Thursday, 19 February 2015

Combining 2 Passions: Trumeau Mirrors and Shell Art

The art of ornamental shellwork, initially a European tradition, has been around since the early 18th century.

In her exquisite book, THE SHELL - A World of Decoration & Ornament, Ingrid Thomas writes: "The Rococo style of the 18th century was dominated by feminine taste and influence. As well as showing off their grottoes, ladies of society competed for the most elaborate and elegant interior decorations. The availability of foreign shells, many of them of dazzling beauty, suggested a new pastime that would introduce a different kind of decoration into their houses. Thus alongside the traditional pursuits of tapestry and embroidery there emerged a new hobby, shellwork, the perfect embodiment of the Rococo ideal."

By the late 18th century this art which started off as a pastime for the rich only, had spread to become vogue among ladies of culture. The accomplished shell artist of the time, Mary Delany, was a highly respected member of the cultural and social elite in England and she said: "I've got a new madness! I'm running wild for shells. The beauty of shells is as infinite as flowers."

A while ago I decided it would be rather fun to combine two of my passions: producing trumeau mirrors and the art of shellwork. You see, I too am running wild for shells now!

Making the trumeau was not as difficult as it may seem.

 I just stuck to the basic formula we use in Module 6 of our online course: Construct a basic background, add mouldings, beadings and mirror glass, but here comes the twist.  Instead of using pressed or cast ornaments, I used shells as decoration. I also applied the different layers of home made paint, before adding any shells. 

After the first coat of paint I made and applied a gap filler where needed, followed by more paint.

After the paint had dried, I started with the oval at the top. First I set the shells out to find the correct design. Once I was satisfied with that, I made a gesso-like mixture which I applied to the flat surface inside the oval and placed the shells back in position.

Next up I tackled the detail below the mirror in the same fashion.

Then I decided to add detail around the mirror itself. I did have more than enough shells, but just not always the right size. This caused some delays as I first needed to collect the missing shells. They proved to be rather illusive.

Eventually I was ready to adhere them to the frame. I used narrow strips of sticky tape to lift the shells off the frame, applied my mixture, placed the strips of shells back in position and then carefully removed the tape once the mixture was set.

The next step was to attach the shells that I had laid out like a jigsaw puzzle in the side panels. I used the same method as before, but opted for a wider packing tape with which I transferred  the shells.

I added some accent colours, waited for them to dry and then the real fun began.  

My favourite part in the whole painting process, is the distressing. This is where I expose the underlying coats of paint and create a "history" for my trumeau.

Finally I added shells as corner details and my work was done!

I'll be off to the beach for more shells soon.

Happy Painting!

If you also have a thing for shellwork, you may enjoy my earlier post here and an even earlier one here.

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