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Chinoiserie Mural by Jennifer Carrasco

Updated: Feb 28



Here is how I painted a large mural (about 300 linear feet of canvas) for a private residence on Vashon Island. The project was very detailed. It took me nine months of actual painting after the canvas was cut for each panel and painted with an airbrushed base coat gradation of 7 values of purple-black for each panel. I painted my images 4-ft across, 2-ft up, and another 4-ft across every night.


My studio is small at only 20x10-ft. To accommodate working in this small space, my partner Phil, put together three 8x4-ft MDF panels that slanted slightly toward the roof and set the board so they occupied about a quarter of my floor space with a three-inch high platform running along the back where he built shelving and slots for me to store canvases and supplies. This was already in place before I got the Vashon project.

Jennifer, 20ft in the air with the birds and the butterflies

Previously, when I was painting in a rental apartment, these same boards were attached together at the back with wing nuts and 2x4-in boards for a large temporary board. When I moved to my own home, we brought the same boards over to make a permanent installation. After that Phil poured the concrete flooring and lifted the ceiling on my little garage to make my studio. I did many 9x16-ft and longer murals (just rolled up the finished section on the right for the longer ones) for Tommy Bahama and about eight other different large commercial and private projects on these boards.

I loved this project, and so did my client, and she was very happy with my work. She is a designer and knew that once the parameters were established — color, subject, theme, and detailed drawings — that she would get my best work if she didn’t micromanage me. I don’t do well with clients breathing down my neck!

 

 This an example of one wall elevation for a chinoiserie project, the south wall, sent to me by my client’s contractor, Marty. I told the client that the project would be my interpretation of chinoiserie, rather than the traditional style, and she was okay with that. I told Marty that the wall needed to be prepped with an excellent primer that would also protect the spackle in case the canvas needed to be removed. (8-pounds of pressure would enable the owner to remove it and either take it to a new place or store it….a real selling point, especially for baby nurseries that needed to be updated)




 I started to plan individual drawings. I thought a good start would be a chinoiserie “Ship of Fools”. The young princess is being taken to marry a prince in a faraway land, but because the crew is drunk and the captain has poor map skills, she will arrive in a different place.

 


I went out to look at the site with my architect friend, Ed, who took measurements since he would do the CAD panels for my canvases. He did a rough sketch, measured, and then set up the drawings on CAD panels, 2-in to 1-ft panels for the south, west, and north stairway walls. (The stairway was very tricky and I was glad Ed did the measurements for everything since I am not good at math.) He took the smaller-scaled CADs to FedEx Office for their subsequent enlargements to 2-in to 1-ft. Note that many of the wall areas were 25-ft high!


I took the enlarged paper panels (remember 2-in squares are to be scaled up to 1-ft squares) and flopped tracing tissue across each paper wall of the panels, taped the tracing paper down, and labeled each panel. Then, starting at the bottom, I ruled 2-ft squares all across and up the entire paper wall, numbering each section from left to right (I worked later with the drawing panels in sections of 2 or 3 panels…easier to handle!) starting at the bottom and ending up at the top. (Note that at the top I made the squares shorter because the measurements were not equal to a full square in height.) I planned for less detail at the top. ¶ VERY IMPORTANT — I had my architect friend Ed Mah do CAD drawings with 2-in wiggle room margins on all tops and sides of each panel. Even in inches there can be slight variations and this would give me extra allowance if I needed it. The last task in this step 4 was doing the detailed drawings on the tracing paper and putting a cut out model (I called her Betty Boop) scaled to my height, 5’ 6”, on the doorway. I took this again to FedEx Office and asked that the assistant run both the tissue drawing taped onto Ed’s CAD panels (entire wall) at high contrast, so both layers would show up in the final paper. I made three copies for extra “insurance” in case I lost, damaged, or needed another section.

 

While this was being done, I made a palette of colors and sample chinoiserie imagery for my client to approve. All this painstaking work at a small scale saves me from disaster when I do the final large scale mural.

 

 The canvas arrived from Indiana Coated Fabric! BE SURE you stress in your order that you

want pre-stretched and primed on the back canvas. They now sell pre-stretched cambric, but I like cotton canvas primed and stretched canvas the best because it has more “tooth”. If the canvas is not pre-stretched and primed on the back, your mural will be ruined when you install it because it will shrink. If need be, you can stretch a smaller mural on an 8x12-ft (11 1/2-ft or smaller to allow for “wiggle room” margins ALWAYS) by stapling the canvas to the wall and priming the back first.

 

My 12x8-ft MDF wall is now marked out in 1-ft squares for scaling up. Rollers are set up. Phil made two MDF removable drafting tables (about 3/4 heavy thickness) with side panels to give a slight incline to fit over the Costco tables. Cut one Sonotube in half to fit over each of the cross-struts of the two Costco tables. As I finished each section, I pulled my canvas down and rolled it into the Sonotube. (What can say, I garden and paint–my floor is always filthy.)

 Note that Phil put  wooden “notches” for supporting a 12 ft aluminum straight edge for marking off the levels of each foot on my canvas for each foot with chalk. Then I used an 8-ft level to mark my crossbars with chalk to create 1-ft squares on my canvas. These squares can easily be erased with a damp rag when I’m finished. Keep these side measurements marked and numbered with pencil on each horizontal side “wiggle room” margins so they can be matched up with the adjacent panels by number when installed. Note 2x4-in board at the top to hold the canvas snug against the board as I paint and roll it down.


How do you cut an exact width and length for each loooong canvas? You take it to the sail cutters in Ballard of course! Another option for the landlocked artist would to be to lay it out in a theater set painting space, a warehouse, or a dance floor (cha cha cha!) and do the measuring and cutting yourself.

 



I wanted 7 gradations of value of a black-purple going up each panel from dark to the very lightest toward the top. I don’t do airbrush, so when I need to, I go to the experts. I have a long business and friendship with a high-end union paint shop. (Cherish these connections with tradespeople!)

 How can you show the painter to match the airbrushed values to each adjoining panel on a wall? Lend copies of your 2-in to 1-ft CAD drawings of each entire wall and on a smaller copy shaded with charcoal gradations as they fade up on each wall, dark to light. (see samples on the wall to the left of Mike, me and Tim at LC Jergen’s paint.)

 


Ready, set, go! The first canvas rolls (labeled A and B of course) were placed on rollers with a heavy 2x4-in board snug at the top to keep the canvas against the board. The canvases pulled down on the working space on the big drafting tables were attached with one staple on either side of the canvas so that section won’t slip when I am working on it. Staple where the top of the board meets the drafting table.

I had previously rolled the plain dark area at the very bottom of the five canvases for the south wall into my Sonotubes under each table to allow for the plain backing color for the height of the chair rail. (This chair rail was being designed and fabricated by Dana Perrault out of flexible molding to accommodate the curved south wall.) The canvases were all squared out with yellow chalk (the cheapest school chalk) by placing my long aluminum rod in the notches, drawing with the chalk, and numbering the squares to match the drawings for panels A and B that I had cut out from my CAD layouts. These A and B panel drawings were taped to the interval between the two A and B panels for reference. I worked from left to right for all sixteen panels.



Working with my palette beside me, left to right. My colors were already mixed in larger containers, so as I ran out of a color in my smaller cups from Cash and Carry, I could easily refill. I would finish 4-ft (squares) across and 2-ft (squares up) every night for 9 months.

 




Almost done!

 









Another view of my almost finished panels.






I took the finished panels over for a good overview to the Seattle Repertory scene design floor. It was summer and not too busy, so I rented 3 days for a very low price  to make sure my connections were lining up, fix the branches that were “off”, etc. This view is only of my north stairway wall panels.

 









Ready for professional photographs. Before taking them to my friend’s photo studio, I made sure there are no smudges, drips, or smears. Also, I double-checked the widths for each panel and made sure they are all labeled clearly. I have used many isolated images from these panels for cards, textiles, and other purposes.

 

 

Remember, unless the client pays you DOUBLE the price of the project and you also SIGN OVER the copyright, the images are yours to use as you like; it’s the law.

 


Installation time. It’s important to wear the correct socks. Here I am on the scaffold connecting random branches and off– value areas. My scaffolds were erected by my client’s contractor and had to be OSHA safe (part of my contract).

 





Twenty feet up in the air with the birds and butterflies. The empty space in front of me with only wings, feet, and a tail will be occupied by a painted bas relief parrot.

 









My stage set designer friend, Jeanne Franz, worked with me to design this “pergola” over the door out of Styrofoam painted with gloss enamel to resemble porcelain. Jeanne draws beautifully and produced a perfect design for my concept. Again, go to an expert for help with special aspects of a project. You’ll learn a lot! The same goes for Dana Perrault, who came up with a beautiful chair railing. Note the bas relief parrot, monkey, and tiger paw over the door, which was also carved out of Styrofoam by Jeanne Franz and painted by me. Our inspiration came from a photo of Luke Lightfoot’s carved wooden sculpture at Claydon House in Britain that my client showed me. It’s important to know your historical sources and study them!

 




Contemporary chinoiserie mural by Jennifer Carrusco
Finished chinoiserie mural by Jennifer Carrasco

 Tada! Installed and ready for the party! Installation was done by Hauge and Hassin, a high-end wallpaper and painting company in Seattle. The installation of the canvas was done with the application of one coat of clay-based adhesive on the backs of the panels and the same application for the wall surface. The installation was finished in one week, including my extra painting time. (My contract stated that the client was responsible for the wall surface prep and must hire the wallpaper/canvas installers. This protected me from liability issues.) The installation went without a hitch because of careful preplanning.

 

 Jennifer's Biography



After college at Washington State U, I spent one year as a classroom teacher at Mercer Island, Seattle before spending two years in the Philippines with the Peace Corps intil1965. Then 16 years in Manila and Clark Air base, teaching and making art. Was a partner owner of a handmade textile store for 2 years in Manila and taught art in everywhere from garages to the Hilton Hotel to 2 years in a small

Joint Military Command School in the suburbs of Manila. Transferred to another Dept of Defense school in Southern Taiwan, where I lived with my son and husband for two years, teaching art. Moved back to Clark Air Base, Philippines where I presented 6 exhibits of my personal work in Manila at Sining Kamalig Gallery.


We moved to Spokane in 1982, where I painted carrousel horses for one year.

Moved with my family in 1983 to N Augusta Georgia for 8 years where I worked with the Georgia and South Carolina Arts Council as an artist in residence and showed personal work in Lagerquist Gallery in Atlanta. The Spokane Carrousel Assoc. flew me back from SC for 3 consecutive times to paint their carrousel horses. Also during that time in N. Augusta, I was also awarded an Artist in Residence in Japan and Korea Dept of Defense schools for 2 months. Left S.C in 1990 for Seattle where I established my decorative art business, mostly murals. I also did Artist in Residence gigs with Oregon, Washington and Alaska. Hung out from time to time with a bush pilot in Alaska between mural painting gigs. Lived a month in Paris, traveled in NYC, Chicago, St. Louis, San Francisco , St. Petersburg and Moscow Russia, and Chamonix for Salon Conferences. Spent time in the Caymans and the Galapagos.


I've been on the move. But now I'm parked, at 82, in West Seattle. Phew!


Jennifer Carrasco




 

 

 

 

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