Specializing in detailed pencil illustrations and watercolor paintings of people, pets and places. To “Consider An Original” contact willstom01@gmail.com for current pricing.

Sunday, November 4, 2018

The Frame as Art

Restored frame, dates from late 1800s-early 1900s.
There are some occasions where the frame is as much a work of art as the painting or illustration it holds.
Nowadays there is a lot of plastic in frames, they’re too shiny and lightweight. I like old things, and I love old frames, and I have been known to tinker with and restore both.

In the late 1800s and early 1900s, heavy and handcrafted “gilt gesso” frames were very popular. A very thin coating of gold was applied to wood or porcelain. Gilding gave the impression of richness at a fraction of the cost.

As it came home, crud and all, missing pieces.
This frame certainly did not look rich when I brought it home. It came from a yard sale, sat in a barn for a couple of years, and then remained unsold at yet another yard sale. It then spent time in the elements out on a porch.
All of the tacks holding it together had rusted through. Pieces of decorative gilt had fallen off, crumbled or gotten loose.  Many chunks were missing.

Washing it made even more chunks fall off.
But the frame was flat, the edges were intact and the glass was intact. I could see that it could be beautiful again.
It wasn’t easy, and it took a long time.

I decided to scrape off all of the trim and save the good pieces.
First I used dish soap and a bucket of water to loosen and wash away the dirt and cobwebs. After a while I could see the remaining gold overlay and the finished wood, which still looked decent, amazingly.
More and more pieces fell off, though.  So many that I wound up taking a kitchen knife and prying them all off, collecting the puzzle-like pieces in a baggie.

Turned these pieces on their side and glued them on.
A little research and a few hunches lead me to believe this frame is from 1880.
The frame is actually three frames that fit together — outer, middle and inner. I turned it over and glued them all back together.

Back view: The frames within the frame.
Glue and pieces.
Meanwhile, I let the pieces dry out for a few days and then set about trying to salvage the trim. The problem was that there were simply not enough pieces to go around the outer and inner parts of the frame.
The modeling clay, which turned out to be the wrong kind. Ugh!
For the outer frame, I turned the little “apostrophe” pieces on their side, figuring this would elongate them and fill out the space.  But I still ran short, so used modeling clay to craft replacements for the missing parts.  I heavily glued them onto the wood.

Molding pieces and gluing a pattern together.
For the inner frame, there was just too much damage.  The original trim could never be replicated from my baggie full of crumbled plaster. My solution was to save the biggest, most intact pieces and space them out evenly in some semblance of a pattern.  This worked to a point but there was still too much dead space between the pieces. It looked like macaroni glued to a paper plate!

Glue and filler.
I wound up using glass bits from Dollar General to fill in between the chunks. I sprinkled them onto a bed of glue, and once that dried, used a paint brush to spread more glue over the entire inner frame to hold it together.
Elmer’s All-Purpose glue and GE silicone caulk got a real workout here, and the frame is super solid now.
Ready to fill in.

I decided to use a hammered copper spray paint to coat the outer and inner frame, and masked off the middle wood to keep it as original as possible.  The copper paint coated and filled in the glued-on pieces -- 10 coats!-- and camouflaged the homemade bits, and by design pulled together the inner and outer frames.

Glass pieces along the inner rim.
But there was a problem: The paint would not dry on the modeling clay. It stayed sticky and even pulled off! Potential disaster. But I brushed Elmer's glue over the tacky spots, let that dry and painted the copper over them again -- this time, with a small brush. That did the trick. 

More glue brushed on, to hold everything tight.
Next disaster: The masking tape pulled off some of the old wood stain, making the exposed wood look really beat up.  So I carefully brushed on some new, dark acrylic paint (brown-black-sienna) and then wiped it in and off. Looks much better.

Masked and sprayed.
Even the glass was problematic.  It’s an old, heavy glass — definitely lead oxide glass. It's wavy and full of bubbles. And nothing would cut through all of the filth, including lethal concoctions of heavy chemistry (xylene, goo-gone, Dawn, alcohol etc.). I thought of replacing it, but using a cheap, modern thin glass pane just seemed wrong.

The wood before brushing on new stain.
Finally a Mr. Clean Magic Eraser allowed for noticeable improvement after five go-arounds. It's not perfect, it's antiqued!
Getting the glass back in was tight and required a little whittling.

Waiting for it to dry!
This was a great project, though difficult and time-consuming, and I am very excited about the results.
Applying a wash of the acrylic paint.
The rubdown!
This frame is designed to match perfectly a piece that is already completed — another frankly mind-blowing project for me (perhaps my most complex to date) that I will reveal after Christmas.
Stay tuned.

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

No. 423: Smirk

"Smirk" by Tom Wills, graphite, October 2018.

This beautiful smirk belongs to Grace Slick, who looks like she’s about to do — or has just done — something naughty.
I am probably right about that.

You see, in the late 1960s, Slick was no Petula Clark.
If you are someone under 50 years old, I’m sure that you are Googling both women right now to find out what I’m getting at.

She is one of the earliest female rock stars and had a big influence on other female performers. She had great pipes.

After brief work as a model, her music career spanned four decades with Jefferson Airplane (great), Jefferson Starship (occasionally awesome), and Starship (meh). Throughout, she was bold, loud, sexy —and a little dangerous.

She talked about, and sang about, drugs and sex. Her early song “White Rabbit" is about psychedelic drugs, and she was the first person to say "motherfucker" on television during a 1969 performance. Her nickname? The Chrome Nun. She has acknowledged her alcoholism, discussed her rehabilitation and commented on use of LSD, marijuana and more.

She retired from the music business in the 1990s,, saying: “All rock-and-rollers over the age of 50 look stupid and should retire."  So she began painting and drawing, displaying and selling her artwork and attending art shows across the United States.  She uses acrylic paints, ink, scratchboard, pastels and pencil among other tools.

This picture is all pencil of various leads and was drawn specifically to fit an oval, antique frame that I grabbed at a summer garage sale. I worked longer on the frame than on the drawing, filling in cracks, shoring up the bubble glass and eventually painting over most of it. I drew a light oval around the drawing as it came together, to make sure that it would fit perfectly.

She's not perfect.  She's not supposed to be.

I figured many of you wouldn’t recognize this young face. I also reasoned, if nothing else, it would still be a portrait of a beautiful young woman with a twinkle in her eyes and mischief at her mouth — in a cool frame. But if you don’t know who Grace Slick is, you should.  And now you do.

Available, $160.

Thursday, September 20, 2018

No. 421: Where Did Our Summer Go?

Geneva-on-the-Lake, July 2018, ink and watercolor by Tom Wills, from an Amanda Davis photo
You can learn about the framing, at the end of this blog.

September is a funny month that cannot get comfortable with itself. A Virgo should know.

The month takes us from searing heat and stifling humidity to chilly mornings and rainy nights.
These are the days that shut off the life to leaves yet send lawns into overdrive.
People run the last gas out of their boats, pack up their campers, send the kids back to (hot then cold) schools.
On the weekends they sun themselves on patio furniture that will soon spend eight months locked in a shed.

And the fair shuts down.
Labor Day weekend or thereabouts is the last gasp for county fairs and amusement parks as their summer help heads back to classrooms.
The rides are taken down and trucked to warmer climates.
But some of the bigger, permanent ones shelter in place.

Erieview Park Ferris Wheel, built in 1956, now lives at Firehouse Winery in Geneva-on-the-Lake, Ohio, where people can thrill to summer night rides. But those every day rides become weekend fun only in September, so get there soon.

Fascinating facts about this true Ferris Wheel can be found at the winery's web site here.  http://www.oldfirehousewinery.com/wheel.shtml

This painting is from an original photo taken there in July 2018, in the full swing of summer, by a mom who especially enjoys this place with her young daughter. She asked if I could paint it for Christmas for her girl's room. We'll try to keep it a surprise, OK?
You can follow the painting's assembly in these images. 

Clearly we got a head start on this while the sun still sets early.
I always take a week off late in September to do all of the summer chores I neglected, to clean up lingering messes and start tying things down. In between using a big brush to stain a shed and a deck, I used smaller ones and brighter colors to recreate the wheel in sunset.

Much of this piece is ink. I painted the sunset and the shoreline, then inked over it.

Then, I painted over the ink with some purples and blues and browns. Lastly I added a few twinkling lights on the big wheel.

"Geneva-on-the-Lake, July 2018," as we are calling this piece, was completed on the eve of my 57th birthday. So it's a little special to me.  I can't share my cake with you here, but I will share this.
Happy fall, all.

About the framing:

Amanda wanted a custom color to match a bedroom. She really didn't want a natural wood tone, so I wound up giving a repurposed frame several coats: A primer,  coats of metallic silver, and coats of metallic dark gray. In the light this thing shines and sparkles through the layers. It worked!

Saturday, September 1, 2018

No. 420: Destination

No. 420, "Destination" by Tom Wills, watercolor and ink, September 2018.

Everyone is heading somewhere, most of the time. What will we do when we finally arrive? Stay, go or simply pause? Sometimes the best part of being in motion is the stillness that inevitably comes as we try to decide what comes next.

Painting as it dries, before finishing up and signing.
The five riders who parked their steel horses at the curb in this painting, "Destination," were on their way but took that pause. They stepped out of the mid- July sun to cool their throats with draft beer and warm their guts with fried Lake Erie walleye and fries, with scratch-made cole slaw.

Roaring silence.
The fat green awning keeps the old bar dark inside, where metal fans reflect their Morse code signals across the tin ceiling as they rotate.

The bikes, unfinished.
The quintet paused in their speed but probably didn't linger, which is a shame, because historic places such as Ashtabula Harbor have given many old souls their rest. How many boatmen sloshed across the floor over the years after their days or nights on Erie, ordering up a pint or a tumbler before making their way home or to some other destination?

Metal boxes, in the way.
Bridge Street is a small, magical place that isn't going anywhere fast in these blurry days. The drawbridge sees to that as it raises and lowers hourly, backing up cars and bikes. Some people get out to stretch their legs and admire the lifting mechanism and its concrete counterweight, while most just sit inside of their shiny metal boxes and bitch about their pause.

I took the cars out of this picture because they were in the way. A little guesswork went into finishing the storefronts -- I imagined their exteriors in the same way I envisioned those drinking boatmen.  A utility pole and overhead wires also got erased so nothing would stand in the way of those pastel painted buildings -- except for those five bikes.

Here come colors.
No. 420 started out in pencil, and then became a pen and ink rendering before I added the paints. The dark lines provided the structure for the colors, which I shaded to recreate the lake shore sunlight baking those bricks and scorching the pavement.

I actually painted over everything twice, to deepen the colors and make the bright spots pop.

First brushes of color.
These five buildings are but a slice of the entire harbor district, just as it is a slice of small town America. These places are a great stop along the way, wherever you are going.

Adding some details.

Right before the second washes of colors.
Farewell my friend Matthew as you begin an amazing journey.

This painting is available. Email willstom01@gmail.com for details.