Andrew Zhu

Growing Old Together

3UnderRain

Design from Three Under the Rain

Project Timespan

Version 1: A few days in October 2020

Version 2: A few days in May 2021

Inspiration

Though I was born in the previous millennium, I do not consider myself yet old. But, possessing a bit of a romantic’s heart, if I may so self-characterize, I have thought at some length of the scenario in which one grows old with a loved one. In my imagining, the scene involves an old couple, face wrinkled like raisins, sitting together on the patio with a bowl of bitter melon, eating contentedly. Given that there no one with half a taste bud remaining likes that disgusting, disgusting fruit, there are only two satisfactory explanations: 

1. The couple has been together for so long, sharing a lifetime of memories, such that their taste buds have all gone.

2. Though at least half a taste bud remains for each individual, the time spent together is so sweet such that the bitter flavor of the melon does not spoil the taste in the least. 

These twin projects are intertwined iterations. I worked on the first project with my good friend, XY, in medical school who wanted to make a present for his then-girlfriend (now fiancée) for their fifth anniversary. Naturally, I agreed to help him, and we found a beautiful quadriptych of panels depicting a loving couple as they aged in time. The scene, drawn originally in the online comic Three Under the Rain, is entitled “Growing Old Together.”

After completing that project, a half year later, another friend of mine, HC, wanted to consult me for a gift for her long-term partner. She had previously seen the results of the project I made with XY, so we decided to use the same set of images for her project as well.

Materials

– Version 1: Maple boards, ~4+” width and 5/8″ thick

– Version 2: Blick Studio Wood Panels, 6″ x 6″ x 7/8″

– CNC router (used for the design backside of Version 1)

 

– Pyrography set

– Carbon paper for transferring image

– Assorted acrylic paints

– Minwax polycrylic protective finish

Project Overview

Pyrography refers to the art of decorating wood with burn marks from a heated object such as a pen. Meaning “writing with fire,” in Greek, I only wish I were better at the artform, for skilled artists in pyrography create incredible, intricate works.

For these projects, I will go over the following:

1. Design Selection

2. Transfer Process

3. Pyrography

4. Painting and Finishing

5. Finished Product

1. Design Selection

When XY and I discussed the project proposal, he knew that he wanted to use a design by Three Under the Rain as his significant other is a big fan of their webcomics. As our goal was to make a set of four wooden coasters, we decided between designs comprised of four different panels. We selected “Growing Old Together” as it wonderfully encapsulated, in no words and four vignettes, the everlasting love between two individuals. Moreover, given the beautiful simplicity of the artist’s style, reminding me of ligne claire, I was confident that we would be able to do the design justice even with our rudimentary skills in pyrography.

For both versions of the project, we used light colored wood (maple and basswood, respectively) as this background creates a magnificent contrast with the bright acrylic colors.

The purpose of the first project was to make wooden coasters while the purpose of the second project was to make wall art. Therefore, in Version 1, I opted to machine out four coasters from a plank of maple, including engraving a design showcasing the couple’s anniversary.

In Version 2, I used ready-made artist wood panels from Blick as the base for engraving.

2. Transfer Process

After selecting the design, the next step was transferring the images to wood. This process is very straightforward:

1. Print out the designs to the desired scale on standard printer paper, and use scissors to cut out the outline of the panels.

2. Tape the top edge to the wood, centering the design.

3. Place a sheet of carbon transfer paper (of similar dimensions to the wood face) underneath the paper with the design. Make sure the correct side is face down (the graphite side which is shiny and darker in color). 

4. Using a dull pencil tip or a similarly blunt tool, press down and trace the outlines of the design to transfer the graphite to the wood.

Play Video

3. Pyrographic Engraving

While supervising the engraving of Version 2, I worked on my own pyrography project – a set of four Avatar wall art pieces.

Pyrography has a steep learning curve. There are so many variables at play – voltage of the machine, type of pen nib, surface grain and patterning, pressure exerted with the pen… For their first attempts, XY and HC both did wonderfully!

Play Video

4. Painting and Finishing

I helped with painting and color/attire selection, but the majority of the work was by XY and HC, respectively. Two-color checkerboard or plaid patterns really stand out (in a good way), and both of them incorporated one version of the attire into the final work.

The most important part with painting is to go slow, especially around the pyrography lines. A sharp outline really brings out the best of the acrylic colors.

After painting, both sets of designs were finished with protective layers of polycrylic.

5. Finished Product

Seeing the final versions juxtaposed below, I really appreciate the nuances in color selection and attire choice – credit to XY and HC, and of course the creators behind Three Under the Rain as well. My favorite of Version 1 is the third coaster (bottom left), and my favorite for Version 2 is the second piece (top right).

Lessons Learned & Improvements

The great part about repeating a project is that one can look at the first iteration and think of alternative ways of approaching the project design. With regards to Version 1, I think that I can certainly improve the back of the design. While the CNC engraving is clean and precise, incorporating pyrography as well would have tied the two sides together and enabled coloring of the backside as well. I love the idea of placing the designs on coasters – functional and beautiful at the same time, though to my knowledge, XY and his fiancée have yet to use the coasters as coasters!

Version 2 is lovely in its own right; the Blick Wood Artist Panels make for a clean and sharp display on the wall. I prefer the second version’s take on the matching pajamas. I also prefer the clouds of the second version, though I like the ethereal quality of the first version, in which the only eternal aspects are coffee and love.

Reflection

The best gift is the one that is handmade and from the heart. Therefore, is it any surprise that both gift recipients were ecstatic upon seeing the final results?