You Can Accomplish This Before Your Effing Head Explodes: Play Mat

For Mac’s first birthday, I thought I’d make him a little mat he can use with the toy cars he’s inevitably going to receive in scads over the next decade or so. . .

This is certainly not an original idea and they are commercially available.  I wanted his to be more custom.  I wanted it to look like Baltimore – and our neighborhood in Baltimore.

I searched around online and found plenty of tutorials; however, most of them involved sewing or gluing felt.  I opted against felt because I didn’t think it would launder well and I didn’t believe I could achieve the level of detail I desired with it.

So I went back to my old favorites:  drop cloth and acrylic paints.

Here’s How:

1.  I cut out the desired size of canvas drop cloth I wanted (making sure to give myself a seam allowance since I’ll sew a backing on the mat for extra heft and to ensure nice clean edges.

2.  I laundered and ironed the material so it was nice and smooth.

3.  I did a rough mock up on a piece of paper of the lay out along with a list of landmarks/items I wanted to include.

4.  Very carefully, starting in one corner using a number 2 pencil and straight edge I started   adding in buildings, streets, green spaces, etc.  It’s important to be very careful and deliberate with this step.   It’s very difficult to “erase” and errant pencil mark on the canvas so proceed with caution.

5.  Once I had the major details in place, I got out my acrylic paints and a variety of small brushes and started paining.  And painting.  And painting.

I’m insane so I opted to add a LOT of detail to my mat, but you certainly can make a much more simplified version.

A couple of hints:

1.  Don’t worry about purchasing a special fabric paint.  Any acrylic paint will work.  Think about it:  When you get paint on your clothes and it dries, it doesn’t come out in the wash does it?  Trust me, it doesn’t.  So your painted mat should hold up through a good number of washings.

2.  Acrylic paint dries rapidly.  This is good for a project where you are layering paint on top of paint in some spots.  I work in front of a fan to speed up the process.

3.  Perfection, perspective. . .none of that matters.  If you look at my mat, it looks like there are parking lots on top of buildings.  A dog looks as tall as a door.  It doesn’t matter to a kid, they just want to zoom their cars around.

4.  If you are doing very fine details, a very small pointed brush and heavy bodied acrylic paints are a big help.  For larger swaths of color, I used a thinner bodied acrylic (or you can thin it out with gesso or a slight bit of water.)

5.  I wanted to achieve a “coloring book” quality so I outlined a lot of my buildings and spaces with paint first and then shaded in the centers more lightly.

6.  If you have older children, you could ask for their help or input.  You might even be able to have them help you with some of the painting if you tried a fabric marker or something that’s easier to control than a teensy paintbrush.

7.  Even though the paint dries quickly, I’m still clumsy and impatient.  If you are too, start at the end opposite of your dominant hand and work across so you aren’t dragging your hand through possibly wet paint and smearing it.  I’m a lefty so I work right to left.  Sometimes I even rotate the entire cloth to get the right angle.

8.  Your paint shouldn’t leak through the drop cloth.  However, if you decide to use a lighter-weight fabric, it could.  So proceed with caution.  To be safe, I’m saving attaching the back layer for the final step.

9.  To attach a back layer, put both pieces of fabric right sides facing, sew around all edges leaving one small opening to pull the fabric right side out.  Pull fabric right side out and close the hole.  Press edges flat and any wrinkles.

10.  If you have a little girl, you could paint a neighborhood for her small dolls and princess toys.

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4 thoughts on “You Can Accomplish This Before Your Effing Head Explodes: Play Mat

  1. Wow, you are an amazing artist! This is GORGEOUS!

    I like crafty things, but I’ve never really gotten into it. I did a lot of art classes in high school, and I loved it, but it’s not something I ever had the time or patience to do after I graduated. But…there is a HUGE craft store opening across the street from our condo and I’m excited to get myself in there and start coming up with little projects I can do. I want to do all of that stuff with my daughter – I think it’ll be so fun to set up different things for us to do when she’s older. I just need to be patient. 🙂

    • Thanks! Like I said, it’s really all wonky perspective and stuff but it was a fun little project to do – I find these things relaxing.

      Chris would make us move if there was a huge craft store within walking distance. We would be broke (and the store nearly empty) after one week. Crafting stuff is my drug of choice. Ha! It will be so much fun when Bubb’s is a bit older. I’m hopeful Mac will like little projects and experiments as much as I do. He’s a really great excuse for me to act very artistically and scientifically immature 🙂

  2. Impressive! I wish I had your talent and imagination and also a little bit more time. But I am still hopeful that Livi will be interested when she is a little bit older. I cannot wait to do craft projects with her and little experiments and and and…

    • I know! I don’t wish Mac to grow up too fast but it will be nice when we can do stuff without the worry of him ingesting half of the required supplies! 🙂

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