Aluminum photo prints: DIY bathroom art that can take the heat (and damp)

What kind of art do you put in a bathroom?

That’s a question we wrestled with last July. You might remember this “before” shot of a big blank wall in our bathroom from an earlier post:

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 We knew we wanted to put a long towel bar on this wall, but we weren’t sure what to do with the large space we’d have above the towel bar.

We didn’t want an empty space, but we also don’t like putting something up just to fill one. We’re not really art for decor’s sake kinda people. For art to make it into our home, it has to pass at least one of our two tests:

1. Is it personally meaningful?

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We created this display with our own photos last spring. Although we recently swapped this out for something different, we’ve enjoyed seeing images that trigger good memories. (Clicking on the image will take you to the post with how-tos.)

2. Does it have value as a work of art?

Meaning, does it contain craft/skill? Does it convey a story? Is it original?

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Detail from one of our thrift store paintings. Clicking on the image will take you to a post about how and why we buy thrift store art.

We didn’t have anything that fit either category, so we started thinking about what we might find or create.

Our first try was an Etsy search, but we weren’t really into the kind of thing that came up when we searched for “bathroom art”–

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We know this kind of art is really popular. It’s just not our style so much.

Not only were we unsure of what would be meaningful in a bathroom (and not weird–because “meaningful” and “bathroom” just don’t really seem to go together), but we also had worries about what might survive the regular heat and damp that is part of life in a bathroom. That’s why we originally played with the idea of doing some kind of sculptural something with plumbing parts, as we wrote about in our post on the towel bar–but as we wrote there, the parts were too expensive.

 How we got unstuck

Sometime in mid-summer, right after we took our trip to Hippo Hardware to check out plumbing parts, Cane ran across a special from Adorama Pix, an online photo printing service. They were offering a special on something we’d  never seen before: aluminum prints.

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That, we thought, would be awesome for a bathroom. Damp, steamy air wouldn’t touch this kind of photo.

We’ve gotta say upfront, this isn’t a frugal option for art:

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To fill the space in our wall, we realized we’d want something rather big. In the end, with two 16″x24″ prints, we spent more on our bathroom art than we spent on our entire vanity (including sink, countertop, and faucet). We spent more on the bathroom art than anything except the tub and tile job. And that was with a 40% off coupon.

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We’re OK with that, though. We’d rather spend over $100 on original art we love than on a new vanity just like a hundred others that we only kinda like. Being so frugal in other parts of the bathroom project allowed us to splurge a little here.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. Settling on a medium for the art was just the first step. Then, we had to figure out what to create with it.

When we took that trip to Hippo Hardware, we took our camera. There’s so much fun stuff to look at there, and we like taking pictures of fun stuff:

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Yes, we violated one of our own rules and bought 3 of these boxes even though we didn’t know what we’d do with them.

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This is just one small part of the lighting section. A little overwhelming, but so much fun to wander in.

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Aren’t these knobs great? Had no project to use them on, but love the look of them.

After we saw the ad for aluminum prints, we started talking about how instead of putting actual plumbing parts on the wall, we might put images of plumbing parts on the wall. One image that struck us was this one:

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One of us (don’t remember who anymore) commented on how much these old-school faucet handles look like flowers, which made us think of a book we both like, Lawrence Weschler’s Everthing That Rises:  A Book of Convergences.

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In it, Weschler collects disparate images that converge in interesting ways. We’ve liked the way putting the images together helps you see things in each you might otherwise not see, such as this page with images of trees and neurons and leaves:

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That’s when the project got real. And fun.

What about creating our own convergence artwork?

We have lots of photos of flowers, from all the beautiful blooms we discovered in our yard and neighborhood this spring. Maybe, we thought, we could make something work with one of those.

We didn’t have any photos from our Hippo trip that seemed quite right, so we went back to take some artsy shots of plumbing stuff. We definitely had the flower/convergences idea in the forefront of our minds, but we tried some other things that have a sculptural quality to them, too. (Playing around is a crucial part of any creative process.)

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We got some more knob bouquets (like the one above), and we also played around with creating some flower sculptures from the bins of parts. We also played with different filters on our camera. We had a lot of fun tucked away in a back room. The few employees who walked through didn’t mind at all.

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When we got done taking all of our plumbing parts photos, we started looking through our flower photos. We had some that we liked, but none that seemed to converge the way we hoped they would with our plumbing parts images.

That became an excellent reason to spend an afternoon strolling through some Portland neighborhoods with our camera in search of flowers. (We were also looking for images of house exterior paint color schemes, for a post we’ve still not written yet.)

We got some images of bunches of flowers, and also we also got some close-up shots:

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Some daisies that reminded us of the faucet handle bouquet.

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We took LOTS of photos–and if you’re going to create your own wall of photo art, the best thing I can recommend is to take lots and lots of shots.

Having so many images to sift through did make the task a bit challenging. We weren’t really sure how many photos we wanted or what kind of principles we’d use to select them. Part of our process included cutting out some paper templates in the available print sizes and tacking them to the wall.

It took us a lot of looking and experimenting to settle on which prints and how many we’d get. At one point we thought we might have 4 or more prints. (We decided that this was one part of the project we weren’t going to be frugal on. We felt we’d earned a little indulgence with all that we’d done on that tile job!)

In the end, we decided we wanted just two prints. We thought that would be the best for the space, and we thought that two  large prints would have more impact than 4 or 6 small ones.

Once we made that decision, the photo choices were easier.

With only two prints, we knew wanted each to be the best photos they could be on their own. As it turned out, our favorite plumbing parts photo and our favorite flower photo converged in ways we found really cool and interesting:

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(I’d like to say that I used tons of photography skills to get that bottom shot, but I just got lucky. I was trying hard to capture the ladybug before it flew away and snapped several very mediocre photos before I happened into this one.)

What was even better was the way these helped us see how the whole bathroom could come together, with the amber and antique bronze on our light fixtures, and the yellow in the sink, and the warm tones of the cork floor.

We chose a matte silver finish for the images; the website promises “a rich iridescent sheen, bright vivid colors, and a life-line depth of detail that can’t be matched by conventional paper prints”–and this is a product that lives up to its marketing hype. The photos have a depth to them that we aren’t really able to capture here, but it’s something way beyond the usual paper print.

They were super-easy to hang, too. They have a floating mount on the back that makes the photos hang a 1/2″ from the wall. (And just so you know, we don’t have any connection with Adorama. Maybe some day we’ll find the time to monetize this blog through affiliate sales or compensated product reviews–but that day is not today. We’re just really happy with how this option turned out and wanted to share it with you. We’d never heard of aluminum prints and haven’t seen anyone blogging about them.)

Thus ends the search for meaningful bathroom art

We both really love these photos. They’re one of our favorite things in the bathroom. They are overflowing with our criteria for art:

  • They remind us of a lovely summer day we spent together.
  • They remind us of a book/idea we shared in the past.
  • We made them together.
  • They are “bathroom art” without being obvious bathroom art.
  • They are original. We know that no one else is going to have anything exactly like this in their bathroom.

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 And that’s the story of how we made some art for our bathroom.

We’d love to hear some of yours. Got any great, original pieces in  your home? Any cool ideas for doing photography in a different way? (We’re really liking the metallic finish on our photos). Please feel free to share in the comments.

Next project that will be up: The drawer shelf. (If you’d like to see all the bathroom project posts, you can get to them here or go to the project/home tour page.)

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