Just about two years ago, I was asked to submit a proposal to the Williamson (New York) Charrette Committee. The proposal was for a large exterior mural that was to depict the history of the three area fire departments: Williamson, Pultneyville and East Williamson. After a looooong selection process, I have been hired as the artist!
The mural site is the exterior wall of the old brick Williamson Fire Department building, which currently houses a coffee shop. The East-facing exterior façade is adjacent to an empty lot, with a beautiful little sitting area with a small garden. The mural is comprised of several hardwood boards, each painted and then hung here together to complete the final mural. Although the mural will be on Main Street, it will be visible from all directions at the intersection of Main St and Route 21.
The committee was able to give me several old photographs to use to create my initial sketch. I used the old photos to come up with the main image in the center of my design.
The interesting spin I took with this center image was that for the final mural design I hoped to incorporate current firefighters as models! So, I scheduled a photo shoot. I was able to use a few current firefighters from the Williamson and Pultneyville departments to help me stage a photo that I will use as reference for the mural.
Photographic reference is something I use whenever possible, especially when the subject is this detailed and needs to be historically accurate. For most things, I just take snapshots with my little Kodak Easyshare camera. I don’t have fancy photography equipment! In this case, though, I hired a professional photographer to help me during the photo shoot. I needed to be on-hand “orchestrating” the firefighters and making sure that all the details were right; essentially acting as art-director.
Pamela M. Rayburn Photography assisted me with this shoot. Pam is amazing! We had a brief meeting ahead of time to plan the shoot, and at that time I was able to explain my vision to her in detail. It was important for me to convey to her that the photos don’t necessarily have to be “pretty” just as accurate and consistent as possible. She knocked this one out of the park!! Pam is truly a pleasure to work with, and she produced some incredible shots that I will be using for the painting. I am so blessed to have great colleagues who help make my job easier! I highly recommend Pam for great portraiture –and please go “like” her Facebook page to see her “real” work!!
Here are some of the shots Pam was able to capture. The result was magic! It was so exciting to see my vision “come to life”!
At a meeting with the committee members, it was determined that the antique truck belonging to Pultneyville (which currently still rolls, in parades) could possibly have rolled from the Williamson Fire Department. In fact, Williamson’s motorized truck used during this period (around 1914 through the 1920’s) was almost identical.
Of course, the firefighters volunteered their time, and their likenesses! I could tell at first that a few of them were very apprehensive. Once they got comfortable, they really got into the “acting” part. I had to remind them not to smile – they were “pretending” to be on their way to fight a blazing inferno!! They did a fantastic job, and I am excited for them to spot their own faces on the final mural, and to see their reaction.
I have always admired the famous illustrator Normal Rockwell. I have read about him and his work throughout my entire career, but my fascination with him began when I was very young. He used to photograph various people in his life, like family and neighbors, and used their likenesses as reference material for his realistic paintings and illustrations. Like Rockwell, when I use photographic reference, I am looking for things I will need to capture in the painting like facial expressions, details, lighting, and scale. These are things that will help me produce a realistic and believable painting. I could not capture in our photo shoot the uniforms that the firemen would have been wearing, as that type of gear was not available for the shoot. So, I will be incorporating those into the painting using old photos as reference. I also have to be careful NOT to capture anything that would not be “period” (like wrist watches, phones), that would be distracting (glasses), or that would not have been appropriate in the painting.
There will certainly be more blog posts about this exciting project. I hope you’ve enjoyed this “inside look” into one aspect of its production!