How to Recreate the Princess Diaries Painting

This is Mia Thermopolis:

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In 2001, during a casual visit from her grandma, she learned she was the heir to the throne of Genovia. Some things happened, Mia got a makeover and made her grandma try a hot dog, and then she made out with her best friend’s brother at a royal ball.

Amidst all these intense life changes, Mia and her mom did one of the greatest art projects of all time, and this past weekend, my friends and I aimed to recreate it.

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First order of business, we needed a location. Unlike Mia and her mother, I, like many others, don’t live in an old firehouse, meaning I don’t have a corner of said firehouse to drape drop cloths over and start going to town. Also, I’m pretty sure “dart painting” isn’t covered in any sort of renter’s insurance. So, I turned to my parents who not only support my crazy ideas, but also tend to have a few of their own, and they were gracious enough to offer up their backyard. My dad set up two EZ-up shades, hung three tarps, and lay one big patch of canvas on the ground, giving us shelter from the sun and the yard shelter from collateral paint splatter.

Speaking of paint, how the hell do you get paint in balloons? 

We tried a few different techniques, with varying levels of success, but all in all this was the best:

Next was the issue of hanging the canvas. In the movie, Mia and her mom have a huge canvas propped up against an easel. But when I first looked into this project, I almost immediately nixed the idea of doing the piece to size. I was thinking more a series of smaller, wrapped canvases. If you’ve ever worked with wrapped canvas, however, you’ll know that it’s relatively thin. So if we were to simply prop it up on an easel and throw darts at it, we would almost certainly end up with a ripped canvas and a dart in the sliding glass door, neither of which I was interested in.

In my research to combat this, I read a few different suggestions including cardboard and styrofoam backings, and while I’m sure they are completely viable options, I think the real key here is to have a machinist father. After getting wind of this project, my dad’s mind went to work creating and calculating a simple setup. Long story short, it ain’t that simple. Well, it is but more in the way that fractions are simple when you see your teacher do them in class and you assume you can just go home and do them no problem. Or, in this case, when you suggest that wood might be a good backer for the canvas and then your dad casually creates a six foot high apparatus with perfectly sized wood cutouts and detachable tabs to lock your canvas in place.

Note: the following picture was taken after we’d done a few rounds, but please just take a second to appreciate mastermind dad-stermind of this thing: 

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I realize I’m a terrible DIY-er because I don’t have a tutorial on how to make this wood apparatus, but I feel like the only way to truly explain how this was done would be to give you my dad’s brain and I just don’t feel like diving into the black market at this point. Apologies.

Besides I’m sure there are a lot of different ways this can be done, and I encourage you to pursue any and all of them because once you get the setup out of the way, LIFE. GETS. EXCITING.

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I swear to you, after you throw your first dart, every problem besides hitting a balloon with that dart immediately melts away.  My friends and I were standing out there in the 90 degree heat, literally dripping sweat and probably teetering on dehydration, but nothing and I mean NOTHING was going to stop us from popping those damn balloons. And it never got boring. With every successful hit, we cheered just as long and loud as if it were the first. It was essentially two straight hours of this:

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As an added bonus, after doing a few canvases we noticed that the splash zone on the ground below provided it’s own template of sorts. So every time we hung a new canvas on the wall, we also placed one on the floor to collect some residual splatter, which gave us pieces like these:

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Overall, we probably made about 12 different pieces (my dad found a really good deal on canvases here) which allowed everyone to take home their favorite. On the last piece, we had a few stubborn balloons that none of us could seem to hit, so we teamed up and fired at will.

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I would recommend this project to anyone and everyone. It’s the perfect way to feel 12 years old again, except this time you get to drink beer and listen to music with the occasional explicit lyric and aren’t crippled by the awkwardness of puberty. It’s a win win win win.

If I were to sum this up DIY-blogger style, I’d give you this list of ingredients:

  • canvases (we used 16×20)
  • water balloons
  • push pins
  • any kind of paint (we used acrylic & satin)
  • water bottles with spouts (see above video)
  • a dad-stermind wood apparatus or acceptable equivalent
  • beer or an acceptably refreshing equivalent
  • a good group of people
  • patience
  • good music

Then I’d leave you with this last image of a few of our masterpieces to stir up a healthy combination of jealousy and inspiration inside you:

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But seeing as I’m not really known for my DIY blogging, I’m instead going to close with this picture, which is the aftermath of my sister hitting a sizable balloon dead-on and turning around to show us a near perfect square of paint that shot out and landed on her lip. I think it better captures the theme of the whole day which was quite simply: anything is a canvas. By the end of our day, alongside our 12 canvases, we’d also painted the detachable wooden tabs, we’d marveled at the colors on the drop cloths, and we’d laughed at the paint all over our hands and feet. Throughout the project, everything had become art, including us, and I walked away feeling inspired to create more. I encourage you to do the same, be it with water balloons full of paint or anything else you can get your hands, eyes, or feet on. Just get out there and get dirty! …with inspiration! …you know what I mean.

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