Sunday, July 17, 2011

We Get Hold of a Can of Red Spray Paint (Play with Your Clothes, vol. VI)

Two summers ago we found, at a favorite thrift shop, two aged souvenir straw coolie hats stamped "Made in Japan" on the underside. Natural straw color, they were $8 each, a can't-go-wrong price. We thought they would make a wonderful, if unspecified, project one day. We took them to our respective homes and promptly forgot about them. Two years later, when the what-to-put-on-the-blog question arose, we had the impetus we needed to remember them.

After brunch last Sunday, we went to Dick Blick Art Materials, where they have a thorough selection of spray paints, all locked up like priceless jewels. Not too surprisingly, all the luscious reds were out of stock, but we had a great time with Anwar, a very engaging Blick employee. Anwar took one look at our hats, borrowed one, and went into full Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon mode, complete with sound effects. Watching Anwar alone was worth our stop at Blick.

Inspired, Anwar segued into Star Wars lightsaber mode. These pictures aren't only great because Anwar was great: they're also great because we inexplicably forgot to take close-up pictures of ourselves wearing the unpainted hats. Anwar saved the day. He was the perfect model.

Here's a close-up of the underside of one of the hats.

Though thwarted at Blick, we had only to go around the corner to Shapiro Hardware Company. We were going for the traditional Chinese lacquer look, so we picked up a can of Krylon Banner Red Gloss. (The names of red products can be so evocative. Have you ever looked at lipstick names, for example? How could you not fall in love with something named Cherry or Vamp or Coromandel or Flame?) Here's Jean buying the paint (and a teeny red flashlight). In her black mesh bag you can see her unpainted hat.

Of course, the temptation to use the paint was as strong in us as it is in real graffiti artists. Above, Valerie threatens to paint over another artist's work, as an agent provocateur in the window gives us the thumbs up sign.

Wanting to be good citizens, and not having our own artist's studio, we set up on the sidewalk, laying down old newspaper, and because it was a windy day, taping the paper to the sidewalk with duct tape.

Jean was in charge of the spray painting. She changed into an old pair of pants she thought it ok to get red spray paint on, and put on a killer pair of rubber gloves.

Here's what the underside of the first hat looked like after a thorough spraying. The label on the can says the paint will dry in ten minutes or less. Ours were still slightly moist for longer than that, but we coated them pretty heavily.

Since the hats are lightweight, and there was a constant breeze, before we started painting Jean got a spool of white thread, and we tied each hat the way one might tie a string to a helium balloon. Valerie held the thread of the hat being painted to prevent the breeze from blowing it away. The other hat, waiting its turn, was tied to a chain link fence. The process was kind of assembly line. Paint the inside of the first hat, set it out to dry. Paint the inside of the second hat, and while that's drying, paint the outside of the first hat, and so on. Here Jean paints the outside of the second hat. You can see the first hat drying in the distance by the chain link fence.

We stop a moment to record our progress.

After both hats were painted, we held them up by their threads to accelerate the drying process (and because if we'd left them on the newspaper, they probably would have stuck to the paper - or pulled up newsprint). We were unintentionally making little spectacles of ourselves, with our newly red hats twirling in the wind. We asked a few passersby to take our pictures so we'd have a record, but we got really lucky when artist Juliana Lazzaro passed by and offered to take some pictures of us. With her artist's eye, Juliana took several great photographs, including this one. That was SO sweet of her to offer. Spray painting hats on a public sidewalk is no problem for us, but asking for help requires mustering a bit of courage, so we were doubly fortunate, not only that she offered, but that she knew how to frame the story. Thanks again, Juliana! (Click on her name above to see some of the gorgeous work on her website. She cautions is not up to date, but so what? It's still glorious!)

Like good children, we clean up after ourselves, leaving no trace of our work. Total elapsed time, from the moment we entered Blick to the moment we finished cleaning up: almost exactly three hours.

We felt the hats really needed two coats (the instructions on the can also recommend that), but one coat was all we had time for that day. Still, we were very happy with the preliminary results. Above, once her hat felt dry enough, Valerie tries it on while riding the bus.


When both the hats were dry and we had a chance to get together, we found a very red place to set off our hats. Here's Jean on the Big Red Swing, by Theodore Ceraldi, dated 1971. The swing is suspended by heavy cables, and moves about five inches or so in multiple directions, so a few of our pictures turned out slightly blurry, but we think the hats turned out fabulously, if we do say so ourselves.

Valerie on the Big Red Swing.

What more appropriate way to celebrate the success of the hats (which still need a second coat) than with a red cocktail (strawberry basil margarita) in a round glass?

We don't know how Jean got this photo. Valerie's glasses must have been reflecting lights from a passing car. Nifty effect!

Ta da! On two separate occasions people came up to us and asked if we would like them to take our pictures together. People can really be wonderful. We must have looked like silly tourists. The first person, on returning our camera to us, said "Enjoy your stay in New York."

Jean is wearing: (before the spray painting) Tibetan straw hat from Rubin Museum; black ball earrings with brass bird; charm necklace; Tahari modal three quarter sleeve shirt; black linen harem pants; (to spray paint) black rayon yoga pants.

(on the red swing) Ralph Lauren black and white cotton striped top; black rayon Poof shawl collar jacket; black linen harem pants (made in India from Houston Street vendor); Pataugus shoes (from A Uno); Lux De Ville purse (from Enz); Revue glasses; red wooden gumball necklace; vintage red square bakelite earrings; vintage plastic and bakelite rings; grey socks.

Valerie is wearing: (at the spray painting) black sleeveless cotton and lycra shirt by Express; wood pin covered in red leather; red wood bracelet; black cotton pants by The Huge Apple; red sandals by Nicole.

(on the red swing) Sunglasses from St. Marks Place; Betsey Johnson dress from a thrift shop; single red celluloid earring worn at the neck; vintage red, black and white earrings; red wood bracelet; red plastic ring from El Museo del Barrio; red sandals by Nicole.


  1. Those hats look amazingly great.

  2. A fun DIY project! and what great summery outfits you are both wearing, including the spraypainting gear. Jean, I am impressed with how well the Crocs work with your look - so much so that I am inspired to release my taupe Crocs from years of house arrest and parade them up the town to do my shopping today. I'll be darned if I can't work these much-maligned utilitarian items into something stylish!

  3. great idea! I love your blog so much!

  4. It was a very good post indeed. I thoroughly enjoyed reading it in my lunch time. Will surely come and visit this blog more often. Thanks for sharing. Spraying Painting