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Project Sheet

Make Your Own Oil Painting T-Shirt

A canvas you can wear

  • Difficulty Level: Intermediate
  • Completion Time: 24 hours

T-shirts are noted just as much for the statements that they make as they are for their comfort. Their cotton composition and solid, bold colors make t-shirts the perfect support for any artist, and designers of all stripes have been putting personalized stamps on tees for decades. With a little creativity and quality art supplies, even a novice can create a head-turning, Egyptian-themed top to wear to school or the mall!

What you'll need

You'll need to gather a few supplies before beginning work. These materials are what we'll use to customize and personalize our t-shirt. To create this oil masterpiece, you'll need:

1. Starting out

The first step is to prepare our canvas to be painted. Wash and iron your t-shirt before beginning. First, use the masking tape to secure the t-shirt flat on your work surface, stretching it slightly to ensure that the fabric stays taut. Next, use the masking tape to mask off an area of the front of the t-shirt where we'll paint the background. This background can be any size, but an easy way to mask off a nice-sized area is to apply the masking tape around the edges of a sheet of our stencil film. Its 8.5 in. x 11 in. perimeter is a great size for our artwork. Don't tape the stencil film to the shirt-- apply the tape around the film's edges to create a frame, then remove the stencil film.

2. Close shave

Oilsticks are self-sealing, which means that a thin, protective skin forms over the surface of each stick when it's not in use. Before we begin painting, we must remove this skin from the end of the oilstick. Using the craft knife, carefully peel away the dried skin. Wrap the peelings in a paper towel and throw them away. These peelings are still paint, so be careful-- they'll stain your carpet and clothes!

3. Back it up

To create our background, we'll be using our stencil brushes to apply the paint. This will give us a soft background effect that resembles airbrushing. To load paint on to a stencil brush, rub the bristles directly on to the paintstick or rub the paintstick on to a palette or a sheet of scratch paper and then rub your brush in the paint left behind. Once the stencil brush is loaded with color, rub the paint into the fabric of the t-shirt. Experiment with blending colors together using the stencil brush; for best color-mixing results, apply the lighter colors first and then rub in the desired amount of the darker, bolder colors.

In our example, we used our two blue paintsticks and the burgandy. Save the gold paint for bold accents later! After painting your background, let it dry overnight.

4. Stencil-glyphics

Next, it's time to select which stencils to use in our foreground. In our example, we used Egyptology-themed stencils found in the book, but you can use stencils of any design or create your own.

For best results, trace the stencils you'd like to use on to the stencil film sheets. If you'd like to enlarge the designs from the sizes used in the book, you can use a photocopier to make smaller or larger versions of the originals before you trace.

Once you've traced out your preferred designs, use the craft knife to carefully cut out each stencil from the blue film. Don't throw away scraps such as the inside of the ankh's top; you'll need these to mask voids in the designs when it's time to start painting again.

5. Head-on: Apply directly to the t-shirt

Once your stencils are cut and ready to go, arrange them on the painted background in a design to your liking. Once you've come up with a composition that you like, we'll start with the bottom layer of stencils. Place the stencil you want to paint first down flat on your background and secure it using masking tape. Using the oilsticks, apply the paint directly to the t-shirt's surface, just like you were using a crayon. Once you've filled in the stencil, brush the paint into the fabric using the stencil brushes. If you'd like to layer or blend colors in the same stencil, remember to add the lighter colors first. The gold oilstick is great for metallic finishing accents!

Repeat the process all over your t-shirt using all of the stencils that you cut out. For a killer painting, remember to layer stencils, using larger and smaller designs side by side.

6. Getting hot in here

Oilstick color typically dries about 24 hours after being applied, but it needs to cure before it's totally set. During the curing process, the oils form a film and the paint dries up. It usually takes five days or so to complete this process; once curing is done, it's time to heat set our painting using an electric iron.

First, choose the appropriate temperature setting on the iron for your t-shirt. Then lay a sheet of parchment paper over your ironing surface. The paper will help any excess oil from staining your work surface. Next, lay your paper over the painted area of the t-shirt.

Now using the iron, press down on each section of your painted fabric for 10-15 seconds. Press, don't iron!

Once your painting has been heat set, it's permanent! You can run your new custom oil painting t-shirt through the washer and dryer with no problem. Not bad!

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