Posts Tagged ‘DIY’

Old House Problem Number One Billion: Lead

Monday, February 4th, 2019

Sit down, friends, because this is a long-ass story.

In late summer 2017, not long after E had left for deployment, Lincoln and Finnegan had their 3 year and 1 year well-child check-ups. Because I hadn’t gotten Linc’s lead level checked at his 2nd birthday check-up, they sent us home with slips to get both boys’ levels checked.

When Evan and Caroline were babies, lead levels were done by finger prick test in the doctor’s office during the appointment. If the level was high or borderline, then you got sent for a venous blood draw at the lab. It was super easy and non-invasive and also I couldn’t lose the lab slips and then totally forget about it because it happened right there in the office.

A week or so after I wrangled two screaming, miserable children into the lab to get stabbed with needles (it always takes at LEAST two stabs, because they’re tiny people and have tiny veins), I got a call from the peds office saying their levels had come back elevated. They were both around an 11.

Up into very recently (2012), the cut-off for lead levels was a 10, which meant anything under a 10 was considered fine. Now it’s 5. They don’t actually classify it as lead poisoning or take any medical steps to treat it until it’s over 45. Just so you have a baseline for how elevated an 11 is.

Because both boys were under the age of 6, the pediatrician reported their lead levels to the town health department. I talked on the phone for a while with a health department nurse, who told me she wasn’t that concerned, it wasn’t a huge deal. We live in an old house, there’s probably still some lead paint around, although everything has been painted over at least five times. She suggested feeding them more red meat and getting a vitamin with iron.

A few days later, she called again. They wanted to come look at the house. OK.

I gave the nurse and her assistant a tour, I guess to prove that I wasn’t living in a falling down, unsafe shack. I showed them all the construction we had done over the summer when we had to have the kitchen ceiling and walls ripped out and the upstairs bathroom gutted. We talked about how the construction had caused a lot of dust and that was probably where the lead had come from. She seemed satisfied that since we weren’t doing any more construction, we were probably fine.

A few days later, she called again. She wanted to send someone out to do some lead sample testing. OK.

I scheduled an appointment with the woman who does sample testing. She was TWO HOURS late, with no excuse, and then was annoyed that I had an appointment and had to leave after 30 minutes. She also pointed at a bunch of places in my house and declared that they were DEFINITELY full of lead and going to be a HUGE problem. (Spoiler, she was completely wrong.)

She was SO rude to me, you guys. The whole thing was a miserable, degrading, exhausting mess and I’m a college-educated middle class english-speaking white lady. If I was someone who had to take off of work to make appointments or didn’t have a car to drive to the lab or all the free time necessary to fill out paperwork this would have been EVEN WORSE.  

When the surface lead tests came back, the good news is all the interior paint was fine. The lead seems to be isolated on the front porch, part of the basement, and the exterior of our original windows. But the bad news was the entire reason we hadn’t already replaced all the ancient windows in the house is because we don’t have that kind of cash, especially considering we had just paid to have the bathroom redone and the kitchen damage repaired.

The nurse from the health department suggested I look into state or federally funded grants that help people get the lead removed from their house. I spoke to a guy at the town who told me it was worth my time to fill out the paperwork, even though I was skeptical that we would fall within the income guidelines. I picked up the packet and spent days trying to fill it out. Because E was deployed and I didn’t have access to his email (neither did he) it took a million phone calls, faxes and copies of my power of attorney to get copies of his pay stubs, our taxes, insurance, mortgage, investments and everything else.

After I turned in the packet, that guy at the office assured me they would do their best to approve my application. Having four kids made us a priority, so they were going to move as fast as possible to get things started. That was October 2017.

I waited. Somewhere around Christmas, I got a call from a guy at a company called Connecticut Lead. He said since we were part of the lead abatement program, he needed to come to extensive lead testing on all of the surfaces, to make up an exact plan. I told him I had no idea we had been accepted by the program, but yay? I also told him he could come as soon as he wanted. Just after the first of the year 2018, I emailed him the original lead test I had from the rude woman at the health department so he knew where they had already looked.

Connecticut Lead did their inspection and told me they would turn in a report within two weeks to the lead program at town hall. Once the town had the report they had to review it and send it to the health department to make sure it was acceptable.

This is where things fall apart. I had hustled as much as I could to get stuff filled out, turned in, schedule inspections and answer questions within days if not hours. I had been told back in October we would get the lead fixed “before the winter was over”.

Instead, the guy I had been talking to at the town left his job. No one took over our file. When I called to check in, no one knew who I was. When they promised to find my file and call me back, I didn’t hear anything. When I followed up, I was told they HAD reviewed the report and sent it to the health department. I asked if I should follow up with the health department to make sure they were looking at it and was told we were a “priority” file because of the kids, so not to worry. They implied it would be rude to bother the people at the health department.

LIES.

E came home from deployment in February and I was able to fill him in on what was happening. He was surprised we were still in the middle of a process he thought would already be underway, but was happy about the grant approval.

In late March, FOUR MONTHS after the last time there was anything for me to do to move things along, I got a phone call from that rude lead level tester at the health department. She didn’t remember me. She wanted to schedule a lead inspection. I was polite, but VERY confused. Not only did our file already contain an extensive report from a real lead testing company, SHE HERSELF had already done a test. What in the world did she need to come test again??

She said she would call me back. I called the town to check in, emailed the nurse at the health department, and generally freaked out about what was (not) happening, but no one knew.

In early May, the town called and said we needed to update our application. They need to review your financials every 6 months to make sure you still qualify for the grant, and since they had dragged the process out for so long we were at the 6 month mark (with zero results or abatement of any kind).

We got them the paperwork they asked for.

The new lady at the town offices called and told us sorry, we no longer qualified for any grants of any kind. Oh well, bye.

I was beyond upset. All of that work for NOTHING. And this entire time I had been taking the boys in for lead tests, every 3 months. Their levels were coming down slowly but surely, thanks to the vitamins, my constant cleaning, handwashing and keeping them away from the porch as much as possible. But removing all the lead everywhere inside and outside the house was beyond our personal ability or finances.

At this point E took over. He tried to point out that we hadn’t done anything wrong but were being screwed over by people who never looked at our file. He spoke to the head of the lead abatement program and walked the guy through the timelines. While the guy agreed that yeah, it did look like both the health department and his office had dropped the ball, we were just out of luck because our last tax return said we made too much money.

Do you know why we made too much money on that return? Because E had reenlisted in the Navy and gotten a bonus. His pay and my business hadn’t made too much money. The fact that he signed up to serve the country for another 4 years is what bumped us just over the limit. If they looked at any other return for the last decade we have lived in this house, we qualified.

Once we provided as much documentation as possible in desperation (please look at this credit card we maxed out while fixing the bathroom, please please please), we were told there was a tiny chance we could get a waiver. I wanted to know who we could ask, who I could talk to, what I could do because I was SO tired of leaving everything in other people’s hands, but was brushed aside again.

We waited weeks again. Finally we were told they were going to let us keep the grant, HALLELUJAH, which meant we could go ahead with the next step of the process – finding a contractor.

At this point, my husband moved to New Hampshire. He’s still there. He comes home on weekends, mostly, but I’m doing day-to-day life alone with the kids.

There was a bid process, but only two companies bid. We were told to wait, then told we should redo the plan to include updating the heating system, but that ended up being SO expensive even the additional grant the town offered wouldn’t cover it. We scrapped the plan to update anything else and decided to just stick with fixing the stupid lead as soon as we could.

We signed contracts. We signed more contracts. We realized we will basically have to live here forever to have the grant forgiven, but whatever. We need to fix the lead, let’s get started.

BUT WAIT THERE’S MORE. Because we live in an old house, and fall within an historic district, we needed approvals on our plan from something called the Historic District Commission. I was told to put together an application and wait for their meeting, where they MIGHT approve it, but if they didn’t we’d have to wait longer. I discovered a friend used to be on the town HDC and that she was willing to put me in touch with someone still on the commission, so I sent a long email explaining what we had been through: the boys’ lead levels, the inspections, losing our files, the many blood draws, my desire to just be told WHAT WAS GOING ON and not brushed aside.

She was incredibly sympathetic, but did we know that our house didn’t actually fall under the purview of the town Historic District Commission? I don’t need their approval, although she said they could write me one based on the plan I submitted if I needed it for HUD.

THIS right here is what I am most pissed about. Did anyone ever apologize for telling us we needed this very specific approval we didn’t actually need? NOPE. No one is sorry, no one is in trouble, no one is going to check and make sure the next family doesn’t get screwed over because no one at town hall will LOOK AT A MAP.

My contractor and I were READY TO GO. Woooooot no historic approvals, which meant we could do vinyl windows instead of expensive wood windows and save a bunch of cash. He wrote up the order to get started and called the guy at town hall to make sure. They actually started work on the parts of the plan that don’t need approval, like stripping and sanding the porch, so at least the porch is now lead-free.

Hahahahaha just kidding on the rest of it though. It turns out that we fall into a STATE LEVEL historic district, which means we need a STATE LEVEL approval. I am still not sure why this wasn’t ever mentioned before. If we needed a STATE LEVEL approval, why didn’t we do that in the first place? My friend at the HDC said the HDC would still write me an approval, even if we weren’t technically under their jurisdiction, so if that approval would have been good enough a week ago, why wasn’t it good enough now?

WHO KNOWS.

The guy at the town told us he would fill out the STATE LEVEL paperwork and submit it. He told me the best-case scenario is that they don’t actually ever look at our application, because if we don’t hear from them within 30 days we can proceed. It was now October 2018, which means in 30 days it would be Thanksgiving, which means we’re looking at Christmas before anything gets finalized which means we’re already into 2019 before the windows even get ORDERED.

I was beyond skeptical. I had been told for more than a year that I just needed to WAIT. Wait for other people to look at the papers, wait for an approval I don’t need, trust them, they know what they’re doing.

I was done waiting.

I tracked down someone at the STATE LEVEL to make sure they got my application.

The guy from the town called. He was pissed. He tried to tell me I messed things up, because now the state historic people weren’t going to let us use vinyl windows and if I had just not talked to them we could have waited out the 30 day process and done whatever we wanted. I tried to point out it had been MORE THAN A GODDAMN YEAR since this process started and all I had done was wait, so I wasn’t sure I believed him.

I confirmed with the woman at the state that I did in fact need her approval, I always had needed her approval, and the paperwork could have been sent in the same day we got our contractor instead of when I was sitting around waiting for the Historic District Commission meeting. If that had been done, either the 30 day waiting period or the approval would have already happened. I sent her proof and pictures that our windows had to be replaced, not rebuilt, and she agreed with 90% of our contractor’s plan and worked out the small details before sending it back to the town.

It didn’t help. Our timeline was already wrecked. Our contractor was already booked with as much work as he could take between November and Christmas. Plus he needed to special order our authentic, historic approved wood windows. The only company that made them had a 6-week turnaround, which put us into January, but then they had a delay, so the current delivery date is FEBRUARY.

That’s February, 2019, a full year after my husband got back from deployment and seventeen months after Lincoln and Finnegan first tested at an 11 for lead.

Last month I took them for lead re-tests (that makes SEVEN venous blood draws) and they’re both at a 6. In July, Linc turns 5 and at which point a 6 is no longer considered elevated.

So this brings us to now. The current project start date is February 11th.

But wait, here’s the best part. One of the rules with this lead abatement work is that we can’t live here while the work is being done. We all have to go live…somewhere else. The good news is the town actually has an empty apartment they lend to families who are displaced because of lead (it’s an old town, this happens more than you’d think). The bad news is it’s a 3 bedroom, with no dishwasher or TV, on the second floor of a super old building with a lot of rickety stairs and no parking.

We’ll be living there somewhere between two weeks and a month. Possibly more. The dog and cat can come with us, but for most of it, my husband will be stuck in New Hampshire doing shift work so I’ll be wrangling the entire circus on my own.

We also have to pack up most of our house into trash bags, to minimize the exposure to lead dust. Everything that’s out, on shelves or walls or counters has to be covered. It’s going to take a week to pack it all up and way more than a week to put it all back.

After they do the actual work on the house, we have to wait for another full lead inspection report to come back, to make sure the abatement and clean up was complete. If this process has taught me anything, it’s that waiting for someone to finish their paperwork takes five times as long as it’s supposed to. I’m assuming it will be April before we get everything back to normal here at home.

It’s going to be a stressful month, to say the least. I was feeling a low level of constant dread even before Christmas, but my current anxiety is at defcon 2.
I realize this isn’t a worst case scenario in many, many ways: the boys don’t have lead poisoning, we aren’t fighting a scummy landlord who refuses to help, we don’t have to move permanently, we don’t have to come up with tens of thousands of dollars out of pocket, we don’t have to pay for a hotel during the work, the kids won’t miss school or activities, and the house is going to be SO much easier and cheaper to keep warm. But the process has made me feel terrible about myself as a human and as mother. I cannot wait for it to be over.

Adulting: Tiny Powder Room Makeover

Monday, February 13th, 2017

Welcome to Adulting, which is me being an adult. You would think that because I am a 34-year-old woman with a mortgage and four children I might already be an adult. That’s possible, I guess. Technically I am an adult. But I am also someone who never puts away laundry, always has dishes in the sink, hides messes instead of dealing with them, and ignores all possible hard things as long as possible. In my mind, those are all things adults don’t do. Those are things trash people do when they are in college and live in crappy shared apartments.

My goal for 2017 is to stop being a trash person and start being an adult. I need to get my junk under control – all kinds of junk, both physical and mental. One of the ways I’ve started doing that is by fixing and changing things in our house that do not bring me joy. (If that phrasing sounds familiar, it’s because I’m reading The Life-Changing Art of Tidying Up, although I’m not ready to commit to it as an actual lifestyle.) I’ve hated our kitchen faucet since the day we moved in, but I’ve never done anything about it. Now we have a new faucet and I am 100% more likely to do the dishes.

The first room I decided to make more joyful is our downstairs powder room. It is a teeny, tiny little bathroom and I had a budget of approximately $50 so it isn’t as dramatic as a real bathroom makeover. I would love to replace the tile on the sink and the floor eventually. But there is plenty I can fix right now. And I did!

Here are the befores:

tiny powder room makeover

It really is teeny tiny. And whoever put in the tile used brown grout. I hate them.

tiny powder room makeover

I found that painting at a garage sale in our neighborhood years ago and plan to keep it forever.

tiny powder room makeover

This was a very misguided attempt at making the cheap plywood vanity look nicer. I messed it up and never fixed it.

tiny powder room makeover

At least the huge mirrors on this wall make the room feel a little bigger.

And here are the afters:

tiny powder room makeover

The wall color looks different in EVERY single picture. It’s a medium-dark green, not quite kelly green and not quite hunter green. I was going for emerald and it makes me very happy. It’s called Tournament Field and it’s Behr semi-gloss.

We have to have full coverage on that window because it looks right into our neighbor’s yard. But the curtain felt messy and the mini-blinds were always dirty, so this nice solid shade is a huge improvement. The kids still need their stool, but with the small trash can on the other side I can move the stool out of the way for grown ups.

tiny powder room makeover

The painting stays.

tiny powder room makeover

I painted the vanity the same color as the walls, so it looks more built in.

tiny powder room makeover

This container can hold my mascara, face lotion and wipes, a few bandages and other tiny things that used to just sit on the counter.
tiny powder room makeover

Tiny fake succulent from TJMaxx because I would kill a real plant but the green looks so nice in here.

tiny powder room makeover

This seemed like a good reminder to see several times every day.

tiny powder room makeover

Nice matching hand towels. I still need one more set so I can rotate when they’re in the wash, but the embroidered Christmas ones had to go ASAP.
tiny powder room makeover

Isn’t that color so much happier? I am definitely 110% less embarrassed to let people use my bathroom than I have been for the last decade.

DIY Bunny Ears Flower Crown

Monday, March 7th, 2016

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I got everyone’s Easter outfits last week. I’m not saying it’s super important to Jesus if the kids show up to church in coordinating spring finery, but if it was MY rise from the dead I’d definitely appreciate the effort. It just doesn’t feel like Easter in New England without everyone in pastel clothing and ruffle socks shivering under their winter coats.

easter throwback

Photo taken indoors, because it was probably snowing outside. I have both of those dresses upstairs in Caroline’s vintage dress collection.

While I did decide to forego forcing a hat on Lincoln, I managed to find one for Evan I expect will be worn daily almost all summer. I feel like the fact that he loves straw fedoras means I’m not completely screwing up this parenting thing. Caroline is still debating her sartorial options right now – the availability of Easter bonnets in the $1 section of Target makes it quite the decision – but I thought I might add an option and combine a couple of her favorites into one thing: A bunny ears flower crown headband.

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I got all my supplies at Michael’s Crafts and spent about $40 total, but that number is really high because I had to replace my missing glue gun. If you keep better track of your’s than I do of mine you should be able to get out of the craft store for under $20 and the supplies to make 8+ headbands. You could definitely get the same supplies at Joann or A.C. Moore.

DIY bunny ears flower crown headband

-Plastic Headbands (I found them with the party favors)
– Silver spray paint
– Fake flowers
– Glue gun
– Scissors
– Pipe cleaners
– Florist wire (I didn’t end up using it, but it was a pipe cleaner alternative in case they were too short)

I really lucked out with these headbands. I was looking for plain, one band plastic but these were even more perfect. Don’t go too thin or you won’t have enough space to glue down the flowers very well. These had holes that made attaching the pipe cleaner ears a piece of cake.

DIY bunny ears flower crown headband-2

DIY bunny ears flower crown headband-3

To make the ears, I just folded a pipe cleaner in half and creased it to make a point, then laced the ends through the headband. Then I twisted each ear around twice to secure it. I knew I’d be glue a bunch of flowers over them, so I didn’t add any glue just for the pipe cleaners. For the non-flower version, a dab wouldn’t hurt.

Then I chopped up the flowers into more manageable pieces. I kept some as stems to make a base and made some single flowers. I also pulled out a bunch of the leaves to mix and match among the flowers.

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The glue held surprisingly well. I burned my fingers a few times holding the flowers on while it dried but nothing tragic. I put a few bigger flowers up near the ears on each crown, but mostly did the smaller flowers.

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Evan requested a sparkly silver pair for himself, so I spray painted a couple of the headbands silver and used the sparkly silver pipecleaners.

DIY bunny ears flower crown headband-7

This was my final bunny ears flower crown (and non flower crown) collection after about 90 minutes:

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All three flower crowns match Caroline’s new Easter dress, so she’s going to have a hard time choosing. I guess we’ll just have to plan a few spring-themed photoshoots so she gets a chance to wear all of them. Today, Linc just really wanted to get in on the action.

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That wasn’t really much of a how-to because bunny ears flower crowns are really easy. The good part is hot glue is cheap and pipe cleaners bend, so even if Linc insists on grabbing them we can repair any missing flowers and reshape the ears. I recommend leaving an inch or so of headband at the bottom bare so the plastic parts of the flowers don’t poke anyone where it really hurts. Other than that it’s all personal decisions. A single color flower would look very chic – like all white or all peach. If you wanted bigger ears you could use the fuzzy floral wire and then you could get away with bigger flowers for a grown up. I should have bought more greenery to do a boy-friendly version (Evan vetoed the flowers, even though I tried) besides just the plain ones. But overall, I love how they came out. It’s so rare I have a crafty vision these days, it was wonderful to get a chance to be creative.

Let me know if you make any, I’d love to see pictures!!

I Bleached My Hair And It Didn’t Fall Out

Wednesday, September 2nd, 2015

I am NOT a beauty or style blogger, but sometimes I do something and I want to talk about it so here I go.

I was chatting with my friend Amy about how I am old and boring and uncool (PSA: never watch the VMAs over the age of 25) and how I really needed a change. We have this chat a lot, and it usually ends up with one of us getting bangs. This time, I was complaining about how I really needed to get my hair done but couldn’t decide if what I needed was a color fix or if I should just do something fun like the pink I did a couple years ago. She mentioned bleach shampoo, which I had never heard of but from the name it seemed perfect.

Luckily, there’s an XOVain tutorial that was easy to follow and very thorough. My experience with coloring my own hair is limited. I’ve done lemon juice highlights from sitting in the sun, a couple of boxed dyes, plus the Manic Panic pink layer, but the rest of the time I either live with my natural color or use a salon. I had never even BEEN in a Sally Beauty Supply before, but I threw all 3 kids in the car to go stare at stuff in the hair dye aisle before settling on this:

bleach shampoo

I used L’oreal Quick Blue High Performance Powder Bleach, because the internet tutorial I found said blue bleach was better, plus the 1 oz package seemed easier than measuring. I used Blond Brilliance Creme Developer 5 Volume because I was really scared of frying my hair. I didn’t know much about developers besides they’re the thing you mix with the other thing when you buy a box of hair dye, so I took the internet’s advice and went with a super low level one – 5 barely does anything, 10 or 20 is average, 30 or 40 should probably be left to a professional. Since I’m naturally blond, it’s already pretty light from the summer, and my hairdresser once told me my hair “lifts really easily” I figured I’d start at the lowest and if it didn’t work I’d try again with a 10. The 5 turned out to be perfect.

I mixed the 1 oz of powder bleach with 1 oz of the developer and then a big squirt of the shampoo until it was a liquidy consistency that was easy to slop on my head. The shampoo made it a lot easier to spread around evenly than a box of hair dye and that one batch went a LONG way – I have a lot of hair and it covered all of it. I started at my roots in the front, since they were darkest and I wanted the front part to be lightest.

These pictures are: before, with wet hair, during with my sexy shower cap, right after in my bathroom’s yellow light and the next day in natural light.

iPhone Week 252

Here’s the official before and after no-make-up photos, taken by my 4-year-old:

collage

 

Looking at the pictures the change is subtle, but in person it looks really natural – it isn’t uniformly platinum or brassy. I think the biggest change is on the top of my head and in the back where my dark blond is now medium-light blond. I was on 3rd day hair when I bleached it, so my roots were extra oily, but that seemed to protect them from damage. The ends are a liiiiiittle bit fried but I am 4 months overdue for a trim so I think ANY color would have done that.

I give the whole process an A+ and I plan to do it again when my roots grow out. Maybe I’ll use a 10 developer next time and see if I can gradually bring my hair back to my childhood towhead blond. I’m still debating a fun color, especially after seeing the amazing options at Sally Beauty Supply – lavender! mint! teal! bright blue! I still can’t decide if I’m too old for “fun” hair. I mean, I still think I’m fun, but I also like going to bed before 10 pm.

p.s. I also dyed my eyebrows (!!!!!!!) which is something I’ve wanted to do for YEARS but was too scared to try. It was a piece of cake and I feel like it makes a huge difference in my face. I used a semi-permanent color and developer and did it twice in a row – 15 minutes, then wiped it off, then another 10 minutes because I wasn’t sure it was dark enough. Literally no one as has “What did you do to your eyebrows?” but people have said “You look really nice today!” and my desire to take selfies has increased 300%.

OK, that was more than enough talk about beauty stuff for a long time. Back to my yoga pants and top knot I go!

DIY Giant Painted Silhouette Canvas

Thursday, April 25th, 2013

DIY Giant Painted Silhouette Canvas

I bought this huge canvas at A.C. Moore a few months ago. They were running an great sale on canvases – I think I bought it for less than $20 – and I’ve been looking for something large to hang over the fireplace basically since the day we moved in 6 years ago. I’ve hung collections of things, put giant vases on the mantel, made banners and art before but nothing has ever really filled the space the way I wanted. I knew a 3×4 canvas would finally be the right size but it’s been sitting in my basement for weeks now while I brainstormed what exactly I should do with it. I am decidedly NOT an artist, and although I found some cool DIY art on Pinterest I wasn’t in love with any of the ideas (and wasn’t confident in my ability to execute them).

DIY Giant Silhouette

While I was talking with my IBFF (internet best friend forever) Amy, she suggested doing silhouettes of the kids. She actually made one and blogged it almost two years ago (and shouts me out in the post, because seriously IBFF!) so I used the same basic idea – took a picture of the kids’ profiles in front of a window, printed them and cut the shape out carefully. But because I wanted to make GIANT painted silhouettes I had to figure out the rest on my own.

Supplies:

Canvas
Spray paint
Craft paint
Paint brushes (at least 1 small and 1 large)
Cardstock
Printer
Scissors/craft knife
Box
Pen
Clothespin/tape/paperclip/whatever you need to get the angles right
Smartphone with flashlight app (or a very strong flashlight)

Instructions:

I took my canvas outside to paint it, which wasn’t the best choice because it was pretty windy and I ended up with spray paint on my back door. Eh, not the first time.

DIY Giant Painted Silhouette Canvas

Ignore the tree shaddows

I picked blue for my background colors since I was hanging it in a blue room but any colors would work. In a kid’s room a whole rainbow would be really fun. If you were just doing 1 silhouette instead of two you could do it vertically.

DIY Giant Painted Silhouette Canvas

 

From top to bottom: white base paint for a picture frame, kitchen stool, nursery project, picture frame, kid-size cabinet, and failed lamp shade project. All found in my basement with enough left for this project.

I lined them up from darkest to lightest and worked from the outside in on the canvas. Then I went back and used the white to lighten anywhere it felt REALLY uneven. This is what it looked like in the bright outside light:

DIY Giant Painted Silhouette Canvas

I’m not going to win any painting contests but I like it (and E was surprised I had made it myself – he thought it was actual art). I let the spray paint dry for a few hours – there wasn’t a lot of paint so it didn’t take long – while I talked the kids into posing for their profile photos. They were both in cooperative moods so it didn’t take long.

DIY Giant Painted Silhouette Canvas

Try to get a picture where your kid’s nose DOESN’T blend into the background. It still worked fine.

To make the cutting edges more distinct I lowered the blacks slider and converted the pictures to black and white in Lightroom (totally optional). Then I printed them out on cardstock (I happened to have brown, but the color doesn’t matter) and cut out just the silhouettes as closely and cleanly as possible.

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Then came the hardest part: figuring out how to get that cut-out silhouette big enough to trace onto the canvas.

My first thought was I’d just hold one up next to a lamp and trace the shadow, sort of like a super-simple version of a projector. Unfortunately, a regular light bulb doesn’t direct the light strongly enough to make a crisp shadow. I tried to make a DIY projector with a cardboard box taped over the lamp but it still wasn’t clear enough.

I tried asking the internet and my husband and they both suggested I find an overhead projector so I called the library and after a lot of shuffling departments and waiting on hold they said yes they DID still have a projector and if I wanted to bring my canvas in they could set me up in one of the conference rooms on Wednesday. That would have been a good option if I hadn’t figured out an at-home solution. I got impatient waiting for Wednesday and during a little more Googling I found a tip that the flashlight app on a smartphone makes a really bright, direct light.

So I made this:

DIY Shadow Projector

That’s my iPhone with the flashlight app turned on, propped up against a book inside an empty box, with the silhouette clipped to the end with a clothespin. I set it on the coffee table and pulled it back until it the shadow was the right size on the canvas. You definitely need a dark room to make it work right, but luckily the sun goes down around 8 pm (I think it’s called “night”?) so I didn’t have to move the canvas.

DIY Shadow Projector

I traced it with a regular ballpoint pen, being careful not to move the canvas. I should have used a level and a measuring tape to space the two silhouettes exactly right, but I just guessed based on the color stripes on the canvas. Then I switched out Caroline’s silhouette for Evan’s, moved the canvas (it seemed easier than moving the light projector set up) and traced Evan’s. I adjusted the distance a little to make his silhouette slightly bigger than Caroline’s but not so much the finished product would look unbalanced.

DIY Giant Painted Silhouette Canvas

I used black craft paint to fill in the silhouette shapes. I used a medium brush to do the major edges and a tiny brush to do things like their bangs and Caroline’s eyelashes. I filled everything in with a medium sized brush and went back over the edges to make sure they were colored in fully. I messed up both their noses a tiny bit and noses are very important in making a silhouette that looks like your child, so be extra careful. I did NOT wait long enough for it to dry before I propped it up on the mantel, so I got a black paint drip on Evan’s side. Luckily the cheap craft store brand of paint was easy to peel off the spray painted canvas so I fixed it. The other option would have been taping up the silhouette and spray painting over the mistake.

The last step was finally taking down the train station banner from Evan’s birthday party and putting a nail in the wall to hang it up!

DIY Giant Painted Silhouette Canvas

Aaaand then take some pictures. I’m happy with how it turned out. High fives for easy, inexpensive artwork!

DIY Giant Painted Silhouette Canvas

Ta-da! I’m so excited to finally have something to fill that space after six years. Total cost: $25 for the canvas sinceI had everything else on hand and approximately 45 minutes worth of total work. Let me know if you try something similar, I’d love to see your spin on it!



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