The Alphabet Wall

Blank walls drive me crazy. The artist in me needs to be stimulated when I look around my space. We moved to our cozy little home about a year and a half of ago, and we changed as much as we could to make it feel like “us”. One of the last spaces I addressed was the wall above the couch in the basement. I have the space set up as a playroom, but without the icky playroom vibe (promise to show how I achieved this feeling in a future post). I wanted something fun, but not childish. I decided to take on the challenge of creating an alphabet wall. I had stumbled across a few images online, but I had a problem with all of them, the letters were either too uniform or too different. I figured out a solution to this problem by applying my knowledge of the elements and principles of design to the composition.

The Alphabet Wall
The Alphabet Wall

I began my collection by purchasing letters from Dollarama, Homesense, De Serres and The Sunday Antique Market in Toronto. Then I discovered Michaels and realized that I could have probably got all my shopping done there since they have a ridiculous selection of letters, but what would be the fun in that? I like that I was able to get some truly unique pieces, and those that were not as unique, I would make so by painting them. The key for me in Michaels was looking at the selection outside of the traditional wall letters for pieces I could work with, such as marked down Christmas tree ornaments, stamping letters, small trays, etc. Most of my “unpopular” letters were purchased in the clearance sections. I made many visits there during this project, but I’m proud to say I haven’t set foot in there since I completed the project (story to follow in notes).

Close up of some of my favourite letter finds
Close up of some of my favourite letter finds

I tried to keep track of the letters I had purchased and what I needed, what was working and what wasn’t, but after a while I gave up and bought a whole bunch of extra letters so that I could play around with the composition and decided to do a mass return of the unused letters at the end. The letters cost anywhere from $0.15 (P) to $15 (M). Most were $1 and some unique finds were $5 (the horseshoe U). I splurged on the M since everyone living in our house has the first initial M, but I tried not to go over $5 for any of the other letters. In total I spent about $50 on my letters.

Playing around with the letters on my dining room tables
Playing around with the letters on my dining room table

I began by arranging the letters on my dining room table on a white table-cloth and rearranged them several times until I was happy with the composition. What worked for me at the end was remembering that a good composition often has repetition as a key element of design. Repetition of shapes, colours, materials, etc. allows the eye to easily maneuver around the image. In my case the wooden block letters: G, K, N, Q, Z and the metal cutout letters: E, L, W help to unify the piece. I could have also chosen to unify the piece by keeping the colours neutral, like in the last row, but that big red O spoke to me and I wanted it to feel fun, so I opted against the neutral route. At the end I painted several of the letters, B, C, D and R to help further unify the piece.

The Alphabet Wall without a frame
The Alphabet Wall
Alphabet Wall without a frame
Alphabet Wall without a frame

I used lots of Blu-Tack to stick the letters to the wall and followed with some strategically placed nails to ensure they wouldn’t all fall down the next day (proud to say they didn’t!) After about a week of looking at my masterpiece, it still felt incomplete, so I purchased a couple of sets of ball lights and I used them as a frame to ground the piece. The lights cost roughly $10, bringing my cost to about $60. Not a lot of money for such impact. This is definitely one of my favourite projects and like everything in my home, I like the fact that it is a unique piece that no one else can quite duplicate. Mila, my older daughter, is learning her letters and loves pointing out the ones she knows. I think this is a perfect project for a playroom, nursery or even an office space.

Marlowe and Mila
Mila pointing out the M to Marlowe
Marlowe and Mila
Marlowe and Mila
“Light Frame” on at night

Materials and Cost –  Letters: $50 (Dollarama, Homesense, De Serres, Sunday Antique Market & Michaels) Lights: $10 (Target…RIP) Nails, Paints, Blu-Tack: My own supplies, Total: $60

*A note about my Michaels shopping experience: When I went to return some of my unused letters, many of them were marked down for $1 or less. Usually I wouldn’t even bother to return these objects, but I bought them knowing that I would. Before the cashiers put through the return,  they confirmed with each other that some of my purchases were considered “garbage” and proceeded to throw them in the trash right in front of me. I asked them why they were doing that and they said that they couldn’t sell them since they are “out of their system.”  I didn’t understand how that could be since I had just purchased them the previous week. As an art teacher, I am outraged when perfectly good merchandise is thrown in the trash, rather than donated to schools or programs that could use them in their creative projects. I wrote emails to Michaels customer service questioning their practice and suggested alternatives with what they can do with “unsellable” merchandise. I got back a couple of standard replies that left me feeling unsatisfied and I have as a result decided not to shop there as long as I can help it. Since I completed this project in October of 2014, I have seen beautiful letters pop of everywhere, unique ones at amazing prices, so shopping at Michaels is not necessary to achieve similar results. I encourage anyone who might choose to shop there to also question their policies and hold them accountable for their seemingly irresponsible practices.

Check out The Enchanted Forest, another feature wall in this basement.

One thought on “The Alphabet Wall

  1. A true masterpiece of a wall. I had no idea about Michael’s practices and you make a strong point. I had purchased all my letters there for a small fortune, out of impatience and lack of a gifted creative mind like yours:) they’re still sitting in the bag, lonely and blank. I can’t wait to get inspiration from your new site!


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