Thursday, January 23, 2014

DIY Wall Art: State Map

Big, blank walls are always difficult to fill in a cost-effective way, but since I've discovered that you can buy large canvasses super cheaply online, my DIY art projects have taken our home walls from freshmen-boy-dorm drab to, well, whatever a step above that is. is a great source for art supplies for your home projects (no, they didn't pay me to say that), but I will thoroughly endorse a company that sells these huge 30"x40" cotton-stretched canvasses for under $30 with cheap shipping. It's hard to get that kind of wall coverage that cheaply any other way (unless you go to IKEA and get some prints and frames there-- another wonderful and possibly more time-efficient way to decorate). 

I've done several projects over the years (I'll be featuring tutorials on all of them eventually, so subscribe or like our Facebook page to catch other project how-to's), but for now, I'm starting off with the state map.

Click here to pin for later.

Who doesn't love a vintage-looking map, right? But I'll be honest. This is a project not for the faint of heart. I mean, it didn't exactly take me months of blood, sweat, and tears, but I would say it took a good seven to ten hours. So, if you're not going to enjoy the process, you should probably just save your time and buy something.

Here's what I did.
  1. Get your map. I had my mom pick up a map of New England for free from AAA. 
  2. Outline a rectangle on the map you want to draw. It needs to be in the same proportion as your canvas (in my case, 3 units tall and 4 units wide).
  3. Section your map off into a grid with penciled-in vertical and horizontal lines. I did about six squares across and four down, but you can do whatever you feel like. Draw them in on the map and also scaled up to fit on your canvas. I did my grid with larger blocks to give the feel of lines of latitude and longitude (which are obviously completely cartographically-- is that a word?-- inaccurate on my map), or like folds in a paper map. They were very light, and didn't bother me. If you plan on erasing after drawing in the land masses and cities, make sure to use a light hand and have a superb eraser on hand.
  4. Start one grid at a time and pencil in the outline of the land and water, draw in lakes, and write in city and sea names. Someone smart would probably tell you to start from the top left (or top right if you're left handed). But someone who's done this project before would tell you to start at the area you care most about, since you will get progressively lazy and less attentive to detail as the project goes on. Use a piece of paper to cover up areas you've already drawn so you don't smear the pencil. This is the hardest and longest part, don't lose the faith! The end result is cool, but anyone can do it.
  5. Add color. I used plain old acrylic paint, but dipped my paintbrush in water first to get a more washed-out effect. Experiment a little with how much water to use-- too much and it will start to pool on the canvas, too little and the color will look a little solid. It's easier to start off drier and add more water if you want the color more washed out (you just have to make that decision before the paint starts to dry).
  6. Paint a border. Since I was too cheap, and frankly too lazy to frame the finished work, I painted a blackish border around the edge of the stretched canvas (the canvas that is stretched over the actual depth of wood). Since our walls are a non-descript off-white and I used light colors, I felt like it needed something to set it off from the wall. I used a foam brush and acrylic paint to paint the border. I didn't use painters tape, because I wanted a slightly imperfect look to match the feel of the piece.
  7. Hang that painting up! These things are light-weight and so easy to hang. I always use this type of picture hanger because they're so easy. (The link is for a pack of 18, but you can get much smaller/cheaper packages at your hardware store-- or you can get 18 if you really think you're going to be hanging a lot of pictures). The canvases come with a little notched plastic part stapled into the wood on the back, so you just nail the picture hanger into the wall and then hang the canvas. The circle part distributes the weight over a larger surface area so it has more support than just a plain nail.
  8. Stand back and admire your work-- you're done!

I wish I had more (as in any) step-by-step pictures to show you, but I did this project pre-Money Hip Mamas, so I didn't think to take pictures of the process.

 Tell us-- Have you done any home projects with blank canvases? How did they turn out?


  1. Wow, that map looks amazing! (I think I would probably do something "abstract" on my own canvas, though!)

    Did you upholster your coffee table?! What a good idea. Ben tries to have at least one bruise on his forehead at all times with his pulling up exploits.

    1. I think it's saved us from at least a couple of bumps on the head so far! My mom actually brought up all the stuff for us to upholster it when she came to visit-- I take no credit! Caleb has since colored on it with blue pen.

  2. Okay, 7-10 hours?? Yours looks soooo good! I imagine this would take me more like 70 hours to look that good. How did you get your penmanship to look so great too?

    I was actually JUST earlier this week looking at art supplies online and asking my brother what his favorite medium was. You've inspired me to think making my own artwork is actually do-able and a good idea. And he suggested acrylic too! An accountant needs a good artistic outlet.

  3. Nice tip on the canvases! I'll have to remember that. And having been to your place, I can attest that this art looks even better in person!

  4. I did it, I bought some canvases last weekend! Thanks for the inspiration!


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