Here’s a little job I took care of last week: playing magician again, making things disappear.
It’s funny how, once a client finds out something is possible, they’d like it done everywhere. In this case, it was my ability to paint light caps to blend into the background that landed me in the bathroom.
This is a beautiful bathroom almost entirely clad in a gorgeous travertine, a form of limestone. Here’s a corner of the room, to show how the stone flows together. I love rooms like this: so well thought out, the stone perfectly cut, such precision, no room for error. You can see how the uninterrupted pattern moves up the walls to the crown molding, over soffits and around corners, revealing that the pieces are cut from a single slab before assembly. Stone covers the floor as well, including the interior of the shower stall, and juts out to create a countertop around the sink below the window. Stone installed in this way is usually about 3/4″ thick.
There’s one of my little light caps taped off above, inset into the stone-clad soffit. There were four lights in all, three set into the ceiling soffits and the fourth in the shower. I’m painting the fixture itself, so that it will appear that the light is shining from a hole in the stone.
This is a close-up of two sections of the travertine. It has a random design that’s almost blurry, all sorts of organic patterns blending together in shades of white, cream, brown and grey. So pretty.
I’m in the middle of reading a book called “On Looking: 11 Walks with Expert Eyes,” and in one chapter, the author circles a New York City block with Sidney Horenstein, a geologist from the Museum of Natural History.
He points out that when we think about geology, we think about what’s underfoot. But in a city, geology surrounds us. Starting on a large scale, with the stone used to construct the streets and buildings, then moving to the smaller scale of the stone and natural materials we use in the interiors of our homes. We are surrounded by stone that was millions of years in the making, each from a specific geographic area.
Have you noticed that some stones have patterns that resemble liquid? It’s because its particles were once suspended in liquid. Travertine is a sedimentary rock composed of calcium carbonate, formed when river and spring waters evaporated, usually near hot springs or in underwater caves or water tables. Limestone often contains seashells and remnants of ancient sea life. Depending on where the stone was quarried, it could be millions upon millions of years old.
Back to those light fixtures. Below is the first light, naked and way too noticeable. The fixture is about three inches square.
First thing to do, sand it a bit to get a little tooth on the surface, then tape it off and prime it. I added a bit of raw umber and raw sienna to my white primer to head the color in the right direction.
With stone like this, I’m working from general to specific, so we go for the big patterns and directions first. The palette is easy because the colors are so limited. I’m using Golden Liquid Acrylics in white, titan buff (a cream), raw sienna, raw umber and lamp black.
Here’s the first pass. The key to tricking the eye, besides getting the color right, is to continue the pattern onto the new surface, as if I’m simply filling in the blank that was lost when the opening for the light was cut into the stone.
Then the fun starts, bouncing my brush around to create all kinds of squiggles and dots. After two more passes, I’m done.
To finish, I clean up the messy line between the stone and the fixture.
Here’s another, with a close up of the stone turning the corner of the soffit to go down the wall. Look at that perfect match-up in pattern.
I’d never thought about the age of the many marbles and stones I paint before I read the book. An excerpt:
“If you think of the city as geology unearthed, it is nonstop: he pointed out features of the sidewalks and streets; walls, roofs and stairs; atriums, cornices and decorative rosettes. All were stone, all were known to him. Just this one block, a random sample of any block in this city or any city, contained the history of geology across eras and locales…
The stone has multiple stories to tell us, for it has had multiple lives. Every stone has a parent — for the limestone, it is the creatures of the sea — and even in this latest, most quiet phase of its last hundred million years, it has seen some things. Quarries, created to pull stone out of the earth by the tonful, each have distinctive characters, and the people who know stones come to know the quarries… A street full of rocks, made buildings, becomes a whirlwind tour through eons.”