Wednesday, May 18, 2016

When Compo Goes Bad

Frame as delivered

This frame is typical of late Victorian compo (composition) work. This material, composed of whiting, rosin and glue has the consistency of cookie dough when fresh, and can be pressed into molds. When dry, it is steamed, which reactivates the glue and also allows it to be pressed onto curved shapes, such as the half-cylinder outer rails of this frame. Over time, however, compo dries out, and can separate from the wood - particularly if the frame is knocked around.

Missing sections of compo ornament

Repairs like this, which look minor, can be difficult because molding and casting is done on a curved section. The original compo was in relatively large sheets that were attached to lengths of molding. Since you cannot easily mold a single piece to match this, you wind up piecing it in, trying to use as much of the original as possible.

Molds and casts

Piecing in replacements

More falls off while frame is being worked on

A tedious job, but now the frame is once more complete.

Friday, April 29, 2016

The Old Oval Finally Finds a Home


This oval frame came with a domed glass, and is typical of the 1890-1910 era. I don't recall how I acquired it (I think someone just gave it to me), but when it arrived 90% of the outer band of ornament was missing. I didn't even bother to photograph it.

While it was not financially worth-while to replace this missing molding, I did do it for purposes of class demonstrations on how composition ornament is steamed and bent to conform to a shaped frame. Once the ornament was applied, it remained in the workshop in a state of limbo, as I had no further use for it, yet it was now too good to discard.

Out of the blue I had an inquiry for domed glass, and this frame and glass (which I had left up in Maine, intending to discard) was just what was needed. I finished the band of compo with mica powders (which I now use in place of traditional bronzing powders, as they will not tarnish over time), and a casein wash.

Now that is done, I almost wish I had kept it for myself.

Composition molding, gessoed, then tinted shellac.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Old House in Need of Life Support

One of the blogs I look at, Old House Dreams, posts real estate listings featuring old homes, often as candidates for restoration. Many of these feature low prices (at least compared to other areas), prompting any number of "Oh, I would love to buy that and fix it up if it were only (in a place I actually wanted to live, wasn't in an economically depressed area, wasn't adjacent to a sewage treatment plant, etc.)."

One recent post was particularly intriguing, because I was somewhat familiar with the area, and was going to be traveling through it in the near future. The house is outside of Sharon Springs, NY (a town whose main activity seems to be the Instagramming of the abandoned spa and hotels from its heyday). This particular house had a gloomy, mysterious appearance. I thought it would make a great subject for a painting.

This house does take "fixer upper" to a whole new level, but the fact that you see little evidence of post-1900 material about provides it with a time-capsule, derelict atmosphere.

A better photographer than I am could probably do a good photo essay on this place. Will I ever do a painting? Who knows, but I am afraid anything I attempt would just be a "forlorn house" cliche.

Front view

Rear Left Corner

Side with missing chimney

Front door

Front and side. Guess light bill was unpaid.

Gable end

Rear view looks like someone tried residing with manufactured board

Looks like another missing chimney; probably a small porch was here as well.

Sunday, April 3, 2016

Time for a Garage Sale?

Last fall I was poking around the mid-coast Maine area and saw a vine-covered garage that appeared to be on the verge of falling down. It had various signs posted, including "Beware of Dog" and "Beware of Owner". During the month of March I have been trying to do a painting of this, and seem to be going down many dead-ends.

 I think I need new inspiration, or a radically different approach before trying again, but it seems that simplifying and eliminating is putting me on the right track.

Version 1

Version 2

Version 3

Version 4

Version 5

The April 3 version trying a different format.
One person thought this version resembled Donald Trump. Now I do too.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

A Visit to Portsmouth New Hampshire

We usually just pass by Portsmouth on our way to Maine, but this week we took a few days to explore the area. I wanted to see the Edmund Tarbell exhibit at the Portsmouth Discovery Center, and to photograph some of the historic architecture. And boy, Portsmouth is just stuffed with old houses - it's hard to believe so many of them have survived.

A wonderful city with some great restaurants, a lot of charm, and unfortunately, not much available parking. I went out Sunday morning to take pictures, since it was the only way to leave the car in some of the more congested historic areas. My advice for attempting this in high tourist season: walk or bike.

In addition to Portsmouth, poked around southern Maine a bit, as well. The amazing weather had everyone out, even on the beach!

Fun to be a tourist for a few days.

Waterfront, with Gardner-Wentworth house at center.
A typical Portsmouth street scene

Newcastle, NH

No, not a Hyatt. The old prison at the shipyard.

In Kennebunkport. Maybe the Bushes labeled this hunk of concrete.

A large chair in Kittery, Maine.

Friday, February 19, 2016

Big, Bold and Beautiful

Finally done

This is one of my favorite styles of mirror - nothing subtle about this, and you can imagine this on the wall in a large Greek Revival house.

purchased this several years ago, and due to the size (26" wide, 46" high), it was immediately disassembled and placed in storage. As my workshop seems to be shrinking, when I finally had some space during the past year it came out of hiding for its makeover.

Little concern is given to eventual repair or dis-assembly when things are made, so dismantling was a bit of a challenge.

Since these massive corner ornaments projected out from the frame they were quite susceptible to damage, particularly when the mirror must have left the wall and was placed on the floor.

Corners suffered

Most of original leaf detail was gone
 As usual, molds were taken from surviving elements in order to cast replacements. The leave ornaments were gessoed, then water-gilded.


With leaf and "turrets" corners are very three dimensional

When putting mirrors back together, I try to use screws instead of nails, just in case it needs to be taken apart again.

Back in place

Once the lion's share of work was done, it was occupying a corner of the workshop awaiting final re-assembly. That last step was this week's accomplishment.

There was only a small piece of the original backboard available, I used a piece of birch plywood to create a new backboard. While the originals functioned as dust covers and protection for glass, plywood replacements also offer additional structural support.

Installing mirror plates

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Try, Try Again

So often with my painting I have difficulty translating what I visualize in my mind onto the paper or canvas. When I kept looking at this fallen tree trunk in the back yard, I knew I could do something with it (and that I had better do so before it rotted into the ground).

While we were having one of our unseasonable warm spells this winter, I went out to photograph and sketch. And while in the house during a more typical stretch of winter, attempted a watercolor version.

My sketch

The first one  made me wonder if I was drinking or something. Then I realized that the perspective was off, since my viewpoint while outside was looking down towards the trunk, so my background was incorrect, making the trunk look like it was floating.

(Tree trunk seems to be in style of Rene Magritte)

The second one was better, but somewhat dead looking.

At least we have the trunk back on the ground

The third one was done on a smaller scale, while trying out some new watercolor board I purchased a while back. I think this one was the most successful, due to the smaller scale fitting a simple subject, reducing the number of elements in the composition, and being a bit freer and leaving more white.

Version 3

Still not completely happy, and may return to this subject later on.