Assemblage Art Process: The Pencil Box Conservatory

The other day, while sharing photos of some of my art with another artist, I was asked how long an assemblage takes me to make. I get asked that a lot. My answer is typically, “It just depends”. In the case of my recently completed Pencil Box Conservatory, which may appear rather simple in complexity, it took longer than you might think. For all my assemblage art, the journey to completion begins with the hoarding procurement of the primary components and supplies. The piece above first began two years ago with the unearthing of a cruddy old collection of vintage, used pencils at barn dig in Sonoma. One year or so later, after rediscovering the pencils in a box tucked away in my studio, I moved them into one of my studio parts cabinets and began collecting more funky used pencils along my junking expeditions.  Months went by and I found myself digging through the drawer with greater interest. I pulled out the pencils with stamped and printed advertising and lined them up on a table. Around that time I’d purchased a small, narrow parts box at a local antiques shop. While looking around the studio for something to showcase in the box I thought about the stack of pencils on the table. I gathered them up and headed off to my to the workbench vice. Clamping each one at a time into the vice, I cut them with a mini hacksaw to the inner width of the box, working around the ad text. I glued and stacked the cut pieces into the box and set it all aside.On another day it occurred to me that I could cut a small piece of glass (and sand the edges) to replace the original slide-in wood lid that came with the box. That mini stacked-pencil assemblage sat idle in my studio for months while I went about working on other things. More recently, as I poked around in my wooden box cupboard for inspiration I found a vintage pencil box (with original stenciled lettering on the outside). The wording and shape were perfect for pairing with my little pencil grouping. Finally, I was ready to pull additional components together and get the ball rolling towards completion of the final piece in one day. This process is fairly typical of how things come together in my studio- more by mood, inspiration, motivation and discovery than schedule, clock or deadline. I often have multiple assemblage components in various degrees of completion throughout the studio at any given time.

Next, I pored through drawers of vintage ephemera for something actually written in pencil, which was found in a 1940s ledger book. I removed a page, trimmed pieces to size, and decoupaged them inside pencil box with matte medium. Once dry, I lightly sanded around the outer edges. I also dug through my stash of vintage German die cuts and trimmed out a pair of moth wings, divided them and glued them into the box matching up to the width of the smaller parts box. The wings gave me the idea for the title by using the word conservatory, defined by and often associated with the housing of butterflies and moths and other creatures, as well as a school giving instruction.

I brushed the wings with one of my favorite surface treatments, DecoArt Media Interference Fluid Acrylic in blue. It gives the most awesome translucent sheen to objects (that photos just can’t do justice) but add just the right amount of “Ooooh!” to things like wings, water, and so many other surfaces. As per most of my assemblages I like to patina the crevices with white texture paste and wipe away excess. I love that light look of aging it creates. I glued the small inner box with Amazing Goop, placed it in the larger pencil box, and secured it with vintage brass screws from the back.The stacked boxes worked so well together but I felt the overall squareness of the art could a sort of finial at the top to break up the visual lines. I scrounged through all kinds of lamp parts, and other metal and wood bits and pieces until I came upon a set of cruddy old trimming shear blades. I cleaned one up a bit and painted it with Sophisticated Finishes gold metallic paint, then oxidized it with the Patina Blue antiquing solution. I crowned the larger box with it using vintage standard (not Phillips!) screws.And finally, I added hanging hardware to the back.  The entire assemblage art project ultimately took days, weeks, months, or years, depending how you break it down. I will have this assemblage art for sale at the upcoming Americana Art Fest on May 12, in Petaluma, California,.

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