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DIY Monday: Penny Bar (Updated!)

Photo by Liana Bandžiulytė. Used by permission.

Photo by Liana Bandžiulytė. Used by permission.

This week’s project comes from an endlessly creative young lady of my acquaintance by the name of Liana Bandžiulytė (I have no idea how to pronounce that last name; it’s Lithuanian, but to me she’s just “Liana” or “Agent Cupcake,” but I’ll get to that.) The project featured here is a custom bar surfaced in pennies.

I first met Liana around 2009 as part of GuerilLA (AKA GLA and GLA Improv); GLA is the Los Angeles version of Improv Everywhere, a bunch of fun, clever, creative people who get together to create surreal experiences for the public. For example, putting up a finish line on a popular biking/jogging path; throwing a party to celebrate the changing of a traffic signal; and staging a “pro-test” (picketing in favor of nice things). I believe it was at the meeting to make signs for the pro-test that I first met Liana (it may have been before that, but that’s where I remember her from); she was then a high school senior with a big box of home-baked cupcakes to share (hence the nickname). I interviewed her a few years later, when she converted a golf cart into a giant Angry Bird for Burning Man. Since then, Liana has graduated from Loyola Marymount University, where she served as photo editor for the school paper.

Earlier this year, while renovating her funky apartment-loft-workspace-venue (“the Wacky Shack”), she saw a blog post about tiling a floor with pennies and was inspired to make a bar. (Update: It wasn’t that post, or that floor; it was a photo of an earlier project, the Standard Hotel’s bar in New York.)

The penny bar under construction. Photo by Liana Bandžiulytė. Used by permission.

The penny bar under construction.
Photo by Liana Bandžiulytė. Used by permission.

The process of tiling with pennies is pretty much the same as any other kind of tiling; the pennies get glued down, then either grout is put in between the pennies, or (as in this case) the whole thing is covered in resin or polyurethane to create a smooth surface. Update: Liana tells me, “I used one layer of varnish to glue down the pennies: wait for it to be tacky, quickly stick the pennies on, and layer again. The problem that I’m discovering with this varnish in particular (Varathane oil-based polyurethane) is that it turns slightly golden as it ages. Not really problematic (maybe even beneficial?) to this project, but totally trashed another project that involved prints of photos. Next time, I’ll try using the water-based one: slower drying, but should dry clear.”

Liana went an extra step, sorting out pennies by finish in order to create patterns of shiny or dull pennies; in one spot there is a sunburst made up of Canadian pennies. One unique coin makes an appearance, a souvenir from the Brewery Artwalk reading “Ideas are a dime a dozen”. Update: The pattern is actually quite complex. The sun is made up completely out of 2010-2013 pennies, all shield-side up. The rays are shiny pennies from any year before that, building-side up, and even lined up so all the buildings face the same way (catches the light more that way). Then, all the rest of the pennies are divided up by decade. The darkest ones around the sun are from the 40’s, 50’s, 60’s, and 70’s (“the oldest I got were an 1918 and a ’36!”). The 70’s blend into the 80’s, then the shiny lines are upturned 80’s, followed by the 90’s. The triple line towards the end is actually to draw attention to the center line: it’s the 2009 series of pennies that had special scenes from Lincoln’s life. Then past that is all the 2000’s. “I didn’t think the gradient would turn out so stunning,” Liana says, “couldn’t have planned that if I wanted to. The sun doesn’t really symbolize anything….. it was just the simplest shape I could think of that I wouldn’t f**k up.”

Liana’s bar will be part of a bakery she and some others will operate at Burning Man this year.

Tiling material. Photo by Liana Bandžiulytė. Used by permission.

Tiling material.
Photo by Liana Bandžiulytė. Used by permission.

There are numerous videos on YouTube and articles on eHow showing the process of tiling with pennies, if you want to give it a try. We think it’s pretty cool, and the cost per square foot actually comes out to be less than many tile brands.

Update: Liana says “There’s a couple of things that I’ll do differently next time. First, different varnish. Possibly a simpler shape instead of the curve: I want to put some sort of edging on it, but the curve is going to make that rather difficult. Also, it’s important to do it ALL at once: even though the honeycomb pattern *should* fit easily, there’s always a little bit of pushing and shimmying that needs to happen to make it sit well. I made the mistake of working from one end, then the other, and, although you can’t see from the photos, there’s a big gap along the edge of the sun where it didn’t match up. Sad. Finally, I absolutely love the “Ideas” coin and all the foreign pennies surrounding it (not just Canadian, but also some Japanese ones, and Euros, and one from Prague…!), but it was kinda misplaced in the center of the sun… if I could take it out, I’d place it somewhere in the 2000’s, perhaps.”

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