Armed with enamel paint, an approved concept, and some rocks to keep my stuff from blowing away...I embarked on a journey of transformation. Fire hydrants all over downtown New Ulm were prepared for a variety of artists with a pale yellow priming. I was told the colored disc facing the street, in my case green, is to be untouched as it indicates available water pressure. While rummaging through my paint supplies, I re-found a can of silvery enamel auto paint from the 1960s. It provided a nice neutral tone with a metallic sheen. (click here to see another painting incorporating this silver) The metallic sheen would lead well into my subject, New Ulm's favorite hammered copper defender of freedom, Hermann the German. If you don't know about his story, it's pretty interesting stuff. Imagine George Washington combined with Braveheart taking a stand against the Roman army's advance into northern Europe. He kicked Rome's butt all around the Teutoborg forest around the same time 12-year-old Jesus was schooling the scholars in the Jerusalem temple. Look him up.
After allowing the silver to dry for a day, I loaded up my bike bucket with containers of primary colors and a #8 Filbert bristle brush. It was time to establish the drawing. I decided, for no particular reason, to do this first stage in red. It's fun being an artist-sometimes its just that simple. My drawing is more than just outlines of features. I made blocks of shadow using a technique known as value reduction. Rather than lines, I wanted informed blobs.
Note: There are very few closeup images of Hermann the German's face available on the internet. Maybe only 1.
Note: Painting from a reference photo on a smartphone is a good idea... unless you painting outside.
After lunch that day...my fire hydrant was silver and red and I thought that made it look a little like the classic Japanese sci-fi hero, Ultraman. Cool. But not right. I mixed yellow paint with blue and arrived at green. Green was a good idea because it counteracts red and reminds us of Herman's lovely sage-colored patina. I only brought green and a small nylon filbert with bristles about the size and shape of my small fingernail. It seemed to me that the red should peek through, but the green should establish a tone. Vertical stripes provided a nice solution that also refer to traditional engraving methods. Bonus historical allusion. If the red indicated shadows, the green would stretch over shadow and midtones. Some red would show through and so would the silver. It was getting exciting.
Having an appointment with the KEYC news crew on Monday, I decided to take the weekend off. They would want footage of painting happening. So I saved some painting for the camera. I arrived in time to set up and start painting the super dark areas with black stripes. This was like adding the bass to the choir. The black lines gave a stronger sense of depth and clarity. Nice.
The KEYC footage and interview happened during the black paint. Check this link for the story: https://youtu.be/x20pes1rUyo. Also during this time I had a great conversation with former student, current director of programming at the Grand Center for Arts & Culture, Joseph Steinbach.
Note: This project was full of pleasant conversations.
Finally, it was time to add the white highlights. For a very long time I've enjoyed adding the final highlights. A drawing or painting can go from good to great with a few carefully placed touches of brightness. When I look at the pre-highlight photos they look dull to me. Adding those bits of white is like the melody finally joining the choir. Lovely.
A fire hydrant is an awkward shape to paint. Fitting a subject to it is fun but challenging. I was surprised by how many New Ulm-ers didn't know Hermann's face...even from the reference photo! Maybe this hydrant will become another image in our collective heritage. For those who just can't get it, I left his name on the top of his helmet (and mine too). Overall, I enjoyed the chance encounters with friends and strangers. Growing up in New Ulm, I remember loving the little metal motorcycle bouncy rides just a few steps away from this fire hydrant. Some kid is going to grow up remembering this weird face on the fire hydrant. I hope it doesn't make any nightmares. Hail Hydrant!