An essay I recently heard on NPR regarding the popularity of large craft stores like Hobby Lobby and Michael’s got me to thinking about my latest craft experience. Craft stores sell big ideas and the means to construct them. They offer up false hope to those of us with little or no actual talent by making it all seem so easy. It SEEMS easy to paint wood and change it from nothing into something. It SEEMS like it would be easy to decapouge pictures onto a wooden box. Yes, everything seems easy and effortless in a craft store display. The items for sale almost whisper their promises to you: “Buy me and I will turn you into a talented artist.” “Buy me and your holiday gift-giving will be as good as finished.” What they don’t tell you is that no matter how much money you spend, craft supplies won’t spontaneously turn themselves into cleverly painted ornaments or interesting collages. They actually expect YOU to do the work. They actually expect you to bring some talent to the table.
For those of us who are art-challenged, there are craft kits. Kits have everything you need. Kits have instructions. Kits are good. But sometimes, you get cocky. Sometimes there just isn’t a kit for the project you imagine you want to do. Sometimes, you get the idea that you can just strike out on your own and create something beautiful.
Sometimes you just go insane.
In early November, I found myself wandering the aisles of the local Michael’s with no intention of buying anything, when a display of unfinished serving trays caught my attention. They were half price, and at $2.50 each they demanded a second look. In the display next to them were sets of wallpaper cut-outs: Flowers mostly. One of the wallpaper sets just happened to feature a picture of a cleverly painted serving tray with a few of these wallpaper thingies pasted to it. It was getting close to Christmas and between Ken and me, we had 6 women to buy presents for. Why not just buy these trays and some of these wallpaper things and MAKE gifts instead of buying stuff? I already had paint at home. What if I did a crackle effect with the leftover crackle from a prior craft project? Then the trays would look old and sort of Victorian. Oh yes, I could see it now. Even though the former crackle project didn’t exactly turn out great, I’m sure I learned something from my past experience. Fifty dollars later, I left the store with trays and wallpaper thingies and a few other items. I was sure that the bulk of my holiday shopping was already complete.
Back home the reality hit. Now I had to implement my grand plan. Just to be on the safe side, I only worked on one tray first. I primed. I painted. I applied the crackle stuff. I applied the top coat. It crackled. And it looked like crap. It didn’t look anything at all like I imagined it would look. It looked stupid.
“OK,” I thought to myself, “you can just paint over it and start again, no big deal.”
My artist friend Andi recommended a different crackle product to me. She explained that the one-step crackle I used wasn’t very good. “The two-step product is a lot better,” she said. Andi is a real artist. She makes stuff all the time. I imagine that she just walks around with ready-made craft and art projects floating around in her head and when she feels like making something, she just plucks one of those ideas out of her artist brain and makes it. I doubt if Andi has a “problem” with crackle like I do. I’m sure she’s able to whip out a weathered look with crackle product that doesn’t look totally contrived and awful. The makers of crackle product could probably feature her projects on their box.
I would kill for this ability.
I decided that a trip back to Michael’s was in order. I believed that the two-step crackle was just what I needed. Plus some different colored paint. And some different wallpaper cutout thingies. Oh, and some more paintbrushes. Eighty dollars later I was sure I was finally prepared to produce some kick-ass Christmas gifts. I had an idea of painting an American flag on the bottom of one of the trays, crackling it, and then lightly applying a stain to make it look old. It would be really cool. I imagined Ken’s mother opening her gift and exclaiming proudly to the rest of the family “You MADE this? How wonderful. You’re a true genius and it’s an honor to have someone as talented as you in our family.” I would sit back and try to look humbled but I’d really be thinking “Yes, I AM talented aren’t I? Beautiful and talented.”
I painted the flag. I painted stars. I meticulously read the directions and applied the two-step crackle. And nothing happened. No crackle. Nothing. “OK,” I thought, “Go ahead and put the stain on, and maybe the crackle will show through then.” I applied the stain and all I ended up accomplishing was making the tray look like someone had smeared feces on it. You could not serve anything edible from this tea tray. No sir. Nope, not at all.
Crackle product: 2 Karen: 0
I wasn’t going to give up though. I still had more trays and plenty of paint and one more idea. “My” idea was to try to mimic the picture of the painted tray on the package of wallpaper thingies. The picture that first inspired this project. This seemed to be a no-fail kind of idea. First I painted the bottom of one tray lavender which looked really pretty. Then I painted the sides a cream color which, again, looked real pretty. Then I painted a green swirl down the side of tray, in an attempt to add, what I like to call whimsy, to the tray. The swirl was done freehand and it ended up looking not-so-whimsical. Instead, it looked like a heavy, laborious, curvy line that appeared to have been painted by a clumsy giant. Even the wallpaper things didn’t help. I imagined someone opening up a gift like this, taking one look at it and forcing out a smile and a “Gee, thanks,” then wondering if the local trash pickup was still scheduled for Wednesday during the holiday week.
It was now the first week of December and none of the serving trays were done. I packed up all $130.00 of craft supplies, placed them in the closet, and firmly shut the door. Then I called Ken and told him the bad news: “Honey, the craft trays were a bust. Do you think we can just give them cash instead?
We’re now through the holiday season. Everyone like their atomic clocks and digital rain gauges just fine. And I have yet one more unfinished craft project in my closet.
I, however, am not deterred from attempting to produce works of art with craft items. After my latest trip to Hobby Lobby, I am now the proud owner of a floor stand for working on needlework projects. I just know that this is the thing I need to successfully complete my rather ambitious needlepoint project.
I just know it.