Fighting Fires: Step by Step
Last summer I set out to create an image data bank of photographs of policemen and firefighters holding aloft equipment of their respective trade. Then these photos would serve as sketches for more of my Up In Arms watercolors. (To see inventory from this series, please go to http://www.scottponemone.com/portfolio/up-in-arms-2/)
I immediately ran into trouble getting cooperation from the Baltimore City Police Department. I spoke to a district commander at a community meeting and was given a name and an email address to try. But all I got was a terse reply: “Unfortunately, at this time we are not able to accommodate your request.” That was not so surprising considering that just a year previous Baltimore was suffering through a spring of turmoil after the death of Freddy Gray at the hands of police. I decided I needed a new approach in order to address the use of firearms and the deaths that result. After a few false starts the answers came at the Sunday farmers’ market and an indoor shooting range in the burbs. But that’s a tangent I’ll tackle after the New Year.
Fortunately, the firehouse is a very friendly place. They keep the big doors open in the summer, for God’s sake.
Modeling for FF Paintings
In fact it was harder finding parking near the big firehouse on Lombard Street beside the Bromo Seltzer Arts Tower than it was to enter the facility. The middle door was wide open. A mammoth truck stood silent just inside. Waiting on the cement floor on each side of the cab was a firefighter outfit–boots attached–arranged for speedy dressing. But no one was in sight. I shouted out “Hello” several times without response. I saw no one until I came upon a glass-enclosed office. A woman–maybe an EMS unit member–was seated inside. When I explained my desire to have a firefighter model equipment for me to photograph, she gave a call upstairs. A young man soon appeared, and once I showed him cellphone images of completed Up In Arms paintings, he agreed to help out.
First he modeled a hydraulic Jaws of Life cutter used to tear away crumpled car doors at accident scenes. Then he hoisted an oxygen tank with its harness that he would need in order to enter a burning building. Then he held up an ax and a manual metal cutter (an image I never used, not enough visual heft) and lastly a black helmet (an image I almost didn’t paint).
After printing out these images, I realized that there was at least one object sorely missing from my firefighter’s inventory: a hose. So I returned to the firehouse with prints of the Jaws of Life, the oxygen tank, the ax and the helmet images to give to my model. This gesture was intended to give me the opportunity to ask him to lift a coil of hose. Except he wasn’t at work that day. I couldn’t convince either of the two black firefighters who greeted me to model. (Too bad because it would have helped to illustrate the racial diversity of the department.) Instead they called upon a young white guy whom they called the Hulk. Good to his name, he did the macho thing an slid down a brass pole.
Step by step
The following are series of photos to illustrate the progress I made in painting the FF Jaws, FF Tank and FF Helmet watercolors. Always the object being held aloft is painted first. You’ll see I tend to paint from top to bottom on an image, and I also tend to complete areas of a certain color. For instance in FF Tank I painted the tank first with its mottled blues then the mostly black harness. In FF Helmet the yellow-green plastic inserts were painted before the rest of the mostly black helmet.
What I didn’t photograph was the simple penciled line drawing. I use a #4 pencil, and it leaves a very light mark. By itself it wouldn’t make a good photo. You can see some of the drawing in early images of each sequence.
Finally for online presentation’s sake, I white-out the unpainted paper.
I forgot to record the steps in painting FF Hose.
Actually the first firefighter watercolor was painting last year after a visit to the 2015 Maryland State Fair in Timonium. There I came across an ambulance with two EMS workers seated nearby. And on the ground beside them was an inflated dummy used to practice CPR. I remember first walking past toward a row of carnies with their games of chance and plush toy prizes. But I couldn’t help myself. The dummy was just too queer. (I can’t think of a better word.) Fortunately one of the EMS guys was a willing model.
The FF quintet
Right click to view image larger.