Twinsburg Public Library Murals

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Getting presents every day of the year!

              Twinsburg is a city of about twenty thousand residents, in Ohio, United States, located about halfway between the larger cities of Akron and Cleveland. The City prides itself on offering its residents a wealth of services that make Twinsburg a choice community in the state. One of Twinsburg's unique celebrations is The Twins Days Festival, the largest annual gathering of twins in the world! But perhaps best among the wonderful services this beautiful city provides its citizens, is their award winning public library.

The Twinsburg Public Library.

              The Twinsburg Public Library is housed in a state of the art facility that, in addition to being well organized and efficiently run, also manages to be both user-friendly and aesthetically pleasing. I had never visited this facility (I live in nearby Cleveland) though indirectly I had benefited many times from its collection. This is so because the Twinsburg Public Library is a member of CLEVNET, a major consortium of public libraries that together provide access to over 11 million items to the Cleveland area and the rest of Ohio.

The library's main circulation hall.

              Having visited countless public libraries around the world, I can declare with utter conviction that the CLEVNET library system is the best in the world! From the comfort of my home computer I can browse through the millions of items in the CLEVNET catalog, place a request for any material and it will be promptly delivered to the library location of my choice for me to borrow and enjoy. It's like getting Christmas presents every day of the year! And the best part of the deal is that the service is completely free -that is, paid by tax dollars for the benefit of all.

One of the best public libraries in the land!

Getting a call and studying the site

              In May 2011 I got a call from my friend, decorative artist James Todd. "Jim" had been offered the opportunity to do mural work at the Twinsburg Public Library and wanted a second opinion on how to best approach the job. A few days later he drove me to the site, my first time at the Twinsburg Public Library. He pointed out an area near the main entrance to be converted into an art exhibiting gallery and next he showed me 'Teen Crossings' section, a spacious hall in the youth services wing of the library. The wall space above the entrance into Teen Crossings and other areas inside the hall were being considered for the principal mural painting. All together, this was a huge commission, and not a simple one to do.

Space above entrance to Teen Crossings. Pondering how to reach the above space.

Teen Crossings spacious hall. High windows inside Teen Crossings Hall.

              Before venturing further in this narrative, let me tell you about Jim. He operates his own business with the catchy name of 'Dances with Walls' (see the contact page his website link). Not only does he do wonderful faux finishes and interior art works, he also has over twenty years of experience working as a set painter in over 20 Hollywood films. But what I truly find more remarkable than his dedication to the craft, is his uncanny ability to know every rock song ever recorded from the "classic rock" era. Jim is so much in-tuned to the times that he name his son Dylan -as in Bob Dylan.

Artist James Todd's Business and Website.

              I first met Jim when I got the commission to paint the dome of the new Juvenile Justice Center in Cleveland, Ohio (see: 2010 "The Cuyahoga County Juvenile Justice Center Dome Mural" in the Current Works page). I needed an experienced painter to assist with this huge task and Jim was the ideal choice. To begin with, "he loves to paint", as opposed to "I paint to pay the rent", which is my view. Then there is the fact that he is a really hard worker, kind-of "obsessed" with each day's task, as opposed to "Oh screw it, let's have a two hour lunch break, I have overdone my four hour work limit", again, my view. And, to top it off, he is a really fast study -an extremely important quality when painting for money. Let me explain.

              When you work with a beginner, you spend your time explaining things and then looking over the shoulder to inspect, correct and verify the quality of the work. In essence, you do very little painting and the job drags on and on. This negates the formula for running a successful mural painting business. Which is, since the total cost is set at the beginning of a commission (and does not change), you have to finish in less time so that you end up with more money at the end. This is why I do not work with beginners unless they are simply assisting.

Artist James Todd falling in love with oil paints.

              However, when you work with an experienced painter, they can learn to work a different technique in no time at all because they bring knowledge and experience ready to adapt it to the new demands. It's like having a pilot who flies a DC-10 three-engine jet airliner retrained to fly a Boeing 777 long-range twin-engine jet airliner. The needed skills and theory remain the same, so the training consists in learning the use of new instrumentation and operational processes. In painting, an artist who mainly works with water-base acrylic paints can quickly learn how to paint in oil-base paint thought the processes are very different. As you will see in this narrative, being a gifted and extremely experienced decorative artist makes it easier to make a successful transition into a 'figurative painter' in oil techniques -if you work hard at it as Jim did.

Side corridor singled out to be converted into an art gallery.

              Now back to our story. In addition to painting murals for Teen Crossings, another part of the job was to decorate the corridor immediately left after the library entrance. On one side of this corridor were doors to restroom and on the opposite side a blank section of wall. The plan was to turn this area into an art exhibition space. Please note that the description of how this decorative part of the project was done is described in a separate entry: 2011 "The Twinsburg Public Library Art Gallery". Altogether the project consisted of decorating a gallery space, doing a main mural on the wall above the entrance to Teen Crossings hall, and painting additional decorative art inside the hall. Before even talking about the subject matter for the paintings, we needed to determine the logistics of doing the job.

Site Assessment

              It is at this point that you begin to think about how to realistically and methodically approach the job from beginning to end. You are not thinking about the art, you are thinking about the conditions of doing the art on site. The first thing we noted was an eave that extended outward from the Teen Crossings entrance wall. This ceiling extension was not strong enough to support a work platform. The best way to reach the wall was using tubular scaffolding. However, this was out of the question since the area was in constant use. Safety is always a principal concern and mural painting is messy and sometimes dangerous. For the same reason using ladders was out of the question. Besides, we did not relish the thought of having to deal with erecting, disassembling and storing the heavy scaffolding sections every single day.

Common type of scaffolding tower used on large mural projects.

              Constructing a temporary work platform that allowed human traffic underneath and a work area above was an option, but the expense was above the given budget. No matter how much we turn this around, the solution was always the same: do the work off-site and then install it in place. The only part of the job that had to be done on-site was the decoration of the art gallery space. This work area was on ground level and could be cordoned off from traffic.

              Before leaving the site, we carefully measured and photographed everything. Making scale diagrams is essential to planning mural work and estimating cost. Eventually, I would make use of this reference material to make architectural drawings and conceptual designs in my computer. I cannot over emphasize enough the importance of measuring EVERYTHING. Murals are designed, planned, and visualised to exact scale in BEFORE the first paint stroke is applied. Your data has to be complete and precise. At this point you don't know what you are going to do. But when you finally figure everything out, you want to have all your data at your fingertips.

Job Assessment and Brainstorming Ideas

              After leaving the library we stopped at a nearby coffeeshop to discuss the job. Two things became immediately evident. Firstly, the murals could not be done "in situ" -on site, and secondly, the budget was too minimal for the time and expense the commission required.

Mural by American master-muralist Edwin Howland Blashfield in the dome collar showing America and Egypt in Library of Congress.

An example of the marouflage technique: Blashfield's mural in the Main Reading Room of the Jefferson Building at the Library of Congress.

A precarious rope bridge crossing. The Greek Muses of knowledge and the arts.

Public libraries are a great place to witness the cultural diversity in our communities. An example of a relief sculpted plaque.

Presentation of Conseptual Designs

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Laura Leonard, director of the Twinsburg Public Library.

Conseptual design for Teen Crossings mural.

Computer generation image of Teen Crossings' wall elevation selected for mural work. CGI showing conceptual rendering of Teen Crossings' mural and sign.

CGI showing lateral elevation in Teen Crossings hall. Conceptual rendering showing the location of plaque motifs.

Computer rendering of lobby-gallery wall before faux work. Conceptual rendering of lobby-gallery wall after faux work.

Design and research

Greek vase art with image of Clio, muse of history. Roman statue of Urania, muse of astronomy.

Archival photograph of a native american girl. Example of a wood carved native american mask.

East African 'Kanga' necklace. Victorian style rendering of a Celtic princess.

Decorative classical rendering of a lire. Mueseum display of an African harp.

The gele -headwrap, traditional african headdress. Indian woman in traditional costume.

Frame construction and canvas prep-work

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Constructing frames out of 1x4" pine boards. The wood was held together with drywall screws.

Painter's canvas drop cloths. Canvas being stretched and secured to frames.

Applying the first coat of primer. Sanding canvas after first coat.

Cleaning canvas before second coating. Applying the second coat of primer.

Sanding and cleaning canvas after second coating. Testing canvas for absorvency.

Marking sections on the canvas for plaque motifs. Canvas sections primed and ready.

Painting motifs

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Cutting sections from the frame. The wood frames were canvased on both sides to save on the time and expense of constructing additional frames.

The motif's decorative frames were traced from a paper rendering unto the primed canvas using graphite paper. Graphite transfered renderings were affixed permanently to the canvas with a fine-tip brown ink marker.

A masking pattern was cut from a 1/4" plywood. Cardboard pieces were used as masking aids. Airbrushing dark tones and highlights.

Detail of airbrush work without wooden mask. Line drawing is still visible through the paint.

Detail of decorative frame in progress. A home-made adaptable easel makes a good work table.

Detail of airbrush work using wooden masks. Airbrushed decorative frames were laid to dry on the floor.

Ten decorative frames were airbrushed in sequence. Lines were redrawn with fluid paint and lining brush to complete decorative frames.

Motif renderings were projected into the center of the frames, traced and then painted in grayscale. Frames and motifs were painted with acrylic paint. The original designs were painted in Adobe PhotoShop and then paper printed for projection transfers and reference.

The grayscaled motifs were blocked, colored and tinted with Artist's oils in one painting session Canvas panels were hung to dry around the workshop.

Each motif has two cameos of current and historical figures, 20 miniature portraits in all. Painting the cameos is probably the most time consuming part of the job. A finished motif with frame and cameos. Once the painting is completely dry, some colors may be either accented or darken to increase the contrast so that all the motifs look uniform. This step only takes a few minutes to do.

The final step is to spray a light coat of gloss varnish. This helps protect the delicated color glazes and also bring out a crisp color saturated look to the artwork. Once the varnish has dried, the motif panels are readied to be photographed. Lastly, the artwork is cut from the canvas around the outer contour and rolled for storage.

Classic literature -Homer and William Shakespeare History -Herodotus and Barbara Wertheim Tuchman

Discovery and Exploration -Marco Polo and Neil Armstrong Medicine -Louis Pasteur and Hippocrates of Cos

Music -Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and John Lennon Popular literature -Dame Agatha Christie and John Ronald Reuel Tolkien

Spirituality and Poetry -Siddhārtha Gautama and Maya Angelou The Olympic Spirit -Pheidippides and James Cleveland "Jesse" Owens

Chivalry -King Arthur Pendragon and Salāh ad-Dīn Yūsuf ibn Ayyūbl, better known as Saladin The Arts: Painting -James E. Todd and John Rivera-Resto

Cameo of James E. Todd Cameo of John Rivera-Resto

With the assistance of my brother Ricky Nelson Rivera, the plaque motifs were glued to the wall. Detail of plaque motifs at Teen Crossings Hall.

Painting the bridge over clouds

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Applying two tones of blue water-base paint for background color. Five 4x8 foot panels were needed for the design.

Making grid markings one-foot apart on the sides of each frame. Detail showing markings. Later on in the process, each panel will be gridded to 1-foot squares using white chalk to draw the gridlines.

The surface is wetted and a middle tone blended below the horizon line. An airbrush is used to further blend the horizon line and add distant mountain shapes.

Mist and distant clouds are painted with a touchup gun. Background stage completed.

The next stage is to paint the cloud canopy as seen from a high altitude. Using white paint and water, I brush a harder edge at the top of the clouds and a semi-transparent edge at the bottom.

Defining the cloud formation by adding blue washes with the touchup gun. The horizontal cloud formations help unify the individual panels into one composition.

Background completed. I prefer water-base paints up to this stage of the work because they dry fast and cleanup is easy. Large areas are done rapidly with a brush. I limit the use of the air gun and the airbrush to blending and modeling. This part of the job is done in one or two days. Later on, we will add saturated tints to the background using oil glazes. Applying oil paints over a surface with a water-base finish works very well and the process saves a lot of time.

The next step is painting a rope bridge that extends over the five panels. A gridded scale rendering is printed and used as a guide. The rendering of the bridge is cut in sections and pasted to a rigid surface. They will then be placed on projector and the images traced on the canvas panels.

The bridge rendering is kept flat on the projector with the help of a paint can. The grid of the projected image is matched to the grid previously chalked on each panels. Once the two grids align, the rendering is traced. Detail showing the white-chalk gridlines on the panels and a section of the bridge tracing. The grid lines can be easily removed with a moist cloth.

The tracing is "edited and corrected" to achieve a clean drawing. The bridge drawing is "blocked" with an opaque water-base color.

The advantage of working in a studio is that panels can be moved to achieve a comfortable painting position. I have used this simple two-step as a seat or support for over twenty years.

The projection renderings are used as painting reference. Detail of the last panel containing the end of the bridge.

Blocking of the bridge completed. On a disposable pallete I mix blue, green and white Artist's oils. This paint is use to tint and further define the background sky and clouds.

The canvas surface is still rough enough to slowly eat away the brush bristles. For this reason I use inexpensive Chinese bristle brushes bought at a local builder's supply store. Finished panels after tinting. Colors are more saturated and clouds appear both brighter and more transparent. Any paint that goes over the bridge blocking is easily wiped clean with a cloth. A dryer is added to the medium to so that the paint dries withing 24 hours.

Artist's oils are kept in plastic containers separated by hues -reds, yellows, greens, and so on. The bridge is then "modeled" with a combination of a light base color and a darker tone.

Modeling of the bridge with light and shade. Detail of bridge modeling.

The next and final step is to glaze darker shades and add opaque highlights. Detail of painting progression.

The slow drying characteristic of Artist's oils allow time for careful modeling and seamless blending of colors and shades. Once the bridge is completed, the panels are allowed time to dry before proceeding to the next stage -the addition of the muses.

Painting the muses

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I use an opaque projector as an aid to transfer designs to canvas. It works well for small scale projects since image distortions are very minimal. For best results, the projection room must kept absolutely dark. Projectors with glass lenses are better than those with acrylic lenses because they provide a sharper image.

This picture was taken in the dark while a muse rendering was projected unto each panel. The projected image was adjusted to correct scale aided by the grid on the panels and then traced. After tracing an image to canvas, drawing corrections are made and then the entire shape is painted over with water-base primer, making sure the line drawing is still visible. Next, the drawing gets "inked", that is, permanently set with fluid paint or marker.

After priming and inking, the rendering is blocked, that is, painted "coloring book style" without any consideration of light and shade. Next, the painting is modeled with lights and darks until the painting is completed. Calliope, the muse of epic poetry, carries a writing tablet. To give them an ethereal look, we allow a certain amount of transparency.

After priming and inking the drawing, certain detailed elements are worked in monochrome. Reference images are very important at this stage. Detail showing primer coat, inked drawing and monochrome modeling. Water-base primer and fluid acrylic paints are used at this stage of the painting.

Painting is ready for the blocking stage Adding color by blocking is a very fast process and you can cover the entire figure in minutes. Artist's oils are thinly applied in layers. The paint adds color and tints the monochrome areas giving it a finished look.

With oil paints it's relatively easy to control color saturation and shape form. The paint dries slowly so you can take more time to work details. The paint is applied in layers of thin glazes that allow the brightness of the underpainting to show through. Any mistakes or changes can be made by simply wiping the area clean and starting over. Detail of crystal globe. As James fell more in-love with the medium, he really got into the details. It was his idea to paint constellations into the globe. I thought it was a good touch.

Urania, muse of astronomy, carries a compass and the celestial globe. Except for the jewelry, the painting is finished. Now, painting jewelry can be intimidating because it looks mind-boggling detailed. But in fact, it is easier and faster than painting cloth. Painting jewelry is not difficult to do but the process is hard to explain to someone else. This is so because the technique is intuitive. To make it look convincing, you do not paint every detail, rather, you detail the light. Once you do this, the brain of the viewer does the rest.

After blocking the belt's base colors, such as the green and red of the gems and a dark ochre for the chain segments, you build form by "dabbing" the next layer of opaque colors considering the direction of the light source. If you rework the modeling to better define form as you would do with other texture -such as that of the silk cloth, it will take away the impressionistic strokes that works best with this type of effect. After building form by dabbing color into shapes, you proceed next to add the "magic". This is done by adding highlights and "sparkles" in the same dabbing manner. The final effect is extremely convincing. I have spent countless hours studying Goya's and Ruben's mastery of this technique. Once Jim learned how to do this, as he worked on this belt, you could hear him muttering to himself -"It's magic. Magic!"

From start to finish, for an experienced painter, It takes two to three days to paint each muse. This does not include additional detailing or touch ups before varnishing the panel. In truth, I could spend two to three weeks on any one of them. But the reality of painting for money is that there is never a large budget for any project. So to make a living you learn to work fast or you will be out of business. I adopted my painting process as a result of this need for speed -rules be damned! This is why you can not "fall in-love" with the work, only paint what's required to complete the job. It is imperative to have good image references. The purpose is never to copy the reference but to interpret the reference into your painting. In this case we took an archival photograph of a young native american girl and aged and weathered her to achieve the look of the muse of tragedy. From the reference image you get a good idea facial and racial characteristics, lighting details, and specific elements of clothing, jelwery and other accessories. Before Google Images, I used to spend days at the library researching, copying and drawing references for my paintings.

Detail of facial modeling before glazing color tint to the face. The advantage of painting in monochrome values is that you can concentrate on modeling form without worrying about color. Once you are satisfied with the modeling and the likeness, color can be added rapidly in layered glazes. In a sense, adding color to a face is very similar to applying makeup. In fact, when ladies apply makeup, they are painting on their faces! I create my designs on Adobe PhotoShop. They are not sketches, but the actual painting in every detail. By doing this in the computer, I do not have to waste time figuring things out at the studio. Once I print a paper copy of my computer design, it is traced to canvas and then kept as a painting reference. Sometimes I reproduce sections of a design at a larger scale to better study details. This practice does not rule out using other texture references. For example, if I have to paint fur, I will probably have images of animal furs at hand.

"Paint what you know, not what you see" is my painting motto. For example, a photographic reference of this native american mask may not give you a clear understanding of the 3-dimensional form of the mask. Studying an actual mask at a museum or making a clay model of the piece will greatly enhance your understanding of how to approach the painting. Always keep in mind that you will never find an exact reference image of what you want. Rather, you find a similar reference and then interpret its characteristics into you own work. This is what being an artists is all about. The painting is completed and set aside to dry for several days. Once all the muses are completed, the panels will be set aside one next to the other for comparison. At this stage you "color balance" the pieces by adding additional glazes or touch ups where necessary to make the artwork look unified, as if painted by the same hand -all at the same time.

Detail of painting after color balancing and the application of varnish. Notice the addition of tint glazes on the hand and the deepening of shadows on the mask. Melpomene, muse of tragedy, is often seen with a tragic mask. Notice the addition of color to the face in comparison to the previous image.

Detail of primer coating and inking in progress. Detail of monochrome painting and the application of a color wash.

Detail of color blocking. Detail of modeling the face.

Detail of modeling progression. I keep my color palette closeby and a long pink "mahlstick" to rest my hand while painting. This commission was executed in the middle of a summer so we had plenty of natural light in addition to shop lighting.

Detail of completed head and headdress. I learned how to do one of this head wraps -using a large towel and an YouTube tutorial, in order to be able to paint it. Detail of painting progression.

This painting was completed in three days. Terpsichore, muse of choral dance and song, often seen dancing and carrying a lyre. This turned out to be my favorite piece. This detail shows the painting after final tinting and varnishing. During tinting, I glaze a subtle interplay of "bounced lights" from one surface to the next.

We are running out of time. So I omit a few steps in the last panel. After priming and inking the figure, I block in color without doing any monochrome painting. Then I continued by modeling the fabric on the lower section. Details are added to the red cloak and belt by dabbing paint in an impressionistic manner.

I paint the face and upper part of the body working "wet on wet", that is by mixing the paint directly on the canvas. I added a dryer to the medium so that this underpainting would be dry by the next day. End of day 1. Day two, the painting is completed. I added highlights, deepen shadows, and then painted the final accessories. Notice that all the muses are slightly elongated and wider at the top. This is by design because the finished mural will be seen from below at a steep angle. By elongating the figures we correct the foreshortening distortion created by the viewing angle.

              This is Clio, muse of history, she carries a scroll. Since in our interpretation Clio is presented in the form of a Celtic muse (representing the people of Europe), l used my wife Nancy as the model (who is of English, Welsh, and Irish ancestry). On several ocassions she berated me for painting my former wife Maria and -"ten thousand girl friends", but never her. She of course exagerates and, even though I have no recollection of the number, they could not possibly had been that many girl friends. Anyway, the point is that, when she visited the studio and saw her image painted life-size in full romantic costume, she loved it! The fact that the painting would be permanently displayed at a prominent place for thousands of poeple to see, well... that didn't hurt either. To this day, I'm still getting brownie points for this one.

Finished panels drying out in the open. Once dry, they will be cut to size and rolled for storage.

              The neighbors around the area where my shop is located never know what to expect. Some days they see beautiful muses. The next, a huge flying saucer! Needless to say, the shop has become quite a popular site, especially during the summer months.

Turning paintings into murals

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We ordered pre-cut foam letters from an online supplier. they were then gilded at the shop. On a day when the library was closed, we proceeded to install the paintings. Assisted by my brother Ricky, a scaffolding was erected and Jim began by attaching the sign letters to the wall. At the shop I had created a paper pattern that we could unroll and mark their position on the wall.

Wallpaper paste was applied to the back of the canvas sections. A first coat was allowed to dry before the application of a second coating. I wipe clean excess glue from the wall after positioning each panel into place. Once you place taped markings on the wall to aid with the placement, attaching the canvas panels to the walls is relatively easy.

We attached the center panel first and then proceeded to add the ones at either side. Detail of the finished mural.

From comceptual rendering to finished mural