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Directions for Painting Walls in Color

Rufus Porter's logical directions proceed as follows, and I paraphrase as well as quote, however I have reservations about some of this as the colors he gives, in some instances are unknown today, or poisonous and therefore unavailable. Furthermore, the videotape, should you have seen it, is of early walls which were much simpler to duplicate than those of his later period. Rufus Porter had artistic abilities which he honed as the years went by so that the Massachusetts homes which he painted at the end of his career exhibited advanced perspective and more artistic and detailed scenes than his early work. These directions were revised and reprinted in The Scientific American after he had painted his last wall when he was at the apex of his landscape mural abilities. I have edited where it seems he is directing more advanced techniques. I will add color information where it applies to early work. Remember that acrylic paints dry at least two shades darker than when wet. In mixing a color for the sky, (gray or blue) add only the barest hint of color to white. (I will add comments in italics). These are Rufus Porter's own directions which were serialized for articles in The Scientific American. I have edited redundant instructions.

About twenty different colors, most of them in small quantities, the same number of small tin cups and a dozen common paint brushes of different sizes, constitute the principal (sic) requisite preparation. There are a variety of compound colors required in the process, which will be described progressively... Draw a line with a lead pencil, (or charcoal) round the room on a level with the bottom of the windows, and another about five feet from the floor, if the room is high, otherwise this line may be lower; the first is termed the dadoe (sic) line and the latter the horizon line; it being intended to represent the height at which the surface of the ocean would appear, if represented in the painting. The observation of this line is very important, as it serves as a guide in locating the distances, and various objects therein. The sky may be applied by a large common paint brush. Paint from the ceiling down and when painting a sunrise or sunset, paint from the horizon up (with a mixture of vermillion, cadmium yellow and white.) While still wet, blend the two wet colors together. (In the video, the Prescott Homestead, and Fitch-Grout Home, show a harsh line where the sunrise meets the blue sky... the paint dried before it could be blended. As pale as the sunrise color already is on your palette, mix an infinitesimal amount with white to make a cloud color.) Also immediately and before the sky is dry, a variety of rising clouds may be formed by striking the cloud brush, charged with cloud color, endwise, or nearly so, but with the handle inclining a little downward, upon the walls, forming such curves and pillar forms as rising clouds present.

Floating clouds may be also represented high upon the walls by a similar process.

Having painted the space above the horizon as before directed, the practitioner may proceed to mature the principal design for the work, as will best accommodate the situation and circumstances, and the outlines of this design may be drawn with a small brush (charcoal)... As a general rule, a water scene — a view of the ocean or lake — should occupy some part of the walls, where there is sufficient space, and where such design will be seen to advantage. Other parts, especially over the fireplace, will require more elevated scenes, high swells of land with villages or prominent and elegant buildings. On the more obscure sections of the walls, especially such as are expected to be partly obscured by furniture, high mountains, with cascades or farm-hills may be represented. Small spaces between the windows and the corners, may be generally occupied by trees and shrubbery rising from the foreground, and without much regard to the distance. The designs in this work are usually classified in what is termed "five distances", the first of which is called the foreground, and occupies the lower section, and is based on the dadoe line. The trees on this ground are usually drawn from three to six feet in height, and other objects in proportion.

The second distance generally includes all objects which are near enough to admit of full natural colors in the painting and is the proper distance for representing hunting, military and sporting scenes. Forest trees in this distance are ordinarily drawn six to twelve inches in height.

The third distance is that in which objects are drawn on a scale of about one inch to ten feet, and in which the objects appear somewhat obscure by the distance. The fourth distance (corresponding with the highland cape) is that in which the objects appear in a (pale) tint and on a scale of an inch to fifty or sixty feet, the trees being hardly distinguishable. The fifth is the extreme distance, in which mountains and highlands appear of a pale blue, (or gray) even in clear weather.

Paint the most distant mountains and highlands, shade them while wet and highlight them with white, observing always to heighten the side that is towards the principal source of light of the room. Deepen the color of the sky one or two shades and with it paint such parts as are designated for water, the upper surface of the ocean must be painted as high as the horizon line, and the distant highlands must rise from ten to twenty inches above it. Paint the grounds, capes, islands and high lands of the fourth distance with distant green (forest green mixed with some sky color). Heighten the tops with sulphur yellow (a mixture of six parts white to one of chrome or cadmium yellow). Paint the highlands, islands, &c. of the second distance, which should appear from four to six miles distant, with green oxide and heighten them while wet with cadmium yellow, (three parts white with one part yellow). Shade them with green oxide and (French) blue, equal parts. Paint the lands as should appear within a mile or two, heighten with cadmium yellow and shade with black, occasionally incorporating red earth. The nearest part, or foreground, should be painted very bold with yellow oxide, stone brown (red earth, yellow oxide and charcoal black in equal parts), and black. Paint the shores and rocks of the first distance with stone brown, or medium gray, and heighten with a lighter value of gray and shade with dark gray or black. For those of the second distance, each color must be mixed with gray. The woodlands, hedges and trees of the second distance are formed by striking a small flat stiff brush endwise (which operation is called bushing and is applied to the heightening and shading of all trees and shrubbery of any distance,) with medium gray, with which also the groundwork of trees of the first distance is painted; and with this colour the water may be shaded a little under the capes and islands. Trees of the first distances are heightened a little with yellow oxide and shaded with blue/black. Every object must be painted larger or smaller, according to the distance at which it is represented; thus the proper height of trees in the second distance is from eight to twelve inches and those on the third distance about three to four, and on the fourth distance they should not be more than from one to one 1/2 inches high.... but those in the fore ground, which are nearest, are frequently painted as large as the walls will admit. The colours also for distant objects, houses, ships, etc. must be varied, being mixed with more or less gray, according to the distance of the object. By these means, the object will apparently recede from the eye, and will have a very striking effect.... Villages are seen to best advantage in the fourth distance, animals and boats in the second and third.

The shores of capes and islands and rocks in general, on the first distance, or about the shores of the 2d and 3d distances, are painted with stone brown (a mixture of cadmium yellow, Venetian red (red earth) and black, equal parts). When this color is applied to the rocks and shores of the third or fourth distances it is to be mixed with sky color.

The process next in order, is that of drawing the stocks (sic) and branches of the nearest trees — those of the first distances on the foreground. The trees usually represented on this ground are elms, oaks, hickories and maples; and should be so arranged in the design as to set off the distant objects to the best advantage, and fill up such spaces on the wall as could not be otherwise conveniently occupied. The stocks and branches of these trees are then shaded on the sides opposite the principal windows or light of the rooms... and the sides toward the light are heightened. Elms are naturally located in the vicinity of water scenes. Maples are most conveniently located about the corners of rooms, where other objects cannot be favorably represented. Black oaks are frequently seen when standing in open ground, though very different from their usual appearance in forests.

In applying the foliage of leaves to the trees of the first distance, especially to the oaks and hickories, a peculiar brush is required. With this brush, and by a little practice, a learner may soon be able to produce, by rapid sleight, representations of clusters of foliage. The application of colors in forming the tops of trees, is technically called "bushing" the trees, &c. The foliage of elms is more conveniently formed by a very large brush already half worn; as the paint requires to be more extensively distributed in a multitude of small detached spots of various figures. The first color used for this work is dark green, composed of chrome green and blue-black. and this is applied to the sides opposite the light. The next, and main color, is chrome green or forest green, (green oxide and French blue) and with this color the whole principal form of the tree is produced... each color must be allowed to dry before the next color is applied. The foliage of oaks and most other trees, is heightened with light yellow-green which is applied to the fronts of the clusters, or prominent parts, but principally towards the light. It is common, however in painting maples, to apply the green but slightly and finish with vermillion, slightly heightening with horizon red; and in representing old oaks, a mixture of green with Venetian red (red earth) is used, and yellow ochre for heightening. Hickory trees and young thrifty trees are heightened with Paris green (?), and this green may be used discriminately on other trees.

The next business in this process is to paint the houses and vessels in the 2d, 3d and 4th distances; also the fields, fences, trees, orchards and forests. The pathway of roads should be painted much lighter than ploughed lands, and sometimes nearly white, but slightly tinted and sometimes shaded with yellow ochre and stone brown. Small islands of beautiful appearance are sometimes represented by a convenient and simple process, and without any preparation of ground work. For this purpose, a piece of clapboard, or other similar piece of wood, about 20 inches long and three inches wide, planed thin and straight at one edge, is provided and used. (I have given you a stencil and the drop out piece to use in this way.) This safe edge which is also found very convenient for various other purposes in painting) is placed horizontally against the wall, with the thin edge upward, and on the line intended for the shore of the island. A bushing brush charged with the tree-green color is applied to produce the semblance of tree-tops and bushes extending upward from the safe edge, and extending horizontally according to the design... a small streak of yellow-green may then be drawn horizontally across the bushing, which will represent an open space, on which one or more cottages may be based. The stocks and branches of the trees and the shore at the water's-edge may be drawn with a camel-hair pencil (brush) and the water being shaded below, the island will appear... complete.

In painting the pictures of steamboats, ships, and other vessels, it is convenient to have a variety of outline drawings of vessels of various kinds, sizes and positions, on paper; the backsides of these papers are brushed over with dry Venetian red; then by placing one of the papers against the wall, and tracing the outlines with a pointed piece of iron, bone, or wood, a copy thereof is transferred to the wall ready for coloring. (I have ready-made stencils for all these.) The painting of houses, arbors, villages, &c is greatly facilitated by means of stencils. For this purpose, several stencils must be made to match each other; for example, one piece may have the form of the front of a dwelling-house or other building cut through it; another piece may have the form of the end of the same house, as viewed from an oblique direction: a third piece may be cut to represent the roof; and a fourth may be perforated for the windows. Then by placing these successively on the wall, and painting the ground through the aperture with a large brush, and with such colors as the different parts require, the appearance of a house is readily produced, in a nearly finished state.

Trees and hedge-fences, or stone walls, on the third and fourth distances, are formed by means of the flat bushing brush. This is dipped in the required color and struck end-wise upon the wall, in a manner to produce, not a full print, but a cluster of small prints or spots. By adroit variations of the motions of this brush, all the variety of trees and shrubs may be represented in open ground as well as forests and distant woodlands. The first color used in trees of the third distance, is a mixture of forest-green, blue and white; the green predominating. This color is applied heaviest on the side opposite the light, termed the shade side. The light side is then formed with the same or a similar brush, and with lemon yellow slightly tinged with green. The stocks of the trees are first drawn with slate color, and heightened with white. In painting forests, it is common to apply a diversity of colors in the heightening, such as lemon-yellow, yellow-green, French green, vermillion, yellow ochre, and sometimes white. For trees and woodlands of the fourth distance, a pale blue color slightly changed with green, is used.