Amid all my other projects, I decided to create a houseplant-themed mural in my office to use up some leftover paint. I’ve been working on it, a few minutes here and an hour there, for about a week and a half. Here’s how it’s been going so far:
The big challenge of painting in the desert is that acrylic dries almost instantly, so you have to work really fast and do really small sections at a time to keep it from drying before you finish blending it. It doesn’t help that my office is hot in the afternoons, and most of the paint is several years old. The latex tends to get thick as it ages, which makes it dry out even faster. Still, it’s been a while since I painted a mural solely for my own enjoyment, and this is a pleasant way to use up some leftover paint I’ve had on hand for upwards of 10 years.
I spent part of my weekend doing a mural project of a different sort.
A local church has elaborate airbrushed murals covering virtually every wall in its children’s wing. A recent construction project took out part of a mural in an entryway leading to a couple of classrooms, so they hired me to repair it.
It was more difficult than it looked, as I was not only using a different tool (paintbrush vs. airbrush) but was working on a different surface than the original artist and had to try to blend my efforts into what was already there.
After a couple of less-than-satisfying attempts to make my paintbrushes replicate the luminosity and softness of an airbrush, I decided it made more sense to match the previous artist’s work to mine rather than the other way around, so I used a brush to sharpen up some of the existing lines and then sort of feathered the new work into the old while trying to preserve the integrity of the original design as much as possible.
I forgot to take “before” pictures, but here’s what it looked like when I finished. You can see some of the original artist’s airbrush work at the corners and on some of the walls in the background.
It’s not the most exciting project I’ve ever done, but it was a good exercise, I learned a couple of things from it, and everybody who’s seen it seemed happy with it, so I’ll call that a win.
It also served as a good reminder of why I need to learn to use an airbrush at my earliest convenience. Ron ordered me one for Christmas, but it just came in a couple of days ago, so I haven’t had a chance to play with it yet. I have a feeling our basement walls are about to get really interesting.
This work in progress will probably remain in progress for the foreseeable future, as I have a small part of a very large mural project booked for next weekend, but I’m hoping by the end of winter, I’ll have my bathroom finished. The faux-stone look isn’t difficult, but it’s time-consuming, and I’m having to piecemeal it as time allows — an hour here and a half-hour there.
I’ll post occasional updates on my progress so you can see the technique. If you like it, feel free to try it on your own wall. It requires more patience than anything else. When it’s all done, I might put together a tutorial.
Longtime readers will recall my adventures in drywall repair last winter, necessitated by the slipshod home-improvement work done by the previous owner of this house.
The drywall in our bathroom was installed as poorly as the drywall in the rest of the house, and the paint job was even worse — drips and cracks and alligatored spots everywhere.
I could retape the joints, sand everything down, and repaint the walls in there with some textured finish that would conceal any flaws, but I’m not going to, for two reasons:
1. My projects earlier this year in the bedroom and office taught me that I haaaaaaaate working with drywall in tight spaces and rag-painting around obstacles.
2. I need a sample of trompe l’oeil mural work to show prospective clients, as most of my murals — with the exception of my faux-neon pieces — are done in a more cartoonish style.
With all that in mind, I decided to make the cracks in the bathroom wall look purposeful.
This is a work in progress, obviously, but here’s what I’m up to:
It’s not perfect, but neither is the wall. Intentional imperfections, rendered in careful detail, seem infinitely preferable to imperfections created as a result of someone’s sloppy attempts at home improvement, and hopefully the end result will be realistic enough to earn me another paying mural gig or two somewhere along the line.
I’m not at liberty to reveal the full scope of my latest project, but I have another mural in the works. I’ve started working on the canvas sketches for client approval. I will, of course, post pictures of the finished project when it’s completed, which I expect will be several weeks from now.
In the meantime, here are a couple of details:
The guy at the top is an Amazon parrot. He won’t appear in the finished project, as he’s being replaced with a more colorful species (likely a scarlet macaw), but I think he’s cute, anyhow.
I was so busy battling headaches when I got home from vacation this summer, I completely forgot to post my pictures from the trip — including the ones I took of the mural I traveled to Tucumcari to paint in one of the garages at the Blue Swallow Motel.
I’ll remedy that with some photos of the mural in progress on this Make-It Monday.
This was the most challenging mural I’ve painted up to this point. Portraits are always tricky, but in this case, I was painting a portrait of two old friends, one of whom was an artist whose work influenced my style.
The first old friend is the late Bob Waldmire, the artist behind the wheel of the VW Westfalia. The second old friend is the Westfalia herself. She had almost as much personality as Bob did, and I adored her for it.
My fondness for Bob and my respect for him and his work made it imperative that I get a good likeness, and it took either four or five tries (I eventually lost count) before I was finally satisfied with it.
Getting the Westfalia right was a matter of proportion and symmetry, which are difficult to render at that scale. Compounding the challenge was the fact I’d tried to set things up relative to the ground, which — as you can see — is gravel and not really level itself.
I wound up repainting several parts of the Westfalia, and they still didn’t end up perfectly symmetrical, although both Ron and Kevin, the Blue Swallow’s owner, were quick to note that old Volkswagens are rarely 100 percent symmetrical, either.
It has its flaws, but I think it looks like Bob, and I really like the way the headlights and reflectors on the Westfalia turned out.
Following up on yesterday’s post, here’s another little project I did recently. The Blue Swallow Motel on Route 66 in Tucumcari, New Mexico — which we have long since established is my favorite place in the known universe — has a set of black cardboard information boards under the glass on the front counter. The boards have been in existence for as long as anybody can remember and provide information about other local businesses and services that might be of use to guests.
I’m not sure what was used to make the white letters on the boards, but it doesn’t respond well to spills, and despite the glass over them, moisture occasionally reaches the signs and smears the lettering. I’ll be in New Mexico soon to lead a motorcoach tour, do a few projects at the Swallow and spend a couple of days signing books at a festival.
The owner asked whether I could include restoration or replacement of the information boards among my projects. Based on the historic nature of the originals, we decided the best course of action would be to leave them as-is, remove them from harm’s way, and replace them with a set of updated boards featuring current businesses. Using paintmarkers and black poster board, I created these modern versions, designed to approximate the style and dimensions of the originals. The originals will preserved in some manner that maintains their historic integrity and protects them from further damage. I had the new ones laminated. Hopefully they’ll last as long as their predecessors.
I’m looking forward to getting to Tucumcari and starting work on the mural I’ve got planned, which will be something of a tribute to Bob Waldmire. I haven’t had a good dose of New Mexico since October, and I really need one. While I’m out there, I’ll be signing copies of Greetings from Coldwater and the new print edition of Route 66 for Kids, which has been updated for 2016. (There’s also a Kindle version of the guidebook, but it’s the 2015 edition. I haven’t had time to figure out how to update it and link it to the print version yet. The information is mostly the same, but a few places have raised their prices or changed their hours in the past year.)
I keep thinking I’ll get on here and write a post catching up all the stuff I’ve done this spring, but every time I think I’m about to catch my breath, something else happens.
March was a little bit busy, but nothing ridiculous; mostly just the usual preliminary garden work, and I started a redecorating project in my dining room that got pushed back a bit when I landed a gig painting a mural at the new juvenile justice center the county is developing. I spent the middle of April working on that. I think it turned out well:
I also had three road trips in April: a nice trip to Pontiac, Illinois, on April 9 to help the Illinois Route 66 Association spruce up the museum ahead of tourist season; a pleasant trip to Tulsa for a Judy Collins concert April 24; and a trip to Afton, Oklahoma, for our friend Laurel’s memorial service April 30.
That last trip started out well but turned into a nightmare 70 miles from home, when my Subaru decided to have its second catastrophic breakdown in as many years. When we described all the problems we’ve had with the car since we bought it, Subaru corporate offered us $1,000 off a new one. Uh, no. I already spent $5,000 having the transmission rebuilt in this one — for which I still owe $8,500 — and now it needs a $6,800 engine and radiator replacement. I’ll just cut my losses now and park it until I finish paying it off, thanks.
Of course this happened the week I decided I was going to break my 30-year swearing habit by assigning Weight Watchers-style points to profanities, giving myself a daily quota, and cutting off an inch of my hair for every day I exceeded my points.
When we left for Afton, my hair looked like this:
After I spent two weeks cussing that bloody Subaru, it looked like this:
I don’t love it, but I hate it less than I expected, for various reasons.
Automotive woes notwithstanding, it’s been a pretty good spring. I’ve been doing a lot of landscaping projects. Here are a few I especially like:
We bought an arbor in April. I’d wanted one for a long time.
I also decided to try my hand at fairy gardening, Whovian-style:
And, of course, my pride and joy:
Finally, here are two views of my front porch since I started adding plants and decorations to it:
I have several other projects to share, but this post is getting out of hand, so I’ll stop there for now. Hope you’re having a good spring, wherever you are.
As promised a couple of weeks ago, here are photos from the mural I completed in October on the east side of Tee Pee Curios in Tucumcari, New Mexico. I still can’t get over how fast and easy that neon technique is.
Spending a couple of weeks in Tucumcari this year has confirmed some things for us. First, it showed us we’re definitely on the right track with our long-term goal, which is to build a tiny house in northeastern New Mexico and retire there. The people in that area seem really nice, and the town is just about perfect in terms of size and proximity to larger cities and wilderness areas.
Second, the enthusiastic responses I’ve gotten to my murals have shown me this might make a nice cottage industry, so after New Year’s, I’m planning to take out an ad in the service directory part of the paper and see if I can rustle up a few mural-painting gigs in Southeast Missouri or Southern Illinois. Even small projects would bring in a nice chunk of extra income to save toward the tiny house of my dreams.
It’s good to have a long-term goal and a specific plan for reaching it. Even if something happens to throw us off-track, there’s never a down side to retiring debts as quickly as possible, learning new skills, or saving money for things you really need.
One day in the not-too-distant future, I’ll share our six-year plan for paying off our debts and putting ourselves in a position to make our very specific dreams come true. It’s a pretty good to-do list, even if you’re not planning to build a micro-house in the high desert.
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:
Here’s the work in progress, in case you’re interested:
And here’s a tutorial breaking down each step in this technique, which is ridiculously easy:
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.