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Jack And Sally Giant Letters

September 7, 2017

I was asked to paint Jack and Sally from  The Nightmare Before Christmas on two giant letters (initials) for a wedding.

It’s no secret that working in miniature is definitely what I’m most comfortable doing. Certainly any fan art I’ve ever created has been quite small scale. So these giant letters were a new challenge for me in a number of ways, but mostly because they were the largest things that I’ve ever painted.

The letters arrived early in the year, however due to fitting this project around two small children, I didn’t finish them until July. The wedding that they were featured in took place last Monday (Sept. 4th), so that is why I’m only now finally getting around to writing about the project!

Below I’ve outlined how I planned out the designs, transferred the designs to the letters, and painted them.


So first the MDF Blanks were purchased from The Wooden Letters Company. I knew the letters were going to be big, but I couldn’t really wrap my head around quite how big and heavy they were until they were delivered to my house.

To get started I primed them with spray paint as I needed a smooth surface to work with and didn’t want to risk any brush strokes ruining the finish. It took me 2 cans of primer and 2 cans of black to get them ready.

The wide surfaces coated nicely, however the edges (and there were a lot of edges due to all the curves) soaked in the paint like a sponge.

I had to do the priming over the course of weeks as I ran out of spray paint and could only work on it on weekends when the weather was both rain free, and not too windy for spray paint.

It probably goes without saying to anyone who lives here, but for everyone else – in Scotland for a weekend to line up without rain or wind is pretty rare!

To get the artwork started I sketched out a couple of rough designs on printer paper, and when I was finished I fired them off to the bride for approval via the super sophisticated method of Facebook messenger. It wasn’t until she approved them and I was ready to transfer the designs to the freshly primed letters that it dawned on me… I had absolutely no CLUE how I was going to do it cleanly and to scale.

I couldn’t free hand sketch directly on the spray-painted letters and risk eraser residue everywhere… so what was my alternative?

To wrap my brain around exactly how the designs would fit on the letters I decided to go to the local hobby store and purchase two huge pieces of poster board to trace the letters  onto so that I could get the design exactly to scale. Problem solved!

Well…that is, until I realized that I couldn’t get the perspective correct unless I was drawing on a vertical surface. And as it turns out… we don’t have a smooth surface anywhere in our house large enough for this task, so I had to do it on a door with a bumpy mirror underneath… awkward as hell but I got it done!!!

A few hours of drawing and erasing later, feeling super clever and pleased with my productivity and problem solving skills, I sent a photo of the huge sketches to the bride for her final approval before I transferred them onto the letters.

She approved…and as I mentally prepared for painting I realized I still had no idea how I was going to get the designs onto the letters themselves.

Well damn…. So I cut out the characters from the giant sketches! Great idea, very proud of myself… however that only really was good for outlines, which meant that the issue still remained of how to get the details all positioned correctly…

Details like facial features that can  change dramatically if a line is off by as little as a few millimeters.

I’m sure there is a better way to do this, (and yes I did totally consider transfer paper or even a projector) but in the end (after ruling out transfer paper and lacking a projector) I used the highly technical method of poking pin holes (with an actual pin) in the butchered cut up sketches so that I could stick a pencil through the holes, onto the MDF exactly where key elements of the picture were located. Then I sort of connected the dots to get the features drawn in.  I’m still not sure if this was an over complicated way of doing things, but it worked and that’s the main thing.

When they were ready for painting, I took my time to ensure that every layer was completely dry before going to another, which meant days of drying time. This took a great deal of restraint on my part as it’s really difficult for me to stop once I’m on a roll, but I couldn’t risk overworking a section and then accidentally taking off a chunk of paint that I couldn’t replace.

I did the backgrounds first, and then worked on the character details and lastly shading. I used an assortment of acrylic paints  on this project, just whatever I had to hand and in the end I didn’t seal it with anything as I was too paranoid that it would discolor and I wasn’t convinced that it was entirely necessary.

The painting part of this project took me a few weekends to accomplish, but when it was finished I was really happy with the way they turned out and the bride and groom were delighted, which is really the most important thing!

At the wedding reception the letters were displayed in front of the bride and groom at the head table (on the floor) tying in nicely with all of the other Nightmare Before Christmas elements that were worked into the occasion.

Try to ignore all of the debris under my sofa… I have a toddler, and all food becomes confetti, mixed in with toys, squirreled away all over my house…

But seriously… look at the size of my sofa behind these things!

Photo by J. Mclauchlan

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