Saturday, August 29, 2015

Big Brushes... and a BIG Challenge... Preparatory Procedures - Part One

August has been a whirlwind of activity... a mix of gallery business and emotional issues for me and the rest of my extended family. At one point , I felt entirely overwhelmed by life... even paralyzed to such an extent that painting seemed impossible for me to consider. However, that seems to have passed... but not without a strong effort and vital support and constant encouragement from Deb.

It feels comfortable to be painting regularly again. My painting has always been a stabilizing force in my life... a reward to look forward to when life seems to close in around me... as it does for us all at certain times. I have discovered early on in  my journey... and the hard way... not to let my painting regimen get sidetracked for too long. Coming back and regaining one's palette and confidence is a HUGE obstacle to rise above... if left for too long an inactive period.

I have gotten back into full stride using smaller sketches to tune up... working in the gallery and en plein air as time would permit. These smaller works as well allowed me to wrap my head around the the planning process that larger works demand. In particular... these exercises prepared me to step into a much larger project than I have dealt with for a very long time. This post will introduce my latest challenge - a four x 8 foot mini mural which is currently underway... and at the lay in stage of finish.

The Andress Mural Project

I certainly DO NOT prefer to paint commissions... and avoid them wherever possible like the plague. Usually... they involve another person's vision... "Idea" and often that vision fails to inspire me enough to embrace the task with the creative spirit and open mind that should be a part of one's painting. I have learned from experience... to pass on commissions which do not fit. They end up being difficult from start to finish... and endurance rather than a pleasure.

I agreed to "do this favor" for a friend and in accepting, I retained the right to determine subject matter and timing. The only cost to my friend will be the material costs. My payment becomes the opportunity to leave behind a lasting part of work to share clearly my gratitude for being blessed to return to the origin of my creative journey.

Choosing the Subject

I chose Zavicon Island, once known as Woolrich Island because it was the summer retreat for executive members of  the Woolrich Woolen Mills. It has been tied to a myth created by tricky tour boat guides that the small bridge joining the two neighbouring islands is the smallest international bridge in the world. Not so... because both islands lie a full 200 meters inside Canadian waters. But it is a part of the local lore.

I chose the subject because it is a pivotal location for all tours... no matter where they begin on either side of the river and because the panorama includes Pine Island... home of the Keats family. They and other "summer folk" who use Andress Boat Works for seasonal docking will pass this landmark every year that they head out to their retreats. The two classic wooden boats portrayed were constructed by Ed Andress adjacent to the mural's present and final location. Very fitting!

Creating the Compositional Template

Tim Dennison took me out in The Andress Boat Works water taxi to gather digital reference material to help me build a compositional structure for the large-scale painting. I took many pictures from various vantage points... but as is always the case on water, positioning is only temporary and "iffy" with wind... drift and wave motion. No photograph really totally fitted the bill by itself... so I used a "cut n' paste" strategy to create a virtual image close enough to reality to allow me to construct an initial sketch to begin building the final composition.

A head on shot of Zavicon Island and its mythical "international" foot bridge... the primary element and landscape for the painting

Add the Heritage Islander classic wooden tour boat of the forties thru' sixties... built by Ed Andress

A Saint Lawrence Skiff reference (borrowed) from an earlier painting "Island Belles... also built by Ed Andress

Here is a photographic montage created to give me the necessary reference which defines the composition that I wish to portray. It is hardly "reality"... but it does embrace a golden age on the Saint Lawrence... that is sadly disappearing.

Here is a roughly constructed working drawing... scaled to the 4x8 foot format for the composition. It is intended to roughly give me the penciled in positioning for the elements on the larger marine sheet of plywood. This gridding would then be used as a guide on the plywood itself once it was prepared to receive paint.

Preparing the 3/4 inch Marine Plywood Sheet For Painting 

The plywood sheet was first coated with two rolled on coats of Zinser... a construction grade white shellac based primer often used to repair smoke damaged surfaces and walls. IT has very dense covering qualities and repulses moisture absorption.

That followed with two coats of artist grade gesso brushed on thoroughly and left to dry for a couple of days. The edges were treated with the same two primers to reduce passage of moisture through the laminates... which are the achilles for plywood. I then coated the edges with clear outdoor silicone sealant as an added barrier to moisture absorption. The panel was ready for the painting process to begin.

Bear with me... preliminary planning and set up are lengthy... but absolutely necessary steps that must be carried out carefully to insure that the painting surface will withstand the rigours of being outdoors in weather and subject to UV degradation if not properly protected.

The painting is currently completed to the lay in that Part Two will speed up the tempo of the actual painting process. I am very encouraged by the progress... as are others who stop by to watch me at work over the past three days.

Stay tuned....

Good Painting!... to ALL


  1. Wow! That is a BIG project! How exciting! How challenging! How enjoyable! (I've run out of exclamation marks now) but what fun. I can't wait to see this unfold. Just the ticket to get back into the swing of things. Way to go! (oooohhh there's one more! - make that two ;o) )

    Best wishes.

  2. Hi there Lisa!... Thanks for the multiple... !!! A real shot of encouragement for sure!

    The project... large though it may seem... has taken off without incident and is moving along marvellously. The only drawback for me is the rapid drying of the pigments. I get out early in the morning before the heat and the sun add further complication to that problem.

    Otherwise... onward and upward. Stay tuned.....!

    Good Painting!
    Warmest regards,

  3. Bruce, I assume there is a difference between regular plywood and marine plywood? And will the Zinser layer allow the acrylic to stick well? Interesting preparation for an outdoor work of art!

  4. Hi again Rhonda!... Yes... sturdier marine plywood is designed and created to resist weather and moisture. It is used in the construction industry for use in outdoor settings where dampness and water might become an issue. IT is used as well in the boat building trade for similar reasons.

    The Zinser is an added protective precaution to prevent/reduce penetration and a resulting separation of plys... thus reducing the integrity of the plywood strength and application. It is shellac based and serves extraordinarily well in these conditions.

    Be prepared!.... This is the mantra for completing outdoor projects. Even with these precautions... Mother Nature is a trickster. Fingers crossed!

    More strategies regarding further protection to follow... Stay tuned!


    Good painting!
    Warmest regards,

  5. Hi Bruce, what an exciting project! Getting "stuck into" something like this must surely have been good for lifting your spirits.

    We have a similar small bridge with exaggerated claims here: the bridge connecting the island of Seil to the mainland, is known as the "Bridge over the Atlantic", because it spans what is effectively an inlet of that ocean. -

    All the best, and good luck with the project,

  6. Good morning Keith!... Thanks for stopping by and adding your always entertaining... encouraging and thoughtful thoughts and words!

    Myths do prop up those who need them... but Hey! We're just a couple of painters who enjoy painting the truth in what we see around us... in our own terms!

    Happy Painting!

    Warmest regards,