28/52: Giant Number Photo Collage {DIY Project}


This week’s assigned lyrics:  “Your love is like an ocean that always takes me home.”

From Serena Ryder’s “What I Wouldn’t Do”

Initially, I had another idea in mind for this song, but when I finished Munchkin’s 5th birthday collage this week (finally!), it seemed like an appropriate fit, too. Because really, is there anything I wouldn’t do for this kid? 🙂

It was truly a labor of love and a learning experience, too, since I’ve never attempted paper mâché or photo decoupage before.

Here’s how I did it:

photo 1 (18)

First, I used two trifold presentation boards that were bound for recycling. I drew and cut out two number fives. As you can see, it was done freehand. Later, it dawned on me that it might’ve made some sense to apply some math to this thing. More on that later.

photo 2 (16)

Next, I glued some plastic cups onto the bottom five…


…and then used a bit more glue to place the other five on top. I had to use a few weighted objects to hold down the top while it dried.

photo 5 (1)

Next, I used the remaining pieces of trifold board to cut the sides of the five, which I secured all around with masking tape.

photo 1 (18)

Now that the form of the number was secure, I used some kitchen trash bags pulled as tightly as possible around it to prevent mold.

photo 4 (7)

Time to get messy!  For the paper mâché paste, I mixed one cup of flour to two cups of water and added a pinch of salt.  I dipped strips of newspaper into the paste, squeezed off the excess between my fingers, and then applied the strips in an overlapping fashion. This was a pretty labor-intensive part of the process as it took about 4-5 layers of newspaper. Each layer had to dry completely before the next was added. I was careful to smooth the newspaper (or so I thought), but a few lumps and bumps appeared later on. I also found that because I cut some of the newspaper strips, they didn’t quite blend as well together as the strips that were torn.  Paper mâché n00b here, so “live and learn,” right?

photo 1 (19)

With that many layers, the five felt solid enough to prep for painting. I hit it with a couple of coats of primer, but the newspaper absorbed a lot of it, and it didn’t seem quite right.  There were a few places where the newspaper had bubbled or was peeling up slightly. I wondered if this might have been because of humidity or maybe because of the time that passed in between steps.

photo (60)

After a couple layers of gesso and some light sanding, the surface looked much smoother. I topped that with a single coat of white acrylic paint (Munchkin’s choice).

photo 1 (20)

The prints I had made were all photos taken in the past year. Most were 3 ½x5″ size. As I experimented with layout, I found I had way more than I needed. Here’s the part where I realized more uniform dimensions might have made life a little easier.

photo 3 (14)

I trimmed some of the photos as needed and then used Mod Podge to mount them to the front of the five. One thing I found out  is that it’s harder to Mod Podge with photo paper. You end up needing more of it because of the paper thickness.  I applied the Mod Podge to the back of the photos, and when that was dry, I brushed 3-4 thin layers on top, allowing time to dry in between coats.  I really should’ve stopped there. But because I still had so many photos left over that I wished I could have used, I decided to place photos along the top and sides of the five. This was not a smart move.

Processed with VSCOcam with s1 preset

It was really tricky getting the photos to stick to the curved and uneven parts, and I had to sit there like this applying firm pressure for several minutes at a time.  Some areas were especially stubborn. I also used quarters and rubber bands to hold things in place, so I wouldn’t totally lose my mind. 🙂

photo 5 (3)

After that not-so-pretty battle, the last step was to cover it with two coats of matte sealer.  Whew!  Done!

Although it’s not perfect, I do like the way it turned out. It’s a unique way to display so many treasured moments of Munchkin’s 5th year of life. That was my favorite part of the project: sifting through the photos and lingering over the memories, marveling over her growth.  I don’t print a lot of photos, but completing this project makes me think I should do so more often. It reminds me, too, that documenting her life the way I do may sometimes (like 98% of the time) be a nuisance to her, but maybe someday she’ll thank me. Whether it’s a technically sound image or a snapshot, it doesn’t really matter. What matters is that these moments have been captured, and that is a power to move that’s as great as any ocean’s.


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