Tuesday, 1 April 2014

Creating a Nicho

Hello again, Liz here bringing you a project using some of the fab new PaperArtsy products that have arrived at Crafters Cupboard. 

Today I have decided to experiment with a nicho. A nicho is an object of Latin American folk art. Nichos are made from mixed media and traditionally combine elements from Roman Catholicism, mestizo spirituality, and popular culture.  

Nicho art originated as a popular adaptation of the Roman Catholic retablo tradition of painting patron saints on wood or tin. Unlike the large, flat panels of retablo, nichos are small and built in shadow box style. Within the box there is a key object or central figure for whose honor or memory the nicho has been created. Nichos are usually painted with striking colors, often contrasting bright and dark, and tend towards garish.  What I love the most is that nichos are made of objects that can be easily purchased or scavenged in the home or community.

Here's an example of a real nicho...and here's my Paperartsy Sardine Can Nicho:

In the interests of full disclosure I should point out that this piece was heavily influenced by the work of Michael DeMeng whose workshop I was lucky enough to attend in 2008.

So here's the step by step to create your own Paperartsy nicho.

First your 2 main ingredients - a sardine can thoroughly cleaned and dried, complete with the ring pull, and Darcy mini No7.

Make sure that you curl the lid of the sardine can over nice and tightly to really add dimension to the nicho.  Glue the ring pull to the bottom of the can so that the round part of the ringpull sticks out the back.  This way the can will stand up.  I used superglue from the $2 store. 

Next give the can a coat or 2 of gesso to get a good coverage.  I heat set the gesso onto the can just to make sure that it will stick.

Get together a selection of bits that you think will be good to decorate your nicho with. Here's my selection - I didn't use all of the pieces in the end, but this is what I started with.

Get out your grunge paste and build it up in the places that you are going to add your bits.  Don't be too neat in slapping the paste around... the more rough bits and nooks and crannies you have, the better the finished paint effect will be!

I set the grunge paste with a heat tool so that it developed a "skin", and then left it aside overnight to dry and harden.  When I came back the next morning most of the pieces were firmly stuck in place.  The transistor in the middle of the can (pictured) needed a little more reinforcement, so I added superglue to the back to ensure that it couldn't move around.

To finish the elements of the nicho, I added some rusty nails by hammering them through the sides of the tin. (I have a container of rusty stuff in my craft room, and I periodically rust a heap of things and add them into my stash for use later). Don't worry if you don't have pre-rusted nails, use normal nails but sand them before you hammer them in so that the paint finishes will really "stick".

I also added some jewellery findings to the top of my nicho with superglue, utilising the fold in the sardine can and a jig (ie a mini bulldog clip) to hold it until it was dry.

The great thing about superglue is that it dries really fast!  Just be careful not to glue your own fingers together like I seem to do all the time.  Here is what my nicho looked like from the front at this point:

Next, stamp your image into transparency with black archival ink & heat set.

(I stamped a couple of other images from another plate that I didn't use in my nicho- but don't worry, they will be used in another project!).

Cut the image out leaving a good edge all the way around (say 1cm). Go to the kitchen and "liberate" your butane torch (they are not just for creme brulee you know) and burn the edges of your transparency.  The heat from the torch will create a fantastic edge (if it catches on fire just blow it out quickly), and the image will warp beautifully!  If you don't have a butane torch, a lighter of some description will work too.


Flip the transparency over and paint key elements of the house. I used Chutney for the roof, Zesty Zing for the window frames and London Bus for the door.

Put this aside to dry, while you start on the paint finish for the nicho.  For these paint finishes I build up paint in washes, heat setting each wash before starting on the next.  I didn't repaint the entire surface with gesso, as I wanted the effects of different metals peeking through the paint.

So, my base wash was a mixture of Yellow Submarine, Chartreuse (in equal parts) and a touch of Little Black Dress to dull this down. I add at least 50% water to the paint mix.

Coat the nicho with a wash, heat set the paint on the raw metal parts as you go (it cooks it into the metal making it set), and coat again.  Wherever possible, let the washes of paint puddle in all the grunge paste nooks and crannies.

(Nicho from the back after 2 coats of wash #1).

Add a wash of the same onto the back of the house transparency, and put to one side to dry.

Next add a wash of 2 parts black, 1 part chartreuse and 3 parts water. 
Then add a wash of 2 parts Tikka, 1/2 part black and 2 parts water.
Dry thoroughly.

Then I added a wash of Blood Orange (equal parts paint to water) onto elements of my nicho - the transistor in the middle and spots on the jewellery findings at the top.  This was to stop the entire of the nicho looking "samey".

Lastly I added a wash of Golden's Quinacrodone Yellow Azo Gold and another wash of Little Black Dress.  I find that the Yellow Azo Gold makes most of my projects really pop.

At this point the main elements of colour are done. Time to add your painted and crumpled transparency into the nicho.  I secured it with Matte Accents, but glossy accents would work just as well.

Now it's time for the additional decoration.  I used Nougat, Little Black Dress and Chartreuse Fresco paint to add swirly, dotty and stripey design elements all over the nicho.  I used off-white (Nougat) rather than white paint as I felt that stark white paint would be too much for such a little tin, and could distract from my house element.

Almost there!  We need some words on our nicho as well. I used some Ranger glassine paper (but any brown paper would do - even kraft) and black archival ink.  I used the sentiment from the Darcy Series 6 Plate (EDY06) which says "Be unique Be beautiful".  I masked off the "be beautiful" with post-it notes and just stamped "be unique".  Tear around the edges.

Secure to the front of the rolled edge of the nicho with matte medium, sealing over the top as well.  To balance out my composition I also added a "fence" to the front of my house by roughly rolling up some rusty wire and securing it with matte accents. I used a tiny bit of my darkest wash to blend it all in.  

Coat the entire piece with a gloss varnish to seal.  Using a gloss varnish will really make the texture on the nicho pop, but if you only have a matte seal (like matte medium) that will be fine. 

Viola - a finished nicho, made with love from a sardine tin.
Front view:
Side view:
Back view:

I hope you give this project a try.  It's great fun to play and create a 3D mixed media piece of art!

'Till next time!


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