The Art of the Meme

Recently, while geeking out on Pinterest, I came across some really neat ideas regarding image printing and transfers onto wood. While I know the concept is as old as the craft shows monopolizing the lineup of the early years of HGTV; it piqued my interest because of some project ideas I have down the road. Of the multitude of project examples I found, I noticed there was a wide spectrum of results and apparent methods. And then there it was, that feeling, that urge…

I couldn’t help myself, I had to do something with these ideas, and test some of them out. So I stopped fighting, I ditched the oars, and I got to tinkering.

The concept of marrying wood and photography has volleyed around between my ear-holes for a while now. Ever since my Mom was gifted a picture of her and my eldest daughter on a slab of wood, the concept stuck with me. The efficiency of materials and simplicity of design made me want to create something similar of my own. It took me a while to get around to attempting it for myself though for two

major reasons. The first being that parenthood and adulting in general is just plain HARD! It has a way of dissolving what some of you may fondly refer to as “free-time”. The second reason is that while Pinterest has been a thing for quite some time now, I have to admit that I am a little late to the pinning party.

I’ve only gotten into the application within the past year or so, as I had originally written it off as the Martha Stewart/Carol Duvall of Social Media. Not that there isn’t a niche for that sort of thing, just wasn’t my “cup of tea”, at least as I understood it. However, in my Googling of design ideas for a recent remodel of my kids bedroom, I saw just how many “Pins” there were that ACTUALLY interested me! After I got into Pinterest, I spiraled down the rabbit hole of everything woodworking. Which eventually landed me at the aforementioned Pins demonstrating several of the methods for transferring images onto wood. So I had gained a basic idea of how I might go about this idea, but was still lacking an idea for an image to transfer…

Meme’s Origin:

At this point you are probably asking yourself:

So what does any of this have to do with Memes? And what’s with the featured image?

I’m glad you asked. So, I don’t know about all of you, but my day job isn’t always my favorite. Luckily, I have the good fortune of working with a team that makes all of the face-palm moments we endure in the name of corporate America, worth it. One of our favorite avenues to vent our particular occupational frustrations is through “the art” of Memeing. We have a running group text which consists of no less than 55% Memes. Some of our most poignant works have even earned a place of honor as laminated print added to our “walls of flair”. Though unlike Jennifer Anniston’s character in the cinematic masterpiece that is Office Space, we DO like to talk about our flair! It serves as a salve to the seemingly constant mourning of logic’s death we endure; providing a much needed dose of humor when things out of our control leave us wondering…WHY??!?!?!

One incident in particular brought about this project. As with any job involving people, character flaws and individual aptitudes have a tendency to clash, at least at times, with job descriptions. A phenomena which will continue until the end of time since we feeble humans are so brilliantly imperfect. A recent supervisor of ours had that problem, some say a little more than most. To this individuals credit, the general consensus amongst our cohort, is that this boss was promoted, as a necessity of circumstance, beyond their individual skill-set.

That aside, one day, this deficiency manifested itself in the form of a “Memo”. The most important part of that last sentence is the use of quotes, the implied sarcasm is MOST DEFINITELY intended! That is because by “Memo”, I mean: a series of handwritten sticky notes that were photocopied and then disseminated as an actionable directive to the staff. To say that this sparked a fury of banter within the team would be putting it very lightly!

This particular bout of venting took us down the path of Demotivatinoal posters. Leading each of us to create/find our own posters we each “planned” to add to our offices. While my teammates were only half serious about their commitment to this idea, I meant it, mine was going up on my wall, and soon!

And it is at this point, after a long and winding detour through my meandering string of consciousness, that we have arrived at the eureka moment which brought this project to life. Here are the two posters I decided to go with:

Project Outline:

From my Pinterest research, I had a multitude of methods to choose from, but I wasn’t quite sure exactly which one I wanted to use. So that meant I had some experimenting to do. Based on the fact that I wanted to complete this project rather quickly (and cheaply) I paired down my methods with the following criteria. The required supplies had to either be in my shop, or cost less than $10 combined. Second, I only tried methods that had favorable results in the material I’d already studied. That left me with 2 primary techniques which I tried this time, and 1 more I want to try in the near future:

  1. Polycrylic Embedding
  2. Acetone Transfer
  3. Temporary Tattoo Paper (Later)

Project Parts:

Project Parts –
Featured Tools –

Also Featured –

Image Prep:

The general concept for both methods transfer the printed from the paper onto the wood while the image is placed face down on the wood.

This meant that the image needed to be printed as a mirror image, that way any text would be oriented correctly after being transferred. Additionally I made sure that when I printed the images that I used the highest print quality my home printer allowed. I wanted as much ink embedded into this paper as I could.

While both of the first two jobs can be handled by Windows native photo viewing/editing platforms, it’s a good idea to have a more elaborate image editing software as well. I must apologize for my inner perfectionist, as he overrode the blogger in me, quickly covering up/destroying any evidence of why I say this (i.e. I have no photo evidence of my first attempt with the poly). So you’ll have to trust me on this part. In either case, I found that even at the highest print quality, the contrast especially, in the image itself, was severely lacking. The stronger “background noise” the wood grain provided, washed out the lighter colored areas, and the text on the image(s) was almost illegible. I suggest a fully featured photo editing software because, the “all or nothing” editing style of the built-in programs tends not to achieve what you’re looking for here. I have had great success with Gimp Shop, a free-ware version of Photoshop. Best part is it’s free!

The Process:

The first step in the process is to make sure you have stock which is flat and sanded or planed smooth. I used some scrap I had lying around from some old pallets. Once your stock is prepped, take your mirror printed image and pick your poison.

Polycrylic Embedding –

The premise for this method, is that the Polycrylic will wick the ink from the paper and into the water based finish leaving the paper behind. In order for this to work, you need just enough poly to cover the wood where the image will go.

The thinner the better! I did this technique twice, the first time (the time that my inner perfectionist committed obstruction of blogging justice) I applied what I would consider a lighter than normal finish, and my results were not the greatest. I think the reason being is that the thicker the coat of poly, the more likely that the dried finish will bond to the paper fibers as well. If the paper AND ink are still bonded together, it makes the “separating bone from marrow” step later on more difficult, if not impossible.

Once the Poly is applied, place your image face down onto the finish, and press it into the Polycrylic.

Starting from the middle and smoothing towards the side until all air bubbles (like the one here) have been worked out. If you want, it can also help to use an old credit card/membership card to ensure the image is firmly set into the Polycrylic. Once you’ve done this, WALK AWAY, don’t mess with it. Don’t continue smoothing until your obsessiveness say it’s good enough. If you get too crazy here, you’ll end up like me and tear the paper like I did below and have to patch your hole carefully.

Also, notice that even after the image is completely seated into the poly, it isn’t seeping through to the other side, if the paper is completely soaked with the poly, you used too much, start again. Remember, your goal is to keep the image as motionless as possible while the Poly works its magic. SO, go catch-up on your YouTube watch-list, your Toasted Woodworks reading, or take a nap.

After you’ve gotten all caught up on your Toasted Woodworks reading, and your (hopefully unrelated) nap, your work should be dry. Here comes the moment of truth, and the most labor intensive portion of the project. Using a spray bottle, spray your paper with water, enough to dampen the paper and it begins to deteriorate. Keep in mind though, that this finish is water based, and too much water can begin to loosen the finish.

Using an old toothbrush, carefully scrub away the paper revealing the image beneath. I found that once you get it started with the toothbrush, it’s easier to use your fingers to gently scrub over the damp paper and roll the paper fibers off. It’s a lot like when you are doing glue-ups, and you rub your hands together like a hobo around a trash barrel fire, making little glue roll-ups in the process of freeing your hands from the glue. No, you mean you don’t do that…?

Once you have gotten all the paper off, give your piece about an hour to dry completely, and apply another coat of Polycrylic, or more if you’d like, this will lock your image in, and give it a protective layer. Be careful when applying your additional coats, especially the first. You want to make them thin, and using as few brush strokes as you can, so as to not dislodge the image you worked so hard to put there in the first place.

Acetone Transfer

This method is much simpler and cleaner, when it works. The idea is to place the image face down on your piece, apply acetone to the back and let it soak through, dislodging the image from the paper and into the wood. Here’s the thing about this method, it doesn’t work with all types of ink. More specifically, with the type of ink my printer uses.

So, while this method was affordable and returned good results in the materials I read, it wasn’t compatible with the ink in my particular printer. Had it worked, after using the Acetone to transfer the ink, I’d again wait for it to dry, and apply a finish over top. Since there is nothing the ink is embedded into with this method, I’d recommend at least for the first coat, using a spray on finish. That way there’s something locking the image to the wood before you introduce brush strokes into the mix.

I wish I had more to tell/show you on this technique, because the results

Temporary Tattoo Paper –

At this point the steps here are still theoretical, as I have purchased the materials (i.e. temporary tattoo paper), but haven’t found a reason to test it out just yet. From my research though, this appears to be the most effective way to get an image, unadulterated onto a piece of wood. So depending on your application, or artistic leanings for a particular project, that may be a good or bad thing. Based on my initial reason for investigating this project, I can’t wait to find the time to put this one to the test.

The process is nearly the same as the first two. Take a mirror image printed image, but instead of printing onto normal printer paper, load the Silhouette Temporary Tattoo Paper into your printer, following the directions included with the paper and print your image onto that. The benefit to this method, is that because you are basically sealing a “gel” surface which has the image embedded directly from your printer, there is much less of a need to play around with photo editing. That is beyond normal photo editing, which is totally outside my wheel house. I leave that magic to my Sister-in-laws who have a much better eye than I for that (Yes Keri and Emily, I’m talking about you)!

Once your image is printed, apply it to the wood as you would a Dora the Explorer tattoo to your daughter’s wrist. Lay the image printed side down on the wood, positioned how you would like it. Using a wet sponge or rag/washcloth, working from the inside out, wet the backer paper. Once the entirety of the backer has been dampened, and some of the image has begun to show through, peel back the paper and let your wood tattoo dry. Finally, again as before, apply your clear finish of choice to lock in the freshness

The Results:

Polycrylic Embedding –

I was extremely pleased with the results of the Polycrylic. Especially once I learned the hard lesson about using as thin a layer as possible to transfer the image. The one I quickly scraped off back to bare wood, not only looked bad, but had spots where I scrubbed the ink off with the paper. On top of that, that one was WAY harder to scrub the paper off! I decided to make this a two sided project, that way dependent on my mood I could switch which side was showing, plus, it allowed me to only use one piece of stock for this experiment. Side A being the more office appropriate one, less likely to get the sideways stare from any corporate big wigs snooping around. Side B was the more specific gesture, with a more classic childish vibe and also more likely to be misconstrued. Needless to say, I don’t often display Side B, for that reason.

Acetone Transfer

As I hinted to earlier, this one was a total bust for me. Apparently the key is that toner is used to print the image as opposed to printer ink. So if you have a printer which uses toner instead of generic ink, give it a try and see if it works for you! As for me, here’s what I wound up with.

Temporary Tattoo Paper –

TBD. When I find an idea, and the time to complete it, I’ll come back here and at least add the results of that test. I know I personally am excited to see how it turns out!

Lessons Learned the Hard Way:

1. Read the Directions

I’m like any other stereotypical guy, I HATE reading the directions more than I have to. I want to get the idea of what I’m trying to do, and then figure the rest out on the fly. After all, that’s half the fun in working with your hands in the first place, finding and quickly solving problems with good old fashion logic and gumption!

However, in this project, that tendency didn’t serve me well, particularly with the Polycrylic. Had I paid close attention to the guides I read in order to learn these techniques, I would have known about the warning on how thin the coat needed to be, but I didn’t have the patience to read that far, whoops!

2. Be Picky

While this was more of a fun project than a quality handcrafted piece worthy of any toasting, I did learn a valuable lesson with this technique. If I am ever to apply this in the future, it’s very important to make sure that the grain is very “quiet”. The piece of stock had a lot of prominent grain, and happened to be quartersawn. While that is good for stability and creating an interesting light/dark contrast if I were I completing a traditional finish. When the objective was for the wood to serve as more or less of a mounting surface, such prominent grain ended up distracting from the final image. The grain created a particular problem in the areas with less ink, blurring the lines of the text/image intended to take center stage for this particular project.

If there is a “next time” for a project like this, I plan to use a much more subtle grain pattern, or at least one that is more consistent throughout the board, so as to not conflict with the image being transferred.

3. Courage is Knowing What Not to Fear

This, while seemingly philosophic, is more in reference to my inner perfectionist seeking to sabotage my promise to you all, that my mistakes will not be covered up. Part of my goal in creating this content, is to encourage the weekend warriors like myself, who are too hard on their own work. I want to show the easy parts of a project (i.e. the how to build “x”) but also the more challenging ones. The mistakes that teach us not only “what not to do next time” but also how to fix those seemingly unavoidable mistakes.

I frame this in the context of “fear” because, I think the idea of our flaws being exposed, whether in woodworking or life, induces recoil in all of us. I don’t know why there’s a part of me that doesn’t want to let those screw-ups show, but I’m committed to fighting it.

After all, even Jimmy DiResta makes mistakes, however rare they may be. If the “Godfather of Making” messes up, why should I be afraid to show my making underbelly? The worst thing that happens is that this blog turns off any readership, and becomes nothing but a glorified journal. Hey at least I have an excuse to get in the shop and make what I want and document it.

So if that’s the worst that could happen, the alternative (best that could happen) would be that my mistakes teach someone else something new, and/or encourage someone else in their own shop/work. Seems worth it to me in either regard. But I realize now it will be a battle, so bare with me as I fight through the change in myself.

Project Toasts:

In case the references in the De-motivational Poster escaped you, I will give credit where credit is due. First off, here’s to Darrel Hammond and Will Ferrell, and their ingenious Celebrity Jeopardy sketch series from SNL. I still remember the first night my younger brother, my Dad and I saw the first one. I think it was the first time I saw my Dad laugh so hard he fell off the couch! So the header of the tag line “The Pen Is Mightier” is a callback to that very episode (I’ll let you do your own Googling for that one.

The second bit of credit goes to Alec Baldwin and his recent voice acting work in The Boss Baby. A possible secondary credit goes to my 3 little munchkins and their recent obsession with the movie, cementing the monologue on “the power of a memo” (in the scene where Baldwin’s character is giving the tour around Baby Corp) is what inspired the “Never underestimate the power of a well written memo” sub-tag line.

This was a fun opportunity to test out some techniques that I have plans for down the road. While it certainly doesn’t stand out as anything particularly noteworthy, or resemble anything “Hand Crafted” or “Worthy of a Toast”, at least by traditional standards. Though I’d beg to differ, at least in part. I learned some neat new techniques through this, further expanding my creative repertoire. Not to mention, that it brought great joy to my office mates and I seeing this show up on my office wall.

Next up, I’ll be continuing my documentation of the “Cedar Chest Rivival” and “Common Board Kid-proof Bed”, hopefully to be released your way soon. In the meantime, I’ll be fitting in brief stints of shop time with my two older kids. Taking on the role of shop teacher as we work on a floating shelf and treasure chest, Both projects sure to make an appearance here once they’re completed. I’ll also make sure to add my results of the Tattoo transfer method here when I get around to that project as well. While I’m doing all of that, if you’re looking for additional resources I used on this project, check them out below.

Good luck on your projects and stay safe in the shop. To stay up to date with any new updates here, follow me on WordPress. For more updates on my activity in the shop between entries, follow here me on Instagram (@Toasted_Woodworks) or Twitter (@ToastedWoodwork). If you have any questions or comments, leave them below. For any other inquires, ideas for future content, or just to say hello, drop me a note here. Until next time…


Resources –

Thanks to the following blogs, videos and sites for guiding me along the way:

  1. Fix This Build That – Printing on Wood
  2. Parental Perspective – DIY Wood Slice Photo Transfer
  3. How to use Gimp (Beginners Guide) – TechGumbo

Let me know what you think

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s