I began faux finishing in 1996 and did a lot of guessing at techniques then. Honestly, I was doing the best I could with what little knowledge I had for quite a few years. But what I was doing seem to be making clients happy. I was fortunate to work with a reputable design firm right from the beginning. As they needed this look or that look, I would just do my best to fit their descriptions as each job came along. So I did a lot of on the job, self-training. I think a lot of painters do that!
Having a great scenic shop here in town, thanks to the theme park industry in Central Florida, helped tremendously. The staff there has always been very helpful in educating me about what to use and how. Along the way, I worked with other faux finishers too and learned from them (mainly about how to treat clients, fellow painters, etc.) You can learn many things simply by observation. You can also learn what NOT to do too, which is as equally important. Of course, I have become much more professional as time has passed by. I think around 1999, I began to take it more seriously. Age and experience bring wisdom, thank goodness.
So many people! There are too many to name. Anyone who knows me from Facebook knows I am on there constantly. It has been so wonderful to connect with other painters and see what everyone is working on. That on-line connection with other painters is inspiring alone. I’ve been very fortunate to have a partner in life who works for the airlines and loves to travel. Traveling to Europe has been a huge influence on the work I currently create and want to produce in the future. When we are unable to travel there physically, then there is always the internet. There is endless imagery to be mined out of the site known as Flickr alone. This brings up a great point! Any painter who wants to get into more decorative work needs to begin building a digital reference library. I spend several hours each week collecting images from the web for future projects (ones that only exist in my head, but they are there!) Image collecting can easily become an obsession, but in a good way!
How did you get into this business?
I worked at Walt Disney World with a friend, Rhett Monson. Rhett had a degree in interior design but was not using it. He left Disney eventually to begin using his degree. Along the way a project of his needed some specialty painting and he remembered that I always had some kind of art project going on in some form. He called and asked if I would like to try my hand at painting some faux finishes. After he explained what a faux finish was, I agreed to try it. The timing was perfect because I was quickly losing my “pixie dust” after working for Disney for 9 years. I worked at both jobs for about 6 months, but once I began making a decent amount of money at painting, I left Disney for good. So, I really owe a lot to my friend, Rhett. He is living and designing in Los Angeles now. He has a pictures of rooms I faux painted for him when he was here in Florida on his site: rlmdecor.com.
What was your lucky break?
I suppose that would be something that has nothing to do with faux/decorative painting. When I was working at Walt Disney World in entertainment, I desperately wanted to be a part of the branch of the company that designed the theme parks. That branch is called Walt Disney Imagineering, which is in Glendale, California. In 1990, Imagineering held a competition among the hourly cast members (that is what Disney employees are called) on both coasts to design something for one of the parks. Winners would have the chance to present their ideas to the creative heads in Glendale. I submitted an idea for a restaurant in Adventure land at the Magic Kingdom. There were about 17 of us who were chosen out of hundreds of entries to present our ideas in person.
I was one of those chosen, and then a week later I learned that I had been selected along with 8 others to participate in a six month internship in Glendale. My presentation was not great as I was very nervous. I really did not think I had a chance of being selected because of my poor presentation. I later met a senior Imagineer who shared with me that he was the person who pushed for my selection because my drawings were strong. So, THAT was my lucky break. I say that because it was a tremendous boost to my confidence, which would later serve me in this field.
By the way, I worked alongside the small team that was developing the Animal Kingdom project in Florida. I would create concept sketches for ideas that needed a visual translation for presentation purposes. It was exciting and overwhelming, and I loved it. I don’t think the company has done something like that again, so I feel very lucky to have been a part of it at the tender age of 22.
I try very hard to only do work that involves painted decorative ornament. However, as we all know, one can’t be TOO picky these days. I also occasionally will take on a Venetian plaster job or a furniture piece. Of course, glazing walls in never off the list.
What is your “signature” project?
I think the two canvas ceilings that I have painted are the answer to that question. They are extremely customized and the attention to detail that I can them give inside the controlled environment of my shop makes me that much happier about painting. I’d love to do more of that kind of work as time progresses. I feel like these have the opportunity to become more and more intricate, and I love the possibility of that challenge. Plus, working off-site is much easier on the old back and neck! However, my most recent project, I must say is a contender as a “signature” project too! I painted it on-site, but it was highly detailed in spite of that fact. I suppose any project where I get to take time and add loving detail to it is when I’m most happy painting.
How have your projects changed in the last 5 years?
The projects I have been involved with in the last five years have changed quite a bit from the period prior. Once I began exploring decorative painting as an added accompaniment to the faux finishing that I was doing, I began to gravitate towards trying to do that type of painting only. The timing was perfect, because I don’t think I could have glazed one more huge wall without losing my marbles a bit. Of course, that is not to say that I no longer do faux finishes, but the change was very welcome from a creative and mental perspective after exclusively doing that type of work for eleven years.
Who I work for has changed quite a bit over the years. When I was a brand new faux painter, I worked exclusively for a design firm by the name of Montanna and Associates. That ended when their senior painter took over all of their work leaving me out in the cold (at least it felt that way!) But, as is true in life, change brings new beginnings. I was free to now bid on jobs for builders directly. I passed out my cards at every chance when neighbors or those who were merely curious would walk through construction sites. Here in Orlando, word of mouth is very strong. And if you show up when you say you will, then you are ‘in’. The fact that you may actually be good at what you do seems to hold less importance than just showing up on time, funny, but true!
I eventually teamed up with my buddy, John Yates (also a faux finisher at the time), who had some really great connections in town. That was a wonderful combination, he and I. He faux painted and I could do my decorative painting thing. If I finished up early, I’d hop on the wall with him and we would bust it out. But as with all good things, that too came to an end. John left the business and I was on my own once more. Again, a rebirth happened. It was about this same time I had decided to invest in taking some classes. What I learned spurred me on to make the decision of rent studio space so I could really grow as a painter. Renting the space was a big leap of faith as it was about the same time that the economy completely tanked.
Looking back now (it has been about two years) it is the best decision I ever made. Presently, it seems that the individual, private home owner is who I’m working for mostly. The building of new homes has ceased and a lot of designers are gone too because of that. Work seems to find its way to my door and I am grateful for that. When it doesn’t, I have a great space to paint things that hopefully will draw attention and create new business (and if not, hey! I’m painting things I want to paint! What could be better? Win-win!)
I must admit that I don’t feel that my website has been responsible for drumming up much business. However, it is a great tool for showing potential clients work to keep them interested until I am able to meet with them. It lets them see the potential for their spaces and gives them an idea of what I have to offer. Most work seems to come from previous client referrals or faux finishing colleagues who don’t care to delve into decorative painting. I actually love to do decorative painting work for other painters who don’t enjoy it. I like the camaraderie it facilitates. Also, while I have no problem handling a job in its entirety, it is nice to come in and just do the parts I enjoy most, which is the specialty bits.
I think that painting is a gift that keeps on giving. Just when you think that you are done learning, you meet someone or take a class that makes you realize there is another facet you didn’t know was there. The most eye-opening experience I have ever had was in Sean Crosby’s mural class. I have actually taken two, week-long classes with him and it is the best money I have ever invested. What I learned from him expanded my perception in such a brief time period. If it were possible, I would be a full time student now after that experience. I never was inclined when I was younger to educate myself about painting. I felt that creativity alone was enough. Now that I am older and much wiser, it is so obvious that knowledge is an equally powerful resource. The more I learn about the nuts and bolts of painting, the easier (and more enjoyable) it is to bring your creativity to its fullest potential.
Tell us how the upcoming class at your studio came about.
When I first began painting decorative ornament, I was naturally drawn to scroll motifs. It is a good place to begin for any finisher who wants to delve into decorative painting. Once I got comfortable painting this basic shape, it was fairly easy to expand upon it. As with anything, you start with baby steps and eventually you find you are walking with ease. I feel like that is where I am right now with painting ornament: walking…and seriously wanting to run!I remember while on a trip to Paris a couple of years ago, finding Carolina D’Ayala Valva’s amazing ‘how-to’ book on painting grotesque ornament. I think I literally gasped! I had been drawn to this style of painting but didn’t know exactly what it was all about.
When I arrived back home, I emailed Carolina to express my gratitude to her for her book. She responded the next day (which made me think, “Wow, what a nice person!”). A few months later she emailed me to tell me that she was teaching a class (her first, state-side) in Connecticut…the following week! I was elated. Unfortunately, the class was full. I was utterly disappointed. That did not keep me from packing a bag and hoping for a spot to open up…which it did! I got a call from Patrick Ganino (who was hosting the course) the day before the class started. Needless to say, I was on a plane within a couple of hours of the call. It was wonderful to be at Carolina’s first U.S. class and meet her and her husband, Walter (who is equally talented as she). Her instruction helped me greatly to expand my “scrolls”!
When my partner and I visited Rome, Italy in June 2011, Carolina and Walter were so gracious to drive us to see Villa D’Este in Tivoli. It is a fantastic place with room after room of painted walls and ceilings, and it was so inspiring to be there with them. Over lunch, I had the idea for her to come and hold a class inside my studio in Orlando, Florida. It is funny, isn’t it? When I found her book 2 years ago, who would have thought I’d be asking her over lunch in Tivoli to come to use my space and stay with us for 5 days?! Life is beautiful that way. She loved the idea and the class is happening during the first week in May 2012. I was not at all surprised when within a week of posting the class registration page on my Facebook wall that 6 spots were filled. My studio can hold 10 or 11 comfortably, so there are still some spaces available for anyone who is as intrigued as I by this grottesca style of painting. Carolina will be teaching us how to mix our own egg tempera paints using earth pigments! Can you stand it? It is going to be a great five days. I’m really looking forward to having this go on in my space.
This is my last interview for Artisphere.com so I want to thank all the readers for their interest and comments. I have interviewed many wonderful artists who have shared their unique paths to decorative painting with all of us. My time will be dedicated to my fine art painting which I post on my website at http://barbaralclark.com and my Facebook page.
Barbara L. Clark