Monday, March 23, 2015

Art Nouveau Compact--Tutorial

Modern makeup compact

As a prop master, I've had to come up with vintage makeup packages and applicators from time to time.  Sometimes I'm fortunate to find vintage pieces, but there are times when they need to be created.

My wife had a used Covergirl compact for face powder and I asked her for it when it was used up.  I had an idea for making an Art Nouveau compact that would be stage worthy.

Step #1:  Research
I did a quick google search for Art Nouveau compacts and came up with a couple of images I liked.  One was a dragon fly with a blue background, the other was a cast silver piece with bas relief.  I decided to Frankenstein the two of them together.

Image research

Step #2:  The Colored Background
I chose a scrap piece of red velvet for the background color for this piece.  First I turned the velvet over and with a sharpie pen drew the outline on the backside.  Then I cut the circle out, but made sure I cut it a little smaller than actual.  I don't know if this was good, bad or indifferent, it made sense to me to do it that way.

When it was cut, I took it to the fume hood in the shop and coated the top of the compact and the backside of the velvet circle with Super 77 Spray Adhesive.  I double coated the velvet.  I gave two coats to the velvet because fabric is absorbent and I wished to seal the fibers.  The second coating was for adhering.

I can't say enough about having proper ventilation when using solvent based adhesives or other chemicals.  If you are fortunate enough to have access to a fume hood, use it.  

I waited for a few minutes to let the spray adhesive get tacky and then I put them together, hoping to create a permanent bond.  I was successful.

The parts

Tracing the outline


Cutting the circle

Circle of velvet

The fume hood.

3M Super 77 Spray Adhesive

My Dad always said it was a fool who stated the obvious...

Coated with spray adhesive

Attached with a permanent bond

Step #3:  Prepping
I noticed at this point that there was a paper sticker on the back of the compact that would need to be removed.  I turned to the always handy, Goo Gone for that

One thing I hadn't accounted for is the fact that velvet is a little stretchy and as I applied it to the top of the compact it became a little misshapen.  I used an exact-o knife to trim the edges back to where I thought they ought to be.

Once the edges were cleaned up, I transferred the image to the velvet with a sharpie pen.

An important ingredient in any prop master's kit, Goo Gone

Label gone.  Amazing!

Cleaning up the edges

Transferring the image freehand

The image

Step #4:  Hot Glue
Hot glue fell out of favor among prop artisans and costume craftspeople in the nineties.  I think it's been having a slow rebirth in the prop field.

I like to use hot glue as a sculpting medium when making certain props.  It's a great way to get something 3D in a hurry.  I used two sizes of hot glue guns when doing this project.  A large one and a small one.

Hot glue works best for distance work.  If this were something I had to put on film or very close up I would use a different medium.  However, at a distance it works quite well.  At a distance broad brush strokes show up better than fine detail.  Close up work demands the fine detail.  Fifteen feet away, though this piece becomes stage worthy.

With the line work drawn in, the hot glue step becomes more of a paint by numbers proposition.  Fill in the black parts.

Hot glue is notorious for leaving behind little spiderwebby strands.  It's important to wait for the hot glue to completely cool before removing them.  I used a toad sticker to get the leftovers off of the piece.

Large hot glue gun for the broad strokes

Smaller glue gun for the smaller detail


The toad sticker

Step #5:  Gold Leaf
This step can be done with any color metal leaf.  I had originally intended to use silver leaf but discovered I didn't have any on hand.  Since this was a prototype prop, I went with what I had.

I started on the bottom of the compact and gold leafed that, then I moved to the sides.  Once they were done I moved to the hot glue on top.

The first step of gold leafing is to apply the metal leaf size.  Basically it's an adhesive.  I have gold leafed with spray adhesive before, when I was in a hurry.  It works okay, but I think the effect looks better when a brush on size is applied.

The size goes on with a milky color.  When it dries to the touch and the milky quality has turned clear, it's time to apply the metal leaf.  It's imperative to keep your hands free from the adhesive when you are applying metal leaf.  If you don't, it sticks to you and causes messes and problems.  Keep your hands clean.

Lay the sheet of metal leaf on the size very gently, then press it straight down into the size.  Once you are certain you have a good bond, then you can get a stiff paintbrush and burnish the metal leaf.  This does two things, first it completes the glue bond and second it gives the metal leaf a luster.

Once the metal leafing is finished, inspect the piece to make sure there aren't any spots where the metal leaf missed.  Cover any missed spots by repeating the process.  When you are satisfied with the metal leafing, the final step is to seal the metal leaf.  The company that makes the size also makes a sealer.  It's important to seal the metal leaf, especially if you are using imitation leaf.  The metal leaf will dull over time and oxidize to something really ugly.  I've had a little experience with that actually.

Metal leaf size

Gold leaf package

After the size has turned clear, apply the metal leaf gently to the surface, then press straight down into it.


Applying the size to the sides

Metal leaf applied, ready for burnishing

Applying the size to the hot glue

Metal leaf applied to the hot glue


The finished piece

So, this was a prototype, and I think it is definitely stage worthy.  This is project I will attempt again.  I think next time I'll take greater care with the hot glue and maybe choose a pattern that isn't so specific.  This was an enjoyable project for me.  I hope the readers enjoy it.


  1. Hot glue to the rescue again! What's the advantage to using metal leaf instead of, say, gold paint?

    1. Hi Kjerstin, there is only one advantage to metal leaf. It's prettier. Spray paint, because it comes out in micro droplets never seems to have the luster that I want. Metal leaf does. (Plus it's far more pretentious, maybe that's the real answer...)