I found some great inspiration for a simple, inexpensive weekend art project recently, and I decided to go full steam ahead. Here’s how I created this gorgeous Massachusetts string wall art panel.
Step 1: Gather Materials
For this project, I needed a wooden base, topcoat, sandpaper, nails, and string, plus a map to work from. It’s really that easy. I found a beautiful curly maple board at Rockler Woodworking and Hardware, which was less than $14 for the 2 feet I needed. I made sure to choose a wood species native to Massachusetts. Rockler also provided the Arm-R-Seal semi-gloss oil and urethane topcoat.
I wanted something a little more stylish than your standard finishing nails, so I picked up a few packages of something called Escutcheon Pins. They have a brass finish and rounded heads, and really made all the difference.
Step 2: Finish the Wood
The Arm-R-Seal recommended sanding the wood with a 120-grit paper before applying the first coat, which I used an old T-shirt to do. Then, since I started late in the day, I waited overnight before beginning the second coat.
Sunday morning, I lightly sanded with a 220-grit, and applied more topcoat, this time with clean paper towels. Once that had dried, I sanded again with a 400-grit I happened to have from some previous car touch-ups.
The effects of the topcoat are instantly evident. I’m glad they talked me into it!
Step 3: Prepare the Map
While the board is drying, I have plenty of time to prepare the map, which I’ll use to create the outline of nails. After finding a good picture online, I imported it into PosteRazor, a great little desktop tool that converts any image into a PDF made of overlapping pages, perfect for splicing together into one large image.
After a quick trim…
…we have a whole state on 3 pages!
Step 4: Nail Something
By this point, the topcoat is dry and we’re ready to get to the good stuff. I taped the map to the finished board, and proceeded to annoy the shit out of my girlfriend by hammering several dozen teeny tiny nails into it.
This step is pretty self-explanatory. follow the contours of the map, and keep the nails fairly close together. I went though a lot of bent nails, so a pair of needle nose pliers would do well here.
Step 5: Learn String Theory
At this point, I probably should have removed the paper map (you’ll see why), but I wanted to make sure I kept the string in the right place along the jagged coastline. My first thought was to create a border with the string, and then fill it in, but I didn’t like how that looked.
I ended up removing that string, and adding a whole bunch more nails to the straight edges of the map. Then, starting at Provincetown, I zig-zagged the string throughout the commonwealth until I hit every nail, and filled in every blank spot. There’s no glue or anything else in this project, just two knots and a whole lot of string.
Step 6: Remove the Map
This is where thinking ahead really would have come in handy. At this point, the only thing left to do is remove the paper may from under all those nails. It took pliers, tweezers, blades, and a letter opener to get it all off. So, as I said before, maybe a good idea to do this before the string goes on next time.
The final product looks fantastic, I couldn’t be happier. I’m looking at buying brass nameplates for the bottom left corner, including historical dates and maybe the state motto. I may also route some keyholes into the back for an elegant wall-mounting solution, or at the very least add some eye-hooks and wire
If there’s any interest from you people of the Internet, I may do some more to sell. I though if some ideas during this project that I may want to incorporate into another version, like searing in rivers or highways, or adding different nails to designate cities. I also though about replacing the string with metal wire. I’d love to try these ideas, so if you’re in the market for some unique wall art, contact me!