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Illuminated Mixed Media Art

Learn how an artist creates three-dimensional paintings, including landscapes that light up the room.

While John Kilduff was in art school, he had trouble making canvas frames that weren’t crooked in some way. Inspired by his misshapen frames, John began to create three-dimensional paintings with mixed media elements. In the case of his illuminated landscapes, that includes molding, poplar "palm trees" and model railroad lamps that actually light up!

John shows how he created his Pacific Palisades piece, starting with that all-important frame. The bottom of the frame creates a ledge about four inches deep, on which he staples and stretches out his canvas. He attaches it in such a way that the staples are hidden behind the canvas itself, which is then treated with gesso. At this stage, he affixes the model railroad lamps to the ledge with acrylic caulking, in front of the canvas. Next comes the actual painting, which he prefers to do on location outdoors.

Once the oil paints have dried, he uses wood glue to apply pre-designed molding to the front of the ledge, occasionally even coating that with gold leaf for a more decorative look. Next comes the tricky part: Using a 1/8-inch-thin strip of poplar, which he wets to pliability, he creates the "above the canvas" continuation of his painting.

He nails the poplar in place, and when it's dried again, he draws the continuation of his palm trees on it. Using a hand-held motor tool with a disc cutter, he cuts the palm fronds out of the poplar and then etches the front details into the wood. He covers those sections with a stain, wiping away the excess so that the details he etched appear darker.

Finally, all that remains is to wire the lamps, which he does from the back, slipping the wires through tiny slits at the edge of the canvas and ledge. A little acrylic caulk to mask them, and his illuminated landscape is finished.

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