Friday, October 29, 2010

Distressing Process

A friend of mine was looking at Bastian yesterday and she commented on how perfectly the piece of vintage ribbon was that I used suited him.  She said most people wouldn't even look for something like that when they went antiquing

I laughed and told her that it wasn't vintage at all.  She asked how I could make something look so convincing.  (It's even more convincing when you see it in person, because the coloring to make it look faded and stained is subtle for the most part.) 

 People often wonder how I make the bears and their costuming look aged and worn.  I don't normally give tutorials.  I am not going to give you one now either.  My one secret is how I distress them and what I use, because I have spent literally years figuring it all out and how to make things look dirty that are in fact hermetically clean. 

However, I will give some tips for anyone who is interested in making things look old, whether it's a bear or anything else.

First of all lets go over what not to do.  Years and years ago I went to a show and I saw an artist that had some distressed, vintage looking pieces.  They looked quite amazing.  I picked one up and it felt really odd.  Luckily a customer asked them what they used to make their work look dirty.  The artist said she used real dirt. I immediately went and washed my hands.

I beg you, please never use dirt, sand or gravel to make anything look old.  I think I can safely say that most people want a clean product.

I also urge you to never use any food based products other than possibly tea or coffee.  I have heard of a lot of food based products that people use, but they can fade away quickly, and if you're going to go to all the effort to make something look a certain way you want it to stay looking that way for as long as possible.

Also depending on what type of food based thing you use you can attract bugs or even pets to it.  You don't want your piece chewed up. 

Once you have discovered your perfect distressing medium for whatever you make, the next question is how to apply it?  Many people use an airbrush and in the beginning so did I.  I love the look it gives, it's very soft and easy to apply...but it doesn't really look authentic because it's too even.

I have a mental process that I use.  At this point it's almost subconscious for me to do this as I am working, but in the beginning I really thought this through.  I kind of go through a fictional history of how it got to it's present condition.

Since Bastian is my example for the day, I will use him.  When he was finished being assembled, he hadn't been distressed yet.  I put the shiny new ribbon with the heart on him as if it had been a long necklace.  He looked the way he would have when he would have been first purchased if he was really an old bear.  I always age the costuming after I put it on the bear.

The next question is what would his life have been like?  I know that might sound crazy, but it's important to get to the place you want to be.  I think he would have belonged to a little girl who wasn't terribly rough on her toys.  Some of them would have maybe belonged to children who were rough on their toys which is why some are more distressed than others. 

She probably liked to have tea parties which of course he was always invited to, so he was handled a lot.  That's why he is missing a bit of fur here and there.  She probably had her tea parties outside in the summer and naturally he went along, so his feet and paws would darker from her trailing around with him.  He would have been carried in her arm so that's why he is slouchy in the middle now.  Gravity takes it's toll on all of us.  His joints would loosen a bit, the stuffing would break down in some areas.

I am sure she would have slept with him.  Being right handed like most people she would have had him on her right side which is why the ribbon is flattened and a bit more stained on the side that it is and also why that side of his muzzle is a bit darker than the other.  She would have kissed him goodnight every night because that's what children do with their favorite stuffed toy. 

Through use and play the ribbon would have gotten a few holes here and there and faded from the sun.  As for the safety pins...I don't know, that's just something I would have done as a kid.  Don't ask me why.  I probably would have thought they were pretty because of the color and I would have pinned them to fact when you think about it, I actually did do that to him!  *laughs*

I know that might seem like a lot to go through, but if you want something to come anywhere near looking authentic you have to give it a history in order to make it convincing.  That applies to anything you want to make look old.  Just ask yourself how would this have aged?  If you aren't sure how your type of art would age, try to study authentically old pieces and see the commonalities.  Ask yourself how did it get like that?  Once you can tell that story, you're on the right road.  All that's left to do is mix in a little artistic license!

Hugs, K. <3


julietk said...

Thank you for the insight into your process kelly :-)

Katy Cameron said...

Well for a non-tutorial that was pretty useful, thanks :oD

Len said...

I appreciate that you take the amount of time to go this extra step. It makes all the difference in the would "fine tuning" a pieces appearance.

Kathy said...

Fun to read your post, great information.

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