In the Spring of 2011, I was invited to be an artist-in-residence at Recology San Francisco (a.k.a. The Dump). I treated this residency as a performance by creating a narrative around a prospector from the year 2049, who mines the the landfill to create imaginary devices that let the prospector live comfortably in a place where resources are scarce and the terrain depopulated. I called this the 2049 Series, which later led to the Imagine 2049 Time Capsule (a separate Instructable)
I scavenged all of the materials from the public disposal area at the dump. My "inventions" — ten in total — include the Universal Mailbox, The Sniffer and The 2049 Hotline. Each device includes a hand-painted blueprint that is also laser-etched, fusing DIY technology with ordinary materials.
For various reasons, I had to remake one of the original blueprints — the one for the Universal Mailbox — and want to share the process.
This Instructable will detail the construction of a wood-painted blueprint in just several (but time-consuming) steps.
Step 1: Cut Wood
I used a piece of relatively clean plywood, which I originally found in the dump. I had to pillage my supply of dump debris to dig this up 3 years later.
I cut this to 24" x 18" with the vertical bandsaw, no fence to give it a less finished look.
Afterwards, I rounded out the corners on the belt sander and cleaned the edges with 220 grit sandpaper. The corners are deliberately imperfect since the laser-etching is super-clean. I wanted imbue the 2049 Blueprints with an aura of the handmade.
Step 2: Prime and Paint With a Foam Brush
Using foam brushes, I primed and painted the wood with 2 coats of paint, including the edges. The original blue latex paint was from the dump and came close to a Wile E. Coyote ACME blueprint color.
For laser-etching at Autodesk, I had to purchase a matching color that was VOC-safe for Pier 9.
Step 3: Apply Green Painters Tape
What I wanted to do was to mask off the laster-etched area, which we will later paint white.
I used a green painters Frog tape to create the mask, covering the entire piece of wood with care so that there are no bubbles or creases.
The green frog tape will result in less laser-burn than the blue tape.
Step 4: Laser-etch Imaginary Designs
The key to the blueprints is the design. It includes a diagram of the invention (the original is pictured here). The notation includes bits and pieces of electrical symbols, HVAC symbols, hobo icons and some of my own invented glyphs.
The idea is to suggest some future technology and invite the viewer to look at the aesthetics of symbols.
I did a two-pass laser-etch (results not pictured), which had a relatively clean burn out of etched wood with the green painters tape remaining on the wood for the mask.
Step 5: Spray Paint
Now comes the hard part. Really.
2 coats of primer and then 1 entire can of white wood-friendly spray paint (about 8 coats). This took forever. Getting paint coverage inside the etching area was difficult. If I had been more patient, I would have bought another can and done an even better job.
For the original piece, I used a compressor with a spray gun. This worked no better or worse than the spray paint, but was less toxic. Fortunately, we have a nice spray booth a Pier 9.
Step 6: Peel Off Tape
Peeling off the tape also takes a long time. It's not particularly dramatic. There's just a lot of small pieces in the closed letters, such as the two semi-circular shapes in the 'B' which you can use a fingernail or XActo knife to remove.
Step 7: Cut Cleat
You could do the final touch-up work first, but I prefer cutting and glueing the hanging cleat before this. The final paintwork is always best for the end.
Using the vertical bandsaw, once again no fence, but this time just for speed, I cut a hanging cleat and a stop for the bottom which will go on the back of the painting. Imagine a nail in the wall and the cleat rests on the nail so that the painting can hang evenly.
The stop rests towards the bottom so that the top and the bottom will "float" off the wall about 1/4". Each is positioned about 4" from the top or bottom edge.
Step 8: Glue Cleat
I glued the cleat and the wood step on the back using wood glue. You can eyeball where these should be and as long as they are relatively parallel to the piece, it will be fine.
I left this to dry overnight.
Step 9: Sand Burn and Overflow
Now we have two problems with the front: overflow white spray paint and also laser burn.
There's a lot of sanding to do, first using a 320 grit and then a 400 grit. You want to get all the burn and white paint off, rubbing down to the bare wood, if necessary.
Step 10: Painstaking Touchup
OMG this took like forever. Using a small paintbrush, combined with the occasional foam brush, I painted all the details with blue latex paint. Do not do this step while drinking beer.
Have an extra paper towels on hand with a cup of water. When you inevitably get blue paint into the white painted laser-etched area, stop what you are doing and clean the fresh blue paint off with a damp paper towel.