The Big Summer Mural Project, Part 1

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Many of you that have followed my blog over the past 4 years probably have been wondering what was keeping me from writing. And here is the answer. This spring, I was commissioned as part of a joint community project between my school and a local country club, to paint a mural near the main entrance of the resort. I created the design for the wall and I would have help from my art students to execute the project. The wall is an exterior wall that every golfer and club member needs to pass in order to get to the club house as well as the first tee. So the owner of the course was seeking a mural that would present the beauty of the place, nestled in the Catskill mountains, as well as cover a plain, unadorned retention wall. The golf course is also across the street from an intensive Arts Camp for students ages 8-18. So the project itself would highlight the feeling of the area and the community interest in the arts.

The first image on this page, is the study I painted, plein aire, from the 7th tee, which is up on a promontory overlooking the course as well as the surrounding Catskill Mountains. Quite a beautiful view in the spring. The owner and I chose the spring because of the beautiful range of colors in the hills with the golf green itself, standing out because of its greenness. Toward the summer months, all is green everywhere, so less variety. But my window of opportunity to paint the area as such is so small. So I was under a lot of pressure early on to get the study right. It was also, a 180* view, which took multiple panels to accomplish. The overall length of the panels being 83″ to match a wall that is 51′ long.

Another difficulty that I had, as one can see in the last image on this page, is that the top of the wall angled from 8′ to 4′ in height. This made it very difficult to obtain a good composition. I did not want the sky entirely eliminated from the right side and I did not want the hills on the left to be directly centered. So I painted the original study slightly wider than the wall’s actual size so I could have some wiggle room on either side to make adjustments. That way, I would have plenty of on-site information for any changes I decided to make. The central motif, bordered on both sides by trees, remained unchanged since it is the key to the composition.

The other difficulty, and a really big one, was that I had never painted on concrete on an exterior wall. This took an immense amount of research. Not only for how to paint on such a wall, but sealing and priming the wall prior to any paint application. I needed a good surface to apply the more expensive paint and I also needed an assurance that the process I was going to use would withstand the harsh winters in the Catskills. I am still hoping that there will be no problems from ice, snow and water.

The technique of application I used, I found reference to through Golden Artist Colors, Inc. which focuses on mural painting in its newsletter. There were many valuable articles from contemporary mural painters with their particular way of accomplishing an extensive project such as Eric Alan Grohe, Mark Switlik and an organization called Barnstormers. Studying the various processes that they employed and the variations between them was quite helpful.

 

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So I began by priming the wall with a 100% acrylic block fill paint. At the Home Depot, it is used for concrete flooring and masonry walls. This worked well as there were many small pits in the cement. I applied 3 coats. I also toned the primer to simulate the warm pinkish color I tone my panels with for landscape painting. This helped me see the color and value of the paint more clearly as I was applying it.

After the priming, I created a “main line”, a line that would visually connect all the parts. Not a horizon line, because it is not in the composition toward the right side. This main line was crucial to achieving a unity. It also helped me solve some unexpected problems.

Problem #1: I placed the main line horizontally on the wall, but it appeared to rise up on the right side. Even the block forms that were used to create the wall appeared crooked. Why was this? And how do I create the feeling of horizontal when a horizontal bubble level will not work? What visually created this feeling of tilt in the composition of the wall was not the wall itself. It was the grading of the asphalt parking area, which was graded to pull water away from the building. The asphalt was higher on the left and lower on the right and this visually created a feeling of tilt on the wall.

To solve this issue, I had my students take a 2X3X8 piece of lumber and hold it up against the wall. And I stood back far enough to take in the whole project. First they held it strictly horizontal. Then I had them slowly lift the left side to give the feeling of horizontal that could not be achieved otherwise. Then I carried this main line across the wall. It was the only way to achieve a visual feeling of stability.

Problem #2: The only problem was that less of the composition showed on the lower half as it moved toward the right. So the “green” area was cut off at a couple of critical spots. I needed to compensate for this by raising the tree line in the foreground a couple of inches, so I could still include the golfers in the central motif.

After I had the main line set I could then square the wall and the drawing proportionally with pencil. I set squares on the wall at 18″ and 2.5″ on the drawing. My students and I then transferred the drawing to the wall. We later used acrylic exterior markers by Mowotow  in a light blue to set the drawing and protect it from rain.

 

 

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Author: Judith Reeve

For nearly 30 years I've developed my painting practice in the studio, building on what I leaned from my student days at the Lyme Academy of Fine Art. Along with my daily journey creating images which I write about here on this blog, I am also currently writing a book on the color practice of Robert Henri.

2 thoughts on “The Big Summer Mural Project, Part 1”

  1. Wow! This is fantastic! The study is beautiful. Fascinating how you delt with the problems that came up. I am looking forward to part two. Will the mural be in the sun? The sun is very destructive to paint and varnish.

    1. Thanks for the encouragement. Yes, it is in the sun for half a day and has a north west exposure. In my next blog I will get into the materials that I have used as well as the final UV varnish that should protect it from the sun. I have also used only pigment recommended by Golden Acrylic that are for exterior use. More on that next week.
      Judith

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