Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Salem Harbor Reverse Glass Painting (Part I)

One of my current projects is a reverse painting on glass of a harbor scene.

This request came from a man in Florida who wanted a panel in a mirror, but had no original to copy. Since the mirror was possibly not period, and there was no restriction on the design, the decision was made to honor his wife's home town of Salem, Massachusetts. And since the style of the mirror is Federal, which is the period at which Salem was at its height, this seemed like a good match.

I had done something similar before, but there were difficulties finding images that were iconic enough to be read as "Salem" without presenting historic anachronisms.

The solution was to use a section of a painting in the Peabody Essex Museum showing Crowninshield's wharf. This reflects the influence of the China trade which brought wealth to Salem, and the influence of Asian decorative arts to the western hemisphere.

Panorama of Crowinshield's Wharf at the Peabody Essex Museum

Detail of painting selected

Due to our now famous "winter from hell", as well as assorted mishaps and other issues, our planned trips to the Peabody to view the painting in person kept falling through. The test panel I am preparing to work out the design will have some areas of ambiguity, as the on-line image was not of high enough resolution for me to see all the detail. I am planning that before the final panel is done, I will be able to photograph the original painting.

The first steps were to create a pattern, which, thanks to modern technology, was not difficult (as long as you remember to flip it, since you are painting in reverse!). I added a "Salem" sign to the side of the building, as it seemed the most graceful way of identifying the location.

Color testing on scrap glass (as seen from back)

Since this was a complete new creation, I needed to make at least one preliminary glass. This is not as refined as I want in a finished glass, but it is simply to work out the design, colors, and find out where the problems will arise. In fact, it may even be necessary to do another pass at a test panel before the final, but even if that is necessary, it will still be possible to work on that and the final panel simultaneously.

Even simple designs require drying times between some steps. In this case, there are more steps involved, and the logistics of what to paint in order to shorten the process can be frustrating.

A front view as the work progresses

Completed test panel.

As this progresses, I already have notes on what will change in next version. I'll probably need to do a second test panel before the final.

More to come later....

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Sometimes Gold isn't the Answer

As found
I picked up this mirror about seven years ago, and never got around to doing anything with (yeah, same old story). Frankly, it wasn't valuable or attractive enough to warrant my attention. But as part of my resolution to deal with the unfinished project pile, I took it out for re-evaluation.

The outer border was interesting, with its all-over composition ornament resembling woven netting. There were a number of areas of damage, particularly at the edges where this was most vulnerable. It was also covered in the traditional "gold" radiator paint, and with a somewhat charming, but inappropriate painted panel in the upper section.

Rather than invest a lot of time and materials, I opted for a more decorative solution. The low value did not warrant using karat gold leaf, and an all-over gilding seemed like it would be too over-the-top.


I used composition gold on the mirror lips and composition ornament adjacent. I then began building up my painted surface, A gray/green was the basis, followed by a violet-tinged gray. This was followed by a glazing of sienna, followed by a wax/rottenstone treatment.

Base coat

Gray coat

The final effect is subtle, yet rich, particularly when the inner applique with its original, though worn gilding as put back. Once mirror plates are installed we are done!


Monday, March 16, 2015

The Snow Scene (In driveway and in watercolor)

The shady corner

As our horrendous winter draws to a close, the snow is melting rapidly (well, not that rapidly), and the scene changes with each day. I have been taking pictures, and the other day decided to sit in the back of the van (which was finally removed from its ice tomb) and do a plein air watercolor. I was intrigued with the partially covered flowerpots, and the shadows on the wall. I have taken many pictures, since the light, the shadows, and yes, even the snow level are all changing.

My first version, on a bright day, seems fresh and light, but not as exciting as I had hoped.

Version 1 in the van

Version 1

Version 2

Version 3

Version 4. I hoped a change to a vertical composition might help. It didn't.

But I was persistent. This is Version 5.

Tried again with version 6.

Finally, version 7. Not completely happy, but I don't want to prolong winter any more than I have to.

The day I was painting the shadows weren't as interesting on the wall as they are in the photo (also, some of these seem to look better on the computer than in real life).I'm sure I'll revisit this - maybe in the summer when I feel more nostalgic for the snow!

Sunday, March 8, 2015

A Mirror with "Female Complaints"?

When dismantling an antique mirror prior to restoration, I found some pages from one of Lydia Pinkham's publications being used as backing material. There was no date, but it appears to be late 19th century.

Lydia Pinkham was, in her day, probably as famous as Steve Jobs. Her "vegetable compound" patent medicine was sold to help with "female troubles", that long-ago term for things that were not to be discussed around the men-folk. This seemed to be a pretty much all-encompassing category of issues. What efficacy it had is questionable, but the 20% alcohol content may have been part of the reason for its success.

Apparently there is still a product being sold under this brand name, but it appears to be blended and marketed as an iron supplement.

You can learn more about her here.

The factory was located in Lynn, Massachusetts, and is now home to artist studios and small businesses.

Friday, March 6, 2015

Another Reverse Painting for a Mirror

Completed Mirror. Frame required only minor cleaning.

These small mirrors are fun to do. The reverse paintings were often these simple, folky scenes, and this one of the "cottage by a river" is pretty typical. 

Typical also is the condition these panels are found in. In addition to general deterioration, there were earlier attempts to fix the painting. As we can see, these rarely turn out well, and replication is the better option.

Original panel.  (the number on the tape is just for my tracking purposes).

My version of the panel.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Another Day, Another Frame

I purchased this painting many years ago. It probably appealed to me since it was so simple and bold, unlike my own paintings. The old frame was probably not as old as the painting, and was typical of what someone may have selected in the 1960s or 70s - "contemporary" with a linen panel. While narrow frames are often effective with large works, they all to often carry the air of "what's the least expensive". Since the frame was stained and falling apart (it looks better in these photos than in real life) , I knew it would be reframed at some point.

Painting as framed when purchased

Old frame detail

Label on back

As with many of these long term (long term in the sense they get put away and forgotten), my thoughts about the final design may go through several revisions. I cut and joined the basic frame last year, and like the painting, it didn't get out of storage for quite a while. 

Silver leaf applied

Due to the fairly large size (24" x 28"), I wanted to do something with more wall presence, but not fancy. My usual technique for almost any project is multiple layers of material to create finishes that have variations and undertones. 

This started with gesso, coated with pigmented shellac, then silver leaf. The panel was painted in dark blue, then a silver leaf design applied. I wanted the design bold, with the same "casual" feel as the painting. 

Painting corner design with gold size

Silver leaf applied to designs

Afterwards, additional shellac, casein washes, and finally, wax and rottenstone. If this snow season persists I might get all caught up on the unfinished projects..

Detail of finished frame

Another project crossed off the list

Monday, February 9, 2015

Summer Painting Revisited

While snowbound I am pursuing my resolution to finish up those artworks that never quite got done. A side benefit is that it allows me to mentally revisit more pleasant weather.
This painting was started during one of the Artists Guild ofShrewsbury's plein air painting days at the Artemas Ward Homestead in Shrewsbury.

I enjoy the initial blocking in of a painting far more than the finishing details (perhaps I should change my style to this look). As frustrating as it may be to have something hanging around so long, I find it sometimes helpful as I can spend a lot more time thinking about it, and the painting may evolve in a different direction from my original intention.


Second stage

As often happens, I was working on the frame at the same time.


This is another one started at one of our plein air sessions. It has such a rural look, hard to believe I was located in the parking lot for the retirement facility next door. 
I have no trouble getting started.

Some of these elements will be deleted, others added or changed.

Since the property was on the market, there was no activity, but once I got home and revisited it, I felt I needed to take some license to add "life" to it.

 After this, one more large one painting to finish, and then I can start some new works without guilt!