Mountain Home

Found in a thrift store when it looked like this:


Oil painting over original art on cloth canvas, 18" x 18" - 2017.

My patron wanted a small painting of his house, the moon, and the mountain range surrounding his house. The mountain on the left is actually much higher than the others, but from the perspective of the road below his house, they all look about the same. I used Google Maps to get pictures of the mountains and his house, which I traced onto the canvas.

The under painting was nightmarish, however, I left parts of it show through in the final painting as the bones of the mountain. It took longer than I expected to get everything right. Although it was supposed to be ready in time for Christmas, I finally gave it to him in February.

Why Upcycled Canvases?
by Nori Muster

Since around the end of the century, I have worked mostly with upcycled canvases. I find them at second hand shops, yard sales, friends' houses, and retail outlets. The main thing for me is the width of the stretcher bars. I usually only work with wide frames (1-1/2"), because I can paint the sides and no frame is required. Seven of my upcycled canvases are on permanent display at an office on Baseline Road in Tempe, Arizona.

My favorites are discarded original works, because they have character. I often get why they landed in a second hand store, but take them on to complete the artist's vision. I always leave elements of the original work in the finished piece.

My second favorite are mass produced canvases with real paint on real cloth canvas. These are assembly line works, where one artist paints the trees, one paints the sky, one paints the bridges, fences, and so on. Those can be a lot of fun.

The hardest to work with are printed paper canvases. Cloth canvas can handle moisture. You can pour paint on it and it will eventually dry. However, even a bit of moisture can wreck a paper canvas, depending on the quality of the paper, and the amount of cloth content. Plus, because they're printed, there's no texture.


GPB Apartment
Apartment at Hyperion and Griffith Park Boulevards.
House paint and oil paint over original art on cloth canvas, 24" x 18" - 2003.

This one, and the next two on this page were by the same artist, and I found them at the same yard sale in approximately 2003. Sorry, no "before" photos, but I will describe what the under painting was like. The first one, which turned out to be a portrait of the apartment where I lived at the time. All I added was the light blue and light yellow. The artist used texture - perhaps painting over tissue paper (?), so I also used a razor blade to scrape off some of the texture.


Lake Arrowhead
House paint and oil paint over original art on cloth canvas, 30" x 40" - 2003.

This painting took much more work. I added layers and layers of paint until I got what I wanted. The only parts remaining from the under painting are the ochre colors in the lower left corner and the strip of aquamarine blue on the right side. You can also see the outlines of the texture from the under painting. I love the texture and was glad to include it in the final painting.

I had recently been to Lake Arrowhead, and wanted to make this painting a picture of my impression of that place. To convey the idea of tree covered mountains, I made two stencils, one small and one large, then painted them with different shades of oil paint.


One Creature
House paint and oil paint over original art on cloth canvas, 24" x 36" - 2003.

No "before" photo, but the whole canvas looked like the body of the creature, with the black-blue-red motif, which can also be seen in the upper left area. I used blue house paint to modify the dark background, and added some yellow along the top. This all went quickly and I was happy with the result.


Oil painting over printed cloth canvas, 40" x 40" - 2014.

A friend gave me this canvas and this is how it looked:


I noticed this stashed behind a door in her apartment. I asked her about it and she said, "My sister bought it and didn't like it, so she gave it to me and I didn't like it either." I asked her for it and she gladly gave it to me. I later gave her my old vacuum cleaner for her daughter. That's what neighbors are for, right?

This canvas went through several revisions until I got what I wanted. At one point I used a razor blade to scratch it up, and even left a small tear in the canvas, which I later repaired. This is one of my most successful upcycle canvases, and hangs in my mother's living room.


The Sea Dream Gate
Oil and house paint over mass produced painting on canvas board, 41" x 51" including frame - 2014.

Here's how it looked when I bought it at the thrift shop:


The perspective was out of wack, but there was a lot to like about this canvas beginning with its soft pastel colors. It was a pleasure to work on, although it took several years to finish.

This large canvas was a real puzzle. Mostly it was a matter of getting rid of the ugly features I didn't like. It was highly textured, so I left the texture. The first thing to go were the oversized sailboats. They would be ten stories high! I simply painted over them. I also lowered the horizon line of the water. The next obvious element to go were the ugly bushes and oddly distorted perspective tile walkway. However, I loved the railing, and left most of it, then added a door. I like the surreal quality to the painting and identify this as the gateway to the dream world.

I showed this painting in the Dream Gallery at the annual conference of the Association for Dream Studies, June 2018.


House paint, oil paint, and felt markers over original art on cloth canvas, 32" x 36" - 2018.

Here's what it looked like when I bought it:


This is my favorite - student work with character on a cloth canvas. I looked at this one for nearly a year then saw desert mountains with kachinas overseeing a waterfall.




Acrylic paint over original art on paper/cloth canvas, 30" x 40" - 2014.

Before: no photo, but the canvas looks about the same, except now with daffodils.


Mixed media over printed paper canvas, 32" x 32" - 2016.



I bought this at a yard sale. I used oil paint for the sky, then printed out a photo of an old steamboat to paste onto the painting. I used house paint to form the shoreline of the river. The reflection of the boat is mostly from the under painting.

Red Silk
Abstract red image.
Acrylic paint over printed paper canvas, 16" x 24" - 2020.


Here's how it looked when I found it:


This was an image printed on paper canvas, so it was difficult to work with. The original painting was nice, but it's just a photo printed on paper canvas. I wanted to give it more character and made many different versions of it on the computer, then I made a watermelon-like image, then I turned it into a skyscraper on a dark rainy night. I'm happy with how it finally turned out.


Free Spirit
House paint over printed cloth/paper canvas, 18" x 18" - 2017.



I picked this up in a thrift store and worked on it as soon as I got home. I liked the glitter moustache and the pink border, so I left those elements. The glitter is visible in the creature's wings. It is still quite busy, but now with soul.


Ray of Light
House paint over printed cloth canvas, 30" x 37" - 2017.

Here's how it looked - pretty nice!



I bought this at the hardware store on sale for about $25. I felt it was too busy and unfocused. It sat in my closet for more than a year until it struck me what I could do with it. I decided to just give it some grounding along the bottom, then trim back the crazy cherry blossoms to make it more peaceful.


Two Flowers
House paint over printed paper canvas, 18" x 18" - 2017.



Here's another thrift store painting that was already pretty good. In contemplating what to do with this one, I realized that I love the two flowers. They're well done and beautiful. After thinking it over for a couple weeks, I used house paint to simplify and calm down the canvas.


Sunflower Land
House paint over printed paper canvas, 18" x 18" - 2017.



This canvas was trite and plain, but I loved the colors, so I picked it up. Instead of a printed photo of two sunflowers, it is now a land of its own.


Red Flower
House paint and mixed media over original art on cloth canvas, 12" x 16" - 2017.



This canvas was beyond trite with the neon background (see below). The flower was beautifully done, so all I needed to do was tone down the neon yellow-green background. I added a fanciful Christmas tree ornament for fun.


Dragon Flowers
House paint and felt marker over printed cloth/paper canvas, 18" x 18" - 2017.

This one took a lot of tries because there was little to work with. Finally I painted it mostly blue and treated it like a blank slate. Because of all the layers of paint, it has intersting thick texture. The texture made me see the dragon in it and bring it out with felt tip pens.

Before: the "before" shot of this was lost (I blame the computer), but it was a country kitchen style flower in the middle of a postage stamp quilt motief. All that's left of it is a few patches of the quilt along the top and lower left corner.


Beta Pond
Acrylic paint over mass produced paper/cloth canvas, 20" x 12" - 2019.



I found this already beautiful painting (above), obviously painted by an artist. It was lovely, but too busy. After staring at it for a couple of days, I saw the beta fish, which I felt was the artist's original intent. All I had to do was quiet down the clutter with a more consistent color scheme. It was beautiful before, but now it has a clearly defined subject.


Pink Orchid Brooch
Mixed media paint over printed paper canvas, 36" x 24" - 2019.



One of our neighbors sold his vacation rental and invited us to take whatever we wanted before he cleared it out. I took three large prints on paper canvas. This one cleaned up quickly, although the paper canvas shows slight water damage in the upper right. I envisioned the flowers as a piece of jewelry, a brooch, rather than live flowers. Within forty-eight hours I made that vision come true. All I had to do was change the background.


Acrylic addition over student work on cloth canvas, 20" x 16" - 2023



This canvas was so well done I didn't want to cover up any of it, but I felt it needed a dolphin.


Acrylic painting, 32" x 32" - 2023



Mass produced department store painting of a flower. It was bubble gum pink, so I toned it down.


Stencil on cloth canvas, 24" x 32" - 2023



This piece was nicely done, and I've seen other paintings in the same style. But it was hard to see the image indoors unless there was a lamp right above the painting. So I completely changed it around.


Las Vegas
Mass produced print on paper canvas, 24" x 36" - 2023



This came from our neighbor who sold his vacation rental. After years I came up with a final image and a virtual image (below).


Photo of the painting with reflections from a sequin Christmas tree.


Tree of Life

Acrylic student work on cloth canvas, 40" x 30" - 2023



The tree itself was so much fun, especially for a child's room. So I changed the sky behind the tree from green to blue, and added more elements for children.


Happy Trees
Mixed media over original art on cloth canvas, 24" x 24" - 2020



A good find at the thrift store - student art, acrylic on canvas paper. The haunting image sat around for years before I worked on it. Finally finished it during the 2020 pandemic. It's another painting perfect for a child's room. Instead of creepy it's now a happy image with the flexibility to lift the fabric and look back on the darker image.

I considered glue, but decided the best way to attach the fabric would be to pierce the canvas and use wire. The flag includes two small holes in the top corners, where I used thin wire to secure the flag to the canvas. The blue scarf is gathered with a cable tie, then nailed to the top of the frame.


Mondrian Image
Oil painting on cloth canvas 12" x 35" - 2023



This painting was absolutely beautiful, but just needed a little more definition.

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