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Saturday, December 22, 2018

Padding My Resume with Dubious Skills: Antique-Fire-Hydrant-Gnome-Painter-Oner

I have a creative friend with a whimsical nature who is in the process of designing and building a dog park. There are ever expanding trails and benches and points of interest featuring eclectic artwork. Because it is a dog park, she figured a natural addition should be a fire hydrant...and so she found one on the internet and bought it. She offered to let me restore it.

The first surprise was that the fire hydrant weighed about 300 pounds. To my brain, that seemed like an amount of weight that, while heavy, should have been manageable. But my 58-year-old knees had some input on that idea, and when they initiated a labor embargo, my back also came up with some heartfelt complaints.

The first step was to smooth out the previous paint job(s) which turned out to be something of an ordeal because of the thickness of the enamel paint and my uncertainty about whether or not the old thick paint was the kind that had lead in it. Even though I am past my formative years, I felt I didn't need to breathe anything that might affect my brain or nervous system so I went to the hardware store to pick up a particle-filter mask.

Unfortunately, the summer's wildfires were peaking at the time, and I found the shelves at hardware stores and paint stores barren of all but the most expensive respirators.

I went back to the apartment and rummaged through my old stuff, trying to find the gear I used as a painter. But all I was able to find was my full face respirator from the biotech company. It wasn't ideal because it doesn't allow me to wear my glasses —  and for detail work I really kind of need to see. But I also felt like I need to have a functioning brain, so I did a little bit of compromising in both directions.

The wildly spinning wire brushes kicked up a fine powder that turned my sweaty forearms red. So I'm probably screwed anyway.

After I got all the loose paint off and all the rough edges feathered, I sanded the whole surface with a vibrating hand-sander and fine grit sandpaper at which point, I deemed it ready for a heavy coat of metal primer.

I applied the primer with a brush and determined that painting chains is among my least favorite kinds of painting.

I found a red enamel paint suitable for safety equipment and applied two coats by brush. It was tricky to apply it smoothly without drips, and I found it best to divide the hydrant into manageable sections at logical break-points. 

It was at this point that my friend discovered that some people had painted hydrants as characters, some even as gnomes. While I thought some of the examples she showed me were clever adaptations, I felt that the simple idea of a classic fire-hydrant in a dog park was already an elegant idea.

The simulation of a gnome hydrant I worked up via photoshop, I thought, showed rather conclusively that a gnome's physique was not well suited to the fire hydrant's physical constraints.

Instead, I was surprised that my friend found my rough sketch adequate to be a satisfactory sort of proof of concept. Despite my misgivings, she reassured me that as long as it suggested a gnome, it would be fine. Well —  almost. I was soon informed that green coats are more rightfully associated with leprechauns and found it necessary to adjust my color scheme accordingly.

I sprayed on a bright yellow coat.

...and finished it out with blue pants, a primary color combination designed to absolutely not blend in with the natural colors of the forest-setting in which it would be placed (another design constraint that wouldn't occur to me).

As I began to contemplate how to proceed with the face, I realized suddenly that I'd probably been talking out of my ass when I reassured my friend that I was capable of executing a gnome hydrant. It suddenly became very clear to me that I hadn't painted a portrait since college, and certainly hadn't used oil paints since I was 14 or so (When I took beginning oil-painting classes from Bette Brodhagen in a store-front in the Hollywood District).

I looked for faces that had forced smiles because I was anticipating that my hydrant-character was eventually going to be pissed on — perhaps on a daily basis.

I couldn't remember exactly how to do an underpainting, but I did the best I could trying to block in lights and darks, and fix the position of the features for future refinement. The eyes started migrating upward because, proportionately, they needed to be just under the heavy hat, but this made the nose too long and threw all the other features into disarray.

Working from photographs isn't optimal, because it forces you to copy a two-dimensional interpretation of reality instead of the 3d interpreting you'd be doing if you were looking at a real model. I found a model to wear a yellow jacket for me, but she wasn't interested in posing in my garage so I had to take pictures.

As summer faded and the weather became cooler, I found that the oil paints weren't drying very fast. Honestly, they weren't drying at all. So I bought a special oil that had a drying accelerant in it. This worked at first, but it also increases the danger that the paint will later crack so I used it so sparingly that my painting sessions had to be spaced far apart. 

The next puzzle that troubled me was how to make a big white beard that didn't look completely out of place. I decided to re-enact the stages of growing a beard and add touches of gray as it grew out. At first, whenever I added white, I soon found I was working with a muddy gray that spread out and obliterated my darks and lights. I bought several more small brushes and tried going from dark to medium to light in three different layers.

Despite being 300 pounds or so, and partially wet, I wrestled the little hydrant gnome into the truck and transported him to a heated shop across town.

In the heated shop, the layers stiffened up fast enough to allow my layered approach, provided my layers were slightly transparent.

I continued refining the gnome until I was satisfied it was good enough to piss on. When I was sure that it was dry enough, I tested a portion in the back with a clear-coat to make sure it was compatible with the oil paints.

Then I applied two spray coats of a tough enamel clear-coat.

I intended to surprise my friend by setting the gnome up in the dog park via a 4:00 AM stealth delivery made possible with the aid of my brother.

I still can't decide if it looks like a gnome or not.

Wednesday, November 28, 2018


The deadline for ordering calendars has passed. 

Thank you for your orders!

(Those of you who ordered can expect periodic updates via email.)

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

an instant appreciation

The East Portland Community Center is hosting a display of photography by Scott Dietz through the month of September.

The images depict quiet moments of beauty in what are often familiar locales often taken for granted.

Scott has a B.A. in Art and Art Education. This implies that he has a college education, however, his scientist friends are quick to point out, “Yeah, but it’s in Art.” While studying art, Scott’s concentration was in sculpture (in particular, bronze casting).

He began seriously exploring photography on his own in 1996, the same year he acquired a canoe and began documenting the lifestyles of the Smith & Bybee (what were then) Lake beavers. Since then, his interests in photography seem to be converging on the intersection between nature, science, and faith.

He has displayed his work in juried exhibitions and local art festivals and occasionally wins awards. One highlight was winning the Oregonian’s 2006 Travel Photography Contest with a shot of the Eagle Creek trail.

East Portland Community Center location

The display is in a broad hallway just around the corner from the front desk.

If the photographs don't grab you, there are often spirited ping pong competitions

Unlike some venues, there is plenty of room for viewing (I'm talking to you Pancakes and Booze).
Alas, there will probably not be wine and cheese.

Thursday, August 16, 2018


They say Native Americans carved petroglyphs at the base of Willamette Falls, an ancient fishing site. I’ve paddled up to the falls a couple of times to find the old markings, but always seem to miss them. The massive horseshoe-shaped falls are over a quarter mile wide and are blended in with concrete and steel industrial structures that make its natural configuration something of a puzzle.

I figured a fresh set of eyes would improve my chances of finding the petroglyphs, so I invited Karen, who had previously expressed an interest in learning to kayak. Karen and I are part of the same extended church family, but more like cousins who almost never visit each other. In the past, she has tried to kill me with a heavy piƱata stick and also a spring roll (the spring roll wasn't really her fault). Having Karen along makes even the most pedestrian outing more like a life and death adventure — at least for me.

Smoke, presumably from California’s wildfires, interfered with the dawn and colored the landscape and everything in it with a hellish red tinge.

We launched from behind an R.V. park, leaving our vehicles on the beach.

clicking on the photo should result in the display of a larger image, the same one, just larger
The falls are visible from high atop the bluffs of Oregon City or the I-205 overlook, but to get to the base of the falls requires a boat (or bolt cutters) (or a particular set of skills).

Nope. No petroglyphs here.

I try to imagine what the falls looked like before we bent them to our will.

Noting the artificial structures rimming the top of the falls, I wonder if this is really a waterfall or a dam. 

The height of the falls is listed at 40 feet. I don’t think that includes the concrete structures above the falls. Scampering among the boulders at the base of the falls, it is unsettling to remember what this place looks like when the river is near flood stage.

The concrete structures inundated in the tumult above are the same concrete structures at the top of the falls pictured in the previous picture. This is the view from the Oregon City bluffs during a high-water event in January of 2012.

Karen secures her kayak, spontaneously fitting available equipment to nature’s proffered landscape. 

We look everywhere, but can’t seem to find the elusive petroglyphs.

So is it just me, or, painted on the spider’s abdomen, is there a picture of Osama Bin Laden sitting in a chair, facing the viewer with legs all akimbo?

Big industrial parts, complexly designed, intended to spin, possibly refractory,  and abrasive in nature.

I thought it was just a pretty flower — like maybe a morning glory, but Karen called it bindweed, an invasive monster that chokes out native species. Then I was able to trace its red tendrils spreading through the grass and shrubs like a cargo net.

The back end of a turbine system?

Purple loosestrife, another invasive species, brings my invasive species count up to two. Then I glance at the rusting industrial facilities perched on the river banks and add a third species.

The Oregon City Bridge

At the end of the adventure, sharing a picnic lunch with yellow-jackets, I thought this one’s face looked familiar. 

Zanti misfit courtesy of The Outer Limits.

The Narrative Image NAVIGATION AID

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