The life of two scientists, creating a small home, in big mountains

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Mounting and Hanging Calligraphy Pieces

Chinese painting and calligraphy have been popular art decoration in Chinese household for thousands of years. I brought a couple pieces to the States with me, but never had an opportunity to display them:

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This ink and wash landscape art is the most popular form of Chinese painting. The other piece I own is calligraphy art:

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Chinese painting and calligraphy were drawn on Xuan paper which is soft and fragile. In order to display them, they have to be mounted onto some kind of backing paper first, before being inserted into frames or layered onto silk scrolls.

Dry mounting the calligraphy pieces

There are two ways to mount calligraphy art, wet mount and dry mount. Since I’ve never done either of the two ways before, I chose the dry mount method which looks more foolproof. The dry mount method involves first mounting the art piece onto silicone adhesive paper, then transfer the art to some kind of backing paper. To mount the art pieces onto the silicone adhesive paper, you need an iron, a spray bottle of water, and some thin paper to layer between the iron and the art work. I used a regular clothing iron with parchment paper (for baking).

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You also needed a soft but supportive surface to iron on. Since my art pieces were large, I spread a flat sheet on top of our big coffee table which worked very well.

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I unrolled the silicone adhesive paper, trimmed it a hair narrower and shorter than the art piece, then layered the art work on top of it.

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Then I gently misted the art work with water using the spray bottle. This step is for releasing the tension in the Xuan paper and reduce wrinkles and fold marks. Pay attention to only mist small amount of the water on the art work – the Xuan paper should not be soaking wet. And you do not want to get water on the silicone paper because that will add wrinkle to the final result.

After spraying the Xuan paper wet, I carefully laid the parchment paper on top of the art work, and immediately started ironing. A safe tip is to mist the art work first before even laying it on top of the silicone adhesive paper – and you can always mist the back of the painting instead of the front.

Definitely, definitely do not use the steam function on your iron – it will smear the art and even melt the Xuan paper. Iron the art onto the silicone adhesive paper using low-temp setting (such as silk).

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This particular art piece is nearly 5′ long, so I started ironing from one end, and worked my way up to the other end.

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The silicone adhesive paper is supposed to function as a double sided tape, either to connect the art piece to backing paper for framing, or to connect the art piece directly to a hanging scroll. However, I found that the silicone paper was rigid enough and could serve as alternative backing paper. So I did not use backing paper in this project.

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I used the same method to mount the calligraphy piece. It is smaller so the final result was better:

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Spray, layer, then iron. I worked this piece from the middle out to the sides, so there was no wrinkles at all:

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The dry mount method is fairly straightforward. It only took 15 minutes to get both pieces mounted.

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Framing the calligraphy

To frame the calligraphy I ordered a black frame online. The frame is made with solid wood and acrylic sheet, with a foam board backing. The construction is decent, but a bit too pricy in my opinion. I should have made my own frame with solid wood and glass for much cheaper, but considering the hours involved in DIY frames I decided to go with the easier route.

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I hung the calligraphy piece in my retreat room. I think it pairs well with the hanging plants and bamboo blinds. This piece says “Heaven rewards those who are industrious; The virtuous bear duties onerous”. A more literal translation will be “The Heavens are in motion ceaselessly; The enlightened exert themselves constantly. While the Earth is supportive and natural, Only the virtuous can bear the utmost”.

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Hanging the ink painting

Displaying the ink painting is a bit more difficult. Traditionally, Chinese paintings are displayed on silk-brocaded hanging scrolls with wood rods at the bottom to weight the piece down. However, any hanging scrolls I could found online was too small for this landscape art.

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The simplest way I could think of to display the painting is to add two wooden edges on the top and the bottom of the painting. In this way I can hang the art from the top wooden edge, and the bottom edge can weight down the painting just like the wood rod on the hanging scroll.

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I found a scrape 1″ x 2″ wood piece, cutting it to length to create two wooden edges.

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I shaped the ends of the two wooden edges like arrowheads for a better look.

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To secure the wooden edge onto the painting, I added another piece of scrap wood at the back, so the painting could be sandwiched in between the two wooden pieces.

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To joint the two pieces of wood together, a nail gun was used with the painting in between.

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It looked like this from the front of the painting. We used the same method to create the top edge, then installed mounting hardware on the back of it.

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With a couple pieces of scrap wood and 20 minutes of my time, the simple mounting method is easy and effective.

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The landscape painting was hung in our basement media room, accompanied by a couple large-scale of oil paintings. I think the white empty wall in this room allows large-scale paintings to be the focus of the room.

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The final results

Here are both of the art work in our home! The results from dry mounting and DIY hanging scroll are satisfying. I like the dose of traditional vibe these art injected into my home. Both art work was actually drawn by a good friend of my parents, whom I called uncle growing up. After years keeping his art work in drawers and collecting dust, it feels so nice to finally having them displayed and appreciated.

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What do you think of the results? Do you like traditional Chinese art?

DIY Frame for Large Painting

Snow days are perfect for small DIY projects. Today’s showcase is a large picture frame I made for an oil painting.

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It may not look like much. But when compared to the look without the frame, I think it is a big improvement:

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We had this painting for a couple years now. Over time, we noticed that the frame slowly came out of plumb. I decided the best way of re-align the canvas without adding much more weight would be to add a strong frame around the original one.

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There are lots of tutorials online for frame making. I picked one of the simplest plan with a floating frame look:

Material list (for a 40″ ×40″ canvas):

  • Two 1″ x 2″ x 8′ red oak*
  • Scrap wood for corner reinforcement (I used a 42″ long 1″ x 4″ piece)
  • Wood stain/paint/finish desired
  • Hanging hardware

*You can use any wood species for the frame. I picked the relatively expensive red oak ($22/2 pieces after tax) for the look of its grain, with plan to stain the frame. We ended up painting the frame, so I could have used cheaper wood such as pine to get the same look.

Tools needed:

  • Miter saw (or handsaw + speed square)
  • Measuring tape or ruler
  • Pen or pencil
  • Wood glue
  • Nail gun and brad nails (or pocket screws if you want to get fancy)
  • Hammer or drill (for hanging the frames)

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The first step is measure and cut the frame pieces. I decided on having a small gap (1/16″ or so) between the canvas and the frame, so for 40″ canvas, I cut each side to be 40 1/8″ on the inner side. The canvas is about 3/4″ deep. For a floating look I made sure to have the 1″ side (actually 3/4″) facing up, to let the 2″ side (actually 1 1/2″) be the depth of the frame. I also chose to miter the corners for a more classic look. For simpler construction you can just butt joint the two pieces.

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To make sure the new frame is plumb I added corner pieces. Bigger/longer the corner pieces are, more sturdy the construction will be. I cut up a piece of 1″ x 4″ scape wood so each piece ended up to be around 10″ long. I also cut the ends at 45 degree so the corner pieces could sit flush against the inside of the frame.

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The corner pieces were cut with the 1″ side (true dimension 3/4″) facing the inside of the frame, allowing the 3/4″ canvas to sit flush with the surface of the frame, creating a floating look.

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Before assembling the frames I dry-fit all the pieces together on a flat surface. The whole frame was straight, square, and plumb, and I liked the gap around the canvas.

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At the last minute I decided to add a 1″x1″ piece horizontally. It added some strength, helped to keep the frame plumb, and provided more surface for the canvas to attach to the frame assembly.

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At this point I asked for Slav’s opinion on the finish of the frame. He requested dark color. So I painted the frame a shotgun black using the leftover paint from our front door.

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Even though this was among one of the smallest DIY projects, I still felt excited assembling the frame. We tacked together the frame pieces with 1 3/16″ brad nails (16-gauge or 18-gauge both worked fine) and a nail gun. You can also use just hammer and nails or pocket screws, just need to make sure to assemble on a flat surface with the front side facing down so the front of the frame is perfectly flush. We also used wood glue between the joints for added strength.

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After putting the frame together, we flipped it and attached the corner reinforcement and the horizontal brace again with glue and brad nails. We made sure that the frame and the corner pieces were on the flat floor, and pushed the corner pieces against the frame so the whole assembly came together flush.

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With both the painting and the frame face downward, we secured the canvas to the frame using 1″ brad nails from the back. This was the easiest way to ensure an even gap around the canvas. Just make sure that you clean the surface (in our case, the wood floor) really well before putting the painting face down.

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Total 10 nails (2 on each corner pieces, and two on the horizontal pieces) hold the canvas tight to the frame assembly.

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And this is how the painting looked standing up! Isn’t it nice?

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We kept the original hanging hardware and used the original screw onto which the canvas was hung before.

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I love the finished frame! The paint color on the frame is not exactly the color of the furniture underneath, but they match very well.

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Covered sides, floating look, and more importantly, straight and plumb!

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Compare to before, this art piece now looks much more finished:

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DIYing this frame piece turned out to be really straightforward, yet the finished look it delivered exceeded my expectation. I really adore this simple way of making floating frames. Now I want to make floating frame for al the paintings we have!

Back to Work + Basement Trims

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2020 has been intense so far. After staying home for months, I am finally back to work. We did well during the pandemic though. While Slav continued working from home, I accomplished a number of home improvement projects. From organizing the garage and creating more overhead storage to refinishing the bathroom door, from building patio planterstidying up the veggie garden, building a new terrace garden, to automating the drip irrigation, I did not rest a single day! You can see the result of our projects in the recent garden tours here.

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But the biggest ticket item Slav and I checked off during the stay-at-home period, is our basement utility room.

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Installing flooring and the doors in the utility room marked a near completion of our basement renovation, which we started a year and half ago! Now the only task left in the basement was installing trims and baseboards.

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With the momentum we decided to wrap up the basement reno before I had to go back to work. So during the last two weeks of my stay-at-home time, Slav joined me in the basement to work on trims.

We started with installing trims for the three doors we installed back in February. The profile we chose is called “craftsman“, which matches the best the profile of our doors.

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The top trims were pieced together with 1″ x 2″ and 1″ x 6″ boards for a beefy look. The side trims were all 1″x 6″ boards.

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Due to the height of the ceilings, we used simpler profile of trims on the closet doors and the bathroom pocket doors:

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One area that was difficult to address is the space between the two bathroom doors. There was not enough room here for the whole width of 1″x 6″. So we opted for a corner bead.

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We ran both door trims and the corner bead all the way to the floor for a clean look.

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After finishing the door trims, we installed baseboards. The baseboard we chose has a simple profile with tall base and a fat bead on top.

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The 5.5″ height hid all the imperfection on the bottom of drywall, and the 5/8″ thickness covered the 1/4″ gap between the flooring and the drywall well.

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We installed the same baseboard throughout the basement for a cohesive look.

The media room

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The master bedroom

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And the newly finished utility room

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There are a few places where the baseboards end on the face of the door trims. We used a return profile to finish the corner elegantly:

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Similar return profiles, with a different angle, were used to terminate baseboards where they meet the master closets.

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To make sure one pocket door closes tightly onto the wall, Slav installed baseboards up to the door from both side and did nice returns on both ends:

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It might not look like much, but it took us three days to get all the trims and baseboards installed. Following installation, Slav caulked all the nail holes, seams, and gaps, and I painted all the trims, baseboards, and closet doors in the same color of our main floor trims.

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This is the first time I tried this Valspar oil-enriched enamel paint. And it did not disappoint! It is almost self-leveling so there is not much brush marks. I chose satin finish, color matched to Behr ultra Pure White.

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After the paint dried on the doors and baseboards, Slav installed handles and magnet door stoppers to protect the walls. All the hardware are in satin nickel which matches our door hinges.

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After installing the trims and baseboards, I can finally get furniture for the media room! We only purchased a few pieces that are necessary for this room to function, including a new TV stand:

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We put the TV and its stand in between the bedroom door and bath door. They fit perfectly into this spot.

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Slav is on the mission of finding us a couch. At the mean time, the massage chair serves as a comfortable spot to watch TV from:

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The small heater was now moved to the wall between the utility room opening and the bathroom. I like to turn it on just for faux log fire.

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We also got a storage unit for Slav’s vinyl collection:

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I moved all the records and the player down as soon as the storage unit was assembled, and Slav set up the speakers so they can get input from our phones, computers, or the record player.

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I had painted the access panel to the water main to match the walls. Now with the record collection and speakers in front, you can hardly notice the access panel anymore.

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Can you believe that we finally crossed the finish line on this basement renovation? This is particularly significant since today happens to be the three-year anniversary of us moving into this house.

Finally, Charlie can enjoy some peace and quiet in his favorite spot in the house:

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Now when going down the stairs, we know that we would be entering a clean and relaxing space, without any work in sight. What an amazing feeling it is!

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Many thanks to those of you following our basement renovation for such a long time – 18 months to be exact. Thanks for your encouragement and cheers along the way! Now let us hope the pandemic is over soon so we can host movie nights in our new media room again!

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