Painting a special “Thank You” Card

I was artist-in-residence at my favorite Children’s Museum last week.

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While there, I’m able to do at least one art workshop for children and their families.

Treehouse Museum, in Ogden, Utah, serves children and families by providing interactive, hands-on exhibits and programs focusing on family literacy, children’s literature, the arts, and the humanities. Treehouse seeks to be the magical place where children “Step into a Story.”

One way they do this is with a village of houses from the different countries in which the stories are set. I have been lucky enough to paint some of the children who “live” in the houses.

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To thank my friends at Treehouse, I always send a special card. I based this one on the Japanese girl we named Noriko.

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I begin with a light pencil drawing

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The rest is done in layers of gouache.

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I can’t wait to go back and have more fun in The Treehouse!

The Painted Door


This summer my dear friend Barb took me on a field trip to The Florence Griswold Museum in Old Lyme, Connecticut.

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In the summer of 1900 a boardinghouse for artists began operation in the quiet shoreline town of Old Lyme, Connecticut. For the next two decades Miss Florence Griswold’s house on Lyme Street was home to one of the most famous art colonies in America and critical to the development of American Impressionism. — Hildegard Cummings, independent art historian and curator

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The story of Miss Florence and this house is fascinating, but what intrigued me most were the painted doors. Her summer guests were an elite group of American Tonalist and Impressionist painters including Childe Hassam and others.

Miss Florence allowed her favorite artists to paint on her interior doors.

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I’m a door painter from way back. I started in the 1970s, painting rural trompe l’oeil on close to a dozen barn doors at Doolittle Farm in Shoreham, Vermont.

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Painting these gave a me a local reputation and I did several more barns before leaving the state in 1980.

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Like William Henry Howe, who painted this Normandy Bull on Florence Griswold’s door, I made portraits of animals, children, and random chickens.

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This busy scene on a barn in Shoreham needs only the kitchen sink to make it complete.

And this one is a faux door–painted to match the real one next to it.

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The nice thing about doors is that every house has some. You always have a canvas if you want to try this at home!

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Happy Birthday, Dear Rowan!

24 years ago I was waiting.

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I was expecting another child, sex unknown. I knew this one was big and strong.

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The kicking and rolling were constant. Working on a long, circus mural on the only available flat surface-the floor- was a huge challenge.

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But it was fun wondering who would arrive. I decided to design a new birth announcement print to celebrate.

I loved this excerpt from A Poem for a New Born Baby Girl, by Grace Hazard Conkling.

“Now from the coasts of morning pale
Comes safe to port thy tiny sail.
Now have we seen by early sun,
Thy miracle of life begun.”

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And soon, I was able to fill in the details:

Rowan Wolff Russell

 born September 25th, 1990

 in San Francisco, California

8 pounds, 12 ounces,

21 inches

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Happy Birthday, Rowan. You were SO worth waiting for.

I love you!

A Mural for Karla’s Room

I grew up with a fold-out frieze of Noah’s Ark running around the top of the walls of the room I shared with my sister. Gazing from my pillow on the top bunk, I studied every detail of those animals. I’m sure that must have influenced my choice of subjects to this day.

Last summer I painted a fantasy mural of a clearing with a pond, horses and some little houses for my grand niece Julie Anna. Her family had a new baby on the way and this summer,  7-month-old Karla got her own fantasy mural.

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To prepare, we set up lamps and a worktable, and draped the room with sheets.  

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I began with an spongey oval to echo Julie Anna’s  Pastoral scene, but I decided to go underwater this time.

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I added a sandcastle in the background and built up turrets and windows and seaweed until I was happy.

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Now it was time to introduce the star–a fat, little mermaid with long dark hair.
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Of course she needed an entourage of sea creatures,

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including a whale for Julie Anna, a dolphin for Karen, and an octopus for me.

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My other favorite bits now are the pearl in the oyster and the eel in the cave.

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Karla seems pleased. No smiling for the camera this time–she only wanted to pat, pat, pat her little mermaid.

 

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Brennan, Block City, and Three Little Boys in a Greenhouse

27 years ago I was pregnant with my 1st child.

Back then a lovely woman named Jeannie in Mill Valley, CA hired me to paint a mural in her entry way. The space was a little dark, a little awkward and it really needed a mural.

She wanted to include her three, beautiful sons in the mural, so I took lots of photos of the boys.

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coleboys_5web The mural came out well.

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The boys are either in, or looking into, a painted greenhouse.

Jeannie was solicitous of very pregnant me. She fed me a wholesome lunch everyday. Whole wheat bread sandwiches, carrots and a whole lot of milk!

When I got home I’d go back to work on my other project: illustrating Robert Louis Stevenson’s poem Block City.

“What are you able to build with your blocks?

Castles and palaces, temples and docks.

Rain may keep raining, and others may roam,

But I can be happy and building at home.”

I imagined Block City as a Wizard of Oz-type story where the “I” character is a little boy. He builds his city out of blocks.

Jeannie’s middle son became the perfect model for my little builder.

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then falls asleep and visits it in his dream.

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Characters from his life show up in different forms in his dream.

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Finally, when his mother returns from shopping, he wakes and the city is toppled.

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At the end, the city is destroyed with glee and remains only as a memory.

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This book is long out of print but still dear to my heart.

Not least because not long after I finished the mural, I gave birth to my own beautiful boy.

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Happy 27th Birthday, Brennan! I love you.

My life as a Muralist

When I was in high school I began painting murals around my parent’s house.

I kept them small until I painted a 3/4 scale horse on my sister’s bedroom wall. I found I liked working large and could draw and paint freehand.

doolittle_2webOne summer during college I convinced my boyfriend to hire me to paint a mural of the Garden of Eden as a Vermont pastoral landscape on his brand new barn door. I promised to drive the tractor and help with the haying when I wasn’t painting.

It was huge!

I needed to use his bucket loader, normally used to scrape manure off the barn floor, as a lift to get to the top 1/2 of the door.

But that mural only took a few weeks, so I began painting the other barn doors too. He was raising  Charolais cattle, so one door showed a crowd of cows appearing to leave the barn. I was trying to create a simple trompe l’oeil effect by adding a bright window to the back “wall” of the mural. To add complexity I sat our two dogs outside the barn door, and later photographed them, posing  as themselves.

doolittle_4webRay, the hired man, fed a pen full of imaginary pigs,

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and I leaned provocatively out of another doorway.

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Eventually I painted every door, on every barn and outbuilding.

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And was finally able to paint a fully life-size horse.

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All these photos  were taken by Tim Clemens and appeared in an article and  Calendar produced by Vermont Life in 1978. The barns on Doolittle Road are still there but the original murals are long gone. Back then I didn’t know much about using oil paints  and I didn’t prep the older doors properly. The murals deteriorated over time. Since then I have painted many more murals with better success. I’ll talk about some of them in future posts.

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At Julie Anna’s House

Julie Anna is my Grand Niece.

She is two.

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She is going to be a big sister.

Her baby sister is due around the New Year, and Julie Anna is moving into a new room between now and then.

Her new room is pretty plain at the moment.

The walls are blank and boring, so I painted a mural for Julie Anna.

I called it Julie Anna’s House.

Step one: To get my client onboard, I let her handle my tools.

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Step two: Get some paint on the wall. Use sheets to keep the rest of the wall reasonably clean.

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Step Three: Add loads of little details for your client to stare at as she goes to sleep at night, or is failing to take her nap.

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Step four: Show your client the finished mural and see if she approves.

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Step five: Give her a hug and wish her luck as a big sister. It is a wonderful thing to be.

Update: Julie Anna’s Daddy installed chair Rail and painted. Her Mommy Karen painted an old desk in purple with a white overcoat and distressed it. Her room is really coming together.

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Further update: Baby sister Karla Whitney Wurzinger was born on 12/30/13 and already has found a good place to be, on big sister Julie Anna’s lap.

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If you enjoyed this post, please like Ashley Wolff Art on Facebook, visit my webpage here, my Etsy shop, or follow the blog by hitting the “follow blog” button at the top of the sidebar.