ppalis
Nicosia, Cyprus, the biggest painted puzzle in the world June 01, 2013.
You might want to stop short of this.


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