It all started with an old dressing table missing it's mirror, found in a barn/antique refinishing shop belonging to a farmer friend of mine from Maquoketa, Iowa. I've been looking for something like this for quite some time. My wife, Linda, is actually the artist in the family who has been painting chairs and little tables to much praise in our community. She's always working on something for a charity auction or a gift for friends and family members. I accompany her on antique and old furniture hunts. It was on one of our hunts that I found the table. It wasn't particularly valuable. It was solid oak, however, with cracked shellac finish, and half the veneer torn off. The top had to be replaced... no problem there, and there was a hornet's next inside behind the drawer that had to be removed at some risk and a can of Raid.

My plan was to do a design that paid homage to one of America's great writer/humorists, Mark Twain. Living on the Mississippi River, and having an abiding love for river lore, I had the entire design worked up in my head. But I had to make a pattern and test some of my concepts before breaking out the paint.

I had purchased special acrylic paint just for this project, a fascinating palette of pearlescent paints that come in jars. There were metallics and interesting jewel-tone shades. With my Wacom pressure-sensitive tablet and Macintosh, I worked on my design replicating the paint colors on my computer's palette.

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I really enjoy working out my design solutions on my computer. It's so much more productive, and I can try a variety of color combinations instantly. I even replicated the exact shape of the table, even creating a three-quarter view which featured the table's beautifully curved legs. This was perhaps the most helpful step in the design process. Having a a replica of the table available for me to decorate opens up so many more possibilities and experimentation.

I had seen similar pieces of furniture in a Seattle gallery last summer, and I was determined to work my design against a black background. This way I can float the color on the smooth black surface, and allow brushstrokes to show. Also, I love the idea of stripes on the legs. I really don't know why. It just seems to work. And the highly reflective paint I'm using may look like gilding or foiling. We'll have to see.

I have this wonderful Epson printer that does 17x22 inch prints in full color. Here's my design for the top. It's not important to me to have a pattern the same size as the table since I'm going to paint it completely by hand... no tracing. I just want to let things take their natural course.
I won't transfer the design to the desk in any way. I plan on painting my designs al fresco. I may draw some reference marks on the desk, but I don't want to work too tightly once the jars of paint are open. I've discovered the paint I'm using dries very quickly, so I may not end up with what I've planned exactly. But at least the color scheme will be close.
I've put my design sketches on a small easel, and I've suspended more lights over the desk. The black finish on the desk is the result of two coats of acrylic enamel that I bought at Lowe's. This paint is phenomenal! Even though I used a brush, it dries flat as if I sprayed it on only it's smoother! The brand is "One and Only" by Valspar. Actually, I didn't care of I got brush strokes or not. It all would just add more character to the piece.
This is one of the legs. The turquoise metallic is going on with a red sable brush. I love how the brush strokes look against the black. I want to just glaze the paint on in one quick coat... that's it. I want it to look like it was hand done. I'm using my other hand as support. I don't want the stripes too uniform, however.
I got the legs and front drawer finished in this shot. The design on the drawer is Haley's Comet. Twain was born on the comet's appearance, and he died on its return. He also coined the famous phrase, "Timing is everything."

This is one of the end pieces. It contains three silhouettes on a raft at sunset on the Mississippi River. The other side will be charicatures of Tom Sawyer, Becky Thatcher and the famouse white washed fence.

 

I couldn't wait any longer. I began the top, Mark Twain and the Jumping Frog first.
This shot shows the metallic nature of the paint. I used a pearlescent white on Mark Twain's hair and it really looks great.
The piece is drying on the back deck.
Front view of desk. Notice how different Mark Twain's hair appears in this shot. That's the pearl white paint.
Side view showing rope pattern down back leg.
Finished! Now all I have to do is give it a week for the acrylic paint to cure, and I'll give it a couple of coats of clear varnish.
Gary Olsen 2002-2003 all rights reserved. All graphics and copy in this Web site are the intellectual property of Gary Olsen and/or his clients' property, used with permission, and cannot be used for any purpose without permission. Address correspondence to golsen@mwci.net.