Painting! Three-dimensionally! This is a guide to making your own layered resin painting. Disclaimer: making a three dimensional painting will also require a good chunk of the 4th dimension. This medium demands patience, but the final result makes it all worthwhile.
Pictured above is my first attempt at this technique. I posted this picture on Reddit, and tons of people were asking about my methods. Given the interest and the overwhelmingly positive reception of the piece, I was inspired to share what I have learned.
Step 1: Materials
First and foremost, let's cover safety.
It is important to take precautions when working with resin. Make sure to read and follow the warnings from the manufacturer. For the sake of brevity, I won't repeat them here. That said, when working with resin, you want to avoid getting it on your skin, and avoid breathing the fumes when mixing and curing.
My safety equipment includes:
- Eye protection
- Latex gloves
- A closed off room in which to leave curing resin
Ok, with safety covered, here's what you'll need:
- Resin: Parks Super Glaze. Available at Home Depot and on Amazon
- Graduated disposable measuring cups, 8 oz.
- Popsicle sticks, for mixing
- The container that will be the outside of your piece
- Heat gun
- Paint brushes
- Acrylic paint
Step 2: Measuring and Mixing
If you want to be accurate about how thick your layer will be, you should first calculate how much resin you should prepare per layer.
- Think about how many layers you would like in your piece, and divide your container's depth by that number to get your desired thickness. I usually do around 1/8" thick layers at most.
- Take that desired thickness number and multiply by the area of your piece to get the total volume needed per layer. 1 fluid ounce is 1.8in^3 (~29.6 cm^3 for those of you not using Freedom Units).
- Divide that total number of ounces in half, and that'll be how much you measure out of both Part A and B of the resin.
Don your safety equipment. Pour an equal amount of Part A and Part B into your graduated measuring cup-- the ratio of Part A to Part B is 1:1 with this particular brand of resin. Mix for at least two minutes. Since it's pretty viscous, make sure to scrape the sides and reach all the places where unmixed resin could hide. Your solution should look fairly homogenous after mixing (there will be a lot of bubbles in it at this point). Now, you're ready to pour!
Step 3: Pouring Resin and Popping Bubbles
You'll want to do these next steps in a relatively dust and hair free environment. Dust will get in your piece, but we'll cover how to deal with that in the next step.
Pour the resin into your container. Tilt your piece from side to side until the bottom of the surface is covered completely. You can tilt the piece so the resin coats the walls of the interior if you want-- this will make it easy to scrape any errant paint off the sides that might get there by accident, while paint would be harder to remove from uncoated wood.
Use your heat gun on the low setting and move it over your piece. Do not linger on one area too long, because you risk burning or scarring the resin. (Pro-tip: flush the dust out of your heat gun by turning it on and blowing it elsewhere before you use it on your piece.)
Most of the big bubbles will pop pretty quick (which is pretty satisfying to watch), but look out for those little guys. Shine a light over your piece and see if there bubbles casting shadows.
Step 4: Dealing With Dust
While shining a light over your piece to look for bubbles, you might notice some flecks and fibers on the surface of your piece already. Dust, hair, and fibers are SO annoying in this process, and aside from some sort of lab environment, it's pretty much impossible to keep them out of the resin entirely. However, with proper methods (and some luck) the dust will remain virtually invisible in your piece. Sidenote: It's really quite amazing how much dust and hair is everywhere. It's floating in the air, we're breathing it all the time... Working with resin will give you a renewed sense of wonder about how much is going on at the micro level all around us.
Finding Dust and Hair
While shining a light over your piece, look directly at the glare on the surface. Debris on top will be visible due to the surface tension of the resin disrupting the glare. Track back and forth over your piece to find those pesky floating buggers. Focus on the bigger ones. The super tiny ones will mostly disappear after your next layer, but make sure to get hairs and larger fibers because they will be visible.
You can use torn off pieces of paper as "lures" to fish them out. Corners of paper are particularly good because they hook onto the fibers nicely. Be careful about re-using the same lure to get out subsequent debris, because you risk putting previously fished dust/hair back into the resin.
Keeping Them Out
After your resin is sufficiently dust free, cover the whole piece with something to keep more dust from falling onto it while it cures. I often use tinfoil or place a wood board on top. Tin foil is advantageous in that you can wrap it around the edges. Dust is pretty magical in that it can sneak through the tiniest of holes...
Dealing with Sneaky Ones
Gasp! Large dust flecks, or even worse, a hair, made it into your piece after the layer already cured. Dang, you might have to adapt your piece to cover it. On multiple occasions I've had to add sections to my design to cover hair/dust. However, I usually end up really liking the additions that the initial imperfection necessitated. One of the most engaging elements of art and design is problem-solving. Don't cry over spilled milk and find a clever solution! That said, if you really want to get something out, you can sand through the resin to remove the imperfection, which is a lot of work... but we'll cover that later.
Step 5: Curing
Keep the curing piece in a place that you're not breathing in the fumes. The curing process is driven by heat, not by exposure to air and evaporation. As such, don't keep the piece anywhere cold while it's curing because this will significantly slow the process. On the flip side, you can heat the piece to speed up curing, but don't get it too hot-- refer to manufacturers' recommendations. I left a piece in the oven too hot for too long once, and it went... poorly (see picture above). The layer should take around 8 hours to cure at room temperature, at which point you can start painting on it!
Step 6: Painting
Woot! You poured a layer of resin! Now the fun part.
Painting on resin is different than painting on canvas. It's extremely smooth, so the paint doesn't grab onto the surface. This makes it difficult to paint opaque elements in one stroke, but it allows for the awesome ability to add semi-transparent elements! Pictured above is a brush stroke. Cool, transparency! If you want to make it opaque, you'll have to wait for the paint to dry and paint another coat on top.
Another great aspect of painting on resin is the ability to wipe off paint easily if it is still wet, and you can even scrape off paint that is dry. This means that you can prototype and experiment with your paintbrush, because you can always just wipe or scrape it away. If some small scratches appear while you are scraping away, for the most part, these will disappear after you pour the next layer.
Sometimes I use masking tape as illustrated in the pictures to get some nice crisp, straight edges, as shown in the second picture. The next photos show the first 4 layers.
Prepping for the next layer
After you finish painting a layer, you'll want to clean off the surface to keep the piece crystal clear. I use a damp paper towel, and finish with a microfiber cloth– use the same trick of looking at the glare on the surface to find smudges and removable gunk. Again, don't worry about tiny scratches that might show up from cleaning.
After you've cleaned the surface, return to the previous step and pour the next layer. Repeat the process of pouring and painting until your container is full!
Step 7: Fixing Large Imperfections
Bad stuff can happen to your piece, and you might need to take dramatic action. In the picture above, the top layer of resin touched the dust cover that I placed on top while it was curing, leaving a large raised imperfection in the bottom right of the piece. With an imperfection this big, I had to fix it somehow...
If there are imperfections in the resin that you just cant live with, you can sand down the piece and re-pour the layer, ideally returning it to total clarity. Be sure to wear a respirator if you are sanding, and take measures to make sure you don't breathe the dust or expose others to it. You really don't want that particulate matter in your lungs, it's essentially very small particles of plastic.
If your imperfection is deep, you can use a dremel or rotary tool to get rid of material faster. Afterwards, start with a low grit sand paper and work your way up to 600 grit. Wet sanding helps minimize particulate matter. After you've gotten up to 600 grit, you should be able to pour the next layer and have it return to completely clear. I'm actually still in the midst of this process with the piece pictured above, but the manufacturer assured me this should work.
Step 8: Finishing Touches
To preserve your piece, put a UV protective layer in front of it to keep the resin from yellowing. Resin gets pretty heavy when it is a thick piece, so make sure the materials you use can handle the weight. I made my housing for my first piece with laser cut white acrylic, which holds a layer of UV protective plastic, but does not actually hold the weight of the piece. To hang the piece, I put some eye screws into the wooden frame that is the container, and wrapped wire between them.
Step 9: Make More!
Here's some pictures of a few more of my pieces, I hope they resinate with you... heh heh. I've started experimenting with using glass containers, which is quite neat because you can see the layers through the side. Also, the top layer reflects the inside of the piece, which looks pretty cool too-- you can see this effect in the second picture. If you're interested, you can check out more of my art on my Instagram, Facebook, or Behance.
I'm excited to see what other people can create with this method. May your bubbles all pop, and your dust be invisible! Good luck!