The Process - Medicine Wheels / Crop Circles
The frame: I cut the frames from 2 x 6 cedar decking, minimizing the amount of waste material by sizing the width of the frames to get 3 frame rails per given length of 2 x 6. The frame rails are run through the table saw multiple times to achieve the profile that accommodates both the glass and backboard.
Mitre cuts are made at the appropriate length. I have an older table saw that works well for a rough cut effect - not so good for precision cutting. Using an old blade with one tooth slightly bent towards the fence, each piece is run through.
The mitre cuts are glued and rails placed into a frame clamp, once the glue dries, I use small V-nails and hand tool to further strengthen the joint. At some point I plan to use larger frame nails. But for now - the backboard being mounted in the frame with 8 screws, provides plenty of rigidity.
Files, wood rasps and other tools are used to distress the wood, along with a wood burning tool. I have two mixtures I use to artificially age the frames, one being sodium bicarbonate and water, producing a lighter colour and vinegar with water for a darker look. After the wood is dry, a dark rubbing stain is applied using a rag and finger tip.
Once the glass is cut to size, It is cleaned in order to receive an applied frosting that doesn't like any debris what so ever, even a spec of dust or small hair can blemish the look of the frosted border. The material holds a static charge that will attract such debris and it comes in a roll that after cutting, tends to curl up and stick to itself. The application is the most difficult part of the whole process for those reasons. I also use a piece of frosting slightly smaller than the glass size and cut out the centre portion, which needs removal fairly quickly before it's adhesive dries, leaving the border.
Seams in the corners would be visible if I were to use strips of frosting and difficult to mitre - so there is some waste of the material, but in my opinion, it is better than using a chemical etching which makes a mess and ends up down the drain. I tried this method when first starting out, but the applied version is way more simple, no harsh chemicals, no uneven etching, and no need to mark and mask the glass.
In one corner of the frosting sheet I use 2 pieces of scotch tape, one on the back and one on the front, and the ends of each tape is folded over for easy separation of the products backing and the tapes removal. After a bit of trial and error and some wasted material ( if the product sticks to itself while dry, is impossible to salvage without leaving creases), I spray the solution while holding the backings corner tape with my teeth and the frosting corner tape in the other hand, coating it fully before the backings full removal. This eliminates the static and reduces the tendency to stick to itself.
The artwork with triple designs are a bit more awkward and sprayed several times before the backing is peeled off completely, and with all sizes, is applied to the glass with a plastic wall paper smoother. When all air bubbles are removed, the border is measured, marked and cut with a hobby knife. I paint the inside of the frame white, before the glass is positioned and retained in the frame with steel framing points.
The Artwork: For the substrate the stones and vegetation are placed into, I use a mixture of paper pulp, drywall mud and white craft glue. Once this cures in about 7 - 10 days it becomes very hard and rigid, holding everything placed into it with no chance of becoming loosened.
To start, the mixture is spread out in a shallow wood frame with a spatula and a vapour barrier sheet on the bottom. The wooden sides are masked off with tape, otherwise the mixture will stick to the wood and become difficult to remove. With a damp sponge, I smooth out all marks left by the spatula. The centre is marked with a toothpick and a plastic coffee tin lid placed over top with the centre cut out to mark a circle (for those medicine wheels of circular design).
Each stone is placed into the substrate individually with a pair of tweezers and magnifying glass around the circle. From there, the rest of the stones I place, are done without marking the substrate and vegetation is placed in. I have been using cheap paint brush hairs as field grass, dried basil as shrubs, and bits of natural grasses. I'm using four types of stones - black, white, multi coloured and rainbow rock, some collected outdoors and some are aquarium gravel, they are each sorted through homemade screens into two general sizes. The smallest of the 2, I use for those medicine wheels with more detail and those with more spokes such as the Bighorn (28 spokes) and Old Big Arrangement (28 spokes).
If I am topping the art with a snowdrift effect, that process is done after curing. I have been using blended hobby turf as ground cover, but lately - using a fine light brown sand with bits of crushed bark, giving it a more natural look, and is applied with a salt and pepper shaker after the stones and vegetation. After curing, I repeat that process covering any spots I may have missed the first time. Any sand on the stones is brushed off, and the piece is sprayed in a clear adhesive.
For the snowdrift, a mixture of white paint and white latex caulk is used. With a small brush, I first apply it next to all stones and vegetation, then with a larger brush I drag and dab the mixture producing the drifts in a similar direction. To build up the stone cairns, a small amount of clear Gorilla glue is used. Sometimes I sprinkle a lite dusting of dry plaster over the stones and mist with water, along with a lite brushing of white paint over the vegetation.
Now It's time to glue the artwork to the backboard and once dry, secured with screws into the frame. I position the hanger and apply a felt strip to the bottom corners of the frame so it doesn't leave marks on the wall. And that's it - it's now ready to hang!
To conclude, the process is a bit lengthy but I usually do a bunch of frames to start, then cut and frost the glass for each frame along with backboards. Placing of the stones can take some period of time standing in one spot, but enjoyable. Once the artwork is started, it must be finished the same day before the substrate dries. Pictured below is the start of the Alton Priors crop glyph design.