If you’ve come here looking for the London Mayor / Ken thing, either scroll down, or click.
I’ve had this bashed up old table for a long time. I bought it for – I think – £5 years ago in a junk shop, because I needed a table for something. Probably to balance a telly on. And the shape of the legs was sort of congruent with the shape of a cabinet I have in the living room. Also, did I mention, it was £5? I had £5. I came home with it.
When I got it home it was dark wood, but really fucked. Since the living room was (then, not now), all rather pale and Swedish, I gave it a sand down and whacked a dry coat of thin, pale grey paint on it. It was OK. I lived with it. I haven’t had a telly on it for ages (I now use it as my letter-writing table). Over the years it has become, let us say, weathered.
Here it is:
I haven’t been able to decide what to do with it. Today (this isn’t connected. It becomes connected), while gardening, I found this little fellow:
It’s a rolled-up Jersey Tiger Moth caterpillar. You see my icon, down at the bottom? That’s a Jersey Tiger Moth. I’ve never lived anywhere that had anything as fabulous as those, before. So I’ve sort of adopted them as my personal moth. Anyway, having seen such a lovely thing, I finally decided what I want to do with that table. I want to take it from being a coffee table to a moffy table. The idea is to do a big, figurative moth on the top. Then do a bunch of Frank Lloyd-Wright stuff as the background / legs etc, loosely based on the patterns of the caterpillar. There will also be some gilding, because gilding is always a brilliant idea.
I marked out the table in 1″ squares in perfect alignment with the symmetry of the table, and then did the moth at an angle to the squares. The Lloyd-Wright stuff will remain symmetrical, but I wanted it to feel as if a giant moth had crawled onto the table.
Marking up is dirty work.
I set about painting. It’s always a bit of a challenge, painting anything in a house that’s literally bristling with Oriental cats. They want to join in. I made my feelings clear on the matter, and they agreed to a compromise and all wedged themselves onto the small sofa behind me so they could be as close as possible, and stared at the back of my neck all the while I worked.
This is where I’ve got to with it, at the moment. It has had two coats of the pale and dark paints – the pale isn’t white, it’s a soft cream, and the dark isn’t black – it’s actually a very, very, very dark blue:
The slightly wonk black lines you can see outlining the abdomen and the inner edge of the primary wings are not going to be slightly wonk once the orange goes on. I just needed something in place to mark where those edges were. It’s very hard to do a thin, accurate line over a porous, textured surface with relatively thick paint. You can get the leading face of the line dead perfect, but the back edge of that line will be all over the shop. Which is what you’re seeing here. When the leading edge of the orange goes on, those wonky back edges will be swallowed.
I’ll whack the orange on in a bit, then crack on with the FLW background and legs over the next few days. The gilding goes on last, and then the whole lot will get a few coats of good varnish to prevent it all being worn off by the eighty cat toes that will regularly romp across it, once it’s done.
For those who are curious, I’m working with acrylic paints. Normally I’m a watercolourist and I find acrylic a frustrating medium – it dries too slowly, you can’t move it around easily, and trying to paint with it is a bit like trying to paint with the sort of emulsion you normally slap on a wall. You can thin it, but you lose opacity. However, it is really good stuff for doing this sort of work, or chinoiserie, murals etc. It’s pretty tough, very colour-fast, and doesn’t lend itself to big lumpy brush-marks.
Top tip though: if you have a white carpet in your bedroom and are dicking about, painting trompe l’oeil magpies over your bedroom door, don’t fall off a ladder holding a large tub of black acrylic.