freetv

Relighting the darkness

Ron and I got back a few hours ago from Tucumcari, where I spent the better end of a week painting what I hoped would be a photorealistic mural depicting some of the neon signs that once glowed along the shoulders of Route 66 in Tucumcari and San Jon.

I’ll leave it to you to determine whether I lived up to my Robert-Bechtle-inspired goal:

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Here’s the work in progress, in case you’re interested:

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And here’s a tutorial breaking down each step in this technique, which is ridiculously easy:

Step 1: Use chalk to draw a rough sketch on a black background.
Step 1: Use chalk to draw a rough sketch on a black background.
Step 2: With a stencil brush, create a glowing effect by tracing the chalk lines with paint. Use a pounding motion to apply a quick layer of paint along the lines, then come back and pick up some of the paint you just applied, using the same pounding motion to diffuse it toward the edges.
Step 2: With a stencil brush, create a glowing effect by tracing the chalk lines with paint. Use a pounding motion to apply a quick layer of paint along the lines, then come back and pick up some of the paint you just applied, using the same pounding motion to diffuse it toward the edges.
Step 3: With the "glow" applied, come back with a flatter brush and paint a black line where each neon tube will go.
Step 3: With the “glow” applied, come back with a flatter brush and paint a black line where each neon tube will go.
Step 4: When the black dries, paint the "tube" over it, leaving a black hairline border all around it. (This should literally be the width of a hair.)
Step 4: When the black dries, paint the “tube” over it, leaving a black hairline border all around it. (This should literally be the width of a hair.)
Step 5: Paint a very light-colored line down the middle of each neon tube to give the illusion that current is moving through the tube and lighting it up.
Step 5: Paint a very light-colored line down the middle of each neon tube to give the illusion that current is moving through the tube and lighting it up.

As I do with every mural project, I learned some lessons.

Lesson 1: When working on a gravel or concrete floor, wear rubber-soled shoes if you intend to be on speaking terms with your feet and hips the next day.

Lesson 2: If you have to kneel to reach any part of the mural comfortably, a foam-rubber gardening mat is your best friend.

Lesson 3: Leave enough room between the bottom of your design and the ground to allow clearance for your elbow so you don’t have contort your body into awkward positions to paint.

Lesson 4: A mahlstick will help keep you from smudging the paint and can be made easily from a half-inch dowel with a chair tip on the end, but make sure you use a rubber chair tip rather than plastic so it won’t slip while you’re using it.

Lesson 5: Interior latex does not like desert air and will turn into a gummy mess on the brush while you’re painting. Regular craft paint works much better.

Emily

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