29 December 2010

Carmen Mural

approx. 8' x 3 1/2', oil on drywall, 2010

Some time in late summer, while hanging out at Chesterfields, the co-owner and chef of the now defunct (as of December 2012) Picton café, mentioned that wall space was available in the café for a mural if I was interested. At the time, there was only one large mural (in the same room I eventually painted in) by local artist Brandy Gale which is very cool, vibrant, colourful, and just the thing to sit near and admire while sipping coffee and/or munching on Chesterfields' famous chocolate chip cookies. I said I'd be (and now I am) happy to be in such good company.

Weeks passed before a window of opportunity opened that would give me sufficient time to paint my mural. By then, another sort-of-mural was installed by Andrew McLuhan along an entranceway: a nifty sequence of ones and zeros --binary code for something I'm assuming only Andrew knows the answer to.

Having picked my wall, I pored through my photo ref for a suitable image that would be interesting but also make the most of the space. I settled on a picture of Ashley as Carmen I took during my opera costuming days (I actually did three other paintings of her in this costume, each in a different medium: watercolour, ink, and oil). It was nicely vertical, but I came up with the floating rose to make it sort of narrative and, for me, at least, it completed the picture.

Below is a step-by-step documentation of my marathon painting experience. I took the pictures during my breaks after each significant portion was done. Enjoy...if you dare!


I began at 3:30pm on Monday 27 September (just before closing time) by taping off my mural area and applying two coats of white gesso to the wall (not pictured). When the second coat was dry, I drew the cartoon and then painted over that with orange and red acrylic, ensuring I could still see the drawing underneath. The rose was entirely made up (no photo ref), and I customized the photo ref of Ashley by drawing her hair in a bun.

My accompaniment for this project was my Genesis playlist on my iPod (with portable speakers). Also: a fresh pot of coffee.

Next I outlined everything and blocked out the dark areas using olive green. I like this colour for my base as the way it blends with other colours suits me. For comfort's sake I chose to do the whole mural in oils (I had no idea how long this would take, so I wanted to be able to blend colours hours after their application, plus I hardly ever work in acrylics).

I think this is where I stopped for the day --but I may have also blocked in the dark of her bolero jacket, though, using pthalo blue and raw sienna to get a very rich black that a straight-from-the-tube black can't achieve. Whatever the case, I finished at 10:30pm that first day.

The next day I started at around 9am (or was it 10?) (I had keys as they're closed Tuesdays in the off-season). I had a feeling this would soon become a marathon project as my window of availability was closing, but I was determined --and I had lots of coffee and 4.3 hours of Genesis music on random shuffle to keep me company.

Here's the jacket filled in with all the fiddly bits of the shoulder and sleeve embroidery carefully accounted for. You can see the beginnings of the hair shapes  are now blocked in.

Here, the rose and skin areas are blocked in with the darkest colours of each. Pardon the flash glare; most of the subsequent pictures were taken on an angle to try to avoid this.
More work done on the skin and hair, and the gold embroidery on the jacket is carefully roughed in, including the red gemstones.

Here's the velvety, deep red skirt. The skirt has really nice details that echo the jacket (which can be seen in this painting), but are unfortunately, yet necessarily, cropped out in this mural.

Time for the rose that she tosses to that creep Don José. I was standing on a table to do this and I still had to strain to reach and get a good angle to paint "comfortably." You can see subtle highlight additions to the hair and skin here.

Changing it up a bit to relieve me after straining to paint the rose, the fan was next.  I was getting tired by this point (9pm? 10pm?), but I was determined to at least get the figure done this night as the café was open the next day and I didn't want to get in people's way. Plus, I really like painting...and coffee...and Genesis.

This was taken at 11pm that same night. Carmen and the rose were finished to my satisfaction. The only thing left to do was the background. How long could that possibly take? Besides, I didn't know when I'd be able to come back to finish it, so I took a sip of coffee, selected "Los Endos" and got back to work...

What's up with this? Keith Haring influence?

I knew I wanted the background to contrast with the sombre figure and really make her stand out dramatically, reflecting somewhat the tragic nature of the opera. Since there were so many warm colours in Carmen herself I decided the background should be predominantly greenish.

I applied yellow ochre, titanium white, and cerulean blue hue directly to the wall, squeezing the tubes, leaving creamy streaks which then had to be blended thoroughly. This thoroughness created a softness which in turn created a shallow depth of field effect, making the foreground pop. The proportions of colours used gave me nice random variation of the background hues.

I wasn't sure what the background would end up looking like when I squeezed the tubes of paint onto the wall hours before, but I was immensely pleased that this was the result, despite the difficulty of standing on a table, arms reaching high, to blend the colours (to make this task a bit easier, I started at the top).

I finished painting at 3am, exhausted but satisfied, the marathon lasting roughly 24 hours total painting time. I feel it was well worth the effort since I'm very happy with the final mural.

However, since the café is now closed and sold, the mural has been whitewashed, so this remains one of the only records of this mural and my efforts. It lasted two years, almost as long as the café itself.





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