Acrylic Skins for Upcycling

First things first: Pia from ColourCottage won one of the new Inner Hero books! The other winner was Suzanne Ourths–congratulations to both winners! As soon as my shipment arrives, two books will be on the way to new owners!

* * *
Show me a container and I’m in love–cardboard, plastic, wood–if it’s well designed, I will find a use for it. No clever container goes in the trash, it get upcycled.  In this case, I used a small drawer-shaped cardboard box, about 3 inches by 3 inches.

After painting it in cream and black, I decided to add an acrylic skin to dress up the box. It will hold small pieces of paper for journal or collage work. Some of the skins are made with Splash Inks and some with acrylic paint.

drip2Pour three or four puddles of tar gel directly onto a teflon craft sheet. About two tablespoons of tar gel makes a good size finished piece. I’ve tried glue and acrylic gloss medium for this project, but I find that clear-drying tar gel gives the best results.

drip3Using a plastic dropper, put three or four drops of different colors in each puddle of tar gel. Rinse the dropper well between each color to prevent further blending.

drip5Using the stirrer, blend the colors by dragging the stirrer through the tar medium and colors. I start at one edge and draw the stirrer through to the other side, then circle and cross through the colors like you would if you were incorporating beaten egg whites into a batter–always cutting through the middle.

The gold adds a dramatic effect, but add it last. Because it contains a lot of pigment, it likes to settle to the bottom. You can use the Niji gold sumi-e watercolor, or acrylic fine gold iridescent paint.

Now comes the hardest part of this project. You have to wait for the puddles to dry completely. It will take at least 24 hours. You can use a hair dryer, but be careful. You don’t want to push the shape around. Do not put this project in the stove or microwave to dry it. Patience produces the best results. If you live in a damp climate, it may take three days to dry.  Here in Phoenix, it takes 24 hours.

Find a piece that is attractive and matches what you plan to place into the box. paint the back with clear-drying glue. Do not use tar gel as glue.

box1It’s nice to have one edge wrap over the edge of the box. Place carefully. Don’t slide the gel skin because the glue will leave a mark on the box. Because the tar gel dries perfectly clear, the skin allows the color of the painted box to show through.

box2Here, I used a large one on the front of the box, and a smaller one on the back of the box. The upcycled box is now a handsome gift box, ready to hold the small journal sheets or other surprise!

Read the complete instructions (with more photos) on the Niji blog site.

–Quinn McDonald is a Niji Design Team member, a collage artist, blogger,and the author of Inner Hero Creative Art Journal, released this week from North Light books.

dtbutton1As a Niji Design Team member, I do not get paid to play with art materials. However, Niji sent me a box of materials to play with.

8 thoughts on “Acrylic Skins for Upcycling

  1. Congratulation to the winners! I’m doing a countdown towards the book being available on and it’s still 69 days! What a surprise that will be when my order turns up.

    The skins look like a lot of fun . . . I’m a closet nerd and love the science and creativity all mixed up together. I have ALL of January off so it’s playtime for me so I mustn’t sink into procrastination!

    Part of my procrastinating problem is that I want to do EVERYTHING and see no reason for not trying to do so . . . I mean, if it can be done why can’ I do it? Now isn’t that and open invitation for self-criticism!

  2. This looks like so much fun, and they are beautiful. I am in the process of setting up an art studio, so will have to keep this in mind as something to play with when I am in a place that I don’t mind making a mess. Right now the antique dining room table just won’t do for the mess this is going to make.

  3. I couldn’t believe my eyes this morning when I found out that I won a copy of your book! What a lovely surprise! Amazon Germany says it will only be out by the end of February. Thank you so much, Quinn!
    I shall read your acrylic skins post in the evening as I have to leave my house now (in very high spirits!)

    • Amazon Germany may have it much sooner. The book was supposed to be released in February, but the publisher decided to print it in America and release it early. The distribution system will work much sooner than February, I think. Have a light-hearted day!

  4. What a wake up call! (literally, I’m here with my coffee, in the dark and cold) I’ve been checking my Amazon list regularly to see if the book was out, I could seriously use some hero tactics in my life. Yay!

    Of course tar gel is just about the only medium I don’t have, but it looks like fun. I like the unblended one! Can’t you do it directly on the object in question, or doesn’t the tar stick? (I like to live dangerously)

    You might want to tell them to get those inks to Europe pretty soon, pretty please.

    • You can’t do the blending directly on the cardboard box, as the tar gel seeps into it and the swirl goes away and looks like someone spilled paint on the box. (Ask me how I know this. On second thought, don’t.) Not all acrylic skins turn out perfect. Doing a number of them allows you to choose. You will notice that the one on the box is not one featured in the photographs. Sometimes, the best skins are ones you peel off and turn over. You don’t need the Splash Inks to make skins. I’ve made a lot of skins using acrylic paints. However, I do know the developer of the inks, and will be demo-ing at Niji’s booth at CHA in January–so I’ll find out!

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