Yard Art - The Birth Of A Dragon

  • Posted on: 25 September 2016
  • By: Liz

I am going to do a how to on making a large piece of yard art.  I have several different pieces I have done photos on, so I will do several articles for you to see how to make some for your own yard.

As with any great project you need an idea of what you would like to make.  When I want to create a piece of yard art I like to look in coloring books.  Coloring books you say, sure, why not.  There are many different kinds of coloring books you can look at, little detail, medium detail and extreme detail.  I like to stay to your more basic pictures as they are easier to cut and then get the details down.

So here we have a dragon I found in a Halloween coloring book.  He is by far one of the yard favorites for kids and adults alike when they come to our house.  He is a great picture background and I encourage parents to take photos with all of my yard art.  If you like it, why not have a photo to remember that little one with a great back drop.  With this coloring book I have made seven or eight of the pictures, and they are all well received by the neighbors and trick or treaters.

Next step, how to enlarge him.  On big pieces I like to enlarge to three to four feet.  Dramatic and well seen by those driving by in a car.  Why have a little yard art that you can not see from a distance.  If you are going to make one, I suggest making them big.  I use a tracer enlarger as shown below.  I bought mine at Hobby Lobby for about $100.  I found this black one on Amazon for about $82.  https://www.amazon.com/Artograph-Tracer-Projector-And-Enlarger/dp/B000KN....  The white one is the one I use, I found this one on Walmart for about $83 https://www.walmart.com/ip/Artograph-Tracer-Projector-Enlarger/12347716

To use a tracer/enlarger like these you have to reduce your picture to fit in a 4"X4" square under the tracer.  Tape a large piece of paper to the wall you are using, put your tracer on a table, make the room dark and turn on the tracer.  As simple as it sounds the picture is projected up onto your wall.  You then can take a pencil and trace the picture you see on your paper.  Checking your work as you go to make sure you do not miss any details.

Next you take that big pattern you just traced and cut the outline out, so you end up with a big pattern of what you plan on cutting from wood.  You have all the picture details to put on the wood cut out for painting.

You will need a piece of plywood.  I like 3/4" plywood, but you can use 1/2" or even 1/4", but the thinner the wood the less stable your yard art will be.  You can get your plywood at Lowes or Home Depot, they will even cut it into smaller sections for easier handling and for easier transportation, Since a standard sheet of plywood is 8 feet X 4 feet in size.  Most of us don't have the ablity to transport such a bit chunk of wood.

Lie your nice big pattern piece on your plywood and tape it down in several places.  Take a nice dark pencil and start tracing around your pattern so you have the outline on your board.  This line is where you will be cutting with your jig saw, like the one below.  Make sure you have plenty of extra blades on hand as they warp and break from the heat of cutting and you do not want to be in the middle of cutting and have to stop to run to the store for more blades.  A big pain to be sure.

As you can see in the next couple of photos, the dragon is getting cutout nicely.  I like to do a big cut around the basic pattern and then go back for the details.  I have him sitting on a table that has a wood top, one I didn't care if I accidently cut into.  He was big and had lots of intricute cuts, but when I did the outline cut it helped me to get to those finer details.

Once the dragon was fully cut out I sealed him with a wood sealer, like the one below.  It seals the wood so that none of the resins and sap bleed through your paint and destroy the look of your item.  Nothing worse than to see a big circle from resin that has seeped through and you get a large discoloration.  After I seal, I sand, if you read my crafting blog, I sand and I sand a lot.  I like a nice smooth surface to trace my details on so my pencil doesn't skip around the pattern.


Once I have sealed I paint the back black.  No one will likely look at the back, but it still should be finished so your wood has more protection from the elements.  Here my daughter is painting the back for me.  We use a foam brush that we can trash afterwards.  We do two coats, that is just me, I like to have a nice finished back.  I also like to do the edges black as well.

Onto the front.  We are not ready to trace the details on just yet.  Since our dragon will be covered with most of the same color, I just painted the entire front lavendar.  Darker colors will cover the lavendar just fine, and the lighter colors may take a few more coats.  As you can see, he's big!  He's about 4 feet tall from tail to top of his scalely back.  It is easier to see the cut details in this photo as well.  He took a long time to cut as I had to go slow to make sure that I didn't accidently cut off something important.

It is time for that detail work.  I like to cut my paper pattern out and slowly trace the lines one by one on my surface.  As you can see there is a lot of detail to this guy, and yes, I cut the paper pattern completely apart to get each detail on the surface.  Your pattern should fit right back on top of your finished cut item if you stuck to the orginal cutting lines from the initial trace.  Keep your pieces, just in case you need to add any details after you are done painting.

Now comes the fun part.  Once you have your details traced onto your surface it becomes one big coloring book page that has come to life.  I use water based acrylics to paint, you can use brand you like, Americana, Delta Creamcoat, Michaels brand, Martha Stewart brand, Apple, you pick what you like to paint with and start filling in your pattern.  I use different size brushes for the size area I am working it.  A big brush for those larger areas, and of course smaller for the small details.

Once you have him all painted you will need to ink in those final details.  I use a black paint pen, medium or large to make the lines nice and bold.

If you have items that need to be readded from your intial trace, you can go back to those paper pieces and pencil them in again.  To give added dimension to my items I like to shade and highlight areas to make them pop.  Which you can see in the pumpkin, his scales and face.  Look at you, you are almost finished.









The last step is to seal your hard work with a good sealer.  I like Delta's varnish sealer.  It is very pricey, but I have found after eight years of doing these pieces, that the ones I sealed with the Delta exterior/interior varnish sealer have held up better than the ones I used sealer from Lowes.  I have had to sand down and re paint and re seal all of the ones I did not use the Delta sealer on.  So get a bottle, a foam brush and start on one side, give it a good two coats, let dry completely, then flip over and do the back and edges with two coats as well.

Now, how to get him to stand up in your yard.  Rick and I have walked around many people's displays as we enjoyed the hard work of the owners, to see how they each secured their yard pieces in their yards.  What we came up with is in the picture below.  It is a pipe clamp that you use to secure a pipe to a wall.  We use a 1/2" one.  I place the clamp on the back, mark the holes and then drill those points.  Rick then attaches the clamps with screws and nuts that are the same size as the holes.  Some times I paint the clamps, some times I don't, but on the front I always touch up the screw heads to match the color of the yard art.  The dragon had four clamps, three that go on each section of his tail up to the bottom of his foot.  Then on the other foot he has another clamp.

Once you have your clamps in place you need some rebar.  Rebar, you can pick it up at Lowes and Home Depot, they have one foot pieces up to four foot that work great for these items.  The dragon has two four foot pieces.  I use the longer pieces since he is so tall, he needs that little extra support up his back so he won't tip over.  Just take a hammer and pound those two pieces of rebar into the ground, slip the rebar through your clamps and look, it's standing nice and proud in your yard.  Add a spot light for night viewing and you have the start of an addiction that will have you flipping through your kids or grandkids coloring books thinking, yeah, that will make a great piece of yard art.

Go ahead, give it a try.  If you don't think you can cut out the wood, maybe your husband, dad or brother will.  I actually cut all of my own wood and the only item Rick does is attach the clamps, I am too busy painting another piece to do that.


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