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DIY Altar Decorations for Lent and Easter Using Panels and Paint

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I am Diane Brown (dbro), an artist and illustrator living in Texas. I enjoy all phases of the creative process. Enjoy and comment!

Here you can see the Lent/Easter altar decorations we created using foam core panels and acrylic paint

Here you can see the Lent/Easter altar decorations we created using foam core panels and acrylic paint

Our church has a liturgical arts team, of which I am a member. We create decorating schemes for Advent/Christmas and Lent/Easter every year. Our team is small—only five members—and so is our budget, so every season, our challenge is to create a meaningful display that enhances our worship, is doable for our small group, and doesn't cost too much money. In 2021, we had the added challenge of the pandemic, which meant our team couldn't meet in person to work on this project. In this article, I describe our design and the process we used to make our plans a reality.

The Lenten Panels

The above is the original design for our Lenten panels. We envisioned bare trees as our imagery for the season of Lent since they seem to reflect the quiet, introspective nature of this time in the liturgical year. We originally planned to switch these panels out for the brighter, more colorful and joyous Easter panels once Easter Sunday arrived.

This was our Lenten tree drawing after we enlarged it to be transferred to the foam core panels.

This was our Lenten tree drawing after we enlarged it to be transferred to the foam core panels.

Initial Production

We had the drawing of the bare-limbed trees enlarged twelve times, such that one inch on the drawing became one foot on the enlarged print. This large print was used to transfer the drawing onto the foam-core board.

These large panels were three feet wide by five feet long. We used foam core board that was 40x60 inches, so we had to cut these panels down to the final size. The large print of the trees was then centered on the cut panel and taped in place so it wouldn't shift while we did the transfer.

The transfer was accomplished simply by tracing over the lines that composed the drawing using a ballpoint pen. This action lightly etched the lines into the surface of the foam-core board. We did this process twice to create two panels—one for either side of the cross.

It was during this process that we decided to put these panels on the back wall behind the altar, on either side of the cross. This left the outer walls of the altar facing the congregation open for the larger Easter panels that would be hung for Easter Sunday.

We painted over the Lenten tree-design with acrylic craft paint.

We painted over the Lenten tree-design with acrylic craft paint.

Painting the Panels

Our next task was to paint the trees. We chose a palette of browns and greys to reinforce the notion of the quiet, contemplative time Lent should be. The bare limbs of the trees also speak to the latency and expectation of the season.

This was the design drawing we used for our Easter panels.

This was the design drawing we used for our Easter panels.

The Easter Panels

Above is the design we arrived at for our Easter panels. We loved the spontaneous and joyous look this panel would communicate to the congregation. These would be done on the same foam-core board as the Lenten trees, but these panels would be left at their original 40x60" size.

Painting the Panels

The process to create these panels was very straightforward. The areas that were to remain white in the image were covered. The "hill" that the crosses are on was simply covered with paper to protect the area and keep preserve the white of the original surface.

The crosses were blocked out using masking tape that was applied to the surface of the foam board. The image was created by slinging the various colors of acrylic craft paint onto the unprotected upper half of the foam-core panel.

Revealing the Image

After the paint dried we removed the masking tape and paper to reveal the image. We then added the word "Risen!" to the bottom half of the panels. We did this in much the same way we did the tree panels. A very large format print of the word was laid onto the cross panels and the letters were traced over so that they were incised lightly onto the foam-core surface. The letters were then painted onto the surface of the panel with purple acrylic paint.

This is an in-progress shot of the leaves we created to modify the Lenten panels into Easter panels.

This is an in-progress shot of the leaves we created to modify the Lenten panels into Easter panels.

Modifying the Lenten Panels to Make them Easter Panels

We decided to leave the tree panels in place for Easter but modify them to have a more celebratory feel. We did this by cutting out a "leafy" shape from an extra foam-core board and painting it with spring colors. When the Easter display was hung in the church the Saturday before Easter, we simply taped the leaf shapes over the existing Lenten panels using double-sided tape.

You Can Do This, Too!

This was a fun and inexpensive project for our church's Lent and Easter observation. The large foam-core panels only cost about $10 each, and the paint was quite inexpensive and easily purchased from a hobby/art supply store.

We had some difficulties, of course. Any large project like this is bound to have some complications. Our biggest problem was that the large Easter panels warped a bit, as you might be able to see in the photo above. I think the reason for this was the moisture in the heavy application of paint during the spattering, It may have caused the paper surface of the board to shrink and curl. We tried to straighten the boards out by stacking weight on the corners once the paint was dry, and this helped to a degree.

After the display was hung, someone suggested painting the back surface of the panel to counteract the warping. I don't know if this would have worked or not, but it might be worth a try if you decide to try this project for your own church.

We also had a problem with our masking tape adhering too well to the paper surface of the foam-core panel. This caused some of that paper to peel away with the tape when it was removed. I think this was also related to the moisture of the paint causing the adhesive in the tape to adhere too tightly. This problem proved to be a minor one since the panels are hung at a height and distance from the viewer, so this is hardly noticeable.

". . . These displays we create are a gift offered in love and not a masterpiece perfected in pride."

These problems were of nominal importance in the overall effect of the display. We on our art team always remind ourselves that these displays we create are a gift offered in love and not a masterpiece perfected in pride. Our displays are a gift from our fallible, human hearts and hands to other fallible human viewers. When we remember that, we realize that we cannot fail in our mission!

I hope you enjoyed this explanation of our process and product for this display. Please feel free to comment or ask a question in the comments section.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2021 Dbro

Comments

Dbro (author) from Texas, USA on April 08, 2021:

Thank you so much, Diana Smith! I'm glad this display was meaningful and beautiful to you. Our whole team really strives to help enhance the congregation's experience during our holiday seasons. It's gratifying to know we have accomplished that.

Diana Smith on April 08, 2021:

I think this is my favorite Easter decoration!! Thank you all so much for sharing your time and creativity to make our worship space so meaningful!

Dbro (author) from Texas, USA on April 08, 2021:

Thank you for your kind comment, Laurie Jaecks. Our team enjoys the "surprise" factor of our projects too. You probably might guess this, but we're already thinking about the Advent/Christmas 2021 decoration.

Laurie Jaecks on April 08, 2021:

The art is always so beautiful! Thank you and your team for all of your hard work. It's exciting anticipating what it will look like.

Dbro (author) from Texas, USA on April 08, 2021:

Thank your, Dr. Furr. It's an honor for us to do this service to our church.

Dbro (author) from Texas, USA on April 08, 2021:

Mary Ann Long, thanks so much! I know I speak for the whole team when I say that it's been an absolute joy to do. This display marks our tenth year of decorating the church for our holidays. It's been a great ride!

Dbro (author) from Texas, USA on April 08, 2021:

Thank you, Irene Gutierrez! It was a joy to do.

Mary Ann Long on April 08, 2021:

Each season’s liturgical art is so distinctive from any previous ones ... the team is so innovative, with an uncanny ability to silently express beautiful thoughts! Thank you for the faith, dedication and love displayed through Trinity’s Liturgical Arts Team’s creations. You all are amazing ✝️

Irene Gutierrez on April 08, 2021:

Very beautiful work!!!

Laurence Furr on April 08, 2021:

I’m always amazed at your creativity and beauty of our liturgical art at Trinity. Thank you!!

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