My niece joined the family on July 12th, 2010. This special young lady's mother is my younger sister, which in classic Chinese culture makes me her Jiu Jiu (舅舅) -- thus the title of this blog. Here I intend to semi-regularly post reflections, thoughts, stories, and assorted whathaveyous pertaining to our trip to China, adoption in general, and (mostly) watching my niece grow up. Since the web is a very public place, I will attempt to maintain my family's privacy while telling the story... but I invite you to follow the blog and come along for the adventure!

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

The Saga of the Toy Chest, Part 2

So there I am, a whole month of buffer time gone, and I have exactly ONE panel of the Pipsqueak's new toy chest ready to roll.  Not even a front or side panel... No, the bottom. As in, the part that's gonna be absolutely buried by all her stuff so those cute lil' Olaf faces will probably never see the light of day once she starts actually using her gift.

I realized that I had to get moving. Like, fast.

The largest, most exposed surface would be the lid, and I still had absolutely no idea what image to use. I had Olafs picked out for the front, the sides (same image, mirrored for symmetry), even the back -- but that big ol' top had me stymied until I had yet another brainstorm.  I'd bought a set of alphabet stencils to put Miri's name on the chest, why not just do it up a little fancier?  All I had to do was line up the stencils, draw gently around their edges with a pencil, ink over the lines... yeah, easy as pie.

That was the theory.  I laid out the stencils to test-fit the letters onto the lid, and discovered yet another totally unexpected problem.  Here's the uppercase M, here's the lower-case i, here's the... Uh-oh.

The stencils didn't line up.

I was going to have to measure each letter, figure out the spacing, and come up with some way to make sure they lined up properly, with no guides on the stencils themselves.  Since I had saved the long pieces of clean newsprint that had separated the Trogen panels in the box, I had a nice long piece of paper to experiment on so I set to work.

Two sweat-, anxiety-, and cuss-filled evenings later. I realized that This Ain't Gonna Work Either. Sitting on the living room floor staring at a long piece of paper covered with erasure marks and only three letters, I began to wonder if I should just go out an play in traffic when I flashed back to all those old penmanship notebooks from 3rd grade. Parallel lines, I thought, a baseline for the bottom of each character, another for the top of the little letters, and another for the top of the big letters. Half an hour later, I had my guide lines oh-so-carefully drawn (very lightly) in pencil on the top panel and was ready to begin tracing the letters from the stencils.

Then I realized the stenciling would be relatively simple but that I still had a whole bunch of Olafs to trace & color, and they would be more fun than the fakakte lettering... So I put aside all the stencils and began working to Olaf-ize the front, side, and back panels.

Being old enough to remember how messy carbon paper was, I thrilled at how much less smudgy the graphite paper was, and how easily it cleaned up with a pencil eraser. The real trick was holding the picture I was tracing securely enough to prevent any twisting or sideways motion that would distort or break up the traced image. Slowly, stopping every few minutes to just breathe and mop my brow or shake a cramp out of my hand, I traced over the printed Olaf image with a ball pint pen.  Slightly more than half an hour later, I carefully lifted all the paper away from the Trogen and marveled at the "penciled" duplicate of the Olaf I had traced.

Um... wait, why is part of his arm missing? And where's that 3rd coal button on his front...?!?  I realized that my mistake (yep, just one more in a long series) had been to print the images in black ink and trace them with a black ballpoint pen -- making it nearly impossible to see if I'd missed tracing over any of the lines.  Thoroughly annoyed with myself (again), I carefully carefully CAREFULLY! lined up the printed image with the transferred version, slid the graphite paper underneath, and added the missing bits. I took a short break, then took a really deep breath and prepared to draw over the faint graphite lines with the ultra-fine-point black paint pen I had bought earlier that day.

I primed the tip as per the instructions by pressing down repeatedly on a wad of clean paper, then began inking over the graphite lines with black paint. It only took a few lines for me to realize the point of the paint pen was too fine, because I was having to work hard to make some lines thick enough to cover the design properly. Then I noticed that the graphite was clogging the tip and paint wasn't flowing quite as well as before. When I went to re-prime the pen, it made a quiet little "blurrp" sound and left a biiig bubble of black paint wobbling on the surface of the priming page.  Amazingly, none of the paint soaked all the way through to the carpet... but the paint pen was dead and Olaf only had a bit of his head inked in. In desperation, I grabbed a fine point black Sharpie that was laying nearby and it did just as nice a job on large pictures of Olaf as it had done on little images of his head (plus angling the pen differently would give me the thick or thin lines I needed).

I noticed the side of my hand was smudging the graphite lines a little, so I kept a clean piece of paper between my hand and the surface and that particular problem was solved. I stopped partway through to make sure I hadn't yet again led myself astray, and decided I liked what I saw; ten minutes later (by which time it was well into the wee hours of the morning) I had a complete line drawing of Olaf right where I wanted him.

I decided to color in the picture before proceeding with any others, so the next day I returned to the crafts store and bought a package of assorted colored Sharpie markers, plus a couple of individual chisel-point Sharpies in light blue and orange for Olaf's mouth and nose (the largest expanses of color) plus another couple of the fine point black markers.  After work that night, I tore open the package of colored Sharpies and, after some experimentation, discovered that lots and lots and lots of teeny-tiny minuscule little strokes (aided by the occasional on-purpose smudging with a clean finger) gave me even coverage of larger areas. By the time 4:00 a.m. rolled around, I was able to go up to bed with the satisfaction of having completed one complete Olaf image in full color.

The next day I had a brainstorm on how to avoid the "invisible tracing pen" problem. The images were just black-and-white line drawings, so I converted the digital files to greyscale, increased the brightness and decreased the contrast. Voila -- light gray lines that were plenty dark for me to trace but light enough to easily show if I'd missed tracing over any of them with my pen! Feeling like a real pro, I got the 2nd Olaf onto the Trogen's front panel, even finishing the task 45 minutes earlier than the first.

I went to bed thinking I'd just press through and Olaf-ize each of the other panels in turn over the next few nights, but woke up with the realization that I had no idea how the colored Sharpie ink might interact with the clear lacquer that would be covering everything -- so I pushed all the drawing supplies to one side, opened the front & back doors (I was getting tired of breathing paint fumes all the time), and sprayed on the first coat of clear lacquer.

Lookin' good, Dude.

I waited the recommended 20 minutes and gave the panel a close viewing. So far, so good... maybe a rough patch, over there, but nothing another couple of smooth coats of lacquer wouldn't fix.  I applied  the second coat, gave it a close review, and left it to sit for the recommended 20 minutes before spraying on the 3rd and final coat.

Lookin' good, Dude.

I grabbed a bite to eat, put a load of laundry into the washing machine, gave the can of lacquer another good shaking, and went to spray on the final coat.

Looking' g- What the hell is THAT...!?!?!

The "that" was the little rough patch I'd noticed after the first coat. Only it wasn't a little rough patch anymore. It was a region of white paint being lifted clear off the front of the Trogen by the lacquer as it dried, visibly growing in size as I watched.  (Remember at the end of my last post where I mentioned heartbreak? Well, there it was, big as life and growing like some unwelcome alien fungus.)

All of a sudden, I was regretting taking the shortcut of believing the "sticks to all surfaces" statements on the Krylon 2X cans and not doing any sanding of the Trogen.  I don't know what kind of kid-proof clearcoat IKEA uses, but it sure as all get-out was repelling my "sticks to anything" paint... and just putting the two Olaf images on this panel and spraying the one side with the clear lacquer had taken me three days.

I gave the panel a closer inspection and found more patches of the unwanted bubbling slowly appearing.  Luckily none overlapped the Olafs, so I decided to save time by spot-sanding and then spot-painting the patches instead of stripping the entire panel and starting over from scratch.

You'd think I would've learned my lesson by now, but nooo...  In my defense, I did mitigate this particular bout of insanity by deciding the first thing to do was carefully inspect every one of the Trogen panels by sight and touch to weed out any more "little rough spots" that might cause future heartbreak.  Spot-sanding the front panel would be a little tricky since it already had three coats of extra-thick clear lacquer, but all the others were just white paint so they would be easy (I thought).  A couple of nights' worth of inspection, cussing, sanding, cussing, and reviewing later, I had the photo below (there were more patches on the reverse side of each panel):

As you can see, there were more than just a few spots where I should've done some surface prep.  I spent an entire evening on each of the spots on the front panel, carefully scraping all loose paint from their edges, then sanding down the edges with three different grades of sanding sponges so there wouldn't be any sharp edges between old and new paint, then lightly sanding the paint outside the edges to ensure old & new sprays would blend seamlessly.

Having already experienced the phenomenon of overspray, I knew I'd have to protect the two Olafs when I reapplied the white paint.  I spent part of one evening reading about different types of masking tape online, then spent close to an hour in the paint supply aisle of the local Home Depot reading all the fine print on the labels of every. single. type.  of masking tape they had available. I bought a roll guaranteed to not damage painted surfaces, not leave any residue, and not react chemically with any paints (a bargain at $8.49) and headed home with high hopes.

I carefully applied the tape as lightly as I dared, covering each of the Olaf images a tiny bit at a time, until I was certain I could protect the rest with a piece of paper. I checked the alignment of the tape one last time before spraying, and noticed one piece wasn't where I wanted it.  I carefully, gently, nervously lifted the inch-long piece of tape to reposition it...

...and completely, totally, thoroughly broke my own heart (again). Where the tape had been was the bright yellow original surface of the Trogen, and the white paint (with colored bit of Olaf) that had been there was stuck fast to the back of the tape. All too late I realized that the patches I had oh-so-carefully prepared for repainting were not the only ones where the spray paint hadn't adhered to the surface I had left unprepared -- they were simply the most obvious.  NONE of the white paint had adhered to the surface of the Trogen, and as I began removing bits of tape with increasing speed, anger, and ferocity, the two Olafs were nearly obliterated.

By the time I'd stopped yelling(!) at the panel in front of me and had all the tape I'd used balled up in my hand, it was obvious even to my fevered mind that the one, the only, the absolutely necessary way to continue with the project was to START ALL OVER AGAIN FROM THE BEGINNING.  (I think the phrase actually appeared in the middle of my living room, floating in bright neon red a couple of feet below the ceiling until I blinked it away.)

I took a few minutes to get my heart rate back down into double digits and looked around.  There were patches of powered white paint scattered around the living room carpet where I'd been doing my sanding.  There were Trogen panels leaning against the rail in the entryway, Trogen panels sitting on boxes in the living room, and Trogen panels leaning on the wall in the dining room.  There were assorted sanding sponges, stencils, markers, pencils, rulers, and other tools all over the place... Everything but the completed toy chest I had been expecting to be looking at by now.

With a knot in my stomach, I consulted a calendar.  I had started the project with almost three months before the deadline, then had a total fail with Version 1.0 ( the Apa boxes), and now had a total fail with Version 2.0 (peeling paint).  The sanding and long-overdue surface prep was going to take a lot of time and effort; I only had enough space to paint a couple of panels at a time; each coat of paint needed time to cure before I could spray over it; each Olaf would take an hour or more to complete; and I still had no idea how to space out the stencils for the top panel...

...and I was into the last week of May, with Miri's birthday looming on June 20th.

NEXT: In which our hero overcomes adversity, battles insomniac insanity, repeatedly begs forgiveness from a six-year-old child, and eventually achieves his goal while feeling only slightly wiser but a whole lot older...!

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