Melt by Claire Kelsey is out now! Hurray for Gingers Comfort Emporium

She’s in the news with the launch of her much anticipated and amazing ice cream recipe book ‘Melt by Claire Kelsey’, so I thought I’d revisit the decoration of Ginger's Comfort Emporium and show you how I went about it. Happy days…..

Claire and her van offered me a bit of creative comfort and distraction in those first few anxious making months of moving back north, leaving behind old friends and 19 years of living and working in London.

I’d gilded onto furniture and archiectural details but never combined gilding with, or even done any proper sign writing before. I’ve always been a big fan of type, fonts, letterpress printing, signs and the skill of traditional sign writers and I wanted a go. Sign writers are a dying breed, the trade over taken by vinyl signage and digital printed material nowadays. There are a few still around and they should be treasured because once those skills are gone, they’re gone.

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I hunted out a chap in Stockport who very kindly let me spend the day with him watching him work in his studio and later in the afternoon actually let me help paint scrolls on a typically ornate traveller’s caravan tucked away in a barn somewhere in the back of beyond in the Lancashire hills.

As you know when learning any technique, practice makes perfect and the more you do the easier and more natural your brush skills and flow become. I was looking forward to getting back to my studio and settling in for a bit.....Hmm, shame that, as all of a sudden Ginger came along! Not to worry, it was my chance to try these things out and a massive thanks to Claire for giving me the opportunity to have a go on a live, fun and proper project..... Brilliant!

Seeing as I was learning on the job everything was probably done the extremely long way round!…..(I'm just saying that in case any pro sign writers are watching…!!) The point I’m making is, you learn and get to use short cuts when you’ve been doing it for years!

However, I knew enough about gilding and gold to know that real 24crt extra thick gold leaf would give a lasting and beautiful shine to the vans logo rather than using metallic paint. Even if it did sound a bit ambitious and a little more expensive doing it this way it would be worth it. Always go for quality that’s what I say!

I drew out the designs and logo, scaled them up on tracing paper and made a cartoon by pricking out holes along the line of the drawing. Using a pounce bag dabbed chalk through the tiny holes to create a accurate tracing of the designs onto the van. Then carefully painted in with the gold size used to stick the gold leaf to the surface. Too much chalk and it pulls a wobbly line when you paint on the gold size…just saying! 'Tis a delicate operation!

Below you can see a slideshow showing the process and stages of how the design goes onto the van and also a few images of initial sketches and colour combinations before starting the real thing.

Not all of Ginger's designs were so painstaking and done in real gold leaf. We used some Ardenbrite in the end for the oversized dots along the top of the van and sign writers enamels were used to paint the other details and drop shadows. 

It was fun and a pleasure! and I wish Claire and Ginger many more miles and scoops of good stuff in the future.

Gilded Mouldings in White Gold

All doors and architraves were paint finished in a softened frottage paint effect. The mouldings were oil gilded in loose leaf white gold then rubbed back to reveal some of the underpainting to give an overall aged effect.

Painted Furniture - Specialist paint finishes on a custom made bookcase

My work is made particularly satisfying when there's a lovely point of reference to begin with on a project. Here my clients had a rather special and unique collection of books and were looking for an individual piece of furniture to display them.   

After a fruitless search for an appropriate old /vintage piece of furniture to house the books the clients decided to enrol the help of furniture designer/maker Jacob Littlejones and have a bespoke furniture piece made. The clients requested not to have it made of MDF (hurray!) so Jacob recommended tulip wood because of its relative flatness and stability.See his blog about this project here.http://www.jacoblittlejones.co.uk/blog/project-bookcase-1.

The collection of Late Victorian/ Early Edwardian books were fascinating in themselves; mainly stories for boys with tales of empire,adventure and morals of the era. Most importantly for me though were their lovely clothbound covers with visually striking pictorial designs and typography.

Initially it was thought best to keep the paint job on the furniture simple;the worry being that by using anything other than a single complimentary flat colour could possibly detract from the book covers colours and design. 

HK Arts colour consultation began with around 8 carefully chosen colours that we thought would both sit well in the room and also form a good background colour to display the books and their glorious covers.

However, after some deliberation the clients presented me with a piece of fabric that had caught their eye and asked to see if I could come up with a colour and paint finish that looked similar. You can see in the picture below the fabric and HK Arts colour swatches and workings out.

With request from the clients Jacob designed and built the bookcase as a modular piece made up of 3 seperate units for ease, in case of a future house move. Here's the last shelf going in!

.....and complete with the book collection.

You may just be able to see in the close up pictures below that there is a slight grain to the tulip wood which ultimately I think adds quality and character overall. Much nicer than MDF!

And lastly a big thank you to Jacob Littlejones for the use of his lovely workshop for this project.

Mural Restoration

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This project was a blast from the past! HK Art was commissioned to paint this mural for a bank in London Wall 10 years ago. The bank has recently relocated to a central London premises and wanted to bring along the mural from their old offices. I felt really touched actually, that the clients had become so attached to the mural that they were bothering to try and save it. Often things like this in a major office refurbishment would have landed on the skip!

The original mural had been painted on 8 x 4 plasterboard sheets that had been jointed and mounted onto a free standing wall. To bring the mural to the new premises it had to be taken off its wall and reduced in size by around 1.5 metres which meant cutting it into 5 pieces;quite an undertaking for the builders apparently!

At the central London office it was remounted to a new wall ready for HK Art to repair. It was in quite a sorry state when I first visited site.


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The individual plaster boards hadn't been mounted flush to each other due to the uneven surface on their reverse side so this presented a tricky filling and sanding job in the first instance. Once all jointing scrim had been cut back it revealed jagged and broken raw edges of plasterboard. The joints had to be peeled back to around 20mm wide and filled in with a combination of small pieces of plaster board,easi fill jointing compound,painters flexible caulk,and finished with a troupret fine surface filler, feathering out in various directions to compensate for the uneven way the boards had been mounted.


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The newly filled and sanded joints were primed and then the colour matching could begin.

This mural had 5 different shades of tinted paints and glazes to build up the stone effect background alone, the soldiers and rosettes had a further 4 shades to colour match.

The following pictures show the build up of underpainting, blending and re drawing that took place.

Two coats of acrylic varnish were applied,rolling on and laying off with a brush and FINISHED!

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Restoring/rescuing a picture frame

I had a call from a client who'd recently had their home re designed and re decorated. The last thing to tweak for the new look was a rather nice gilded overmantle mirror. My client had attempted to change the colour of the mirror, from gold to silver with a silver acrylic paint!...and needless to say, was disappointed with the results.

I'm no picture frame restorer per se,but suggested that if we were to use real metallic leaf we could bring the frame back to a more pleasing finish.

Silver leaf would need varnishing as it oxidizes and changes colour over time without a protective coating.Aluminium leaf whilst non tarnishing and easy to use wasn't quite the right colour;too cold and tinny. So it was decided, once samples were shown, to use Palladium leaf which has a really nice subtle greyish tone which would work well with the umber greys of the furnishing fabrics in the house.

I hand mixed a dark umbery,blueish grey for the base colour and applied loose Palladium leaf to the frame and gently rubbed this back to expose some of the underlaying colour and give a slightly aged softened finish. 

See before and after photos below.

Glass Gilded Fanlights

Whilst working in Guernsey I received an enquiry to gild a house number onto the glass of a fanlight back in London. Lucky for me there were loads of gilded and sign written fanlights near to where I was working; I'd started taking photos of them anyway for my own reference.

With only a few exceptions of nasty cheap vinyl, most were the genuine gilded article or were hand painted onto the reverse side of the glass in sign writers enamels. 

The pictures below are a good selection of different typeface, styles and techniques.

Back in London.....

This is Toms' house, his "unfinished masterpiece''!

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He's carefully restoring his Victorian terrace to its original state. Tom is the unofficial, self appointed, one man conservation officer in his area of London. An eccentric, (his words not mine!), hes taken the trouble to distribute a self penned letter around his neighborhood,; a letter calling for all home owners in the surrounding streets to think again before replacing the original doors and windows with UPVC.

I think we need more people like Tom! It was a real pleasure doing this commission.

Here’s the finished glass gilded fanlight by HK Art Projects 

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This is a great photo courtsey of Andy Marshall. A collection of rather lovely examples of fanlights from the Georgian period http://fotofacade.com/?p=1610

Working in Guernsey August 2010

I was really pleased to be asked by Angel Interiors to work as part of a team of specialist painters for six weeks during the summer of 2010 in Guernsey.I really enjoyed working with fellow paint finishers and gilders; it made a change for me! I hope that I can occasionally subcontract myself out again to other larger specialist decorating firms in the not too distant future.

The Project

An extensive turnkey refurbishment was being carried out on a beautiful Victorian villa which was located on the eastern side of the island.It stood in 35 acres of landscaped gardens overlooking the sea.

All walls and ceilings had been lime plastered and a base coat of dead flat emulsion paint had been applied. All wooden panelling,doors,architraves and skirtings had been painted with an acyrlic eggshell.

Our paint finishing work covered 14 rooms in the main house including the large expanse of 3 floors of staircase and landing walls. We were to produce a subtle aged paint effect to take the newness off the freshly applied base colours.

As a decorative painter I find I get asked alot for aged/distressed/antique paint finishes. However,the real problem with aged and distressed paint finishes is that, too often they can look contrived or themed (and quite frankly, naff!);not a look you'd want in a tastefully decorated home!

The art of good paint finishing I think is to have an eye for such details and nuances; on this particular job we tried to give the most natural and authentic lived in look as we could. What on the face of things seems a relatively simple effect to produce,requires observation and sympathectic handling.

We couldn't use any synthectic acrylic scumble glazes as the designers didn't want any sheen whatsoever. All surfaces had to be dead flat matt. Its worth mentioning here that any 'dead flat' varnishes,even labelled so, will still give a certain amount of sheen.

Manchesters Temporary library

Elliot House,Deansgate, Manchester,1878 by Royle and Bennett,Manchester Architects.

It was a School Board offices but is now housing some of the books and facilities from the grand Central Library while that is being renovated.
I just popped in on a rainy Manchester afternoon and thought it was great. I love this type of sturdy municipal architecture.

Ginger is out and about!

This is still an on going decorating process but Claire is out and about wowing the public with her amazing icecream desserts. I can highly recommend Marmalade on Toast, the Lemon Curd and Peanut Butter Cookie and the gorgeously rich and deep flavoured Espresso icecream. The menu is expanding all the time, shes a clever, talented chef and an excellent business women too! The new Gingers website has been launched http://www.gingerscomfortemporium.com/. Check it out, Claire has kindly put in a mention for HK Art Projects. The pic below is the other side of the van taking shape. Totally in love with the shape around the lettering.....

Gingers Comfort Emporium.....work in progress

I've gilded onto furniture and fibrous plaster details in residential interiors many times before but madly have never gilded onto a metal surface. I hadn't done much sign writing either so when the opportunity came along to help out with Gingers and have the chance of combining the two disiplines I was dead keen to offer my help. 

I have to say I love gilding very much, how exact and methodical the gilding process is. The leaf is so thin afterall at 0.00008 of a millimetre any flaws in your work easily show. Right from preparation of the substrate to the consistency, flow and tack of the size, it's crucial to get every step right along the way. Working onto metal had its own challenges but i enjoyed learning along the way.

There's still lots to do on Gingers'. Some more gilding and we've also picked some nice complimentary colours in signwriters enamels to get going with.......

Watch this space