Saturday, January 25, 2014

How To Paint a Train Station in a Snowstorm

Back this past summer the Belmar Arts Council announced a competition to design and produce a mural to cover the 80' wall of the Belmar Train Station facing the tracks.  There were about a dozen entries and a town organized committee selected a winner, Delia King, an experienced muralist from Philadelphia.  Her design (above, click to enlarge) is a Belmar-centric view of the region, with the beach in the foreground on the right, and a view that stretches back to New York harbor on the far left.

Painting a mural on the train station includes a number of challenges.  Besides the 80 foot length, the wall is interrupted by several doors and windows.  The wall is on what can be a very busy train station platform, which could lead to painters and passengers getting in each other's way.  The exterior of the train station was old and not suitable for painting a mural that will be expected to last for years.  And by the time the decision was made the days were growing shorter and colder, and the experienced muralists within the BAC know that paint doesn't dry well in cold weather.  However, our muralist had an answer to these problems.

Delia's process is to paint the mural on another surface and adhere it to the wall.  A few months ago we primed some plywood panels, which have since been attached over the old wood sheathing on the station.  The mural is painted on pieces of synthetic polytab cloth, informally known as "parachute cloth".  Lightweight, flexible, and very resistant to tearing.  Constructing this mural will require 25 cloth panels of different sizes and shapes, several of which are 5' x 8' like the one shown above.  These cloth panels are primed and the mural design is reproduced on them as a line drawing.  The painting is done with a special mural grade acrylic paint.  She had premixed about a dozen colors (below) which would be used throughout the whole mural.

Early this morning the Boatworks was set up with big tables in both the front and back rooms, and these prepared cloth panels placed on top.  Above, Delia holds up a panel that will include the Statue of Liberty.

The next step was to get some volunteer artists.  Word had been put out in our newsletter, on our website, through newspapers, social media, other arts organizations, etc.  It all proved incredibly effective.  We are estimating that we had more than 80 people show up over the 6 hour event to lend a hand with the project.  Represented in our volunteer painters were Girl Scout troop 1564 of Howell, art students from St Rose in Belmar, experienced veteran painters of many public art projects in Belmar, curious and interested members of the community, and many of our active members.

The drawn designs on each panel were coded like a giant paint by number project, so the volunteers could pick up brush and cup of paint, and jump right in.

As colors filled each panel, the big shapes and scenes of the composition came together.  In the later part of the day, we were visited by a video crew, shooting the artists at work and conducting some interviews.  The resulting video will be used to promote this as part of the Monmouth County Arts Corridor project, using the very active art scene in many towns along the shore to expand more arts through the region, and will eventually be posted online.

Below, the panel shown previously with a line sketch view of New York harbor now has some base colors.

We started to wrap things up around 4:00 pm.  The snow that had been swirling around for the past few hours was getting heavier and starting to stick, plus we had to clear the space out for a scheduled musical performance in the evening.  Delia will continue work back at her studio, with a plan to start installing it in March or early April, when the weather cooperates.  An official dedication at the site is scheduled for late April.  Check back here and the main website for more details.

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