This Does Not Compute

Technology, gaming, music and things that just don't compute

Art Project 2012: The Great Wave Home Office

After checking out Edo Pop at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts and seeing an actual print of The Great Wave off Kanagawa, I finally realized what I needed to do with the boring long wall in my home office.

Here’s what it looked like before I started:

After moving all of the furniture (the Ikea Effektiv cabinet went to the other side of the room, and the couch and drawers went into the master bedroom), the next step was to prime the wall white. It took two coats, and I’m kind of wishing I had taken the time and applied a third.

I have some creative talents, but being able to just walk up to a blank wall and sketch out a great piece of art from memory is not one of them. The Great Wave was a woodblock print that had 5,000 original copies made, of which an unknown number still exist. As with all printing methods, each color was carved as a separate woodblock. The piece of paper to be printed was carefully lined up on each woodblock as the colors were printed. As prints were made, the woodblocks would wear and the overall image would change a bit; thus, there are multiple images of The Great Wave floating around the Internet that don’t all look the same.

I did a Google image search and picked out the two I liked the best, my criteria being 1) high image resolution and 2) overall appearance of the image. If you want an incredibly high-res version (albeit one that is of a print from later in the run and with murky color), Wikipedia has a 37MB version. I’m not sure where the image that I ultimately chose came from, but it was plenty sufficient in terms of resolution and appearance:

Because of the dimensions of the wall, I determined that the most visually interesting portions of the full image (the crest of the wave towards the left, and Mount Fuji at the bottom) would be covered up by furniture. There’s no point in doing all the work to not be able to see it, so I opted to crop the image in such a way that the most interesting part would still be visible. I ended up with this:

So how was I supposed to get the image onto the wall so I could paint it? Easy:

Most non-HD LCD projectors have a native resolution of 800×600 (more expensive ones do 1024×768). After doing the math, my wall would need to have an 800×600 image tiled 4 across and 3 down, for a total of 12 images. I cropped my source image to 2400×1800 pixels, then sliced it up into 12 800×600 images. Then it was just a matter of hooking my MacBook up to the projector and, one image at a time, carefully projecting it onto the right place on the wall and tracing it out in pencil.

When I was done, I ended up with a white wall with a tracing of my image:

From there on, it pretty much became paint-by-numbers. The tools and supplies I ended up using:

I debated using real artists’ acrylic paint, but after looking at how small the tubes were and how much each cost, I quickly decided that regular interior wall paint would suffice. It’s all Behr Premium Plus flat. For my project only six colors were needed; three shades of blue plus white, grey and tan. Specifically:

  • 570D-4 “Colorado Springs”
  • 570D-6 “Neptune Blue”
  • 570D-7 “Nocturnal Sea”
  • 780C-1 “Sea Salt”
  • 790C-2 “Silver Drop”
  • 300E-3 “Clair de Lune”

I didn’t cheap out on brushes — with the intricate detail I knew I’d have to do, a regular paintbrush from Home Depot wouldn’t cut it. I picked up several of two kinds of brushes from Blick: #20 flat and #6 rounded. (I found that their Scholastic series, while the least expensive, worked well for my needs.)

The bamboo skewers were used as paint stirrers (much less wasteful than those monster ones used with gallon cans). The screwdriver was used to pry off lids; the rubber mallet was used to pound them back on. I didn’t use the masking tape very much other than to flag spots where I needed to remember to come back and touch up later.

Then it was just a matter of getting the paint on the wall, one color at a time, lightest to darkest.


I got the lightest blue color painted on the wall, took a step back, and realized it was way too green for my liking. I got very pissed, threatened to say F it and paint the whole wall back to its original color, then calmed down and drove back to Home Depot to pick new paint colors. The ones I listed above are the ones I settled on.

Ahh, much better. The green paint fiasco took me 4 days’ worth of painting to fix.

Appropriately, I listened to J-Pop almost exclusively while painting — lots and lots of Utada Hikaru, Koda Kumi, ohashiTrio and Do As Infinity (Eight is a fantastic album). On nights when I couldn’t decide what to put on, I fired up Japan-A-Radio.

One thing I decided to paint the easy way was Hokusai’s signature and the title of the work at the upper-left of the image. Since it was just a single color on top of another single color, it was easiest to trace onto masking tape applied to the wall, cut out the tape mask with an X-Acto art knife, then just paint over the whole thing.

A trick I learned as I went along relates to preventing paint from bleeding under the tape and ruining your clean edges. Paint a coat of your base color inside the masked area first, to seal the edge between the surface to be painted and the tape. Then apply your real color. Here’s an example; on the left I didn’t do the base-coat trick, and on the right I did.

What made painting the wall so tedious was that, since it was multicolor and had no straight lines, I couldn’t mask it. The whole thing had to be painted freehand with just the pencil tracing as a guide. What’s worse is that each color required two coats — here’s what it looked like with just one coat of the dark blue:

It literally took a month to paint the whole thing. I started the project on December 23 and finished it on January 25. I figure I put in at least 20 hours a week on it (12 hours on the weekends and 2 hours every evening during the week).

My hand looked like this pretty much the whole time, from holding the paint can:

Finally, though, it was done:

Based on the approximately 80 hours I spent on the project, if I valued my time at a very reasonable $12 per hour, it cost me almost $1,000 in labor alone. Add to that another $200 or so in tools and supplies. I blame the Minneapolis Institute of Arts for my $1200 wall.


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