Still Puttering

April 19th, 2009

A little more work to do. I’ve developed the third character and he turned out to be a dwarf of all things! I think this is a scene from Rigoletto. Who knew that was floating around in my subconscious?

I refined the faces, added highlights to the columns, and changed the drapery. After several layers of glazing various items, everything was feeling brown, so it needed a blue counterpoint. The fabric was not draping very well, so I got out my Graham Rust book The Painted House, to find some examples. This works better on both counts. 

I think I will varnish it and glaze the perimeter darker one more time. Also, Sue and I were discussing a cheetah on a leash in front of the railing. We’re already over the top, so why not keep going?


April 17th, 2009

…this architect did this by accident!

I love this person for the sheer ridiculous audacity of this portico, and I refuse to believe it was created without whimsy.


I mean, LOOK AT THAT DOOR! It’s surreal.

This house belongs in some hall of fame somewhere. It reminds me of another picture from another local blog called Pigtown Design, which I occasionally peek at, although they tended towards unkindness towards their discovered treasure. 


Tip o’ the hat to Susan Major for pointing this house out to me, although I probably would have noticed it anyway.

Say that again?!?

April 15th, 2009

I spent the last week or so on this pretty typical project for a very nice family in Howard County with a typical home in a typical neighborhood with a fairly typical problem: The kitchen & family room combo felt unfinished. Mostly that is because it was: they had stripped the wallpaper a year ago, and repaired the drywall, and had run out of vacation time before the work was complete, so simply lived with the situation for a good while.

They heard of Rising Tide Inc. through the Center Stage Radio Auction, where I had donated a room finish for the fundraiser. Both husband and wife volunteer at Center Stage, and while they were working for the auction my item came up, and they bid and won the finish.

We discussed a nice spring green sponge finish for the walls of the kitchen, based on the large yard outside and the green accent in the stained glass pendant lights over the island and the breakfast table. 

In the family room, a different problem presented itself. The fireplace at the far end was very stark, and devided the room up into three parts, right left and center, which gave the space a boxcar-like feeling.

Continuing the green finish would have made the effect even worse, so we chose a terracotta color to blend the fireplace into the wall and lose the massive quality of the structure at the end of the room.

We finished the drywall, repainted and applied two contrasting sponge finishes, with a very dramatic, sophisticated result. As the client said in appreciation, “This doesn’t look like our house. This looks like the houses of the people whose houses we go to!”

I think she was referring to members of the Center Stage Board of Directors when she said that, but it is my new favorite quote. Perhaps a banner testimonial across the website homepage?

That’s what it needed.

April 2nd, 2009

I have been stewing over my mural.

Technically it has been going pretty well, the figures are developing, the forms and colors are pretty well balanced, but more and more I have felt unsatisfied. There is no drama, no action or story, no dynamic tension between the characters. Yesterday it hit me: It needs a third character. 

Most design relies on the triangle. In space planning and home decorating it is efficient for movement. Consider the ideal kitchen balanced from sink to stove to refrigerator. In aesthetics it is used to create visual movement and tension. You want the eye to flit from focal point to focal point in a pattern that opens up the image and covers more ground than just back and forth between two objects. In storytelling a third person expands the possible interactions from two to six: not just what I think of you and what you think of me, but also what you and I think of her, and what she thinks of you or me, so the complexity and hence the interest expands rapidly. 

In a storytelling image, the triangle fills both needs, expanding the possibilities of the story, and helping the viewer’s eye to keep moving from point to point. In this instance, I also need something more dynamic. Both of my figures are passive, so I need some action. I sketched for an hour or so this afternoon.

Next I have to make some decisions regarding this character. I want him a bit creepy and unwelcome. Creepy clown? Creepy Old Bald Guy? Creepy old bald guy in a clown costume? I have to think about color too.

Not all Fun and Games

April 2nd, 2009

My friend Glenn lives on a boat in the Inner Harbor, the Mistress, which is a 60 foot, wooden hulled schooner. Every year or two he has to pull it out of the water to repair and or repaint the hull. Since Glenn is a good guy, and takes me out sailing every now and again, it behooves me to heed the call for assistance when it comes. As if shining the Bat Beacon onto the cloudy skies of Gotham City, Glenn offers up pizza and beer for anyone willing to brave the grit and oil of the local drydock and help him get the Mistress back into the harbor as quickly as possible. I had some free time today, so off I went…

Here she is. Monday they pulled her out of the water, removed the main mast for repairs, and set her up on all these braces and supports. Yesterday Glenn sanded all of the red area below the waterline, and when I got there at 10 am today, he had sanded the green band from the stern to around the white patched area you can see near the bow. Glenn gladly handed the sanding off to me, and turned his attention to repairing the propeller. You can see his little feet sticking out behind the rudder.

Four hours later, I had worked my way, optimistically, halfway back down the other side (starboard, you lubbers), and the three pound high-speed random-rotary-action electric sander/buffer had somehow added on an additional forty-seven pounds, and I gratefully played my card in the hole: I had to pick up Sarah at school. Theoretically, tomorrow we paint.

That looks like halfway, don’t you think?

Now I’ve done it.

March 30th, 2009

I finally finished most of the general field inpainting on my mural and have spent the last couple of days on selective refinements: I changed the perspective on the balustrade just a little since I had a few comments from friends to indicate confusion on that, and hardened the shadows on them at the same time. I am happier with the troubadour having tackled his features and hands more aggressively. I still have to work on her features though – they are way too weak and pallid.

Today I finally got around to my long anticipated reglazing of the balustrade drapery, and I think I may have overdone it. I like how dramatic it has become, but the rest of the painting now feels vapid by comparison. I now have to punch up the shadows on everything else to bring it into balance. In the end, this will give me the dark renaissance moodiness I am hoping for, but I wonder how much will have to be pretty well repainted to get there.

He seems worried about it.

BUY THIS MURAL – Day whatever.

March 26th, 2009

I have been getting back to the mural now and again, and missing several days in between, but this week had had some time on it while working on a silver leafed chair in the studio – lots of drying time in between steps on that – and have made some progress.

I am almost done with the local color inpainting, and have delayed the column capitals about as long as I can. Once I get those done, and the straps in the barrel vault, I have to work on refining the figures. The features are too bland and the hands are still clunky. The orange drapery in the foreground is just an underpainting. I think I will overglaze it with ultramarine blue. I liked what happened on the troubadour’s cap, and that will give me more contrast in the foreground. If I feel up to it, I might give it a damask pattern in all of the folds. I will also be glazing down the shadows considerably, since I want the thing to be much moodier than it is so far.

A trompe l’oeil medallion

March 19th, 2009

We have spent the last week painting a condo in a highrise building in the Inner Harbor, and I have been so annoyed with how dismal, grey and cold the weather has been the whole time. I have been looking forward to spending lunch breaks on the waterfront and visiting my friend Glenn’s boat, The Mistress, where he lives in the marina outside the condo, but it has been blustery and yucky the whole time. I hate March. 


The project has been about half straight and half decorative painting, with us responsible for the undercoats to our blended sponge finish, and repainting the trim and ceiling to complete the paint package. All the walls are in a subtle beige sponge, which doesn’t photograph well, but maybe when the space is furnished I will try again. In the meantime, I have been working the last couple of days on this medallion in the vestibule. 

The sprinkler head is in an unfortunate place, and off center to boot, but nevertheless I am happy with the result.

I should have photographed the process, but did not take my camera to work yesterday. I started with a white octagon and pencilled in the circle to inpaint the beige background, then stencilled the medallion in quarters using a similar midtone beige. Shadows were painted in a darker brown latex, then the whole thing was glazed in a thin wash of raw umber artist’s oil paint in mineral spirits. Highlights were wiped back with a rag, then sharpened with titanium white oil and the shadows deepened with more raw umber oil. The frame is a blend of white and umber, glazed yesterday, then sharpened today with additional crisp striping. 







The best vantage point is from laying on the floor, but I am not sure how the clients will get their guests to properly enjoy it. maybe a great big divan sprawled in front of the door….

When I go back tomorrow to install the switchplates I might polish back those darkest shadows on the left side of the medallion. Since they are in oil they ought to still move a bit. Looking at photos allows one to be a bit more objective. Or, maybe the flash pushes the contrast a bit. I’ll see.


March 16th, 2009


Every day I get an hour or two to work on this. I pinned it up on Thursday, March 5th. Yesterday Sarah and I went into the studio for a couple of hours and she sketched out the barrel vault based on an image in a book I have called Palazzi of Rome, while I worked on the marbles. Today I painted the vault, and once it is good and dry, and I have finished the other elements, it will get a nice juicy raw umber glaze to put it deeper into shadow. I really don’t want those putti calling too much attention to themselves.


March 10th, 2009


Two years ago I had a floorcloth commission go south on me and I was left with a large canvas panel which I rolled up and stood in a corner. I have been bemoaning the thing for some time, and worried that the latex primer I had painted it with would grow hard and brittle as time passed in its rolled up state, so I finally pinned it up to the wall to see what I could make of it. After some flipping through books and an afternoon with the chalk, I sketched in the basic concept, based on some frescoes at Versailles. Hopefully the result will be a tour-de-force of the contemporary muralist’s art, evoking passion and catharsis at every viewing. Maybe. Or it could end up as a schlocky classical knock-off with limited artistic value, if any. 

Wait and see. Or, avoid the rush, and as e-bay says, Buy Now! Price is negotiable.


This is where we are as of today, 3-13-09. I’m having fun, anyway.