Project Sesame Street

It has been a whirlwind the last two weeks, but now I’m pleased to say we finally made it back home.  Linda and I were actually off on vacation to Yellowstone and the Grand Teton areas and caught a number of entertaining places on our drive out there and on the way back.  This is the main reason last month’s posts were a little more burden than usual.  In fact, the last 5 posts for that month were all done on the road (literally) or late nights in hotel rooms.  Luckily I was able to get all the pre-work done on the images and then uploaded before heading out – no trivial matter since the bit into the packing time and prepping for the Chase Race.  All is good now, the kids are back and finally getting some sleep thanks to being through with crappy hotel beds.  The next couple of posts are actually cleanup from last month’s prep work.  Not knowing what mood I’d be in for posting topics, I worked up a few extras.  Tonight’s had a slight time lag since the trip also involved delivering a project to our friends Dr. G and David.  We had the pleasure of meeting up with them on our way out to Yellowstone and were able to spend a few days catching up and checking out all the animals in the park.  (By the way, thanks again for letting us stay over at your house)

Turns out we were able to explore Yellowstone with David and Dr. Giselle a few years back (link here).   To complete a project idea, we gave ourselves a mission – Seek out and photograph naturally (er or in some cases man made) occurrences of the letters W Y S T O L E N. When I chose to accept this mission I didn’t have very high hopes of actually being able to pull it off but this kid is no stranger to a challenge.  It took some effort, but with the help of the team we located every one of those letters somewhere in the park (er.. at least close to it if not in it).  Each was expertly photographed, transferred in triplicate to the storage drives and then … left to wallow in the darkness until there was enough time to kick-start the official project.  That point in time did not make itself available until last December – just before Christmas to be exact.  When possible I like to give Linda creative gifts for special occasions .. something she can’t just go out and buy which directly translates to something handmade.  To be honest, she probably could go out and buy much better versions of the stuff I give her, but part of the gift is really the blood sweat, tears and too often frustration that go into making it.  Good thing I waited until nearly Christmas Eve to working on this project ’cause nothing like putting yourself in a corner to keep you focused.

I’m going to skip ahead a bit on the project since the real meat of any photography project is the matte creation.  So just assume the all the typical effort of pouring through thousands of photographs to find the best letter composition, post processing those, sending them out to get printed in both color and black and white and locating a frame and corresponding matte blank were tediously completed.  with that out of the way, the matte cutter was dragged out along with the tools that would be needed.

We do a LOT of photography framing etc. so we opted to purchase our own matte cutter (on the left of the image).  Based on the prices local framing retailers charge this has more than paid for itself over the years.  After an extended period of time in Jeffery Alans I decided on the choice of mattes – a textured white front with a black backing.  This would give a nice black border on the images with the bevel cuts.  The shot above was taken a little late in the process since you can see the layout had already been drawn out on the backing of the frame I purchased.  Let’s go a little closer on that since this is the loooongest part of the process.

Hit the jump to see how this project turns out

I new there had to be proper spacing for 11 4×6 images but getting that to layout in a pleasing pattern was a challenge.  There was a forced order but some creative licensing provided an option that would hopefully work in the limited width of the frame.  For the next 2 and 1/2 hours I measured, drew, erased and repeated so many times insanity was knocking on the door.  Linda will tell you that if there is one OC curse that flows through my veins it is SYMMETRY.  It will literally drive me insane if there is something that is improperly placed with regards to symmetry.   Yes, I straighten pictures all the time in my house and will fight like hell NOT to do it in other public places – sorry, it’s just my thing and apologies to anyone I might offend when my inner self overwhelms all my resistance mechanisms.  Linda probably should get saint status for dealing with this for all these years.  Good news is I’m filled with a high degree of patience when working on projects so given sufficient time I’ll generally get it right .. at the tolerable cost of sleep which was the case here.  Oh, for those wanting to replicate something similar – keep in mind you have to shrink the opening so you have something to tape the photographs to.  My standard gap is 2mm on each side.  Once it is laid out on the backing frame (frames using come with a sheet of paper with the dimensions and marketing text – just flip that over and use that as your template – you know it already fits the frame so you can eliminate a few extra measurements.  The bad news is once that is all done you have to manually transfer that to the BACK of the matte – granted the calculations are eliminated but you still need to measure and mark as before but this time without the erasing.  Add at least another 45 minutes to an hour to get this done depending on the complexity of the pattern.

Okay, the hard part is really done – next phase is what I term the tedious phase or the nightmare phase depending on your perspective of working on something you can’t make a mistake on.  The matte cutter removes the difficulty of keeping your bevel cuts at the right angle, but it doesn’t prevent you from cutting the wrong line or cutting too far on a given line.  That is totally on the user’s side of the equation.  Let me also provide you with another helpful hint for your own efforts – IT MATTERS HOW YOU ALIGN THE MATTE WHEN CUTTING!!  I can’t stress that enough.  I’ve tried to save time and simply slide the cutter to each horizontal line and cut away only to find out later that another trip to the store to purchase another matter was in order.  Still wondering why?  It’s a bevel cut – you want the bevels to and outward (from behind) in order to get the right appearance on all sides of the opening.  Here is a shot with the first set of openings finished – it is shifted to give you a feel for the cut.  When cutting the matte the line is so small you can barely tell you’ve made a cut until you lift the matte up and the perfect rectangles drop out.

Depending on how well you did drew up your lines, this process should only take about an hour – do not rush it, one miss cut or a cut to long and ruin the whole thing.  Luckily all went well with this particular phase.  This shot shows the matter completely cut – I save all the cutouts in hopes of finding some project in the future that needs some stiff backing.

Next up is the picture placement.  When you flip the matte back over, don’t forget that your picture placement is now reversed.  To keep the confusion down I tend to write some note (obviously, on the back) above each opening as to what picture goes where.  Grab some scotch tape and securely affix each picture in the desired order.  Yes, the 2mm doesn’t give you a lot of room to play with, but assuming you cropped all the bad stuff out of the pictures in post processing so everything left must be worth showing.

Drum rolllll – time to turn it over.

If you recall, I had both color and B&W versions done.  After trying the different options the B&W version ended up being the best choice – in my opinion.  Oh, and the letters actually went in a different order.  The hard work is all done.  Slap it in the frame, replace the backing cardboard and press down the locking tabs and TADA!

You are now the proud owner of an original gift your wife is sure to cherish..or at least like better than the fluffy bedroom slippers you’ve been impulse buying every Christmas Eve for all those years.  Let’s hope for sanity purposes she measure the nail hole and aligns the picture straight when she gets around to hanging it.

Note, this is one of those rare projects I had the privilege of doing twice.  Since Dr G. and David helped us out on the project I also made one up for them as well.  We delivered it when we met up with them on the last trip which is why I was waiting a bit before making this post.  Hope you enjoyed this project and maybe gave you some good ideas for your next gift giving holiday.  The great thing about this gift is you can always hunt down better examples of letters and swap them out for a lifetime of fun and adventure.

2 thoughts on “Project Sesame Street”

  1. An interesting and well-documented project! I’m absolutely sure I would have just made all the horizontal cuts without thinking about the directions of the bevels. How did you trace the pattern onto the back of the matte? If you say carbon paper I’ll drop over right now.

    Apparently you described what W Y S T O L E N means in an earlier post, but it is beyond the foggy edge of my memory. Rather than me actually looking for it (*sigh*), can you please remind me what it is?

    Thanks for an interesting post and a really neat project. That matte cutter looks extremely useful, too.



  2. nope, transfer was totally manual measure the lines on the template and reproduce them on the matte – actually not sure how carbon would work very well since the back of the matte was actually black.

    Sigh… I try to leave some mental exercise on every post – whether that is the clever title or some piece of information that I hoped would be easy to put together based on obvious clues. I purposely didn’t mention that some of the letters would be repeated in the final project which should have been evident in the number of cutouts in the matte. The last picture should have “spelled” it out for you. I will say it took a little bit of mental strain to put the letters into the fake order so it looked like something else – hehehe

    I love the matte cutter! For one thing you quickly learn how much you are getting raped by framing companies and secondly, it frees you from the “box” the merchants have you trapped in having to rely on their prefabbed layouts. Note, for the curious and located locally the Red Carpet on Knoxville has a display in their hallway which show off some very nice matting and picture presentations if you need some creative ideas.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s