Although the vast majority of the changes brought on by the pandemic have been difficult if not heartbreaking, some slivers of sunlight have made this unnerving period rewarding in small ways. When we have less to do in the outside world, our interior world can become richer: We can develop skills we’ve always wanted to explore. And we can meditate within a task engaging enough to make the news of the day fall away for an hour or two — a balm for the mind and for the soul. Taking time to do something with one’s hands, in particular, seems to alleviate stress. By the end of May, my dining-room table was covered with dozens of small rocks that I’d painted to (vaguely) resemble seals, whales, fish, seaweed, jellyfish, birds and more; I’d used my children’s watercolor set each evening (often accompanied by an adult beverage) after they’d gone to bed and the house was still. With this in mind, we present the first installment of Crafting With T, a new series of crafty how-tos, for which we call upon expert makers in the hopes of providing not only instruction but a temporary respite from the noise of the world.
First up is a column on painting a lampshade — a project that will only occupy an afternoon but yield a tangible result, one that will add instant flair and cheeriness to any room. Your guide will be the London artist, textile designer and lamp and shade decorator Cressida Bell, who descends from a long line of members of the Bloomsbury Group, the early 20th-century philosophical and aesthetic movement led by British artists, writers and thinkers, some of whom spanned different generations of the same families. Her grandmother was the painter Vanessa Bell, her great-aunt was Virginia Woolf and her father was the writer and artist Quentin Bell, whom Cressida recalls creating elaborate sculptural lamps and shades made from pottery clay, one of which still hangs in Charleston, the historic farmhouse in Sussex, England, that once served as a gathering place for the movement.
Bell’s hand-painted shades, decorated at her studio in Hackney (she also teaches classes on shade-painting there), bare certain Bloomsbury signatures — bright colors and modern, pared-down forms — mixed with her love of naturalism and whimsy. Below, Bell shares her step-by-step technique for creating one of her own signature motifs, a pink-and-red falling oak leaf. Oak trees, it’s worth noting, are widely regarded as symbols of strength and morale.
Paper lampshade (the one shown above is 14 inches in diameter)
Watercolor paints in yellow ocher, pink and red hues
Black latex paint or gouache
Gold felt-tip pen
Black felt-tip pen
Lightweight card stock
Clear varnish spray in a gloss finish
Various sizes of artist’s paint brushes
3-inch foam brush or wall-painting brush
An old plate or dish for mixing
Newspaper for worktable
Paper towels for cleanup
1. Print out the leaf template included here on card stock (or print on regular paper and trace onto a flashcard, cardboard or any other thick material). Cut it out using scissors or a craft knife.
2. Using a sharp soft pencil, draw around the template onto the lampshade, starting at the seam. Experiment with the arrangement, flipping the template over and varying the angle of the leaf. Try to keep the spacing even — and feel free to erase where necessary. The final pencil lines should be quite dark as you will be painting over them. Details like the stem and the spots can be added later.
3. Mix the background color: Squeeze about half a teaspoon of watercolor paint in yellow ocher onto a plate and add five dessert spoons’ worth of water. Use a paintbrush to mix together thoroughly. Try the color out on paper first to ensure the hue is right, waiting for the paint to dry. (We’re aiming for a translucent color to allow the shade to glow when lit.)
4. Using a large wall-painting brush or foam rubber brush, apply the paint to the shade, working around it evenly and speedily. It’s easiest if you’re standing up and holding the shade by its metal base. Please make sure to protect your worktable with plastic or newspaper. Keep going until the paint is even — you can go over it once more with some water on a clean brush, if it starts to look too dark. Leave the shade to dry, balancing it on a paint pot or something of the sort so it doesn’t sit on the table.
5. Mix the next color (light pink) in a similar way. Test on the same paper to see how it looks on top of the yellow. Remember that whatever background color you use will affect the colors painted on top.
6. Once the shade is dry, draw in the leaf stems using a pencil. You can cut the template in half to help you do this. Draw in the spots if desired (I normally paint them by eye).
7. Paint one half of each leaf pink. While painting, it helps to hold the shade at a comfortable angle. Turn it around or upside-down as necessary.
8. Mix the next color (red). This can be a little less diluted, as it is intended to be a strong color.
9. Once the pink is dry, paint the other half of each leaf red. (If you paint next to the wet paint it will run.)
10. Paint the stems onto the leaves using opaque black paint (latex or gouache paint works best). Again, try the paint out on the paper to see that it is not too thick and sticky, and dilute with water if necessary. Try using your paintbrush to taper the stem, starting with a full brush on the thicker end and gradually reducing pressure to make the line thinner. (You can use a felt tip pen for this if you find it easier.)
11. Paint black spots in the spaces between the leaves — however many you like. Paint the top and bottom borders of the shade in the same opaque black. Leave to dry supported away from the surface of the table as before.
12. If desired, outline the leaves with a black felt-tip pen. This strengthens the image.
13. Once the black is dry, use a gold felt-tipped pen to add spots on the top and bottom borders, the leaves and the black spots.
14. These paints are not waterproof. In order to protect the shade, you might want to finish by applying a light coat of spray-on varnish.
If you’re pleased with your results, Bell encourages you to send her snaps of your finished work at email@example.com.