When the nights are drawing in and the trees turn golden, so does the painting season come to a halt. In this damp old house anyway. But before I got to pack up those rollers for the winter and curl up on the sofa with a blanket and a cup of earl grey, from where I greet you, Dear Reader, there was one goliath job to finish: sorting out the walls of my artist studio.
To be brutally honest, my atelier, the old crèmerieon our ground floor, has been giving me grief ever since we moved in; from the grimy cement tiles neglected to the brink of disrepair to the brittle plasterwork covered in chipped gloss and a layer of mouldy wallpaper in the most depressing shade of sunshine yellow, the space was an all-round disgrace. The wall-tiles that used to frame the space were long gone, but the original double doors and two of the cupboards remained. A third cabinet used to stand by the wall. It was put together in the early noughties by the previous owner to secure the electricity- and gas-meters, but needed to be taken down to make way for a modern fuse board. All and all, the atelier needed sorting out: After half-arsed wallpaper removal and dismantling and rebuilding the old locking mechanism that kept the double doors permanently shut, cleaning and restoring the floor was the first big issue we tackled. That turned out to be, frankly, utter hell, but throughout the course of the spring I muddled through. The cement tiles still show the wear and tear of a century, but that is why I love them so. Having been cleaned and resealed, they should be good for another hundred years or so.
|Just a few snaps of how the atelier looked like when we first moved in: The walls were covered tip to toe in mouldy yellow wallpaper and what was underneath turned out to be even worse…|
With the tiles looking fab and out of mind, I was finally able to set up a working space for myself. A tobacco-coloured ceiling got painted somewhere between the watercolours and I started scraping paint from the doors. …And just like that, it was summer.
And what a summer it was!
As the mercury climbed from the mid-twenties to the mid-thirties the newly exposed plaster started to dry. It dried slowly at first, feeling cool and damp to the touch – a strange contrast really when the weather was as scalding as it was. Then, as if overnight, it was completely dry… and flaky. Small cracks appeared next to the old ones, the old ones growing into canyons, sending little feathers of paint and whole chunks of plaster freefalling onto my freshly painted canvases. Not cool, I thought. Upon closer examination of my walls, it became evident that some clever dicky had done a bit of patching up, using straight up lime plaster, rather poorly and straight on top of existing gloss paint. No wonder nothing was sticking up where it was supposed to!
At this point I had two options – to find a way to make these walls stay at least roughly wall-shaped or completely re-surface them from scratch. I like to do things properly or not at all, but hey-ho, there’s a first time for everything. I made an exception. James and I had just agreed to spend some time away from Mazamet in the winter and starting the plasterworks during the summer at hand was looking unlikely. I feared that if left untouched the plaster would go from bad to worse during the long damp winter and so a decision was made to bind them up with the toughest primer one could cook up, followed by a lick of paint and return to the problem in a few years’ time.
|From a cracked up mess to… Barbie Dream House!|
Now, boys and girls, try this out at your own risk – if you are not sure what products to use on plastered or any walls, drop by at your local paint dealership and ask around, there are qualified people being paid to help you not to cock things up! I know a bit about paints and was willing to take a few risks with this primer job because the walls were already awful beyond the point of return. After all, you can’t ruin something that’s already ruined. This is not painting and decorating as I know it, it is damage management. Now, with these words of caution, the primer I mixed was a combination of standard stain blocker, white emulsion paint (mr. Brico value range) and standard PVA glue. Oversimplifying a little, most primers have adhesive qualities to allow them to stick firmly to the surface being painted and to offer a support for a top coat. A good one has plenty of pigment for a complete coverage as you would want a neutral base (most commonly white) for the top colour of your choice. I was willing to compromise on coverage in favour of ultra-stickiness to stop the surface of my poor walls from crumbling any further. Adding PVA to the mix would also allow me to use a non-oil based solution to cover up the existing blue gloss paint.
Crude, I know, but I am happy to say my butchery worked. After a couple of coats of my special primer-brew the walls were set and crumbled no more.
Artist studios have always been painted in light colours to reflect the maximum amount of natural light. I have visited only a few that would be anything but dominantly white or a specific shade of light grey. The Art School Grey, as this colour is sometimes called, did cross my mind, but I wanted something more playful to adorn the walls of my atelier. In the end, my own artworks have a certain frivolous aesthetic to them, something I actively try to explore though my usage of colour. Perhaps, I also wanted to make a clear distinction this space is mine alone. Not James, nor anyone else’s. When it comes to the rest of the home we try to combine our tastes as well as possible, sure, but why risk a compromise of aesthetic in a space as important as my workspace?* When the time comes to re-plaster and re-tile it all, I need to be more careful about my choices as they will be more permanent, but until then, I can afford to mock around a little bit. Perhaps I will try out a new colour or a new material. A cork pin board would be an interesting way to organise my notes, or I could give chalkboard paint a go. Only the price of paint is the limit!
Speaking of, if somebody wants to come and help this strong and independent renovator get a few sacs of plaster dust and heaps of rotted baseboards to the déchèterie, I’ll buy you a beer.