Rob Gorrell - Folk Artist

Get your lanterns now. It will be dark soon.


Building a tramp art cupboard.

Painted Folk Art, Rustic Furniture, Tramp ArtRob GorrellComment

Tramp art hidden drawer cupboard. I made this painted tramp art cupboard a while back but have been wanting to show the process of how it was made.  Like many things I make, this one changed several times before I came up with something that I was really happy with.

This whole thing started when I bought about 1000 reject drawers for router cabinets from my local Woodcraft store. I figured they would be a good starting point for lots of different projects that required small drawers. One idea was to make a small cupboard that would hold several small drawers. I wanted this cupboard to be plain on the outside, and a bold surprise on the inside. Dan Mack once said that you should not explain your piece to the viewer, but instead, let the piece open up and allow the viewer to discover the story for themselves. I wanted the story to be inside of this cupboard, waiting to be discovered.

My brother was remodeling and old country post office building that needed a new roof. The old roof had really cool pressed tin panels that were rusted nearly to the point of falling apart. I also had a stash of reject walnut lumber to use for the case.

Tramp art cupboard roughed in.

Here you can see the cupboard being roughed in. I decided to use some birch plywood for the doors to keep them from warping. You can see that I am going to have to piece together the tin panels to cover the doors completely. Getting the old rusty tin to form neatly around the door panels was a bit challenging. The old paint kept flaking off where I did not want it to.

I added chip carved fronts to the drawers and matching chip carved panels on the insides of the drawers. I added only simple edge-carved side panels on the outside.

Here is what the primitive cupboard looked like with the doors attached and the tramp art carving completed.

Tramp art cupboard ready to paint.
Tramp art cupboard ready to paint.

Ok, here is where I ran into trouble.  My plan was to have the inside be very bright and decided to go with an americana set of colors. I should add that I usually need to consult Shelley about colors to get something that looks good. I did not do this.... So here is where the paint job ended up for a while.

Red white and blue tramp art cupboard.

Now this is with my old camera, and the red did not look quite this bad, but it was close.  It did not take long to realize that this cupboard was not finished. I let it stew for a few weeks to see what would happen.

This was about the point where I started adding metalworking tools to my little shop. I also found some patina solution in our supplies that put a copper patina over a base metal, in this case, tin.  So I fiddled around with crinkled tin panels that followed the lines in the tin on the doors, and added the patina in several layers.

For the inside I went with a sort of new age-y green with metallic blue, gold and green speckles.  It sort of ended up with a green night sky sort of feel that I was very happy with.  By adding the door panels and repainting the inside I came up with a neat little cupboard that I am pretty happy with...for now. Here is the finished cupboard. It is about 14 inches tall and about 5" deep.

Hidden drawer tramp art cupboard

Hidden drawer tramp art cupboard, open


In retrospect, 1000 drawers was about 950 more than I really needed. I ended up giving them away by the case. The last 450 or so went to the local school art department.  At least they did not end up in the landfill.

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Building a tramp art cupboard with a stained glass door.

Painted Folk Art, Tramp ArtRob GorrellComment

Tramp art cupboard Sometimes a project takes a while to reach its final form. That is the case with this cupboard.  It started when we found a really cool stained glass window from England. We got it at Great Stuff by Paul in Frederick Md. 

It laid in my shop for months until we decided to make a bathroom cupboard with it.  I made a small pie safe sort of primitive cupboard that was painted a distressed green and white.  We used the cupboard for a few years until we remodeled the bathroom (more on that another time). 

This was about the time I was becoming a lot more interested in making tramp art and making a tramp art cupboard seemed like a good project to try. Why start small right?

Beginning of stained glass tramp art cupboard

The main thing that we wanted to do with this cupboard was to incorporate the stained glass design into the body of the cupboard.  It was a nice simple design with a green leaf in a mostly geometric background.  We traced out the design and reduced it to fit the sides and front of the cupboard.

I then started cutting out the parts and notching the edges of each piece.  At the time I was using a power jig to make the V-notches so the work moved along pretty fast. Since then I have decided that I do not like the look of the power cut V notches and cut nearly all V's by hand.

Side of tramp art cupboard before painting


You can see here where we worked the stained glass design into the tramp art layers.  Sorry about the fuzzy pictures. I have a better camera now.

Cutting the layers sanding and glueing took a couple of weeks of evenings and weekends. One of the reasons I have gotten away from power cutting notches most of the time is because you end up having to sand fuzzy edges off of every notch, which is mind numbing. I am not convinced you save any time over hand carving the notches on anything other than small projects.

Tramp art cupboard with stained glass door.

So there is the finished piece.  We now use it in our living room to hold photo albums.  I plan on adding some better photographs later on. If you have any questions about this cupboard or are thinking of making one yourself drop me a note and we can talk.

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And now, Fish on a Stick.

Painted Folk ArtRob Gorrell1 Comment

Maybe it is a throw back to the days when I was more production oriented than I am now, but usually when I start making something I cut out parts for several items at once.  Along with the thin blanks that I used for Dork Fish and Punk Fish, I cut a 3 inch thick blank from some soft pine that I have salvaged. It was a scrap from a log home construction site.  At first I was planning on making a weather vane, complete with compass points. But when I got to this point I decided I liked the idea of it being on a simple cedar log stand.  As it neared completion my wife kept calling it the "fish on a stick", like Jeff Dunham's "jalapeno on a stick".  After a while the name Fish Stick just kind of stuck.

I am a beginning carver, so this is a bit primitive. But I am happy with the outcome. He is pretty beat up, with beer cap eyes and tin can fins. I added several coats of acrylic paint that I distressed to show colors through the layers.  The heat gut got a work out on this project.  If you are using a heat gun be very careful. There is a fine line between blistered paint and wood project smoking.

I think this is the end of the fish for a little while. I have some other tramp art projects in progress and am trying to get my newly aquired antique blacksmith forges repaired and ready to use for the summer.

This project  is for sale in my Etsy Store.

>When you've made a Dork Fish, Punk Fish must follow.

Painted Folk ArtRob GorrellComment

>Usually when I get on a kick to make something I will cut out parts for a few of the item. Part of the reason I do this is my more production oriented past with rustic furniture, and partly because I figure at some point I will screw up part of the job and have to start over.  Every now and then things go well and I end up with sort of a series of variations on a theme. In this case it is a fish series I guess. When I was making Dork Fish I kept thinking of this box of old nails used to fasten wooden plaster lath that I had been hoarding for years.  The idea of using the nails to make wild hair on something kept rolling around in my head. Then, while looking through some old guide books for England I saw photos from the punk period and, as they say over the pond, "Bob's your uncle", Punk Fish.

So after some more folk art style carving, paint distressing, and so on, here is Punk Fish:

I have to admit that we did not see anything quite like this in London, but it's a big city, we could have missed it. Oh, and if you are planning a trip to the UK, check the Iceland Volcano situation....
Here is a close up of our man Punk Fish:
This item is in my Etsy store .

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>May I present, Dork Fish.

Painted Folk ArtRob GorrellComment


 I finally finished the Dork Fish and took some decent photos.  In a previous post I described some of the construction of this project. It is made from all salvaged and reused items.  The fish is carved from salvaged poplar, the fins are parts of tin cans and the bobbers and lures are found.  The background is made from re-worked beer caps,  which I hate to admit, we made available ourselves.

Is calling a fish a dork politically incorrect? He doesn't seem to mind.  He has his pocket protector, pencils, glasses and is ready to go (sorry).

Here you can see some detail of how I put the project together.  The total dimensions are about 17 x 31 inches.

Dork fish is for sale in my Etsy Store .